It was brief, intense and unforgettable, a lot like youth itself.
The impromptu parade down Sparks Street in Ottawa came minutes after Don Whittemore and his friends had heard the best news of their young lives: The war in Europe was over, and the good guys had won.
When word reached Canada on the morning of Monday, May 7, 1945, the euphoria flushed thousands from their factories, offices and schools. Lisgar Collegiate Institute was no exception, so the 17-year-old Mr. Whittemore reached for his keys and made for his father's 1936 Nash.
“I had driven it to school, and we decided to go uptown,” he recalls.
With a dozen or more passengers in — and on — the car, Mr. Whittemore hadn't made it far along paper-strewn Sparks Street (now off-limits to cars) when he heard a familiar, foreboding voice from the sidewalk.
“Go home!” his frowning father shouted.
“He didn't really appreciate all of the people piled on the car,” says Mr. Whittemore, 77 now, and a grandfather of seven.
With that, he pulled out of the parade and kissed his car privileges goodbye for a while, but not before a news photographer captured a few images of the dusty Nash and its jubilant crew, all of them facing forward, free, their lives directly in front of them.
John Sutherland was out front, blowing on bagpipes he had acquired from a First World War pipe major. He went on to work as a civil engineer, helping to build airstrips in Northern Ontario for the federal government, among other things.
Now 78 and living in west-end Toronto, Mr. Sutherland still owns the pipes, although they are out on loan at the moment. He recalls not only riding on Mr. Whittemore's hood, but also that “we tried to get to know some of the girls,” a couple of whom were office workers slightly older than the Lisgar gang.
To Mr. Sutherland's left, on the driver's-side fender, 19-year-old Barbara Fillan raised an arm in the air and smiled, having just bolted from work at Metropolitan Life.
“We just jumped on the first car we saw,” she now says. Although she didn't know the driver, “it certainly made my day to have a running board to jump on to.”
Nor did she realize that, at the moment the picture was snapped, her older sister was on the street behind her, about to make the same leap. Nancy Fillan had just left work at the New Zealand High Commission.
Barbara went on to work as a reporter at the Ottawa Citizen and for a syndication service in Toronto before returning to the capital, where she and husband Murray Tevlin raised five children, including twins.
Her sister, meanwhile, left Ottawa for the Chantecler ski resort in Sainte-Adèle, Que., where she worked the front desk and met Charlie Pipe, the man she would marry. They had five children and he passed away a few years ago.
Now 82 and living in a Montreal seniors residence, Mrs. Pipe recalls how “absolutely exhilarated” everyone was on V-E Day, and marvels that no one on that car got hurt. “It's a wonder nothing happened,” she says, adding that she keeps a copy of the picture hanging in her room.
Sitting upright atop the Nash, wearing his naval reserve uniform, Bryce Beckett had only a passing acquaintance with the other Lisgar students in the car, but that was enough to win him a rooftop seat.
Mr. Beckett, now 78, recalls they were nearly as grateful for the day off school as for the end of the war. “Exuberance, I suppose, is the word,” he says. “Everybody was pretty much in the same mood.”
Still in Ottawa, he worked at General Electric, then at the Bank of Canada. His most memorable assignment, in the early 1950s, was escorting cartons filled with uncut sheets of paper money to Winnipeg by train, accompanied by Mounties.
“Nobody knew the amount,” he says. “I think afterwards we were told it was three-odd million dollars.”
Later, during a 40-year real-estate career, he listed a house Mr. Whittemore wanted to sell.
Behind Mr. Beckett, reclining on the car's roof with a pipe in his mouth, was Philip David, three days shy of 18.
He went on to several clerical jobs for the government in Toronto and Ottawa, including the Royal Canadian Mint, and for the Public Service Alliance. Now, as he closes in on 78 and lives in Gloucester, south of Ottawa, he says, “My memory is good, but short. I don't even remember smoking a pipe.”
Sydney Aisenberg, the young man behind him in the picture, waving from the rear of the car, is dead now, Mr. David says.
As is Jeane Bryson, the young blonde who is at the extreme right on the running board. She died at 75 of cancer in 2003.
Her first husband, Robert Hutchinson, was a geologist whose work took them around the world. They lived in Africa and Australia, then returned to Ottawa, where she was president of the Hong Kong-Canada Business Association, organized a business trade mission to Taiwan and China and did volunteer work.
After the death of her second husband, Peter Newton, she moved back to Australia to be near her grandchildren. She fought her cancer to the end, and toasted friends at a cocktail party on the day she died.
“She was focused, fearless, remarkable,” says Margot Jorgensen, one of two daughters.
She also kept in contact with Barbara (Babs) Firth, who is standing to her left on the running board. Then in her final year at Lisgar, Babs eventually married Gavin Brown and now lives in St. Catharines, Ont. She remembers V-E Day as “a wonderful time of life. . . . We just streamed out of the school.”
As for young Mr. Whittemore, he went home, parked the car and did his penance, then went on to a career in the navy, sailing around the world
It was only once he became a parent himself, and the owner of a red 1970 Mustang with black racing stripes, that he got a taste of the stress his father felt on V-E Day.
“For sure,” Mr. Whittemore says. “That Mustang was a rocket on wheels.”
— Anthony Reinhart