Reflecting on growing up in Hamilton, former Hamilton Mayor Larry Di Ianni has offered to share a series of short vignettes with urbanicity readers. The stories are short glimpses into the life of an Italian immigrant in a thriving city — glimpses that many Hamiltonians may relate to.
My parents bought their first (and only) Canadian home on Cannon Street near Sherman. It was a two and a half storey structure which my parents quickly turned into a two-family dwelling by turning one of the upstairs bedrooms into a kitchenette and the downstairs living room into a bedroom. We lived downstairs and another family rented the upstairs. It was crowded but the rent money helped pay the mortgage.
I was not even sure what a mortgage was when my father asked me to take the $80 in an envelope downtown to pay the monthly bill. He gave me directions and the next day, I walked downtown looking for my destination.
In the early 1960’s our downtown was a hub of activity and commerce. I remember being on King Steet looking for the building that father had described. I don’t know what I imagined but I was sure that I would find said building by myself… after all, how many places could there be where one paid mortgages? I fully expected that there might be a neon sign over one of the buildings flashing ‘mortgage payments here’ as a guidepost for me.
When I could find no such building I was both panicked and perplexed. I knew that the envelope containing a lot of money was important and even though I didn’t quite know what a mortgage was, father had impressed on me the importance of the task. I also knew that I had been entrusted with its accomplishment at the tender age of 10 and would be embarrassed to tell father I failed to perform.
What to do? I couldn’t knock on every door downtown, how could I? It was then that I saw a burly officer standing on the corner of King and Catherine waiting to cross. Surely, he knows where mortgages are paid. I went up to him and in my most polite tones explained my task, showed him my money and asked for directions.
I swear to God, the cop took the envelope for closer examination, looked left and right as if to see if anyone was watching and then gave me the money back and said, “Look, son, you are probably looking for a lawyer’s office and there are lots of them downtown. Put this money in your pocket again. Don’t show it to anyone else and go back home. Tell your father to come himself or give you better instructions before you come downtown again.”
I thanked him and went home with the news. Father wasn’t terribly disappointed but took the money downtown himself probably wondering what use a young man could possibly be if he couldn’t perform as simple a task as I’d been assigned!