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Rose Gardens, how lucky we were

Brian Keelan's picture
Tue, 08/07/2018 - 09:32 -- Brian Keelan

I basically remember my teenage years as fun years. For grades 9 and 10, I attended Regiopolis College in Kingston, Ontario – my father felt that a Jesuit education would save me from the road to perdition he felt I had chosen as my path. After 2 years I realized I didn’t really like Regiopolis so my dad made me a deal: get all ‘A’s - which in those days was a 75% average – and I could go to school in Sarnia. After meeting the academic requirements, I returned to Sarnia and attended St. Pat’s.

However, I found that I had major philosophical and theological differences with a few of the well-intentioned (I am sure) Sisters of St. Joseph. Although less demanding than the Jesuits, they were still pretty hard to take when it came to the issue of just exactly what constituted a mortal sin. In those days a mortal sin earned you an eternity in hell if you were unfortunate enough to die with an unforgiven one on your soul. This differed from the lesser offence of a venial sin, which only got you a million or so years in purgatory,  but you at least knew that someday the fires would go out and you would be in heaven instead of in hell with Mark Twain, Christopher Hitchens. Adolph Hitler, Vlad the Impaler and – I am sure – several popes. This ‘enlightenment’ occurred after a series of discussions with some very cool non-Catholics (mostly girls) I met during one glorious, wonderful summer at a place called: Rose Gardens.

I thought about Rose Gardens the other night after I had picked up my grandson and one of his pals who had attended what they call a party, but which we used to call in university a ‘grasser.’ I did not go to my first ‘grasser’ until I was in my twenties, but the ones I went to were held in a large field in the area outside Port Huron with lots of college students drinking beer, enjoying a very large bonfire and “socializing.”

Now I don’t want to rat anybody out here because I understand that for young people stuck between the ages of 14 to at least 18, there are not a lot of places for them to get together where they are not likely to keep the neighbours awake, but most of them are held at Mike Weir Park nowadays.

The boys had called me and asked if they could walk over to my place after the party and then I could either let them spend the night or drive them home. Not wanting them to get into a car with somebody who might not be in the right condition to drive them home, I had eagerly agreed. Besides, I enjoy spending time with these guys. As we set out, I took them over to Tim Horton’s to grab some designer Lattes where we noticed quite a few people inside who the boys identified as being at the party. I noted that they all seemed to be smiling and talking but nobody looked like they had been drinking or doing drugs. As we left Tim Horton’s and headed into town I noticed other kids walking along the Lakeshore road and the boys told me that the party had broken up after the cops showed up. It was just one officer in an SUV but it was enough for them to decide they didn’t want to get hassled – especially if they were guilty. They said he was a good guy and nobody that I saw seemed to be upset about anything so kudos to the officer in charge: a situation that ended well.

As I continued questioning them, they told me that there was booze and pot there but my grandson told me he had some vodka with lemonade and a beer but he had not done any drugs. It was exactly what I wanted to hear, and maybe he knew that and that’s why he told me that. It’s exactly what I would have done since lying seems to no longer be the feared mortal sin that it was in my youth. I gave them a pretty good inspection and determined that they were not drunk and had not been smoking anything. I know them well enough to be able to determine that. At least I think I do. But still I wondered, “Where the hell do they get this stuff?” It must be older friends or brothers or something like that. They can’t be stealing it from their parents… can they? And they are not buying it at the LCBO or the Beer Store. Besides, my grandson’s parents would know that since his dad doesn’t drink at all and his mom would be all over that.

I dropped them off at home around 1 a.m. figuring, “My work here is done.”

As I was driving out Confederation St. under a glorious full moon: windows down, moon-roof wide open and The Diamonds playing; “Little Darlin’”, I started to think about the old days of Rose Gardens and how lucky we were to have a place like that to go to. I’m sure you all know where it was (Point Edward where the Sandy Lane apartments are) and maybe you saw the old pictures in the story Phil Egan wrote in The Journal to promote the Rose Gardens memorial event being hosted in the Canatara Park Beach Pavilion, beside the Band Shell on Sunday August 26 from 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm.

Marilyn Rose, daughter of Dick and Elsie Rose will be hosting it along with her husband, Jack Craig,  one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. Interestingly enough, he was one of the most violent football players ever to wear a Vikings uniform. Looking across the line of scrimmage, he’d smile at you like he was your best buddy, then he’d tear your head off after the snap. After that he’d help you back up saying, “Nice play. Great effort. You are one hell of a football player.” It was a rough way to spend an afternoon. He claims he did it with love and affection. I believe him. At least now I do. Back then… maybe not so much.

I particularly enjoyed the Friday night “record hops.” I remember huge crowds from all the schools: a melting pot of Sarnia youth and for the most part, a quite friendly melting pot. These “Record Hops” – remember Danny and The Juniors singing “At The Hop?” - were held at 9 p.m. after roller skating. I wasn’t a big roller skater but my friends and I used to go early to watch our favourite girls skating around. They looked like a million dollars, and we’d dream (and yes… even plot) of maybe getting them to dance with us and hopefully fall in love with us. We never thought about too much after that because in our hearts we never believed that any of those girls would ever have anything to do with us.

And we were usually right.

Well… there was this one girl…

Besides, if the girl thing didn’t work out, there were always the Rose Garden donuts which for some reason were named: “spudnuts.” After that we could head on over to Tab’s, do a little “Cruisin’” and enjoy a Tartan Surprise or a Canada Burger. If luck was on your side, maybe you could get somebody to go to the beach at Canatara and watch the submarine races.

Besides playing records, Rose Gardens sometimes had live bands: “Rompin’” Ronnie Hawkins, The Capers featuring the fabulous Ronnie Fray and the Volcanoes featuring Sarnia’s own Wayne Dennis.

That glorious summer of mine took place 56 years ago and many of the people who shared it with all of us will hopefully get a chance to be together one more time to remember our days at Rose Gardens.

When: Sunday, August 26, 2018
Where: Canatara Park (east end – beside the Bandshell)
Time: 12:30 – 4:30 pm
Status: – bring your own picnic stuff and refreshments
Chief activity… hanging out and remembering.

I know where I’m gonna be and if I’m lucky you’ll be there too… that is if you were there in the first place. That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong but if you think I am, then come on along and meet some great people. 

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