Sailboats, lobster rolls and wild roses: Summer on the South Shore

We lived in Halifax for five years, and returning here after a 10-year absence was one of the most anticipated parts of our trip across Canada. Driving into Nova Scotia from New Brunswick demands that you pay attention. You are given advance warning, but you have just one chance. The road splits right and left; if you miss the turn, you are heading for Cape Breton. We turned right.

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With great excitement, we drove into Dartmouth (across the harbour from Halifax) to stay with our friends Harriette and Mike. We are here for another eight days and there is much to tell about Halifax and our past and present.  But we’ll begin our Nova Scotia stories with a trip to one of our favourite parts of the province – the South Shore. In one day we visited Peggy’s Cove, Chester, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg.

Note to first-time visitors – go much slower and see a lot more. But we’ve been here before and we’re trying to pack in as much as possible.  When we see cottages like this, memories of summers in Nova Scotia come flooding back.

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This frequently-photographed home is right on the bend coming into Chester – a pretty and polished little town which looks very much like Cape Cod and for good reason. It was settled by colonists from Massachusetts in 1759 and is one of the South Shore’s primo sailing and yachting resorts. Just around the corner is the marina.

We used to call these roses “Gaspe roses” – but in fact they grow everywhere down east – tough, hardy and more fragrant than peonies.

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Even in tony Chester, boys are still up to the same foolishness. It was deja vu all over again as we watched a younger version of our sons hitching a ride on his skateboard.

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I would have to do a lot of research to identify the many maritime styles of houses. Architecture buffs will recognize the small porches, pitched roofs, elaborate mouldings, shake shingles and be able to differentiate specific styles. For me, houses are like wine. I don’t know much, but I know what I like.

Another Chester waterview home:

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And this one:

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We headed further south to Mahone Bay, next in the series of painterly seaside towns. Mahone Bay curves around a large crescent cove, and is famous for the “three churches” that line the shore – United, Lutheran and Anglican.

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We visited Mahone Bay a lot when we lived in Halifax; our Toronto friends Don and Anne had a summer cottage here, high on a cliff overlooking the sea. The town has not changed much since our last visit; in fact that is true of most of the South Shore. Shops and restaurants change hands, but the beauty and heritage of this area has remained intact.

One of the newer restaurants in town is Oh My Cod! I had a pound of mussels that I could barely finish, served in a beautiful broth soaked up with grilled ciabatta.  “We got them from Pete”  – a local fisherman  who brings them in fresh every day. Stephen had fish and chips – a menu staple that can be the ultimate in food mediocrity. Oh no – a large serving of plump white haddock caught near Lunenburg, very lightly battered, served with a basket of thin, crisp hand-cut fries and a red cabbage slaw.

What we want to know is this – why is fresh, still-swimming fish and seafood considered basic food here (in availability and cost) when it is more of a luxury item out west?

IMG_0080 Next, a stroll around town for more house-gawking. This bed and breakfast is for sale…

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My grandparents had a root cellar which was fascinating and a bit scary as a child – you would open the door and climb down a few steep steps into darkness. I always imagined the door would slam shut and I’d be trapped, never to be seen again. To this day, the root cellar door still feels a bit creepy to me.

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A captain’s home, high on the hill, overlooking the ocean.

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On down we went to Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site which was founded in 1753 by German and Swiss settlers. They made their fortunes from timber and deep-sea fishing fleets and built a fantastically candy-coloured town on steep streets climbing up from the harbour.

Bluenose II was in town and we arrived just in time to watch her take off for a two-hour tour. Bluenose II is a replica of the famous original (immortalized on our 10 cent coin),who was the fastest vessel of her kind in the ’20s, until she sank off the coast of Haiti in 1946.

Bluenose II (built in the ’60s) is one of Nova Scotia’s iconic tourist attractions; based in Lunenburg, but frequently sailing throughout the summer to Halifax, Pictou and any of the Tall Ships events.

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Lunenburg is still very much a fishing town – the busy harbour is filled with fishing vessels and trawlers.

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The boardwalk along the harbour has mementoes of its seafaring days – old wooden fishing vessels and this – a 17-foot jawbone of a whale.

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To walk around Lunenburg is to trip over history – ideally you should have a guide so as not to miss the many points of interest. The Lunenburg Academy used to be the area school – it is now a centre for a variety of businesses and is reputed to be haunted.

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The Lennox Tavern was built in 1791, and had various incarnations as a temperance house and boarding house. Restored in 1991, it is the Canada’s oldest operating inn.

