Metropolitan Homesick Blues

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Archive for September 2008

Circumnavigating Georgian Bay

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It was not our initial intention to drive all the way around Georgian Bay. Originally our plan was an out and back route. That is, drive to Tobermory. Take the Chi Cheemaun across the bay to South Beymouth – drive through Manitoulin (the world’s largest fresh water island) – head down to Killarney – then take the same route back home. But, things change and you go where the road takes you

This first day of fall was cool and clear. A half moon was still visible in the full blue sky. The drive up to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula was quick on an empty Highway 6.

Whitecaps on the water and high winds off the bay had forced the glass bottom boats to cancel their tours. N. wondered if this was some kind of an omen. But the Chi Cheemaun is so big and heavy with a full load of cars, trucks and trailers, semis, campers, motorcycles, fuel and passengers, it’s not likely to be grounded under the current conditions,

Standing in the wind facing the loading dock one can’t help being impressed watching this craft come in. Even before it settles into its mooring, the bow opens like some giant sperm whale about to devour krill, raising up almost to the bridge to reveal its vehicle deck.  As soon as it come to a stop it spews out vehicle after vehicle, two-wheel, four wheel, eighteen wheel. Talk about a carbon footprint. It empties and reloads in less than 30 minutes then sets sail again.

We climb to the top deck and a magnificent view. The cold wind and whitecaps are more pronounced but the ship is steady. On one side of us is the vast expanse of Lake Huron stretching to the horizon, sparking in the sun. On the other, the islands of Georgian Bay dot the waterscape. It gives you a safe feeling knowing land is close by.

Without clouds to hold back its heat, the sun beats down reflecting off the steel deck. There is warmth in the air behind the stacks in the stern and people stretch out and doze off on the benches. There is still a bit of wind though and those in shorts and sandals take refuge inside. Those of us who stay will be well wind-burned and sunburned in no time.

After two hours we dock and drive out of the belly of the boat into a packed dock. Vehicles for the return trip are lined up and waiting. This is a busy ferry. The conjestion of cars forbids us to dally. We will have been driving and sailing for seven hours by the time we reach Espanola. That’s as far as we’re going today.


The sun rises above the Domtar stacks – 5 of them – spewing white smoke and steam into the skies over the small town of Espanola. All night long, you hear this white-noise drone and when you realize it is the sound of the stack blowing their residue 24/7 you just shake your head. Sleep was fitful because of this and the sound or 18-wheelers loaded with lumber, rolling up and down Highway 6.

The Mill House B&B ( is on Sheppard Street just off the highway but not far enough off to dull down the noise. ‘Jewel’ is the innkeeper. Her husband has worked at ‘the Mill’ for over 30 years. Her two boys work there in the summer. Most everybody in town works at “the Mill.” Another example of a one-industry town living under the fear that if Domtar’s market share fails and their stock goes down – layoffs sit on the horizon.

Interesting thing is ‘The Mill’ has been around for 104 years. Espanola has only been incorporated as a town for 50 years. From 1943 to 1946 Espanola was home to German Prisoner of War Camp #21. The captured soldiers built the road from Espanola to Manitoulin Island. They even tried to build an escape tunnel. But, they were caught in the act.

 We are in the Mercedes room – the only one with an en  suite. It is quaintly decorated with a canopy bed – wicker  chairs – lots of old photos in antiques frames on loan from  the town museum. There are ‘historical’ knick-knacks all  over the place. It is a comfortable room – charming is how    N. describes it. But, it is not quiet.

 Nonetheless, the sound of smooth jazz filters up the  staircase. As we come down to breakfast I noticed the  speakers hidden behind an antique hutch. In the parlor, a  fire (gas) burned in the white painted brick fireplace. The ambiance gives you a cozy feeling. In the dining room the old oak table featured two full place settings, a full coffee pot, sunflowers in a vase, two glasses of juice and on the white dinner ware two orange yogurt parfaits and a flowery card with a hand written message wishing us a “great day.” This wasn’t your typical ‘serve yourself’ B&B breakfast.

‘Jewel’ appeared and served us each a Brie Omelet dusted with shaved almonds, sausage wontons and toasted 7-grain bread. She followed with fresh baked scones and homemade strawberry preserves. All of this was included in the price of the room – $90.00 for the two of us. If you ever have to spend a night in Espanola I highly recommend you stay at The Mill Bed and Breakfast.


