Now Living In Orlando, Florida

Wendy Bisson, Former Resident of Valley East, Shares Her Childhood Memories

My oldest memories are of my childhood in Hanmer in the early 70s.  My parents moved into the house I grew up in when I was only 14 months old.  I spent the next 14 years there.

I can clearly remember how I used to look out the window at my babysitter’s house and watch the grader leveling the gravel roads.  One day I saw smoke, and the babysitter took us to see what it was.  We watched as a hardware store across from the “old” post office on Notre Dame burn to the ground.  When I was in school, we used to get off the school bus at the corner of Notre Dame and Cote Boulevard to go to the “Bookmobile” to get library books.  Years later, they built a new post office, and the old one was converted into a library.  There was also a little hamburger place on Notre Dame, and my mom would take us there as a special treat after a school function or dance recital.  There was also store on the corner of Cote Boulevard and Laura Street that used to be run by a local celebrity, “Captain Cook.”  My sisters and our friends would walk to the corner store, looking for bottles along the way to cash in.  We would spend the money on penny candy and chips.  We would take a different route home, looking for more bottles, then either take a detour to the Red and White to cash in the bottles (and buy more candy) or take them home for our next excursion. 

My family lived right across the street from Theresa Park, and my summers were spent at the playground.  We played bingo in the hall or games outside with the other kids, supervised by the Parks & Rec teenagers who we all thought at the time were SO grown up!  We would play on the swings, take advantage of the baseball diamond, or go hiking or biking in the woods.  There were lazy days spent climbing trees or lying on a carpet of moss, eating blueberries.  When the weather was nice my parents would take us to beaches in Capreol or Val Caron to cool off.  And on warm summer nights, we’d go to the drive-in theater or into Sudbury to the Dairy Queen. 

In the winter, I spent every spare moment either skating or sledding.  I remember how when I was very young, the rink was a very popular place for skaters and hockey games.  It was lit up at night, and there was a concession stand inside the hall.  We took skating lessons there before they moved all those activities to the arena.  After that, we still had the rink, although it was never maintained as well as before.  We would take our toboggans and Krazy Karpets down the hills, staying out until our fingers were numb.  I loved the clear winter nights when you could see so many stars, and the air was so crisp!  Even when we were in a sled being towed behind a neighbor’s noisy snowmobile, it seemed so peaceful.

I remember when the Hanmer Valley Shopping Centre had only the one main hall leading from Dominion to the hardware store.  I bought my first wristwatch at the jewelry store in the middle of the mall.  Where a restaurant once was, they later added a new wing to the south, anchored by a department store. 

I attended the same elementary school for nine years, from Kindergarten through grade eight.  In the world I currently live in, that is a rare thing.  I can still remember the names of about half the kids in my Kindergarten class, and every one of the teachers I had (particularly my grade eight homeroom teacher)!  I even had the same bus driver throughout all those years (Mrs. Brunette—I’ll never forget her, such a wonderful lady).  When I graduated from St. Anne, it was a long walk to the bus stop and then a long ride to get to Marymount. 

My family relocated to Sault Ste Marie the summer before I entered grade ten.  We spent two years there before my parents decided to move to Florida.  As of July 7th, we will have been here for 21 years.  Living in Central Florida may seem ideal to many of you.  My mom loves it, and says she would never go back to Canada.  She claims that if I had had to drive and go to work in “that weather,” I would prefer Florida as well.  I think, though, that I would trade the fire ants for black flies any day.  When it’s cold, you can always add another layer, put on another sweater…but when it’s 98 degrees F outside, with a humidity of 100%, there’s only so much you can take off without being arrested. 

I have had some opportunities I would otherwise have never known, though.  Who would have thought that anyone from Hanmer would grow up to work at Walt Disney World (for 10 ½ years)?  (And, strangely enough, while working at EPCOT Center’s Canada showcase in the mid-80s, I actually met a guest who lived a street away from me in Hanmer!  Small world, isn’t it?)  My sister still works at Disney, so I can go to the parks any time I want.  The proximity to the beach is also great, if you like salt water, jellyfish and rough waves, that is.  I’d prefer a lake or river in Ontario myself.  I’ve also been able to visit Jamaica and the Bahamas, and the abundance of theme parks, historic landmarks and museums here in Central Florida.  I’ve watched as men and women soared into space, and I’ve felt the despair and confusion after watching their spacecraft explode.  I have also seen firsthand the devastation that Mother Nature can cause in the form of hurricanes and tornadoes.   

