Chapter 6 Ridgetown to the Maritime Provinces

 

 

Monday 19 June Campbellford Ontario

 

Richard was up by 6.00 AM, cleaned me up and performed the BT ritual. Richard packed and we said goodbye to Ken and Margaret at 9.45 am.  It was a smooth drive to my old friend Ian Seddon’s house in London, Ontario, north of the 401 freeway on Highway 4, and west on Baseline Road.  Ian’s house is spacious and beautiful and Ian, his wife Ellen and son, James answered the door.  Ian had worked in Wawa, Ontario as a district naturalist with the Ministry of Natural Resources from 1971 to 1980.  Wawa, located between Thunder Bay, Ontario and Sault Ste Marie, Ontario is on Ontario’s largest, deepest, coldest and cleanest Great Lake, Lake Superior.  Wawa the town is eighty kilometres from White River, which for many years held a record for Canada’s coldest temperature, a mind numbing minus seventy-eight degree Fahrenheit.  Wawa also is bitterly cold, with November snows and ice break-up in May.  For a third of the year, only ploughed roads are accessible, locking the community firmly in winter’s tight grip, an island surrounded by snow instead of water, with only highway 17 as an escape route.

 

I graduated from McArthur College of Education with a Bachelor of Education from Queen’s University in 1972.  New teaching jobs were very scarce that year and I was desperate to teach.  I hired a printer to print five hundred copies of an introductory letter, resume, transcripts, teaching reports and letters of recommendation.  I mailed one to every high school in Ontario at a cost of twenty cents a letter.  I followed up a month later with a second letter.  I attended a number of interviews in Southern Ontario, but the jobs failed to eventuate. John Crowley, Principal of Michipicoten High school phoned in March or April and I flew at my expense from Toronto to Sault Ste Marie for an interview. I remember that there was no snow in Toronto and twenty-five to thirty centimeters in the Sault.  I was pleased to accept his job offer, probably the first to be received by any student at McArthur.  Sometimes I have wondered if I were too hasty in accepting that offer.  I did receive others later but I have no regrets going north. After all, I had canoed northern Ontario for four summers and written a heavily researched Masters of Art thesis on the area.

 

Ian and I often consumed a beer together and we would hunt partridge with another friend Peter Bougadis. Then we would cook and eat the partridge together. I also chatted with Ian in Morse code and he successfully completed his amateur radio certification.  Then we often chatted on the Wawa two-metre repeater working Americans from across the lake during inversions.  We also had fun exploring the back mining roads in my old Ford half-ton truck, named, the black pig. In winter we ice fished, and I tried snowshoeing. 

 

Ian showed me a picture.  Here are Perry Ferns and you.”  I laughed.  The picture showed Perry hanging upside down from the handle of my truck, smoking a cigar as I gave Ian the finger.  Clearly, we had consumed a beer or two before that picture.  I recollected that Perry was an amazing teacher who had completed a Master’s degree in Geography in Kenya, and later went on to teach in the American School in Libya.  He now resides with his wife and children in Sioux Lookout, Ontario.

 

“How are you going, Ian.” I greeted him.  “You look no older than thirty years ago.”  Ian had only added a little weight and his brown hair had thinned but slightly.  “I worked with the Ministry until 1998, ending up as senior land planner for South Western Ontario. Then the new liberal government offered me an early retirement.  I took it and now work full time on a lucrative private consultancy with government and nongovernmental organizations.  I advise on land use regulations and land interpretation.” 

 

I asked Ian about his children.  James, a large strapping lad, was studying computing in a community college.  He seemed adept in the area.  His sister, Heather, a slim beautiful looking girl, was finishing up high school. 

 

Ian asked, “What made you leave Wawa in 1975?”  “I’d made a list of things I wanted to do in my life,” I answered.  “The list included finding a wife, having a family, teaching overseas, doing some extensive world trips, completing further university studies, and perhaps changing my career.  When I was offered a teaching post overseas with a six-month period to travel overland through Asia, I jumped at the chance.  After my first year there, the Australian government offered free postgraduate study right up to a PhD.  I signed up for a Masters Degree in Education, in 1977 and changed my career from teacher to Curriculum Coordinator in September 1977. I graduated in December 1978, but my plans went astray with breaking my neck.  But I have achieved most of my goals, particularly with my marriage in February 11, 1984 to Lily Auld.”

 

Two hours quickly passed chatting with Ian.  We had to get moving to see Peter Bougadis, another Wawa teacher in Aurelia, Ontario.  I drove and became familiar with the vehicle.  After two hours, I pulled over in a 401 freeway service centre in Guelph.  The car refused to start.  We called the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).  I had organised to see my friend from Wawa days, Peter Bougadis at 3.00 pm.  At first, I felt angry, thinking, “I must see Peter.  This is a disaster.”  Such thoughts create emotions of anger, and an anxiety. I argued or disputed my thoughts. “Ring him and explain. He’ll understand.  See him in mid June.”  I felt better.  The car was started by the CAA at 4.00 pm.  We reached the town of Campbellford at 8.00 pm, but I wasted an hour finding the house.  I asked Richard to phone for directions and we pulled up, tired and annoyed, at 9.00 pm.  The Xxxxs had expected us at 5.00 pm and were annoyed as well at our lateness since they had prepared a dinner for us.

 

Alan, who played a tuba in the Queen’s Brass Band for five years and attended all the Gaels football games, greeted me with a Queen’s University football chant.

Queen’s once, Queen’s twice,

Holy jumping Jesus Christ

Rim Ram, God Damn,

Son of a Bitch, Shit

“Drive it home, Mr. Pugh. Put your guns on the table. Get to the main thrust,” Alan exclaimed.  “We’re going down the road, blowing our loads.” “Don’t blow your engine.” That set the tone of the evening.  Richard, Alan and I drank a magnum of Spumante and exchanged stories, as we grew increasingly inebriated.  Alan and I were Queen’s University buddies, both in Honours History, who had hung out together occasionally over our six years of university.   In my final year in 1972, I rented Alan a walk in closet at my abode at Queen’s in Kingston.  He equipped it with a red light and wall-to-wall floor mattress.  On weekends he’d drive a hundred kilometers from where he taught in Campbellford to our residence, to date girls.  “I never could believe that you would ask them into your room.  They would open the door, and then they’d crawl in on the mattress,” I chuckled.  “At least they knew what you had in mind for them.  No surprises there.” 

 

We had travelled together down to Florida for a two-week Christmas break, with two other students, four times and dubbed ourselves ‘the Conch Gang’ after the seashell with the password, ‘are you conscious?’ the answer being, ‘no, I’m cognizant.’   The trips on Interstate 75 were always a great adventure, since we drove the distance to Key West, Florida in thirty hours without a break, with tents and sleeping bags, but not much money. We would try to find places to sleep that were free. The trips by today’s standards were also innocent.  We didn’t smoke, drink, use drugs or pot or get up to mischief.  Generally, we entertained ourselves crudely as made up our own ribald obscene words to common pop songs, laughed, joked and carried on.  “We’re going down the road, blowing our loads,” was typical.

