Howdy Neighbour

An interview with Evelyn Grant.

Written by Sarah Faerman.

November 2003

How long have you been living at Winona Co-op?
Seventeen years. My brother Fred and sister-in-law Nancy McNiffe lived here on the 10th floor. After Fred died, I visited Nancy one day and went with her to the coffee break. It was so nice that I decided to apply.

Where were you bom?
I was bom in Toronto in the original Grace Hospital at Huron and College.

Can you describe your family?
My father emigrated from Ireland when he was 19 years old and my mother came here from London, England in 1911. They met in the “Insane Asylum” (as it was called then. Later it was 99 Queen St. and now it is the Clarke Institute). Mom was a nurse and dad, an orderly. It was during World War 1 and soon after they were married, my father joined the army and went overseas. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge in France and was sent home with shrapnel in his left leg.He later worked for Toronto Hydro for 38 years.

Did you have siblings?
I was in the middle of 7 children, 4 girls and 3 boys. My mother had her hands full as I contracted polio when I was only 14 months old and one of my sisters was bom with juvenile diabetes. We were lucky, though, because my mother, being a nurse, took such good care of us that we survived against all odds.

What was it like growing up with polio?
Until I was 12 years old,I wore braces and there was one year that I was bedridden. My bed was brought into the living room so that I could look out the window. The neighbourhood children would all come to talk to me and on Halloween, they brought me a tub full of candy. The local policeman would shine his search light on my window when he went by and I would wave to him. Later, when he saw me walking to school, he would stop and give me a lift. Of all my brothers and sisters, I was closest to my brother Fred as he always looked out for me when I was little. I would go to the ice rink and watch the others skate. Fred would put me on a chair and push me around the rink. He and two other brothers were in the armed services during World War 2. Later Fred and another brother joined the police force.

What schooling did you have?
When I finished public school and started to go to high school, I was unable to manage the 4 flights of stairs to reach my classroom. By the time I would climb up, I’d be too tired and the class would be half over. My mother suggested that I learn a trade and I went to work for ‘Davis and Henderson Ltd.’ - a company that did printing, lithography and book binding.

Did you enjoy that work?
Very much. On the first day of work, the owner, a very kind man, told the staff that whenever I was tired, I was to sit down and rest. I was a Perforator - working a machine that made the holes for cheques. This same company still prints the cheques for the Bank of Nova Scotia although the technology is more advanced now. I did other jobs there as well.

How did you meet your husband?
I was at the movies. A girl in the audience dropped her purse, scattering all the contents. People started to crawl around on the floor, picking up her things, laughing and talking. That is how I met my husband. He invited me out for coffee.

You are a gifted knitter and your knitted goods are in great demand at the bazaar. Who taught you to knit?
I learned when I was only 4 years old. Neighbours across the street lost 2 daughters because of dyptheria and they “adopted” me, took me everywhere. They were the grandparents I never had. If I didn’t like what mom made for supper, I went across the street to them. That’s where I learned to knit.

After my marriage ended, I worked from home. I knitted for Simpson’s Dept, store - clothes that they sold - suits, dresses, jackets, sweaters; clothes for fashion shows and even golf club covers for the show windows. Another job that I did at home was running a maid service.

My children worked after school also to help out with the finances. My daughter, Beth, at the age of 12 worked after school and spent her first salary on a Christmas gift for me - a pastel chalk portrait of herself which hangs in my living room until this day. She finished business college, is married and has a good position in Ajax. My son David also worked after school. Sadly,he died in 1992 at the age of 34.

What is your favourite leisure activity?
Knitting and Reading while listening to music. I love mystery stories, particularly Robert B. Parker who writes the Spenser books. I am an avid reader and most of what I know comes from books. I always loved Louisa May Alcott’s book:”Little Women”. I thought that if I would have a little girl, I would name her Beth, like in the book and that is how my daughter got her name.