The last time I was in Valley East was just before Labour Day 1993, almost 11 years ago.  I drove by the house I grew up in, and noted that it looked a lot smaller than I remembered.  I was too late for blueberry picking…funny how we used to hate it when mom would force us to go pick blueberries with her, and today I would kill for the opportunity!  I also drove by my old elementary school, which didn’t look much different at the time (I understand it’s now a high school, and have been told I wouldn’t even recognize it).  Of course, I also made a stop at the plaza, which has grown substantially but still has the IDA pharmacy where I remember buying comic books. 

I have so many fond memories of my childhood in Valley East…going to the bingo games at St. Jacques hall with my mom, building snow forts in the yard, sailing paper ships down a snowy ditch stream in the spring, racing my sister down Dominion Drive on our bikes, picking pussywillows, dipping a stalk of rhubarb into a Dixie cup of sugar, all of the local “Tea and Bazaar” events we attended, hikes with our Girl Guide troop….  I have a two-year-old daughter now, and I hope to take her up there for a vacation someday.  I would love to give her the opportunity to see where her mommy grew up…and to take her blueberry picking in the woods!

Wendy Bisson Petro
Orlando, Florida

Wendy's daughter, Katie, is shown with Santa in 2005.

Letter from Wendy on April 19, 2006:

I really liked the editorial, "The Small Things You Do For Others". Isn't it wonderful to know you've touched so many lives in your career as a teacher? I also liked "Every Decision You Make Is About Who You Are," and found that the two sort of parallel each other.

I have a thing for quotations. We had one of those write on/wipe off boards in my office when I worked downstairs, and I used to write a different quote on it every day. I remembered back to when that had all started, and it was when I was in your class. You had us write quotes on those huge sheets of paper to post each day.

Each of my teachers had some impact on my life. I remember them all. Mrs. Nihmey (I hope I spelled that right) would send us to the "thinking chair" when we misbehaved in Kindergarten. Mrs. Wright was so nice to me the day I tried closing a marker with my front teeth in grade 1 and tore the skin on the roof of my mouth. I learned from Miss Didone in grade 2 not to write on the blackboard with short chalk when you have long fingernails. Mrs. Fenton in grade 3 was one of my favorites...she was always so nice and pleasant.  I clearly remember making a pioneer homestead out of popsicle sticks and learning about Australia (I'll get there someday) in Mrs. Labelle's grade 5 class. Several of the songs I sing to my daughter, who will be four years old next month, are songs Mrs. Streitenberger taught us in grade 6. "Peanut Butter and Jelly" will always be my favorite! We also read the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory series in her class. In grade 7 we had a number of teachers. Mr. Tag always had a smile on his face. It saddened me to hear of his passing. I took woodshop class in grade 7 with Mr. Patterson, and learned how not to cut my fingers off...my current boss has two fingertips on one hand that were severed when HE took shop class, but all of mine are intact! It's a shame schools don't include shop or home economics anymore.

I guess it's because I spent nine years there with pretty much the same teachers throughout that time that I remember my teachers at St. Anne better than I remember those in high school, especially since I attended three different high schools, in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and then here in Florida.

"Every Decision You Make..." also made me think of all the "What-Ifs" in life. How would my life have been different if my dad had been hired for the job in Newfoundland when I was in grade 1? What if I hadn't startled the dog the summer between grades 3 and 4, causing him to bite me on the face? What if I hadn't thrown that snowball at the bus stop in grade 5, hitting Laurie instead of the intended target (Bradley), which got me into trouble and I couldn't do my public speaking presentation? What if I had kissed Frank when I had the opportunity to do so in grade 8?

Of course, the biggest "What If" of my life is "What if we hadn't moved to Florida?" Obviously, I would never have had the opportunity to work for a company like Walt Disney World (isn't that every kid's dream?) or to see space shuttles blast off or be an hour's drive from the ocean. But I probably would have attended university right out of high school if we'd stayed in Canada, and I might have found a much better job, and maybe even found "Mr. Right" and started a family when I was a lot younger. (At least I could have had a full year off with each of my pregnancies!)

