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Saturday, 30 March 2013

Fanny Bay, B.C.

Baynes Sound, Fanny Bay, BC. high tide.
It was the late 1970s and I was working as a sales rep in Vancouver. I was single and at times I would take off for the weekend to places like Whistler, Seattle, and Vancouver Island. I had worked on Vancouver Island a number of years before in both Port Alberni and Victoria and in the back of my mind I had thought that somewhere along the eastern coast of the island would be an ideal location to live eventually in my retirement years. I was born a city kid but living in a more rural setting close to the ocean had always had a lot of appeal to me.
There was a particular part of Vancouver Island that interested me, the area north of Parksville, BC up to Courtenay, BC. Between these two smaller cities were little hamlets like Qualicum Beach, Deep Bay, Bowser, Fanny Bay, and Union Bay, all seaside communities.
My father, who spent almost all of his adult life living in Montreal, had a friend who lived in Fanny Bay on Vancouver Island. They had both been officers in the Canadian Army during the Second World War and had palled around London together. I believe they were both attached to the 9th Field Ambulance Corp. My father’s friend was a man named Jim Lunam who was a doctor. Originally from New Brunswick, Jim and his wife at the time, Margaret, migrated west to the small city of Courtenay on Vancouver Island after the war. It was there that they raised a family and Jim practiced medicine. Later on, in retirement, they built a house of their own design on a waterfront lot in the small community of Fanny Bay about a half hour south of Courtenay.
Jim Lunam in London, England 1943
Captain S.T. Paterson London, England 1944
I vaguely remember Jim Lunam visiting our home in Montreal. It was sometime in the late fifties or early sixties. I think my father gave Jim one of his paintings at the time. My guess is Jim was probably fairly familiar with Montreal. I think both he and his father before him, who was also a doctor, got their medical training at McGill University. I was to later learn that Jim also visited my father shortly after the war.
I first went out to the west coast in 1968. Over the next number of years I lived and worked in other places but was always drawn back to Vancouver. I finally settled there more permanently around 1976. Knowing that I was living on the west coast, my father suggested a few times that I look up his old friend. I did just that around 1978 one summer’s day when I was poking around Vancouver Island.
Fanny Bay is a small peninsula and is surrounded on three sides by the ocean. Just a short distance away is Denman Island that is only accessible by ferry.  I asked somebody who was out taking a walk if they knew where Doctor Lunam lived and they directed me to a waterfront house at the end of Shipspoint Road. It was a pretty impressive location. I knocked on the doctor’s front door and explained who I was.  There was moment when the doctor had to sort it out in his mind what my connection was.
I was invited in and I spent a few hours with Jim and his wife Margaret. They gave me a tour of the house and Jim shared some of his memories of my father. Jim’s wife was an ardent environmentalist and she proudly pointed out their composting efforts and organic garden.
Jim Lunam's former house in Fanny Bay.
Over the next few years I took Jim and Margaret out for dinner a few times, once at a quaint restaurant called The Old House in Courtenay and another time at a seaside restaurant at Qualicum Beach. I thoroughly enjoyed the evenings. They seemed like a happy couple. Margaret had lots of opinions on politics and environmental protection. I was quite surprised to learn a year or two later that they had split up and had sold their house in Fanny Bay. I never saw Margaret again.
Jim remarried to French Canadian women who had worked at the same hospital when he was practicing and they bought a riverfront house in Courtenay. For the next several years I would visit Jim about once every year or two. By this point there was infrequent mention of my father other than the fact that he had passed away in 1981. Jim was now in his 70s and his mind was still very sharp. He always had a few jokes to tell, perhaps a skill he had picked up that made his former patients more comfortable.
Jim was a lean kind of guy with sharp features. He had a great appreciation for the outdoors, walked a lot and avoided driving unless it was totally necessary. He also belonged to the Sierra Club.
I always enjoyed my visits with Jim. I never considered him a father figure or a substitute parent. He was simply a kind older fellow who was a good conversationalist and was very comfortable to be around. I felt a bit guilty at times about turning up unannounced. I kind of reconciled that with the fact that it was usually not a planned visit but an afterthought when I would find myself in the area where he lived. He never seemed off put when I turned up.
It was about 12-13 years ago and I was once again poking  around and found myself in Fanny Bay one summer’s weekend. I was kind of half curious about what houses were going for. I was on a road called Baynes Drive (named after Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes who had been in the Crimean War and later took part in establishing the 49th parallel boundary between the US and Canada. The town of Ganges on Salt Spring Island is named after his ship. TMI?)
I noticed a house for sale on a pretty piece of property but decided not to inquire about it as there was a camper van in the driveway. I didn’t want to disturb the owners. Instead I got out of my car and took a look at another property that was for sale a few lots away. This piece of land had a shack on it and I stopped to take a look more out of curiosity than anything else.  The shack made me think of the infamous American the “Unibomber”. The camper van up the street pulled out and the driver stopped a few feet away from me. It turned out that he didn’t own the other place but was a realtor from Victoria who was up seeing the air show at Comox Air Force Base for the weekend. He invited me over to take a look at the place.
The outside of the building was covered in cedar planks. It had a peaked tin roof. It also had a windowed room that was an addition that ran almost from one end of the building to the other. There was also a deck. It wasn’t until I was inside the house that I realized it was a trailer. It had an open plan kitchen/living room and two bedrooms. I quite liked the place. I liked it even more when I was told what the price was and that it included about ½ of an acre. $85,000.00. Wow! That was certainly affordable.
My house at 68 Baynes Drive in Fanny Bay.
I wasn’t particularly impressed with the realtor guy and the fact that his buddy owned the place. I decided to get my own realtor to protect my interests. I had noticed somewhere in a Vancouver Island newspaper that an old roomie of mine from the Banff Springs Hotel was operating as a realtor in the area and I got him to negotiate on my behalf. I paid exactly what the seller wanted. After I bought the place both realtors had a dispute about who deserved what commission. Realtors are not my favourite people.
For the next 3 years I would go over to Fanny Bay from Vancouver about twice a month on weekends. I even rented it out several times. The place didn’t have a phone or cable TV. That was fine with me. I started to buy cheap DVDs at Wal-Mart with most of them being old black and white movies that I love. My kids and I would stay in Fanny Bay for about a week for the next few summers. I started to do some improvements around the house including painting. Bunk beds and other furniture completed the interior of the house.
Livingroom area of house.
 
When I went over to the island for the first few years I would usually cut out at about noon on a Friday so as not to be caught in the ferry line-up. I always had a feeling of excitement and anticipation when I took the hour and half drive from the ferry at Duke Point south of Nanaimo to Fanny Bay. I just couldn’t wait to get up there. For several months I had a girlfriend who lived about a half an hour from the ferry in a town called Ladysmith. We developed a pattern. She would come up to Fanny Bay for the weekend. On Sunday afternoon she would head back to Ladysmith and catch up on some chores. It also gave us some time to ourselves. On Sunday night I would head down to Ladysmith and spend the night. My girlfriend would set the alarm for 4:30 a.m. and I would catch the 5:15 ferry back to Vancouver avoiding the common Sunday night sailing waits. The only passengers at that time of the day seemed to be me and some truckers.
I started to get more familiar with the area. Sometimes we would go for a walk along the beach. All of the beach area surrounding Fanny Bay is leased to oyster farmers. Initially it was seeded in the 1920s with oysters coming from from Japan, Fanny Bay oysters have a world-wide reputation as being some of the best tasting bi-valves. We also discovered a place in the nearby woods known as the “Enchanted Forest”. Some guy, who I never met, spent years creating bazaar looking things mixed in with the trees. There was a bus stop with a bench and an old suitcase. What looked like old books were stuck in cut outs in  tree trunks. Old pieces of machinery could be seen in odd places. There was an old bike or two along with things that some might call folk art.
 
