101 Dalmatian’s performance camp at The Guild
July 4-8 for Grades 1-9.
To register call 902-620-3333 or online at theguildpei.com
By Ed Staskus
“When Britain is at war, Canada is at war,” Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier said in 1910. “There is no distinction.” Four years later when Britain entered World War One, Canada signed on, too. In August 1914 the Governor-General of Canada vowed that “if unhappily war should ensue, the Canadian people will be united in a common resolve to put forth every effort and to make every sacrifice necessary to ensure the integrity and maintain the honor of our Empire”
Empires are made by plundering and slaughtering. They are always sure of the rightness of their cause. They never go down without a fight. It doesn’t matter if there’s any honor in the fighting, or not. They plow straight ahead.
The country had no air force, a navy fit for a bathtub, and an army of 3,000-some men. By the end of the war more than 600,000 Canadians had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight for King and Country and more than 400,000 of them served in Europe, out of a population of fewer than 8 million nationwide.
“The Empire Needs Men” is what the posters said. “All answer the CALL! Helped by the YOUNG LIONS the OLD LION defies his foes. ENLIST NOW!”
Everybody wanted in on the fight because everybody thought it would be over by Christmas. Canadians lined up to support the British Empire and collect steady pay of $1.10 a day. The harvest that year was bad, and unemployment was soaring. But machine guns fired ten times as many bullets a minute as they were paid pennies a day. Hundreds of thousands on all sides were slaughtered week by month by year by the rapid-firing weapons on the Western Front.
At the beginning of the war, it was better to be killed than wounded. The wounded were taken off battlefields in horse-drawn wagons or on mules with baskets on their sides, the baskets soaked and dripping with men bleeding to death. There wasn’t any such thing as a dressing. If they made it to a train station, they were transported to hospitals. “One of those trains dumped about 500 badly wounded men and left them lying between the tracks in the rain, with no cover whatsoever,” said Harvey Cushing, the head of the Harvard Unit of volunteer doctors at the American Ambulance Hospital of Paris.
Nearly 60,000 Canadians were killed, most of them the result of enemy action, and more than 170,000 of them were wounded. Almost 3.500 men and one woman had at least one arm or leg amputated. Private Curley Christian lost all four limbs but survived.
During the Battle of Vimy Ridge he was unloading cargo from trucks when an artillery shell hit next to where he was, trapping him under debris for several days. When stretcher bearers tried to reach him, they were killed by more artillery. When he was finally rescued, he was transported to a military hospital and from there to London. His arms and legs had gone gangrenous and all four were sawed off.
When he got back to Canada he was fitted with prosthetic limbs and married Cleopatra McPherson. He deigned his own prosthesis for writing. Cleo and he had a son who twenty years later served in World War Two.
More than 7,000 Prince Edward Islander’s enlisted. Five hundred of them were killed and more than a 1,000 wounded. Tommy Murphy went overseas with a siege battery in 1915. Before he went, he got married to Freya O’Sullivan and got her pregnant. He got word of his son Danny’s birth by telegram while taking a break in an ankle-deep puddle of water sheltering in a trench during the Third Battle of Artois.
He had spent eight days at the front and was due for four days in a reserve trench and then four more days at a rest camp. When the bloodletting went on and on and the ranks thinned out, he never made it to the reserve trench much less the rest camp. It was that kind of a war. The Allied and Central Powers fought the same battles over and over.
The British French and Canadians assembled seventeen infantry and two cavalry divisions for the offensive at Artois, backed by 630 field guns and 420 heavy artillery guns. During the fighting the field artillery fired 1.5 million rounds and the heavy artillery 250,000 rounds at the Germans defenses. Tommy Murphy barely slept for days. Whenever he took a break, he felt like his arms were going to fall off after loading shells until there weren’t any more to load. He knew he had sent his share of Germans to Hell even though he never saw one of them die.
When the Allies tried to advance, they suffered 40% casualties. The battle went on from late September to mid-October when it ground to a halt in the middle of a never-ending autumn rainstorm and mutual exhaustion. By that time both sides were conserving ammunition because they were running out of it. They spent the rest of the month burying their dead, tending to their wounded, and withdrawing.
