IN 1930, eight-yearold Gordon Cowley changed schools, from Queen Mary on Vancouver's west side to Queen Mary in North Vancouver.
The school had been built on land purchased from the Bailey family. The Bailey house, on the estate's remaining land, was converted into suites managed by Gordon's mother, and surrounded by a badminton court, an orchard, berry patch and a grove of exotic trees.
Gordon raised chickens and rabbits here, feeding them with garden greens and with grain gathered from the rail tracks by the elevators on the waterfront.
He and his sister Eileen would come home from school at lunchtime to picnic with their mother on the bridge that crossed the trout stream.
The children and their friends climbed the three tall cedars on the property, leaping from the top of one tree to the next, hidden from the parental gaze.
Across Chesterfield at Victoria Park, families gathered for concerts at the bandstand and the boys played softball, though they preferred the diamond in the triangle of land bounded by Keith Road, Mahon and 13th Street.
The boys went everywhere on their bicycles - to Ambleside beach to swim or up Grouse Mountain to ski.
On spring weekends, Gordon skied all day, running down the mountain to deliver newspapers and back up again to ski in the evening.
Gordon's bike was a British-built Raleigh, bought second-hand with his paper route earnings. With it, he made two trips to Cultus Lake, a six-hour journey each way along the old Fraser Highway.
He delivered for Hanson's Bakery at 15th and Lonsdale and for Webb's Drugstore at Eighth and Lonsdale. Gordon worked at Webb's as a soda jerk and made sub-manager of The Province newspaper's delivery area.
When the Second World War began, the boys joined the cadets program at North Vancouver high school, intending to become pilots in the Royal Canadian Air Force when they graduated in 1941.
At the enlistment station, all the boys but Gordon passed the physical exam.
After six months working as a clerk with the B.C. Electric Company, he applied again to the air force, this time successfully. Gordon was posted to Gander, N.L. as a ground crew technician with the Number 10 Bomber and Reconnaissance Squadron.
Back home, companies like B.C. Electric and B.C. Tel kept jobs open for servicemen while the war was on.
Gordon remained with the company, later BC Hydro, for 40 years, retiring in 1980.
He met Peggy Graham in 1946 at the Bowen Island cottage of a family friend. They were married in 1947, settling into their first home in Burnaby's Willingdon Heights.
By 1950, the growing family needed more room. Amid the trees, stumps and dirt that became Capilano Highlands, they found a lot and Gordon designed the family's new home.
They started a garden right away, including plots for their three sons.
Their street, all of one block long, was neighbourly. Families swapped tools and took inventory of the equipment newcomers might contribute.
Adults socialized and the children, 56 of them at the street's most productive stage, had the run of the surrounding forest.
In 1973, with the boys grown and in homes of their own, Gordon and Peggy moved to a condo in West Vancouver to be closer to "golf, sail, ski and beach."
For more than 20 years, Gordon has worked out with Fit Fellas at West Vancouver Seniors' Activity Centre, volunteered at the West Vancouver United Church's annual flea market and cultivated a plot at the Navvy Jack Point community garden.
"I spent more time golfing and sailing than working on the garden," he says, "but every year, we had lots of produce to give away," he says.
Five years ago, the Cowleys celebrated Gordon and Peggy's 60th anniversary with a cruise to Alaska.
In September, the family, now with two greatgrandchildren and one on the way, will gather to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.
Gordon has considered giving up his garden plot - not because he turned 90 in July - because, with all his activities, he's just too busy.
Each year he says, "I'll give it one more year," and each year the Cowley system of benign neglect produces a bumper crop of vegetables.
Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. Contact her at 7782792275 or email her at lander1@ shaw.ca.