June 1, 2010

Take Off To The Great White North


The Memorial weekend was fast approaching and that meant a well deserved trip back to the Great White North. Sadly, the fishing gear was going to be left at home. It has been almost 3 years since I've seen my mum, brother, grandmother and other relatives. Trying to cram that all into the long weekend, would of made it impossible to wet a line. But, it would been nice to pin for some walleye at Stobie Dam or going to Pumphouse Creek for some brook trout. Only if I had more time.

Before heading up to Sudbury, I spent Thursday night and Friday in Toronto. It was a continuation of the last trip as I ran out of time. The night before I went out with some old friends from college. Today, the weather was beautiful and a couple friends took the Friday off and we bar hopped soaking up the sun and drinking on the patio at different pubs in the heart of downtown. It was great day of reminiscing about the good ole days. It brought back a lot of memories as I was a former resident of the city some twenty odd years ago. It was a fun place for a single man in his twenties. 

One my favorite things is exploring restaurants, bistros and diners whenever I'm another city or town. I called two friends from high school who happened to live right off the waterfront for dinner. For the evening, we decided to go to a fancy steakhouse for a nice dinner. The place was called Harbour Sixty located near the Air Canada Center. The building was once the Harbour Commission and was built back in the early 20th century. Walking in it was beautifully decorated, the type of place to impress a lady and get her in the sack later on. We were seated at our table and before I opened the menu, I listened to our Euro-trash waiter babble about the specials. Forget the specials! Bring me a cold one and juicy steak stacked with mushrooms and smothered in onions!! Once I opened the menu, my jaw almost hit the floor. A 20 ounce porterhouse for a $100.00 - holy shit! Kobe beef at market price - $200.00! and $9.00 for a Molson Canadian! What the fuck I was getting myself into and thank god I wasn't picking up the tab. The real kicker was the wine list and it was as a thick as the Toronto phone book. One of the items on the list was a bottle of wine from France listed for over $1700.00, for that amount I expected it came with a nice women and room for the evening. 

I asked if they knew this place was that expensive. They said it was best steak house in the city. Fuck the wallet, call in the Brinks truck. We all looked at one another, debating whether we should bail sneaking one by one out the door. We all made good money and I knew this would never happen again - never. My $52.00 ribeye came out and that was it, it wasn't really seasoned nor was it grilled, it was pan seared. Seriously? who the hell pan sears a steak? I guess I didn't pay attention to the menu as sides were extras and I wasn't going to pay $9.00 for a baked potato. The fucking place was a rip off and I looked over at the other table. Three couples who practically ordered the left side of the menu. I didn't even want to know how much the bill would, probably more than I made in month. 

To make a long story short, I was pissed and I washed down the bitter taste in my mouth with my $9.00 warm bottle of beer. The desserts came and it was really heavy as to was the bill at $152.00, because I bought the drinks and desserts. Then add in almost $20.00 in taxes. I didn't blame Francois or Pierre or whatever the fuck his name was. He was pleasant and prompt so I tipped accordingly. The final bill with tip was $174.00 and with the lousy exchange rate I saved $3.00.........should of went to the Keg. We ended bar hopping and roared with laughter about the time when we messed with hookers on Yonge Street, chasing skirt at Kool Haus, and how miserable life is after 40. I didn't hit the sack until almost three in the morning. 


I woke early Saturday morning and hit the road for Sudbury. Most of Toronto was still sleeping or nursing hangovers. I was dead tired and groggy. I wasn't looking forward to the four hour drive north. Timmy Horton's coffee hit the spot as I got my second wind. As I headed north on highway 400, the landscape changed from surburbia and rolling farmlands to the rocks and forests of the Canadian Shield. Highway 69 was no more as the 400 was four lanes all the way to Parry Sound. As kid it was a two lane road and during the weekends the traffic was horrible. The winding road and rock cuts made it one of the most dangerous roads in Canada. 

I was making good time and decided to stop at the French River for some pictures. I strolled on the bridge and stood there for a while taking in the scenery and the fresh air. It was so quiet as the only sounds was the wind blowing through the pines and odd bird song. It was back on the road and I knew I was close to Sudbury as the trees started to get smaller and the rocks bigger. As I got closer to the city, I called Mum to tell her that I was about 30 minutes away. I arrived at my aunt and uncle's house and it was nice to see everybody. 

Both my parents who lived in the area for over 40 years. Three years ago, they decided to move to British Columbia to be closer to their grandchildren. Mom looked good and my brother on the hand has become more and more bizarre in regards to his tattoos. His latest one is located on his neck. I've heard my sister bitched over the years about them and last Christmas she ragged on him some more. My brother of course loves to push her buttons. Personally, I would never get a tattoo and his body is plastered with them. But I love him and he's harmless as most of his friends understand that he marches to a different beat and doesn't give a shit what anybody else says.

We spent the morning driving around Sudbury and still hasn't changed much - the roads are still terrible, downtown is still seedy, the Coulson and Ledo hotels are still around catering to the scum and none of my friends I grew up with don't live there anymore. All of that was the constant reminder that when I finished high school, I wanted to get as far away as possible.