Tommy was a cannon man because he was taller than five feet seven inches and burly enough to do the heavy work of feeding artillery. He didn’t have flat feet or bad eyesight, He didn’t have the greatest teeth, but explained he was enlisting to fight Germans, not bite them. He could have begged off the war because he was married, but he was patriotic and wanted to do his fair share. Money from the Canadian Patriotic Fund helped his wife keep the home fire burning.
His battery had a lance corporal scout sniper attached to it. Francis “Peggy” Pegahmagabow was an Aboriginal who could split a bullseye nobody else could even see. He had more than 300 kills to his name. He roamed No Man’s Land at night for them, seeking out enemy snipers and forward spotters. He always came back in the morning. The other side never made it back to their side.
He wore moccasins instead of army boots, chewed dead twigs whenever he sensed danger, and always carried a medicine bag. “When I was at training camp on Lake Superior in 1914, some of us landed from our vessel to gather blueberries near an Ojibwa settlement,” he said. “An old Indian recognized me and gave me a tiny medicine bag to protect me, saying I would shortly go into great danger. The bag was of skin tightly bound with a leather throng. Sometimes it seemed to be hard as a rock, at other times it appeared to contain nothing. What was inside of the bag I do not know.”
Tommy had signed up for short service and when 1915 was over and done and it was April 1916, he was done with his one year on the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His commanding officer tried to convince him to re-enlist, but he had a wife, a child, and a farm that needed him. He didn’t need to kill anymore Germans. He was sick of the butchery. Three men from North Rustico were already dead. He didn’t want to be next. He knew if he re-enlisted it was only a matter of time before he went home in a box to be buried on Church Hill Rd.
He got out when the going was good. The next year enlistments dried up as men near and far began to realize the toll the new style combat on the Western Front was taking. Machine gun fire and shell fire was murderous. On top of that there was poison gas. The dead were left where they fell. They were left for the rats. In May 1917 the government announced conscription through the Military Service Act. The rats stood up and cheered.
It was easier getting into the army than it was getting out. He finally found a ride on a troop transport from Calais to Dover, took a train to London, and spent the night at a whore house with a razzle dazzle girl. He took a steam bath the next morning and had lunch at a corner fish and chip shop eating cod with a splash of vinegar and a full pint at his elbow. He followed the first pint with a second pint and was happy for it. He had a ticket for passage to Halifax in his wallet, but it was a week away. His grandfather had come from Ireland, or so the family story went, and done something big for the Crown, who rewarded him with 400 acres of PEI shoreline. He unfolded a map and located Dublin. It was directly across the Irish Sea from Liverpool.
He bought a train ticket to Liverpool and the next morning landed in Dublin. It was Easter Monday. The Easter Rising had happened yesterday. The Easter Rising was happening today.
After landing at the Dublin Port, he followed the River Liffey, making for Dublin Castle and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. His plan was to find a room for a few days and have dinner. He would explore the rest of the city after a good night’s sleep. He was wearing his Canadian Army uniform over a pair of Spring Needle underwear and carrying a rucksack. He had his toiletries, four pairs of clean socks, his rolled up military wool overcoat, and a paper bag full of Huntley & Palmer biscuits in it. The biscuits were so hard they would crack a man’s teeth at the first bite if not soaked in tea beforehand.
His papers and money were in a travel wallet attached to his belt. He had his Colt New Service revolver on his belt, too, for what it was worth now that his war was over. An hour later he was glad he had it, after he got it back, although he wasn’t sure if he was going to need it to protect himself from the Irish or the British.
Dublin Castle was in the middle of the old part of the city. The city got its name from the Black Pool, the ‘Dubh Linn,’ where the rivers Liffey and Poddle met. It was where the castle was. It had been a Gaelic ring fort in the beginning, a long time ago. Later, after the Vikings showed up, it was a Viking fort. For the past 700 years it had been a British fort, the seat of their rule in Ireland.