 

Alan was excited to see me and reminded me of a few things, I’d like to forget.  “Remember, that hamburger chain, Royal Castle and you ordered, Royal Asshole.”  “Remember, when they asked you, if you wanted a whopper, you said you had one in your pants already.  I couldn’t believe you said that.”  “Remember rewriting that song, when shepherds watched their flocks by night, to ‘when shepherds watched their cocks….’”  “Remember, you suggesting we camp under a freeway bridge in Miami.  I found a packsack of drugs, and plain-clothes policemen appeared and told us to leave, because they were waiting for the owners.  I thought we were cactus.”  “Remember ordering Borron gas by asking for a tank of Hardon.”  Remember picking up those nurses for a party and the car wheel fell off.”  Then there was Big Bone Lick in Northern Kentucky where we were all in a photo peeing on the sign, and Christmas eve in Freeport, Bahamas when we got drunk, howled at the moon like wolves and were hung-over Christmas day at the beach.

 

Carol Xxxx (nee McLaughlin), Alan’s wife, who had roomed with Pat Pugh for two years in the late 1960’s, was disgusted with our behaviour, giggling and exchanging anecdotes, and expressed her appreciation at having a two-week break while Alan travelled.  I had been responsible for introducing Alan to Carol, while visiting my brother George, one weekend.  Carol was roommate to my brother’s girlfriend, Pat.  Alan insisted on showing me a video eulogizing the Canadian Prime Minister (1957-1961) from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, John Diefenbaker, famous for such statements as,   “They say I identify too much with the common man.  I can’t help that.  I am one of them.” Eventually, we went to bed at 12.30 am.

 

Tuesday 20 May Cornwall

 

I was still tired. Our plan included an early start; and then a stop off in Kingston, ninety kilometres away to see Professor Tulchinsky. Then, we would stop off in Avonmore, two hundred kilometres from Kingston to see Murray Barkley, a Queen’s University friend, and then drive back to Cornwall, twenty kilometres south, to see Brian McCue, another university buddy.  Richard helped Alan load his bulky and considerable luggage into the station wagon.  Alan carried more luggage than Richard and I combined for our five-month trip, and that was for only a brief nine-day trip. I thought, “Alan has bought his entire baseball card inventory to trade at flea markets along the way.  Not very helpful.” We had packed two small cases for six weeks.  “Thank goodness for the station wagon,” I thought.  “We’d never get all this stuff into a sedan.”  Richard and I shared the driving.  I drove first through Stirling, Ontario, and admired the large Victorian two story brick homes there, built when people raised ten children.  We drove past George and Pat’s Oak Lake cottage where I had spent the first fourteen summers of my life swimming and bike riding after my dad’s 1952 purchase of the property. We continued down highway 14 to the high-speed 401 freeway towards Kingston. 

 

Alan talked about his eyesight as I drove the car carefully.  “I’m legally blind as of three years ago from macro degeneration.  I can’t read, judge margins or see cars coming down the street.  I refuse to carry a white cane because I don’t want to stand out or be recognised as blind.  People don’t notice my disability like people see your wheelchair and I like that.  But I got really angry when a hotelkeeper refused to rent me a room, because I had no driver’s license.  She refused to accept my blind association card.  What I miss most is my ability to drive. I feel emasculated being unable to handle a car. I worry what will happen if I lose the little sight I have left.”

 

I asked Alan about his teaching career.  “I taught thirty one years, twenty-two in Campbellford, two in Inuvik, five in Saskatchewan, and two in Sudbury. If I were repeating life, I think I’d opt for a Lands job with the Ministry of Natural Resources instead, as opposed to a teaching career.  But I have enjoyed teaching and have many satisfying memories.” Then, we arrived at 12.00 am for our Kingston appointment.

 

We met Professor Gerald Tulchinsky, now aged seventy, but looking fit at Tim Horton’s Coffee Shop on Highway 2 at 12.30 pm. His parents had migrated to Saskatchewan from the Ukraine, with Gerry going to McGill, and completing studies in economic Canadian history focusing on Montreal.  I reminisced that we had all really enjoyed our Queen’s University, Canadian history professors, Roger Graham, Fred Gibson, George Rawlyk, and Donald Swainson, all renowned scholars and lovely people, and now all sadly deceased.  “You introduced as to Canadian history, in 1967, Gerry,” Alan stated.  “You ran a boot camp.  Friday nights all your students, Ken Taylor, Murray Barkley, Don, others and I were in Douglas Library reading your extensive booklists.  You were blunt and outspoken to students who didn’t perform. ‘Sum up, sum up, Mr. Pugh, Get on with it,’ you’d said during a seminar presentation.  ‘Mr. Xxxx, you have garbled history.’  You whipped us into shape as students in an Honours programme who could analyse, synthesize and evaluate, turning in typed, well researched and documented essays that went beyond the basics.” 

 

Gerry replied, “In my retirement party, last year, the student who addressed the group said, ‘I was demanding.’  I felt obligated to defend myself saying that my respect for you as students in university meant trying to get the most out of you, setting consistently high standards.  I had only taught a few years then, and I mellowed as time passed, realizing that there are many ways to achieve goals and to encourage students.”  Alan added, “You influenced my teaching for the next thirty years.  A number of my Campbellford high school students went on to attend your classes.”  Alan reminded Gerry that he had garnered twenty-seven votes as a write in candidate for student president one year at Queen’s.  Alan had submitted Professor Tulchinsky name and garnered the votes by asking friends. We teased Gerry over his seminar titles which to the uninitiated would seem jargonistic, like ‘Immigration, Push and Pull,’ ‘The Timber Trade, Unused Capacity,’ or the Fur Trade, Castor Grasse or Castor Sec.’ We talked about Gerry’s brother, a doctor who helped break the doctors strike opposing Medicare in Saskatchewan in 1962.

 

We said farewell to Gerry at 1.30 pm. We pushed on to Avonmore via the 401 and Highway 15, with lunch in Gananoque, overlooking the Thousand Islands, on the Saint Lawrence.  Richard stated, “Alan’s very excitable and gets acutely anxious when things don’t immediately go his way. He’s always biting his nails, and sighing.  He makes me anxious too with his lack of patience and inability to stay calm.  I can see it takes very little to send him over the edge.  Then, we’d have a big problem.  We need to be very careful.  I’m concerned too about his demands that we drive seven hundred kilometres daily while he sleeps in the back.  He has no idea of the work and time commitments needed to care for you.  You need to stand up to his bullying.”  I reassured Richard that, “I’ll share with half the driving and we won’t travel more than five hundred kilometres daily because I get a very sore derriere from the car seats.  Alan will be fine.  We just need to protect him from too much stress.”

 

We had planned our arrival for 3.00 pm but arrived at 6.00 pm leaving only an hour to chat with Murray Barkley.  Murray has run Avonmore’s General Store profitably for thirty years, since 1974, in a community of less than a thousand people, twenty minutes drive north of Cornwall, Ontario. “Best thing I ever did was get a liquor license,” Murray said.  “We really struggled with competition in the 1980’s.  Booze brings the locals in, in droves. The license was given accidentally, confused postal code, and I asked my dad if we should accept it. ‘Grand mum, wouldn’t approve,’ I said. Dad looked at me and said, ‘Grand mum’s been dead quite awhile, son.’” Before running the store, Murray, who has a razor mind, incredible command of English, and honed meticulous research skills had completed Honours History at Queen’s with us, an MA at Queen’s and PhD in Canadian History researching the Loyalist Tradition, at the University of Toronto.  Murray was on a first name basis with all the top Canadian history professors and we all thought he would settle into an academic career and publish extensively.  Instead, he returned to Avonmore to run his dad’s store, and married a Spanish writer, Pilar.

