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carnuts.ca • View topic - Story of a postcard

Story of a postcard

Personal musings, observations and serious statements on meaningful topics.

Story of a postcard

Postby meteorite » Tue Dec 21, 2010 10:51 pm

This is the story of a postcard that I received in the mail yesterday. I had received it in the mail before, but that was about seven decades ago, and in another countrry.

Here is what the postcard looks like.

[The extension jpg has been deactivated and can no longer be displayed.]



The picture shows Toronto harbour, ca. 1940. The details are no little bit interesting. As the title suggests, it is about the Canada Steamship Lines excursion boats, that used the covered pier at the foot of Yonge Street, Toronto's central street, as a base for regular excursion sailings basically whenever the lake and harbour were ice-free.

The one nearest the camera is the Cayuga, a rakish and fast cruiser that ran between Toronto and a wharf at Queenston, on the Niagara river just south of its mouth at Lake Ontario. The trip is about 30 air (or boat) miles and took maybe an hour and a half. There were mid-morning and mid-afternoon runs. The Cayuga was a screw-driven steamer built in 1907, so at the time of the photo was a bit over 30 years old.

Though the perspective is deceptive, the background vessel is much larger. She is a paddlewheeler named the Kingston. She ran a zig-zag course across Lake Ontario, to a port near Rochester, NY, back to Kingston, ON, on to Alexandria Bay, NY and on down the St. Lawrence to Prescott (ON) before returning. There was no haste, and the excursion was quite leisurely, a couple of days. Even though there was a world war on at this time, there was no TSA and Customs and Immigration inspections were perfunctory on both sides, although during the time Canada was at war and the United States was not, there was some underlying concern that an Axis spy or saboteur might try to use the neutral United States as a means of access to Canada.

Still, during the war, I was allowed to go a number of times on my own exploration on the Cayuga, taking the morning sailing to Queenston, a bus to Niagara Falls, NY, buying a few luxuries no longer available in Canada, then returning on the afternoon trip. I was never hassled at the border, either way. The Americans wanted to know where I was born (Jersey City, NJ) and that made everything OK. The Canadians wanted to know where I lived and where my father ws born, which established that I was a Canadian citizen. They didn't even care what a pre-pubescent kid was doing crossing the border alone, as my explanation was good and free-range kids were a lot more common then. The world was a lot safer, then.

Back to the picture. That part of the Toronto waerfront is now a maze of overpriced condos and hotels, bookended by the Redpath sugar refinery just past the Kingston's dock on one side, and the Victory Mills grain silos several blocks down to the west. The little cluster of cottages and small businesses remains on the islands (basically an ovegrown sandbar) that protect the harbour and the towers over the Eastern Gap still carry the electrical lines to serve them. The Island Airport, well out of the picture on the right about a mile and a half to the west, still exists, and there are still lots of floatplanes use it as a base, many closely similar to the one pictured. Porter Airlines uses it as a base and hub for its regional service. The airplane inserted into the centre of the photo, though, is a fake. It is one of Trans-Canada Air Lines' (now Air Canada) then-new Lockheed 14 air liners, which operated out of Malton (now Lester B. Pearson International) airport. In the first half of the 40's the mainland adjacent to the Island Airport was Little Norway - barracks and support services for Norwegians who had escaped their conquered land to fight on with the Royal Air Force. Canada was the centre of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. training the pilots for all the nations of the former British Empire.

When this photo was mde, the writing was already on the wall. During the Royal Visit of spring, 1939, Queen (consort) Elizabeth opened the Queen Elizabeth Way, a four-lane divided superhighway from Toronto to Niagara Falls - soon after the war extended to Fort Erie and the border crossing at Buffalo. Duringthe war "no" new cars were built but by the end of 1945 the factories were retooled to meet the built-up demand. And gas and tires were no longer rationed. Given the shorter direct distance the Cayuga could, barely, compete withcars on trip time, but not on convenience at the destination.

Then in 1949 one of the big CS cruisers, used for longer and fancier excursions on the upper Great Lakes, came down to Toronto and docked in the Cayuga's spot. Her name was SS Noronic. Overnight she caught fire, the crew panicked, and by the time the flames were out at least 118 people had died - on a ship tied to the pier, served by a big city fire department.
It was the end of CSL's passenger excursion service. But then, the writing had been on the wall for some time.

But there ae many loose ends, and many things left unsaid in this story. So it will be continued in my next post here.
Last edited by meteorite on Thu Dec 23, 2010 10:17 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Story of a postcard

Postby Escape » Thu Dec 23, 2010 2:28 pm

Now I want to know the rest of the story! 8-)
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Re: Story of a postcard

Postby meteorite » Thu Dec 23, 2010 11:00 pm

And this is the next installment of the story. The postcard was to me from my mother, sent when I was spending several weeks in New York with my father's family, as I did most summers throughout my teenage years. I received it, brought it back when I came home, and happened to take it along when I visited a friend.

