Strange bedfellows in a small world
The article by George Toller, Arts'49, about landladies and boarding houses (Issue #2-2010, p. 35) was a fine tribute to generations of Kingston women who provided homes away from home for hundreds of students prior to the 1950’s. I was reminded of that recently when I chatted with John “Jack” Beach, Arts’42, Meds'43, and Lloyd Shorten, Arts'40, MDiv’42, both of whom came to Queen's in 1937. Jack, who’s 91, and Lloyd, 92, still have vivid memories and lifelong benefits from their boarding house years.
Jack and Lloyd arrived for their first year at Queen’s in 1937. Each had arranged to board at Mrs. Wilson's boarding house at 26 Nelson Street in “a double room.” When they got there, they learned this actually meant a double bed, so Jack and Lloyd, who had never met each other before, had to sleep together in that double bed for their entire first year.
Mrs. Wilson’s boarding house at 26 Nelson Street in Kingston was small and full to capacity. Room and board cost $6.50 per week. Mrs. Wilson was known to be a great cook, and so there would be seven or eight students at dinner most nights. “She’d get the first course on, the entrée,” says Lloyd, “and then she’d bake her tea biscuits for dessert and she’d make them while we were having our first course."
Mrs. Wilson was the widow of the Rev. Arthur Wilson, who had died suddenly in the dentist's chair at age 49.
Says Jack, "So there she was with no vocational training, and three teenage kids whom Arthur had wanted to go to university, so what did she do? She gathered up what money she could, bought the wee house, and took in roomers and boarders."
It was sort of the custom then among some of us [boarders] to take the landlady’s daughter, Ruth, out to a movie on the last night we were at Queen’s before we went home for the summer. . . .
Jack and Lloyd laugh as they remember having to share that double bed. "Well, people now think it’s a great thing to be sleeping with someone, and it has all these sexual connotations," says Jack, “but we were far enough back in history where so many families had anywhere from six to 20 children that everybody slept with somebody. And bedrooms in those days weren’t necessarily heated, maybe a stovepipe from the cook stove went up through the bedroom, and kids and young people always slept together. Sleeping together was a different thing; it was the custom almost then."
Lloyd lived at 26 Nelson for only one year before moving to another boarding house. Jack lived at 26 for two years, and then continued to eat his meals there for two more years even though he had moved to another house around the corner. Jack recalls, "It was sort of the custom then among some of us [boarders] to take the landlady’s daughter, Ruth out to a movie on the last night we were at Queen’s before we went home for the summer. I did this in 1940, on May 10, and after the movie we kind of got talking on the way home. When we did, we decided maybe we were a little more interested in each other than casually. From then on, we were in sort of a boyfriend-girlfriend situation.” Three years later, Jack and Ruth Wilson, BA’40, were married.
After graduating, Jack became one of the two doctors in Frankford, Ontario, while the Rev. Lloyd Shorten served in many pastoral charges in eastern Ontario as well as having some periods of responsibility at United Church headquarters in Toronto. Their paths had crossed a few times through their adult lives, most recently at their wives’ funerals.
Last December, Jack moved into the Quinte Gardens Retirement Residence in Belleville, Ontario. When he went down for lunch on his first day there, he discovered his his old friend Lloyd Shorten sitting at the same lunch table. Lloyd had moved to Quinte Gardens two weeks earlier. Small world.
After 73 years, the two Queen's grads had come full circle, back to living together again, though this time, they were not sleeping in the same bed. But they do see each other at most meal times, just the way they did in 1937.