 

We retired to Murray’s 1885 two-story house, which looks fantastic with a quarter million dollars worth of refurbishing and plastic white exterior cladding. Murray offered Alan, Richard and I Upper Canada beers including a nice wheat beer.  “We’re going to join the rebellion,” I joked.  “I’m writing a book called, ‘the General Store,’” Murray told us, “detailing my thirty year diary of the stories and malapropisms that I hear daily, from what I call our local ‘Avon morons.’  Two ladies came in yesterday, and one said, ‘what’s this uvt label on the milk?’  The other said, ‘don’t be stupid, Mildred. It’s French for milk.’ Then there was a couple that bought their first video machine and rented sixty-five videos for the weekend.  On Monday, I asked if they had watched them all.  ‘Yes,’ they said. ‘We found this FF button on the video machine.’  Two men who bought six bottles of liquor each impressed me, and then they added two cherry pies. ‘Going to have a heavy weekend,’ I said.  ‘You got it wrong,’ one said. ‘The cherry pies are for my mother.’”

 

The hour rapidly passed, Murray returned to work at the store and we drove towards our hotel, the Ramada Inn, in Cornwall.  “Stayed at the Ramada with my high school baseball team and a girl’s hockey team were on the floor below,” Alan said.  It was winter and snowing.  Sure enough I caught two girls trying to sneak into the boy’s rooms.” Then the muffler fell off the car. “What a heap of junk,” Alan commented.  “You sure pick them.” What a huge racket and it was really noisy.  Richard was driving after two beers, so we had him gargle Listerine, expecting to be pulled over by the police.  We continued on to the hotel safely without incident except angry stares by pedestrians and arrived about 8.00 pm, to eat dinner.  Brian McCue joined us at the table and we shortly went back to drink Brian’s beer Moosehead Ale in my room, 102.

 

Brian had roomed in the same Albert Street house with me in 1972 while I completed my teacher’s training at Macarthur College of Education and was a member on the Conch Gang’s trips to Florida. Brian had a Masters degree in Geography and his girl friend Holly, a nurse, later his wife, stayed with him on weekends.  Brian worked in the Lands Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources for thirty years and retired in 2001, to chauffer vehicles and people as a part-time job.  We reminisced. “Remember Xxxx and yourself organising a party with sixty girls and no other guys.  The girls were so pissed off.  One got drunk and was sick on my bed and screamed ‘rape.’ You drove and admitted her into the hospital emergency to get rid of her.”  I asked about Brian’s children. “Amanda’s gotten married and is teaching school.  Sean is majoring in Geography at University, like his dad did.  Scott is taking film studies. All are well. Holly has given up nursing for two years but would like to go back.”    It was 11.00 pm. Richard had returned from a swim.  I was tired and knew undressing takes thirty minutes.  We had arranged to meet Murray for breakfast at 7.00 am which on a BT day, implied a 5.00 am wake up call.  I said goodnight to Alan and Brian and slept well.

 

Wednesday 21 May Quebec City

 

We arose at 5.00 am and Richard maneuvered my wheelchair into the hotel pool’s shower, my first shower since Ken and Margaret’s garage. I really enjoyed the bountiful warm water cascading over my hair and beard.  The shower lip trapped the wheelchair, and Richard couldn’t get me out.  Alan called reception and four staff members turned up in a flash to give a hand.  I felt embarrassed, as I was the person with nothing on amidst three young female employees.  I joined Alan and Murray in the hotel restaurant for a pleasurable breakfast.  “Yes,” Murray told me, “We are planning a trip to Argentina next year, but Pilar and I would like to visit Australia.  I plan to sell the store in five years on its centennial date in 2008.”

 

Richard and Alan delivered the car to Benson’s, a muffler repair store and for $100.00; we obtained a new tail pipe.  At 12.00 am, I paid a $200.00 hotel bill and I drove east to Montreal at a hundred kilometres per hour amidst the thunder of large fast moving trucks using the new hand controls, the car mercifully quiet.  After picking up maps and tourist information at the Quebec border, I drove through Montreal in early afternoon traffic, sticking to Highway 20, and crossing the soaring Samuel de Champlain Bridge over the massively broad Saint Lawrence River.  I found the car hand controls very heavy to pull down to increase speed, making acceleration difficult beyond seventy kilometres an hour.  I set the speed control to about ninety and was passed by truck after truck, yet I approached slower vehicles as well and frequently had to brake.  This involved resetting the speed control, which was badly situated on the end of the turn indicator. Haven’t GM heard of the word, ergonomics.  This drive was considerably more chAlanging and scary for me than driving Perth’s freeways as I steered up steep, narrow, curving approach ramps at high speeds with traffic thundering by in all directions. 

 

I eventually missed a cloverleaf cut-off access lane for Highway 20, south of the River because I was hemmed in on the wrong lane and unable to accelerate enough to cut in and change lanes safely.  I took the next exit to be on another freeway, and then drove fifteen minutes until I could exit that freeway.  Two hours at the wheel, and I was tired, getting nervous and I had enough of the intensity of high speed freeway driving.  My hand-control arm felt like it was made of lead, and I was feeling thankful to still be alive and on the far side of Montreal.  I let Richard drive and I navigated.  I felt proud that I, a high level quadriplegic, had driven through Montreal though when many able bodied drivers would pale at the chAlange.

 

We backtracked two freeway systems to highway 30, Montreal then turned back onto Highway 20, a busy freeway linking Montreal directly to Quebec City.  I was amazed at the amount of heavy industry, the intensity of the traffic, the large size of the tin roofed red wooden barns and flatness of the land.  I had often envisaged Quebec as possessing poor small farm plots of habitants, an image instilled by Frederick Gibson’s third year Honours French Canadian history course, but this area of Quebec was busy, heavily settled, productive and prosperous. We stopped at McDonald’s for hamburgers past Drummondville and approached the massive Pierre Laporte six lane steel access bridge, soaring north across the wide blue Saint Lawrence River to Quebec City at 5.30 pm.  Traffic was peaked, bumper-to-bumper, but most cars were heading out of the city.  We crawled onto highway 40, executed the busy cloverleaf exchange onto Highway 440 more by accident than good planning, and drove directly into the city with its narrow one-way streets and quaint buildings to the Best Western Hotel Centre-Ville, Quebec.  We drove around the hotel three times to find the front door situated on a tiny one-way street, and there was no parking.  Alan walked in and got directions for underground parking. 

 

By 8.00 pm we had unpacked and we walked out for dinner to a small pleasant French Canadian restaurant.  Alan was feeling ill and upset with his meal, which he sent back.  I was embarrassed and suggested that Richard escort him back to the hotel, as he was virtually blind and disoriented and I felt he might get lost or hit by a car crossing a road.  Alan left without paying leaving me to pick up his tab, which he later refunded. Then Richard and I enjoyed our meal, and eventually braved the bitterly cold wind and very fresh air, to return to the hotel and to a group of one hundred excited and very noisy high school students on an excursion. I was tickled to see teachers tape each door with masking tape to ensure that students did not leave their rooms.  Bed was at 10.00 pm. “I love this place,” Richard said.  “This place is really unique. The people really don’t like to speak English though.  The lady couldn’t understand the word, orange juice.”

