In the fall of 1961 I was sitting in the auditorium at West Hill High School in Montreal and some teachers on the stage were calling out students names and telling us which class to report to. When my name was called I was told to report to the principal’s office and shortly after learned that I was persona non grata at the school and was no longer going to be a student there.
About two weeks later my life took a drastic turn. My father placed me in The Boys Home of Montreal, more commonly known as Weredale House. It was time to pay for my sins for being an immature thirteen year old that wasn’t ready for high school. I am pretty sure that my fate was of no concern to those that took part in my being thrown out of school. My silly grin and impish facial appearance didn’t help me much. I wasn’t a criminal. I was just not very disciplined. I spent almost two years at Weredale, from September of 1961 until June of 1963. Those almost two years left a life-long impact on me.
Weredale House is a four story brick building built in the 1930s. It is located just off of Atwater Avenue, a few blocks away from the old Montreal Forum on St. Catherine Street. The building housed about 160 boys at any given time. Most of the boys were from dysfunctional families. Poverty, alcoholism, abuse, neglect, and abandonment were just some of the things that most boys had seen in their previous lives living with their families.
Pretty well all of the boys were scarred in one way or another. Some had a lot of anger and vicious fights were not uncommon. Most of the boys formed unions with others for mutual protection. Kind of the same way people in prison often do. Often times these friendships ended the day a boy left Weredale. There was an almost daily tension in the place. It is not surprising that many of the boys, as they grew into men, decided to erase as much of these memories as they could. Some went on to successful lives while others got caught in a life of more ill fortune. Probably the most famous boy to come out of Weredale is Victor Malerek, the reporter on CBC Television’s, Fifth Estate.
Jump ahead to the year 1966. I was nineteen and living at my parent’s house for a few months in N.D.G.. At the time, I had the habit of leaving the radio on all night next to my bed. I used to listen to a guy named H.K. Bassier on CKGM who would talk about interesting things from midnight to the early morning. One night I thought I had heard a disturbing news item and wasn’t quite sure if I had been dreaming. When I got up in the morning I went and got the Montreal Gazette that was delivered to our house to see if there was any reality to what may have only been a dream. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a dream.
On or around February 16, 1966, PFC First Class Frank Crabbe of the 3rd Marines was killed In Viet Nam at the age of nineteen. Altogether, eight died that day when the lead AMTRAK hit a mine while on a search and destroy mission at Trang Dinh village. Frank Crabbe was an ex Weredale Boy.
Frank roomed across the hall from me at Weredale. At one time we were both on the junior staff together. Frank was Catholic and went to St. Leo’s Academy in Westmount in Montreal and I went to Westmount High which was part of the Protestant School Board. We never really saw one another outside of the confines of Weredale House.
Occasionally, we would have little conversations about things I can’t remember. Our chats were usually in the evening or on Saturday mornings before going home for the weekend. We once traded radios. I have no idea why. Frank was a year older than I was and I remember him as being a bit on the husky side. More than anything he just seemed like a nice guy making the best out of things. He was pretty low key and always pleasant to talk to. I think he had a younger brother.
A year or two after I left Weredale House I ran into Frank at the downtown Eaton’s store on St. Catherine Street in Montreal. He was working in the sporting goods department. He asked me if I could hang around for a few minutes to grab a coffee on his break. I did hang around and I can’t remember what we talked about but I know he never mentioned the idea of joining the US armed forces. It was the last time I saw him.
Throughout our lives we meet all kinds of people. Some we like more than others. Frank was a person I liked a lot but to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have thought much about Frank over the years if he hadn’t died at such a young age and so tragically.
Jump ahead again to the mid 1990s. I was living in Vancouver and owned my own company. One of my suppliers was an outfit from Plano,Texas and every year they would provide a free trip to their best customers to a chosen city in the US. One year it was Washington, DC. What an amazing city as far as history goes. I saw all the stuff I had seen in the old Jimmy Stewart movie Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. The Lincoln Memorial, The White House, The Washington Monument.
I also saw something that wasn’t in the Jimmy Stewart movie, The Viet Nam Memorial Wall. It was designed by a Chinese American student, is about 380 feet in length, and is in the shape of a very wide “V”. I believe it was made out of black granite. The dead are listed in chronological order meaning that the first soldiers who died are listed at one end and the last soldiers who died are at the other end.
You have to get assistance to find the person you are looking for on the wall. A vet at a table near the wall told me where I could find Frank Crabbe’s name. It took a few minutes of scrolling and then there it was. Frank Crabbe. Two “b’s” and an “e”. I reached out and touched Frank’s name with my fingers and a tear came to my eye. I was saddened that this nice guy had his life cut short. Over the years there has been a few of times that I wondered what Frank’s death was all about. He seemed to be doing OK at his job at Eaton’s. He had lots of time in his life to climb up the ladder if he wanted to. Maybe it was about him looking for adventure? Maybe he had a break up with a girlfriend? Maybe it was belonging to a group? Maybe it was about having dual citizenship and getting a college education after his tour? Maybe? Maybe? Maybe?
|Viet Nan Memorial Wall, Washington, DC|
II grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. Over those years I heard a lot of stories about the Second World War. My father spent about five years overseas. An uncle died in Holland. Old veterans would tell you war stories in taverns around Montreal. It always seemed like a just war to fight in. Probably the last just war I think.
Viet Nam was a total waste as far as I am concerned. It bothers me that a young guy like Frank Crabbe never really got a good chance at life. He deserved better. He was a good guy. Life, sometimes, can be very unfair. R.I.P. Frank.