The house I grew up in - a stunning piece of architecture

Saturday afternoon we drove to my home town of Chelmsford or as the French pronounced it "Chemsfurd" is your typical small Northern Ontario shithole - a whole lot of nothing. For the record, I hated living there and I couldn't wait to escape. The fishing was the only thing that kept me from going insane. It was a 2 stop light town nestled in the middle of the Sudbury basin. It was as boring as it could be - no mall, a couple of lousy bars, an outdated arena and a bowling alley, but we did have an KFC! As a teenager, I remember is walking the streets aimlessly bored to death. Once I got my driver's licence, it made life more bearable as I was able to go to the bright lights of Sudbury on weekends. But once I finished high school, I went to college in Southern Ontario and never looked back. 

The last time I was back there was in 1998 when my parents sold the house I grew up in. I didn't shed a tear for the dump. It was built by the mining companies and they obviously had no clue on how to construct a house for a family. It was too small as I had to share my room with my younger brother. The kitchen was a joke and we had no central air. We stopped to take pictures and my mother noticed Mr. Daigleman working on his truck. They are the only family left on the street as everybody else packed up once the kids were gone. We chatted with Jack and Eleanor for a while. 

We drove down main street and some of the businesses I remember as a kid were still there. Chew's restaurant was still open as they were the only Chinese family in town and to come to think of it were the only non white family in town. We came to intersection of Errington and Main Streets and there was the largest building in the town, Saint Joseph's church. It was one of the first building built back in 1896 when Chelmsford was a rail outpost. Further down near the tracks was that dive, the Algoma Hotel. How on earth that place survived was beyond me. We crossed over Whitson Creek and as a kid, we use to snag white suckers from above the bridge. That's were we lived when my dad started teaching. We were on the outskirts, but the surrounding bush and creek was my playground. I remember bringing home a bucket full of garter snakes and my mother freaking out. Despite being "across" the creek, most of the people living there were young families. Today, the neighborhood looked so run down. We pointed out the houses that former friends use to live in. We continued the tour up Edward Street and one house caught my attention, the White's. They were family friends ever since my parents moved there in the late 60s. We lived close by when I was in elementary school. I was stunned to see that old car still parked in the same place, right under the pine tree. That car never moved for 43 years. My mother laughed and said "Your right, her husband never moved it" Damn thing probably would of fell apart if moved. Then there was Chelmsford High School, another place I loathed. Nothing like going to the same school that your father teaches at and having to listen to all of the crap of how much of a big asshole he was. Most of those complaints came from the slackers and stoners. I only kept in contact with a few people from school, but in most part a lot of people I knew, left for big cities and bigger dreams. 


We drove to Onaping Falls or as the Americans called it O-naping Falls. Highway 144 still felt like a logging road. We stopped at the A.J Jackson lookout at the High Falls on the Onaping River. Jackson was a member of the Group of Seven artists and painted the falls. High Falls was one of my favorite places to see as a child and I have fond memories of us stopping there on the way to Windy Lake Provincial Park or to pick blueberries. 

Later in the day it was back to my Aunt's for dinner. We always use to have Christmas dinner there. The highlight of Christmas was how shit faced Uncle Bob was going to be. He was a French Canadian version of Archie Bunker. He was a miner and my father couldn't stand him. He would always bust my mother's chops for being British and my old man for being too uptight. But could he drink and it was often. Once he retired, my aunt use to drop him off at the Mine Hall and he'd drink all day - nearly everyday. Surprisingly, he was sober today. But that didn't stop him from his rant about the strike at the mine. Bob was a staunch union guy and called the Brazilian owned company Vale - a bunch of wetbacks and vowed they'll never bust the union. He went on and on and my Aunt told him to give it a rest. Then he asked if I became a Yankee yet. I told him I was still thinking about it. He peppered me with questions about life in the states and he told me about how strange people in Florida were. Then he started on brother with his tattoos. He examined him and asked if he had one on his dick. Once again my aunt glared at him and that was it. It was a great dinner and the evening was spent having a coffee. I retired early as it was going to be a long 9 hour drive home.

I left Monday morning after a big breakfast with everybody. Gave hugs and wishes to all and I started my long journey home. I drove along Regent Street to get to highway 69 and I looked at the city. The only people left in Sudbury were my grandmother, aunt and uncle. All of them were getting up there in years. I wondered if this would be the last time I would see Sudbury. I was born and raised there, but I knew I could never live there. It was still a mining town that went through the cycles of bust and boom. I moved back briefly after my second tour of college, but I had bigger plans for me and headed west. I turned onto highway 69 and drove south. In the rear view mirror, the Superstack - the icon of Sudbury started to get smaller and smaller, then it disappeared. The trees and lakes eventually gave way to farmland and then vast metropolis of Toronto. The traffic at the border was packed as many were returning home from the long weekend. I was asked the standard questions and the officer gave back my green card. It was almost dark as I could see the lights of Cleveland in the distance, I was glad to be finally home.

1 comment:

Trotsky said...

Once a Canuck always a Canuck.
Welcome home brother!
Glad all is well in your corner....BTW...
Don't worry about being dead before the Leafs win....they NEVER will!