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Monday, June 28, 2021

The Willow

From John Dowson - June 28, 2021 The Willow theatre was built on Yonge street at the corner of Norton ave. That was the next street North of my street Parkview and just 1 and a half blocks from Yonge street We were eager to have a movie theatre and we’d sneak in the building as it was being built The building was started in 1947 through the winter and the spring of 1948. Doug Waddell John Woods and I snuck in the theatre when they were showing a movie to check the sound and screen We were seen and invited to stay . Behind Stephensons gas station on Yonge street at Norton was an empty lot the willow used it as a parking lot. I was hired in 1948 to park cars in the lot from 6.00 pm to 9 pm and I got to see the second feature for free. I was paid $10 a week in addition to my globe and Mail paper route I was a millionaire The first movie was Tap Roots starring Van Heflin In March 1949 I was promoted to Usher with my classmate Robbie Neale We were paid $15 a week and I bought tailor made strides and sport jackets The strides were $15 a whole weeks pay. The tailor was Len Owen and I think I still owe him $125 I was an usher at the Willow from its inception in 1949 to 1951 it was a great job yes loose fitting jackets I had to wear black pants black socks and shoes white shirt and black bow tie and I wore this crappie usher jacket with a black silk lapel and believe it or not that outfit and free tickets attracted girls . There was a thing going around at the time to see how long you and Your girlfriend could hold a kiss. One night after the last show I was checking the woman’s washroom and a woman was sitting on the toilet when I opened the door My friend would show up and hand me a small piece of heavy paper I’d pretend to tear something and deposit it into the ticket container and he’d get in free but the best time was dinner set days when patrons got a free piece of a dinner set. We’d play Frisbee with the plates that would break of course. There was one movie that would not seat women with men and the line up outside the theatre was enormous but we got to see the movie that was for adults only. The money I made allowed me to become a clothes horse 27 inch knee and 14 inch ankles 6 button dropped down belt loops i even bought a pair of blue suide loafers with a nickel in the front

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

 Email from Charles Dowson  Jun 4, 2021, 12:49



Take a trip down Yonge Street and view the past, Now if only Google could go to the past with their camera cars disguised as an old milk truck and put that on their site. We might catch a glimpse of John and Richard in the lineup at the old Willow Theatre some Saturday morning. Or Q Ball standing in front of Andrews Meat Market at Parkview and Yonge Street.
Enjoy the tour gents.

1945: The Jolly Miller

The Jolly Miller now The Miller was a great place for a pint and a skate in the winter. I never did both because you had to take a bus there. The Algonquin had more class architecturally and the Mitchel Field rink was only 3 blocks north.  

Trapper's Restaurant

The Trappers Restaurant now a Popeyes at the old city limits. One day while Mike and I were in a car with John he parked out front and went into Trappers to get some matches.
Old east side building complex still there.

[Another landmark] The Du Maurier Apartments east side of Yonge Street just north of Lawrence Ave. One day the three of us and mom waited in the '54 Chevy while dad went in to see Auntie June down that little road way.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Al Hepburn

Circa 1959

Al Hepburn Richard Dowson and Wick Drewry went out west to Alberta to become cowboys in 1959 They worked on the ranch in Brooks Alberta until the fall, 

Al left shortly after they arrived and I remember him saying “they round up cattle with a pick-up truck” 

Wick went back to Ontario after round up

Richard moved in with my brother Bill Dowson who was living in Drumheller Alta where he worked on the local Radio station CJDV The voice of the big country” He went back to high school in Drumheller and graduated after a year of selling insurance he married and went to University of Alberta Edmonton became a school teacher and high school principal 

Wick went back to the Ranch every year after that and worked on the ranch from branding in the spring to roundup in the fall and spent the winter with his mother in Willowdale. 

Richard now lives in Moose Jaw Sask 

Al Hepburn joined the North York Fire department where he worked until his death and Wick later became a horse wrangler at Pioneer Village in Ontario and retired with a government pension. He passed away a few years ago. 

An now you know the rest of the story. - John Dowson

Al Hepburn and His 56 Caddy

 Al bought it in 1958 while he was living down the street from us on Parkview with Kenny Beaton’s family. Kenny’s Dad had been blown up in the War – never adapted to life after combat – so was in the hospital most of the time and Kenny’s mom took in boarders to make ends meet.


