Peter – My Dad Was Quite the Lad

I can’t believe that it’s been 30 years since my Dad passed. Let me share some of my personal randomly shuffled memories, as well as a few anecdotes that I learned second hand, at a temporal distance from when they occurred. I now bitterly regret not asking him more questions, not finding out more about the man who was my father, so the following is, in some cases, ” as far as I know.”.

My Dad, Charles Napoleon Joseph Montreuil

Dad was born in Windsor, the oldest of three surviving children. His parents lost two other sons in infancy, apparently. While his sister Marie has also passed away, his sister Louise is still working in her early 80’s, providing counselling and therapy for troubled individuals. (Love you, my dear aunt, and I always enjoy seeing you or talking to you. Too bad about your knot headed kids, though 😉. )

Aunt Louise and I

He attended Assumption College, now part of the University of Windsor. He eventually graduated and went to the Ontario College of Education, to become a teacher. He loved reading and classical music and studied violin at the Conservatory.

Joining the Canadian Army during World War II, he was based at Camp Borden. It was there and then that he met and wooed my mother. They were married in 1942, and their first child, my sister Pat, was born in 1944. Although Dad never served overseas, his military career will be the subject of a future column.

After the war, he resumed his education, got his certification as a high school teacher and moved with his wife and growing family to Bancroft, Ontario, where he taught French and Music. We moved to Orillia when I was two, so I have no memories of the town, but here is an event that I heard about.

Dad was reading the paper when my sister Pat came into the room and told him that there was a kitty in the garage. Without looking up from his paper, he said that that was nice, and what colour was it? “Black with a white stripe down its back.” came the innocent reply. With indecent haste, Dad hied to the garage and confirmed that the beast in question was indeed a skunk. A neighbour came by and offered to shoot it. Dad refused this kind gesture, and opted to leave the animal in situ. Eventually, Pepe Le Pew did decamp, to everyone’s relief!

The family moved to Orillia, where we eventually grew in number to 8 children. I’ve written about those wonderful days as we (slowly, in some cases) matured to adulthood under the guidance of and following the example set by our parents. Dad originally taught at  the Orillia District Collegiate & Vocational Institute, before becoming a “plank owner” a) at Park Street Collegiate Institute.

Dad was living proof that you could do anything that you really wanted to. He bought a 35 millimeter camera and took great pictures with it, although he never took photography lessons, AFAIK. I have no idea where those slides wound up, but they were generally very good. He also put in two rooms in the basement, doing all the work himself except for the wiring. He had a pro do that. Incidentally, Dad’s policy when we had tradesman at the house was that his adorable children, (Dad’s, of course), were to stay the Hell out of the way and let the man work! I have followed this precept my entire life, with great success.

He rarely swore, (Dad, that is). His favourite expression was “Holy Cats!” He called every other non familial man he met “Lad”, regardless of age. He rarely criticized others.

The most vivid example of Dad “cussing someone out” that I remember was after he had bought some firewood. (We had a fireplace and Dad loved a nice fire on a winter’s evening.) The wood “underperformed” and Dad remarked of the seller “That guy lied like a trooper!”

He walked everywhere. We lived on the far side of town from Dad’s school, and everyday Dad would walk there and back regardless of the weather. For a while, we had a dog named “Sabre”, who was not the brightest star in the galaxy, and who several times basically jumped into the dogcatcher’s truck. Dad would arrive home to be informed of this calamity and promptly set off on foot to the pound, which was conveniently located beside Park Street Collegiate Institute, Dad’s school! (Once I became an adult, I learned the true import of the phrase “Can I at least take my coat off!”)

We used to say that you knew you were a man when you could keep up with Dad walking down the sidewalk carrying a case of beer. I had to walk everywhere and I still enjoy it. After I was hit by a car some years ago, I was told that the one thing that saved my life was the good shape that my cardio vascular system was in. All that walking had paid off.

He had a real turn of phrase. Once, one of my younger siblings asked why we didn’t have a car. Dad, with infallible logic, simply explained that if he and Mum had bought a car, they couldn’t have afforded to have all of the children they had. Hard to argue with that, especially when you’re one of the younger ones!

