The Memoirs of Gerard P. Pas
These are the autobiographical writings of Gerard Pas.
They have been written in non-sequential order.
All texts and images remain the copyright of Gerard Peter Pas ©
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My youthful biker memories from London EOA 1963-1969
Wednesday, April 13, 2005 After all my talk of feeling blue I thought I might think of yellow, as in yellow ribbon; I thought Iíd write about memories. These stories are from some of my earliest memories in life.
As a young boy of between ten (1965) and twelve, had you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would of answered, in no uncertain terms, that I wanted to be a biker; just like the older brothers of all my friends in our neighbourhood.
Donít get me wrong, Iíve since come to see that bikers are a group of grown up bullies who have formed a fraternity of crime and corruption. As a boy in the sixties, we were inundated by the popular media that being an outlaw or biker was the latest thing and something to aspire towards. The images of Marlon Brando in leathers, sitting on his motorcycle in the movie ďThe Wild OneĒ were all the rage and as common as the millions of posters of him that could be purchased anywhere. This was the cultural milieu of the time in the early and mid-sixties: Rebel without a Cause, The Wild Ones, The Wild Angels, and later Easy Rider.
Marlon Brando in the film The Wild One
It is against this cultural backdrop that I grew up. Our neighbourhood was a poor working class area in the east of London, known locally as East of Adelaide (St.) or EOA. After living in an apartment for a few years following our immigration from The Netherlands, my parents moved here to our first rented house. The house was located at 823 Central Avenue, which put it directly across from one of the local railway switching yards of the Canadian Pacific Railway. From our front window, we could see the large rail yards, the rows and rows of railway cars, the locomotive turn house, the sand hoppers used in the engines brake systems. In addition to the railway, there was a small depot of medium sized oil tanks used by a local fuel supplier. Across the expanse of the many rails and ties was Wosley Barracks, home of the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). On any given day, across the divide of railway tracks, we could hear the sounds of the guns retort as soldiers took their firing practice. We lived nestled in between a large factory building used as a printing house and the supply buildings of a plumbing shop. Next to the factory was a garage named Len Powells, with a used appliance shop to the garages right; this shop had tons of broken appliances cast into disregard at the back of the building. Our neighbour to the rear was a junk collector - private garage owner, with discarded cars cast about his property and an ugly junk-yard-dog to protect it. This was the setting in which I spent my early formulative years in London.
Many of my friendís older brothers were indeed involved with motorcycles; some of them even belonged to various motorcycle clubs of the time, such as the Vagabonds MC and the Satanís Choice MC. During the late sixties, a church just a few blocks from our home at 430 Elizabeth St. now called First Church of Christ (Disciples), was used to celebrate the large wedding nuptials of some bikers. This event brought thousands of bikers from across the region and beyond. At the time, I think it may very well have been the largest gathering of bikers in all of Canada. The neighbourhood kids and me, hoofed it up to Queen St. at Elizabeth St. that Saturday and saw a parade of motorcycles ridden by bikers from numerous clubs which lasted an hour or more. They were all wearing their colours and there was flag bearing motorcycles, three wheeled bikes, and all the other accoutrement of bike gangs. There was also a large representation of the local constabulary making sure everything stayed under control -- a motorcycle escort you might say, in a tongue-in-cheek manner. I have to admit it was quite a remarkable sight and something, which at the time I wanted to belong.At one point, I actually went so far as to cut off the sleeves of my jean jacket, safety pinned on a white cloth to the back of it, on which was emblazoned a skull and cross bones. My bike at the time did not have an engine, as it was just a bicycle. It nevertheless, did have Mustang Handle Bars (high lifted front bar), extended front forks, and a long Banana Seat. Additionally, to add to the glamour of it all, it was stolen from a local swimming pool (McMahons Pool) just to add to the bad-boy image; an act I now truly regret.
Me on my bike in front of our house looking over at the CP railway yards.
Rather paradoxically I'm dressed for church.
