Peter Takes the Byways and Back Roads

I experienced such a range of emotions writing last week’s column that I decided to take a look at another childhood play area of mine, one which the vast majority of you would probably not be familiar with. This will be a two part column because of the sheer magnitude of the subject, and this first part will deal with the physical characteristics of the area.

My childhood home was less than 2 kilometres from the Stephen Leacock Memorial Home, which is located on Brewery Bay. As I grew older and developed friendships, my friends and I began to explore the neighbourhood, expanding our horizons. Eventually one day, after telling our mothers where we were going, we crossed Atherley Road and the CN rail line and walked down the paved driveway until we reached Brewery Bay. The house, off to our right, was (and is) a thing of beauty indeed. Brewery Bay itself is a very placid body of water with peninsulas on both sides sheltering it. I very clearly remember both the boathouse and the house across the bay, which I always liked, although not as much as my own childhood home, of course.

I have one marvellous Leacock Home/Brewery Bay memory which I want to share with you. It had been an extremely hot August morning, and just after noon the sky had turned leaden and there was a brief, violent rainstorm. As the downpour subsided, I walked to the shore. Again, Brewery Bay had returned to its mirror like state. The rainwater cycle was in full swing, as what had recently landed with such a splash a) evaporated on the hot pavement and returned to whence it had come as steamy mist.  I could hear the first birds coming out of their shelter, proclaiming their joy that the rain had ended, and, in some cases, that worms would be coming to the surface to provide sustenance. The rain and the clouds gave the atmosphere a greyish tone, and while Brewery Bay was peaceful and unruffled, there was obviously a strong breeze out on Lake Couchiching proper. I sat on a post and watched as a large sailboat on the only part of the lake visible to me because of the trees, glided by silently. The dull sky, the dark water and the mist saturated atmosphere made it almost glow as it crossed my line of sight. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and I can still see it when I close my eyes and remember.

Now the area where we actually played was a tract of land bordered by the Leacock Home driveway, a wire fence paralleling the CN tracks, the northern extension of Forest Avenue and the lake. I knew nothing of its history when I played there, which would have been back in the 1960s, and that’s a shame, in retrospect for I’m sure that there was an interesting story waiting to be told. There were signs of at least attempted cultivation, such as several wire fences as well as two carefully planted rows of trees and a number of groves of apple trees scattered across the expanse of greenery. Three paths also intersected the property, stretching from the Leacock driveway to the Forest Avenue extension.

Starting at the Atherley Road, I will describe some of the more prominent features to show you a little more about this underutilized and unappreciated natural resource. Across the road was Smith’s Dine And Dance, which had a dance floor and a restaurant, and will be featured in more detail in a future column. It also had cabins to rent, and these are more germane to today’s column because sometimes a family from Toronto would come up for a week or so b). Sometimes they would include a boy of similar age to us among their number, and he would, after being introduced, regale us with tales of exotic locales such as “Leaside” and “Long Branch”. We would smile behind our hands, because we had our own “ace in the hole” and we weren’t afraid to use it.

After clearing it with his mom, we’d take him across the busy two lane highway and the active railroad line, turn left just past the first wire fence and there it was… abandoned rock crusher. (Strangely, while I am extremely interested in military aircraft, any machine with more moving parts than a baseball bat is normally a complete mystery to me.) This old campaigner was rusted and creaky in the 1960s. I have no idea how long it had been sitting there neglected, but probably turn of the century, like 1900 or so. We climbed it, using the rusted gravel buckets and lubricating points to ascend to the very top, 4 metres or so off the ground. Now the “local lads” had enough familiarity with it that we knew the “safest” places to clamber on it. Our new friends from Toronto would have difficulty playing on it without becoming intimate with its rust, and many a lad had to nervously explain to his glowering mother why his new white t shirt was now rust coloured and his pants ruined.

We enjoyed playing with “our” rock crusher, but we reserved our greatest affection, our greatest attention for the wooded area, which I will now describe. There were two rows of trees, and the “bush” began just north of the second row. It consisted of scrawny little trees and a number of bare spots. There was a path, very crude and meandering somewhat as it ran. There was at least one “lean-to” built on it, as there was a certain “transient population” travelling across Canada at that time. We did occasionally sight “hobos” in the area, but the sightings were always at a distance and always fleeting in nature.

The second path was much better developed, it had grass verges and two wheel ruts. It ran straight until near the end, when it curved. There were five or six poplars at the Forest Avenue end. We enjoyed riding our bikes on it, or running, or playing army or just sitting around in a group talking about sports or cars or boats or planes, secure in the knowledge that no adults or sisters could interrupt our conversation or order us around or stop our fun in any way. Once in a while we would even convince our already overworked mothers to pack us a lunch. (We would smugly sit back eating and callously overlook the fact that our mothers were teaching us about “unconditional love” without opening their mouths.) Sometimes we picked apples too. Some were wormy, but useful in an apple fight. Others were surprisingly good to eat. Of the three paths, the second one was my favourite.

