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The Station Wagon

Friday, December 28, 2018 9:02 AM

While conducting research for my book, I collected over 700 files from Toronto-area newspapers in the early 1970s. Here’s one story that illustrates the haphazard nature of that era. It’s not that it couldn't possibly happen now, but a number of details make it unlikely. This comes from the Toronto Star in February, 1974.

A group of kids, mostly boys, in a suburb of Toronto, were driving in a station wagon that had been stolen from a local parking lot one Monday night. For a comparable, our minivans of today are about as close as you can get to that kind of vehicle. Lots of seats for a big family. But with one main difference. Back then, safety standards were, shall we say, less stringent. Wherever someone could sit, well, that was another spot. And forget about seatbelts. They weren’t mandatory at all. People would just pile in. Often in my family, there’d be three of us in the front - sitting with the parents on top of the seatbelts - others in the back seat, and maybe three more in the very back, where the large, heavy door would open and close sideways. The kids were almost always in the most remote, vulnerable places, and leaning against doors that weren't always locked.

In this case, there were ten teens in all, ranging in age from 15 to 17, driving in a “1973 green station wagon.” After having some fun joyriding in a dark field at a “lover’s lane area,” they stopped to change places. One of them, a fifteen year old whose name was withheld by police, didn’t get back in because he had a funny feeling about what was about to happen. He and another boy - who jumped out in the car’s last landed moments - watched the headlights disappear as the car plunged over a 200-foot cliff into the creek below. While falling toward the valley, it turned over and came down on its roof into about three feet of water. There were no survivors at the crash scene. It took rescue personnel - which included “skin divers” - three hours to tow the car out of the water.

At the end of the article, a teen who went to school with most of the kids, is quoted as saying he’d been at a party with those kids on the previous Friday night. He went on to describe the times he’d spent with them, playing checkers and listening to music. That was the 70’s for you: good times at parties, loud stereos and a few wild times involving cars and other errors in judgement.

Note: the events in my book are not based on this story.

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