Saturday 14 January 2023

Book ~ "Lost in Cabbagetown: A Memoir of Surviving Boyhood in 1960s Toronto" (2022) Terry Burke

From Goodreads ~ Burke takes us back to a boyhood shaped by hunger, pain, love and loss on the streets of Toronto’s Cabbagetown.

When the Burke family left Ireland, in 1959, they thought they were leaving the trials and tribulations of the Dublin slums behind. Instead, Molly, Bill and their nine children found the same poverty and hardship awaiting them in the east end of Toronto.

For their sixth-born son, Terry, growing up in Cabbagetown was a daily struggle to survive. Whether it was the bullies on the street or the gangs in Regent Park, fights were an everyday occurrence. School should have been a refuge but some of the priests and nuns were more terrifying than any street bully. The only escape for Terry was to find his way down into the Don Valley, where he could search the river for muskrat or imagine himself escaping on one of the freight trains, chucking north, up the valley floor.

But a childhood in Cabbagetown didn’t seem to last very long. Forced into adulthood and driven from home in the wake of tragedy, Terry struggled to survive on his own and find a way back to his family.

In this touching memoir, Terry Burke pulls no punches, providing a poignant story of the hardships of poverty and the enduring bond of family.

Young Terry and his family (his mother, father and eight siblings) moved to Toronto in the late 1950s from Ireland, hoping for a better life. Alas, that's not what they found. At that time, their neighbourhood in Cabbagetown, which was made up of mostly immigrants, was run down and everyone was in the same situation. Money and work was hard to come by and their father worked when he could find it. Their mother held everything together at home.

There was no extra money for anything so if Terry wanted to go see a movie or grab a bite to eat with friends, he had to get creative by collecting pop bottles, helping women home with their groceries and hoping for a tip, fetching food for drunks coming out of tavern and getting to keep the change, and more. He and his siblings were sent to Catholic schools where the priests and nuns had no hesitation to keep students in line with a strap or ruler.

Terry didn't get along with his father and left home at age 15. He had to find a job and a place to live but without a driver's license that was difficult. He did what he could to survive but then things took drastic turn and everything seemed to be hopeless.

What attracted me to this book is that it is a true story set in Toronto. I liked the writing style and and the honesty. Despite the hard times, the love for his mother and siblings was always there ... they may not have had much but they had each other. I'm glad things worked out for him.

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