Monday, September 09, 2013

Requiem to a wall: our simplest, cheapest, most overlooked urban recreational facility

    A plain wall is a beautiful thing for a neighbourhood.

Roslyn School  once had a good tennis wall
The one thing every neighbourhood needs and nobody ever thinks of giving 'em is: a wall. 
   That's right, just a plain wall with no windows or pipes or basketball nets fastened onto them is a great
recreational asset for any area, as it provides an essential sports surface for a bunch of sports that people can play alone or with others.
   I've always loved walls for sports and think we need a ton more of them.
   In spite of growing up with two brothers and three sisters, I was alone much of the time as a kid, constantly looking for ways to amuse myself while my four elders and one younger sibling were doing their best to get into whatever they were doing.
My first love affair with a wall: 580 Grosvenor
   So I'd frequently get out my baseball glove and throw a tennis ball against our driveway wall and test my fielding skills, seeing if I could make hot backhand stabs and quickly toss another before stretching far to the right to grab the next one.
   I eventually graduated up to hard rubber lacrosse balls, which were even harder to grab. I was probably a pretty good fielder but my area had no serious baseball teams so I'll never know.
   Then I realized that the nearby school had a huge expanse to hit a tennis ball and would duplicate the same game behind Roslyn School.
   That wall was so awesome that there was even a line between the foundation and the bricks just about the same height as a tennis net.
 So I got to be relatively proficient at tennis before ever even walking onto a court.
 Then when I finally got a friend after years of trying, we played a form of two man baseball.
  The hitter would stand in front of a rectangular strike zone painted on the wall.
   The other guy would toss tennis balls hoping to hit the strike zone and an imaginary runner would get to first if he failed four times, and so forth.
  Roslyn School, as you see in the photo, pretty much wrecked the chance to play these games by putting stuff all over the place and that same spirit of misunderstanding of the recreational utility of plain walls is duplicated everywhere.
   For  a few years I used to bring my daughter to the parking lot of the nursing school at the corner of Oxford and Upper Lachine and we'd hit tennis balls onto the wall until the douchebags who organize that facility installed fences to keep people like us out.
   There went the only useful wall in this entire neighbourhood, and I frequently see people trying to hit tennis balls onto the tiny wall of the chalet in Oxford Park, often losing balls onto the roof in the process. It's heartbreaking to watch when they do and always leave dejected.


UrbanLegend said...

Perhaps the constant pounding of balls against brick walls year after year loosens the mortar, thus requiring expensive repairs.

Simply ask someone to boost you up onto those flat, park "chalet" roofs to retrieve lost balls.

Thankfully, not all of those "chalets" have flat roofs.

cheese said...

I just saw some kids practicing their tennis on a wall in a school yard in the plateau yesterday evening. Sadly the wall was not completely empty as it should be.

I totally know what you mean abou the utility of such places, I used to invent games involving just a ball and the side wall of my elementary school during the long lazy days of summer vacation. Also usually alone but sometimes with a friend.

Later I would practice my tennis on a wall specifically made for the purpose, it had the lines for a half court and the line for the net at the correct height. That was at a tennis club so I guess it is a known way to practice, and not have to book a court or have a partner.

Although I like the sound of "tear down the wall" perhaps we should have more accessible walls?

MarkF said...

Montreal West's Elizabeth Ballantyne school had (and still has) a gym with walls with no obstructions below the windows (about 20 feet up). A ledge runs around the building - about the same height as a tennis net. A challenge would be to try to bounce a ball (with a racket or without) off the top of the ledge (3-4 inches wide).

M. P. and I. said...

Years ago the 'Boy' students ( It once said 'Boys' over the North and North East side entrances, 'Girls' at the opposite end, Said 'Rosedale School' over the front door on Mariette, now covered in plywood for some reason?

The Boys would play a game called British Bulldog or something like that, where the one side of the team lined up against the North Wall, ( There was a bell in a metal cage on the wall to the East of the door). and the other side of the team would throw tennis balls at the lined up players, trying to hit them.

Jackets could be used to fend off or hide the person behind, similar to the cape used in a Bull Ring.

I never understood the 'point' of the game, if there was one.

Gosh, life was pointless at times, even then, with new hopes and Chevrolets and Dinah Shore after the War.

The wonders of TV from Channels 3 and 5, later channel 8, then 12 from good old CFCF.

The steelwork of Champlain Bridge stood for a while on the South Shore, connected to nothing at all.

OXford and TRiangle became some of the last 'Named' exchanges on the Island.

Mais, Je digress encore.

Occasionally some victim would get a ball in the face 'by accident' and the Monitor teacher would ban the 'sport' for a while.

At least once a month someone would bring in a hard, black India Rubber ball and peg it as hard as possible at the wall, this eventually incurring the wrath of of someone inside who definitely heard it thudding on the exterior bricks.