Out of Espanola you pick up The Trans Canada to Highway 69. Drive for a couple of hours then turn down Secondary Highway 637 for a 63 km drive through the fall foliage and granite outcrops to the North Shore of Georgian Bay, past Killarney Provincial park, to Killarney Mountain Lodge.

Originally it was a wilderness hideaway for the Fruehauf family. They make 18-wheelers. They used it as a corporate retreat until the IRS in the U.S. got suspicious. The Feds wondered how the company could write the place off as a manufacturing center when there was no road in and the only way you could get there was by water or air.

True. Until 1962 there was no direct road in to the small fishing town of Killarney. It was founded – way back – as a fur trading post by the Voyageurs. The town survived on its isolation and independence. Today it is still small with a population of 250. The grade school only has 9 students. A lengthy inlet provides safe harbour for all manner of crafts, but it appears that there is only one active fishing boat these days.

The lodge is rustic (read old). It will soon need renovation. Still it sits on a landscape of spectacular vistas of rock, water and sky. They say it is “the quintessential Canadian experience on Georgian bay,” and they are right.

We walked through the tiny village. The harbour docks are the main street. A older woman in an SUV was coming out of a small store with a painful look on her face. She was looking for vinegar. She was putting something down for the winter and had run out. Seems there wasn’t a bottle anywhere in town. The only place she could get what she needed was in Sudbury – two hours away – a four hour round trip. That’s what happens in small towns. 

Killarney inflates with tourists and boaters in the summer. Right now is is quiet.  Silent. Absolutely no traffic sound. Just the sound of water, wind, the call of migrating geese and the odd boat moving up the inlet. I thought Southampton was peaceful. Killarney outclasses it for quietude.

Next day we climbed the Park’s Granite Ridge Trail. It took us up steep, exposed granite rock faces. Gave us sweeping views of Georgian Bay and the white La Cloche Mountains. They say these quartzite hills are 2.1 billion years old and the basis of a mountain range that once pushed up higher than the Rockies. They have aged beautifully.

 That afternoon we got a different view of things. We sailed    through the channel into Killarney Bay. The  shoreline, rock  formations and islands were just as breathtaking. But we  were shocked to see one of the  big islands decapitated by  strip mining. Not what you would expect out here. We also  saw large summer  estates on the shore. Americans owned  them all. You can form your own opinion.


 On our homeward leg we were booked to sail back to  Tobermorey at 3:50 PM. That meant retracing our route and killing a whole day driving and waiting – not getting home until well after 7:00 PM. Our GPS told us we could be home by 3:00 PM if we just followed the shoreline south. We did, going full circle around Georgian Bay and getting back to Southampton well before the ferry even sailed from South Beymouth.

The scenery changed after a while. Four-lane highways are like that. But the serenity of where we were stayed with us. It was a six-hour drive. A round trip of 856 km and two hours of sailing later we were home with impressions of Killarney in the fall still on our minds.







Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

September 27, 2008 at 9:19 PM


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What is it that keeps pulling me back to Toronto?

Lately it has been the company of old friends. On the last three trips I have connected with people I’ve know for a long, long time. Looking at them now and remembering what we were like back in the day can be disconcerting…not to mention depressing. Nonetheless, age does nothing to dampen the bond of familiarity we have forged over the years. The friendships are here. And they will never go away.

The city gets old too. And it shows. Not in the way a small town swears its age. There is no ‘growing old gracefully’ in Toronto. It is more an old acquaintance than an old friend. And there is a difference in that.

Nonetheless, I found things this trip I wish my small town had. Like the wonderful Italian bakery with hot and cold table serving the food I grew up with, gelati, old country breads, pastries, meats and olive oil and an espresso bar with Serie A soccer on the tube. There’s nothing like that in Saugeen Shores. N and my daughter took me to an amazing Lebanese restaurant that would probably never survive up here.

But, what is it that always pulls me back to Southampton?

In spite of new discoveries and old friends, the need to return to the country was strong come Sunday afternoon.