Bus stop in the Enchanted Forest.
 
For many of years there was a former cable laying ship called the Brico that was beached at Fanny bay. About 30 years ago the Brico was operating as a restaurant but that venture didn’t last long. My understanding is that it was towed away a few years ago and sunk close by and that where it now lies is a diving site. The government dock was about 100 feet away from the Brico. They rebuilt the dock a few years ago and if you wander out onto the pier you can see and hear the sea lions that make the Fanny Bay area their home for a good part of the year. They are very noisy buggers and their barking can be heard from a fair distance away.
The Brico.
Sea lions.
Another landmark at Fanny Bay is the FBI, otherwise known as the Fanny Bay Inn. For many years it was a biker hangout on summer weekends. The old Island Highway runs right through Fanny Bay and is close to the ocean in most spots making it a motorcyclist’s perfect day trip. The FBI used to have a bit of a reputation. They sold some rather vulgar tee shirts (what rhymes with “shuck them”?) and it was quite common to see 30-40 Harleys parked outside on a warm summer’s day. When I lived in Fanny Bay I never hung out at the place because it seemed to cater to the local drunks. I did go to a few Sunday afternoon jam sessions. I once heard a story about a former owner who got naked one night and tossed around some glasses. The place has been redone. is under new ownership, and now seems to cater to more genteel kind of folks.
Fanny Bay Inn.


On one vacation at Fanny Bay with my kids I decided we should all take kayaking lessons up the road a few miles at Union Bay. After getting some instruction, the 3 of us headed off to Denman Island across the sound. We never got close to the island and my daughter Leah eventually had had enough. I think she would have beaten me with her paddle if she could have got close to me. Over the next number of years I rented a kayak several times in Union Bay. The owner Sean was more of a diving guy than a kayak guy and he has moved his operation to Courtenay. If you like diving, Sean is your guy. He can be reached at seashelldiving@shaw.ca or at seashelldiving.com. I always like to promote local businesses.
My son Dean taking a break while kayaking.

 
My doctor friend had moved to Courtenay before I bought the place in Fanny Bay. I invited him and his newer wife down to Fanny Bay for dinner around the same time I took the kids kayaking. The doctor had just sold his place in Courtenay and they were just about to move to Victoria. We had a nice visit over a spaghetti and meatball dinner and it was the last time I ever saw the good doctor. I later learned that he had died in his mid-nineties in Victoria. I talked to one of his sons briefly on the phone a year or two ago.
I was about 58 years old and living in Richmond, BC when I decided to pack it in as far as the business I owned went and remaining in the Vancouver area out of the question. I was renting a large house in Richmond that also contained my office. The house had a pool and required a lot of maintenance. The rent was pretty high and I decided to rent out a few of the rooms. This was a big mistake and a lot of trouble. I had one problem after another with crazy renters. One day I decided I had had enough. I sold my business accounts to my supplier who was both a retailer and a wholesaler. I had a huge garage sale and got rid of a lot of furniture. Fanny Bay was where I wanted to be.
About a year before I left Richmond I had purchased a golden retriever pup from a lady out in Chilliwack, BC. His name was Cooper. I remember my last trip from the Richmond house to Fanny Bay. My GMC Safari was packed to the hilt and there was hardly any room for the dog. A girlfriend, who I was to dump about a month later, came along for the ride. She went home after the weekend.
There was some guilt on my part about leaving my kids behind. They were about 15 at the time. (They are twins, a boy and a girl). Both were involved with a lot of activities and there was a bit of an extra burden on my ex in her having to do a lot of the driving of them from place to place. I had always been very involved in their lives including coaching some of teams my son played on. For the next few years I would go over to Vancouver once a month and spend a few days at my ex’s and do all of the driving. At 15 the kids were becoming more and more independent and preferred spending time with their friends a lot more than with their parents. My ex deserves a lot of credit for being as understanding as she was about my move.
It was about 3 days after the move. I remember it as being a perfect kind of day. The sun was out and it was the end of September. I was out for a walk in Fanny Bay with Cooper. Back then we would sometimes go for 2 or 3 walks a day. We were walking down a road and I was admiring all the neat looking houses that we passed. We hiked along a dike area next to a marsh and I looked out onto the ocean. A feeling kind of washed over me. This was it! I had found the perfect place to live. I couldn’t imagine a nicer setting.
Dyke area at Fanny Bay.
The colder weather started to come and I bought a cord of firewood for the Franklin stove that stood between the living room and the kitchen areas. I got the cable guy in and had the TV hooked up. Unfortunately the NHL went on strike so there was no hockey that winter. On the upside, I could now watch Turner Classic Movies. For the next two years my dog Cooper and I were bachelors in Fanny Bay with only occasional visitors. Cooper slept on my bed and we made adjustments for one another on the couch when I switched positions. It was a really cosy place to live with a fire going and being nice and toasty with the rain or light snow falling outside.
I never got to know many people in Fanny Bay other than my next door neighbour and an older very conservative ex-farmer from Ontario who I would sometimes go for dog walks with along the power lines a few miles away. The next door neighbour was quite handy at repairing equipment. He had a very large garage with a couple of old trucks in it. He also couldn’t handle his alcohol very well and could become a sloppy drunk after a few drinks. I have to give him credit for being a volunteer fireman but in all honesty I never cared much for his demeanour.
I had a few garage sales and got rid of a lot of excess furniture and other stuff. I sold a phone system to an artist who lived a few lots away. Her name is Judy Wild and apparently she is quite well known. She has since moved somewhere else.
Other than going over to Vancouver once a month to see my kids I would go on dates now and then with gals I met on the internet that lived on the Island. There is no doubt that I liked my own company but I also needed some….well you know.
People mostly stayed to themselves in Fanny Bay. Every now and then there would be some kind of community event up at the hall but I never got involved. Most of the residents in the area were retired and getting on in years. Occasionally, I would have a short chat with the older sorts while they were out walking their dogs. I got the impression that many of them thought there was nothing but mayhem and killings going on in Vancouver that they had deduced from watching the evening news. One day on a dog walk, I was talking to an older couple on the opposite side of the road when a car passed us by driving down the middle of the road. I remember the old lady getting upset about the guy’s driving. I pointed out to her that he was driving down the middle of the road to avoid running over either of our dogs but it didn’t seem to register with her.
My first spring came around at Fanny Bay and I wanted to make the property look its best. I ordered in some gravel for the driveway. The driveway had a nice rock wall. There were a number of tall fir trees around the property and one beautiful mountain ash at the end of the driveway. A big rock sat in the middle of the grassy area in front of the house. Why I have no idea? I decided to reseed the front lawn and spent hour after hour ripping up the turf. It was all a wasted effort. By the following year all of the moss had returned.
Veggie garden.
Other things I did around the property included building a fire wood shed, redoing the wood exterior of the house and repainting it, and building a boxed vegetable garden.
Over the next two years my kids brought their friends over on some weekends. I don’t know if my son Dean cares to recall our hiking trip to Denman Island when we all got thoroughly soaked not once but twice. (For some reason I think my kids think I am Mr. Outdoors Guy.)

