He Wore What?
By Pat Mestern
Early photographs of Dr. Groves’s property on St. David Street S. - the large stone buildings now given the street address #160 - show a high brick chimney on the east side of the largest stone structure. The chimney was built by Charlie Mattaini and his crew and served its purpose well for a number of years.
The bricks that were salvaged from the demolished chimney were used to build several of the homes on the right hand side of St. Andrew Street, between Breadalbane and Maple Street. Dr. Groves’s buildings at #160 St. David Street S. have gone through a number of uses. Older residents will remember them as the home to Tweddle Chick Hatchery then the House of Brougham Furniture Company. The front building housed the Chamber of Commerce office for a number of years before it morphed into today’s popular Brew House.
When Dr. Groves deemed the stack was not necessary, due to a change of commercial venue in the building, he decided that the chimney was not only an eyesore but a convenient lightning rod, and made the decision to have it demolished. The job would be tricky because the building was bounded by the river on one side and nearby commercial buildings on the north and west sides.
Grandfather Charlie Mattaini, who had honed the “art” of dealing with explosives during his tenure in the Italian army, assured Dr. Groves that because he had built the structure, he should be the one to demolish it. He promised that there’d be little disruption to nearby property or persons. The only request Charlie made was that all gawkers and hawkers be kept well away from the site. He was to be the sole human near, or in, the building during the preparation and demolition process.
At the appointed hour on the chosen day, Charlie drove his team of horses and waggon onto the lot and up to the main door. The crowd gathered on St. David Street saw him offloading large coils of rope, several wooden crates and three small boxes. After leaving the small boxes near the door, Charlie disappeared into the building. One of his work crew then walked down the lane to retrieve the team and waggon. Nearby buildings cleared as more and more curious citizens congregated on St. David Street and Queen Street, across the river from the building, to witness the chimney’s demise, and some speculated, Charlie’s too.
One hour passed, then two, with no sign of action. What the onlookers didn’t know was that Charlie was inside the chimney, using the ropes to scale the walls. He was laying dynamite, caps and wiring - very carefully from the top to the bottom of the structure. Charlie’s records show that he offloaded 36 sticks of dynamite and $1.60 worth of caps. Knowing the instability of explosives - a spark could cause an explosion - Grandfather Charlie worked . . . naked, except for a sock tied on with a piece of string, covering his . . . private parts. Ouch!
According the Grandmother Mattaini, those in the crowd, who could see the door that Charlie had entered, gave a collective gasp then began to laugh hilariously when a black, naked figure walked calmly out of the building carrying three smallish boxes and trailing wires behind him. He crouched close to the stone wall near the door and began to attach wires to the small boxes. Charlie was so intent on his work that he didn’t appear to notice the crowd.
After rechecking the connections, Charlie raised the handle of one, detonating the first lot of dynamite. The top of the chimney slowly began to collapse in on itself. Charlie then detonated the second charge and more of the chimney imploded. The third detonation brought the rest of the chimney, above the roofline, down into itself. Dust flew. Windows rattled but not one brick fell outside the chimney itself.
It was only when a gigantic cheer went up that Charlie realized he’d been performing naked for an audience but for that well-placed sock. He performed admirably under the circumstances. He bowed low to the assemblage then dove through the door to gain some privacy. One of his crew raced down the lane and into the building, returning shortly thereafter, found grandmother in the crowd and sent her on a mission. Charlie, the explosives expert, forgot to take his clothes out of the chimney after he disrobed. They were buried under tons of bricks.
Grandmother was not without a sense of humour. Having been dispatched to get clothing for her husband, she returned with a package which was delivered to her husband. Charlie appeared shortly thereafter, still black from soot and creosote, in a pair of pyjamas, complete with a nightcap on his noggin. The man loved a good practical joke, even if it was on himself.