Tommy didn’t have anything against the British, but after a year of serving in their army, he thought the Irish might be better served ruling themselves. They couldn’t do worse. During the year he served on the Western Front three quarters of a million Jacks and John Bulls were killed. It made him sick to think of the men he had seen obeying orders to attack barbed wire and machines guns across open fields. Another few million men went wounded and missing. The broken might survive, but he didn’t think the missing were coming back anytime soon.
He was glad to be out of it. It hadn’t ended by Christmas of 1914. It still wasn’t over by Christmas of 1915. The next Christmas was in eight months and the talk was it would take a half-dozen more holidays to either win or lose the war. He meant to say a prayer in St. Patrick’s Cathedral before dinner.
He didn’t get a chance to say a prayer, find a room, or have dinner. He lost his chance when he came across the bridge leading to Trinity College, turned the corner towards Dublin Castle, and found himself face to face with a Mauser semi-automatic pistol. He knew exactly what it was. He stood stock still exactly where he was. The hand on the firearm was a woman’s hand. She was wearing an old military hat and a yellow armband.
“Hand’s up and on the wall, boyo,” she said, a second woman coming up behind him. The second woman was wearing a bandolier laden with a half dozen hand grenades. She had a revolver. It looked like it came from the Middle Ages. He did what she said. She patted him down and took his Colt.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” she asked.
“Tommy Murphy, Canadian Army, from Prince Edward Island by way of a year in France,” he said. “I’m here to take in the sights before going home. Now that we’re talking, I thought Ireland was sitting the war out.”
“We ask the questions,” the woman wearing the bandolier spit out.
“Come on,” the woman with the Mauser said, poking him in the small of the back with the barrel of the gun.
The streets leading to the city center were barricaded. When they got to the General Post Office, he saw there were two green flags flying in place of the Union Jack. They said “Irish Republic” in gold letters. He knew there was no such thing as an Irish Republic.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re rocking the casbah,” the grenade girl said.
There was a man outside the post office reading from a broadsheet. It was the “Proclamation of the Irish Republic.” There were copies of it pasted on walls. Newsboys were handing them out to anybody who wanted one. Not everybody wanted one. Most of them didn’t understand what was happening. The grenade girl handed him a copy. “Read this,” she said. There were men with rifles and shotguns on the roofs of buildings overlooking bridges.
“Who’s this?” said a man wearing a scrap of paper pinned to his breast. It said “Citizen Army.”
“We found him down the street, Sean.”
Sean was Sean Mac Duiarmada, one of Commander-in-Chief Patrick Pearce’s right-hand men.
“He’s Canadian,” Sean said pointing to Tommy’s regimental badge and the “CANADA” title at the end of his shoulder straps.
“We thought he was a Brit.”
“They’ll be here soon enough,” Sean said.
There were 1,200 rebels waiting for 20,000 British troops to arrive.
A shot rang out in the distance and Margaret Keogh fell down dead. She was a 19-year-old nurse tending to a wounded Citizen Army man. She was the first person to die during the Rising of Easter Week.
A team of Volunteers trotted past on their way to the Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park. They took all the weapons and ammunition they could carry and blew up the rest. When the son of the fort’s commander tried to raise the alarm, he was shot dead. He was the second person to die.
“You’re free to go,” Sean said to Tommy. “Best you leave Dublin all together.”
“What about my sidearm?”
Sean nodded to the grenade girl, and she handed Tommy’s Colt back to him.
When a contingent of the Citizen’s Army approached Dublin Castle, the police sentry James O’Brien ordered them to halt. He was shot dead even though he was unarmed. He was the third person to die. When British troops showed up the rebels retreated to City Hall, stormed up to the roof, and fired down on the troops in the street. The man commanding the rebel contingent, Sean Connolly, was shot dead by a sniper, the first rebel and fourth person killed.
Tommy carefully made his way back to the docklands and the port. He boarded the same boat he had come on. An hour later the boat was steaming into Dublin Bay on its way back to Liverpool. Eight hours later he was asleep in a room of a boarding house on the waterfront, not far from the Three Graces.
