THE TROUBLES OF A Saturday night town

THE TROUBLES OF A Saturday night town

are not unique to Durham, Ont. Most of the time it’s peaceful and law-abiding, but for a few hours nearly every week it invites headlines with sudden outbursts of drunkenness, vandalism and cop-baiting. What’s behind this strange transformation?

October 27 1956
THE TROUBLES OF A Saturday night town

THE TROUBLES OF A Saturday night town

are not unique to Durham, Ont. Most of the time it’s peaceful and law-abiding, but for a few hours nearly every week it invites headlines with sudden outbursts of drunkenness, vandalism and cop-baiting. What’s behind this strange transformation?

October 27 1956

THE TROUBLES OF A Saturday night town

are not unique to Durham, Ont. Most of the time it’s peaceful and law-abiding, but for a few hours nearly every week it invites headlines with sudden outbursts of drunkenness, vandalism and cop-baiting. What’s behind this strange transformation?


All across the country are thousands of what might be called Saturday night towns, communities strung along highways and railways but untouched by the trathe that passes through. 1'hese are the towns that become larger very slowly, with a growth more traceable to fertility than immigration. People live in the houses in which they were born. Nothing is secret from the neighbors and nothing is exposed to strangers. Through the week the residents work together with the ease that comes when pretense is impractical and the streets have no loiterers but children.

Once a week, on Saturday night, the town dresses in its best, gets a shine of gaiety in its eye and joins in a main-street reunion with farmers doing their weekly shopping. For the women it is time for garrulity, an exchange of symptoms, the deeds of children and the inspection of new hats and dresses. For the men it is the time for gusty laughter, considerable exaggeration and, for some, a spangled release of inhibitions. The week's work is done, tomorrow is a day of peace, churchgoing and maybe a band concert. The night holds the prospect of dimming frustration with drink, soothing envy with a fist fight and renewing hope with a swagger.

One of Canada's Saturday night towns, Durham in Ontario, last summer suffered from an exposure of its frailties that dismayed its citizens, amused city-dwellers long departed from similar towns and created a highly publicized controversy over its drinking habits. Durham angrily insists that it isn't the only town in the country where men get drunk and fight on Saturday nights. This is unquestionably true. Durham is only typical of many Saturday night towns, with the unwelcome distinction of being the one that gained national attention.

Durham is just over a hundred miles northwest of Toronto anti thirty miles south of Owen Sound, a city on Georgian Bay. With just under two thousand residents, the town has maintained enough industry to keep its citizens tit home but not enough to attract many new' families. As a result of this balance, descendants of the early Scots. English and Irish who founded the town arc still living in the area. In any schoolroom ot the community. chances are that most of the students are related, however distantly. "I suppose lie's a relative of mine." a prim churchgoing spinster once remarked, during a conversation about a man with a long police record, “but of course I'm not sure.”

Durham's month of squirming in the limelight of newspaper and radio publicity was climaxed one warm August night a tew hours alter midnight when a man hurled a twenty-five-pound building block through the window of the shabby Durham police station. The incident was one in a chain ol such moments of explosive violence that won the town such unwelcome and far from wholly justified labels as a community where “hoodlums and rowdies have taken over."

"One Toronto newspaper say s we don l care about law and order in this town, turned Durham's Mayor Frank Irwin. "That’s just plain crazy. People in Durham are just as peaceful and lawabiding as anybody else in the country.

This is probably accurate, but some ot Durham's less peaceful and law-abiding citizens last July caused a Durham police officer to quit his job in fear for his own safety and move out ot town. Over the past five years, Durham has had six police chiefs; all left, without regret, for better-paying jobs. One of them was very nearly thrown otl a twenty-foot bridge into the Saugeen River and another avoided, by a lucky intervention, being tarred and leathered.

