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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Remembering Frank Crabbe

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.

Viet Nan Memorial Wall, Washington, DC
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?
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.
Weredale House was closed for good in 1977. 

I am not 100% sure but the guy in the middle in the back may be Frank.
I'm in the middle in the front. Weredale junior staff 1962.



30 comments:

  1. I'm sorry to hear of how two years in Weredale Boys Home impacted your life though your life's success show you overcame the issue life had dealt you. Good on you.
    From my view Victor Malerek was smart enough to write a book on his years in Weredale and use a lot of the bad scenes for the vast minority to make it seem it was a place out of Dickens.
    I'd not say he was the most famous boy as a lot of others paved paths, established families, professions and contributions to Canada overall.
    We owe a lot to the providers of this instituition who knew a need existed for Boys to have a home. I'd not say stable but one at least had food, minimal clothing and a summer camp. Yes , I was also spent years in the Home for 8 - 10 years and had probably left the year you entered, being sent to work at 16 , a senior working boy and left about 2 years later. One looses track at times.
    It was a home where we all were placed for many sad reasons, we defended ourselves from those who tried to shame us due to where we lived and he clothed were word but we were proud little buggers. The campe was excellent while livig there and in hindsight we were blessed more then the average child in Westmount High. For sure, we had the misguided leaders who preyed upon some of the boys or who let leadership go to their heads but all in all Canada benefited from a lot of us as we became trained survivers.
    I'm sorry to hear of your friend and as you say it might have been one of us.
    ... glad to hear all is well and your pictures of Cooper are nice and your family of course,
    Cheers R

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  2. Robert Nangreaves11 February 2013 at 20:00

    Is that Buddy Hanson Across from you? And Dennis Danials on your right?

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    1. Hi Robert,

      Yes the blonde guy opposite me is Buddy Hanson. The red haired guy to my left is John Wharton. I don't remember a Dennis Daniels but I do recall a Dugie Daniels. To my right is Walter Lehman who died a few months later after leaving Weredale. I believe from a brain aneurism. The guy at the other end of the table is Nick Cakov. I hung around with his younger brother Steve.

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    2. Robert Nangreaves12 February 2013 at 05:26

      Hi Colin, Thank you for the info. Buddy, and his family were good friends when I was at Weredale. We have lost track of each other over the years. If anybody has information I would appreciate it. Colin, your stories bring me right back to the old place, nice reading.

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  3. I was there in 61 I think I remember you.I was 11,tall for my age and hated the place..stayed a school year and got back to my parents in the spring....became a menace for years and think WeredAle might have had something to do with my rejection of society later in the sixties

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  4. Brings back memories. None of them good. Was there from 1948 to 1952 or so. Lined up for everything. Cod liver oil pills in the winter before entering the dining hall. I was 9 when i arrived there.Most boys went home on the weekends. Those that couldn't often were treated to fancy sandwiches and other delicacies from a local Westmount high end store on St. Catherine St.Punishment if you were caught speaking during study period was a whack across your pinnacled finger tips in the presence of everyone else in the room.You had absolutely no private identity there.Also spent summers in the lake l'ashigan location where i was abused by older boys. When i reported it to adult staff i was blamed for the abuse by them.i guess the only thing it served me well in regards to my later life was a very strong sense of self reliance. Remember one incident of a tragic nature one winter. A staff member fell out of a south facing upper window to his death between the building and the boards of the skating rink.Fred

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  5. Frank was my uncle. I've always felt a particular kinship with him, even though I never got to meet him. I once saw a picture of him, and I was startled by our resemblance. It might just have been the short hair that I had at the time, but I thought I saw more than that.
    As time went by, more similarities came to my attention. As a boy, Frank had been involved with Scouts, as had I. He had a modest collection of knives, and that has been a constant interest of mine. Eventually, I discovered that after his death, at least one letter had arrived from a young Japanese woman he had met while stationed at a base in Japan. I only learned this fact after I had gone to Japan, met a woman there, and married her. We've since divorced, but I sometimes wonder if maybe my life were following a course that his might have taken.
    Each year, I attend a Remembrance Day ceremony. This year, for the first time, I attended in my firefighter uniform. I always think about Frank. I think next year I'm going to carry one of his old knives on my belt. I think he might have liked that.

    TC

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    1. I remember Frank Crabbe from St. Rita's church in Ahuntsic in north-end Montreal. I believe he was also in Boys Scouts with me as one of the leaders. I remember the funeral with the military salutes and everything. It was quite impressive for a young boy like me but it also touched me very much.

