Thursday 8 June 2017

Milk Truck

"Toronto passed a law in the 1950's banning milk delivery before 7 am to prevent the disturbance of Torontonian's sleep."

Alex Colville's painting Milk Truck, circa 1959, is a tribute to the small town Maritimes.  A Mercury truck filled with crates of milk (and a dog) and with a boy hanging off of it ready to deliver the goods, drives down the main street of a small town.  In the background is a Simpsons Catalogue Store (a small town wouldn't have merited a full department store).  At the end of the street and the edge of the picture is the water, presumably the Atlantic.

But the milk truck wasn't just a part of Maritime history, but Canadian history.  I remember the milk truck that came down our street every day in Hamilton, Ontario.  I remember the milk box that was built into the side of our bungalow.  I remember the plastic jugs that the milk came in. Our neighbour, Mrs. Pellizari, still ordered her milk in glass bottles.

The milk truck was not always the mode of transportation for milkmen in Canada.  According to The Globe and Mail, "Most Canadians had milk, cream, butter, eggs, bread and even meat delivered -- and all by horse drawn wagon, a vehicle that some Toronto milkmen used until the late 1950's."  My Mom, who grew up in Dunbarton, 18 miles east of Toronto, remembers the horse drawn milk carts.  The horses knew the routes so well that they could continue without instruction; at a dead end street they could be counted on to turn around.

By the early 1960's, electric trucks had replaced horsedrawn wagons, but they came with their own set of problems.  They struggled in the cold and needed a pick up truck to climb steep hills.  The vehicle's rooftop refrigeration system often leaked, raining down on the driver.  Its small oil stove did little to keep the milkman warm.

Modern gas trucks soon followed with a proper refrigeration unit.  You would think that the motorized trucks would be much louder than the wagons.  However, it wasn't the rumbling of the truck motor that got the milkmen into trouble but the clinking of the milk bottles.  Toronto passed a law in the 1950's banning milk delivery before 7 am to prevent the disturbance of Torontonian's sleep.  In 1944, Ella Mae Morse had a top ten hit titled Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet.

The death of the milkman and the milk truck came with the advent of modern refrigerators and the proliference of automobiles.  People could keep their milk fresh much longer at home.  They could drive themselves to the store to buy more.  The milk truck, as its predecessor the horse, was put out to pasture.


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