Over the years, the north side has gotten a bad rap and been the butt of many jokes. Some say it is the wrong side of the tracks or that it is the ghetto of Lethbridge. It also smells.
But, as with many things, one bad apple spoils the bunch. The north side of the city really is not as bad as people make it out to be. How do I know? I spent about 22 years of my life living there and have fond memories of that time. So, gather around, children, and I’ll tell you a little bit about growing up on the north side.
I grew up in the St. Edwards neighbourhood, which was the Uplands of its day in the early 70s. My dad, along with the help of my grandfathers, built the house I grew up in. As it was being built, my older brother (who was just a young boy at the time) would play in the playground behind our house, and grassland was all that you could see north of it.
During my elementary school years, I would play with the boys who lived in the house across the street. Their dad owned a tree trimming business (which he still runs to this day), and I remember that their porch lights were never on for Halloween. We would ride our bikes on their driveway or jump on the trampoline in their back yard, but once the street lights came on, I had go inside.
I walked to school since it was only a few blocks away. Sometimes I would walk with my friend, Michele, who lived on the next street over. I remember singing Deep, Deep Trouble from The Simpsons Sing the Blues album a lot during these walks — I usually overtook the singing because I knew all the lyrics by heart and probably wanted to show off. We would meet up with Cordell and Sally at the corner of St. Basil and 13th Avenue and walk the rest of the way together, but split up once we hit the school grounds.
I liked to go on long bike rides to the various corners of the north side. I’d plan my routes using a LA Transit bus map we had laying around the house. I would visit school playgrounds and parks that I had never been to before, or I would look up a friend’s address using the telephone book and plan my route that way. On Sunday evenings in the summer, my parents and I would ride our bikes on the old bike path that started at the corner of Stafford Drive and 26th Avenue, headed east towards the industrial park, south along 28th Street, and then west on 5th Avenue until we hit 23rd Street. Once we entered the residential area north of 5th Avenue, we’d try to “get lost”, which meant I would try to navigate us through a bunch of right and left turns while knowing full well we were heading in the correct direction back home — I still enjoyed the idea of it.
But a lot of my childhood was spent in that very same park my brother played in during the construction of our house. It looks a lot different than it did when I young, but when I visit it now either alone or with my daughter, I feel a comforting sense of home. I used to climb the trees at the north end of the sandbox (which I apparently never told my mother about until recently), and remember tearing a hole in a pair of jeans when I snagged a branch on the way down. If I saw other kids playing in the park from our kitchen window, I would quickly get dressed and rush out to see if I could be included in the fun. My favourite thing was going on the swings and trying to swing high enough to kick the leaves on the nearby tree. I really had to stretch my leg out when I neared the top, but I’m pretty sure I touched them a few times.
I will admit one thing, though. The north side does smell — occasionally! The origin of the smell is often debated, but growing up I was told it was from the distilleries in the industrial park being cleaned, so I just went with that and avoided being outside when the smell was particularly strong. If you’ve heard something different, or you know for certain the exact origin of the smell, inquiring minds would like to know.