Gilpin Grove, Edmonton: Street games

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Street games

In the 1940‘s, milk was delivered in bottles and the bottle was sealed with a milk cap, a circular flat cardboard disk about an inch and a quarter in diameter that was a pressed into a recess in the top of the bottle. This was before the change to aluminum foil caps that were formed over the top of the bottle. We kids saved these milk caps to play a street game we called “flick-em’s”. In play, the disk was held between the index and middle fingers and given a flick to propel it with a slight spin, much as one would, in later times, launch a frisbee. The game was played on the pavement (sidewalk), flicking the disks up against a wall.

I remember two different games: in the first game a player would flick a milk cap and if, when it landed, it overlapped one or more disks already played, then the flicked disk, and any that it overlapped, were “won” by that player. I don’t remember whether, having won the disks, the player got another turn or whether players only got one flick per turn. In the second game, some milk caps were stood up at a 45 degree angle to the wall and a player flicked a milk cap attempting to knock them down. If one was knocked down then that player won it plus any that were laying on the ground from previous flicks.

Later, cigarette cards replaced the milk caps. My sister tells me that the game was then called “faggies” (“fags” is British slang for cigarettes). I amassed quite a collection of cigarette cards but have  no idea what became of them.

Marbles was another game played in the street. I remember having a bag of marbles but don’t remember playing with them much. A more popular game was gobs. Our game followed the Wiki article’s description of the Australian game but using coloured wooden cubes.

The square was our cricket pitch with the stumps of the wicket inserted into three holes drilled in a piece of wood. Our cricket ball was a tennis ball and hitting it into a front garden counted for four runs if it hit the ground on its way and six if it didn’t. Hitting a window was “six and out”. If stumps were not available, we played cricket on the pavement (sidewalk) using the green base of the gas lamppost as the wicket. We also had a wicket chalked on the end wall of the building shown in the second photo on page 1. This was a very safe area since the brick wall across the road to College Gardens made it a small cul-de-sac.

The square was also our soccer pitch, using the gaps between the gardens as goals. We also played soccer in the cul-de-sac, using a goal chalked on the end wall of the building. We frequently were “told off” by the owner of that house because she found the constant noise of the ball hitting the wall very annoying. Of course we had no sympathy for that but she would tell us to stop “or she would tell our mothers” - a powerful deterrent.

Other games were run-outs and tin-can copper, both varieties of hide-and-seek. A person was chosen to be “it” using a method such as “one potato, two potato”. There was a manhole cover in the middle of the road by the south-west corner of the square and, in tin-can-copper, a small tin can would be placed on it. Someone would give it an almighty kick down towards Gilpin Crescent after which the person that was “it” would run after it, pick it up and run backwards back to the manhole cover. Meanwhile, everyone else ran and hid. After that, it followed standard hide-and-seek rules. Then there was Knock Down Ginger: knocking on someone’s front door, running away and hiding, and then watching the frustration of the adult who answered the door and found no-one there - another game that usually ended in “I’ll tell your mother!”.

Other favourites were scooters, bicycles and soapbox cars (not the fancy cars shown in the Wiki page, but much more basic designs using orange crates and pram wheels). On our bicycles we sometimes had races around the square. At left is a 1954 photo of Wendy and me on our bikes in the road in front of No. 56 with the camera looking east. Click on the photo to see a larger version.

The girls played with their dolls and played “mothers and fathers” by setting up a pretend house and preparing imaginary meals and sweeping imaginary floors; it was a great coup if they could get a boy to participate. The boys played “cowboys and indians” expending untold amounts of imaginary ammunition with disputes as to whether or not “I shot you”! There were cap guns but, since the caps cost money, they usually gave only a click.

In the fall there was the game of conkers, with kids trying favourite methods of enhancing their conkers such as pickling and baking them.

While we didn’t venture out of the street much, we did visit Pymmes Park (see the street map) fairly often. There, we could use the paddle boats, play on the swings, slide and roundabouts in the playground, or play football (soccer) on the grass. The route to Pymmes Park was via College Gardens and our house had a back alley that led there. However, for most kids on the street and for me, too, when I was with a group, the way to College Gardens was over the wall that blocked access to College Gardens from Gilpin Grove. The wall was six or seven feet high so that small kids had to be helped up and over the wall. It was a right of passage to be able to climb the wall unaided - at first in the corner where footholds had been worn in the brick - then, when older, in the centre where one of the cap bricks was missing.