Years before Mount Pearl became a city, it was a cottage neighbourhood used by residents in the summertime to get away from the dusty streets of St. John's. Today's Park Avenue used to be known as 'Mount Pearl Park' and the area where Ruth Avenue stretches from Commonwealth Avenue was simply known as 'Glendale.'
As described in Chapter 3, the stock market crash of 1929 was catastrophic for Mount Pearl Park Limited. Some shareholders of the company kept their shares of land for personal use, while others divided up their long rectangular lots and sold off the land in sections. The cheap sale of land attracted both wealthy and poor residents of St. John's. Wealthier families found that Park Avenue was an inexpensive place to vacation in the summer, while poorer families saw Mount Pearl as a place to live year-round, a much better alternative to paying high housing rents in St. John's.
By the summer of 1932, there were quite a few families settled into cottages on Park Avenue. Mrs. Betty Thistle, who spent all of her summers during the 1930s in 'The Park,' estimates that there were 100 families there during that decade, with only two or three families living there year-round. Park Avenue was just a tree-lined gravel road with the majority of the summer homes being located on the eastern end of the street. The western end was significantly less developed and tapered onto Commonwealth Avenue, then known as Marconi Road, which was also a gravel road that connected to Brookfield Road.
In the mid 1930s, Mr. Alfred Worral, a summertime resident of the park and a grocer from Hamilton Avenue in St. John's, constructed clay tennis courts and a pavilion on Park Avenue, near Worral Crescent. Tennis then became a focal point for social activities in the area. The adults of the community started a country club at the tennis court pavilion and they would play darts, cards and occasionally have dances. This club eventually became an unofficial citizen's committee that made small steps in improving the community, such as maintaining the road and clearing debris from the swimming areas.
Mr. Worral also built many of the first cottages in Mount Pearl Park. His daughter, Helen, described their cottage in the early 1930s:
"What we lived in was crude... We had a coal stove, we had a well that you'd have to dip down the bucket and get out the water. We had no electricity, we had lamps and the shade had to be cleaned every night and filled with oil."
She also recalls that her father built twenty or thirty structures that were sold or rented in the 1930s. None of the cottages in the area had indoor plumbing or electricity at that time. Often, families shared their wells and had outdoor toilets behind their homes.
Those who spent their summers in Mount Pearl Park as children remember that life in the park was pleasant, in spite of not having luxuries like running water. The Park was a very scenic and relaxed place to be in the summer and North River and Snow's River provided pristine water sources for fishing and swimming. Twin Falls, Steady Waters (both located in North River) and 'the pool' (located in Snows River) were the most popular swimming holes. Children would spend their days swimming, playing tennis, and picking blueberries. Helen (Worral) Hood's family and their neighbours would often have capelin roasts and hot dog roasts over open fires near the North River.
Many residents had subsistence gardens on their properties in Mount Pearl. Some of those residents treated their gardens as a pastime, while others depended on their small farms to supplement their diets. The only large-scale farms in the area were the Demonstration Farm and Lester's Farm on Brookfield Road, and Bellevue Farm on Old Placentia Road. Betty Thistle remembers spending a lot of time at the Demonstration Farm picking berries and helping the farm hands with their work.
Very few families in Mount Pearl Park owned automobiles in the 1930s. The only means of public transportation was by bus or train, both of which were not very frequent. The first buses ran from Conception Bay South, via Topsail road, to Water Street in St. John's. These buses began operating in the mid 1930s and made one daily trip into St. John's in the morning and returned to Conception Bay in the evening. The nearest train stations in the area were Donovan's Station in the west and St. John's Water Street Station in the east, but there was also a flag stop in Mount Pearl Park known as "Kane's Valley." The easy, lazy days of summer in the 1930s, however, were very different from the winters spent in Mount Pearl Park. Mr. Austin Smith's family was one of the few families that stayed in the Park year-round. The Smiths built a log house on the western end of Park Avenue in 1932. As the family couldn't afford bus fare, the Smiths would often walk into St. John's or Donovans for schooling, and into St. John's to go to church or grocery shopping. While walking in summer weather was pleasant for the residents of Mount Pearl, wintertime posed many problems. Austin Smith describes the difficulties he had getting to school in the winter:
"We'd walk up to Topsail Road and we'd meet one of the farmers going to town with a horse and sleigh, [he] would turn around and tell you to jump on. But, after a couple of occasions of that you wouldn't want to do that because by the time you would get half way up, your feet would be frozen. So we often used to see them coming, especially one man in particular and he'd never pass you... I'd look back and see him and I'd hide in a snow bank somewhere [and] wait until he passed, because if you had to stay at the other end of the slide, oh boy, by the time you got up to the head of the road up there, your two feet, just be able enough to feel them with the cold....
But, I can remember one occasion in particular that I went to school in a burling snowstorm. I left [Mount Pearl] at 7 O'clock I got out to Holy Cross on Patrick Street, it was about 9 O'clock. There was snow hanging off of me everywhere and I just got in the classroom and got settled away, the Brother there, he was a hard rooster, took the pointer and said, 'You, up and out!' and took me outside the room again. After a while I suppose, I got poisoned with it, so I walked right across the classroom... and [the Brother] said, 'What are you doing there?' and I said, 'I'm going home.' [I] collected all me books and walked out there to Mount Pearl and never went back to school after, that was in Grade Ten."
There weren't any snowploughs at that time, so the only path clear of snow was the train tracks. Austin Smith recalls walking on the tracks:
"The old trains use to run just on the back here. The coal would fall off [from the train] as she was going by. So we use to pick it up and bring it home [to supplement their wood fires]. It got so that some of the firemen, when they see you on the tracks they knew what you were doing, picking up [the] coal, they would take a few shovel-fulls and throw it into the snow for you saying, 'Here you go.'"