My kids and their friends at Fanny Bay.
Leah with Cooper.
Every now and then I would take my dog Cooper over to Rosewall Creek which was about 15 minutes away for a swim. My old doctor friend once told me a story about getting clipped by a car while walking along the side of the highway near the creek and being out of commission for some time as a result.  Linda and I have hiked up the trail by the creek a number of times in the past few years. There are some very pretty waterfalls in the area.

Cooper swimming at Rosewell Creek.

Fanny Bay doesn’t really have a business area or stores other than a small gas station. About 20 minutes away is the Buckley Bay ferry landing to Denman and Hornby Islands. There is a Petrocan gas station at Buckley Bay that seems to do very well. They also sell liquor and have a Subway franchise. I remember visiting some people who had a summer place on Denman Island and coming back at night on the last ferry. The ocean was completely still and the moon shone down over the mountains onto the water. It was one of those perfect moments in time.
Buckley Bay ferry to Denman Island.
After my first year in Fanny Bay I started to have second thoughts about the whole deal, maybe even sooner. I absolutely loved where I was living but it was somewhat like living the life of a hermit. Was I supposed to send away for a mail order bride? (Just joking.) I started to think that Fanny Bay was the kind of place to be when one was living out their last years. There was still a lot of “giddy-up” in me. I wasn’t even 60 yet.
Even though I had sold my business accounts in Vancouver I kept the company name. I made a few road trips on the Island and opened a number of accounts. It was hard slogging as another company had most things sewn up and I was nowhere near the center of commerce on Vancouver Island in Victoria. There was no way I was going to make a living working out of Fanny Bay.
I decided to put the house up for sale but there were no bites so I decided to put the selling of the house on the back burner for a while; probably because the warmer weather had come around again. By the 2nd year I knew I had to get more serious about selling the house. I was going through my savings pretty fast and I had to figure out a plan B.
The Fanny Bay/Courtenay area has long been a depressed area as far as employment goes. Nobody was looking for a person with a business background like mine. If I found any kind of work it would be in the service industry and even at that an older guy like me probably wouldn’t be what they were looking for. My plan was to find any kind of work until the house sold.
I managed to secure a job as a night security guy at a spa resort called the Kingfisher Lodge just south of Courtenay. I didn’t realize at the time what I was getting myself into. The job was for 3 nights a week. The guy who trained me was the other night security guy. He often had his bible open on his desk and his hobby was taxidermy. Some of my chores included breaking up late night rowdy parties, picking up the dirty dining room laundry in a golf cart, checking the readings on some meters in the electrical room, washing the floor in the lobby and reception area floor, doing an hourly walk around the site, and straightening out the lounge chairs at the beach area. It is pretty creepy walking around in the dark with a flashlight knowing that a few feet away in their rooms the guests were sawing logs.
My coffee breaks were spent with a gay kitchen night cleaner and an older gal who cleaned up at the spa. I often wondered how long I could stick this job out. It took everything in my power to keep my eyes open. I also thought about how low I had stooped just to pick up a few extra bucks.  The resort took an hour off of each of my shifts for my lunch break even though I couldn’t leave the property in that time and was effectively on duty. One morning on my way back to Fanny Bay a car came directly at me in my own lane and I barely missed a head on collision. It should have been a warning to me.
One evening I spotted water coming out of the electrical room. The manager was out of town and I figured out that my best bet was to wake up the former resort owner who lived on the next property. He put on his rubber boots and waded into the electrical room. I was having none of it. Water and electricity are not a good mix. The former owner seemed like a pretty decent guy. Sadly, his wife had committed suicide a few years earlier nearby.
There was a new manager at the resort and I learned that some of the staff was not exactly thrilled about him. One day he gave a speech about all the hotels he worked at around the world. One of the jobs he did was spy on hotel employees, not the most endearing kind of thing to tell his new staff.
After I was there for about a month the manager told me he was very happy with my performance and perhaps they could offer me additional work like picking up guests at the airport. His opinion of me was to change drastically about a month later.
One night a guest and his wife turned up about 1 a.m. They were expected and I gave them a room key. At about 3 a.m. my cell phone went off. A number of guests were complaining about a commotion going on outside their rooms in the lower section of the resort. The manager had told me to call him any time at night if something got out of hand. I went down to where the commotion was and found the guy I had checked in straddled over his wife outside of their room. He wasn’t hitting her but he was certainly controlling her. There was a lot of yelling going on. First I phoned the cops and then the manager. The manager didn’t seem too pleased about my waking him up.
The cops turned up and handcuffed the guy. The wife went into her room. A few minutes later the manager turned up. He started to engage the guy in handcuffs. The guest was clearly psychotic and telling him to be quiet was clearly a bad move on the manager’s part. I tried to tell the manager what had happened but he didn’t want to listen. Instead he told me to get the kitchen cleaner to come up. I felt really stupid repeatedly calling the kitchen cleaner on the walkie-talkie. Like he was going to be any kind of help? I knew that he took the walkie-talkie off when he was using heavy duty cleaners. Then the manager took it upon himself to go into the guest room where the wife was. Another really stupid move I thought. He wasn’t a cop. He didn’t a clue what he was going to find in there.
Later on the manager expressed his being upset with the cops’ performance. I have no idea what he expected them to do other than remove the guy from the property. I wrote a long letter about the manager’s handling of the event that day and I was fired a few days later. I was way too old for this kind of nonsense. It turned out the psychotic guy was an ex RCMP officer. I really detested the arrogance of the resort manager.
Some people like to go to spas I guess. I was never impressed with the cleanliness of the kitchen or dining area at the resort. The buffet area had soiled carpeting and in the kitchen area the croutons sat out in the open close to the floor where industrial cleansers were used. (My last jab at a place that totally freaked me out!)
After the spa deal it took about another 5 months to sell the house. I stuck with the same realtor even though he seemed to have other interests like writing screen plays and becoming a developer. I checked out a local realtor in Fanny Bay but she was only interested in exclusives. I think it was September when I finally sold the house for close to $200,000, way more than twice what I had paid for it.
The couple that bought the house were from Calgary. When they turned up to see the house the realtor was nowhere to be found. I took them for a tour of the surrounding area including the oyster beaches. I don’t think the realtor was too thrilled that I did that but I had been in sales for a long time and knew about selling the sizzle not just the steak. The man in the couple was supposedly an Italian count. He boarded small dogs in his home in Calgary. Not what most counts do I don’t think. He was pretty easy going but his wife was quite aggressive. At first I kind of liked her gusto. After they saw the house the 3 of us went kayaking. I remember when we got back from kayaking and were about to go back to my house. The count guy asked if he could ride with me and pulled out a cigar a moment later and I kind of thought that it was a bit of a statement about his own independence.
I never got a thank you from the realtor for sticking with him for so long. Screw him anyway I thought. As the new owners lived in Calgary I offered to screen potential tenants for them. Quite a few deadbeat types applied. In my last days at Fanny Bay the wife of the couple got more and more demanding as to my finding a tenant for them and I finally told her to screw off. The favour I had offered seemed to now be a duty.
I had a few drinks with two of my neighbours, rented a moving van, and said goodbye to Fanny Bay and set off to Victoria where I rented a place near the university.
Yes, it wasn’t the perfect ending to a perfect dream. I will never forget the time I lived in Fanny Bay. I still think it is one of the more gorgeous places anywhere. It just wasn’t right for me at the time. I still take the cut off to Fanny Bay when I am up that way and check out what new houses have been built. Sometimes I get out of the car and take a walk along the beach. Each time it seems more and more like a distant memory. I am glad I got to experience the adventure.
My stay in Victoria lasted about a year and a half. I met a gal from the Nanaimo area and we decided to live together about 6 years ago. I have a feeling this is my last stop.

