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V-E Day in Toronto

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Dear Inez,

I remember the day like it was yesterday. We were so happy the war was over and Les would be coming home — we did have our 15 minutes of fame, didn't we? Let's always keep in touch.

With love, “Aggie”

P.S. - Buy cookies!

Harriet (Aggie) Sutton penned those words the last time she was down from Innisfil, Ont., to visit her dear friend, Inez Wilson, in Toronto.

She wrote them in the copy of You Had to Be There, the 1999 book by Robert Collins about the Depression generation, that Mrs. Wilson had just acquired.

Apart from chiding her friend for forgetting her favourite snack, Mrs. Sutton was referring to the book's cover photo, which appeared first in The Globe and Mail, and in various publications since.

“That picture,” says Mrs. Sutton, now 84. “God, we've never lived it down.”

But they certainly lived it up on the day it was taken, May 7, 1945, when the end of the war in Europe meant an early quitting time at the Charles Wilson Ltd. beverage plant on Sherbourne Street in Toronto. Both women worked in the office.

“The boss came in and he says, ‘The war is over,' ” Mrs. Sutton recalls. “We just pulled our covers over our typewriters and we left.”

As the picture shows, they wound up on the hood of a car on Bay Street, its buildings festooned with Union Jacks, its pavement littered with paper. Mrs. Wilson, then 17 and known as Inez Collins, sat up front, waving. Directly behind her was Harriet Hunter, whose surname would change after her fiancé, a soldier named Les Sutton, returned from overseas.

How the two women got there is another story— make that two stories — since each remembers it differently. “I think we took the bus down Sherbourne, and then along Queen on the streetcar,” Mrs. Wilson, 77, says in her senior's apartment in east-end Toronto. After a few hours of parading, “we went out for supper, then we went back to work, but they didn't say anything to us about being off.”

Mrs. Sutton says they walked to Bay Street, by a completely different route, before the car came along. “They said, ‘Climb on, climb on,' ” and afterward, “I think we just went home. I don't remember going for supper. But I'm not the brightest lilac in the bunch, at 84.”

On one point, both are clear: Harriet had more to celebrate, after four long years without her man.

“It was hard, you know, it was a lonely time,” she says. “I wrote nearly every day, and sent parcels.”

Mr. Sutton, a member of 83 Company of the First Army tank brigade, survived the Italian campaign and was in Germany on V-E Day. He arrived home on New Year's Eve, 1945, and married Harriet the following April. The couple, who have three great-grandchildren, will celebrate their 60th anniversary next year.

Inez Collins went on to marry Bill Wilson, her boss. “I was after him,” she says, smiling. “It wasn't long.”

She had to work elsewhere until they started a family a few years later. Her colleagues, she explains, would not have taken kindly to working alongside the boss's wife.

Her husband died in 1988, but her son and daughter remain in the Toronto area, and both of her grandsons, she notes with pride, are studying on full scholarships at the University of Toronto.

As for her old friend, they'll meet again in a few weeks in Toronto.

“She's going into St. Mike's for an operation,” Mrs. Wilson says. “She phoned me the other day and asked me to visit her in the hospital.”

And they'll no doubt talk about “that picture,” this time, hopefully, over cookies.

— Anthony Reinhart

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