Another ball confiscated, and a lecture.

Marbles came into fashion, and were rolled towards a hole in the pavement, the one getting the closest without going in won all the other marbles in play, similar to putting in golf.

T'would be nice to go back and walk around the building, looking at the bricks, but, not a good plan in a world of paranoia.

Think about the push-button Ecole/School traffic light at Rosedale and Somerled, and, still, students got hit right by the church.

Safer to go there with Google, mayhap?

More maudlin maunderings from the time of Clearasil.

Hated the smell.

Thank You.

UrbanLegend said...

Yes, MP&I, there was indeed a game called British Bulldog we kids used to play in the schoolyard, where randomly-selected, pick-up "teams" of boys would line up, say 50 feet or more apart from each other from a predetermined line or wall and then, on a signal, charge forward. Those caught and held and thus prevented from reaching the other side would be "out of the game" to stand on the sidelines watching with those remaining continuing to charge until the un-caught "last man" made it through. I don't remember ever seeing girls play it, though.

Another, similar game was called "Red Rover", whereby similar lines of boys and girls would face each other, but this time individuals would be called out to run forward: "Red Rover, Red Rover, let Billy come over", and so on. I don't recall how a "winner" was determined, however. Possibly it was a hinting way for girls to pick their boyfriends (and vice versa?), although nobody ever said so outright, but surely it was a more exciting diversion for them than skipping rope day after day--something they never seemed to tire of!

Oddly enough, I remember the very last time I ever played British Bulldog. It actually took place inside the school gym with our--yes--British-born gym teacher creating the lineups. Amazingly and unexpectedly, I was the last one through the cordon un-caught after which the teacher declared me "champion". Some events from the past just stick in your mind!

Playing marbles was not as prevalent as schoolyard trading card-flipping, however. I remember aggressive kids with huge packs of dog-eared Western Roundup, Flags of the World, baseball and hockey cards, etc., yelling and cheering as they tried to toss their cards as close to the wall as possible in order to win all what was on the pavement.

It must have been the late summer of 1959 when I glanced across the school field at the street to see a scrapped tramcar on a flatbed truck being hauled away, presumably to its final, gruesome destination in an east end junkyard.

The usually trusty old TV Guide Magazine was our source of televised information back in the day, and I recall the time around 1961 when channel 8 (Poland Spring, Maine) was scheduled to show the original Superman series starring the late George Reeves.

Of course, all of us kids were eagerly anticipating the start of this new show, but for some unexplained reason, and to our enormous, collective dismay, there was a mixup because on the day the first episode was to be shown, it never appeared! Presumably, the TV Guide listing was in error, and now I don't even remember now if that Superman series was ever shown in subsequent years--at least on that channel. I'll have to research further.

Recently, I also downloaded and watched for the very first time the excellent 1958 "Mike Hammer" TV series starring the late, great Darren McGavin of the unforgettable, classic 1974-75 "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" fame.

According to local 1958 TV listings, "Mike Hammer" was apparently never carried by our locally-viewable CBS station WPTZ Plattsburgh, for some reason or other. I suspect it was, in that staid era, considered too violent or raunchy for the mostly sedate New Englander audience, in spite of us cosmopolitan, more open-minded Canadian viewers who were included in that very early, living black and white, Rediffusion cable-TV coverage area.

Patrick Coleman said...

Thanks for the memory! I practiced my tennis stroke against that wall on a regular basis going on 50 years ago (I lived on Grosvenor, too, but over the hill in the MTL part of the street). @Urban Legend: I doubt my young self loosened too much mortar with my crappy tennis balls!

Unknown said...

Rosedale School is now called Ecole Anne-Hebert...hence why the name is covered in plywood. Buildings that thought they would stay for eternity and put their name in stone or concrete...too bad...West Hill High, for numerous banks that never thought they would merge. Montreal's CBS station was/is WCAX 3 out of South Burlington/Shelburne....WPTZ 5 Plattsburgh is a NBC affiliate.

UrbanLegend said...

Yes, correction:

NBC's WPTZ Plattsburgh, N.Y., channel 5, and CBS's WCAX channel 3, Burlington, Vt.

ABC's more distant WMTW Poland Spring, Maine, channel 8 cable signal was often very grainy and snowy in many areas of Montreal. In the west island it was later completely blocked out by the upstart CJSS channel 8 out of Cornwall, Ontario, depending on how you aligned your rooftop antenna--which we never owned, by the way.

Those U.S. cross-border TV stations were actually viewed in Montreal by roof antenna owners as early as 1948 long before our CBC's CBFT channel 2 came on the air in 1952: a station which ran bilingual programming until 1954 when the all-English CBMT channel 6
began its transmissions.

Watching those legendary Canadiens on Saturday nights back then with Rocket Richard, Boom Boom Geoffrion, and maskless (!) goalie Jacques Plante, et al, was an unforgettable thrill--all in living black and white and with no instant replays, either! That great hockey era sadly never to return!