More pics.....

Fanny Bay peninsula.
Mac Oysters Fanny Bay.
Oysters ready for market.
Autumn at Fanny Bay.
Bike.
Me at a liitle island off of the tip of Denman Island.
 

 

 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Port Alberni, BC 1974



You drive about a ½ hour north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island and turn left at the seaside town of Parksville onto another highway going west. Or you can take another cut off just north of the Parksville cut off that will take you through the village of Coombs with its famous thatched roofed restaurant with the goats living on top. Either way, you are on your way to Port Alberni. You’ll pass through Cathedral Grove where you can see 1000 year old Douglas fir trees. Then you climb up a very steep hill locally known as "The Hump" with Mount Arrowsmith off to the side. After reaching the top of the hill you will start to descend into the Alberni Valley. If it is a clear day you might notice the smoke stacks up ahead. On your way into town you will pass a few big box stores like Wal-Mart that have opened in the last several years.
Goats on roof in Coombs, BC
Cathedral Grove
 
Cathedral Grove.
 
The highway will take you into Port Alberni and down to the Somass River where salmon fishing is in high gear in the late summer. At this point you have to make a choice. You can either turn left and visit the 2nd of two downtown areas that are in Port Alberni (you have just passed through the 1st one) or turn right and travel west for 1-1/2-2 hours to Pacific Rim National Park. (Some people just call that area Long Beach.)
I lived in Port Alberni for about 9 months in the 1974. Like a lot of other things in life, it was a bit of a fluke that I ended up there at all. I was living in Vancouver and needed a job. I wanted to go off somewhere where I could save up enough money to buy a car. In Vancouver I applied and was hired for a job in a mill that was located at a place called Thasis which is near the small town of Gold River on northern Vancouver Island. With a packed duffle bag I caught a ferry to Vancouver Island and hitchhiked my way to Gold River. It was there that I discovered that the only way to get to Tahsis was by boat. There was a scheduled boat trip every several hours. I was sitting on the boat waiting to pay my fare when a crew member asked me where I was going. I told him about my new job. He in turn told me that the mill was shut down due to a strike. Shit! I wasn’t counting on that.  What a bummer!
I had to do some fast thinking. I had some friends who I knew from Banff who had moved to Port Alberni. He was from Columbia in South America and she was from Calgary. In fact I kind of went to their wedding. At least we made an attempt. We got pretty wasted on tequila in Banff the night before and got to Calgary where the wedding was held too late for the wedding but in time for the reception. The gal’s mother took one look at my sorry looking face and made up a bed for me. I have pretty well avoided tequila ever since. For a few months I shared an apartment with this couple in the west end of Vancouver.
So I set off for Port Alberni. Maybe I could find work there? Somehow I managed to find my friends. They were living in a two bedroom suite on the main floor of a small house. Both were working on the “green chain” at a local sawmill. The “green chain” is where workers used to (it is now mostly automated) separate newly cut lumber into piles of planks that are the same size. The lumber is delivered by a conveyor belt. The job can be quite hazardous. Kind of like the I Love Lucy episode with the candy conveyor belt but with a far more harmful product.
The couple was saving up their money for a visit to South America, a trip they planned to do by car. They hoped to trade in their Isizu Ballet sedan (you didn’t see many of those cars) for a van in the coming months. Renting their spare bedroom to me was quite OK with them as it would save them even more money. Now that I had a place to stay the next thing to do was find a job.
I’m not sure if just the guy or both of them had tried their hands at tree planting and I thought I would give it a go. I lasted about a week. The big industry in town was the pulp mill and most of the forestry operations close by including the mills were owned and run by a company called MacMillan-Bloedel. (They no longer exist but were one of the largest forestry companies in BC for decades.) I walked into the pulp mill and was hired on the spot. Getting a job that easily would not be believable to many young people living in Port Alberni today.
The Columbian guy had quite a temper which got him into difficulty when he was planting trees and working on the green chain. He ended up working as a deck hand on a salmon trawler where he only had the captain to deal with.
Columbian guy tossing salmon.
The house where we lived was at the top of a steep hill in Port Alberni. I didn’t have a car but was fortunate enough to be able to use the gal’s bike which I used to get back and forth to work.. I pretty well took my life in my hands with that bike. I would go screaming down the hill and then coast a good part of the way to the mill with the speed I had built up. If any car had ever decided to cross my path I would have been toast.

 
When I first started at the mill I was assigned to work with some millwrights who looked after the maintenance of the machinery. Apparently somewhere in the union agreement I was supposed to carry around the millwright’s toolbox. Unions had a fair amount of power back then. Only certain people could perform certain tasks. One union job that confused me a bit was that of the "oiler" who would go around squrting oil into various pieces of machinery. I'm not particularly mechanical but I think that there is only 2 choices of oils for this endevour, 10-30 or 10-40. Not exactly rocket science.

All new employees at the mill were hired on a trial basis and after 30 days they would get their union card if things worked out. I kept a close eye on the calender that first month.



MacMillan-Bloedel pulp mill 1973.


 
There were a number of different departments involved in the process of making pulp. Each station had a little room with a control panel that monitored production. The panels had the usual stop/start functions and things like flow charts. The stations were run by " the operators" who understood what was going on and an assistant who would do the grunt work away from the control room. The main plan always was to keep things running smoothly. Every now and then the shit would hit the fan and the operation would be shut down. I was an assistant or "helper". Part of my job was to clean up messes. I also had to do some testing.
1974 was forty years ago but I will try my best to describe the departments I worked in back then. I may not be totally accurate but at least you will kind of get a picture of what goes on in a pulp mill.



The Recaust Department. This is where the lime kiln was. A lime kiln is about a hundred yards long. It looks like a giant pipe. The pipe is about 15 feet across and rotates. The pipe is also tilted at a slight angle. The inside of the pipe is coated with special fire clay bricks that can withstand extremely high heat. Basically, what was going on was the lime was being cooked. It would get into chunks that would have to be broken up before they stuff could go through the grates at the lower end of the pipe. My job was to break up the chunks with an iron bar with a kind of rubber fire hose piece at the end of it. The rubber was so I didn’t burn my hands. The residue from this process are called dregs which I soon learned were very acidic. From time to time I had to shovel up the muck which is what dregs look like. One day I was eating lunch in the control room and the operator pointed at my work boots and said “Nice boots you’ve got on”. I looked down and saw that the acidic stuff had eaten holes in the leather.

Me getting the lumps out of the lime kiln.
Next up the ladder was the screen room where the wood chips that had been turned to mush were redirected further up the ladder.
Next were the digesters. In Port Alberni there were 7 of them in the mill. Each one had a 35 ton capacity. Digesters are kind of like giant pressure cookers. They were filled with woodchips and cooked.
There were other operations up the ladder like the bleach plant and the washers but I never made it up that far. At the top of the heap was the paper cutting machines. The operators here had their own small union and were paid a small fortune for their expertise.

To someone not familiar with a pulp mill it can appear to be a bit intimidating . Motors are humming away all over the place. There are metal ladders and catwalks leading to different equipment. There are all kinds of ways to get injured or be killed. Probably the most creepy thing was sewer gas. Apparently if you smell it you are moments away from death.

I remember two chores at the mill I fortunately only had to do once. One of the chores was cleaning some screens by soaking them in an acid bath. The yellow acid liquid literally gurgled and bubbled. You could see the fumes rising off of the liquid surface. The stuff could eat the skin right off of you. The other scary chore I did was being dressed up in a suit that looked like a deep sea diving outfit and blasting crud off of the walls inside a tank with a high pressure gun that could cut my feet off if I wasn’t careful. I got into the tank through a small opening and did the chore by myself. They used to put tags on things that were dangerous and this job had all kinds of tags. My safety net was a couple of co-workers some 20 feet below me. I remember wanting to get them to turn off the gun and not getting their attention because they were facing the other way and having a smoke while they chatted.
One day I was asked to do another chore that after a few minutes I decided I wanted no part of and refused to continue. It was using a water to hose down the sulphur dust in a room at the other end of the kiln. I realized that there were all kinds of electrical wires in the room and the chance of electrocuting myself was not very appealing.
One of the things I remember the most at the pulp mill in Port Alberni is the people I worked with. It was in some ways like the Foreign Legion. Pretty well most of the employees were from other parts of Canada. I wondered a few times if some of them had just run out of highway being that Port Alberni is almost the end of the line when it comes to travelling across Canada.
Spending 8 hours with another person (the operator), you kind of get to know their habits and their idiosyncracies. Some were a little more severe than others as far as their temperaments go but even they would open up at times and tell a few stories.
I spent some shifts working with a guy named Ernie in the screen room. He was a stocky middle aged guy who always wore a ball cap and had one of the deepest voices I have ever heard. He didn’t talk, he bellowed. On afternoon and graveyard shifts Ernie would bring his stamp collection to work. I remember him dipping the stamps into a plastic bowl of water using tweezers. The stamp thing could distract Ernie from keeping an eye on the gauges on the panel that controlled the flow of the pulp mush. A few times they had to shut down the operation for a few hours and I thought at the time it was because he had screwed up. It didn’t bother me. Hosing pulp down a sewer was a nice way to spend a shift. Ernie was the guy who told me about the tsunamis that had come up the Sowmass River to Port Alberni in the 1960s that wiped out a number of houses.
Another operator I worked with was a guy from Montreal who had been in the US Marines. He told me about being in the Philippines or somewhere like that on a survival kind of thing and how they threw rocks at the monkeys and the return fire was coconuts. He also told me about being a guard in a military prison and being beat up by the inmates and ending up in the hospital after he was caught on the inside during a lockdown.
There was an operator who was from Calgary that I absolutely couldn’t stand. He was constantly talking about what a “real man”was. He could be quite derogatory. He enjoyed the power he had over me. I remember him telling me a story about how he had gone into a hardware store and wasn’t getting the help he wanted from a young guy so he told the young guy to get him a “real man”. What an asshole!
The guy I liked working with the best was a guy named Don. I was quite impressed with his ability to do the New York Times Sunday crosswords. He was a really bright guy. Don introduced me to early morning beer drinking. Back then the taverns opened at 9 a.m. and Don liked to have a pint or two every now and then after completing a graveyard shift.
Sometimes the operator would have a radio on during a shift. Particularly at night when things were less busy and senior supervisory staff weren't around as much. One song that I couldn't get out of my mind was The Night Chicago Died. Other tunes from that year were Tin Man, Hooked On A Feeling, Cat's In The Cradle, I Shot The Sheriff, Bennie And The Jets, Feel Like Making Love, Ricky Don't Lose That Number, and Midnight At The Oasis.
Working the graveyard shift in a pulp mill was both eerie and mysterious. The main goal in this shift was just to keep things running. Once in a while I would take a walk around the site. I remember standing on the dock and seeing these giant rolls of newsprint that had Van Nuys, California stenciled on them. The rolls would be taken by barge up the Somass River and down the coast to California. I remember the lights from the mill flickering upon the water. I also remember the sounds of unseen motors whirring away in the darkness. 3 a.m in a pulp mill is spooky.

So what was Port Alberni like back in 1974? For starters it had the 3rd highest per capita income in Canada at the time. The pulp mill was running 3 shifts a day. Things were good. It was quite common to see a Corvette or some other flashy sports car parked in a driveway. Young guys would often get summer jobs at the mill through their dads who worked there and between the decent wages and not having to pay rent at home a shiney new car was a possible goal.

At the top of the hill stood the Woodward's Department Store. (Similar to The Bay or Eaton's) They also had a large grocery deparment. The 1950s group, The Platters, made an appearance that summer at the original Barclay Hotel. (I'm not sure if it burned down or was demolished years later.) The Exorcist and The Sting played at the local movie theatre. (Not the new one that was built years later.)  If there was going to be a strike mosr preferred the fall hunting season as the time to do it.

I believe I started working at the mill in February. I pretty well mostly hung out with the couple I was living with.
We would have a few beers every now and then and even though this was the peak of the hippy era, for whatever reason we didn't get into smoking pot. As the weather warmed up we would sometimes go out to Sproat Lake a few miles away for a swim. Sproat Lake is the home of the large Mars water bombing planes that have helped fight California's brush fires numerous times. We never made it out to Long Beach that year and that may have been due to the questionable reliability of the Isizu Ballet.

Sproat Lake.
One weekend the Columbian guy and his wife invited me to go swimming with them to a place by Nanaimo called the Jinglepot potholes. It was where the old Jinglepot coal mines had been located. What they didn't tell me beforehand was that where we were going was a nudist hangout. It took me a few minutes to become somewhat comfortable without clothes on with my roommates. The wife offered me some Noxema to protect my privates from the sun and I was good to go. Some guy up on a ledge started playing a flute on the whole scene seemed a bit surreal. I had images in my mind of Greek satyrs (goat boys) for some reason.
 
At the end of the summer my roommates sold their Isizu and bought a van and headed off to South America. It seemed like a risky thing to do at the time but they managed to make it there and back in one piece. I still have some bronze looking bookends that they gave me when I next saw them several months later.
 
 

 

 
 
Rooming house in Port Alberni.
I had to find another place to live and managed to get a room in a rooming house. The guy who owned the house worked for Household Finance (remember them?). He was kind of full of himself and gave the impression that he had it made at HFC. He had a divorced girlfriend with a kid who was kind of demanding. Sometimes she would phone and ask for him and I would make out like I didn’t recognize who she was asking for. Just before I left a couple of guys came around to the rooming house. They repoed the Household Finance guy’s car and slapped some kind of court order on the house. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
I became friends with one of the other tenants who was a steamfitter in the mill and was about my age. He later moved down to Victoria to take some university courses. I hitchhiked down to see him a few times and he was sharing a house on the waterfront in Oak Bay with some other students. The house is no longer there but I would guess the property today is probably worth about 3 million bucks.
On one of those trips to Victoria I got a lift from an old guy who told me an amazing story. He said that he had been working in the coal mines near Nanaimo around 1915 and that there were a lot of strikes. The mining companies would hire strike breakers who would beat up the union guys fairly frequently. The old guy’s younger brother became a target and fearing for his life he took off to Australia. They never saw one another again.