He and Mum took 6 of us to Expo 67. He put me in charge of research. I wrote away for lots of information, studied it, and took some on the trip for reference use. We had a great time, and he congratulated me on my hard work.

One evening Dad walked into the kitchen to find two of my siblings, who were in the same class, writing, with a dictionary beside them. Upon discovering that their whole class had been told to copy 2 pages of the dictionary as punishment for behaviour in school that day, Dad got dangerously quiet. The rest of their homework was done, so he excused them to go watch TV. One of them started to protest, but Dad displayed that look of his that could freeze a seaside landlady at 10 paces, so they quieted down and obeyed. Dad went to school with them the next day, got into the staff room, introduced himself to those who didn’t know him and spoke for about 5 minutes without notes. He mentioned that most of his 8 children had or were attending the school.

He further explained that as a high school teacher, he had to teach some of the graduates of St Bernard’s b) . He had, therefore, been horrified to find out that two of his children had been forced to use a dictionary, intended as a tool of learning, as an instrument of punishment, and he had thus FORBIDDEN them to finish that stupid assignment. Furthermore, glaring right at the teacher in question, he said that he would take an extremely dim view of any attempts at retaliation against his children. I’m sure that he departed to a stunned silence.

I remember setting out on my first solo overnight trip. I overpacked, to say the least. Dad just sat and drank his coffee in silence as his second son jumped in the cab, a great treat in those days, (and proudly paid for out of my pocket “I’m an adult now!”) to catch the bus to catch the train to embark on my Great Adventure.  It was very easy to convey my two bags and my suitbag to Montreal. Coming back it was a little harder, and so I wound up in Barrie c) at O God O’clock in the morning, carrying one bag about 100 feet, going back and getting the rest and repeating as required. This unusual activity naturally attracted the attention of a member of the local police force. Somehow I was able to convince the constable that it was merely bad planning and not bad intentions that guided my actions that night. Since then I can pack for the weekend in an overnight bag in under 10 minutes. It’s not foolproof, I once pulled my TV remote out of the bag, to Lois’ not so muted amusement. Of course, if Dad had said anything that long ago morning,  I would have paid no attention, grumbled under my breath and not learned a damned thing.

One day he looked at my mother’s sewing machine and decided to learn to use it! He became quite good with the machine and made a variety of clothes including a suit for himself. He also made a pair of pants for me, which I wore on the first day of Grade Ten. I bent down to get something out of my locker and heard a ripping sound! Somehow I managed to retreat all the way home across town with my dignity reasonably intact, and Dad later apologized to me, because he had only “basted” the seam in the seat.

I only ever saw him visibly frightened once, when a student threatened to “do something” to our family home. Even then, he wasn’t afraid for himself, he was afraid for his wife and his family.

As I mentioned above, he taught me lessons that I use to this day. He used to adjudicate at the Kiwanis Festival and I remember him telling me “There are no losers in competition.” He also said “No matter where you are, son, if you walk purposefully, like you know where you’re going, 99.99% of the time you’ll avoid trouble. Never amble like a tourist.”

Dad taught by example. I observed how he treated Mum and my sisters and other females, both relatives and strangers. He would hold the door for any woman, as a sign of respect. Every year he sent my Mum off for a couple of weeks to give her a break, while he looked after their brood. I remember him racing on foot a couple of blocks once. One of my sisters was babysitting, and the “man of the house” came home early and tried to get fresh with her. Dad rescued his daughter, and when the “man” protested “What about my children?”, Dad quietly answered “What about my daughter?” Another time, a young man came to date another sister of mine, and attempted to summon her by honking his car horn. While a member of the Montreuil family responded to his “summons”, it wasn’t the member whom he had hoped to see. Dad very clearly explained that no daughter of his was going out with anyone who treated her like that.

My father was a highly principled man. For example, there was a debate at school about whether students should be able to smoke on school property. Dad pointed out that teachers could smoke in the staff room, and he proceeded to quit smoking cold turkey, as he felt it was unfair that teachers could smoke but students couldn’t.

On another occasion, a musical instrument salesman came to our house. Dad made him a coffee and installed him at the kitchen table. The salesman told Dad that any orders placed with him would result in Dad getting a “kickback”. Very calmly, for Dad rarely yelled, Dad threw him out of the house and wouldn’t even let him finish his coffee.