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Across the street, two women were catching up on gossip across the fence; seemingly oblivious to the nosy hordes who peer in their windows and squint at the plaques by their front doors. What must it be like to be part of a living museum?

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The joy of Lunenburg is its devotion to maintaining its priceless heritage. When St. John’s Anglican church burned down in 2001, it was painstakingly rebuilt four years later in all its Gothic splendour.

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This private home is one of Lunenburg’s oldest buildings, still intact. The sign below is typical of signs adorning many of the homes and buildings. They identify the original owner by their name and trade and year of construction.

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Streets are so full of beautiful homes that it becomes impossible to choose one – if you had to. We began the game of  “which house would you pick to live in”, and came up with a few. If we went back tomorrow, we would choose several more.

This would be perfect for me – big enough, but not too big. A pretty view and a small garden. I love the big homes in all their glory, but all I can think of is the maintenance – the endless scraping and painting and landscaping and required adherence to heritage details.

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We wonder if these owners have thrown up their hands – they painted one side and then stopped. You can hardly blame them.

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You’ve seen a few houses. Next post will be about the Atlantic and how it has shaped the people who live here – Laurencetown Beach, with its international surfing buzz, Peggy’s cove and the Swissair disaster.

You know you’re in Atlantic Canada when you see this…

…a sign in downtown Fredericton warning motorists against cutting across traffic to get to Timmy’s.

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Or this, near Florenceville – home to one of the world’s largest frozen french fry producers.

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Or this – a food truck unabashedly dedicated to potatoes, cheese, gravy, chocolate, bacon and Mars bars – most of it deep-fried.

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We LOVE Atlantic Canada. If I refer to this area as “the Maritimes”, I am always politely corrected – we are in the Atlantic provinces (this area was the Maritimes prior to Newfoundland joining Canadian Confederation in 1949.)

We lived in Halifax for five years, leaving for the west coast in 2005. The last time we were both back for a visit was over 10 years ago. It feels long overdue.

People who have never been “down east” can sometimes overuse the word “quaint” to describe it – a word that is inaccurate and a bit condescending. Doilies are quaint. Atlantic Canada is just busting out with life. Still…they do have their picturesque barns.

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And their covered bridges. This one, in Hartland, is the world’s longest covered bridge at 1,282 feet.

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If you are currently renting a basement apartment in Vancouver or Toronto, or have managed to buy your first 450-square-foot condo, houses like this are the stuff dreams are made of – classic style with steep roofs, carved trim, shutters and welcoming front door. We have no idea what these homes are worth, but a quick glance through MLS shows similar homes for between $250,000 and $500,000.

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Another example of Maritime style:

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And another one:

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Fredericton frequently ranks in the “best-of” lists – prettiest, most livable, best place to retire, etc. It makes sense – it feels more like a large town than a small city – walkable, accessible, with several kilometres of walking and biking trails along the river, and filled with interesting shops, cafes, restaurants and brew-pubs. It has both history in abundance and a face-forward to the future. We visited the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, which is currently under renovation for an expansion that will open in the fall. The grounds and sculpture garden set the tone.

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The gallery carries important painters from other countries, but with a focus on Canadian artists for the 150.

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I liked this ceramic of P.E.T, done in 1982. I think artist Joe Fafardi captured the elder Trudeau’s familiar F-U expression very well.

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The Gallery showcases young artists who have been part of their youth program and the current exhibit was by Sebastian Kennickell, son of Drew Kennickell, artist and professor at UNB and New Brunswick College of Craft and Design
Sebastian is 12 years old, but already has a body of work.

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There are numerous buildings of note – the Legislative Assembly, The Fredericton Playhouse, the Library, The Justice Building, etc. Most municipal buildings have the sombre and dignified air that one might expect of their station and era.

City Hall:

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There are numerous significant places of worship – Christ Church Cathedral is one of the most striking.

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The downtown streets are filled with bookstores – we found at least three within two blocks – a rarity in this day and age.  Music also rules – Tony’s has been a mainstay on Queen Street since 1975.

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We passed by a number of men who were panhandling. We usually drop a loony or two in the hat.  And then we saw this – “Kindness” meters placed around the downtown streets.

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The sign asks us to make a change in someone’s life by dropping our coin in the meter instead,and donating to community services that help people in need. It’s a conflict – to walk past someone sitting on a sidewalk and drop a coin in a meter feels like a judgement on them and yet, we definitely get the intention.

We’re not sure the transfer of funds would work that neatly and  think we would still rather say hello to someone and put money in their hand.

