A bit of background

Glen Nixon and Ethel Riches were married in Vancouver in 1917. They were both originally from rural Manitoba – Glen from Margaret and Ethel from Elgin. Although they had both attended Methodist church functions at “The Tree” in Minto as children, they only met as adults after they both moved to Vancouver. They moved to Port Alberni soon after the wedding, where Glen had secured a position in the pulp mill’s account office. (He was exempted from service in WWI due to flat feet.)

During the 20’s, Glen studied and eventually became an insurance agent, and around 1929 they moved back to Vancouver where Glen went to work for Canada Life.

Glen & Ethel’s Wedding, Vancouver, 1917

Late in 1930, Ethel wasn’t feeling well and was diagnosed with an ulcer. A mis-diagnosis to be sure, as it soon became apparent that she was pregnant! The ulcer – Russell – was born in April 1931, and the little family moved to a house at 1066 West 11th Avenue.

In 1934, Ethel was again feeling unwell and was diagnosed with possible appendicitis. Once again the doctors were wrong and her appendicitis – David – was born in December.

David and Russell, 1066 West 11th Avenue, Vancouver, 1935

David and Russell, 1066 West 11th Avenue, Vancouver, 1937

Late in 1939, after war was declared, Glen left Canada Life to assume a position with YMCA War Services in Toronto, and the family left their Vancouver house to move into a 4-plex apartment on High Park Avenue. (The Vancouver house and the Toronto apartment are both gone.)

War-time Toronto was a great place for kids, especially if they lived across the street from the biggest park in the city. High Park’s playgrounds, woods, and Grenadier Pond were ideal for two growing boys. The only gloom the boys endured was having their maternal grandmother come to live with them. Her behaviour was very stern and decidedly erratic, and it was to become more so as the years passed.

The whole family at Lake Couchiching, 1942

At the end of the war, the Nixons again “upped sticks” so Glen could take a position with Dominion Life in Ottawa. They bought a house on Fifth Avenue in the Glebe district and settled in. Russell went to Glebe Collegiate and David to the High School of Commerce. At that time, the two schools shared the same building at Bronson and Carling.

In the meantime, Grandmother Riches’ behaviour went from erratic to completely out of hand. She was eventually pronounced to have “senile dementia” and sent to the provincial hospital in Smith’s Falls 1949. She died there in 1950.

In 1951, Ethel was again unwell. This time, it was bad news: kidney cancer. These was the days before chemotherapy and focused radiation treatments. It was also the time before universal health care and taking care of Ethel at home in the year leading up to her death (August 1952) left the family bankrupt. Glen had to sell the house, and he and the boys moved into an apartment on Kirkwood Avenue, at that time on the western outskirts of Ottawa, in 1953. (Russell spent the rest of his life in that apartment – 59 years!)

David’s Grade 12 Diploma

Throughout Ethel’s illness, David continued to excel at school and he graduated with honours in June 1952, two months before she died. He was the valedictorian that year and given the award for best all-around student.

David’s Grad Photo, June 1952

Deeply affected by his mother’s death, David dropped out of Grade 13. With his excellent grades and a wide-open post-war job market, he was soon hired by the federal government as an accounts clerk.

David’s memories of this first “real” job were not pleasant. It was in a large room filled with long rows of desks and a glassed-in manager’s office at the front. One came to work, completed the tasks assigned, handed them in and received more assignments in return. There was no talking and no interaction for fear of receiving a rap on the manager’s window and a wag of the finger.

Our Mister Nixon was meant for better things than this!


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