Kenny had one sister – older – who lived at home at the time.


Kenny Beaton was well known because he survived Polio – but he was also known for getting hit by a car while crossing Yonge Street. At the time our school, McKee Avenue School had the Elmer the Safety Elephant flag on the flag pole at the front of the school. When Kenny got hit they took away our Elmer Flag – assholes.


While Al was living at Beaton’s and working for the Township driving garbage truck, a guy named Joey Alkie was also there. Joey loved the booze. Joey had worked as a cook for a well known Deli on Bathurst (it’s still there). One day Joey told Al that they kept money overnight in the Deli and where it was located.


The two went down one night and Al broke in, found the money and got out. Joey asked for a share and Al told him he couldn’t find the money – so there was no share.


Al had managed to get over $1,000  - later investing it in his Cadillac.


Our mother thought he was a great saver and an example for all us on how to save and invest.


Al told me the story while we were working at the 7L7 in 1959. He had the Cadillac at the ranch for a month – then the Finance Company boys showed up from Calgary and repossessed it.


Hepburn was a scoundrel through and through – but great fun to be with.


The last time I saw Joey and Al together they were on the subway coming back from a Dog Show at the CNE. Joey was loaded.


Richard Dowson, Moose Jaw


Al Hepburn & The Hound Dogs (1954)

- by Russ Strathdee

Al Hepburn lived in a bungalow 2 streets north of Finch Ave, (which was the northern boundary of Willowdale) at 15 Bishop Ave. He asked me to play in his band, The Hound Dogs. Apparently he got my name from Danny Antonacci, who was one of my high school classmate. Hepburn never went to Earl Haig. 

Al was a couple of years older than me and his profession during the day was what he called a “Sanitary Engineer” for the Township of North York – a garbage collector. He had a younger brother Ken and the two of them played guitar and sang Rock and Roll music. 

Al and Ken Hepburn

Al played mostly rhythm guitar while Kenny played lead (solos) on his brand new gold sparkle Gibson “Les Paul” guitar. That guitar was quite special back then and it became a classic. Al had a really nice guitar too. It was a Martin.

The “Hounds” would sometimes practice in my mom and dad’s living room or the basement. Other times we practiced at Al’s mother’s place. Al’s mother used be sitting in the kitchen when I arrived and she’d say, “Hi Albie” (meaning Albino). I didn’t really mind; actually thought it was a bit amusing. It was all good. Nearly ever guy had a nickname.  

Al Hepburn and The Hound Dogs
Personnel: Al Hepburn (lead singer and guitar); Ken Hepburn (lead guitar); Doug Tarpley (rhythm guitar); Nick Bassel (string bass); Gord Stewart (drums); Russ (sax). We all wore white jackets, except for Al, who was the front man. Unfortunately, Nick Bassel (string bass) is off to the right, out of sight of the camera for this photo.

In the above photo, I am playing a tenor sax. This would be an instrument I borrowed from Earl Haig, as I did not own one at that time. I can remember some of the audience at the Farmers Market were staring at my sax, maybe wondering what it was?

Nick Bassel

Our theme song was "Two Hound Dogs"
Hound dog!
They call them Rhythm and Blues
Hound dog!
Two dogs named Rhythm and Blues
Hound dog!
Rompin' ol' Rhythm and Blues
Hound dog!
Rockin' ol' Rhythm and Blues
Hound dog!
Crazy ol' Rhythm and Blues
Hound dog! Hound dog! Hound dog! Hound dog!

A "Hounds" Set List

Al used to tape a set list to the top side of his Martin.

The Hound Dogs made several appearances at the Celsie Brothers Sunday Night Jamboree, held at the Thornhill Farmer’s Market.  I did not own a tenor saxophone (that I am holding in the photo). I borrowed one from Earl Haig. We each got paid $2.00 for the night.

Al Hepburn was looking for other places for the group to play and one late afternoon we drove up to a shabby place in Newmarket called "The Bucket Of Blood”. (It’s no longer there, of course, but would have been right at the corner of Yonge and Mullock). We met up with a really slick guitar player named Eddie Liquer, who Al knew, and it was arranged that “The Hounds” would play there the week after Eddie’s show ended. I don't recall this actually happening but Doug Walmsley does.