Every Saturday, the Boyce Farmer’s market is in full throttle, so even though it was pouring rain, we could not resist heading there. The poor outside vendors – mainly plants and fresh produce – their tents offered scant refuge from the storm.  It didn’t stop the buyers – they were out in full force. We had fun watching this lady – she was mightily annoyed that the market manager hadn’t called it a day and let everyone go home. She was standing guard over her preserves and watching as the puddle in front of her stand turned into a lake.

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Inside, we met up with several very interesting vendors. We talked to Debbie Pugh – she and her firefighter husband Bill have developed a terrific business called Out of the Ashes. They use decommissioned fire hoses and turn them into useful and decorative objects like bags, dog leashes, floor mats,firewood carriers and growler bags.

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We were stopped in our tracks by the display of hand-woven bedspreads, throws, napkins and dish towels.  Tissage Magely Weaving is a second-generation family business – the queen bedspreads for the incredibly reasonable price of  $200, (either wool or cotton), were exquisite. If we had a home, we would have bought one on the spot.

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And last, but not least – The Royal Barbershop. Stephen and I arrived in Fredericton feeling a little road-weary and scruffy. I’ve discovered that one of the challenges of being “unhoused” is that I no longer have a hairdresser. My big thick hair is at the mercy of whomever I find along the way. Lately, I’ve been turning to barbershops (but only the “cool” ones), and it’s been working out well.

We walked by The Royal Barbershop by chance, and got scrubbed up real good. Ashley texturized the daylights out of my hair and did a fantastic job – a fresh modern cut emerged out of a mushroom cap. Stephen came out with a neat beard trim and hair cut.

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Next stop – Halifax. I’ll try and send shorter, more frequent postings – so much to report in the next 10 days.

 

So long Ontario, bonjour Quebec et Nouveau Brunswick

Five bucks goes to the first person who can tell me what a duster is.

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This ephemera is part of the Lorne Katz collection. Another five bucks goes to the person who knows who “Ed” is.

Ed is Ed Mirvish, the late, great one-of-a-kind businessman who built theatres, restaurants and Honest Ed’s –  a square-city-block emporium to bargain shopping. He helped put Toronto on the map back when it was still competing with Montreal. Shoppers lined up for his specials – such as the one shown – the $6.99 duster. When Honest Ed’s closed its doors last year, among the items for sale were thousands of these signs – each one hand-painted and many of them speaking to an era that is now gone forever.

You have to be at least my age to know this, but a duster is also known as a housedress – garments universally hideous and instantly identifiable by their gaudy florals, often embellished with ric-rac trim and a front zipper.  Long before the days of yoga pants or even sweatpants, women threw on their dusters to vacuum, scrub and…dust. My mother wore them. Another item of note – the use of the word “misses” was for women of average height and weight, while “ladies” indicated a curvier body. I haven’t seen the use of “misses”  or “ladies” for a very long time – “vanity sizing” has taken over.

Back to Lorne and Anne Katz – dear friends from our pre-children days in Toronto. We grew up together.  Eventually we moved west, but stayed close and now one of their sons, Jacob, has a child of his own. Their other son Aaron, just got married three weeks ago in Germany to Vanessa; they are living in Berlin and back in Canada for their honeymoon. We had a fabulous multi-course dinner with them when we stopped by for a night with Lorne and Anne – a lot of laughs, but another reminder of time just flying by.

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I have little to report on Toronto – we’ve been in twice to see friends and I will likely be back again at least once in August. I love Toronto – even though housing prices are now rivalling Vancouver, it is still a city of neighbourhoods and nationalities and has retained enough grit and personality to keep it interesting.  Toronto would require a blog of its own, so my best advice if you haven’t been there yet, is …go! Discover it for yourself. I’ll talk about other things.

Like Farren Lake, in eastern Ontario.  Kris and Gord (whom we met two years ago in Mexico and who are partially unhoused) have the perfect solution. They sold their home in Windsor  and moved to their cottage on Farren Lake, where they live from mid-April to mid-October. The rest of the time they travel. Their lovely cottage, which they describe as “rustic” (it’s not – it is snug, beautifully furnished with unique finds and has a screened-in porch), is my happy place. Rock and floating dock, with pristine lake, loons and canoes. It is iconically “150” Canada – all they need is a Mountie and a jug of maple syrup.

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There was a good wind and a chop on the water – the only one who braved a swim was Stephen. You will never see a photo with me jumping into cold water – that is a promise.

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After a great gab and delicious dinner, we all settled down on the dock to watch the sunset.

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Good-bye to Kris and Gord – a la prochaine.