I his is the debit side of the ledger. On the credit side, Durham’s children are deeply and tenderly loved. They are well ted and dressed more richly than their parents can easily afford. Durham s new public and high schools are the tow n s two most distinguished buildings. C hildren have a wonderful life in Durham, completely surrounded by fond relatives wherever they wander. As a result. Durham has no juvenile delinquency. It is also tree of the type of adult crimes that grow from juvenile delinquency, such as stealing, cheating and sex crimes. Durham's clashes with organized law and order stem from the town's long-time tolerance of drinking and fighting as being normal and even necessary pursuits of men in the early stages of manhood. "1 hey 11 outgrow it. Durham explains sincerely. "We’ve always had a crop of young men like these and they always outgrow it when they start raising their own families.”

A striking example of this aspect ol Durham s attitude toward excessive drink occurred during a trial of a resident who was accused ol driving while impaired. A lawyer asked the accused man s’ wife for her definition of drunkenness. She considered. Finally she beamed: "It’s when a man can’t drive and can't talk."

Yet the most recent vote taken in Durham on the question of opening an Ontario Liquor C ontrol Board outlet in the town was won by the dries. A majority of citizens voted in favor of the outlet hut the percentage was below that required by law. Durham, with nine churches to serve its two thousand inhabitants, has a strong core ot ardent prohibitionists.

Durham is like many isolated and semi-isolated towns and villages in Canada. Like islands oil the shipping lanes, the inhabitants work out their own standards ot dress and decorum anti establish to their own satisfaction which of the human faults are permissible and which are not.

Ihe rules governing what many people in Durham regard as normal behavior tor young men in their early twenties have alw ays heen clear-cut and are still being respected: the celebrants are to confine their activities to the main street during the hours when most ol Durham is asleep. ”1 never see any of this trouble,” comments town clerk William Renwick. “I'm in bed when it is going on."

\\ hat the people who live closest to Durham’s problem say about the rowdyism loosed on quiet Main Street

This arrangement has served Durham s restless youths for generations and might still be operating efficiently as an outlet for the pressure cooker of small-town living if it weren’t for a disturbing outside influence: the law. Until recent years, Durham’s one-man constabulary had the good judgment to retire early; the latest batch of police chiefs, trained in modern methods of law enforcement, have persisted in staying up past midnight and patrolling the main street. Many citizens, including the mayor, believe the police are being far too zealous.

continued on page 65

The troubles of a Saturday night town continued from page 19


“The dries are responsible ... if we had a liquor store here people would buy one bottle at a time”

"What else are these boys going to do?” Mayor Irwin enquires impatiently. "They have no skill except with their hands, they can't even run the machinery they’ve got nowadays. They’ve got a lot of life in them and it comes out when they’ve had a few drinks. You can't blame them for that, it’s only natural.”

Irwin is a fierce champion of the young men of the town. At seventy-five, he is a \eteran of three wars (Spanish-American, Boer and Philippines) and a former hand with circuses and such shows as Buffalo Bill Cody’s. For forty years he owned and edited the Durham Chronicle, sold it a few years ago to a young Barrie newspaperman, George Cadogan, and now puts in his time brusquely mayoring the town.

“The dries are responsible for all the trouble in Durham." he recently announced, without a thought to his political future. "No one is going to drive eighteen miles for just one crock, so people overstock. You start drinking at someone’s house and when that’s all gone somebody will say, Tve got a couple of crocks over at my place,’ so you go over there. From there you go to the next fellow’s place. You wouldn’t get conditions like that if we had a liquor store right here. People would buy one bottle at a time and that would be the end of it.”

The police chief, Louis Berger, is more inclined to feel that the wets are causing the most trouble. "This is a small community but we’ve had four drunken drivers charged in as many days,” he told the Durham council. "It’s shocking.”

The series of events that brought Durham’s nocturnal habits to nation-wide notice began on July 12 when Police Chief Berger appeared before a towncouncil meeting to ask that his two-man force be increased to three. Berger had been hired as chief at the beginning of the year after learning his trade in five years on the force at Wallaceburg. Ont. He began keeping records of the number of complaints, investigations and charges passing through his tiny office. Tn January the total was 36, in February 35, in March 44. in April 51, in May 56, in June 87.

