April 23, 2013
The Skinny House - A Condensed History
I've recently found out much more about my skinny house. Here's a precursor to what I'm about to write. I originally published this on May 9th 2009.
I live in a red brick Victorian row house. It’s 17 feet wide and attached on both sides; garbage cans and lawnmowers go through the house – not around. It’s similar to the one below, but that’s not my house so don’t come knocking.
Decorated mainly in faded blue and white striped wallpaper; somebody in the ‘80s must have gone for a French provincial feel. When we first saw the house in ’97 it was imbued with a shabby-chic style. Now it’s just shabby. We haven’t had the energy to do anything with the walls.
I did find the energy to trace the house’s history. Through the Central Reference Library, Ancestry.com and the L.D.S. I was able to piece together a chronological record of who lived in our house.
Built in 1892, our house was unoccupied until 1895. The theory bandied about was that the builders, who were brothers, each wanted one of the seven in our row for family members. They ran out of money and my house was purchased by a man called Feagan.
Born in 1853, Feagan worked in a grocer’s downtown owned by Solomon Moyer. He married the grocer’s daughter Susan. They had children Stewart, Susie and a little girl called Harper who died before they moved into this address.
Shortly after moving in Feagan went into partnership with a fellow grocery clerk from Moyer’s called Stipe. Together Feagan & Stipe ran a grocery wholesale close to Toronto’s docks. They could be found in the Toronto City Directory under “Fruiterers” and sounding very much like a firm found in Charles Dickens.
After about 10 years the Feagans left and a succession of owners ensued. Many of them worked for the Toronto Electric Rail Company.
During World War 1 two elderly single sisters lived here. In a subsequent Directory entry an equally old Italian neighbour a few doors down had moved in. By the next year he had married one of the cousins.
In 1919 a Frenchman bought the house – a translator for a large farm implement company. But he and his brood did not move in until much later. They stayed until 1959.
Puzzled about the ductwork in my house, one day I pulled the cast iron cover off the cold air return on my bedroom floor. I immediately spied a note, “Victoria was here, 1994”, lying under the floor boards – a message from the previous tenant of the room.
Curiosity piqued, I didn’t have far to look before I found 3 notebooks dating from the 40s and 50s, a toy block, a box for a gyroscope ( the gyroscope itself still
remains out of reach to this day) and some crumpled up Vargas girl illustrations. These belonged to the Frenchman’s son Albert.
Albert was old enough to know better. He had commandeered his sister’s music scribblers and between the lines written his copious erotic fantasies regarding a married woman called Ruby Reilly. At first I thought I had found a confession but it was just Albert's wishful thinking. Albert’s writing was so repetitive I couldn’t be bothered to read all of what he and Ruby would do when she was ‘Barenakit” It was all very procedural and much like the scene in The Shining - All Work and No Play… But I learned that Ruby had apparently flashed him at a nearby rubber tire factory where they both worked.
I guess he stored his writings under the floor and forgot about them when it was time to move on. Albert still lives in the city.
Over time, my friend and I got a shopvac and brooms and tried to reach the other things under my floor but to no avail. However I did name my next cat Ruby Reilly. She was a horrible wild thing.