At this time I was still in elementary school, and we acquired a new kid in class. He didn't live that far away, and back then everyone walked to school - there were no school busses in urban areas, schools were often situated some distance from transit lines with limited service, and of course there were no cars to be bought and for those few who had them the stingy monthly ration of gasoline was carefully preserved for better purposes. Similarly there were no replacement tires to be had. We walked to school and we walked home, rain or shine, and if there was a specialized class held in another school well, we walked there too. (Naturally, in freezing blizards, uphill all the way - both ways :lol: ) And kids being sociable critters, we walked with those going the same way. The new kid and I became buddies, and finished elementary school together.

I had applied for a semi-private high school, then found out so had my buddy - and we were both accepted. So we ended up as high school neighbours too, keeping contact even whe my family moved to an aprtment downtown. And of course we both went to the same university. While we took different courses we both worked on the university newspaper toghter, had some clubs in common, and continued in constant contact.

Of course graduation and marriage changed all that; we went off to lead out separate lives. Our contacts were brief, not least because he was seconded to a couple of specialist jobs in exotic places (hint: he knows Tagalog). But we stayed in light touch. Then the activists from our high school graduating class began plotting a major reunion for the 50th anniversary (in 1999) with leadup events for a couple of years previously, and we saw more of each other again. The class events continue and so do we.

My father died more than sixty years ago, but his lived a more normal lifespan, passing away only relatively recently. In fact, my buddy was still sifting through the family achives this week when he came across this postcard, which I had left behind and his fatehr had set aside for return so many years ago. And so the postcard that had been mailed to me once, so long ago, was mailed again to me (deluxe this time, in an envelope) by the friend whose look at it lasted longer than planned.

And later, we will take a look at the other side, and curiosities of the postcard itself.
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Re: Story of a postcard

Postby meteorite » Fri Dec 24, 2010 11:43 pm

The first reaction I have had from many people looking at the card, the physical object or its on-screen illustration, is that "the colour's all wrong". Well, yes and no, and it illustrates very well how technology advances with the passage of time.

Look at the colour comics in your paper, or many of the big outfits like the supermarkets. The colours are not true to life, they are crude in big blocks, and the pictures in them more often look like illustrations than photographs. Basically they are reproduced from a limited, four-colour palette, with the separate primary colours printed one over the other. The original is photographed onto film, one image black and white, the others through filters in three primary colours. Then as they are run through the press - exact alignment, or registration, is critical - the colours are built up. But this process is limited in its flexibility, rather like eight-bit colour on your computer.

The postcard, like the vast majority of postcards of the time, was produced by a variation of the process. The original black and white photo was strengthened, and details retouched in or out, like the TCA airliner and implausibly large sailboats. Then colouring dyes were applied by hand. Once the desired appearance was achieved, the separations were made and the picture printed. Generally enouigh separations were duplicated to allow the production of multiple copies on a single sheet of light cardboard, which was then cut up into the individual cards.

At the time this card was printed, there were stirrings in the photographic industry. Kodak would soon introduce transparency film. Technicolour was becoming economically feasible for many feature motion picture films. The printing industry was working very hard to introduce colour to magazines - newspaper editors would not see large use in their media till this century. But it was the Japanese who, after the war, first managed the art of photographic production of any quality onto the printed page. But in 1942 the postcard illustration was the best we could do.

I will not show the mail side of the postcard, as it is simply a private word from a mother to her 11 year old son. But the stamp is interesting. Like all general issue stamps, it was monochrome, in this denomination a sort of purplish hue. The value was 2¢. Yes, that's what it cost to send a postcard from Canada to New York in 1942. The portrait on the stamp is, of course, the reigning King of Canada, George VI, whose death many years after the war would bring his daughter, the current Queen Elizabeth, to the throne. Long may she reign.

The posties were more accommodating then, too. The street address shown on the card is misleading. The building is actually facing onto one of the innumerable crosstown numbeed streets in New York. But it had a service entrance onto a cross street with a rather more prestigeous name so the U.S. Mail allowed them the little conceit and delivered mail addressed to the service door to the main lobby box. Though it's a large building they didn't reject mail lacking an apartment number, either, and there was no such thing as a Zip Code. In fact it was simply shown as New York City, U.S.A. with no state name, and still got there.

Life was simpler then, and not all progress represents improvement. It is amaing how many memories a simple piece of cardboard can evoke, seventy years after the fact. Which leaves me eternally grateful to my classmate's father for picking up and preserving what I had so thoughtlessly left behind, and to him for finding it and sending it back to me.
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