I grew up in an old and elegant town on the edge of the Great Northern Forest. Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, was built by “second sons” and adventurers from Britain.
On the hill they created a world of magnificent homes with ballrooms, sterling silver chandeliers, porte-cocheres for waiting carriages, and red clay tennis courts.
On the flat up from the river on Central Avenue they built a Gothic City Hall, an impressive Post Office, and crowned the top of the avenue with the stern Court House; infamous for the place they hung Louis Riel.
One side of the City Hall the street had watering troughs for horses. The taps were lion’s heads verdigris with age, water trickling from their gaping mouths into deep troughs. On a hot summer day we would plunge our arms into the cooling water. Each side of the trough large iron rings were imbedded in the concrete curbs. Teamsters would water their horses then tie the reins to the rings.
On the other side of our City Hall magic happened. Every summer Sunday night the local city band resplendent in red and gold uniforms played, and we sang and waltzed and marched to the music.
Sunday night band concert was a traditional family outing. The shiny Black Beast of a car, complete with tasselled blinds and flower holders, carried my two sisters, myself, and Scamp the family dog, down town.
At the foot of Central Avenue the Fire Hall stood guard.
First stop on Central Avenue, McConnell’s; part cigar store, part magazines and newspapers, and most important part ice cream parlor.It was a long, narrow store with creaking wood floors and the heady aroma of cigars and newsprint. At the back of the store you could sit on wire ice-cream chairs at small round marble tables, and have fountain drinks and ice cream. On Sunday night the big treat was ice cream cones. We had an ice box at home , kept cool with a block of ice cut from the river. Keeping ice cream in it was out of the question. We would stroll down Central Avenue excited about the band concert, and trying to make our ice cream cones last as long as possible. I always had cherry custard. It’s still my favorite.
As the shadows lengthened our band concert under the stars would come to an end. The band would play God Save the King. We would stand very still and very straight. The men would take their hats off. Then reluctantly and slowly we would make our way back to the Black Beast of a car, humming the music and taking the magic of the band concert with us.