The next morning was cold and damp. Women were out in the streets with their long-handled push brooms. They were called Sweepers. Others were in homes cleaning and scrubbing. They were called Dailies. Many more were at work in munitions factories. They were called Munitionettes. Liverpool’s men were on the Royal Navy’s battleships and in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. They were called Cannon Fodder.
Tommy found a greasy spoon near the port and ordered breakfast, eggs back bacon sausage baked beans a fried tomato fried mushrooms fried bread and black pudding. The Liverpool Daily Post headline screamed “REBELLION!” There was no need for him to read about it. He thought he might have this same breakfast at midday and tonight. Somebody once said, “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”
He put the newspaper aside. Pushing himself away from the table, he checked his ticket for Canada. He tucked it securely away with his service revolver. Tommy Murphy was going to keep himself safe and sound until his boat sailed for home. Once he was out of the frying pan that was burning and smoking on another man’s stove, he was going to stay out of it.
Excerpted from “Bloodlines” at http://www.redroadpei.com.
Welcome to Troy Gallant, who has joined the Senior Management group at Confed Centre as Director of Operations!
A professional engineer, Gallant’s diverse career has spanned over twenty years and four provinces in the industrial, healthcare, institutional, bioscience, and consulting sectors. He started his career with PEI Energy before venturing to Western Canada for an opportunity with FVB Energy. He moved back to Atlantic Canada with Cape Breton District Health Authority, later returning to Prince Edward Island for roles at UPEI and Biovectra.
Cast and Creative Team Announced for Educating Rita
Watermark is thrilled to announce the cast and creative team working on Educating Ritaby Willy Russell playing at the theatre in North Rustico from July 12th to 30th, 2022. The production will be directed by Martha Irving, the part of Rita will be played by Naomi Ngebulana, and the role of Frank will be played by Réjean Cournoyer. The designers for the production are Wes Babcock (set), Dorrie Deutschendorf (lights), Vickie Marston (costumes), and Pat Caron (sound).
Educating Rita by Willy Russell is a warm, funny, intelligent play about relationships, connections, and freedom. The play follows Rita, a married hairstylist, who decides to go back to school to broaden her horizons. She enrolls in university and finds herself assigned to Frank, a jaded professor courting alcohol to navigate life and divorce.
The play is quite well known due to the 1983 film version starring Michael Caine and Julie Walters in which both stars earned numerous nominations and awards.
Ticket prices range from $15 to $32 and can be purchased at http://www.ticketwizard.ca or by calling the box office at 902-963-3963.
Martha Irving is an award-winning actor, director, narrator, and producer. Martha grew up on PEI, studied at LAMDA in England, and returned to the Maritimes in 1990, settling in Halifax where she co-founded LunaSea Theatre, directing, acting in, and/or producing 20 productions. On the Island, Martha has directed Fascinating Ladies for Young at Heart and Anne and Gilbert, the Musical at the Harbourfront and The Guild theatres and eventually at the National Arts Centre. Martha has been nominated for and received numerous awards, including 14 Merritt Award nominations for acting, directing and producing, most recently for Best Performance in The December Man in 2021.
Naomi Ngebulana has lived in multiple cities, in multiple countries, and is currently based out of Toronto. She got her start in community shows in Calgary, then moved to Toronto “for the culture”, eventually ending up in England, where she graduated with an MFA from the Guildford School of Acting in 2020. She has been waiting ever so patiently for theatres to re-open and is excited to make her professional debut playing the role of Rita.
Réjean Cournoyer’s selected credits include: Piaf/Dietrich (Mirvish), Evangeline, Anne of Green Gables™ (Charlottetown) Peter and the Starcatcher (WCT); A Misfortune (NSTF); The Music of Jacques Brel, A Christmas Carol, Next to Normal, The Sound of Music, Pride and Prejudice, Sweeney Todd, Beauty and the Beast (Citadel); L’Homme de la Mancha, (Unithéatre); Les Misérables, White Christmas (Artsclub); Tuesdays with Morrie, (internationally) Little Shop of Horrors, Pélagie, (CanStage/Dora Award Nomination); A Few Good Men, Oliver! (Neptune). Réjean grew up in N.S., PEI, and Québec.
