Memories of a Good Neighborhood!

By: Mohammad Ainul Haque

Memory plays an important role especially in the life of the older generation of the Georgestown neighborhood. People love to share their experiences of the past. Whenever I got an opportunity to have a discussion with the people of the Georgestown neighbourhood, they would happily share their past memories of this place. Barry Whelan, was no exception. During the interview I conducted with him, I could see his emotion regarding this neighbourhood. I was surprised to observe how his past memories still shape his present life giving him solace out of the mechanical life of the modern age.

Being a part of old St. John’s, Georgestown neighbourhood has a long history of its own. Many people nurture a great sense of belonging to this place. In the past strong community ties among people helped to build a good neighbourhood. But the neighbourhood has changed a lot within the past few decades. Changes occurred in various aspects of life. As Barry related, things are not like they used to be in the past. Many places got new names, private and public areas changed a lot, and community event and activities have taken a new shape.

Place Names

From the very first day of field school, I was aware of the debate among people regarding the name of the neighbourhood. The official name is Georgestown, but some people prefer to call it as Georgetown. As Barry Whalen commented, “we never call it Georgetown. We knew it to be Georgestown from the beginning. Most people call it so.” According to Whelan, Georgestown was named after George Winter, a prominent landowner.

Over time some places within the neighborhood got new names. There is a park in the neighborhood called Century Park. This is one those places which figures prominently in the historical development of Georgestown. Currently, the park contains a basketball court, two large parking areas and a small green space. The park aims to fulfill the diverse needs of the Georgestown community by providing a space for recreation, relaxation, group gatherings, entertainment and creativity. One of the residents we interviewed, Robert Sweeney, told us about the history of the park’s name: “people used to call this park a sanitary park as it was a public sanitary facility. The ashes were dropped here and also, horses were kept here. That’s where the name came from. Once that had no larger function, the name changed to Century Park.”

There is a field within the neighbourhood called Davies field. The field is an open green space bounded by Maxse St., Hayward Ave., William St. and Monkstown Road. This field is one of the most famous places within the neighborhood. It was, and still is, a gathering place and community events take place there. We were told that the field was originally named for a family called Davey but later on the name was transformed into Davies and now, people call it Davies field.

Public and Private Areas

Robert Sweeney told us that there used to be many corner stores in the neighborhood that helped to build stronger community ties and deepen residents’ sense of belonging. Those stores were a space for social interactions. People used to buy cigarettes and chat for hours. There was a barbershop, shoemaker, tailor, corner stores and so on. People could even buy one cup of flour/salt/sugar from some of these stores. Moreover, there used to be a hotel (on the Barnes Road), some boarding houses, and automobile shops within the neighborhood. These were the important social spaces in the neighbourhood that allowed for cross-generational interactions as well as for residents to build a strong sense of belonging. Now a days the remaining commercial buildings have been transformed into personal residences.

Community Events and Activities

In the past, children used to play outside more than they do these days. Street games were popular among the younger generation of the neighborhood and Barry Whelan shared his memories of playing street hockey when he was young. Churches and schools also played a significant role in the life of the people and most community events took place in them. Moreover, the Georgestown neighborhood had a rich tradition of storytelling and people would gather in different places like corner stores, Davies field and Century Park to share different types of stories. Now-a-days, things like street games and public storytelling are not as common as they once were.

It is obvious that the concept of neighborhood changes over time. The interconnectedness among people is perhaps less than it once was. The neighborhood is not the same as it used to be in the past. That’s why the older generation still feels for their old neighborhood. Barry Whelan recalls:

“Things have changed, and I think technology has made the differences. People don’t talk anymore … it’s just technology (that) is creating the differences…it was great in the past. we had lots of friends on the street. Most of the people in the neighborhood were friendly…you know the local stores, we used to hangout and were able to buy cokes and smokes…We had a good neighborhood and it was a good place to grow up…”