As the forest neared the lake, the trees got taller and lusher and more verdant. The third path was like the vault of a natural cathedral. Lined on both sides by trees which met high above the floor, it possessed an inspiring view. It too was well developed, had a “roadway” , but unlike the other two ran as straight as an arrow to the other end. This path also had excellent acoustics. You could stand at the Leacock end and hear the noises of the Heywood-Wakefield plant, which was still operating at that time. I also distinctly remember hearing some of the closing notes of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony while standing there. I can’t explain it, and in fact, Loyal Reader, this is the first time that I have ever admitted this c), I should add that I experienced this “music” several times.

As much as I liked the acoustics and the vegetation, I seldom used the third path simply because it was so densely overgrown. I realized that this would inhibit both my line of sight and my freedom of movement. As I have alluded to previously, not everyone in the bush appeared friendly. I made a conscious Life choice at that time. I could either cower in fear at or near my home, or I could venture into the unknown with a high SA d) level.

For a number of summers that little bit of Eden was my second home. I had some great times (and a few scary ones) with some great people whom I can see now, Gord, Ricky, Jacky, Neil, Doug, Don, John, just to name a few. The stuff we did! I loved hanging out with you guys and I thought those days would never end!!.

Now I have not been to Orillia for a few years, and the last few times I was there, I had no control over the car, so I had no chance to give it the examination and the fond farewell that it deserved. However, it was an important part of my childhood and taught me lessons that i didn’t realize I had learned until I needed them and they came to hand with ease.

Next week I will mention some of the human interactions I experienced in that bush, including glaring examples of Mrs Montreuil’s Little Boy”s Situational Awareness going AWOL e) at “inopportune times”. Some of them may sound very terrifying, but balance that against the fact that this is an autobiographical column finished on April 30th, 2020,  NOT a biography nor even a police report.

See you soon..

  1. a) Sorry 😉
  2. b) It was a different time. People didn’t routinely drive from Orillia to Toronto on a whim. Unlimited long distance plans were far in the future. Toronto, to a nine year old in a carless family, may as well have been on Mars. Fun Fact, I remember when I was about 14 and I was thinking about my driver’s licence. I seriously wondered if I would get lost the first time I tried to drive from Orillia to Toronto.
  3. c) People at school thought I was weird enough already, methinks! As the son of a music teacher who loved classical music, I was quite familiar with the 6th, which is one of my very favourite symphonies. I will reiterate that I “heard” these notes from the 6th standing at the end of the third path by the Leacock Home, and I can’t explain it. Maybe Life isn’t meant to entirely make sense.
  4. d) Situational Awareness-the credo of the fighter pilot. Some key points ; -Be aware of your surroundings. -Be prepared to act decisively, at a moment’s notice. -Expect the unexpected. -There is no shame in “running away bravely”.; Like all the best lessons, this one transfers with ease, whether you fly a Phantom jet or a “chipboard bomber”;i.e. a desk.
  5. e) Absent WithOut Leave. I firmly believe in publicizing my mistakes as a learning tool…or a cautionary tale ;).

9 Responses to “Peter Takes the Byways and Back Roads”

  1. Elizabeth Stevenson Says:

    very enjoyable we will go to your third road with you being in control of where the driver goes .

  2. “I firmly believe in publicizing my mistakes as a learning tool” love this proclamation. You are not just a pretty face it appears that the dam has burst and there is no turning back with your words! Your editor has a great eye with inserting slot A into slot B.

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Marlene, I don’t apologize for humility. And yes, my editor does a great job. One of my secrets of Life is that I try to surround myself with people brighter than me.

  3. Gayle Jones ( Niece ) Says:

    As a kid, we used to bike to the then derelict Steven Leacock house. Enter through a broken basement window , & explore. I even had some old letters he wrote ( & we stole ) & which years later we gave to the society. By the way , your dad was a special person in my life in the 5 year music program At ODCVI. Very fond memories !

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Thank you so much! Dad was a great guy and I am always pleased to hear from ex students of his.

  4. There were some monster Bass under the boathouse back then. “The Orchard” we called it and watched every summer for the apples to ripen. We pelted up the bad ones to knock down to good ones. Finally (and thankfully upon reflection), we never did encounter the legendary (“nature boy”). Thanks for wrenching these great memories from this old head Pete! Neil

    • Peter Montreuil Says:

      Well, I am happy to summon up memories of those far gone days, and I appreciate your comments. I did encounter “Nature Boy”, details next week.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: