Last week I was down to where Lazy Bank used to be. It still exists, but it’s buried now. It’s the river that gave its name to the uphill road that is now Pleasant Street in St. John’s. The river never existed above ground during my lifetime, but I knew its sound.
It roared under the asphalt on its way to the harbour. On Pleasant Street in the spring our basement would flood. It was no big deal. We had a “French drain” which was a hole filled with loose stones. Water would run in and then out of the basement back to the course of the river.
Ear to the Street
You can still hear that river if you put your ear to the street. I have been doing it since I was child. It’s part of the west end. Not many know the sound. It’s of the past. It’s like the sound of the Horwood’s whistle which announced the hours and called workers of the lumberyard to work and sent them home. The sound regulated our lives as did the whistle from the old Dockyard. It was a long high pitched steam whistle that was part of the commerce of a busy city and a neighbourhood.
The sound of the CNR railyard also kept order with whistles. The coal burning locomotives made short little toots in a mysterious arcane sequence that announced the work of shunting cars back and forth and turning the cars in the roundhouse.
You don’t know what a roundhouse is? It’s a merry-go-round that lets you turn rail cars around. It allows for the assembling of trains in a heavyweight industrial ballet that was magic to the ears of a little boy like me.
I never knew what the whistles meant, but it was part of life. From my bedroom window where I couldn’t see the trains, I could hear them, and I knew the sound mixed with the other sounds of the west end to tell me all was well.
The blessed hours
No greater comfort was there than the bells of St. Patrick’s, the neighbourhood church that chimed out “the blessed hours,” as Leonard Cohen would say. “The Angelus” at six in the morning and again at noon and then again six in the evening. The call to prayer. “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…”
The sounds of a long buried river, a lumber yard, an old dock, and a train yard mix together with the bells of an ancient church and somewhere in that chord there’s meaning and a rich background to lives lived.