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.

 

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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