 

Thursday, 22 May. Quebec City

 

I slept until 8.30, a leisurely time indeed. Richard and I breakfasted in the Le Serre restaurant, a stately room with a ceiling six stories high, walls with picturesque large murals, large chandeliers on hundred metre chains and potted trees. “This is wonderful,” said Richard as he took six flash photos.  After breakfast Richard enjoyed a swim, in a beautiful pool also situated in a stunning room with brightly painted murals.  At 10.00 we left for le vieux Quebec, the upper city, situated on a large hill overlooking the River. As every Canadian school child knows, the old walled city was founded by Jacques Cartier in the early 1550’s and built by Samuel de Champlain, who also explored the Great Lakes.  The French colony was conceded to the British in a peace treaty in 1763, but was allowed to keep its language, religion and laws.  This leniency was fortuitous, because the French sided with the English against an American invasion in the war of 1812.

 

We talked with reception, and received directions and a map. Getting out of the underground parking lot required dropping down two levels, twisting, turning and climbing a steep ‘sortie’ ramp to Dorchester or Highway 175.  “This is where General Wolfe snuck under the city walls and captured Quebec,” Alan joked. We reached the only walled city in North America quickly in our Buick Century station wagon and were delighted with the unique fascinating scenery; restaurants, bars, coffee shops and souvenir stores all in quaint old traditionally French stone walled buildings.  “I’m coming back and spending all evening here.  I don’t care if I stay up all night,” Richard shouted excitedly.  “This is a wonderful place.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s all so really old.”  I thought, “This novelty will wear off as a north wind sets in and the temperature drops to ten degrees.”  I was right. 

 

I was overwhelmed with the number of school excursions, between forty and eighty school groups wandering freely, and chatting excitedly.  As an ex-school teacher, I was pleased to see some older students working in groups and completing assignment sheet questions searching for information on the numerous statues and bronze plaques that dot the upper city.  Definitely, the town has a French atmosphere in its stone architecture, gray four story limestone buildings a century or two old, and stone cottages dating three and four centuries.  The British cannons seem to date from the War of 1812.  I was amused to see old military barracks renovated and in use by the Canadian army today.

 

Alan headed off on his own volition to buy baseball cards. Richard pushed me around for two hours, and then begged a break.  I commented, “They didn’t have people in wheelchairs then.  Most of the stores, restaurants and hotels possessed steps with no wheelchair access.  This is a terrible place for wheelchair people.”  We enjoyed soup and a beer at tourist prices, $10.00, in a bar overlooking grey limestone walls of the Château Frontenac, a very expensive and famous hotel with a steeply pitched green copper roof.

 

By 4.00 pm, a strong bitterly cold north wind was chilling us through our polar plus jackets.  The upper city is mostly hilly making travel by manual wheelchair very hard on Richard who was pushing.   We had emptied the digital camera of sixty-four megabytes of memory with one hundred and thirty photographs.  We returned to the car intending to drive around, but Alan was waiting, so we headed back to the hotel, about a kilometre away through heavy traffic.  I could not make the map, which lacked detail, match the surroundings and we wasted ninety minutes driving in circles near the Radisson Hotel and provincial legislature buildings.  “Where is the turn-off to 175 nord?” I wondered as we entered a two-lane access road to 440 nord.  Actually it was a tiny, non-descript unlabeled turn off before the inviting freeway entrance to 440 nord. Alan grew increasing impatient, and he is unable to read maps, street signs or even recognise buildings. “You can stuff your damn maps,” he shouted irately.  “I’ll go ask someone.”  We let him talk to a shopkeeper, and he returned with directions to find the elusive highway 175 nord.  We found ourselves headed out of town along the north Saint Lawrence, past the Ile de Grosse Bridge on highway 440. “We made a mistake,” Alan said.  “We’ll go back and try again.”  We retraced our steps and at last located 175 nord.  Five minutes later we were parked at the hotel at 6.00 pm. “How the hell, did Alan, who’s legally blind, find the route?” I was left wondering and scratching my head.  “Alan sure has a wonderful short term memory.  He’s very good at memorising and retaining instructions, as he can’t write them down to read them.  He’s got lots of confidence to ask people for help when he needs it.”  “I manage really well, getting around for a blind person,” Alan noted proudly.

 

We agreed to meet at 8.00 for dinner.  I typed, and then we walked to the Resto Downtown French Restaurant on Dorchester Street.  Their staff helpfully hauled me up three steps.  We added a litre of red wine to the set menu at a horrendous cost of $48.00 and were soon in a relaxed mood.  “Remember coming to my wedding from Wawa to Ottawa,” Alan recalled.  “We drank Southern Comfort until 3.00 am and I woke up with a terrible hang over.  I cut myself in six places and had blood everywhere while trying to shave in the morning and I smelled like a bar.  Rick Fitzpatrick, the best man, patched me up but I was in terrible shape for the wedding.  I was so tired in the evening that I fell asleep.  You almost sabotaged me.”  My recollection was that Alan ‘put his gun on the table,’ and ‘set the pace’ that night and I was part of a larger group including Murray Barkley and Brian McCue. 

 

We returned to the room and fell asleep by 10.30 pm.  At 11.30 a high school excursion group partied next door.  I heard the teacher knock politely on the door and felt he handled the situation well by calmly saying, “I know you’re not tired, but I’m concerned about your attitude.  There are many guests here trying to sleep. I’d like you to settle down and be quiet.”  He gave the kids some ‘take-up’ time to absorb his message, and after five minutes things grew quiet.

 

Friday, 23 May, Quebec City

 

We commenced BT rituals between 7.00 and 9.00 am, disconcerted by the lack of a roll-in shower in the disabled room.  I ate breakfast by myself, and then felt annoyed as I logged on to the hotel wireless net, but I was unable to access the ISP server.

At 12.00 Richard said, “Start your engines,” and we left for le vieux ville entry, the Saint Louis Gate that we drove to directly without difficulties on 175 sud.  “I’m getting the hang of these freeways,” I congratulated myself.  The weather was frigidly cold, about six degrees, with a strong cutting wind.  None of us felt like spending too much time outside. 

 

We elected to eat lunch in a charming 1675 tiny stone home of Jacquet, now the Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens.  The waitress was a pretty young charming French Canadian girl; fairly short with dark hair and an appealing face, the special luncheon menu was French habitant in nature.  We consumed French onion soup, pork ragoute, and blueberry cake with maple syrup over the next two hours, with white wine and coffee for $20.00. “I love this food,” Alan exclaimed. “I first came here with Carol thirty years ago for our honeymoon.”  Alan constantly practiced his high school French on the waitress, who spoke good English.  “Alexis, my daughter, is embarrassed when I speak French,” Alan admitted. “She attended French immersion and then McGill so she’s very fluent. I often mispronounce words with comical results like ‘Ou est le guerre?’ for ‘Ou est la gare?’” 

 

Then Richard and I explored retail stores many of which were inaccessible.  We caught up with Alan at 4.00 pm.  “I was terrified you wouldn’t turn up and I don’t know how to get back to the hotel,” Alan said.  “Getting lost and my fear of being hit by cars are my biggest worries from being blind.”  We drove around the green grassy mostly level Plains of Abraham, overlooking the Saint Lawrence River where the English defeated the French troops and both the English and French generals, Wolfe and Montcalm were killed in the battle.