Watermark Theatre’s Mandate
Located in North Rustico, PEI, on land that is the traditional unceded territory of the Mi’Kmaq, the Watermark Theatre is a professional theatre company that produces time-honoured plays, as well as contemporary plays that resonate with our times.
As a company we are led by the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility and commit to incorporating these core values in everything we do.
We prioritize environmental stewardship and sustainability.
The Watermark Theatre is dedicated to the development of the next generation of theatre artists and arts administrators through mentorship and professional training.
In all of our programming we strive for artistic excellence while endeavouring to inform, affect, and engage our audience and our community.
For more information please contact Lara Dias at 902-963-3963 or firstname.lastname@example.org
57 Church Hill Ave
North Rustico, PE
Atlantic Canadian friends: our tour launches next week and we want to know what tunes you hope to hear. A fan in Wolfville requested Anthem and even asked CBC to spin it – a huge help in getting the word out. Comment below, share and join us!
May 12 King’s Theatre, Annapolis Royal NS
May 13 Théâtre Capitol Theatre Moncton NB
May 16 Lawrence O’Brien Arts Goose Bay NL
May 18 Marigold Cultural Centre Truro NS
May 20 Harbourfront Theatre Summerside PEI
May 21 Acadia Festival Theatre Wolfville NS
The captivating, multi-award nominated band Inn Echo melds traditional music with elements of jazz, pop, indie and more, creating their electrifying sound on fiddle, cello, and guitar at the Victoria Playhouse on July 11th.
We’ve got a new exhibition being installed in our Gallery. We’re happy to welcome back the UPEI Seniors College Students for the 10th iteration of this annual exhibition! Stop by the Guild on Monday, May 2nd from 7:00pm to 9:00pm for the opening reception. The exhibition runs from May 2nd to May 20th.
By Ed Staskus
It wasn’t until the movers took the legs off the dining room table and hauled it and the six chairs out that I realized the two town paintings in their glossy walnut frames were still on the wall. I stood in a pool of damp late October sunlight at the other end of the room. I hadn’t noticed Lucy had painted the wall a light green color until the room was empty.
A Stacey’s Moving and Storage truck was on the street. The trailer and cab were longer than the width of my house. One of the Montreuil’s and three other men were methodically tramping up and down a ramp into and out of the back of the truck. Sugar maple and white cedar leaves stuck to the soles of their boots.
Autumn was stripping the trees so that the neighborhood, concealed all summer, was becoming clear.
I turned away from the window and faced the paintings. I had seen them every day for years, but hadn’t looked at them for a long time.
The painting on the left was of the fishing docks on the Niagara River. Two men spin nets while a third slumps on the ground, his back against a two-story shingled building. He sits with his legs splayed out while a dog squats beside him. Fort Niagara is on top of the cliff face across the river, below a leaden gray and white streaked sky.
The other painting was of Art’s Coffee Shop on Main Street, or what is now called Queen Street. The pregnant woman wearing a red hat, leaning back as she walks, and carrying what would be twins is Betty White. Nineteen years later Lucy White and I got married.
The large purple dog trailing a small boy on a tricycle in the center of the painting is an Airedale, as are the other four dogs in the painting, including the one peeing on a lamppost. You probably couldn’t paint that from real life anymore. Niagara-on-the-Lake has by-laws about it.
One night my new neighbor reminded me it was against the law for a dog to bark more than twenty minutes after 8 PM.
“Your dog’s been barking for twenty two minutes,” she said over the phone.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was out and I haven’t had a chance to walk him, yet.”
She hung up.
“What the hell?” I thought, the dog’s lead in my hand.