Potato Champagne

One time when the “Hounds” were rehearsing at Al’s place, he took us down to the basement to show us a batch of “Potato Champagne” his older brother Don was making. There was a large 5-gallon stone crock sitting on a chair right next to the furnace to keep it warm. 

The crock was full nearly to the top with a fresh batch Don was making. On top of the fizzing, frothy concoction were two pieces of bread with yeast sprinkled on them.  Peeled and cut up potatoes, oranges, sugar and water were the main ingredients. The yeast reacted with the sugar and warm liquid to make alcohol.

During our rehearsal, a couple of green Ginger Ale bottles of Don’s brew were passed around for us all to sample. Well, this stuff was so powerful that after a few rounds of sharing, the drummer, Gord Stewart, had to puke out the bedroom window. It was wintertime and unfortunately he barfed his expensive bridgework out into the snow below. We all remember Gord groveling around out the back of the house in the snow looking for his teeth and this was a cause for major pause in our band rehearsal.

Al, The Instigator

A friend of Paul Douglas, Bill Powell, had folks who would go away to Florida and leave Bill to mind the house. The summer of ’59 Bill was working for the CNE and he thought it would be nice to have a few pales over during this time. Some of my friends that would also attend these get-togethers included Barb (my date), Al Hepburn, Danny Antonacci, Paul Douglas and Doug Walmsley. The main gathering would be in the living room with the kitchen in the next room. It was a great arrangement for getting your cool beverages from the fridge.

Paul Douglas usually brought a couple of 24’s while Danny would always bring a 6-pack – Al Hepburn mockingly called that “a School-boy Six”. 

At one of these Soirees, Hepburn, always the instigator, suggested that it would be more “efficient” and equitable (since some guys brought more beer than others) if we each just poured our beers into a 5-gallon stone crock – the same one used to make Potato Champagne. 

A few of us decided to follow Al's recommendation with the idea that we could each take a sip from the crock, like a loving cup, and pass it around. Hepburn was also clever in pointing out that this would save numerous trips to the fridge. 

The thing was, the crock itself weighed about 15-20 pounds and being about a third full, that was a lot of beer to be hoisting to your face. What happened, as we discovered, was this didn’t work out too good - when you went to take a sip, by the time you hoisted and tilted the vessel the right angle, all this beer came at you like a mini tidal wave. It became a real art to share without it all nearly drowning you and going all down the front of your spiffy attire.

Dancing on Top of Cars

My '49 Olds

I sold my ’49 Olds to Al Hepburn for about $300. My old high school buddy, Dave Dobson, told me in an email what happened shortly after that transaction:
Al always instigated things. I remember Al pinched a few cases of beer from the back of a bootleggers van and created a need for a bush party. I cannot remember who the other guest were. As events progressed we decided that jumping from the roofs of our autos to the roof of the next one was indeed great fun. Monday morning I looked at my  sagging looking Chev and vowed to never partake in alcohol again...
I distinctly remember being so horrified when Al later told me he “did a little dance” on the roof of the Olds. I was so proud of that car. This was disappointing. 

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Palace Pier

Email from John Dowson
Apr 18, 2020, 2:39 PM

Sorry for the delay in answering I’ve been busy with our One Act Play festival (in Newmarket).

I remember the Palace Pier In 1956. Vic Windsor and the Variety Kings were the house band and we backed up the visiting acts.

In those days when a country singer was traveling through Canada on tour Sunday was an off night and the Musicians Union was very strong and they’d have to pay union scale for their band so the acts wouldn’t have their backup band and we’d back them up on stage at the Palace pier. 

We backed Johnny Cash and he brought Luther also Bobby Helms “Jingle Bell Rock” and Bobby Lord and some others Hawkshaw Hawkins and Kitty Wells . When Vic’s band broke up, the guy that ran the Sunday Night Jamboree at the Palace Pier called and asked me if I could get a backup band for the Sunday night shows. I said yes and got together a band Eddie Lacquer guitar Gordy Stewart drums myself on Bass and I think it was Bono on rhythm guitar, 

I was driving my car and on the car radio I heard an announcement that Johnny James and the Volcanoes were playing the Palace Pier next Sunday. I called the guy and said “who is this band the Volcanoes” and he said “ you didn’t give me the name of your band so I named it the Volcanoes I needed a name for the radio ad” so that’s how it became Johnny James and the Volcanoes.