Then again, who is to say I wouldn't have had a similar path to follow if we had stayed? Who knows what fate would have handed me? Maybe my life would have been worse instead of better. And would I have a wonderful daughter like Katie?? I cannot imagine my life without her! And although I can think to myself that I may have found someone to share my life with long ago had I stayed in Ontario, who's to say he'd be more wonderful than Ron, the man I will marry in less than two weeks?

As you said, though, if one little thing had been different all those years ago, the ripple effect on our lives would have been substantial. Obviously, if my family had moved in the early '70s, I would have never met you, nor would I be writing this right now.

No one knows what tomorrow will bring us except God above, and it's all in His hands. We can only hope that the choices we make today are good ones, and that God will bless us with health and happiness in the future.

Have a wonderful day!



Special Letter of The Week
From Wendy Petro (Bisson)

Hi Bob!

Just looking at the photos from St. Kevin's Tea & Bazaar...I sure do miss those things, nothing like them at all down here. No one knows what a penny sale is, and the only tea they drink down here is "iced."

I noticed a face that looked familiar while looking at these photos. I checked the name and saw it is Doris Labelle. I thought, nah, couldn't be the Mrs. Labelle I had in grade 5. Then I saw the next photo of her, and it does look like her! Can it be...??

(Yes, Wendy. The lady on the left is Doris Labelle. The lady on the right is Bertilla Rodriguez)

You don't know how much I long to be up there at this time of year. We actually had a snow flurry last week (it was above freezing on the ground, but it was cold up above us...the snow came down and melted before hitting anything), but we're back up into the low 80s again. My mom's in Sudbury right now (probably at Pioneer Manor as we speak, sitting with my grandmother). Mom said it's been warm, but then you had a bit of a freezing rain storm yesterday...? Sounds delightful to me!

I remember one time we had a whole bunch of snow, and then it got warm (I think it was in March or somewhere later in the season) and a lot of snow started to melt, and then it rained and got cold again...school was out because of the weather as the roads were iced over. It was really windy, and these kids down the street got their skates on, held a sheet between them, and ice-sailed down the street!

We just celebrated our Thanksgiving last weekend. Katie's had a cold, so she wasn't much in the mood for turkey. I must say, for not having my mom around, the gravy turned out really good (of course, I did call her to get instructions as I was doing it!). The City of Orlando had its employee holiday luncheon today at the O-rena (we still can't get used to calling it the TDWaterhouse Center). My gravy was MUCH better than the stuff they served there...their stuffing looked like it had been put through a blender...and the ham was called "mystery meat" by several of my co-workers! I wonder who catered the event?! At least the turkey wasn't too bad (although even there, I believe mine was better!).

One of my co-workers was up in Niagara Falls two weeks ago, and she'd brought back some fancy cookies...maple cream cookies! I told her you could get the same thing at the dollar store (made in Canada, of course), so went out and bought some and brought them in...no one could taste a difference. Yesterday I brought in some Dare maple cream cookies which I found at a local grocery store (and bought a bag of chocolate fudge cookies for myself, but the kids have eaten most of them already!!). Gotta show these Americans what good junk food tastes like!! I had Shirley bring me back some Coffee Crisp bars, and the following weekend I found some at another dollar store in Winter Park! And they were 2 for $1!!! That's cheaper than we'd pay up there!!! Now, if I could only get someone locally to sell butter tarts and ketchup chips! The Entenmanns company was selling Vachon cakes under their name here for a while (Au Caramels and Half Moons, as we called them up there) but they've disappeared. The Dare cookies I find every now and again, depending on the store. I'm hoping mom can bring me down a can or two of Habitant soupe au pois. I have a recipe to make some sponge toffee (looks easy enough) which will probably entertain Katie as well (and give her a quick science lesson at the same time), and another recipe for tortiere. I'll let you know how those turn out! Maybe I'll make some butter tarts, too, if I become ambitious and the weather gets cool. I can't make the sponge candy 'til the humidity drops again, should have taken advantage of the nice weather last weekend.

See? And you take all these things for granted.... LOL!!

Anyway, hope you're doing well and you're getting back on track after the elections. Please let me know whether the Doris Labelle in the photos was the same one I knew. I love when you post photos as I am constantly searching for my old life and people I knew when I lived up there in God's country!

Take care, Bob!!

Thank you for keeping in touch, Wendy. It is always a joy to receive one of your emails. I know that our readers appreciate your reflections about the "Good old days in Valley East". I will say hello to Doris Labelle for you.

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