Thus, had you of asked another boy from say the west-end of London, he might of answered, a lawyer like my dad. Living in the east-end EOA I wanted to be a biker, like my friends older brothers, like the big events being held in our neighbourhood. This was the sentiment for most kids back in these times and if not, they wanted hot-rod cars to cruise the main drag (Dundas St.) and probably aspired to having a good factory job like their fathers. We wanted to be cool, to belong, and to do what you had to in order to be a rebel or an outcast.Yes, it was rough neighbourhood, our idea of a good time was to have a fight with the kids from one of the other neighbouring schools or just hang out at the local pool hall; which I spent altogether too much time in. The block on which I lived was comprised of peoples from every corner of the world who had also immigrated to this great land of Canada: the majorities were Irish, then the Italians, the Portuguese, Scottish, English and our Dutch family. Our fathers were hard working people of trades and factories, and our mothers stayed at home taking care of their families or worked as ďcleaning ladiesĒ, like my mom. The city of London was still an urban city at the time before its rapid migration towards its current suburban make-up. How simple it all seems now looking back.
823 Central Avenue in 2005.
As rough now as it was when I lived in it 35 years ago.
I drove my 14-year-old daughter Nicole past our old family home on Central Ave. the other day. The house has become a complete shanty but still inhabited by tenants. The oil tanks are gone, but the fenced in compound remains. The street has taken on an even more industrial look since I last saw it. The Royal Canadian Regiment has moved their headquarters elsewhere in Ontario and the barracks are a shadow of themselves, currently under development with new shopping locations for Oxford St. The memories though, they remain strong for me.
While driving by the house and telling my daughter of the biker story, I commented ďWas I ever glad that my parents moved us from this neighbourhood when they did, or who knows where I might be today?Ē Ė it got a laugh from her. My parents bought their first home in 1970 and we moved to Wharncliffe Rd. North in my grade 10 year of high school. Even though I lived in this tough neighbourhood as a child by grade 10 I was already feeling that I didnít belong. I didnít belong to biker mentality or to any of the other current trends in society at the time, by then being a hippy was the thing to be. This move put an end to all my biker aspirations. What was I thinking? It would not be until years later that I realized that being an outcast is not everything itís cut out to be, particularly if it is not a decision of your own choice to make, as you are marginalized into a role which society denotes, like that of an artist or any minority group.
Years later, while living in a Squatted Building (Squatting: the utilization of unused land or housing by a person who does so without the owner's consent.) in Amsterdam, I came to see the true character of bikers. It seemed that the local chapter of the Hells Angels MC Amsterdam, wanted to take control of the ground floor of a building we had earlier squatted. We had squatted this city owned building, as a protest to housing needs in the city where at the time some 26,000 people or more were without a residence. This sum is exactly the amount of displaced people who were forced from their homes to make room for a new underground subway. The building was located at the opening of the first stop on the subway line. The Hells Angels wanted to use the space as a clubhouse or repair shop. The events that I saw during this time are too long to mention now, suffice it to say I saw the true colours of bikers in its less glamorous and more violent form. Iíll write more on this topic some other time as this post is already becoming too lengthy.
I did eventually become a biker though; I joined a bike club and rode thousands of kilometers with my fellow cyclists wearing the colours of the club -- London Centennial Wheelers Cycling Club. Since then, bikes have played a large role in my life, a healthier and somewhat more positive choice of belonging to a bike club I might add.
Me as a biker. A radical paradigm shift from my earlier youthful aspirations.
Somewhat fitting, one of my earliest recollection as a child was on returning to Holland after immigrating to Canada. My parents thought that maybe they had made a mistake in coming to Canada and that they should return to our homeland of Holland. My two sisters and I returned to Holland in the company of my mother, my father stayed on to work and we did eventually reunite in Canada with him. The most vivid memory I have from this period of my life was a red bicycle that my Opa (grandfather) bought for me to ride. It was such a treat, as it represented a liberty I had previously not known; I could suddenly fly like the wind on two wheels instead of hobbling around with a metal brace strapped to my leg. I can still see that bicycle, even now some 40 plus years later: riding it in front of my grandparents house in Roermond, Limburg, The Netherlands. That is my biker story and Iím happy to say that bicycles are still a big part of my life. I will write more on my relations with the Hells Angels and my time in Amsterdam some other time Ė stay tuned.
P.s. I do have a leather motorcycle jacket but my wife hates it when I wear it. If I could, Iíd have a 900cc rice rocket to nestle between my legs, but again I canít get that one past my wife either. Oh yes I do have a cap similar to the one Brando is wearing in the image above -- I do wear it with blessing from all. Happy anniversary to my darling wife Maria - itís been 20 years of marital bliss and what a more fitting story than that of a wonderful biker marriage from 35 years or more ago.
Gerard Pas, April 13, 2005. London, Canada.
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