OPINION: Dodging the fires of hell meant Sarnia Fish & Chips on Fridays

Mona McEwan Truesdale, in front of her popular fish and chip shop in the early 1960s. The former Maple Leaf Gardens bookkeeper ran all five restaurants while raising her young family. Submitted Photo

Phil Egan

During the 1959-60 school year I was a Grade 8 student at St. Joseph’s School in the city’s south end.

Each Friday morning, all 20 boys in the class would bike across the city in a convoy to Our Lady of Mercy School for mandatory shop classes – woodworking and sheet metal.

The course was called Manual Labour, and I despised it. I could never make anything with my hands, and that lack of skill was a tangible manifestation of my father’s worst fear I would never become an engineer.

As if.

The nice thing about Fridays was that, after class, most of us headed over to Sarnia Fish & Chips for lunch. We were Catholic kids, so eating meat on Fridays meant God would make you burn in hell for eternity.

So Friday was fish day.

We’d park our bikes alongside the restaurant and climb the three steps into Sarnia Fish & Chips, located at 143 Davis St., on the corner of Julia.

Inside, the largest of the big, red booths could hold us all – usually 10 to 12 kids. We’d feed nickels into the jukeboxes perched inside each booth and listen to the Clovers sing Love Potion No. 9, or Frankie Avalon sing Venus.

There was an open kitchen where we could watch the cooks working on our lunch.

Sarnia Fish & Chips had been a fixture on Davis Street since 1950. That was the year the shop had moved from104 Christina St. Established in 1935, it was one of five fish and chips shops across Ontario run by Albert (Scotty) McEwan.

In the days before SCITS had its own cafeteria, students would bring home-packed lunches to the back room of the shop and eat there, provided they bought a pop to drink for ten cents.

Scotty’s daughter, Mona McEwan Truesdale, ran the shops after Scotty died – a remarkable feat for a young mother. Son Will is the third generation in the business at The Wharf on Murphy Road.

Although the Catholic prohibition against eating meat on Friday was relaxed in the ‘80s, in Sarnia Fridays are still a huge day for fish and chips.

“If you’re not selling fish and chips on Friday,” Will Truesdale says, “you’re not staying in business.”

But the business has changed over the years.

Terri Ansell of Perry’s Fish & Chips on East Street offers midweek specials and a variety of product that include BBQ chicken and shrimp and lobster to bring in business throughout the week.

But for many, Fridays will always mean fish and chips.