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  6. I was a friend of Colin back in the day at Weredale. You and I were both achievers in that environment where others gave up when not nurtured. We both had a distaste for awful food, and would be very creative in findings ways to either sneak the stuff out, throw in plants, or some other typical boyish move. We were quickly taught about the class system, going to Westmount High where the locals wore their upper class uniforms and the Weredale boys wore colored shirts and ill kept clothes. We stuck out and were often characterized as delinquents. How did we deal with the neglect of living in a home with 173 boys and ofter only two staff. All of our belongings had to fit into tiny lockers, our sleeping quarters were forms sleeping 12, sometimes 24 kids. No one to care for our emotional needs, except the culture of friendship and boyhood ideals that the place could not destroy. I remember Colin, often a pain but bright, and full of ideas that could get us into trouble. We were young boys then, and now we look back on those days and question where was love, especially the support for dealing with all the challenges you face when growing up. I felt often so alone even surrounded by 170 souls at all times. Well, for me, things worked out. Finished McGill with a masters, worked in social services to use my experiences to help others, discovered that after Weredale, and the alienation of those times, real question was have I loved well. Take care Colin, you did a good thing with this

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  7. I wrote you once as annonamous or however you spell that....no spellcheck..still haunted by what went on there..I was a tall skinny kid a few lockers away from you.Just the other day someone who knows my history descibed me as the walking wounded..wen I ask what the **** he meant by this,e said I was never a kid when I came out of there..maybe hes right.still like to hang a beating on Brugmann..The first nations have all sorts of redress for the hurt caused by residential schools..we have your blog aand thats a big thanks to you..thinking of that wall hurts a lot..Ive been there ,looking for names in my past and like yourself felling the hurt..and knowing that one I did ask why too was all full of getting american citizenship..well he got a place in america now and I'll go to my grave wishing he and others had a chance at life..sometimes you just gotta let go and go with the flow..met many who still introduce themselves as ex weredale to people who have no idea what they are talking about..we are the tough ones ,we made it all the way to life..see you in vancouver somedaay..Im a vancouver islander now trapped in the pil patch..hahah....Ken Horne ...1961

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  8. Hello Colin, been following your blog for awhile now. I went to Westmount High and
    was in the same class as Steve Cakov. Met a lot of guys from Weredale then, but
    never crossed paths with you. Do you remember a guy named Norman Weeks ?
    I still see him around. Saw Steve Cakov in 1990 at high school reunion. I seem to
    remember a guy with last name Demmick and an Eddie Canal. Remember seeing
    Dugie Daniels, Nick Cakov and Wayne Cummings. So long ago but when we
    reflect about that age its nice and bittersweet.
    j simon

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    1. Norman Weeks and Wayne Cummings are my blood brother & foster brother.
      I have been told that Norman is not doing well in life.
      Wayne is a pastor of the Pentecostal Church

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  9. I recognize all of the people's names you mentioned. I was good friends with Steve Cakov. I will be writing a story about my time at Weredale in the next few months. Thanks for reading.

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    1. Hi Everyone,
      It doesn't look like there has been much activity for a few years but i'm hoping that maybe someone will still look at this page :)
      My father is Michael McGuire and he was born in 1949. He was in Weredale for a few year (not sure when until when) his brother Kenny was also in the home.
      i am just wondering if any of you knew him and what he was like...i'm sure he was a trouble maker from some of the stories i've heard and he was getting into trouble in adulthood...i am just curious as he never talks about his time in the home but i'm aware of scars on his body (which he's given different people different answers)
      i've read a lot about weredale and i feel for all of you who had a hard time in the home.
      Looking forward to anything anyone might have.

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  10. Do you or any of your respondents know the whereabouts of Norman Green (tall, slim, bushy-haired fellow) who was at Weredale in the early 1970s? He is an old friend and I am trying to track him down to find out how life "treated" him.
    Thanks,
    Melanie Pereira

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    1. yes I remember norman,,, he and I crossed paths quite often as I was in the home at,,the same time and if you or any one else knows his where abouts let me know.. thanks in advance.. biw I could tell you stories Cheers

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    2. I believe I found Norman....
      http://www.russellsfuneralhome.ca/fh/obituaries/obituary.cfm?o_id=3110929&fh_id=14211

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  11. Your friend was at Weredale long after I left the place. Perhaps someone reading this can help you. Good luck!

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    1. Thanks, Colin for taking the time to respond. Hopefully someone will....
      Stay well
      M

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  12. Did you know a guy named Mike French?

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  13. Colin, did you (or anyone else reading this) know Ralph Muir who was at Weredale in the early '60s. In 1962 he would have been about 13 years of age; tall, with a crew cut and a jocular personality.

    Ralph was not a "tough guy" by any means and from what I knew of him neither a truant nor a runaway nor a petty criminal. The two of us never got into any trouble together as kids and often enjoyed long walks to different part of town before we were finally given bicycles. Coincidentally, we both received air rifles as gifts from our parents at the same time and we'd go off into the streets harmlessly if noisily banging away.