 

Tonight we drove back to the hotel on highway 175 nord in five minutes without an error.  Everyone was chilled and tired.  The old city was rapidly losing its romance, and I think we were all ready to leave tomorrow for the Gaspe Peninsula. “I feel uncomfortable in places where I can’t speak the language,” Richard commented.  “I’m ready to move on.”  We chose the Bangkok Restaurant for dinner near the hotel to avoid the freezing north wind and were in bed by 10.30.

 

Saturday 24 April Gaspe Peninsula

 

A 7.00 am start led to an 8.00 am breakfast and a 10.00 am departure from Centre-Ville after I paid an $1120.00 bill for two rooms for three nights. The size of the bill hurt and I found myself feeling resentful. I told myself to relax and forget it, as I’d remember the visit for a lifetime and never think of the cost again.  We planned a five hundred-kilometre drive to Saint Anne des Monts located on the Gaspe Peninsula overlooking the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.  The day was cloudy and cool, about eight degrees Celsius but later brightened with blue skies, but the temperature remained low and the wind cold, strong and fresh. Even Alan who was acclimatised was saying, “God, its cold!”  This was worse than mid-winter in Perth.  I felt thankful I no longer faced enduring the vagaries of a Canadian northern climate during the winter months. 

 

“Turn left on Dorchester, right on Chemail, and then follow the Pont Pierre Laporte signs,” the receptionist advised.  The trail of signs proceeded smoothly until three freeways intersected simultaneously in an intricate cobweb of access trails, overpasses and underpasses right before the bridge to the south bank of the Saint Lawrence River.  We missed a turn and Richard virtually stopped on the freeway exit ramp.  Trucks and cars thundered by at one hundred and ten to one hundred and twenty kilometres per hour, and we sat stationery blocking an access ramp off the freeway.  “Go, Richard, go,” I shouted in panic.  “Don’t stop.”  I was terrified Richard was considering backing the car up, back onto the slow lane of the freeway. “You fool,” Richard shouted back.  “You should have planned this more carefully.” I got Richard moving, down the exit, and in the maze we were offered yet another access ramp to the bridge.  The entire lapsed time was three minutes, and then we were on the bridge, but I felt I had aged a year.

 

Once across the Saint Lawrence River, we faced two hundred kilometres of driving on freeway 20 East to Riviere du Loup.  After an hour, Richard lost his concentration.  With no turn indicators, our car suddenly, unexpectedly drifted into the left passing lane for no reason.  We weren’t passing.  I was positive Richard had not looked in the rear view mirrors. He had lost the plot and had drifted into his own world, forgetting that he was driving.  I thought, “This move is like the guy who broke my neck.”  At least I was wide-awake now and shouted quickly. “What are you doing, Richard?  If a car had overtaken us, now, there could have been fatalities.  You didn’t signal!”  I angrily shouted at him,   “Pull over Richard.  I will drive now.”  I drove the next three hundred kilometres to our destination.

 

We followed Highway 132, a broad two lane well paved road, with a one hundred-kilometre speed limit and frequent passing lanes, which followed the seacoast.  New sections of this road initially bypassed the villages, but further on, the old road passed through the towns with reduced speeds. The landscape was rolling, and wooded, with the sea on the left and mountains, or at least hills to the right. Numerous picturesque small French villages were stretched out for kilometres along the ocean frontage every forty or fifty kilometres.  A large stone Roman Catholic Church dominated every village.  The influx of tourism was patent with the frequent motels, restaurants, franchise food outlets and souvenir shops along the highway and in the towns. We stopped at Matinee for lunch in Restaurant du Chef at 3.00 pm and I enjoyed crevettes or fresh shrimp on a bed of rice.  The waitress spoke no English at all so Alan and I enjoyed using our five years study of high school French.  An hour’s drive took us to Sainte Anne des Monts where we checked in to a motel  A La Brunante Inc for $80.00 at 6.00 PM.  The room was large, comfortable and well heated, as good as any other on the trip, although there was no wheelchair access to the toilet.  Not being tourist season, the motel was also totally empty.  The clerk also spoke no English.  We were reaching the French-speaking heartland.

 

I thought, “I wonder how these people have withstood the North American global deluge of English, in movies, books, magazines, newspapers, TV, radio and recently the Internet.”  I recalled the theory I had used in history essays of a garrison mentality, displayed by soldiers during a siege. Strong norms were established against fraternization with the enemy, and the culture became strongly cohesive and inward looking.  I knew the Quebec separatist government had limited teaching of English to an hour a week in all Quebec schools and had banned any English speaking schools in the province. Now English-speaking parents can no longer obtain an English speaking education for their children in Quebec.  Laws were passed that signs were to be in French only.  Tourists without French faced a chAlange in the Gaspe Peninsula.

 

I met Alan in the hotel bar for beers, from 8.00 pm to 10.00 pm.  “Try their viagra chino ice-cream,” he said.  “It’ll keep you up all night.  You don’t have to freeze it as it stays hard all night.”  I laughed. “Is that a banana in your pants, or are you just glad to see me.”  Alan was warming up. Initially, we reviewed Alan’s life and marriage.  “I went out with a large number of girls, and I enjoyed their company,” Alan said, “but I love Carol and I’ve always been faithful to her since our marriage.  I’m well set up now with a six figure payout from the Sun Life Insurance Company and a seventy percent pension for my last five years teaching.  I’m using my money to put my kids through university and community college. My baseball card collection is very valuable.” 

 

Then Alan talked about Richard.  “I was terrified on that access ramp, this morning.  I was saying to myself, ‘Hail Mary, mother of Jesus, keep me safe.’  I can’t see.  I didn’t know what was behind us but I’ve driven safely for thirty years and I know you never stop in the middle of the road on a limited access high speed freeway, in the middle of an exchange.”  Alan added, “Checking into the motel tonight, I was struggling in French to get the rates, and find out about wheelchair access.  Richard kept asking in English about luggage trolleys.  This is a motel. Anyone knows they don’t have trolleys in roadside motels. I finally lost my cool and said, ‘Richard, shut up.’  I had to take an hour walk along the beach to cool down.  I hate his attitude which says, ‘I got to be in control.’  Yesterday, he told me to ‘calm down’ and I really lost it as well.  I can’t understand half of what he says with his heavy accent and funny pronunciation of words.‘”  I thought, “We don’t need open warfare between Alan and Richard.  Richard is doing a good job, even though I get scared with his driving at times.” I said goodnight to Alan and I went to bed at 10.30.