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The beautiful little town of Perth is just a half-hour away, so we stopped by for a visit. It is filled with stone buildings and weeping willows and reeks of history – a photographer or painter could spend hours here.

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So could architecture buffs. This appears to be a private home (I saw no B and B or municipal signs). Typical of the fine details and stately proportions of many Perth homes, although on a larger scale.

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The River Tay runs through town, with lots of shops and restaurants lining it, and the main street.

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We passed by the statue of Big Ben, the champion show jumper from the ’80s, ridden to victory by equestrian Ian Millar, who owns a stable near Perth.

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Their outstanding accomplishments are listed on a nearby plaque.

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And with that, we left Ontario behind and drove straight into La Belle Province. My family is from the Gaspe coast and I was born in Montreal, but entering Quebec is like a foreign country. It always feels a little je ne sais quois, including my inability to make myself understood in my high school (plus one teenage summer immersion in St. Pierre) French. While in Quebec I feel somewhat ungainly and upon leaving, I resolve to buy only fabulous shoes.

Minor insecurities aside, being in Quebec is a buzz. The following photos are just a preview on our way to the Maritimes. We will spend much more time in Quebec on our way back in August.

We called in at the Fairmont Montebello hotel, located about 90 km. from Ottawa.  The world’s largest “log cabin” was built in 1930 in just three months, in the form of a six-point star, out of 10,000 hand-cut B.C. red cedar logs.

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Set on the Outaouais River, used by the first voyageurs, Montebello is a destination for history buffs.

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I spoke to the very friendly concierges, Jessica and Rosalie, posing here with the very shy hotel mascot, Bello.

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We spent our night in Trois Rivieres, drove over the bridge at Quebec City and up the coast toward Riviere-de-Loup, taking the old highway as much as possible.

Some of the sights along the way:

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Quebec has a tradition of wood carving – everything from lamps to furniture to toys. Must be the long, cold winters.

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Habitant-style homes – dormers, stone or wood foundation and steep roofs to allow snow to slide right off.

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Making our way into New Brunswick (Nouveau Brunswick – the other French province). Beautiful scenery on our way to Edmunston – a stop for many on their way to and from the Atlantic provinces.

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We are staying at Motel Cleo – a combination hair salon, spa and themed-room motel (five rooms appropriately decorated – we are in La Chine; Paris and Rome were booked). Our first dinner in the Maritimes and fittingly, it was seafood – at La Pirate de Mer. Stephen had fresh haddock and chips, and I had a lobster roll – split toasted hot dog roll filled with big, fat chunks of lobster. More great food stories to follow.

 

The Beach, the Bard and Bieber

In the last few days, we have visited our old stomping grounds (Guelph), a teenage beach hangout (Wasaga Beach) and the hometown of Justin Bieber (Stratford). While that town is primarily and justifiably well-known for its world-famous Shakespeare Festival, it is possible to download a Bieber-iffic Map that will show you his school, skate park and favourite ice cream parlour. Just in case you’re interested…

Oh, and soon-to-be-retired Peter Mansbridge lives in Stratford and while there is no Peter-iffic map, he is a familiar face around town.  Apparently his home is “impressive.” Stratford is a town full of impressive homes – I wanted to take more photos, but everyone was out working on their gardens. This home is typical:

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No, it is not celebrity sightings or nostalgia that have taken us to these places – once again we are catching up with old friends. This has been a full and meaningful week.

We lived in Guelph for 12 years while the boys were growing up. It is a vibrant mid-sized city about an hour north-west of Toronto; home to the University of Guelph,  a robust restaurant scene and a thriving music and arts scene. The city’s tree-lined streets are filled with beautiful and still relatively affordable homes.

We lived on a street close to the university. Neither Stephen nor I are handy (beyond being able to paint and hammer a few nails) and in a moment of self-delusion, we bought a derelict student rooming house and spent years renovating it.  It was a labour of love, made all the sweeter because we had such wonderful neighbours on our little street.  Our house has since changed hands a few times and no longer looks well-loved. I put hours into that front garden – it feels a bit sad to see it now.

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Our friends Bob and Trish and their three kids, Fran, Rob and Peter lived down the street and the boys all played together. Seventeen years later, we were back on the street, sitting on their back deck and getting re-acquainted. We were so happy that it was possible for all of them to come together from their various homes to see us. The boys are busy with school – Rob taking his electrician’s apprenticeship, Peter going back for Teacher’s Ed in the fall, and Fran working on her PhD in Music Ethnology. Under the category of “great things one learns from young people”, we found out about “shape-note singing” – something Fran has been involved with for a while now with a group from Alabama. There are a number of YouTube videos or this rather dry Wikipedia explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shape_note

From left: Fran, Rob, Bob, Trish, Peter

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Our time in Guelph was happy – young family, busy with work and friends and home. Driving around the city brings back floods of memories, since very little has changed. There are lots of new businesses and swank little shops and cafes, but the signposts of the city remain – including the Guelph Farmer’s Market. For five years, I had a baking business there – every Saturday morning I would bring my muffins, cinnamon rolls and cookies to my corner stand, and spend a few hours selling and chatting with friends.