"Either council doesn’t know or they are closing their eyes to what is going on,” was Chief Berger’s comment.

He can’t sing, dance or tell jokes. He became a Canadian television star by talking about things that may not even happen tomorrow. Turn to page 69 to see who this boy grew up to be. %

The next day Berger's new constable. Oliver Monk, 31. was sworn in and outfitted with a uniform. Monk, a slight, sallow man weighing only 142 pounds, had moved to Durham from Owen Sound two weeks before to operate a service station. Newly married, Monk had decided to take on the police job in order to bolster his income. He worked in his station all day and went on duty patrolling from seven to three in the morning.

What happened next seems to have been lifted intact from the pages of cheap fiction. Monk became aware that people on the street were watching him with expressions of pure hatred. “We’ll give you thirty days,” a lounger told him, “if you Iasi lhat long.”

I bree nights after he joined the force someone slashed the gasoline hoses at his service station and effectively jammed the pumps so that it was impossible to operate them all the next day. The next night someone set a fire in the loft of the station. The blaze was discovered by Durham's other policeman, John Ward, before it had done much damage. That same night three men drove up beside the police cruiser in which Monk was patrolling and forced it off the road. They cursed and threatened him, jeered at him to try to arrest them. With the help of Berger and Ward he did. They were later convicted of “creating a disturbance” and fined.

Then people stopped buying his gasoline. He waited all the next day and the day after that but no one came. “Even my good customers stayed away,” he says. Desperately, he reduced the price of the gas to thirty-four cents, his cost price, but still no one came. His terrified wife refused to leave their apartment and begged him to quit. A few nights later someone threw a concrete building block through the police-station window. Monk resigned. well within the thirty days prophesied. He and his wife moved back to Owen Sound.

Police Chief Berger says that the persecution of Monk was part of active dislike some people in Durham have for policemen. “He was a new man and green, so they figured it would be easier to get at him than an experienced man.”

One of the men later charged with causing a disturbance as a result of the incident when Monk was jeered at denies this. “That’s not the reason at all,” insists Lloyd Hopkins virtuously. “Monk just isn’t the kind of man who should be a policeman, that's what we’ve got against him.” Hopkins, a twenty-nine-year-old lightning-rod installer, has several times been arrested for law infractions of various kinds. In the past few months he has paid about a hundred dollars in fines.

Hopkins was referring to rumors in Durham that Oliver Monk has a police record, a point denied by Crown Attorney Charles Middlebro, of Owen Sound. "To my knowledge. Oliver Monk has no record,” Middlebro said.

Regardless of what many Durham residents consider to be completely chaste motives for forcing Monk to quit the police force. Durham has a long history of inhospitable behavior toward policemen. Since 1951, the town has had six police chiefs. In that year Frank Illingworth left after five years as Durham's police chief, “five years too long.” he comments.

Illingworth, now chief in placid, immaculate Hanover, eleven miles from Durham, left the Canadian Army in 1946 with the dream of most veteran policemen, to be police chief in a quiet peaceful town for the rest of his days. He looked at Durham and was charmed. The town is built on a high hill and a valley threaded with a picturesque trout stream. After seventeen years of experience as a policeman, lllingw-orth w-as certain that the Durham job finally would represent tranquillity.

“After my first few days there I found that I had to begin at the beginning and educate the town as to the present laws,” he recalls. “The people were unaware of every law in the land and there was a complete lack of interest in learning.”

Illingworth discovered that a number of Durham citizens vigorously resent being arrested and are willing to fight for the right to get as drunk as they please. During the ensuing battles, a Durham policeman can depend on a good audience, but no assistance.

