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Where Were You in '52?

George Reeves as Superman
George Reeves as Superman (United States Public Domain)

I’m a Baby Boomer, one of 403,559 Canadian births in 1952, still a Canadian record for the highest number of births in one year. I came into this world just shy of a whopping 10 pounds. The date was January 21, a cold, snowy day, a Monday on the calendar. According to my mother, I was even born with a tooth, which shocked the hospital staff in Broadview, Saskatchewan. It shocked her too when it came to my breast feeding.

I realize I’m not that famous, at least not as famous as some others who were born in 1952, like 007 Pierce Brosnan; along with fellow actors like John Goodman, Liam Neeson, Dan Aykroyd, Jeff Goldblum, David Hasselhoff, Roseanne Barr, and Christopher “Superman” Reeve; funny man Robin Williams; singer Juice Newton; and sportspeople Bob Costas, Jimmy Connors, Gary Bettman, and Vladislav Tretiak, to name a few.

--In 1952, our mighty Dominion of Canada had a population of 14,431,900. Average life expectancy was 68.2 years. An average home cost $9,000. An average rent took $80 off your paycheck. A new car cost $1,700. The per capita income was $1,653. A quart of milk and a loaf of bread were 24 cents and 16 cents, respectively. Eggs were 24 cents a dozen, hamburger 53 cents a pound. You could buy a new fridge for $330 and purchase gas at the pumps for 20 cents a gallon. Transistor radios and roll-on deodorant were introduced to the public, along with Saran Wrap and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.

--CBC opened the first Canadian TV station, CBFT in Montreal. In Newfoundland, a large number of children could not attend school because of a teacher shortage. Alberta was booming with its natural resources, especially oil, thus attracting investors worldwide. Canada’s own Lester B Pearson, our External Affairs Minister, was elected president of the UN General Assembly. Four members of the infamous Boyd Gang, including Edwin Boyd, were recaptured after breaking out of the Don Jail in Toronto. Diesel locomotives went into service in the Rocky Mountains between Revelstoke and Calgary.

--In politics, Liberal Louis St Laurent was our Canadian Prime Minister. Tommy Douglas’ CCF party (the for-runner to the NDP) took a 3rd consecutive majority in the Saskatchewan provincial election, much to the disgust of both sides of my family, who were staunch Liberals. In neighboring Alberta, Earnest Manning and his Social Credit Party took it two steps further and won a 5th consecutive majority in their provincial election.

--South of the border, down US way, an average American salary was $3,400 a year, while teachers made around $5,000. In the country of 157 million there were almost 4 million births. Three out of five families owned a car, two out of three families had a telephone, while one in three households owned a TV set, one of those big consoled monsters with all those picture tubes in the back. The iconic Mad Magazine and the controversial National Enquirer debuted on newsstands. Tuition to the uppity Harvard University was $600 a year.

--Some of the notable movies were Singin’ in the Rain starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds; Ivanhoe with Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor; The Greatest Show on Earth with Charleston Heston and Cornel Wilde; and High Noon starring Cary Cooper and Grace Kelly. Hollywood also introduced 3-D movies for our viewing pleasure, although they didn’t catch on until more recently.

--The popular TV shows were CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, I Love Lucy, The Abbott and Costello Show, American Bandstand, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Roy Rogers Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Dragnet, Howdy Doody, The Adventures of Superman, and Life with Elizabeth, starring non-other than everybody’s favorite old person, Betty White. Some of the songs people enjoyed were Wheel of Fortune by little Kay Starr, The Glow-Worm by the Mills Brothers, A Guy is a Guy by Doris Day, You Belong to Me by Jo Stafford, and Wish You Were Here by Eddie Fisher, one of the many who married Elizabeth Taylor.

--In Detroit, General Motors brought out air-conditioning as an option. For most average-priced cars, however, it cost an additional one-third of the total asking price. Most people couldn’t afford such luxuries, of course, and would just open the windows once it got too hot. To keep pace with the Russians, American scientists detonated the first hydrogen bomb, making the World War II atomic strike on Hiroshima, Japan look like fireworks display by comparison.

