‘Good Ole days’ in Ayer’s Cliff

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, 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!”

Photo Stanstead Jour­nal

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.

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Ross Whit­comb poses in front of a favourite paint­ing of an Ayer’s Cliff land­mark.

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