My little stand was at the back right, just past the seating in the windows. There was a coffee stand beside me – a perfect draw for customers.

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The next day we drove to Cambridge to visit Robert and Marilena. Cambridge is a small town west of Guelph, close to Kitchener-Waterloo. Southwestern Ontario is a series of  small towns and cities punctuated by great swaths of cornfields, dairy and beef herds and markets. This is also Mennonite country – the back roads are shared with Old Order Mennonites riding horse and buggy.

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We met Robert and Marilena several years ago in Sayulita, Mexico. They are also friends with Piotr and Ela, our friends from Portland. We would all arrive in Sayulita around the same time – sometimes for 2 weeks, sometimes for longer. It was a time and a place – a lovely shared memory of a favourite destination in Mexico before it became touristy and overly developed. We have all agreed we are unlikely to return there, but we are grateful for the lasting friendships from that time.

We visited Robert and Marilena at their beautiful home in Cambridge – we know our paths will cross again before long.

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Back to Stratford. Stratford is a gorgeous town, set on the Avon River. If it did not have the Stratford Festival and the Stratford Chef School, it would still be beautiful, but the tone was set 60 years ago when Sir Alec Guiness performed from a tent on the banks of the  Avon River and the Festival was born. As it developed in size and stature, the Stratford Chef School moved in, and innovative restaurants began popping up. High-end shops followed, along with luxe bed and breakfasts and boutique inns.  The Stratford Festival runs every year from April to November; set in several theatres and offering a good mix of modern and traditional theatre.  Theatre-goers come from all over North America (and beyond) to watch world-class performances. This is the main theatre:

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It overlooks the Avon River, home to a famous bevy of swans. I had heard they were bad-tempered and snappish, but I did see one being hand-fed, so perhaps they’ve received the memo from the tourism bureau. I maintained my distance and admired from afar:

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Stratford is also home to our friend Dorothy, who has lived here for many years. We all met when we were young, working in restaurants in Toronto. We have more than a few stories of mischief and foolishness before we were all forced to grow up. Amazingly, we have not seen each other since those restaurant days. And yes, of course we have changed, but our 20-something spirits prevail – a good thing, I think.

Dorothy was always brutally honest, witty, and super-smart. I call her Dorothy Parker. She still smokes, unapologetically. We are so happy to have her in our lives again.

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And finally, to Wasaga Beach. Wasaga Beach was party central when we were teenagers – a scuzzy hangout for bad bikers and their girls. Tiny little cottages and chip trucks. Tiny little bikinis and the boys that followed them around. Naturally, we wanted to go there.

Sooner or later, everything gets gentrified, including down-and-dirty Wasaga. Forty years after our teenage-hood, my dear friend Nancy moved there. I have known Nancy since Grade 9, which makes her my oldest friend. We were friends, roommates, confidantes and co-conspirators. She is like a sister.

When Nancy told me she was moving to Wasaga, I was a bit aghast. However, she was not the only one with that idea – there are many Toronto transplants and recent retirees, as well as our mutual friend Lisa. The bikers are still here, but so is artisan beer. The little cottages are still here, but so are new resorts and golf course subdivisions. And who doesn’t love chip trucks?

The big attraction, then and now, is the beach. Part of Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, it is 14 km. long – the largest freshwater beach in the world. It is divided into several distinct beach areas – with the party crowd cordoned off into a couple of packed and noisy sections and the rest left for strolling and bird-watching.

Both of those activities have been curtailed somewhat this year due to record high water levels in Ontario lakes. This beach used to go out at least 100 feet further.

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We had a very pleasant chat with Braden, the park warden who was cruising the beach. Among his duties were making sure the flats of beer flying out of the liquor store on a Friday night would not interfere with everyone’s peaceful and lawful enjoyment of the beach.  He was fully kitted out in boots, flak jacket and baton, but my money would be on the crowds of drunken yahoos if they decided not to play nice. A residue of the old Wasaga still exists.

Braden and my friend Nancy.

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Tomorrow is Father’s Day. Lucky me – I will spend it with my dear dad and my dear husband – two very caring, involved, supportive and loving fathers.

