Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

Archive for October 2008


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You have to have a good reason for writing a Blog.  You need a hook! Mine, I imagined, was quite interesting. Why not compare where I am now and to where I was? I.E. – after living and working in big cities all my life – what was it like to take up residence in a small, simple, quiet, little town? The contrast between the two, I hoped, would make good copy. Their similarities would, I believed, be miles apart. I was wrong.

I found something that bridged my two worlds in a way that made me frown and smile at the same time.

I grew up Italian in a city that was built by Italians – Toronto. One need only look at the turn of the century influx of immigrants from Italy to T.O. to see how they lived in ‘The Ward” in managed squalor.

Award winning novelist Nino Ricci points out that…”it is almost inconceivable that the city of Toronto could have been so transformed from dirt streets and ramshackle boarding houses of the 1880s…to the present day city…without Italian workers.”

Josie DiSciascio-Andrews in her book How the Italians Created Canada says Italians…”literally paved the way for the cosmopolitan sophisticated city that Toronto is today. From their early presence…the Italians of the 1800s began to play a consistently visible role in the evolution of Toronto’s history.”

When the economic boom of 1910 hit Toronto a new infrastructure was needed – roads – buildings – water mains – streetcar tracks and sewer systems. Before sewers were built, Toronto’s waste was collected in cesspools. Work on these projects fell to men from Sicily, Calabria and Abruzzi. With bare hands, strong backs and the sweat of their brow…they worked long hard hours digging ditches.

“Italians brought the know-how for updating this archaic state of affairs, by installing modern sewer pipes…which were already operational in Italy,” writes DiSciascio-Andrews.

Yes, my countrymen were ditch diggers before they became anything else. And they dug themselves deep into my old hometown.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered, while involved in some local heritage research, that Port Elgin (just down the road from where I now live) had a lot in common with Toronto and Italian immigrants.

In 1906 – a by-law was voted in, which allowed for the installation of a waterworks system in Port Elgin. The town engineer, a Mr. Chipman and the contractor a Mr. McLean hired 16 Italians to dig the ditches by hand. Obviously my countrymen’s reputation and skills were know beyond Toronto’s city limits.

There you go. A palpable connection with the history of the Italian Immigrant in Ontario…where I was, compared to where I am now…in spades…so to speak.

Funzionando con il selezionamonto e la pala.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

October 31, 2008 at 1:51 AM


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Slowly – at trolling speed – a solitary fisherman guides his boat under the Albert Street Bridge and turns into the shadows along the shore of the Saugeen hardly leaving a wake. The sun is burning its way through the trees casting a trail of sparkling diamonds on the water.

High in the blue western sky the waning moon is still visible. Yesterday evening, in its fullness, this harvest moon lit up the night with an eerie silver light. But, it’s done now.

There’s a chill in the morning air. Frost sits on roof tops and covers lawns with a white tint. Mist rises over the river’s surface. The vivid fall colours are close to over. Some trees are already bare. A cold wind stripped them the other day. Now they lay in haphazard piles on the lawns, in the fields on sidewalks and roads, their colours dying. They decay into dust or mush depending on the heaviness of the morning dew. Walking though them creates a rustle that makes you smile.

Sunsets are earlier. Sunrise is later. Snow fences are going up along the beach. Summer people are boarding up their homes and cottages. Summer is long gone. 

Southampton is known for its sunsets. Tourists gather all summer long at the big flag on the shore of the lake to watch and listen as the Piper provides background music for the sun’s setting. Our sunrises, on the other hand, are seldom celebrated. And what a shame.

The best place to watch the rising sun is from the bridge. It gives you a long view down the Saugeen. So you can watch the big golden ball climbing up over the horizon and throwing its light down on the river bringing a completely different brand of beauty.

The river is a good indicator of the change. There are fewer boats on shore. Most of the docks are in. Only one or two still remain. Ducks and Cormorants are heading south. Some of the summer residents have done so as well. Highberry Farms’ migrant workers will be heading home to the warmth of Mexico in a few days. Southampton is quite. All the signs are there. We are relentlessly moving towards winter.

As the sun rises over the river and the trees reflect themselves on the surface it is hard to imagine the freeze that’s coming. How thick will the ice be?  Will the town people gather on the harbour shore – day after day – waiting and watching for the ice out – as they did two winters ago?

These are questions for the coming cold. For now, the Saugeen basks in the morning sun…waiting.



Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

October 18, 2008 at 10:45 PM

Branta Canadensis

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Their steady honking chorus announces their presence long before you see them.

Looking up in the direction of their airborne ruckus, there they are – Branta Canadensis – Canada Geese – squadrons drifting overhead in”V” formation – a certain sign of changing seasons.

In spring and summer they feed mostly on land, grazing on the leaves of grassy plants and a wide variety flowers, stems, roots, seeds and berries. They are gluttons frequently gorging themselves 12 hours a day or more.

Country geese, those that stay the winter, chow down in fields of spilled corn, oats, soybeans and other crops. When these energy-rich foods are available, they often dine in the fields for a few hours in early morning and late afternoon and spend the rest of the day resting in safety on a lake or large river. City geese graze on lawns, in parks, and on golf courses. They don’t care about predators like their country cousins. These geese are much more civilized.

They can travel more than 1000 km a day when migrating. With wingspans varying between 90 cm and 2 m these superb fliers sound out a deep ka-lunk aloft, each member in the formation doing their bit to be heard.

Flying in diagonal lines or ragged “V” formations serves two purposes. Most important, it helps them save energy and fly longer distances. Scientists believe Canada Geese fly in a “V” because of the “drafting” effect, where the follower goose, like a cyclist in a race, benefits from the air currents passing the leader, and thus expends less energy. A secondary function is coordination of the flock’s movements, allowing changes in flight speed or direction to be communicated quickly and efficiently to everyone in formation

But their takeoff from a standing position is the most amazing thing. They rise above the ground helter skelter, a cacophony of calls urging their brothers and sisters on, higher and higher with no apparent plan or purpose. Such disorganization! The leader‘s latent instinct charts a course and takes a heading. The others trustingly follow. They are flying in ragged bunches now. There is no order.

And suddenly, out of the chaos, each bird finds its place in two diagonal lines. They achieve symmetry, balance, purpose and direction. And not one of them questions the leader. They achieve “V” in a matter of minutes. Unification. Single-minded purpose. Trust. Resolve. From confusion comes coherence. You have to admire their determination.

Given the times we are currently living in and the folly of politicians and money-men, the truth in the flight of Canada Geese can teach us a thing or two.

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

October 10, 2008 at 12:44 AM