One day I decided to bike up to Mount Arrowsmith. I took the highway up the huge hill until I came to the dirt road that led to the mountain. I ditched the bike in some bushes and started hiking. I stopped to take a break and was taken aback by some very strange birds that seemed to have no fear of humans and came within a few feet of me. I later learned that they are called Moose Birds and are part of the jay family. I kind of lost track of the time and suddenly realized that it was getting dark fast. Fortunately, I found a small unoccupied cabin and lit myself a fire in the stove. I ended up spending the night there.

I think it was sometime in late November that I inserted my last time card into the time clock thing at the mill. I had done my time. I had saved enough to buy a car. I flew back east and bought a 1968 Ford Falcon and drove it back out to BC. It wasn’t the last time I would see Port Alberni.

Car Insurance for my first car, a 1968 Ford Falcon.
A year or so later I made a sales call on the mill for a company I was working for out of Victoria, BC. I had told a few guys at the mill that I planned on getting into sales. I had the feeling that they never really cared about hearing that kind of stuff. It kind of went against the grain for those that believed in the comradery of being one of the “lifers”. I was always an outsider at the mill.
Later on I was working in Vancouver as a sales rep and invited my old friend Don out for a beer one weekend when I was in Port Alberni. Don had a bit of a twisted sense of humour and brought along a guy we worked with who was from Alberta and who I really disliked. Sure enough, the other guy got a bit insulting after a few beers and I could see old Don was enjoying it all. The conversation came pretty close to a fight happening but it didn’t. I rented a boat that weekend and went Salmon fishing in the Somass River. The fish were jumping out of the water all over the place but I never managed to catch one.
Over the next number of years I would pass through Port Alberni on the way out to Long Beach. For a few years my kids and I would spend a week in the summer camping out there. We always stopped in Port Alberni on the way home at the Dairy Queen. By this time we had had enough of campfire food. About 7 years ago my son played in a weekend hockey tournament in Port Alberni. He had little interest in seeing where I had lived in the town years ago or hearing my stories. I guess that's to be expected from a 17 year old.
Port Alberni has seen some very hard times over the last 20-30 years. The forestry industry has diminished drastically. Nowadays the town is more of a mixed economy that includes tourism. It is also an affordable area to retire to with lots of outdoor activities available.
Last fall we were poking around Port Alberni and Mount Arrowsmith on a Sunday drive and I decided to check out the old pulp mill. I parked my car near the administrative buildings and some guy with a red vest came out and asked if he could help me. I told him I was looking for a plaque that used to be on one of the buildings that described how the first mill in the area that produced a paper type of product was one that used old rags imported from the UK and not trees. We also learned that the mill now employed a fraction of the people it used to and that a number of years ago the paper making equipment was dismantled and shipped off somewhere. It was probably sent to the US or China. We also learned that old Don had retired in the past year.
We found a monument that was made from the original grinding stones that had been imported from Scotland in the 1890s. Unfortunately the monument is located in an area that tourists or even the locals will ever see.
Original mill grinding wheels.
 
You can tell the town is struggling. There are quite a number of empty storefronts. A few years ago they built a pier with a number of small shops and cafes but it is kind of out of the way from tourists headed out to Long Beach. For a number of years there was a boat that took people up the Sowmass River for day cruises. The boat was called the Lady Rose. After 70 years of service it is no longer in operation.
 
Photos of pier area
I remember Port Alberni as town of hard working people. Times certainly have changed but here’s hoping things get better. It is well worth visiting if you are in the area.

 