Austin Smith's family may have had a difficult time in the winters, but there was at least one other family who suffered more hardship. The Adams moved into the Park around the same time as the Smiths, but instead of building a house to live in, they constructed tents. They lived like this for several years before they were able to build a house. The Adams and the Smiths are thought to be the only families that wintered in Mount Pearl Park in the early 1930s.
The onset of World War II brought both hardship and good times to the Mount Pearl Park area. While many young men went into battle never to be seen again, the poverty of the Depression years had ceased. With so many young men absent, those left behind were in high demand for work. Also, Canadian, American and British soldiers and sailors were posted at bases in and around St. John's. Their wages contributed significantly to the local economy.
This relative prosperity was visible in the Park by the early 1940s. Two small shops were built on Park Avenue: Joey Barnes had a small store located near the railway crossing on Park Avenue (Mrs. Burry bought it in 1942. She changed the name to Burry's Store and began receiving mail there). Also, Parson's Store was located on the corner of present-day Smallwood Drive and Park Avenue. Mount Pearl Park was still a cottage area in the 1940s, but several more families moved there to live year-round, such as Sydney and Olga Wiseman in 1942 and Alfred Worral's family in the early 1940s. At least one American military officer and his family rented property on Park Avenue during the war years.
Summers in Mount Pearl Park during the early 1940s were much the same as in the 1930s: easy, lazy days spent swimming, berry picking and playing tennis. Churches had not yet formed in the area, but summer residents formed Sunday School for the children which would take place at the tennis courts or in the farmer's fields off Brookfield Road. Many former summer residents such as Betty Thistle, Raymond Gallagher, and Helen Hood recall that most people played tennis in the late 1930s and into the 1940s. Mount Pearl's tennis club competed against other clubs in Newfoundland and won two island-wide tournaments in the 1940s.
Picnics were also very popular in the summers, especially to American soldiers. They would come with their families from Fort Pepperell in St. John's to picnic in the meadows between Topsail Road and Park Avenue. Large trucks would drop them off with food and barbeques and pick them up later in the day. Betty Thistle remembers one particular afternoon that the Americans visited the area:
"One year they had their picnic down there, and it started to rain really, really hard. Some of them came up [to our cottage] and asked if they could please get in on our veranda until the trucks came back to get them. Of course, there were no phones in those days, nobody had a phone, so we said, 'Sure!' and they came up. Now when they were leaving, they said, 'Look, we've got a lot of food here that we were going to cook and we didn't get a chance [to cook it], so we'd like to leave it with you.' So that was the first time I had ever seen a hamburger!
There was also a soldiers' barracks on Topsail Road across from the Blackmarsh Road intersection. One demonstration farm worker remembers soldiers marching up and down Park Avenue in the early 1940s.
Transportation was made easier for many residents in the area during wartime. The buses that ran from Conception Bay into St. John's became much more frequent, running to and from the city every hour. Hennessey's Transportation was the biggest of these bus enterprises and continued for many years afterwards. Also, military vehicles that passed along Topsail Road and Park Avenue would pick up those walking to and from St John's."
After the war, small changes were apparent in Mount Pearl Park. Part of Topsail Road was paved by 1945, making it a perfect highway for traveling between the Park and St. John's. More roads were built along Park Avenue, such as O'Keefe Avenue and Jersey Avenue. Also, residents increasingly owned automobiles at this time as well, which allowed residents to easily work in St. John's and live in the Park.
Glendale also became more populated after the war. Roland Morris, the founder of the Mount Pearl Park Limited, had left Newfoundland during the Depression and returned again in 1940. Morris began working on a town plan for Glendale that would create a modern community built on a grid system. Construction in Glendale began in 1943, and by 1946, the permanent population of the Mount Pearl Park/Glendale area totaled 200 families.
While Glendale slowly developed into an organized, structured community, Park Avenue area had become more and more disorganized. As the land on Park Avenue had been divided up into long rectangular strips belonging to individual owners, there was no set pattern as to where each house, well, or septic system were situated. Additional roads were built perpendicular to Park Avenue, but were not equally distanced apart and did not connect to other roads. The result of the lack of planning cumulated into septic systems contaminating wells along Park Avenue in the early 1950s.
By 1950, the population in Mount Pearl Park and Glendale had steadily increased each year, but there was still little infrastructure in place. There was only one small amalgamated school in Mount Pearl, named Park Avenue School, and churches had not yet been built. Anglican residents in the area congregated in James Billard's garage on Park Avenue. Roman Catholics travelled to St. John's or Topsail to attend mass and the United Church congregation met at the Park Avenue School.
Only few residents had telephones in their homes. Many residents frequently used a pay phone in a newly constructed store on Commonwealth Avenue. There was not yet any industry or local economy in the Park, so residents of the area had to go outside Mount Pearl for work. The increased population of the area created a demand for buses to travel down Commonwealth Avenue and through Park Avenue to carry passengers into St. John's.
It was under this theme of steady population growth and a need for better services that a town council for Mount Pearl Park/Glendale was formed in 1955. The town formally changed its name to Mount Pearl in 1958.
In 2005, some of the original residents of Mount Pearl Park still live on Park Avenue. They have fond memories of the old days in 'The Park' and remark on the striking changes that have occurred in Mount Pearl in their lifetimes. They are proud founders of their community and hope that Mount Pearl's beginnings are never forgotten.