Robert Murray’s childhood home was unlike any other. For one thing, his family was often visited by brigades of firemen who would hurry up to the attic to reset the weights of an old alarm which would thump down onto the bell and rattle the house.
“You never got used to the fire alarm,” said Murray who turns 88 on Dec. 15. It’s been 64 years since he last set foot in New Glasgow’s town hall which was the town’s post-office between the years of 1887 and 1960.
In 1938 Murray’s father, Harry, was hired as the care-taker.
“I was around eight when we moved there,” said Murray. “it was an interesting place to be, on the rooftops looking down on all the activities going on over the years.”
As care-taker, Murray’s father was given the 3rd floor apartment on 111 Provost Street. Even as a child, Murray remembers being overwhelmed with the amount of space that he, his sister and their mother and father were living in.
“It was a beautiful apartment,” he said. “Hardwood floors, huge rooms and a big kitchen. We had three bedrooms.”
On Friday, Dec. 14 Robert and his son, Andrew Murray, stopped by the old apartment which is now the administrative offices for the Town of New Glasgow.
The hardwood floors are the same. The structure of the halls and stairs are the same. Stopping along the way, Murray gestured to the fire-escape overlooking the East River.
“I used to go out there and study for the provincial exams.”
Another door on the other end of the hall leads out to a rooftop terrace where he and his family would watch the comings and goings of mid 20th century Provost Street, and where they grew their victory garden during the war.
But, of course, a lot of things have changed.
“So, I love your old bedroom,” laughed Janet Cormier as Murray walked into the payroll and human resourses office where she has been working since 2009.
“They built a closet in there,” said Murray pointing to the corner where his father had arranged to have one built shortly after the family had moved in. There’s no closet now, just an alcove where payroll files are ordered and shelved.
“The first time I slept here it was an experiment with the train,” Murray tells the room of town employees following along from room to room. “The train went by and blew its whistle and I thought it was going to come right into the room.”
“It still does,” said New Glasgow town mayor, Nancy Dicks.
But, unlike the alarming noise of the fire-bell, the sounds of the train and of the old town clock became part of the routine growing up on the third floor of the 131-year-old Fuller-style building—the first of many to be commissioned by Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald.
“My father was always making sure that the place was clean and dusted and that the place was warm,” said Murray. “It was coal fired furnaces down there and so he had a coal bin and he had to shovel the coal into the furnaces in the winter and I realized that he really worked hard looking after the place.”
Today Robert lives in Antigonish with his wife of 64 years, Mavis Murray.
He turns 88 on Saturday, Dec., 15.