And who can forget the old Indian Chief test pattern which preceded the actual programs and the lead-in marching tune "The Thunderer" by John Philip Sousa which, to this day, is still ingrained in me.

Search Google Images for "Indian Chief test pattern". Kinda cool to set as a desktop/laptop background, too--unless you prefer those colour bars instead?

M. P. and I. said...

In the true old days Channel 5 was WIRI.

In 1953 my father purchased a 17-inch RCA B+W Television so my mother could watch the Coronation.

We had 'seen' television previously on a set in a store front on the West side of Westminster to the South of Curzon, the reflection of the streetcars passing visible in the window.

A crowd would collect on the sidewalk to marvel and gawp.

As mentioned, Channel 2 came first, and offered programmes in both French and English. Pepinot was a kids show, and La Famillie Plouffe another favorite. One of the characters drove an Autobus for MTC., as I recall??

The two families lived upstairs/downstairs and they communicated by banging on the ceiling/floor, then speaking up/down thru a large pipe.

Eventually, in one episode, an argument was punctuated by the upstairs family dumping water down the pipe.

The Hockey Game on Saturday was broadcast en Francaise, and the plan was to watch the game with the volume turned down, and listen to the English broadcast on an AM Radio station on a radio next to the Television.

Worked fine until CBMT 6 came on.

At 11:30 AM the hiss of static and snow would be replaced by the Indian Head test pattern, and kids would collect just to watch.

At 12 noon broadcasting would begin.

The TV day ended after the news around 11:30 or so at night with O Canada.

Off would go the set, the image diminishing to a small white dot that eventually went out, It after a time, leaving a brownish burn spot on the screen inner coating.

TV WAS wonderful when 'new' and commanded a type of allegiance not found today.

( Has allegiance become obsession as in Texting and other pass times on 'devices'??

What happened to steam whistles in the night? and 'Out West' was a mystical place where all the trains went.? )

The Poland Springs station seemed to have way too many commercials, even then.

I had forgotten about the flipping of playing cards in the School Yard, some of the card must have weighed pounds with all the tape on them!

Bubble gum then came with cards in the waxed wrapper, covering various themes.

Sports, ships, trains, etc.

4 or 5 cards and 2 sheets of gum??

Some of the cards and their complete sets can command a fortune on eBay and elsewhere.

( Rosedale School on Mariette became a Police Station after it was a school )

Also on eBay a few years back was a photo of a row of streetcars, some upright, some on their sides, cheek by jowl at Youville Shops for burning, many still showing 17 Cartierville Garland on their indicators.

No more streetcars to Belmont Park, ever.

We had gone to the Laurentians in late June 1959 in the new Pontiac, and the streetcars were still running on Decarie.

On our return, no streetcars.

We turned right/West on Vezina to wend thru to Hampstead and Fielding, and the rails were rusty at the crossing.

My, that's a long time ago.

I think I will go get drunk and run my 1200 down in the den.

Forward to the past, in the land of memories.

Thank You..

MarkF said...

The doors at Elizabeth Ballantyne still have "BOYS" and "GIRLS" carved above the doors. An attempt was made to fill in the letters of the word "SCHOOL" (above the main entrance) but that clearly failed.

Our late 1950's schoolyard games included the previously-mentioned tossing of bubble-gum cards against the gym wall (the closer one won the other's card - it was usually one vs one - challenging were "leaners" (against the wall); "ledgers" (on top of the previously-mentioned ledge; and the "leaner-ledger" (a rarity!).

In the "Boys' Field" across the street from the school, we would play "What Time is it, Mr. Wolf?", in which one boy would be chosen as "It", and the others (10-20 or so) would stand next to one fence. "It" would call out the above expression, and the others would try to reach the opposite fence without being tagged. Those tagged would remain with "It", all ready to tag the remainder after the next call. The last one remaining "won" the game. Variants were created over the years.

How did we choose "It"? That's a long story full of rhymes (e.g. "Boy Scout, walk out" (girls said "Girl Guide, step aside") and "My mother and your mother were hanging out the clothes; my mother gave your mother a punch in the nose. What colour was the blood?")

Usually no bats or baseballs were available before school, so we would play "soccer baseball" with a tennis ball (pitcher rolls the ball, you kick it, and run the bases).

M. P. and I. said...

The following might be pertinent and of interest?

We got Cable c. 1959, which eliminated the signal reflection flicker from fuselages of planes approaching to land at Dorval.

( The broadcast tower was at top of Remembrance Road off CdN. )

Nothing was audible, tho', with windows open in humid heat of summer, till the plane was down by Chester.

Propeller planes were noisy!!

When they were setting off fireworks in Benny Park next to Cavendish for May 24th., they would stop launching when airplanes approached.

Thank You.