“Once I struggled with a man on the main street and we fought for half an hour. About two hundred people watched, but not a soul helped me. Finally 1 succeeded in overwhelming him and putting him in the cells. Then 1 went out to get names of witnesses so 1 could charge him with assault. I couldn’t find one, not one. Some of the people who watched the fight were good people too, but they didn’t want to be witnesses against another Durham person.”

The present chief of Durham, Louis Berger, says that Illingworth was the victim of a more serious attack. “Some men got hold of him and shoved his head in a toilet bowl. They had tar and feathers all ready for him and were just going to start in when they were stopped by some more sober relative.” Durham. Berger adds, took a firm stand on this incident: Illingworth received a public apology.

Frank Forbes, who followed Illingworth two or three chiefs later, was involved in one of the most memorable fist fights Durham has ever had. The battle occurred on the main street, with an interested gallery of spectators, and raged up and down the block. At one time Forbes’ assailant was struggling to dump the chief off a bridge into the Saugeen River, twenty feet below. “They almost killed Forbes.” Berger recalls. “He got a terrible, beating.”

"No such thing,” a witness to the fight protests. "There was some blood, sure, but no one had to go to the hospital.”

"In Durham, they travel in packs and come at you like wolves,” Illingworth murmured reflectively a few weeks ago as he sat on his front veranda and watched the gentle citizens of Hanover tip their hats to one another. “You go down the main street of Durham after midnight on Saturday and you’ll see what I mean.”

To a visitor from a distance, Durham’s main street on Saturday presents two distinct personalities. The first is folksy and friendly. Farmers and their families from the surrounding area do their weekly marketing Saturday nights and the town people join them on the sidewalks of the two-block shopping district for a mammoth reunion. Cars jam all the available parking space for blocks in every direction and the sidewalks are so crowded that progress is slow.

Darkly tanned men. with bands of white skin around their heads where clippers have freshly sheared away hair, hook their thumbs in wide suspenders and stand in groups talking crops. Children in clean white shoes and their best clothes bubble with big-eyed excitement, and heavy women in corsets and print dresses shift the weight of groceries from one arm to the other and gossip contentedly. Old women in black stockings nod their heads together and watch with faded eyes the people passing by. The men leaning against the tobacco shop are silent as teen-aged girls saunter along, eating potato chips from silver bags and striving for nonchalance. A street-corner evangelist howls, “It’s been twenty-five years since I was saved from the evils of drink and 1 say to you . . .” and Durham pauses to listen with an expressionless face.

At eleven o'clock the stores begin to close. A grocery clerk takes the bread out of the window and the owner of a shoe store switches off his lights. The marquee of Durham’s only movie house is darkened and sounds become separate and sharp as the street empties. From the open door of the tobacco shop comes the click of cues and pool balls. Car doors slamming and motors starting break the gathering quiet; frogs croak by the river, a block away, and crickets chirp on the warm pavement. The sidewalks, littered with cigarette papers, popsicle sticks and candy wrappers, are almost deserted. Merchants come out and watch, stretching their arms, as the last few housewives, clucking over straggling children, hurry across the street and into cars.

At midnight the rural charm begins to lade. The stores are dark and only a lew cars are parked in the business section. From the open windows of an apartment above a grocery store come the shrieks of women in an argument and the coarse voices of men placating them. A restaurant with its blinds drawn is almost as busy now as an hour before when it was selling chocolate sundaes; men come out a few at a time and walk unsteadily away, others knock and wait for the door to be unlocked so they can slip inside. A radio somewhere blares the sound of muted trumpets as the police cruiser, a red-and-white car owned by C hief Berger, glides the length of the street, turns and comes back slowly. When it passes, a red-headed youth in his early twenties spits after it, removes a bottle of beer from his hip pocket and sits down on the post-office steps to drink it.

“Tell me when those-come back,”

he instructs another young man leaning against a lamp post. "I’ve gotta have a drink.”

