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My Father .. Selwyn George Copping
August 21, 1892 - March 18, 1963

My father’s early school days were passed in the schoolhouse that was built near the turn-in to their lane. As the lane was long and hilly, it was quite a walk for little legs. The door of this schoolhouse later became a walkway to the back door of my childhood home.

This is a class at the school. Selwyn is kneeling in the second row on the right. The oldest boy, Clarence, is kneeling on the left. His younger brother, Percy, is squatted down near the youngest of  the family, Wilfrid. Augustus is seated on the left. The little girl sitting in front second on the right is Selwyn’s sister, Helen. His mother, Mary McLatchie is standing on the left in the back row. At this time his mother was a widow with these six young children to provide for. Her husband had died  of pneumonia when Wilfrid was 6 months old.

One of Dad’s teachers was Rose Hanna. [Rose Hanna (1880 - 1964) stayed at the Copping home while she was teaching in that school. She later became Mrs. Talbot. Her husband was Charles S Talbot 1868 - 1955] I remember her as a widow living on 2nd Avenue.]

When the little schoolhouse was closed Dad went to the school in the village. It was a four mile walk to school. After Dad was married his youngest brother, Wilfrid, stayed with my parents to go to school. [They lived in the little house still standing on the corner of 3rd Avenue and Church.]

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Selwyn as a teenager

My father, or Daddy, as we called him, was a jack of all trades. A man had to be in order to support his family in the early part of the 20th century.

I do not know which year or years he worked in the bush in the Osekaneo and Greening area, nor how he got there. That was before my time. Many a man left to get work in the bush in the fall. I remember my mother telling me that when he arrived there, the blueberries were so plentiful that one Sunday he picked a big pail full and shipped them home by train for her to do up.

I remember when Daddy worked for Ted Copping in the village. [Ted Copping was a cousin of Selwyn’s. He had a restaurant, dance hall, and movie theatre on 4th Avenue. The building is still there. Today it houses a barber shop and several residences. He also ran a taxi service.]
 One summer when he was working for Ted, one of the jobs was making ice-cream.  [Ted did not believe in a middle man making a profit on his business. He kept a dairy farm just outside the village to supply the cream for ice cream as well as growing  potatoes for the French fries.]
He kept the gas engine repaired to turn the ice-cream freezer.  [Ice cream was made by putting the custard in a large container which was packed all around with ice and coarse salt. The container had a handle to turn the paddle inside the container to freeze the ice-cream evenly. In fact it was Selwyn who devised the hook up of the freezer up to the gas engine.]
 Somehow, one day, some of the coarse salt used to freeze the cream got into the container. The ice-cream could not be sold so my father brought home the metal container with several gallons of ice cream in it. It was put into a wash tub and packed with pieces of ice. Did we ever eat vanilla ice-cream! Some of the pieces of coarse salt could be retrieved but some melted and made the ice-cream salty tasting. The pump handle in the house was raised and lowered down many times until the ice cream was finished! [The house pumped their water  from a well just outside the kitchen door.]

 

Sometimes Daddy was called upon to run the projector in the movie theatre. We got in to see a few movies for free as we went in the back way with him.

Ted Copping also ran a taxi service. The summer I remember in particular was the year my father drove for him. The taxi was a truck with the platform converted to carry passengers. It was open to the elements with a row of seats, wooden benches, running along each side of the platform with no padding.  No luxuries in those days!

The train station was a good distance from the centre of town with a long, steep hill to climb. Ted’s taxi regularly met the train. Passengers without someone to meet them were glad to pay the 25 cents to be taken up the hill and to the centre of town.

On Saturday afternoons after my father had delivered the passengers to their destinations he would come by our house and pick up Edith and I.  That was our treat, to get into the front of the truck beside him and have a ride to the top of the hill - or even a little farther. The walk back did not bother us!

One afternoon when I was about six years old, I climbed into the truck behind Edith. She did not notice that my hand was still in the truck door and slammed the door shut. My thumb was squashed in the jamb. At first it was numb and I did not notice the pain but I soon felt it! They rushed me into the house where Mother bathed it in cold water to stop the bleeding. I still have the scar from that incident.

 

Later for a few summers Dad worked at Joe Atter’s mill where he obtained his mill-wright and 4th Class Engineer papers. [This mill was on the Oureau River between 1st and 6th Avenues.]  He was also a sawyer. [This is a reference to Selwyn’s great-grandfather, George, whom he was named after, was also a sawyer.][
At this time he had a workshop where he did repairs and made bob sleighs and cutter sleighs, windows and doors, etc. during the winter. [The sawmill and lumber yard were on the hill on Queen Street. The workshop was in a building beside the house on Church Street.]

In the later years of my childhood my father had a sawmill and lumber business of his own. Dad bought logs from local farmers to saw for himself and his customers. Many of his lumber customers were cottagers building their own places in the country. He delivered lumber to Gratton Lake, Masonville,  The Pines, Pontbraind Domaine, or wherever a house was being built. The smell of newly sawn lumber always brings back childhood memories.

Daddy always did his own repairs. I remember him melting babbit  in an iron ladle over a coal fire in the forge. He would pour the liquid into the depression to take up the slack. [Babbit is a soft metal alloy used to reduce friction on bearings.]