 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Toronto 1970-1972


The first time I ever visited Toronto was in the summer of 1966. Growing up in Montreal I had heard a lot of things about the city of Toronto, that it was the kind of the center of Canada for all things English, that it was growing rapidly and a lot of Canadian head offices were located there, and that it was the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. For years, on many Saturday nights, I had heard the nasally voice of Foster Hewitt greeting hockey fans from across Canada with “ Hello hockey fans across Canada and the United States….from high atop the gondola in Maple Leaf Gardens…”
One day I decided to just go and see what Toronto was about and decided to hitchhike there. My guess is the trip along the 401 Highway that connects Toronto and Montreal took about 10 hours. I arrived late in the afternoon and was dropped off on Front Street near the Union train station. The Royal York hotel was across the street. I didn’t have much money in my pockets and there was never any consideration of paying for a hotel room for the night.
The Royal York Hotel and Union Station in the front of it.
I saw the newly built Nathan Phillips city hall with its two curved buildings. A bit later I found myself on Yonge Street and saw the endless neon signs that were now lit up as it was now dark out. It reminded me of St. Catherine Street in Montreal. I think I asked someone on the street how to get back to the 401 highway and was told it was quite a few miles north. I was starting to get tired and was trying to figure out where I could find a place to catch a few hours of sleep. I ducked into a three or four story older apartment building and stretched out the floor of a service stairway landing and managed to get several hours of shut eye. At around 6 the following morning I continued the long walk north on Yonge Street to the 401 and got a lift back to Montreal.
My next visits to Toronto were fairly frequent, starting in the summer of 1967 through the early months of 1968. I was working for CN as a waiter on the trains. The crew stayed at The Walker House Hotel which was right next to Union Station.  We were never in town long enough to do any exploring of the city. Now and then I would grab a beer at the hotel with some of crew before bed. I didn’t make it back to Toronto for about 3 years.
I hitchhiked out to Edmonton and Vancouver in 1970. I really didn’t have much of a plan and after some time out on the coast I decided to head back to Montreal. During this trip I had my only experience of riding on a freight train, on the third diesel. The noise was deafening. A guy about my age outside of an RCMP office talked me into it. We later learned that there had been a washout somewhere and the train we were on wasn’t going to be taking us any further very soon. I ended up crashing at this guy’s parent’s place in Orillia for a few days.
I headed south to Toronto and one the lifts left me in the downtown business sector of the city close to Bay Street. What now? It was a crisp fall night in mid-October and about 8 p.m. I remembered that an old high school friend was living in Toronto and decided to give him a phone call. I had no idea at the time that I would be spending the best part of the next 2 years in the city.
I had hung around with my friend from high school for a year or two after high school before the company he was working for transferred him to the Bahamas. He spent about two years in the tropics chasing women and visiting the casino before being transferred to Toronto. He used to have a casino chip attached to his key chain and once showed me a threatening letter for an unpaid debt at the casino in Nassau.  Back in the post high school days I had been a guest of his a number of times at a ski cabin he was member of in St. Sauveur, Quebec and we spent a number of weekend nights hanging around a folk singing club called the CafĂ© Andre in Montreal.
That first night we caught up on what we had been up to over the past few years. There was never any mistaking the fact that I had been living a totally different lifestyle than these two guys. For starters they both had permanent jobs and owned cars. After staying with these guys for a few days I was asked if I wanted to move in on a more permanent basis. After a few months of sleeping on the couch, I graduated to a single bed in the dining room area.
The two roommates never seemed to have a lot in common other than that they were both from Montreal and had mutual friends. Sharing an apartment seemed to be mostly about economics . They were also both avid golfers. I spent most of my time with the guy who had lived in the Bahamas. He knew that I was pretty well always up for anything and hanging out in bars was right up my alley. The other guy was more set in his ways. He had been married and had a young son by his former wife in Montreal. About once a month he would drive down to Montreal to see his kid.  He also became involved with a gal who was about 10 years older than him. He wasn’t much for carousing like us other two. He had a job at a nearby Canadian Tire store that his uncle owned running the sporting goods department. He was also on the frugal side and one of the few people I knew then who bought cigarettes by the carton in order to save a bit of money.
Shortly after I moved in I got a phone call from the guy I had ridden a third diesel with and he told me he was in Toronto. He kind of reminded me of the John Voight character in Midnight Cowboy, a good looking dude without a lot of smarts. I invited him for dinner and we went to pick him up. On the way home we stopped at a supermarket . He told us not to worry about buying any steaks. When we got back to the car we learned that he had stuffed some prime packages of meat inside his coat. I ran into him a few years later on the main drag in Banff, Alberta.
About a month after I moved in a bunch of people came up to Toronto from Montreal for the Grey Cup.  A number of them crashed in the apartment and I had to explain to one of them that I had dibs on the couch. (Miss Grey Cup that year was Nancy Durrell who lived across the street from me in Montreal for a few years. She walked out onto the football field in Toronto arm in arm with Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Her older brother Jim was one of my first friends in life and later became the mayor of Ottawa and president of the Ottawa Senators hockey club. He was recently awarded the Order of Canada.)
Pierre Trudeau and Nancy Durrell.
In the close to 2 years I spent living in Toronto (1970-1972) the hippy culture was in full swing and it had an influence on a lot of people who weren’t just hanging around doing nothing. On people who actually had jobs. The roommate I spent the most time with had shoulder length hair and a droopy mustache at the time which had no negative reaction to his performance as a sales representative. It was kind of interesting back then how the hippie counterculture influenced even conservative middle aged men. Even they were wearing bell bottoms and you might very well see 50 year old man with a brush cut and sideburns.
Up to this point I had only smoked pot about 3 times back in Montreal a few years earlier. I soon learned that the droopy mustache guy was into smoking pot several times a week. Also hash. We were stoned quite a lot of the time. In fact, he had a sometimes girlfriend that worked for the RCMP who was into smoking weed. We usually bought the stuff in a high rise apartment building in downtown Toronto called Rochdale that was crawling with hippies. I remember the distrustful looks we got when we walked into the lobby with ties on and the supplier nervously fumbling with his scales and the baggies in his one room apartment.
I got a job at a company called Irwin Toy on Hannah Street off of Spadina Avenue on the eastern side of downtown Toronto. They made toys like lawn darts, Jim Dandy lawn swings, and frisbees. Luckily for me, the company was located just a few blocks from where my roommate worked and I got a lift back and forth each day.
Old Irwin Toy building.
Often we would hit a bar on the way home. For a number of months we frequented a nightclub called The Coal Bin that had a free smorgasbord. One night I was in this joint alone and pulled off what some might call a nasty thing. I was invited over to a nearby table by a group of folks who were out for the night. I hit it off with a good looking gal and asked the group if they were interested in going to a house party in North Toronto that some people I knew from Montreal were having. They liked the idea and I asked the gal I was interested in if she would like to dance before we left. Long story short, she turned out to have really, really fat legs. There was no turning back I thought. We drove through a snowstorm for about an hour before arriving at the house party. Someone in the car said something about not knowing anyone at the party and did I really think it was OK for me to invite them. To be honest, I didn’t want to be seen with the gal with the heavy legs. I thought for a moment and then I did the dastardly deed. I said “You are probably right. You might be uncomfortable. Thanks for the lift.” and got out the car. I was a real prick.
Another place we hung out at after work was a place called Flannigan’s in the Holiday Inn closer to home. An Irish comedian told one filthy joke after another and the patrons were almost rolling on the floor with laughter. The beer was served in pitchers. One night I threw up in the lobby on my way to the washroom and went back to my seat and drank some more. Oh to be young again like that!
We bought a poster that was a picture of three prisoners holding a birthday cake that said “Fuck You Warden” on it and taped it on the wall over the living room couch which had a floral pattern and probably part of the settlement in the other roommate’s divorce.
As I said we were stoned quite a lot of the time. I remember a lot of the music we played back then. Neil Young’s “Harvest”, Janis Joplin, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, Iron Butterfly’s “In La Gada La Vida” (my heart felt like it was going to burst), a lot of Moody Blues stuff (very trippy). We also listened to Cheech and Chong (“Dave’s not here!”).
Iron Butterfly.
 

 
Cheech & Chong
A typical Friday or Saturday night involved getting toked up at home and then heading downtown via the Don Valley Parkway. I’ll never forget being half out of my mind stoned and seeing the lights on the guardrails go by about 2 feet from the window and wondering how my roommate could keep his shit together navigating his Camaro.