I have a Jack Russell terrier. He misses me when I go out in the evening. The dog burns himself up whenever he spots a rat in Paradise Grove Park behind the Festival Theater. He always used to get what he was after, but he’s grown older and slower, and sometimes the rats get away.
The fisheries closed when Lake Ontario became polluted and there was too much DDT in the water. Algae blooms got so thick waves couldn’t break. It’s better now. There are even walleye to be had, although they don’t reproduce anymore. They have to be restocked year after year.
Lake sturgeon used to be the King of Fish. Then they were hunted down. They were even burned as fuel to power steamboats. No one’s allowed to try for lake sturgeon anymore, even if someone could miraculously find one.
Art’s Coffee Shop is gone, too, and it’s now called Cork’s Wine Bar and Eatery. They serve Hawaiian Meatballs and Beef Panini’s for lunch. A John MacDonald is what needs to be in your wallet for a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee.
My father got the paintings in trade from Bruce Rigg, the town doctor, the same year he got our dining room set. After he died and I inherited the house they stayed where they were on the wall where they’d always hung. We only ever took them down the year we tore off the wallpaper and whenever we repainted the room.
Bruce Rigg was our family doctor. My father was a mason and worked on Dr. Rigg’s office building on Davy Street whenever repairs were needed. It had been the high school gymnasium until after World War Two, when there weren’t any more children in town. Bruce Rigg and his brother Jackson bought the building and converted it into a medical office. They were the town doctors for the next forty-some years.
In 1957 another high school had to be built since there were suddenly so many soon-to-be teenagers in town. That one closed four years ago. I remember its mascot was a Trojan with a Jay Leno chin and a blue plumed helmet. When the Parliament Oak elementary school closes next year there won’t be any schools left in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
At the front of the Art’s Coffee Shop painting two boys wrestle like spitfires, a boy in a green shirt rides a tricycle, a girl in a red jumpsuit pushes a wheel and paddle on a stick, and a woman with a yellow stroller carrying a round-faced toddler stops to talk to Betty White.
Whenever there were sleet storms my sister and I would tie our shoes around our necks and skate down Main Street to school.
The trustees and the town debated for months about Parliament Oak. Everyone said the school was essential for the Old Town’s vitality. The Lord Mayor argued no one appreciated the growth anticipated for the town. One of the parents cried she was flabbergasted by the decision. But, there are barely any children left in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
No one’s setting their houses on fire at night.
By the time the movers took the dining room table out all the rooms were vacant. I had emptied the bookcases, packed my clothes, and taken everything off the walls, except the paintings, the day before. It was when everything else was gone that the paintings stood out, like a sudden, sharp image in a dream.
The summer before my sister was born my father drove the more than two hundred kilometers to Owen Sound and came back with our dining room set and a china cabinet. He drove a Chevy pick-up he had hired from Tommy May’s Livery Stable. The truck had a wood slat deck, so none of the furniture got scratched, although the Jack Russell’s we always had in the house left their mark.
My father lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake, went to school, and worked here his whole life, but he was born in Lancashire. He and my uncles and aunts were all born there. Whenever she was seven months along my grandmother went back to Britain to her mother to have the baby.
She took a train from Buffalo to New York City and sailed on the White Star ocean liner Cedric. She went back and forth five times in third class. She never got seasick and was on the Cedric when it collided with another ship in Morcombe Bay and sank it. The last time she sailed to Lancashire she died in childbirth and my grandfather had to take the boat to bring the baby back.
I was one of the first children delivered at the new Niagara-on-the-Lake Hospital on Wellington Street when it opened in 1953, replacing the old cottage hospital. Dr. Rigg was the attending doctor, although my father said he hardly did anything. My mother said she did all the hard work.
That’s all changed. No one works hard here anymore. The growth industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake is lawn care. Every time I look out my window some guy goes by in a pick-up with a lawn mower in the back. They cut the grass for people who are too lazy to cut their own.
No one is born or dies here, either.
They tore down the general hospital outside St. Catherine’s and built a mammoth, new one. Now all the small local hospitals are closing in its wake. Ours is turning off its lights at year’s end and children won’t be born in Niagara-on-the-Lake anymore.
