Saturday, April 7, 2012

East Yorkers take a trip to the milky way

The Observer

“Who remembers the dairies in Toronto?”

After his first question, speaker Paul Huntley began throwing around the names of farmers. The East Yorkers in his audience who were old enough to remember burst out in laughter as they raised their hands — and then turned to reminisce with other attendees.

At the East York Historical Society’s discussion on Feb. 15, they vividly recalled memories of their childhood, late family members and of the neighbourhood.

While Toronto was one of the first Canadian cities to begin pasteurizing dairy products — in 1903 — the discussion was mainly about the old Dentonia Farm (now the Dentonia park, near Victoria Park and Danforth avenues) and City Dairy, which Huntley has written about in his new book.
In his talk at the S. Walter Stewart library branch, Huntley blended his historical information with personal memories from the audience.

An old milkman shared tales of his younger days, while another man with a long silver beard shared his mother’s story of milk bottles. A University of Toronto alumnus from the 1960s shared her complaint about the sociology department building at the time being full of a milky stench. Everyone laughed when Huntley agreed — adding that he loved it when he visited there decades later… and he could still smell the milk.

Then he combined that accumulated knowledge of the dairies’ historical context with the memories of East York seniors, allowing them to become a part of local history.

Lynne Brown looked at Huntley’s bottle collection and recalled a glass bottle of milk that she once enjoyed with friends. “Back in the ’40s, they would bring a metal basket and stick it outside of my classroom. My teacher brought it in and put it on the desks,” she said. “That had been so many years. Those little bottles reminded me of my childhood.”

Herb Kingston is a first-generation immigrant from Scotland. He carried on his father’s job as a milkman in Canada. After half a century, the occupation died out due to industrialization of dairies. He
now collects old photos of the dairies. “I miss the old days,” Kingston said, “but someone like Huntley revitalizes the history of our job and community.”

Huntley first developed his interest in dairies and their history 18 years ago, when he was in university. He began buying old milk bottles from his neighbours one after another, and delved into old faded books at libraries.
Meanwhile, Huntley is a full-time salesman at an electrical company and a leisure-time author of several books on the history of Toronto’s dairies. He said he plans to keep learning about dairies and trying to help his neighbours with his hobby by reconnecting them with their roots.

Huntley proudly told his experience of finding a family’s lost photo of their grandfather’s
last milk delivery. “I know that people say they forget their family history,” he said. “So it’s good to
try to find any traces for them. And you feel good when you know you help people out.”

This article had been published on the East York Observer March 2 edition.

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