In 1958, when I was 11 years old, my weekly allowance was five cents.
It was enough to buy a chocolate bar or an ice cream cone, but 10 cents short of admission to Sarnia’s three movie theatres.
I was the oldest of seven children at the time – soon to be 10 – and understood that if I wanted more money I had to go out and earn it.
So, on Saturday nights, I would ride my bike up to Stuart Street and make my way to the basement of St. Joseph’s Church.
Saturday night was Bingo Night – almost a Catholic institution. The hall was soon packed and full of cigarette smoke. With a metal rack filled with 12 bottles of various soft drinks and a bottle opener in hand, I strolled the smoke-filled aisles for hours, selling pop to the players.
After cashing out, I would pedal home to Christina Street near Devine with a pocket full of change.
On weekdays, I had three paper routes, all in my familiar south end.
Early in the morning I would pedal down to Neil Pole Pharmacy at Wellington and Mitton. A stack of London Free Press newspapers was usually sitting by the pharmacy door waiting for me.
The stack always contained a few extra newspapers, and it was not unusual to find a handful of coins on top, where passers-by had taken a paper and left payment.
Paperboys of the day had a method of folding papers in such a way they could be slung into a bike carrier and flung onto the subscriber’s porch as you rode by.
The thud of a newspaper against the front door alerted most people it had arrived.
In the afternoon, after school, I delivered the Sarnia Observer and the Windsor Star. Back in the 1950s, the Star had a lot of readers in Sarnia.
Every two weeks, I called on my customers to collect the money, tearing off a tiny pre-printed receipt supplied by the newspapers to provide customers with proof of payment.
It was newspaper money that eventually gave me the capital to go into business with my sister, Barbie, buying up piles of gladiolas at the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market and peddling them for a profit, door-to-door in the south end.
In the world of capitalism, it pays to start young.
Phil Egan is editor-in-chief of the Sarnia Historical Society. Got an interesting tale? Contact him at email@example.com