To everyone who is a dad, or who has a dad, or who will be remembering their dads – Happy Father’s Day.

Friends and Family, Inc.

We’ve aways been movers and we’re not sure why. It may be curiosity about the colour of the grass on the other side or we may be restless spirits, but after a few years in any place the call to hit the road becomes too strong to resist.

The downside is we have lifted ourselves out of a stable and secure community but the upside is we have a network of friends and family all across the country. We have a core group of friends and family we belong to and see on a regular basis. We also have old friends we see infrequently or lost contact with at some point, but the ability to easily reconnect is still there. The years just fall away. A big part of this road trip is not just seeing places we haven’t seen, but catching up with as many old friends as possible.

We’re staying with my parents in Fergus and using this as a base to visit everyone else. Fergus is about 90 km. northwest of Toronto; a pretty town filled with stone homes and big trees. When my parents retired here 30 years ago, Fergus was conservative and Protestant and they were CFA’s (Come-from-aways). Now, like many Ontario towns, subdivisions surround the picturesque core and are filled with residents fleeing Toronto in search of affordable housing. The growth hasn’t affected the feel of the town; I really like it here. And I love my parents’ home – many years of great memories.

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When we moved to Toronto from Montreal in the ’60s, we rented a home in North Toronto for a couple of years. Our very first neighbour and friend in Toronto was Don – he lived right next door to us. When he married Anne, they split their time between Toronto and their Nova Scotia home and Stephen and I developed a close friendship with them during the years we lived in Halifax.

We dropped by for a visit – (from left: Mum, Don, Dad, Anne)

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Not to be cranky about the fact that real estate prices have risen in 50+ years, but our stately old neighbourhood in North Toronto now embodies that aspirational, greedy ego-driven change. Just three doors down from Don and Anne is a black hole of “all-about-me” – a 3-years-and-counting project that has disrupted the neighbourhood and will dwarf and outstrip everything on the block.

We drove up the street a couple of blocks to see our home on Briar Hill Avenue – my coming-of-age home and neighbourhood. My parents bought this house for $27,000 in 1966 – a modest (by today’s standards) red brick home with a Toronto backyard, one bathroom and a shared driveway. We shared that driveway with our dear friends and neighbours – Penny, Mike and their boys Chris and Tim.  Penny – I look at that driveway and can still see you racing in or backing out – always on the run.

Our house is the one on the left.

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Stephen grew up in Oakville, but half of his family has lived in London for years. We spent two lovely days there, re-connecting with them all.

From left: Ted (our brother-in-law), Stephen, his dad, our nephew Tyner, his girlfriend Sara, Stephen’s sister Lee Ann, Stephen’s stepmum Nicole.

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We also spent time with Stephen’s sister Andress, her husband Mike and their two adorable children, Ben, 3 and Stella, 1. I took several photos of the kids but they were in perpetual motion, so all but this one was blurry.

Ben, barely restrained by his dad.

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Mike and Andress, in front of their new home. Kids are in bed, the kitchen is clean and the visitors are leaving – that sweet spot in the day of tired young parents.

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Off to St. Catharines for a whirlwind visit with three sets of friends.  Bey and Andy moved here from Gabriola three years ago; in part to be closer to family in Ontario. They traded an oceanfront home for a “pond”-front home – they now live right on Martindale Pond where they can watch the rowers practising and competing.

We walked from their home to Port Dalhousie for lunch. A view of the pond:

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Bey and Andy

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After lunch, we walked through Port Dalhousie (pronounced dal-oozy by the locals) and admired the older homes.  Here is one example of the many charming homes found in Ontario. More to come in the next post.

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We headed to Font Hill, an area in southwestern Ontario close to the wine district, to visit  Paul and Sue, friends we have known since our pre-child days. We worked together in Banff – Paul was GM at Sunshine Village and Stephen was the food and beverage manager. By then Sue had two tiny kids and I was pregnant.  In the two years we lived there both our boys were born and we had a lifetime of stories to tell – anyone who has lived and worked at a resort will know what that means. Life has taken us in very different directions – it had been 15 years since we had last seen each other. We arrived mid-afternoon and stayed the night, catching up on our lives and reminiscing.  We were happy to be able to meet two of their adult children and their partners.

This is what happens in the blink of an eye – your friends’ children grow up. We remember these boys as little kids.

Their son Colin, his girlfriend Michelle, Paul, their daughter-in-law Jessica, (with second baby Emmett due to arrive in a month), Sue, their son Ross. Missing: baby Henry, down for a nap. Also missing – their daughter Robyn and her family – they live in Oakville.

