Flashback to the 60’s: Loblaws & The House of the Rising Sun

Originally published February 15, 2013

Loblaws Grocery Stores

Loblaws Grocery Stores

It was sometime during 1964 and I was desperate for a part-time job.  I had given up my newspaper job at the Oshawa General Hospital (see My Best Newspaper Job blog) and I wasn’t interested in any more paper routes, shoveling snow or cutting lawns – been there, done that.  I needed (wanted) to get a “grown-up job”.  As previously mentioned, I didn’t get a weekly allowance, so I had to find a job to pay for my new pastime – GIRLS!  After all, everybody knows that girls aren’t interested in dating “paper boys”.

I was in high school and there were lots of dances – but you had to pay for admission.  I don’t recall how much it cost to get in, but even if it was just $1.00 – it was a dollar more than I usually had in my pocket.  Oh sure, I was able to scrounge up enough money to go to the odd dance but that isn’t where the need for money ended.  Because if you danced with a girl and you wanted to walk her home after the dance, you had to stop at one of the restaurants downtown for chips and coke – and that cost about 25 cents per person – and the boy always paid for the girl’s meal.  It’s one thing to want to date a girl but without money – well, I was probably doomed to be single for the rest of my life!

So I started looking for a part-time job at the Oshawa Shopping Centre.  At the time it wasn’t an enclosed mall but it did have two large stores, namely Loblaw’s (grocery store) and Eaton’s (department store).  I was wearing a white shirt and tie, my hair was neatly brushed and my shoes were nice and shiny.  I didn’t have any experience in asking for a job but didn’t think it would be too difficult.  So immediately after school had finished for the day, I started walking to the shopping centre.  I rehearsed what I would say and how I would say it.  I arrived at Loblaw’s and asked one of the cashiers for a job.  I remember her smiling at me and then telling me I would have to speak to Mr. A., the store manager.  She called for him and within a few moments I was face-to-face with the meanest looking person I had ever seen.  He was very abrupt and direct when he asked “You have to be able to work until 10:00PM on Thursdays and Fridays and then work all day Saturday until 6:00PM”

“That’s no problem, sir” I answered.

“You also need to be 15 years old” he stated.  He was staring me up and down.

“Yes sir, I’m 15 years old” I replied – even though I had just turned 14 a few weeks earlier.  But sometimes a guy has to tell a fib to get what he wants – and the ends always justify the means, right?

“Okay, you can start tomorrow.  Make sure that you’re here at 5:00 o’clock and don’t be late!” he barked.

“Yes sir… I mean, no sir…” I replied nervously.  I then held out my hand to shake his hand but he just turned and walked away.

I was really happy that I had gotten the job.  But I would have to break the news to my parents that I would be working until 10:00 o’clock on a school night.  Oh well, I’ll just forget to mention the hours – after all, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than it is to ask for permission.  I guess that that was sort of like telling a lie – but like I said, the ends justify the means.

On Thursday, I wore my white dress shirt to school and told all of my buddies about my new job – but they weren’t impressed.  After all, most of them were getting huge allowances – why would they want to work?  Why would they want to give up their Saturdays?  It suddenly dawned on me that I was probably one of the poorest teenagers attending O’Neil Collegiate & Vocational Institute (OCVI).

After class, I headed for the Oshawa Shopping Centre – I didn’t have bus fare, so I had to walk.  But I walked fast because I didn’t want to be late for my first day at the job – who knows, Mr. A. seemed mean – he would probably fire me for being late – but not until he hit me or something first.  So my walk turned into a run – I didn’t own a wrist watch, so I had no way of knowing if I was going to be on time or not.  I can’t recall how long it took me to get to Loblaws, but I know that I wasn’t late.

Mr. A. met me and took me for a tour of the backroom, where all of the back up inventory was stored.  He then took me to his office and gave me a white apron, a black bow tie and a pricing gun.  He then introduced me to one of the part time clerks who would be teaching me the job.  His name was Danny, too.  Every grocery clerk had an aisle of the store that they were responsible for and Danny L. took me to my aisle: the canned vegetable and fruit aisle.  He explained that the first thing that you do is make a list of the empty spots on the shelves.  He then took me to the backroom where all of the boxes of canned vegetables and fruits were stored.  Depending on the size of the cans, the box would contain 12 or 24 cans.  You would then fill a cart with the boxes that you needed and then went back to your aisle to price each of the cans with the pricing gun.  The pricing gun was really neat – you turned the wheels to the correct numbers for the price and then you stamped each of the cans in the box.  Danny explained that you had to then put the cans on the shelf with the English label facing outward.  Canada is officially bilingual but not at Loblaws!  He exlained that if Mr. A. saw any products showing a French label – well, let’s just say that you’d be doomed!

Then Danny told me about single facing and double facing the cans at the end of the night.  At about 9:30 PM, you had to move the cans to the front of the shelf to make the shelf appear full.  On Thursday and Friday nights it would be only a single row of cans at the front of the shelf.  On Saturdays, you would have to put a double row of cans in front of the shelf.  I guess this was a way to make the store always appear that it had lots of food.

At break time, Danny introduced me to some of the other part time clerks.  One of them was Bob Simpson.  Four years later, when my parents moved to Georgetown, I stayed in Oshawa on my own – to finish my last year of high school.  And for much of that year, I had a basement room (no board) that I rented at Bob’s house.  During the break, I also remember talking about music – that’s all we ever talked about – except for maybe girls.  One of the guys asked me how many records I had.  I only owned one – it was a Meet Bobby Curtola lp that I got from the Wilson & Lee Music Store.  Actually, I won a “spot dance” at my first school dance and my first dance with a girl (Marie P.) and we both got gift certificates for any record album at Wilson & Lee Music Store.  I picked Bobby Curtola’s album, which I still have to this day.  Danny L. told me that I had to get The Animals’ new 45 rpm record – The House of the Rising Sun.  He said that it was the perfect song for dancing really, really slow with a girl.

I only worked at Loblaws for one week.  My Mom freaked out when I didn’t get home until almost 11:00 o’clock – on a school night and made me quit my job.  But she did let me finish the week, so I could at least make a few bucks.  And I remember going to Wilson & Lee Music Store and buying the House of the Rising Sun record.  It was my first blues/rock record and I really loved it (and all of the future Eric Burdon & The Animals songs).  A few weeks ago, I  bought Eric Burdon’s latest album ‘Til Your River Runs Dry, which was just released.  Nice to see that he’s still performing after all of these years.



oshawa_times_loblawsI used to go shopping here with Ma in the ’50’s – Oshawa had several of these stores

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An almost famous Film, Television & Stage Actor living in Vancouver, BC (as in almost pregnant). His other passions include: patient advocate (he had Stage 3 Throat Cancer) ; daily power walks at the Promenade in White Rock; and of course, spoiling his dog Holly Golightly. If you like the stuff he writes about - please leave a hug (or a comment).

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