By Ernie Bies,
December 31, 2021.
With another birthday looming I think back to past adventures during my coming-of-age period in small town Northern Ontario, many involving beer. In my era the legal drinking age in Ontario was 21. This was lowered to 18 in 1971 and then raised again to 19 in 1979.
My Dad never commented on the odd bottle of Old Vienna that disappeared to be shared with some of my friends in our wanna-be biker gang. The older boys were the Rebel Rousers, sporting their black leather jackets, driving Harleys and hanging out in a real club house. We were the kid brothers, we emulated them, taking the fenders off our CCM bikes for our makeshift choppers. This was kind of dumb on our perpetually muddy streets but we were cool. We had a hideaway back in the bush behind Donald Martin's farm. We called ourselves Satanís Angels and even had a crest. Pot and drugs were still years away from Hearst but we did sample liquor when we could liberate some from our parents.
It was not uncommon for the older boys, with their first cars, to cruise the main drag (both blocks) with a schoolboy six on the front seat. Later they graduated to a full two-four and often experienced the Northern Ontario tradition of "Taking the ditch" or "Taking the bush".
As we got older and bolder, we would venture into bars, trying our best to remember the name and birthday on the borrowed birth certificate in our pocket. At the Queens one day, Anne, my mischievous older sister, called the waiter over to advise him that I was under age. He just said "Thatís OK, so am I". Roger was a high school classmate who was working in his motherís bar.
I was going to Ryerson at the time which was located in the heart of the Yonge Street strip in Toronto. Fake ID was needed to enjoy Rompiní Ronnie Hawkins at le Coq díOr, Levon and the Hawks at Friars, Gordon Lightfoot at Steeles, Thelonious Monk at the Colonial, Richie Knight and the Midnights, Robbie Lane and the Disciples, Little Caesar and the Consuls and many up-and-coming music stars. My hardest chore was remembering Wayne Lahtinenís name and birth date. Our apartment was party central and apparently Labattís 50 was the beer of choice. The empties were stacked all year and paid for a great party at year-end.
On New Yearís Eve in 1965 I hit the magical age of 21. I wanted to flash my birth certificate but no one asked for it so it was a bit of a let-down. In those days the crowning achievement was to drink 21 beers on your 21st. birthday. I donít know anyone who actually did it but we all talked about it. Starting with a beer for breakfast you would have 16 hours to drink 20 more. My problem was I got full and just couldnít swallow another drop so I donít even remember what my total was.
There was always a huge party and dance at the Community Centre on New Yearís Eve. We gathered at my house after supper to do what the kids today call pre-drinking. Gerald Bolduc, Doug Rosevear, Jonathan Turner and Robert Baron were part of that scene. Robert was on call with his fatherís tow truck and every hour or so heíd have to go and rescue someone from the ditch. We took turns going with him and in the 25 below weather weíd come back almost sobered up and had to start again. One call was to the OPP houses on George Street. Robert and I went on our mission and found a car in the snow bank. We pulled it out and he went to knock on the door to collect only to be told by the lady of the house that she had not called for a tow. We looked down the street and saw another car in the ditch so we wished her a Merry Christmas and went off to the second job.
Later in the evening we went off to the Community Centre for the real party which could be counted on for a few fights. Sure enough, two fellows got into a spat and Billy Lussier and I broke it up. About an hour later one of the combatants came by with a split eyebrow streaming blood with Alde Collin following him. Apparently, he made the mistake of challenging Alde who threw one punch then took the poor guy to the Lumber Kings training room to stitch him up so they could carry on at the party. Great memories and glad we survived. This yearís celebration will be a Covid-enforced take out dinner from the Halibut House.
Happy New Year to everyone, hopes for a safe 2022.
December 31, 2021.
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