Interview with Delores Freeman and Elaine Gardner, October 27, 2010

Gardner sisters.jpg


Interview with Delores Freeman and Elaine Gardner, October 27, 2010


Oral history interview with Delores Freeman and Elaine Gardner, who spent their childhoods in Deseronto. Their father, Evan J. Gardner, owned a number of stores in the town and was also the town's funeral director between 1932 and 1949.


October 27, 2010




1 hour, 2 minutes, 49 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbit/s


Edgar Tumak
Amanda Hill


Delores Freeman
Elaine Gardner


Deseronto Public Library

Time Summary

0.0 Delores: born in Deseronto, studied nursing in Kingston in 1959 at the Hotel Dieu Hospital School of Nursing. Her mother graduated from Kingston General Hospital in 1933. Father Martin helped get her into the program there.
1.55 Evan Joseph Gardner, Delores' father, came to Deseronto in 1932 [as undertaker]. He had taken his training in Toronto and bought the business from Mr Cornstalk, in St. George Street. In 1947 he converted the Dryden House (Centre Steet) to a funeral home. The St. George Street building (on the site of the liquor store) was a block, with Gardner's furniture store at one end, the caskets in the middle and Cora Mason's store in the third and a Chinese laundry at the end. Gardner ran an ambulance service and opened a 'Five to a Dollar' store.
4.50 Family lived in Green Street until they moved to the house on Centre Street. They lived in the whole house, but when there was a funeral, the downstairs rooms were used for the bodies. One year, the family had to have Christmas in the kitchen, as the three downstairs rooms (front room, library and dining room) were being used for three different funerals. Their mother had to move the tree three times.
6.33 Evan Gardner came from Norwood originally, then worked in the Royal Bank in Toronto. He came to Shannonville on paydays with a satchel of money and a handgun, so people could cash their paychecks. Then he changed career and trained as an undertaker and got his embalming licence.
8.10 Story about the previous undertaker: Mr Cornstalk - a drinker – used to sleep in one of the caskets when he'd had too much to drink.
9.15 Evan and his wife met at the United Church
9.42 Describing how the funeral home was used when they lived there. It had three fireplaces, a butler's pantry, maid's pantry and coal chutes. A fun place to grow up – a back and front staircase, curved railings to slide on. Mr Allen bought a house on George Street, the Gardners bought the Dryden House and Miss Dryden (a relation of the Rathbuns) bought the Allen house – so the three families moved on the same day. There was an alcove on the stairs.
12.00 Mrs Gardner took phone calls and helped to set the women's hair and apply make-up. She didn't continue nursing after she married. She had been a private nurse, nursing Mackenzie King's grandmother on Highway 15 for two years.
13.26 Attended Deseronto Public School. They came home at noon for lunch – envied the children from out in the country who got to eat at school.
15.25 The daughters had no involvement in the business, although Elaine did used to play at burying her dolls. Once Elaine tied herself up as Joan of Arc (to the stake) – Delores rescued her from dying.
17.10 Memories of Deseronto Public School. Both sisters enjoyed it. Used to sit on the wall at recess. At the High School there was only one person in Grade 13 and six in Grade 12.
18.18 Delores bowled in the bowling alley and was a member of CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training) and in Brownies and Guides and in the choir of the United Church, with Nora and Jessica Cochrane. The organist was Gerald McCaul. The choir was full, with six men and ten or twelve women.
19.57 Elaine was taught Sunday School by Mrs Joyce and Delores remembered Mrs Townsend, the minister's wife and Mrs German before that. They got a star for attendance.
21.00 Janie Armitage was Delores' best friend in Public School. They got water from the Puttnam family's well on the corner of Green Street when they lived there. There was a little grocery store in the street – Delores once was sent with tickets to buy milk during the war and broke the bottle. Her father had some extra coupons. The coal came in a horse and cart. Her parents worked well together.
22.45 Dr Harold Boyce and Cecil Duffield were friends of the Gardners. George Jackson would help Mr Gardner. Mr Don Walker helped with lifting people. Mr Gardner had a 7-passenger Plymouth which could be used as an ambulance. In 1940 he got a Cadillac hearse – Delores' aunt was peeking out of the back window and scared the other drivers. It had carvings on the side in the form of velvet drapes and a cross that could go on top for Catholic funerals. No animosity between the denominations in Deseronto. Mr Gardner belonged to the Lions Club, the Independent Order of Foresters, the Oddfellows and Masons. The youngest Master in Deseronto in his time.
27.02 Went to movies at Naylor's Theatre on Saturday afternoon for a nickel, seeing two features and cartoons. They put on plays there when they were in Public School, to a full theatre. The Gardners' mother remembered when it was a Vaudeville theatre and Delores believed that Buffalo Bill Cody played there (a friend of Mrs Martin on the reserve).
28.30 Evan Gardner's wife's uncle, Russell Thomas lived in Deseronto. He worked for Canadian Pacific as a telegraph operator, as he was losing his sight.
