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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