They say it makes economic sense, but I don’t think it matters. Once you get involved with anything under the rule of no one, like the National Health Service, you’re not going to save even a dime. That’s a given.
When there were still docks in town Dr. Rigg painted the river and the fishermen on weekends. He and his artist colony friends had social parties at Bill Richardson’s, the local coal yard owner. Mary Jones wore a cape and Betty Lane, the bohemian of the group, played a fiddle.
They lived here all their lives.
Almost no one in Niagara-on-the-Lake now has been here long. They’re all from somewhere else. The sub-divisions are full of them. At first I noticed their high-end cars, like Audis and Mercedes. I thought it was the tourists. Everyone in town used to drive Chevy’s and Pontiacs.
But, they weren’t tourists. They were living here. And they’re all retired, getting a pension from somebody or other, most of the time the government. That’s why there are no children anymore and the schools are all closing.
Last year the veteran’s house on the corner, a story-and-a-half, like mine, was sold. They built a little porch around it, which was nice, but it was something anyone could have done on a weekend. Seven or eight years ago the house would have sold for a hundred grand.
They sold it for four hundred and thirty thousand dollars.
Nobody who actually lives here, and was in their right mind, would pay that kind of money for that house.
The out-of-towner who bought it was a single woman. She had a self-satisfied spinsterish look on her face when I met her. She was a retired schoolteacher from Toronto who had sold her house, that she bought for fifty thousand 35 years ago, for nine hundred thousand, and come to Niagara-on-the Lake.
She drove a metallic blue Audi A4 and had plenty of money left over.
A few years from now she’ll probably look like a seer.
“Oh, yes, I only paid $430,000.00 for my house. The man next door might sell you his for God knows what.”
When you live here, with one bathroom, in a small, funny house you can’t swing a cat in, and someone offers you a half million for it, you take it. Very few people are left in Niagara-on-the-Lake. They’ve all sold out and moved to St. Catherine’s, where they can get a real house for half the price.
Niagara-on-the-Lake has become, like Oakville, one of the beautiful places to live. It’s nostalgic, the houses have been tarted up, and it’s close to Toronto. Everybody used to know everybody. But, now nobody knows anybody. It’s a wealthy ghetto, although no one calls it a ghetto. They call it the good life.
People used to work here, but all the manufacturing jobs have left. General Motors is still in St. Catherine’s, but even GM is just a shadow of what it used to be.
The federal provincial government backstopped all the pensions when it went under. It’s a gravy train if you’re on the train.
The woman from St. Catherine’s who cleaned my house once a month is retired from General Motors. She was there for twenty-five years. She’s figured out carpal tunnel. She doesn’t have it, but she got a check for $30,000.00 for having it, and she gets a monthly check, to boot, for the rest of her life.
Her first, second, and third husbands all worked for GM. The one she’s getting rid of now worked for GM, too, and they double-dip everything from the drug store to eyeglasses.
We had our own government here, in the town, once, but then it was amalgamated, and the town lost control. The barbarians in the township took over. Everybody asked what was going on, but that was it. It was all down hill from there.
A town planner from Scarborough was sent to Niagara-on-the-Lake. He was a big man with cornflower blue eyes in a black suit. He stood on the corner of Mississauga and Queen Streets twenty years ago and said, “When you look left, that’s going to be residential. When you look right, that’s going to be commercial.“
That would have been news to lot of people in town.
Scarberia is what we called Scarborough. Niagara-on-the-Lake has the oldest, largest collection of Georgian architecture in Canada and the man from Toronto was taking over. No one with any sense believed it. But, what he had in mind is what it is today.
When the bureaucrats take over there will be problems. It’s hard making sense of anything. Everything gets very commercial. There used to be fine big trees on Queen Street, their branches almost touching over the street. They’ve slowly been cutting them all down so they can grow annuals in the sidewalk flowerbeds. They think the tourists like it.
It’s a terrible idea.