I’ve got some photos of us on stage at the Palace pier I’ll scan and send them. I just loaned my guitars to my son and granddaughter - they’re playing them on face book.

 Tweet and John Dowson 1954

I’ve also attached a play list that we used to tape to the guitar for Tweet and I at the Thornhill Jamboree 1953 ...

Take a look at that - we were pretty good and Ted "Tweet" Smith went on as a solo in a traveling group. 

We called him cousin Tweet and Gordie Tapp caught Tweet's show and he copied the character (cousin Clem) for the Tommy Hunter show and later on He Haw with the same costume as well. We had it first.

Everyone had a nick name and because Ted Smith was always whistling between his teeth we called him Tweet. We met at Queen Mary Public school in Willowdale and he later moved to Toronto and his father died with a heart attack. 

Tweet died of a heart attack Christmas 1966 he was 31 years old and he had a heart condition he never knew he had He had Married Betty Holbrook that some use to call her the Ostrich because she had a long neck  Good old days

John Dowson Ch lp (STAY SAFE)
60 Harrison Dr. Newmarket ON L3Y 4P4

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

MING'S Variety Store

From our dear friend, Charles Dowson...

Back in '87 I did a limited series full hand colored hand printed serigraph of MINGS variety. Soon there after I found out that he was closing after 30 years. He opened the store in the summer of 1957. The original owners name was Wong. He bought the store and then decided to keep the original name to help keep up his clientele.
I made two prints for him for no charge. When I came by before he retired to bring him the prints his daughter was there and decided to take a photo of the two of us for our families. He sent me this photo and a card giving thanks for our friendship. There were all kinds of old style stock for sale like bags of marbles, cheap sun glasses, boxes of old Princess Soap Flakes, small cap guns and a great deal more. Of course all the original in store signs were sold off. York Ice Cream and Pepsi Cola for example.

This photo was taken June 6 1987. All of the MINGS prints have been sold out for years. If I come across any original photos that I used for reference I will pass then along.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Rockin' At Big Daddy's

My son John-Paul and brother Mike sat in for a couple of songs at Big Daddy’s Bar and Grill in Newmarket November 4th 2016 - John Dowson

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Jerry Lee Lewis at Toronto's Le Coq d'Or

Yes I was right….I did see Jerry Lee Lewis and his band play at Le Coq’Dor in their downstairs lounge in the summer of 1959. 

I’m reading Jerry Lee Lewis’s autobiography and there it is in the book saying he played Le coq’dor in Toronto. 

For years people have been telling me I was nuts, I began to believe myself that it didn’t happen and now there it is in writing in his book. 

I was playing with Tommy Danton and the Echoes at the Zanzibar Tavern just up the street. We had just returned to Toronto from Quebec city where we played at the Bal’Taberan. We were at the Zanzibar all summer July and August 1959.  We heard that Jerry Lee Lewis was playing at Le coq’dor and between sets we would go down to catch his act, but because his marriage to his 13 year old cousin had taken place in 1958 and his England trip with his teenager bride was a disaster his star had fallen and he was playing, what he called “Beer Joints” so not many people were in the room during the week. 

As I remember it was just a trio piano, bass and drums, we even had the chance to speak with him. He was there for a week and we saw him at Bassels restaurant where all the waiters, and musicians would go to eat after the bars closed. 

As the years passed I wasn’t sure if he really played Toronto before he went to England or after but he says in his biography that it was after his career spiraled down. 

He writes, "I played juke joints in  Chicago, Iowa  and even Le Coq’dor in Toronto". 

So there it is. 

Did you or anyone else see him when he played la coq’dor Tavern in Toronto in 1959? 

About ten years ago I met the owner of The Simcoe Arms hotel in Sutton Ontario Gord Josie. He as a country singer and later manager of Le coq’dor and he confirmed that Jerry Lee Lewis played the tavern downstairs. 

So Russ you can put that on the site.

- John Dowson