‘Good Ole days’ in Ayer’s Cliff
When novelist Tom Wolfe penned the often quoted phrase “You can’t go home again”, he’d probably never met a Townshipper. I’ve met many Townshippers over the years who have happily “come home again”, the most recent being Ayer’s Cliff’s Ross Whitcomb.
A few months short of eighty, Mr. Whitcomb spent most of his childhood and adolescence in Ayer’s Cliff, growing up right on Main Street. “My father built this house in 1942,” said Mr. Whitcomb about the large house that sits at the corner of Whitcomb Lane and Main.
It’s always interesting to hear about the ‘good ole days’ and Mr. Whitcomb was nice enough to oblige. “Every kid in town had a CCM bike. We’d go down to Ripplecove Beach and swim. There used to be a gate there because a farmer had cows in a field near the beach. Sometimes we’d go down and sit by the gate and open it for the cars coming to the beach. We’d get change for doing that. I think every kid in town had opened that gate.”
Mr. Whitcomb remembered going to the local school in town which had grades from one to eleven. “It was a very small class by grade eleven: most of the kids had dropped out by then. I remember when the school burnt down. The flames looked like they were burning halfway to the heavens!”
Getting to visit other towns was a challenge for kids years ago, but Ross and his friends managed to get down to Rock Island almost every weekend to see a movie at the old theatre. “We’d hire a taxi every Sunday night and cram about five people in the back seat of the taxi and a few more in the front,” he mentioned.
“I remember when we used to buy ice from the ice man for our ice box. The ice was cut off the lake and then it was stored at the creamery in sawdust. Homer Drew had a team of horses and he would get the ice, hose off the sawdust, and sell it.
Lots of people didn’t have cars and some didn’t have phones. Everyone who had a phone was on a party line. You’d phone up the Eastern Townships Telephone central which was in Ayer’s Cliff - Leta Dustin was the switchboard operator. If your phone number was 13, then your ring would be one long ring and three short rings. People were always listening in on the phone but you could always tell. The other voice wouldn’t be as loud and you’d hear the click when they hung up,” reminisced Ross.
One interesting observation that Mr. Whitcomb made when describing the Ayer’s Cliff of his childhood was: “There were less people in town but we had more stores. Ned Hardson had a grocery store, there was a meat market, and there was the Thompson grocery store that had freezer lockers for people who bought a whole beef or pork and had it cut up. Slack’s General Store had everything from blue jeans to butter. Now we only have one grocery store.”
The year after Canada’s 100th birthday, in 1968, Mr. Whitcomb headed west to Toronto. “When I first went there I didn’t know anyone. I got a job making ice at the Weston Arena. There was nothing wrong with the place but there were no benefits, so I left there in 1976 to work at the North York Centennial Arena. The Toronto Maple Leafs came there to work out and the teams from Boston and New York would work out there too,” explained the self-proclaimed “hockey nut” who used to actually be a Maple Leafs fan. “In the old days the French kids were for Montreal and the English kids were for Toronto. There were only six teams in the league back then. Then Toronto ruined their team, so instead of being a ‘oneteam’ guy, I like individual players now.”
Of course, while living in Toronto, Mr. Whitcomb returned regularly to Ayer’s Cliff and when he retired in 1992, he moved back into the house that his father built on Main Street. “I knew a lot of people here and it would have been expensive to retire in Toronto.” It couldn’t have been hard for Mr. Whitcomb to reconnect with his community: he’s been involved with many local organizations such as the Tomifobia Nature Trail, the United Church and the Ayer’s Cliff Legion. You can even find his name up on the Donor’s Wall of the new Pat Burns Arena.
An Open House was held at the Ayer’s Cliff Legion last Sunday for Mr. Whitcomb because he is planning another move, this time a little closer to home. “I used to shovel and mow the lawn and shovel the snow off the roof, but now I can’t stand the cold. I’m moving to a residence in Lennoxville; I’d rather go now while I have some steam.”
Asked what he’ll miss most after he moves, Mr. Whitcomb answered: “I won’t be that far away, I’m not resigning from the Ayer’s Cliff Legion and I’m staying a member of the Fifty Plus. I won’t be missing much!”
Well, if Stanstead wants to be a Village Relais, Transport Quebec is not aware of it yet as a crew installed a nice new sign pointing to the present tourist kiosk on Monday morning. From there it is a thirty some kilometer detour to come back to Stanstead.
Ross Whitcomb poses in front of a favourite painting of an Ayer’s Cliff landmark.