    I never heard of Ralph getting into any kind of serious trouble, which is why I was surprised to learn that he had been sent to Weredale in the first place, which at that time was described to me as a mere "boarding school and not as a place for wayward or troubled boys.

    I had the suspicion that his father--a garrulous Scotsman who was always friendly towards me and my parents--would sometimes return home from work drunk and abuse Ralph in one way or another, although Ralph never mentioned this to me nor did I ever question him about it.

    He certainly didn't look nor act like the typical battered kid but it is possible that he may have retaliated against his father at some point or otherwise done something wrong which eventuated his being sent to Weredale. He just didn't fit into that category, in my opinion. Ralph's mother, by contrast, was a soft spoken woman who had once been a nurse at the old Veteran's Hospital. Perhaps it was she who had sent him to Weredale in order to escape the presumed abuse at home. I can only speculate.

    In our NDG neighbourhood, Ralph had been my best friend from the mid-50s. In 1959 we had even spent two weeks together at Camp Lewis which has since closed.

    During 1964 I rarely saw him and later lost all contact, assuming he had moved elsewhere in the city. I wondered if his parents had finally broken up or if his father or mother had passed away in that time period as they looked much older than my parents were.

    The last time I saw Ralph was in 1967 or 1968 when purely by accident I spotted him getting out of his car next to a certain retail store to meet his then girlfriend, Dorothy Owen, who I had been talking to outside. Up until that moment I had no idea she even knew him.

    Presumably, he moved out of the province at some point but I cannot be certain of this.

    It would be interesting to hear from Ralph, not only regarding Weredale, but how he is doing these days, hoping he is still alive and well.

    How time flies!

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    1. YES.........Alive and kicking . E mail...ralsan407@hawa.ca.

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    2. SORRY WAS SO EXCITED...GIVE INCORRECT E MAIL...SHOULD BE ralsan407@shawa.ca

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  14. Hi. I don't remember Ralph. Probably because I would have been a few years older and hung around with boys my own age. I liked your story and it would be nice to see the two of you reconnect. Maybe someone reading the blog can tell you where he is now. Good luck!.

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    1. Thanks, Colin.

      I will check this blog from time to time.

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  15. Hello everyone, I'm looking for a Dennis Daniels who might have been referred to as Dougie Daniels?? He was in Weredale Home from the age of 10 (I believe) in 1959 and left at age 18 in 1967 to join the Canadian Armed Forces. He is my father in law. There is a picture on Colin's website / blog from May 2012 where boys are sitting at a table. Colin refers to himself as seated 2nd from left (front). I do believe the young boy with really short and red looking hair looks remarkably like Dennis Daniels. Am I correct? Help?? Anyway, after he left Weredale and joined the Air Force he has always been called "Danny Daniels". If any of you remember him or have any pictures or stories or comments I would love to hear them. Thank you everyone, and after such a rough upbringing, may Peace be with you. (Leanne Levy-Daniels April 2016, Edmonton, Alberta)

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  16. Hi, my name is Keith Hyde and I went to summer camp at Camp Lewis in Quebec from 1957 – 1965 and I was a Lukamus member. Please add my information to your site. My time at the camp each summer was fantastic. The folks at the camp truly developed a positive character in me which has helped me all through my life. I cannot say enough good things about my experience. I did have some bad but mostly very good. I learned many skills which I would not have had I stayed in the Montreal projects.

    I am sure my life would have taken a different turn otherwise. I joined the U.S. Marines in 1967 and served in Vietnam 68-69. I have worked as a heavy equipment mechanic and after I earned my degree, an engineer. I retired from the CIA, U.S. Navy, and SAIC/Leidos and presently work from home as a consultant. The camp taught me the value of hard work and good values and ethics. I currently live in Winchester, VA.

    I have reached and contacted a few other Lukamus members and their experiences were similar to mine and say good things about the camp. Great site, thank you. My email is: hyde.consulting@comcast.net

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  17. I went to Camp Lewis as well and, like the previous writer, it got me away from the city in the summer and set me on a path to fulfillment and success. I still have two of my Lukamus beads and the notch stick somewhere. I also knew Frank Crabbe from Lewis. It was 64 or 65 and I was a CIT and he was a counsellor. We went to St Adolphe one night and he mentioned a desire to join the marines. I told him it was too dangerous and that was the end of the conversation. It was dark and we were walking back camp with some other guys.

    I liked Frank and remember when his death was announced on the radio. He was only 19. Makes you wonder what he would have done with his life had he lived. I think he would have done well.

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  18. Not all the boys at weredale were delinquints, I was placed in the orange & protesnt home at age 3 and when I reached 13 had to leave. I was given the choice of shawbridge or weredale. I choice weredale because my father lived in the point and other relatives had gone through weredale. I also attended camp lewis, it was ok except for the lard and coco fights on the beach.

    Andy Maclean

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