Music was a huge part of his life. He became the musical director for the local theatre group and is directly responsible for my loathing of “Fiddler On The Roof“, as every time I came to visit, that damned show was the major topic of discussion, for about 6 months. The show was great, of course, but I still flinch when I hear any of the music.

They Fiddled on My Nerves

While my mother endowed me, inter alia, d) with empathy and compassion, Dad gave me quick wit, the ability to size up a situation and cut to the chase, and a low tolerance for fools and charlatans. He taught me the value of quiet anger, and self discipline. My love of music came from him, and I’m sure he’d be thrilled to see my activity in the music scene. It is always nice to come across a former student of his. One of them wrote a column about him entitled “Charlie Deserves It.”

In the end, Dad died from brain cancer. Although we had let a stupid misunderstanding come between us, e) I was re united with him and was able to help nurse him for much of his remaining time, and we were able to make our peace. I can’t thank my supervisor of the time enough for her support. God bless you, Linda.

He lives on in my heart and my memory. Every so often, after successfully finishing a difficult interview at work, I’d swivel my chair around, look heavenwards and say “Thanks again, Dad!”

Dad and Skeezix

See you soon.

  1. a) An original member of a squadron or unit. One of my most prized possessions is an HSL-41 “Plank Owner’s Plaque.
  2. b) The separate school most of the family attended in Orillia. Commonly known as “The Barnyard”. Some of my Facebook Friends survived the place with me.
  3. c) Upon my return, I was staying with a friend who was renting a house in Barrie for a few days. “I’m an adult now!”
  4. d) Latin, meaning “Among other things”, abbreviated as “et al”
  5. e) Please learn from my mistake, if you can. Never, ever let a “stupid misunderstanding” come between you and a loved one. I lost 7 years that I’ll never get back.

=PJM=

9 Responses to “Peter – My Dad Was Quite the Lad”

  1. A lovely tribute to an obviously much loved and respected man.

  2. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Thank you, Pat. He was a great guy.

  3. Teresa Coulter Says:

    Thanks again for another great story. As you know, your dad was my favourite uncle and still is. I miss him. He enriched my life in so many ways. I know mom misses him too. He was one of a kind. You remind me so much of him and that’s the greatest compliment I could ever give you! He would be so proud of you. Just one thing I could hear him saying if he were standing here looking at you. ” Son, get a haircut!”

  4. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Actually, he let the three youngest boys grow our hair as long as we wanted, but we had to keep it clean. My high school friends said “Your dad must be so annoyed at the length of your hair!” I replied, “Nope, as long as I keep it clean, I can let it grow!” They would ask if he and Mum would be interested in adopting, but I’d point out that they already had 8 kids. I’m glad you liked it, Teresa, I value your feedback.

  5. Peter Montreuil Says:

    And yes, the word “enough” is missing from the last sentence of the second last paragraph. I had email problems when I was working on it, so that one slipped through the cracks. My apologies.

  6. Lyn Dale Says:

    Your Dad, were he here today, wouldnt know me from Adam. But I loved your Dad. He was my French teacher at Park Street in the early 70’s. Having competed primary grades in rural schools, we had never been introduced to French. Most of my high school classmates had two or more years of French instruction, and at least one. Despite, or maybe because of, my total lack of self-confidence and being desperately shy, your Dad pulled me under his wing and kept me there the entire semester–encouraging my pitiful attempts at pronunciations and praising my obvious lackluster performance. But he saw that I wanted to learn–he recognized my issues and helped me to overcome them. More than any other teacher, before or after, ever did for me, your Dad did for me that one semester. Oui, Monsieur Montreiul–that’s just the kind of man you were!

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Thank you so very much! I am sorry, I just saw this. It was always a pleasure to run into one of Dad’s former students. And yes, he didn’t expect perfection, but appreciated honest effort.

  7. Douglas McMillan Says:

    Is daughter Mary out there some where ? WE were in the same biology class, ODCVI and friends. My Father taught biology at Park St. Collegiate. If so, give me a buzz back

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Sadly Mary passed away in March 2008. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1992. She had two children, a son David and a daughter Michelle. I wrote a column on Mary, btw. My apologies, I just saw this.

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