 

Sunday 25 May, Gaspe Peninsula, Day 2

 

Up at 7.00 am, I breakfasted in the A La Brunante motel dinning room.  The waitress said, “We’re booked solid for the three summer months and have skiing parties during two months in winter.  Now is a quiet time.”  Then we started driving at 10.00 am.  The day was bright and sunny, but still around six to eight degrees, a frigid temperature for us all. “I had no idea it would be so cool,” Alan exclaimed as he shivered in his shorts.  “No wonder there's no tourists at all.”  I drove two hundred and fifty kilometres over the next five hours, averaging about sixty-to-seventy kilometres an hour on highway 132.  The highway had disintegrated to a narrow sinuous road with badly patched rough pavement climbing and descending steep mountains and running along the rugged ocean coastline through an endless stream of small French Canadian towns.  This route was clearly the unreconstructed remnants of the original Highway 132 through the Shick Shock Mountains.  The route through the villages made this drive scenic.  We viewed ubiquitous silver spires of stately Roman Catholic stone cathedrals in every town, fishing boats, cliffs, snow banks, tumbling waterfalls and wide open vistas of sea and town from the hills.  “I love this scenery,” Alan repeated again and again.  “There is nothing similar anywhere in the world.”  Richard clicked two hundred snapshots on the digital camera.  “At least these pictures are free,” I thought as Richard took his fifth picture of the open ocean, or melting snow bank, “but god it’s tedious deleting them.”

 

By 3.00 pm, I had been in the driver’s seat for five hours and I was exhausted with the demands of mountain driving, hairpin curves and twenty percent gradients followed by fifty kilometre village speed limits.  Alan, who collects comics and baseball cards passionately, wished a stop at a Marche aux Puce, or a second hand store.  We waited while Alan purchased fifty comics and sold a milk bottle for $20.00.  “I’ll double my money on these comics,” Alan promised.  I continued driving to Gaspe, and then switched with Richard.  We stopped to gas up, ($36.00 to fill the tank at seventy two cents a litre) and pushed on to the famous four hundred-metre limestone Pierce rock, which soars ninety metres from the sea. It has a large tunnel washed through the rock in its centre.  A second tunnel had collapsed in 1845. We ate fillet de mouie or fresh codfish at a pleasant seafood restaurant overlooking the rock, with pea soup, raspberry pie and coffee for $30.00.  At 6.30 pm we pushed on to 8.00 pm to try to reach New Richmond before quitting for the night.  The highway 132 route from the city of Gaspe had improved dramatically.  It still followed the coastline and ran through coastal towns, but the land had broadened to a fertile coastal plain, populated with prosperous looking farms.

 

At 8.00 we pulled into Motel Grand-Pre, in the town of Bonadventure, a $90.00 up-market accommodation.  As Alan checked in using his French, Richard was amused by Alan’s theatrical techniques, which tonight backfired badly.  Richard described the event to me as I was waiting in the car. “He stood in his shorts waving his hands and shouting his school boy French.  He said something about being on a blind pension and wanting to pay ‘cinquante dollars;’ a fifteen-dollar discount.  He said his brother in law was a member of parliament and he had a Canadian government card, then dumped about thirty cards on the desk and shuffled through them blindly trying to find the one he wanted, wasting time.  Meanwhile a queue of irate customers waited for service and the clerk fidgeted.  When Alan asked for a discount for having military cadet identification, dating back to 1974, the clerk in a confident friendly manner increased his motel free from $65.00 to $75.00.  ‘We don’t like Canadians and we really don’t like the Canadian government here,’ she said. “If your brother is in government, then you pay the higher governmental rate.’  Alan was flabbergasted and at a lost for words.  He quickly paid $65.00 and left.”  “They’re all separatists here,” he later told me. “I won’t stay at their damn hotel again.”

 

Alan and Richard both went to Subway franchise to eat again at 9.00 pm.  I typed.  At 11.00 pm, we went to bed.  The day had been made pleasant by the light traffic and reduced highway speeds.  We all appreciated having avoided any stressful traffic confrontations that threaten our well being.

 

Monday, May 26 Bathurst

 

Today, Richard got up at 5.30 am to bath and then began to organise me between 6.30 and 8.30 am.  The hotel lacked access to the bathroom, so I missed my shower for the fifth day running.  Both Americans and Canadians are not very cluey when constructing wheelchair accessible showers. Richard had packed by 9.00 am and we were ready.  Alan and I went out to Le Rendez Vous Restaurant for breakfast, while Richard decided to shop in a supermarket for breakfast to conserve his cash.  The day was about eight degrees but sunny with blue skies, as we set off driving in good spirits.  I elected to do the two hundred and fifty kilometre drive to Bathurst, New Brunswick, on Atlantic Time, an hour ahead of Quebec.

 

I followed Highway 132 to Campbellton, and then joined Highway 11, which runs through to Halifax.  Although Highway 11 is two lanes wide, it’s constructed like a freeway, with limited access, cloverleaves, paved shoulders and a one hundred-kilometre speed limit.  The drive was smooth and uneventful, arriving at 3.00 pm Atlantic Time.  Alan asked about accommodation at a Comfort Inn and Keddy’s Le Chateau Bathurst was recommended in central Bathurst.  Bathurst has about 20,000 people and is home to a Noranda copper mine and a large pulp and paper mill.  I turned off the car at Keddy’s and it refused to start.  I counselled myself to stay calm by thinking, “At least we are at our destination, in an English speaking area. I’ll sort out the battery for good by buying another.” Richard phoned CAA, and I phoned Canadian Tire to book a 9.00 am appointment tomorrow morning for a new battery.  Fortuitously, Keddy’s Chateaux Bathurst possessed a large handicapped room with wheel-in shower for $90.00.  I was delighted.  “Mr. Keddy set up a chain of these hotels across the Maritime Provinces,” Alan said.  “He died recently and the whole chain is for sale.  Are you interested?” he  smiled.

 

Alan unloaded the car and his luggage fell on the ground.  Stressed by the car and angered by this accident, he disappeared and went to bed.  Richard handled the CAA jump-start, and then drove the car to a site for an immediate battery replacement for $170.00.  Then he disappeared for three hours to do our laundry.  I typed, and then dined by myself on fresh Canadian haddock and a Labatt’s Blue in the hotel dining room.  At 9.00 pm I retired, transferring myself on my board independently to bed as I do every night at home.  Richard returned at 10.00 pm and undressed me.  “This place is totally dead,” Richard told me. “I drove around and there is nobody on the streets, in shops or restaurants or even in bars.  This place looks deserted.  There’s nothing happening.”  “Welcome to rural New Brunswick,” I said.

 

Tuesday 27 May Prince Edward Island

 

Richard bathed at 7.00 am and showered me at 8.00 am then stayed to pack while I joined Alan for a 9.00 am breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, hashed brown potatoes, toast and coffee. This commonplace meal was called “The Northern.”  “I knew you’d order a ‘Northern’,” Alan said.  “You beaver pelt, you. I should call you an old crab out here.  You used to be an old Conch in Florida.”  “Better than an old fart,” I replied smilingly. Alan added, “I went to trade baseball and hockey cards last night.  The storekeeper told me he had torched his shop last month, but hidden $80,000.00 in baseball card inventory, which he invoiced to his insurance company. ‘I’m getting paid out that amount tomorrow,’ he boasted proudly to me.”  Alan then found that the guy did his best to rip him off, in his card trading and Alan left in disgust.  “Guy’s a total asshole,’ Alan said.  “I forgot my jacket there.  I’ve tipped a hotel clerk $5.00 to go back and collect it.”