I’he town’s awake late

Half a dozen taxis, based at a cab stand almost a block away, are frantically busy. They roar down the street in great agitation and skid around corners. Durham cab drivers, according to Mayor Irwin, drive eighteen miles to the nearest liquor store and buy as many as sixty bottles at a time. “It’s all perfectly legal,” Mayor Irwin adds, "though I suppose they do sell one or two bottles." Durham docs not keep a separate record of convictions against cab drivers as some Canadian communities do, but one Durham cab driver has been convicted several times of such charges as impaired driving and selling liquor to a minor. Another Durham man, with multiple convictions for drunkenness on his record, was so astonished when his application for a taxi license was turned down that he went immediately to complain to Marion Calder, who as reeve of Durham is the town’s second highest elected officer to Mayor Irwin, and represents Durham in the county council.

"You have to go straight,” she told him firmly, "for at least six months.”

The man was appreciative. "At least you're honest with me. No one else would tell me why I was turned down.” he said. He went away still amazed at the extraordinary, and unprecedented, refusal.

Toward one o'clock on Sunday morning Durham’s taxis are still receiving rush calls. A youth in a clean white jersey knocks at the restaurant door, listens a moment and kicks the door gently. The police cruiser approaches silently and the young man quickly moves a few feet from the door, leans against the restaurant window and folds his arms. He stares at the policemen. Ward and Berger, as they pass and the policemen stare back. No one speaks and a moment later, while the cruiser is turning a block away, the man begins to kick the restaurant door urgently.

“When the band stopped all the people would stop the Highland dancing and fall to fighting again”

A middle-aged man, reeling drunk, comes out of a building across the street and teeters on the edge of the curb. After getting his balance, he carefully crosses the street and approaches the door of an apartment building where two women are sitting on kitchen chairs, chatting and watching the street. With them is a sevenor eight-year-old girl, her hair shining clean and her party dress fluffy over pretty crinolines. The drunk pauses, steadies himself, and begins to talk to the child, patting her on the head. The women watch without concern and join in the conversation.

Mayor Frank Irwin insists that the town is much more decorous now’ than in its past. Durham was founded, as a stone cairn on the site attests, by a Scot. Archibald Hunter, w'ho in 1842 climbed a sixhundred-and-twenty-five-foot hill and slept the night in a deserted Huron Indian wigwam. The next morning he looked around and said. ‘ Here 1 11 stop. 1 11 go no further.”

Though the community that grew' around his decision was mainly Scottish, the town was named for Durham in England. A crown-lands agent, George Jackson, set up his office there and soon all roads led to Durham. A sawmill w'as built and Durham sent sixty-foot logs all over the world, hauling them out on timber sleighs that stretched dowm the road as far as the eye could see. Durham was a relay station for horses bringing the mail from Kincardine to Collingwood. It began to develop a gentry, who lived on the top of Hunter’s hill and called it Upper Town. The shabby section in the valley was called Lower Town.

During the time of the cattle fairs. Durham’s red-headed and sometimes kilted youths fought and drank day and night. "They used to start the band playing and all the people fighting would stop and dance a sort of a Highland dance,” Irwin reports. "Then when the band stopped they’d fall to and start fighting again.”

Last winter Durham's youth staged a modern-dress version of the same scene. After a hockey game between Durham and Meaford, a number of Durham residents who objected to the officiating began to express their distaste by using their fists on Meaford supporters. While women screamed and one of them had hysierics, the Canadian Press later reported, "sixty or seventy people fought in the stands and two hundred more milled around on the ice.” The rink management turned off the lights to quiet the crowd, which caused more women to scream, turned them on again while battered men located their foes, turned them off again hastily. Later Mayor Irwin, ever one to calm chaos, laid all the blame on “incompetent refereeing.” Meaford refused to play in Durham again without police protection.

In spite of the evidence Durham always willingly provides in proof that it is a spirited town, it stopped grow’ing around the turn of the century.