The weather mavens predicted heavy rain and high winds. And they were right. By the time we turned up Highway 10 out of Shelburne, a massive gun-metal grey cloud hung over the horizon, long, broad and reaching down to touch the road. It obliterated the fields of wind turbines, bringing night to the early afternoon.

Rain pelted down on us all the way home. Remnants of the hurricanes from down south had come up our way to exhaust themselves. Creeks, rivers and streams ran high. Fields were waterlogged. It was a harrowing drive, but N steered us home.

The solitude found on empty county roads…the fields freshly harvested…the trees slowly turning…the flying wedge of geese high in the sky, noisily making their way south…the wind and waves off Lake Huron. Even if this were possible in the city, it would not have the same charm. Once you’ve lived with the peacefulness of the country it is hard to live anywhere else.

Southampton is getting ready for fall. Driveways are piled high with wood waiting to be split for winter. Locally grown produce is waiting at the Keady Market. We can stop at the orchard to pick apples and indulge in fresh-baked turnovers at Smith’s Farm. One bite of Mickey’s pastry and apple pie will never be the same for you. 

The tourists are gone. The summer people will disappear after Thanksgiving. Then Southampton will be all ours again.

We sit and listen to the quiet now. The frenetic pace and noise of Toronto well behind us, forgotten. It is as if I was never there. I know N feels differently. She has no problem going back and forth.

I do. But that is not an issue.


Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

September 16, 2008 at 5:38 PM


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Old friends are well worth spending time with.

And so it was that on a foggy Saturday morning I set out to join my buddies for a Drum Corps weekend in Rochester. I’ve known these guys since grade three. Went through Cubs, Scouts and the Optimist Drum & Bugle Corps together. Stayed in touch over the years through our lasting friendship and mutual obsession with the Drum Corps world.

We thrived on the camaraderie and the competition. It taught us lessons that got up through life – to where we are today. We grew up together and we never grew apart. I misspent my youth on countless buses, on many long road trips all over Canada and the U.S. with these guys. Now, as old geezers, we were going to do it one more time.

N. and I left Southampton early. The roads were empty…the farm fields harvested and golden…the leaves turning and the fog in the valleys sitting thick and heavy, denying the sun access to the earth.

As soon as we left Bruce County the sun broke through and it wasn’t long before we were ensnarled in Toronto traffic. Nonetheless the day was spectacular. It was going to be a great weekend with the boys.

The traffic though, never let up. From Toronto to the Niagara Falls border we crawled – stop and go – bumper to bumper. I had already been three hours in a car. This added another three. My knees were starting to question the wisdom of this trip.

Once we hit New York State we made the outskirts of Rochester in good time. Years ago we would head straight for the practice field, even before checking in. This time we bypassed our hotel and headed straight for the outlet mall. When, I wondered, did we turn into bargain hunters?

By the time we checked in I had been on the road for 11 hours. There was no joy in that. But, there was joy in my first American beer with the boys in years.

That night, we headed into the historic center of Rochester for a Corps dinner at the TripHammer Inn. Old friends! Old memories! So much grey hair! Everyone had put on weight. Our young, lithe, hard bodies were gone. We were old farts. But, we were together and the good times flooded back.

After dinner, we took in a late rehearsal with the Optimist Alumni Corps and quietly congratulated ourselves on having the good sense not to be playing members any more.

Over the next two days we got lost on the Interstate – a lot. Ate some great Bar-B-Que at Dinosaurs Rib House with the Harleys lined up outside. We looked but didn’t touch because full patch Hell’s Angels were drinking at the bar. A hard-boiled egg blew up in my face (don’t ask), and I got stung in the stands (again, don’t ask). It was a great weekend.

We marveled at the skill and musicianship of the competing Corps…so much better than we were in our day. We talked about our past history together, our lives, our accomplishments and unspoken failures, our aches, pains, medications, life, politics, religion and other trivialities…but mostly about Drum Corps. After all, that’s why we were there. The immersion in our past left us refreshed. We were young again.

Driving back to Toronto was fast and uneventful. N. had her weekend with the girls. I had mine with the boys. We met up and headed out. The road to Southampton was clear and quick. Leaving home always makes the return trip that much better. Still, it was good to get away. It gives me a greater appreciation of what I’m coming back to.





Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

September 7, 2008 at 5:06 PM