 

Breakfast disagreed with me causing an allergy attack with heavy cold symptoms, coughing, congested lungs and nose, and blowing into Kleenex.  Richard had packed and we left at 10.00 am.  I told Richard to drive as I coughed.  Richard turned right out of the car park, although the bridge we had crossed was in plain view to the left.  “Turn around, please, Richard,” I said. “We go back the way we came.”  Richard pulled over and started to do an impossible U turn on this busy downtown street.  “NO!” Alan and I both screamed.  Then he drove up the wrong way on a one-way street, and did a three-degree turn, blocking oncoming traffic.  “He’s not improving,” I thought.  “He’s totally without sense of direction and under stress makes dangerous, ill-informed traffic decisions.”  “Ah, you’re just old women-like, retired school teachers,” Richard shouted.  “You panic unnecessarily.”  This was not a good start to the day.

 

We drove out of Bathurst onto Highway 11 and proceeded south without the map.  “Highway 11 runs to Halifax,” Alan had said.  It does but it takes a scenic coastal route.  “We want Highway 8, as it takes a hundred kilometres off our trip,” I reported anxiously, frowning at the map. We returned five kilometres and took the shortcut.  “There’s nothing but flat land and trees here,” Alan complained, sighing, sleeping and snoring. I remembered my parents in the mid 1950’s driving me through New Brunswick and thinking the same thought, boring endless trees. “I’m a lumberjack, and I’m ok, I drink all night and sleep all day,” went through my mind. My father had worked in Halifax that long ago summer while George and I played on an ocean beach and had a wonderful time.  I think I was eight years of age.

 

We drove to Shedilac, which advertises itself as the lobster capital of the world and turned onto Highway 15 west instead of Highway 15 east.  This freeway took us all the way to Moncton, twenty kilometres west without an opportunity to exit at all. I remembered Magnetic Hill, near Monkton, from the mid 1950’s trip, where our car seemed to roll up a hill.  This optical illusion is truly amazing and is well advertised on the freeway, but we kept driving. “Ok,” I thought, “We’ll take Freeway 2 east.  No worries.  It’s the main route to the bridge.”  We couldn’t find it, though, although we passed Freeway 2 west to Frederickton.  After three hours of travel, we stopped, Alan got directions, and I drove.  We retraced our steps to Highway 15 east.  We followed this to Highway 16 and then to a soaring seventeen-kilometre Confederation toll bridge, ($39.00) which moors Canada’s smallest province Prince Edward Island, to the mainland. Here we took Highway 1 fifty kilometres to the capital city, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.  We admired the emerald green fields, and fields with the red soil freshly ploughed, supporting large prosperous looking farms.  This island was considerably more scenic than New Brunswick. Charlottetown was the location in 1864 of the signing of confederation to form the Dominion of Canada between Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Upper Canada or Ontario and Lower Canada or Quebec.  PEI and Newfoundland opted out until later.  Sir John A MacDonald who negotiated the settlement apparently got the premiers drunk on a boat cruise and finalized the details.

 

Alan was getting bored in the back seat. “Remember that Pub crawl on Princess Street, Kingston,” Alan recalled.  “We drank in about ten pubs that night. You said you were going home but started walking north, the wrong way, to the 401.”  “Yes,” I said, “And you puked over that retaining wall into an open convertible.  It was winter so it froze there.  We all had too much that night.”  Actually, of my first six years at Queen’s and Carleton Universities, that’s the only good pub-crawl, I can remember.  Generally, I worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week.  The effort was reflected in my grades, mainly A’s in every subject.  In retrospect, B’s would have served my purpose, as no one cares what grades were received when you enter the workforce. Later, when I did my Masters of Education Degree in 1977/8 and my three psychology degrees in 1989/92, I learned to work office hours and to enjoy life as well. I said,   “If I did it again, Alan, I’d play on weekends, dating girls and partying, just like you did. I was way too serious as a youth.”

 

Arriving at 4.00 pm, we stopped at Zellers, a large Canadian Department Store, so Alan could buy a bag, to pack his voluminous gear for his airline flight, and then we stayed at a $69.00 Holiday Island Motor Inn, which lacked disabled facilities. Here Alan could do his laundry, which he had missed doing by sleeping yesterday.  A nice ham meal with a Sleeman’s Honey Brown Draft Beer at Papa John’s restored our good humour, followed by some drinks from a new bottle of Canadian Club.  I fell asleep by 11.00 pm.  In retrospect, today had not been a good day, though we had reached our destination safely, and the car was now starting and running well.  Tomorrow we would tour the eastern shore of PEI, and then drive to Truro, Nova Scotia.

 

Wednesday 28 May Prince Edward Island

 

Richard and I slept until 8.00 am, causing a late 10.30 am departure.  Alan asked, “How was your logjam?  Are you logged in?” “Yes, I slept well, thanks Alan,” I said.  Alan added, “Are you cognizant? Will you set the pace, today?”  I thought, “All these New Brunswick trees are getting to Alan.” Alan hunted for breakfast, without success, which upset him greatly.  Richard reduces his food costs by stocking up in supermarkets, so I consumed two of his budget priced bananas and water. I drove first.  Our plan was to follow Highway 2 to a small fishing village Red Head Harbour, Morrell on St Peter’s Bay, then on to East Point, the eastern tip of PEI.  We arrived in Morrell, a forty-kilometre drive from Charlottetown, home of King Mussels, Inc and Canadian Cove Cultivated Shellfish.  Arriving at the harbour, we wandered and chatted to fisherman for an hour.  “We place baby mussels in fibre sleaves, which we then place in the ocean to grow to maturity,” a worker told us.  “I work from 7 am to 6 pm.  Winter is the worst time, now is really pleasant. Our boats are small, ten metres in length and are used locally.  We also take crayfish.  The cod season is closed due to a decline of the fishery.”  Alan talked to a pretty girl repairing nets.  “I work in the family business on the fishing boats themselves, hauling in lobster pots.  I love the work and I love PEI. I don’t want to leave the island and jobs are scarce.  Most women work in the fish processing sheds.” 

 

We pushed on via 16 and 305 to Souris, a coastal village and dock for the ferry to the Madeleine Islands.  The Blue Fin Restaurant served a tasty fresh Hake seafood meal at 2.00 pm.  Richard took over the wheel and we continued through rolling farm country, with fields of deep red soil, not yet sprouting plants, scattered newly leafed verdant woodlots, the lofty spires of churches, and whitely painted timber-framed farmhouses. We noted a few horses but no cows, sheep or any other animal.  Potatoes are an important produce with PEI potatoes renown throughout Canada. I grew up on them.   This place really is a picturesque rural paradise.  People were universally friendly, talkative, helpful and laid back.  They all seemed happy and very content with their lives. Their pace of life is slow and traffic congestion seemed minimal. I could understand the deep attachment of Prince Edward Islanders for their island.

 

East Point is the most eastern point of PEI facing the pounding waves of the stormy Atlantic Ocean, and is marked by a tall red and white lighthouse, red earth cliffs ten to fifteen metres in height and a small red sand or dirt beach. We took photographs, and then retraced our route to Souris, stopping at Alan’s request at an antique or junk store along the highway.  Alan was seeking a yellow PEI milk bottle, in use in the 1940’s and valued at $100.00.

 

We returned to the Borden Carleton Confederation Bridge, after a two-hour drive, bypassing Charlottetown, as storm clouds swept in and dusk settled. Turning off Highway 16 to Highway 2, we reached the province of Nova Scotia, three hundred and sixty kilometres long and between sixty to a hundred wide.