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Paul and Sue live on the property Paul grew up on – a bucolic paradise complete with two houses, a pool, tennis court and this: an old settler’s cabin Paul’s father had transported to the property.

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Paul also pointed out a massive willow tree he planted over 50 years ago when he and the tree were both little saplings. The tree is now about 80 feet tall.

We talked as though no time had passed between us and left knowing we won’t wait another 15 years before we see them again.

Back to St. Catharines to visit another set of friends we hadn’t seen in a very long time – Vera and Frank. We knew them from our Guelph days and while we went east to Halifax and then west to Gabriola, they moved into Toronto for several years and then retired to St Catharines a year and a half ago.

Another wonderful visit and catch-up, and a promise to keep in regular contact.

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We have many more friends and familiar haunts to visit in Ontario, both now and when we come back this way in late August.

I’m finding it a strange experience to be a tourist in my old province. Everything seems familiar – even places I haven’t been before – they have the “Ontario” look and feel. When we were driving south from Manitoulin Island, I experienced that moment of regret one feels when the holiday is over – similar to when we and the boys were coming back so many years ago.  The next instant I realized that we were not coming home from camping with our boys, we were on a different trip, many years later and our holiday would continue. A parallel reality follows me through Ontario – little pops of deja vu.

Next posting I’ll have photos of the architecture that is so distinctive in this province, and one of the things I miss.  This sight could be found in most of Canada, but it says, “Ontario” to us.

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North of Superior: heroes, home cooking and flying geese

If you are driving east from Manitoba, you’ll know immediately when you have entered Ontario. The ground rules for travel in this province are laid down tout de suite ( in both official languages).  Signs for every misdemeanour from drinking and driving, distracted driving, speeding in construction zones, speeding (and the fines and demerit points assigned) are posted within 10 minutes of crossing the border. These are followed by entreaties to “take a break – fatigue kills”, which makes sense since the stretch of highway from Thunder Bay east across Lake Superior while stunningly scenic,  is notoriously long. One’s boredom is mitigated by magnificent scenery and hopeful glimpses of animals, prompted by frequent postings of “night danger”. We did see two moose and one bear, but all three times were unable to pull over safely as we had cars right behind us.

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We spent one night in Thunder Bay, with plans to hike in Sleeping Giant Park the next day, but the weather gods were still uncooperative, so we switched to Plan B and headed to Wawa. We stopped just east of town to see the Terry Fox Memorial that is situated high on a hill overlooking Lake Superior.  Thunder Bay and Terry Fox will forever be connected, as it is very close to this location that Terry was forced to stop his cross-Canada run for cancer.  It is impossible to imagine the character and strength of this young man, who ran a marathon a day for 143 days under the conditions he did. Not for one moment to compare myself to Terry Fox, but it doesn’t take much to realize I have a long way to go when a 10-km. hike can bring on the whining.

A beautiful setting and appropriate memorial for a true hero.

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About an hour east,  we pulled off the highway to check out the Ouimet Canyon.  It is a massive gorge, 150 metres across and 100 metres deep – with a unique ecosystem at the bottom that supports arctic plants normally found just 1000 km. north. We had to take their word for it, because looking over the side bought on intense vertigo and besides – 100 m. is too far down to see much of anything. A 2-km. boardwalk led to the lookouts, which are well buttressed.

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The view looking back into the canyon.

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On the way back to the car, we passed by a massive deposit of moose poop (I Google’d later), which was a thrilling reminder of how close we might have been to an up-close sighting.

You’ve all either seen or heard about the famous goose at Wawa. It commemorates the final link of the Trans-Canada Highway to Sault Ste. Marie and Western Canada. Since the new highway bypassed and ultimately threatened the livelihood of downtown businesses, the giant goose was erected to attract drivers and direct traffic into town.

In recent years, the poor goose has deteriorated – as you can see from the photo, the body is pretty rusty. A brand-new goose has been built and will be unveiled on Canada Day, but we bring you a final glimpse of one of the most photographed monuments in Canada.

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The miles rolled by and so did the vistas – forests, water and Canadian Shield.

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And construction. Always construction – but we never waited for very long.

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We stopped at Timmy’s for a quick break and met two enterprising German girls who had bought this car in Vancouver (already outfitted with platform), and were spending a couple of months travelling across the country. They were cooking up a lunch of pasta and sauce right in the parking lot. And yes, it was as cold as it looks.

