New homes were our playgrounds

I grew up on the 800 block of Third Street in the east end of Fort Frances. I think our home was the third or fourth built on the street, though several followed that same year.
As a youngster, I was able to watch the construction of all the other homes that were built along the block. Once in school, the ending of the school year announced a new construction season.
Stan Dolyny, whose shop was located at the corner of Second Street and Frenette Avenue, was hired to build many of the homes. He also built several on speculation.
Today as I walk along those two blocks of Third Street, only a few of the original families who built their homes in the 1950s continue to live there. The Egans, the Spuzaks, the Christiansens, the Haugos, and Mrs. Skinner still occupy their original homes but most of the families have now moved on.
In those childhood years, an Armstrong drag line usually operated by Donnie Christian would show up for a day and excavate a basement—building large piles of earth usually at the rear of the property. It was the biggest sand pile in the world for the boys and girls who lived on the street, and we would search through those big piles for stretches of clay to build things with.
We didn’t have the “Tonka” toys of today, but that didn’t diminish our imaginations. We built roads, and subdivisions, castles, and homes. We came home dirty and covered in sand.
We got to know the builders, their workers, and the dump truck drivers who brought in the sand and gravel—the ingredients for all the concrete that was going to be made.
The day after the hole was dug, the workers would show up and begin putting the cement footings in.
I hadn’t stopped to think about those times until Saturday. I had dropped in to Stan and Millie Ward’s 60th anniversary party and many of those old faces from Third Street were there.
I remember when their home was being built. It had a cold room built into the basement and we wondered what the secret room was being built for.
All four of their sons—Doug, Greg, Tom, and Jim—were on hand, whom I had grown up with on the street. Stan was a Cub leader, who drove us week after week to Cubs and then home again.
I hadn’t seen Stan and Millie’s oldest son, Doug, since he went off to university and began pursuing his career in journalism. He now writes for the Vancouver Sun, covering the national and provincial political scene.
We talked about the old Third Street and the people who continue to live there.
The parks didn’t have jungle gyms in those days, so our gyms and climbing apparatus were the homes that were being constructed on Third Street. Workers would remove the ramps into the buildings at the end of the day, and after they had left, we would deftly climb the cement walls into the open homes.
Parents who came checking on us would cringe at some of the routes we used to climb into the homes under construction—and our biggest disappointments came when the windows and doors were delivered. That announced the end of our playground equipment.
Exiting the buildings proved much easier than getting in. It usually involved jumping from a window or doorway across the space between the basement wall and the ground.
Sometimes we missed but in youth, you don’t necessarily seem to hurt yourselves.

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