Saturday, March 14, 2015

Memories of Aurora

Aurora Cemetery

March 13, 2015 marked the 25th year since Grandma Devins died on a foggy Tuesday. I remember the fog because it kept me from making the two hour drive to the Newmarket hospital where she had been admitted just a couple of days earlier. Our children were young and I could not join my mother, brother and other family members at her bedside. After her funeral, I did not return to Aurora until September 2013 when I made my first pilgrimage to the cemetery where she and other family members are buried. I walked along the rows of headstones and saw many familiar names, people Grandma talked about, people who were the life of Aurora when it had a population of 2,000, 3,000 then 5,000 people. Over 50,000 people live here now, many of them commuters to Toronto. The town core is still familiar to me though.

Wells Street Public School

My mother grew up in this town and my father's family moved to Aurora when he was a teenager. When our family returned to Canada from South Africa, we lived here when I was in grade 3 and 4. I went to Wells Street Public School and my classroom was on the second floor. I remember being sent home suddenly the day President Kennedy was assassinated. The school has been converted to loft apartments and is designated as a heritage building.

Grandma's house

Grandma's house was around the corner from the school and was just a couple of properties away from Yonge St. and Wellington St., the main intersection of town. She and Grandad were town doctors and their office was in the house which they built in the 1920's. The house is now owned by lawyers and I was happy to see it was in good repair. The side door where patients entered is sealed off and the garage is gone. The big backyard and garden where we had many picnics and croquet games is now a paved parking lot. My mother's bedroom at the back of the second floor was the guest room where I spent many happy weekends. Grandma and I would visit in the sun room below, often with her friends, and she always beat me at Scrabble. This house was the most constant location of my childhood as our family moved frequently. My grandfather died when Mom was 16 so I never knew him.

Fall market in the old school yard and park

There was a fall market in the park opposite the old public school the day I visited. Vendors sold produce, crafts, food, and other items. I recognized an acquaintance from my childhood who was selling his book about the history of the town. His grandparents were close friends of my grandparents and his Aunt Ruth was one of my mother's best friends. I know that influenced my mother in choosing my name. He was older than me, a teenager when I was a grade schooler. The age difference is insignificant now. We chatted about family and changes in the town and I was happy to buy his book.

Our house on Centre Street

This was the house we lived in when we returned from Africa. It was one block away from Grandma's street and my first two brothers and myself had bedrooms in the upper level which was really an attic. The frost was thick on the inside of our windows in the winter and I was often terrified to go to bed as we seemed so far away from our parents. I was particularly afraid of my closet. My third brother, Mark was born when we lived here. One other memory I have is of the Limburger cheese my father kept in the back entrance way as Mom would not let him keep it in the fridge.

Grandad Tolman's house in Oak Ridges

I stopped at one more place that day. My father's father lived in this house on Yonge St. at the edge of Oak Ridges, just south of Aurora when I was a child. He gave art lessons and had a shop at the front of the building where he sold paintings, frames and lights. He died when I was 11 years old but I remember this being a fun place to visit. The building looks much the same as I remember.

The formative years of my childhood revolved around this town and the family who lived here. I still have dreams of Grandma's house and remember many details of the double bricked structure. Most of all I carry the investment of love, time, history and values from a person who was a huge influence in my life. She lived in a century of great scientific and social change but she embraced the new, travelled widely and was always interested in other people. I hope that someone can say that about me too.


  1. Such a beautiful reminder of the love of your family.

  2. Making a trip back to one's roots is a good way to maintain and build upon family memories. You have a lot of family love and history in that town.


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