--Polio was a major scare for Americans, as it was here in Canada. In the US alone, 3,300 died while 57,000 were left paralyzed. By the end of the year, a vaccine was developed to put a stop to this dreaded disease. On a happier note, at least for Republicans, Dwight D Eisenhower (with Richard Nixon as his running mate) won the presidential election in a landslide over Democrat Adlai Stevenson. Just a few months earlier, President Harry S Truman signed the Japanese peace treaty that granted Japan full sovereignty over its own affairs. This act officially ended World War II in the Pacific. Jack Kennedy won a Massachusetts senate seat beating Henry Cabot Lodge. Puerto Rico formed a new constitution, becoming a commonwealth of the United States. The UN General Assembly held its first meeting in its modern New York City building.

Elizabeth II  and Prince Philip
The official coronation photo of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (Canadian Public Domain)

--On the international scene, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced that his country had developed an atomic bomb. At Buckingham Palace, Elizabeth II became queen upon the death of her father, King George VI. In London, a terrible fog lasting 4 days killed thousands when the smoke from cars, factories, and the many coal furnaces was trapped by a low layer of fog combined with no wind. Also in Britain, jet passenger service was introduced. Herman Wouk won the Pulitzer Prize with The Caine Mutiny, which became a blockbuster movie two years later starring Van Johnson, Humphrey Bogart, and Fred MacMurray.

--The 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings were probably the most talked-about sensation in sports, at least in the hockey crazy northern US and Canada. The Wings took the regular season in high fashion that spring with a 44-14-12 record for 100 points, 22 points ahead of second-place Montreal. It was their second-straight 100-point season. The league’s MVP, Gordie Howe, scored 47 goals and 39 assists, good for 86 points to lead the NHL. In a one-month period, the Wings were unbeaten in 15 games. They lost consecutive games only once all year. Goalie Terry Sawchuk recorded 12 shutouts and a 1.94 goals-against average. Sawchuk, Howe, Ted Lindsay, and defenseman Red Kelly were all selected First Team All-Stars, leaving only 2 other non-Detroit spots, both filled by Montreal Canadiens--Doug Harvey on defense, and Elmer Lach at center. Today, all six are in the Hall of Fame.

--Then came the playoffs when the Red Wings took the coveted Stanley Cup in the minimum 8 games (the first team to do so), by sweeping Toronto and Montreal in 4 games each. In the 4 games at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium, Sawchuk stood on his head and failed to let a single goal get by him, much to the hometown fans enjoyment. This squad of players may have been the greatest Detroit Red Wings team of all time and is usually mentioned in the Top Ten NHL’s greatest teams ever.

--In the last game of the Stanley Cup finals, April 15, played in Detroit, a strange thing happened. An octopus was thrown onto the ice. Two brothers admitted to it….Pete and Jerry Cusimano who co-owned Detroit’s Eastern Market. Apparently, the octopus with its 8 tentacles was supposed to signify the 8 wins to take the Cup. The incident started a tradition that has carried over to the present-day Joe Louis Arena. The octopus is now the Red Wings mascot and he has a name, too…”Al.” You can see the huge plastic version of Al in the rafters.

--Billy Vessels won the Heisman Trophy as the best college football player. Although drafted second overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1953, he headed north and signed with the CFL Edmonton Eskimos, where he won the Schenley Award as Canada’s top pro player.

--In the 1952 National Football League Championship game, the Detroit Lions defeated the Cleveland Browns 17 to 7. In the Canadian Football League, the Toronto Argonauts beat the Edmonton Eskimos 21 to 11 to win the Grey Cup. Rocky Marciano took boxing’s World Heavyweight Crown by knocking out heavily-favored champ “Jersey Joe” Walcott in 13 rounds.

--In baseball, the New York Yankees won their fourth straight World Series by coming from behind to take the last 2 games to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in 7 games. The closest ever at that time for the Dodgers. They had been in the majors since the beginning of time and had not won a championship, although 1952 had been the team’s 6th World Series visit since 1916. Once again, the defeat left the Dodgers fans uttering, “Wait’ll Next Year!” They finally did win in 1955, then two years later moved to the land of palm trees, swimming pools, and movie stars in Los Angeles, California.

And that’s just some of what went on in 1952, the year I was born.


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