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
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
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
|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
Have a wonderful day!
Special Letter of The Week
From Wendy Petro (Bisson)
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
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
See? And you take all these things for
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.