We hung out in a pub on Jarvis street for a few months and then discovered a disco called The Studio that I think was part of the downtown Holiday Inn. This place is one I would rate as one of the all- time pick up joints. I could say that I was my roommate’s point man but that wouldn’t be true. He did it all on his lonesome. He was so good at it he could make eye contact with a gal across the room and moments later she would be standing beside him.  For some reason he had a picture of a rooster over his bed. Occasionally he would go skirt chasing on his own or with another friend and the telltale sign that he shouldn’t be disturbed in his room was if there was a foreign pair of women’s boots near the front door the next morning.
I, on the other hand, didn’t have that much luck with women at the time. I wasn’t exactly Mr. Independent .  I often didn’t have a job and lacked my own transportation. I do remember one night when we both picked up a couple of nurses at a club near a hospital. Another guy at our table was plotting which one of the gals he was going to take home and seemed a bit surprised when I aced him out.
For some reason, we decided to buy a gerbil one day when we were in a mall. I named him Munroe after the giant rat in one of the Monty Python shows that we regularly watched. We built Munroe a rather elaborate cage and bought a mate for him. The little buggers spent hours gnawing away on the metal mesh on the cage and broke out of their jail more than once. Somehow they found a hole in the wall beneath the base heaters and lived in there for a time only coming out to find food. They are really fast little critters and very hard to nab. We worked out a plan to catch them that worked. My roommate had a wooden “fickle finger of fate” (from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In TV show) and we tied a string around the forefinger while resting a cooking pot on it. We then sprinkled some gerbil food under the pot. Eventually the little guys came out to eat and the string was yanked from the couch trapping them under the pot. Oh yeah. They also bred. And they also eat their young if they aren’t happy in their environment. We found a few legs but the heads and torsos were gone. Eventually the gerbils ended up at the other roommate’s girlfriend’s house.
Rowan & Martin
The other roommate didn’t smoke pot at all and mostly just shook his head when he came home and saw us with our eyes glazed. He had a pretty good sense of humour. One night we formed a plan to freak the other roommate out. We knew approximately what time he was expected home. We were sitting on the couch in the living room in our skivvies at the time. As soon as we heard the door open we got into position and wrapped our arms and legs around each other and acted like we were ready to kiss each other. The look on the other roommate’s face was priceless.
Somewhere along the line I was given a nickname. CT, the initials for my 1st and 2nd name.
Over the next year and a half or so we would get together with some other ex-Montrealers  and play golf. For a number of years there was a kind of annual tournament. I remember seeing a friend of the skirt chasing roommate throwing a golf ball over some trees onto the green. I was never that comfortable about seeing people I knew from high school in Toronto. It just seemed kind of surreal to me, kind of like moving a cast of characters to a totally different locale like the Star Trek guys dressed up as gangsters or something like that.
We saw a few of the Mohammad Ali fights on a big screen at Maple Leaf Gardens. I recall the one with Joe Frazier particularly. One of my roommates had an in with a guy who worked at or near the Hot Stove club and we got in for free by walking in that entrance.
I quit the job at Irwin Toy. I never seemed to be able to make it into work on Monday mornings.  I got a job at King Optical selling eyeglasses. I quit that too. Then I got a job in the dispatch office for Atlas Van Lines which was right next to a mushroom growing plant. I can still recall the stench and the mass of flies on the walk back home.
One day I saw an ad in the newspaper looking for summer staff at the Banff Springs Hotel. I had done some waiting on tables on the trains a few years before and this looked like it could be fun. I went down to the Royal York Hotel for an interview and was told I was going to be hired. I never heard anything more about the job in Banff and kind of wrote the whole thing off as a missed opportunity.
As fate would have it we were playing golf one weekend in early June in Toronto and one of the guys we were playing with was a Canadian Pacific personnel administrator.  I told him my little story and the long and the short of it is that I ended up working at the Banff Springs Hotel for the summer.
I kind of considered Toronto kind of my home at that point and when I flew back east from Calgary that fall I moved back in.
We would go down to Montreal about every two months. Sometimes I went with one roommate and other times with the other. We often ended up at the Winston Churchill Pub on Crescent Street. One weekend the roommate with the kid in Montreal invited me to stay at his family’s country place in Vermont.  Apparently he hadn’t told his parents. I remember overhearing his father from the lobby of their house in Montreal inquiring of my roommate if I had a family of my own to visit. It was a kind of uncomfortable weekend for me knowing that I wasn’t exactly warmly welcomed.
In the winter of the next year I took off to Jasper for a few months. When I got back to Toronto my roommates informed me that they were going to rent a penthouse together (Woodbine and O’Connor) and that I was going to have to find somewhere else to live. I wasn’t disappointed. They both had steady jobs and I was a bit of a rover. It was time to move on.
I found a room in downtown Toronto. I think it was around St. Clair and Yonge Streets. My room was half of an attic. It was an old wooden house with some strange tenants.  One of them was an older fat guy with swollen ankles and a drinking problem. He claimed to have been a roommate of Norman Mailer at one time. The house didn’t have a kitchen but every room had a hot plate. A Vietnamese couple cooked up some stuff that almost made me gag. Some of the other inhabitants were students.
I needed some kind of job to support myself and gravitated back to waiting on tables. Over several months I worked at 3-4 different places, the oddest of which was a private club called the Primrose Club that was exclusively Jewish. A German guy in his forties was my boss. He was pretty subservient to the Jewish members and the thought crossed my mind that he must of had some guilt about the Second World War. I worked as a server/bartender in a little area off of where the poker tables were. There were a few phone booths close by where some of the members would place their bets with the bookies.  There was a buzzer kind of thing that hung on a wire from the ceiling in the poker room. Occasionally I would be summoned by the buzzer to perform some task like picking up a piece of Kleenex off of the floor. I also made sandwiches for the patrons. I had never felt a cow’s tongue before. Kind od sandpapery.  I hated the place. The real kicker was one night when I was asked to stand outside the downstairs door to the dining room. The reason I was to be positioned there was to be on the lookout for someone leaving a parcel bomb on the doorstep. As politely as I could, just before quitting, I told them that if someone was to leave a parcel on their doorstep I would be at the end of the block in a nanosecond. My life was worth more than a few bucks an hour.
I moved on to the Ports of Call restaurant on Yonge Street. The restaurant had a sign outside that revolved and I think it had a sailor sitting on a barrel with a mermaid on his knee. I think?  All of the waiters were Greek and they made no bones about not being happy about having a non-Greek working with them. I would describe them as sleazy characters.  They used to talk about “snowballs” and it took me a while to figure out what they were talking about. “Snowballs” meant adding a little zero on top of another zero to make it look like an 8 on the tip section of the credit card bill. They all deserved a good punch in the mouth. It was at the Ports Of Call where I saw a number of the Canada-Russia hockey summit games and Paul Henderson’s big goal. Farley Mowatt, the Canadian writer turned up at the restaurant one night.
Russia-Canada hockey summit 1972.
My last job in Toronto was as a waiter at the brand new Four Seasons Sheraton Hotel. The hotel claimed to have the longest bar in North America.  It was quite a fancy place and we all wore tuxes. They had plates with pictures of the Ontario parliament buildings on them. I remember an Italian waiter who had a skin problem and claimed he had to wear white socks. Not exactly a compliment to the black tux. He was given the heave ho. I worked with a guy from France who I really enjoyed. He was what they call in fancy restaurants, a captain. I remember another waiter giving me the gears one time and the French guy telling him to F off with his delightful accent. I served Cat Steven’s back-up band breakfast one morning.
 
Whenever I had an excess of cash I would check out the local nightclub scene.One place I went to a few times was The Nicklodeon.  Ronnie Hawkins was the entertainment.  I once bet a gal that he was American and had it confirmed by the Hawk himself. I know the guy was pretty savvy in hiring musicians (The Band) but he never really seemed to be a hit maker.
The Hawk
 
A month or two after the hockey series there was a family tragedy and I moved back to Montreal for a few months to help out. I didn’t know it at the time but it was the end of my living in Toronto.  The west was to be my future home. I kind of knew that it would be, even back then. Coming from Montreal, Vancouver always seemed to offer a lot more to me than Toronto.


In the past 40 years I’ve visited Toronto several times. I had a friend who owned a house in Islington that I stayed at a few times. I met him in Banff and we once spent a month in the early 70s skiing in the western US. He told me stories about growing up in TO including working as a lifeguard at the beaches. He became a world traveller but even after being away for months at a time Toronto was still his home base.  As the years went by our lifestyles became more and more different and I imagine he is still roaming the globe.
I stayed in touch with one of my roommates for a number of years with large gaps between the times we talked. Occasionally he would be out in Vancouver on business. I had lunch with the other roommate at Ed Mirvish’s  Warehouse in Toronto about  20 or so years ago.
I went to the former pot smoking roommate’s 60th birthday at a Keg restaurant in Richmond, BC about 6 years ago, along with a few other guys from high school who  were living on the west coast. He wasn’t into having a chat about those days long ago when we were stoned quite often. There were some other things that were not to be discussed and I thought to myself that after all these years what we had in common was very little. I haven’t talked to him since.
He did say something on one trip to Vancouver that left an impact on me. Actually he had said the same thing more or less years before. The essence of what he said was that he thought with all the travelling around I did when I was younger and all the things I had done that I had lived a life with 3 times more full than he had.  I considered that to be quite a compliment.
As far as Toronto goes it always seemed to have a kind of coldness about it to me. Too many high rise apartments close to the freeways, old people walking through underpasses carrying grocery bags, endless miles of office buildings and manufacturing plants, the back-ups on the highways and the constant lane changing in the rear view mirror. Perhaps like a lot of other Canadians I resented the place as it being the center of commerce in Canada. I guess it just wasn’t my cup of tea.