My father also made furniture. When we had a table radio, it sat on a table Dad had made. It was stained cherry red and then varnished. He made Edith a dressing table. It had a centre drawer with two small drawers on each side. It was in light oak, stained and varnished. He renovated the old radio table for me. He added light oak drawers and glass knobs to match Edith’s.

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The work crew at Selwyn’s sawmill. Selwyn is standing on the extreme left.
Helen’s brother, Reggie, is standing arms akimbo and cigarette in his mouth.


 

After Edith was married he made an oak desk for her. It had a drop leaf front for writing on, pigeon holes to put things in and a shelf underneath for books, etc. [He made another such desk for his cousin which is still in excellent condition and treasured by the family.]

When Lester [Allen]  and I got married he gave us an oak dining room table he had made for a customer who did not collect it.

Once I made a doll’s chair with arms. It was made from round pieces of wood and Daddy gave me red paint to paint it. One day a man came into the workshop and my father asked him if he could weave a cord seat for my chair. He showed us how it was done and my chair had a seat.   

In the springtime when water was lying everywhere, Mother wanted us to play up on the gallery where it was dry. To keep us amused and in keeping with sap season, Daddy made us our own maple tree. He took a long block of maple and bored a hole in the top and another in the side to meet it. A spout (he tapped our two maples in the garden so we had spouts, spiles, on hand) was tapped into place on the side and we hung a small pail from it. We had another pail with a cord tied to the handle. Now we were ready to collect sap  without having to leave  the gallery to get it. We just scooped the water up from the puddles with our pail and cord. [On the farm where Selwyn was raised, tapping was a regular spring activity. His father, Henry, won a gold medal for the quality of his syrup.]

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Helen’s home with a view of the gallery where they collected sap.

Another source of our sap came from under the gallery. There was a loose board and it was even more fun to lie on our stomachs and “fish” for water from under the gallery.
We would haul our sap up and pour it into the hole on top of the stump and watch it drip into the pail hanging on the side. Many a fascinating hour was spent running water through the block of wood. I’m sure we got our mitts wet in the process.

For play during the summer months Daddy made us stilts. Reggie, being the oldest, had the tallest ones. It was surprising how fast we could get going on them.

We saved prune stones and Daddy would stand a block of wood on end and, with a hammer, crack them open so we could eat them.

 
 

Some Saturday nights my father would go up to the village. He was not a drinking man, neither did he smoke. [In Rawdon  “go up to the village” was a code for spending time in one of the local liquor establishments having “a beer” and socialising with other locals.]  Often it was for a hair cut, sometimes just to make a change from working. [Most commercial establishments were open Saturday nights.]  When he arrived home we would search his pockets to find the candy he had hidden there. He would try to fool us by switching the candy from one pocket to the other.

My father played the violin. Every time I hear the Peek-a-boo Waltz memories flood in. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Swwq7SDvR_U&feature=related] How many times have I heard Daddy play it on his violin, or the fiddle, as we called it. He would take the fiddle out of its case under the side-board and go to his rocking chair in the kitchen. He always warmed up by playing the Peek-a-boo Waltz . I don’t know the names of the dance tunes he played. [Some of the tunes would have been Redwing, Red River Valley, Soldier’s Joy, Rubber Dolly, Yankee Doodle, etc]. He picked those tunes up by listening to others, I guess. He played for dances in the Anglican Church Hall. He had a Hohner mouth organ but did not play it very often. [Neither did he play the family heirloom mandolin nicknamed the potato bug. He  was often asked to play for weddings, or other parties in peoples’ homes.]

One summer when his sister, Helen, came to visit us they played their mouth organs together. They did not play very long as neither of them had the wind for it. I do not know when they ever learned to play together as Auntie Helen went to Montreal to work by the time she was fifteen, but it was sure nice to hear them.

This 1924 Hupmobile is not necessarily the model Selwyn had but it would have been of a similar style. The Hupmobile was produced in Detroit between 1909 and 1940.5

One car we had was a Hupmobile. I used to think the “H” on it stood for Helen. It was an open touring car with side curtains for cooler weather. It was quite a procedure to get it started. First the levers on the steering wheel had to be adjusted just right. One was for the spark, the other was for the gas. The crank was inserted into its place on the front of the car. Then a hefty pull and a silent prayer that it would start on the first crank.

Once it started beat it back as fast as you could to advance the spark. If the spark was not retarded when the handle cranked over the engine it could kick back and break an arm or at the least give an awful jolt.

In cold weather the battery was kept in the house to have it warm for the start. This would have to be brought out and installed before the starting procedure could begin. 

Early in the fall that Lillian was a baby (1929) Daddy wanted to visit the Abie Smiths in New Glasgow. He had boarded with them one time when he was working on a crew putting in telephone poles. In those days it was a big event taking a trip of 22 miles. The baby was well bundled up and Mother held her all the way. Reggie, Edith and I sat in the back seat with blankets over us. The side curtains were up and we looked through little celluloid windows. Mrs. Smith served tea, milk and cookies. On the way home some one complained of being hungry. My Mother said, ”You had lunch.” I piped up with. “But it was only a light lunch!” That expression followed me for years.


MORE OF HELEN COPPING'S STORIES : 10-School Days 9-Early Radios and Programs 8-Church Time 7- Christmas
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