Cliff Houston was our nearest neighbour for many years, living in a house on Main Street just a few yards west of St. Paul’s. Mr. Houston passed away in 2004 when he was well into his 90s, and St. Paul’s purchased the property from his estate. Except for a few years when he worked out of town, Cliff lived his entire life literally within a stone’s throw of our church.
Cliff remembered soldiers drilling in Victoria Park before sailing overseas to fight in World War One. A few years later Cliff was playing the violin in St. Paul’s orchestra, along with Mary and Cavers Marshall, the minister’s children.
Named after Rev. Clifford Bennett, our minister from 1904 to 1908, Cliff became a well-known sports figure in Milton; he was a player, coach and organizer in baseball, hockey and tennis. There was no money in it for him but indirectly sport determined the course of his life. Four of his baseball pals landed jobs at a Peterborough woollen mill; when they needed a fifth man for their crew they recommended Cliff.
On his first day at the mill he couldn’t help noticing the many women workers, especially Lily Cockerill. A few days later Lily was leaving work as Cliff was coming in for the night shift. Lily dropped her cigarettes; Cliff picked them up. That was the start of a 70-year romance, which ended only with Lily’s death. The baptism of their son Keith is one of Cliff’s most pleasant memories of their Peterborough years.
Taking Care of Our Church
Although caretaking at St. Paul’s was a part-time job – Cliff worked full-time for 31 years at the P.L. Robertson plant on Bronte Street – it still required a lot of work. He couldn’t have managed it without constant help from Lily. Winter Sundays were really tough. On the job by 4 a.m., Cliff spent hours shovelling coal and snow. Controlling the heat was a problem, too. Shortly before the service Cliff went up to the sanctuary to observe a prominent member of the congregation. If she was huddled up and pulling a wrap around her neck, Cliff knew he needed more heat. But if she was delicately fanning herself, he could ease off a bit.
Weddings were special days but not necessarily trouble-free. Cliff can’t forget the day a member of the bridal party spotted a burned-out light bulb on the ceiling and insisted it be replaced. That meant a quick, and expensive, call to Milton Hydro. There three men and their big ladder got the job done just in time.
The wedding of Anne Pickett, a teacher, also stands out. Cliff’s son Trevor, one of Anne’s pupils, insisted on attending the wedding in his Sunday best. As soon as the service ended Trevor rushed forward so that he wouldn’t miss out on kissing his teacher. While guests mingled on the church lawn afterwards, a woman lost a diamond ring. The search went on for weeks. Finally Cliff questioned the woman in fine detail about where she walked on the lawn. He then made a diagram; with that in hand, he soon found the ring nestled in the grass.
Cliff has mostly happy memories of St. Paul’s, although he had a serious disagreement with Rev. Lorne Graham. Cliff felt the Christian Education Building would be located too close to his home. The dispute went before a special committee at Town Hall before being decided in Cliff’s favour. Shortly after our original chapel was demolished Cliff noticed a big stone poking through the rubble. He dug it out and was delighted to recognize the cornerstone of our first church. Today that stone is imbedded in the wall near the entrance to the Christian Education Centre.