30.00 The funeral business was sold in 1949, to Jack White. Mr Gardner was diagnosed with a disease that prevented him doing the undertaking.The family stayed in Deseronto.
31.42 Cars – Plymouth, then a Chrysler Royale. Delores' father in law was a doctor, who could have got a new car during World War Two, but he got theirs painted instead, much to the disappointment of his family.
32.27 Television – the Gardners were the last people to get one. Were living over the store in Main Street then, around 1954. Cecil Duffield took his own TV apart to see how it worked, but couldn't get it back together. Had crank phones – phoned the operator in Malley's drugstore. Miss Roach was one of them. The store was 67 and the house 60.
34.00 From the funeral home they moved to the apartment above the current Dollar Store on Main Street. It had been a hotel and during the war Mr Gardner made three apartments on the upper floor and rented them out to airmen.
35.00 Delores banked with CIBC as a child. The alarm for the bank was in the Gardners' store, next door. Elaine worked out how to trigger the alarm by throwing her ball up at it. Mr Gardner had his car stolen three times from outside their house in Green Street. It was found in Peterborough, Belleville and Trenton – he always got it back.
37.00 Delores remembered a big bonfire by the canning factory at the end of World War Two – they burned effigies of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito on an empty lot. She worried that bombs might land on Deseronto – she didn't know how far away England was. Remembers being careful and rationing. Elaine remembers being told not to go past the end of Green Street.
39.30 The Lions Club used to have events in the summer in Rathbun Park. The girls rode their bike around town a lot. Delores worked for her father during vacations in the Five to a Dollar store, wearing roller skates behind the counter so that she'd be tall enough. She shut her fingers in the cash registers once. They'd visit their grandparent and aunts. There was a polio epidemic twice, so her mother would always go into houses they visited to make sure that no-one was sick before the girls could go in. They used to swim off the dock, which was very deep. Elaine had a rope attached to her bathing suit.
42.19 Businesses: clothing store at the corner of St. George Street, Mr McCullough's drug store – he was responsible for issuing driving licences. Mrs Gardner didn't drive, so Delores did a lot of the driving, as soon as she reached 16. Everyone knew the route for the driving test – down the Main Street, up to the Highway, down to the cemetery, turn around and back into town – no parking involved. You got the licence that day. The Macdonald's grocery store came later. Malley's was a great place for sundaes, sodas and magazines. Jewellery store – Gerald Lott. Next to the Gardner's shop, Ernie Luck had a furnace business and next to that was Burkitt's grocery store, with Wannamaker's butcher's department. Then the bowling alley and another meat market, run by Ken Jackson. Dawson's car dealership. On St. George Street there was Cecil's repair shop and Stover and Sager's groceries.
45.10 The Gardners always did their grocery shopping locally. Mrs Gardner always sent them out for ground round steak, rather than hamburger. The liquor store was in the Baker Block on Main Street and next to it was the hardware store and pool hall – which the Gardner sister were to stay out of – that was all for men. The United Restaurant was owned by the Chapmans then. Beside it was a small house with the Napanee Reporter newspaper offices on the lower floor and an apartment above it. Lauren Clark's father had the mill.
47.00 Metcalfe's – memories of taking peas from the back of the trucks as they came into the canning factory.
47.40 A large mirror with a marble base in the funeral home was originally from Oronyatekha's house. The Gardner sisters own the mirror and base still. The family used to fish around Foresters' Island.
49.30 The Gardners could see the ferry from their apartment on Main Street and would watch the ice coming and going. Farley Mowatt's boat was down at the marina. Mrs Gardner painted a picture of the church on the Reserve.
50.55 Winters – used to toboggan behind the Public School. Skated down by the glass factory. Hagerman boy fell through the ice and died of pneumonia. The sisters skated a lot. Delores played hockey on the school team, wearing figure skates.
53.19 Family moved to Kingston in 1968. Delores was married in Deseronto in 1959. She did school nursing with her father-in-law. Did some camp nursing at Camp Iowa in the summers. Now lives in Battersea, Elaine in Kingston.
57.38 Railways were still running to the canning factory and coal yards when the Gardners lived in Deseronto, but there were no passenger trains in the town then. Behind their apartment on Main Street, the bank and Ernie Luck let them use their land and Mr Gardner rented land from the railway, to make a garden. He raised pheasants and rabbits. He used to use banty hens from Mrs Maracle and Mrs Barnhart to hatch the eggs.
59.56 Went to Prince Edward County for apples in the Fall. Mr Gardner was pleased to have the bridge. They liked going over on the ferry and to the Sandbanks. There was a lot more snow in the winter. They were here for Hurricane Hazel – at a movie in Kingston when it happened. Some trees down in this area.
1.02.25 Delores' bedroom was in the front of the funeral home: the first time the fire alarm went off startled her: it looked like the fire truck was heading straight for her room.