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Finally, we reached Manitoulin Island – the largest freshwater island in the world and a place with a very special place in our hearts. We went there for two or three summers when our boys were young.  It was perfect for little kids – rustic and easy and they were still at an age when going for ice cream was a big treat. We rented a cabin and we ate hot dogs, built campfires, swam in the lake and picked leeches off our legs. We were keen to see how the island survived our rosy memories.

Almost symbolically, we left our stormy weather behind as we drove onto the island.

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Still quite chilly for camping, so we rented a trailer at South Bay Resort – an intro to trailer living for us… and we are sold. Cozy, comfy with a bathroom, tiny kitchen and protection from the elements, but the outdoors is right there – fire pit, picnic table and view of the lake.

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The resort is set on a large lake, with swimming, boating, fishing, all available, and a good mix of tents, cabins and trailers. Many people (the seasonal) leave their trailers here year-round for the very reasonable fee of $1400 a year. This becomes their summer home, and many of the guests here are French from Sudbury (including the young owners) – we are surrounded by great humour and joie de vivre.

The path to the main lodge
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We wanted to check out Bass Creek Resort ( the place we visited with the kids) and had a bit of difficulty finding it at first, as there are no signs on the road. Finally, we turned into the familiar old driveway, only to find it all locked up. The owners we knew had sold it after 60 years (it is over 100 years old), and the new owners had a sign up saying they would not be open until July. So, we decided to trespass (with good intentions), and see how it measured up to our memories. It looked pretty rough, but it hasn’t had a winter cleanup and spruce up for the season yet. Still…what was rustic 25 years ago appears not to have changed a bit. The dock looked rotten, and the cabins looked saggy, but I saw little ghosts…
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Manitoulin is filled with small resorts like this – tired old cabins with mismatched tables and chairs and perhaps the odd mouse or two. I’m sure there are luxurious resorts on the island, but the island is a no-frills place and that is exactly why we love it.  Our host at South Bay confessed it was hard going to keep their resort in the black, but after seven years, they’ve turned a corner.

Not the same can be said for every business. We drove by many buildings that looked just like this one. A lady walking by told us this business has been closed for years – the sign still remains to re-direct potential business.

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Manitoulin is filled with prosperous, thriving farms and enough herds of beef cattle to merit having their own abattoir.

But there are plenty of old farmhouses just like this one – left to the elements after years of sitting empty – no-one willing to take on such a risky venture.

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Manitoulin Island has so much to offer,  including incredibly, a lack of bugs – almost no mosquitoes, no black flies. This may be due in part to being surrounded by water and a steady light breeze, but that would be enough to lure me here for an Ontario summer.
There are fantastic hiking trails, including the famous Cup and Saucer trail (closed while improvements to the trails are being made), but we did check out Bridal Veil Falls.

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Apparently that pool is a popular swimming spot in the summer, but we just followed the 2-km.trail along by the creek.

IMG_0064And then we came upon a sign that took me back to my Girl Guide days – “leaves of three, let it be”. I know poison ivy exists out west, but for some reason it reminds me of Ontario.
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Our trail ended here – where the creek spills out to the North Channel.

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Much of Manitoulin is First Nations land, including parts like Wikwemikong that are unceded, as their chiefs refused to accept the treaties being offered at the time. The island is policed by both O.P.P. (Ontario Provincial Police) and a native police force. Without any insider knowledge, the two cultures appear to co-exist without too much trouble.  Summertime is non-stop with crossover events such as festivals, fairs, marathons, pow wows, fishing derbies, etc.

Manitoulin specializes in “summer food” – barbecued meats, ice cream, shortcake, and fried foods. While there are any number of spots to indulge, locals and tourists come from all over the island to Mum’s in Mindemoya. They serve killer breakfasts and dinner-plate sandwiches, but they bring in the crowds for their baking, in particular for their cinnamon rolls – about 5″ x 5″ of sticky deliciousness. They are on the counter at 11:00 am, and in the summer, they are gone by 11:30.  We decided to split one. “Do you want butter with that?” (which apparently is considered a legitimate question).

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“Home cooking” is the way of the road here and sugar, fat and salt are restaurant mainstays – a cardiologist’s nightmare.  We popped down the road to Carol and Earl’s for a perch dinner, which began with a generous salad (or soup), followed by: a dinner plate piled with hand-cut fries, and topped with five pieces of battered perch and a cup of creamy coleslaw. Earl looked a bit crestfallen that we weren’t having pie.

Stephen couldn’t leave without at least diving in the water. It was 15 degrees out and I was wearing a hoodie, watching from the sidelines. Clark Bay swimmers – we’re throwing down the gauntlet!

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