 

We reached the Auberge Wandlyn Inns, Amherst, Nova Scotia at 8.30 pm.  I felt tired. Alan negotiated a forty percent discount, to $77.00 plus seventeen percent government tax.  The handicapped room was enormous, with sweeping views of the Freeway, but gave no access to the bathroom nor could a wheelchair be placed next to the bed.  I transferred onto the bed from its end with lots of help. I wondered why it was called a room for the handicapped. We drank and chatted until 11.00 pm.  Alan related more stories.  “Remember coming back from Florida and we stopped in Bradford, Pennsylvania.  Ross and you hid in the boot or trunk, so we could get the room cheaper.  It was late at night, snowing heavily and we were tired from twenty-four hours of non-stop driving.  You had a reputation for finding the cheapest accommodation, like under bridges, or that abandoned warehouse in Florida.”

 

Thursday 29 May Halifax

 

Up at 8.00 am, Richard swam in the pool, and then Alan bought us breakfast, ‘Eggxpress,’ in a lovely wooden sunroom overlooking the freeway and sullen grey rain clouds.  “How was your Preparation H,” Alan asked me referring to a hemorrhoids treatment ointment. .  “They advertise, ‘up yours with us,’ and for Italians, ‘innuendo.’ (In-your-end-do)” Alan was in form again. Alan had invited a baseball card dealer from Amherst to his room, but couldn’t reach agreement.  “All the card dealers are all idiots out here,” he exclaimed in exasperation.  “One was cheating the insurance company, and this one won’t trade for my comics, bottles or cards.”  Our plan was to drop Alan off near the Halifax airport so he could catch an early morning flight to Sudbury, Ontario to see his son’s graduation on Saturday night.  Richard and I would continue our trip, for the next nine days, until our anticipated arrival with Bill and Sue’s in Robyn, Ontario.

 

We checked out at 11.00 am, with Alan requesting we visit an antique store in Amherst.  Alan disliked the store and requested we stop at another. Fortunately, we located it quickly.  Bonanza.  Alan traded some cards for an official Mickey Mouse, sorry, Mantle baseball bat.  He came away very cheerful, and we got moving down Interstate 104 for eighty kilometres to Truro.  The Freeway was excellent, involving a small toll payment and climbed over a range of hills through wooded countryside, with sweeping vistas of the landscape ahead.  Then we joined Freeway 102 to the Halifax airport, located thirty- three kilometres north of the city.  This freeway is more heavily travelled and flatter, moving through trees and farmland.  We stopped at the Airport Hotel, dropping Alan off for a five hour sleep at 3.00 pm. 

 

Richard and I continued driving to the scenic fishing village, Peggy’s Cove accessed on Highway 333 via Freeway 102 south and 103 west.  The seventy-kilometre drive consumed ninety minutes.  Highway 333 meanders slowly around inlets and through small fishing villages.  Peggy’s Cove was in the news in 1998, with the crash of a Swissair Flight near there and the death of more than three hundred passengers.  We visited the memorial site, situated on bare granite, surrounded by boulders, overlooking the ocean.  “They have gone to join the sea and air,” the memorial read.

 

Peggy’s Cove reminded me of a Disneyland presentation in Los Angeles or Orlando, Florida.  Everything was a too perfect, too scenic, weathered cedar singled houses, rugged Precambrian era boulders and granite scraped clean by glaciation, dories, lobster pots, nets, and grizzled white beared fishermen in yellow raincoats and gum boots.  “Surely, these stereotypical fisherman characters were actors,” I thought.  I wondered if some famous landscape magician had been hired to stage this scene.  Even the numerous tourists seemed to support the Disney illusion of a gigantic theme park.  Yet this was a real, functional fishing village. I wished I could purchase the place and charge admission.

 

I remembered visiting here in 1974 for a week during the Easter school holidays.  Then, I had flown from Sault Ste Marie to Halifax, and rented a car to visit an ex-Wawa schoolteacher Gail Emerson.  Gail was a principal of a private school north of Halifax.  Alone, I drove the scenic, mountainous Cabot Trail, toured PEI, and then spent time with Gail whom I respected. Gail always remained single, but travelled broadly and went on to do many things including teaching in Istanbul for two years.  I really enjoyed meeting her again on my 1988 trip, and yet again in the early 90’s.  I was shocked and saddened when she died in her late 40’s from cancer while lecturing in women’s studies for a university.

 

Richard and I braved a strong freezing breeze to eat dinner in an excellent restaurant, which overlooks Peggy Cove’s white and red lighthouse, which houses a post office in the summer months.  I enjoyed my scallops and chips, but tolerated an allergy coughing attack afterwards.  Then Richard drove the seventy kilometres back to the Airport Hotel.  Earlier in the day, he had run the stop sign while proceeding to the hotel. Now, taking the identical route, he missed the turn, and proceeded towards the airport, instead of the hotel, until I asked him to turn around.  Then he drove back onto the freeway.  I was losing my temper and getting sharp.  “Oh, I’m getting tired,” he explained.  Finally, we arrived.  “This is an adversity,” I thought.  “No use thinking, ‘I can’t stand this.’ You know Richard can’t read maps effectively and has absolutely no sense of direction. You can’t afford to relax for a second, when we are changing roads.  He did wear his prescription glasses today, for the first time, like you suggested and managed those two Halifax interchanges effectively without much help.  Perhaps he’s improving. ”

 

Back at the hotel at 8.00 pm Richard and I joined Alan for a couple of Sleeman’s Honey Brown Beers.  Alan then joined us in our rooms.  “I’ve got a whopper in my bag,” referring to the rigid baseball bat he had packed.  “It’s really rigid and hard with the knob sticking out. I hope they don’t get offended at seeing my knob.” Alan never quits. He added,  “I enjoyed the ten day trip. Tomorrow, I’ll catch the 6.30 am shuttle and fly to Sudbury to meet Carol at 8.30 am.  No need to see me off.”  I told Alan that he had livened up the trip with his ‘whopper’ jokes and bad humour and that we would visit him again in Campbellford.

 

I found myself feeling sad as I said goodbye, thinking how awful it would be, after thirty-one years of teaching, to reach retirement unable to drive, with blindness as a companion.  I reminded myself by thinking, “Alan handles his disability as well as you handle yours.  You, of all people, should know that a disability is merely an attitude, a state of mind, or a label. Blindness hasn’t stopped him on this trip and he even navigated more effectively than you and your maps when you were lost in Quebec City.  If you achieve your goals by marshalling resources and planning, then you’re not disabled and Alan does that.  He’s enjoying his relaxed, stress-free retirement with Carol and pursues his all-consuming passion for card collection.”  I felt ok with my new belief that he’s as happy in his retirement as anyone.

 

I asked Richard how he felt with Alan’s departure.  “I found his mannerisms made me uncomfortable initially, but I feel I’ve got to know and understand him much better.  I wish him well.  But he’s history to us now and were moving on to meet new people.”  I went to bed at 11.30 pm.  Richard went out to explore the hotel and returned about mid-night.  “The hotel is dead, like the small Canadian towns,” he said, “but there was a continuous string of thirty forty people arriving and checking in. Canada seems to be a really boring place.  Many Polish migrants disliked Canada because there’s nothing to do. With the cold weather, people stay indoors.  I liked PEI and Vancouver but I think as a whole Australia is a bit better place to live than Canada.”

 

End Chapter Six