Luigi (Louie) Naccarato is my father in law. When we bought our house 8 years ago, we walked down the street and he told me that this was the first neighbourhood he had moved into when he immigrated from Italy in the 1960’s. I wanted to find out what Brockton was like back then for him in his teens.
The Blok: Where was the first house you lived in when you arrived from Italy?
Louie Naccarato: Our first home when we arrived from Italy in September 1960 was at 255 Brock Avenue. We rented the main floor and the second floor.
■: Who else lived with you?
LN: Well, there were nine of us including my three brothers, four sisters, and my parents. We had to move at least once a year because the landlords kept bringing over their own relatives from Italy who then needed a house to live in. Our second house was a row house on Dufferin Street just south of Dundas. There we had at least fifteen people in the house because my cousin and his family came over from Italy. Every year we moved until we finally bought a semi-detached house on Palmerston Avenue near Dundas for $8000. Of course my brothers and I had to contribute our pay cheques to help cover the mortgage payments.
■: Wow. Prices are a little different nowadays. Do you remember some of your first jobs?
LN: Well, as a matter of fact, I worked right next door to your house. Back in the 60s, that apartment building used to be a perfume factory. They made perfumes, cologne, soaps, shaving cream, stuff like that. For 35 cents/hour, my job was to fill the perfume bottles, label them, and pack them. We used to steal a few bottles to take to our favorite fish fry restaurant. The owner’s wife would give us fish and chips in exchange for the most expensive perfume that the factory sold which name was Black Magic. It was a good deal for both parties!
■: I would agree. Any other interesting jobs?
LN: I worked for a while at a men’s clothing store which was located on Dundas near Brock close to where Brazil Bakery is now. I was paid in clothing, not cash, but I was happy with that because I looked pretty cool going to school in my nice shirts, sweaters, and trousers.
■: Where did you go to school?
LN: When I first arrived, I was 14 years old and I was put in Grade 5 at Shirley Street Public School. When I learned the language, I was quickly moved up the grades to match my age level. There were no formal language classes back then, but it worked fine for me. In the classroom, two brothers who were also Italian were assigned to help me to catch up. They lived on Sheridan and I wish I could reconnect with them as they really helped me during that time.
In Grade 7 and 8, I went to Alexander Muir Public School, and for high school, it was Central Tech on Harbord Street, which was all boys at that time.
■:Were there a lot of Italians in the neighbourhood back then?
LN: Well, yes, there were quite a lot of Italians, but there were also Portuguese, Polish, Ukrainian, Irish, and Anglo-Saxon, and we were all living in the same community. The biggest Italian population in those days was centered around College and Grace, right where the Johnny Lombardi Grocery Store used to be.
■: Any other memories about the neighbourhood?
LN: Well, I remember the plumbing supply on the southwest corner of Dundas and Brock. It is amazing that it is still a plumbing store doing business today. Lula Lounge used to be a movie theatre (called the Gem and previous to that the Brock Theatre) and there were lots of movie houses in the vicinity back in the 60s). I remember how gangs used to get into fights during a movie and they would break up the seats and just raise hell! Too bad for the folks who came to watch a film…
We went to church at St. Helen’s on Dundas, which is still there and is a beautiful church. For sports, we went to Shirley Street Park, but there wasn’t a lot to do. It was pretty bare bones back then. We could play ping pong inside, and in the winter, they made an outdoor rink to skate on. That’s where I first learned to skate – with an old pair of girl’s skates that someone gave me. In the summer we played baseball and soccer. Of course, we didn’t have cars so the parks were a great place to find a private spot with the girlfriend, if the weather was warm enough (well, heck, even when it wasn’t).
I remember a large pool room right on the southeast corner of Dundas and Dufferin and I spent many hours playing pool with my buddies. I notice there is now some kind of shop there that looks as if it could have been there for decades… On the corner of Brock and Marshall, there was a variety store where I used to watch other kids buying ice cream sandwiches. I never had any extra money to spend on stuff like that. We never ventured much further south than McCormick Park, but used to go north to College where most of the Italian action took place. Lots of pools halls….kind of like the Portuguese sports bars on Dundas now.
■: Any final thoughts?
LN: Well, it’s funny, as I think about all of this, it is kind of ironic. First, my parents emigrated from Italy and settled in this neighbourhood. Their kids and their brothers’ and sisters’ kids (I and my cousins) emigrated up to Woodbridge and the suburbs northwest of Toronto as soon as we could afford to buy a house (the bigger the better), and now so many of our kids are emigrating back to the city. It has come full circle. I like that it is so lively and vibrant again. Just like when I was growing up, only much more traffic now. That is not a good thing….
The top photo was taken from the site http://transit.toronto.on.ca/. The photo was taken by R. Hill in the late 1960s and was donated by R. Hutch. The photo of the Gem theatre is from City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, fl. 60.