"1 don’t know why,” Irwin recently mourned. "Maybe it was the people, maybe it w'as because the main line of the railway didn't come through. We have the CN and CP now, but we go fortyeight hours sometimes without a train coming through. Maybe we didn't grow because people in Upper Town didn't w'ant industry for many years. It's just one of those things.”

Durham now’ has two businesses that form the major share of its industry: a branch of the Kroehler Manufacturing Co. which recently expanded and hires about tw’o hundred people, and the Durham Crushed Stone pits which hire about fifty. The Upper Town mansions are still withdrawn by altitude and attitude but the main life of the town is in the valley, where the industry and business district is located. Col. Fraser Hunter, grandson of the Hunter who founded Durham, lives on the hill in a house built more than a century ago and talks w’ith gentle courtliness of a past he treasures.


to Who is it? on page 65

Percy Saltzman, the CBC's weather forecaster.

"I didn’t know anything about what they are doing in Lower Town until I read it in the papers,” observes the colonel. who spent thirty-four years in India and once climbed part way up Mount Everest wearing his full cavalry uniform. including spurs. "I don’t think the people are serious criminals, though."

Durham’s less than serious criminals nevertheless have left damage in their wake. After a dance in the Town Hall, some men motivated by a whim smashed Red Cross equipment stored in a basement there. Fishing shacks in the area have been broken into, used as barrooms for a time and then abandoned with broken windows and smashed furniture. Staggering damage is done annually on Hallowe’en by adult graduates of the Hutton Hills Public School, a rural stone school built in 1871. School windows are shattered, the heavy iron stove is tipped over and the room littered with books and papers.

"They’re just pranksters,” says Tom Lawrence, a farmer in the area who attended the school himself. “They go to the school to drink because it’s off the road a bit and they leave their beer bottles scattered around the schoolyard, but that's not so awful.”

Some people in Durham are beginning to suspect that conditions are awful, after all. Marion ('aider, Durham's reeve and the first woman reeve in Grey County, has lived two blocks from the main street all her life but didn’t realize until this summer what was happening. "I'm in bed early and I didn’t know' about it.” she explains. "But it’s terrible, the drinking and fighting and carrying on. We never know when lives might be taken. Something has to be done about it.”

Some of Durham’s citizens feel that the first thing "to do about it" is to secure better support for the police in the courts. Magistrate F. C. Spereman, they say. is inclined to give Durham's unruly citizens the minimum sentence of a fine rather than the maximum sentence of jail terms. “You and your brother are always in trouble,” he told one of his more frequent visitors recently. "Next time, I warn you, there will be a jail sentence imposed."

"The magistrate always warns us that he's gonna put us in jail,” grins Eloyd Hopkins. "He never will. He’s a pretty good guy. That guy who beat up a police chief here didn't even go to jail. He was scared he would, but he just got a fine.”

A Durham council representative has asked that the Attorney-General’s Office at Queen's Park review local conditions and possibly replace Spereman with a sterner man. In the meantime. Police Chief Berger is struggling with a tide of charges, investigations and complaints that threatened to engulf his three-man force. In July the total reached a record one hundred and fifty-six — in nearby Hanover, with twice the population, the total for the same period was about forty.

But one young Durham resident quietly expressed doubt that stiffer punishment would answer the town's problem. "There’s nothing to do in Durham for a young man. nothing but the movie house and the pool hall. The sports teams are run by cliques that turn you away if you don’t suit them. I know. They turned me away. There's nothing to do but get drunk and smash something.”

Most Durham people sincerely wish the town could return to its old system that worked so smoothly, when policemen kept decent hours and let the young men work off their frustrations in their own way. Still greatly admired is the attitude of the Durham woman, living alone in a big house, who wakened one night to the sound of a burglar struggling with a downstairs lock. She turned on the lights, recognized the burglar as a Durham man and lectured him soundly. Afterward she called a taxi and sent him home. "After all.” she confided later, "there was no real harm in the fellow—he'd just been drinking." ★