Winnipeg Beach circa 1945

A recent article in the paper caught my eye. It was about a Winnipeg woman who was scolded by Child and Family Services for allowing her two children aged seven and three years old, to go shopping at the bake shop around the corner.



She was told that it’s deemed illegal for children under 12 to walk to school (or anywhere) without being accompanied by an adult. If 12 is the age of enlightenment, then what I did wasn’t so bad - or was it?
It was 1945 and a glorious sunny morning in July. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to take a train ride to Winnipeg Beach on the Moonlight. It was a quick trip – only 45 miles. I could picture myself exploring the nooks and crannies of the town, the beach and its fairgrounds. I didn’t have much money to play the various games or to ride on the carousel or huge roller coaster, or even to roller skate in the large dance hall. However just breathing the fresh country air and feeling free under the warm sun, surrounded by happy people enjoying themselves, seemed a most attractive way to spend a Sunday.
I was 12 and my brother, who was a year and a half younger, agreed. We trudged from Jarvis and Salter to the CPR train station on Higgins and Main Street, but got there too late. The train had already left. I was deeply disappointed. My plans for the day had fizzled out.

How about hitchhiking, I suggested. No way, said my brother. He would find some other activity to occupy himself. I, on the other hand, stubbornly insisted. I wanted to fulfill my heartfelt wish. It was Winnipeg Beach or bust!
I left him to board a streetcar and rode to the end of the NorthMain line. Disembarking, I stationed myself at what I thought was a strategic place and stuck out my thumb, the way I had seen others do it. I waited for the approaching traffic.
In those days cars weren’t as numerous, but I was patient and determined. I stood rooted under the hot sun – a short, tiny person looking hopeful. An hour passed before a small black Ford slowed and then stopped. The elderly couple inside began to scold me.
“Do you know how dangerous it is for you to be hitchhiking”? said the woman. I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t understand. My brother and I were street smart. We had never encountered trouble, other than a few drunks or barking dogs. We had always felt safe enough to go anywhere. I began to doubt myself. Was I really being foolish? What was she talking about? I sensed it had something to do with being vulnerable to someone who had bad ideas.

After her tirade, the woman and her husband motioned to climb in the car. I sat silent and grateful to be inside with a refreshing breeze blowing through the open windows.
“We’re only going to Selkirk”, the lady informed. So, in short order I was standing on the edge of the highway once again. The couple departed, wishing me luck and looking back with baleful glances.
Suddenly I felt small, weak and in grave danger. The woman had started my imagination rolling. However before long an elderly man in a dusty sedan stopped. I was on my way again. The driver didn’t say much. Rural kids often hitchhike between small towns, he said. It wasn’t unusual for him to give youngsters a ride.

It wasn’t long before I clambered out at Winnipeg Beach. Now I was free to stroll the midway and beachfront. The colorful concessions were lined up next to each other along the main street, with their backs to the lake. I strolled down the boardwalk taking in the colourful sights. It was afternoon by now and the beach was dotted with bathing suits. Laughing children splashed in the lake, calling out loudly to each other. I looked at the sparkling water and began searching the sandy shoreline for interesting shells. This was a new world, happy and carefree. I was glad I had fulfilled my wish.
However, I had also learned a valuable lesson. Apparently there are dangerous people in this world who are capable of doing unspeakable things. There are events happening that I was not aware of. Like a tiny barking dog that doesn’t realize how helpless it is, I had put myself in a position of risk... what catastrophes I could only imagine.

I wandered everywhere and too soon the long day was over. I walked along the water admiring the shimmering pathway of the moon across the restless waves, I could still hear the music from the midway and see the glow of the lights. The beach seemed so peaceful now.
I boarded the Moonlight for my trip home. I had purchased a half ticket from someone who had decided to stay. It had been a marvelous outing. I congratulated myself for returning safe and sound. However, before planning my next adventure, I would carefully consider the consequences.
 Postscript: This article may beg the question – “Where was her mother”? Mother was busy with a determined five year-old who refused to go to Kindergarten. As we older ones (12 and 10) never gave her cause to worry, she never gave us much thought. We were both independent at an early age and were allowed to do pretty much everything we wanted. My brother and I went everywhere together except this one time. It was a different world in the ‘40s. Today’s parents hesitate to give even 15 year-old girls the freedom to wander alone.