There were once a block-or-two of shops, but now the whole street is commercial, although not so you can buy baby food, drop your shoes off to be repaired, or get a haircut.
There were always a few bed and breakfasts in town. Widows and orphans ran them. They couldn’t afford the taxes on their houses, so they let a room, or two. Now it’s an industry. They’re all out-of-towners running the bed and breakfasts, retired teachers and bureaucrats from Toronto with time and money on their hands.
They walk around the town, strolling here and there with a dog on a leash because it makes it seem like they’re doing something, which is the same thing they were doing when they were working.
They watch television during the day and drink at night, and after a few years give up and someone else takes their place.
The next step was to turn houses into guest cottages. They aren’t widows and orphans and they don’t live there. They rent the house and live somewhere else. There are people in the house and no one’s got a clue who they are. I mow my lawn and every few weeks I notice I’ve got new neighbors.
The Chinese own the hotels. They had to get their money out of Hong Kong in the 1990s before the Communists got their hands on it, and so they brought some of it here. They own the Queen’s Landing, the Oban Inn, the Prince of Wales, and all the other big places.
When the Queen’s Royal Hotel was still open, before the bust, the Prince of Wales was a run-down dump. It was a weasely small thing on the corner. Now the town is booming and it’s got more than a hundred rooms at $300.00 a night.
You can’t smoke in any of the rooms, either, no matter what you pay. You can’t smoke anywhere indoors. Anyone can smoke in his own house, but you can’t smoke in your own car if there is a child in the car. Or, even if a child is going to be in the car.
My wife asked me to stop smoking seven-or-eight years. I promised her I would, and I did. I didn’t mind the gruesome pictures on the packages, but the price got to be too much. The hell with it; I wasn’t a big-time smoker, anyway. She never smoked, but she got cancer, somehow, and died two years ago.
She died in the same hospital on Wellington Street she was born in.
The stores that sell cigarettes don’t let you see them anymore. They’re behind a curtain, the way they used to hide alcohol. The liquor stores would give you a pencil and a piece of paper. You wrote down the number of what you wanted, brandy or whiskey, handed it to them, and the clerk went into the back room to get it for you.
Cigarettes used to be good and booze was bad. Now cigarettes are bad and booze is good. There are more than eighty wineries in Niagara. Drugs used to be bad, too, but lately greenhouses have gone up on the escarpment growing pot. They’re going to make it profitable and then they’re going to tax it.
Niagara-on-the-Lake isn’t really a town anymore. It’s a group of people who show up here once in a while. It looks pretty because there’s so much money floating around, but it’s more a show town than anything else.
The Shaw theaters could be anywhere. They just happen to be in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Most of the theater people live here part-time, and even those who have houses aren’t here for half the year. They go somewhere else to work. Old Town is a very quiet village in the winter. The actors and musicians and everybody used to rent in the town, but they can’t afford to anymore. It’s one of their big problems, finding accommodations for all the show people.
Trains used to bring summer visitors from Buffalo and Toronto up the tracks on King Street. They stayed for a few weeks or a month and the trains went back loaded with fruit. Now the summer people come for a few days, walk up and down Queen Street shopping, go to dinner, see a play, and tramp to the wineries.
“It’s such a cute little quaint town and everyone is so nice.”
Then they drive away down the parkway back to the USA or up Mississauga Street to the QEW, racing past one sub-division after the other.
“Are you taking those pictures?” Emil Montreuil asked, coming up behind me.
“You bet,” I said, taking them off the wall. “I can’t leave them here.”
“Do you want me to bubble wrap them?”
“No, I’ll just take them this way.”
I climbed up into the moving truck with Emil and laid the paintings side-by-side face up on the wide recessed dash. I lowered the passenger side window for my Jack Russell. The dog leaned on the armrest barking at our retired schoolteacher neighbor as she crossed the street. She looked away as she went up her walk.
The low watery sky, the tops of the thinning trees, and dark house rooftops reflected off the glass of the two paintings as we slowly rolled from one stop sign to the next stop sign on Mary Street. We turned away from the town on Mississauga Street. When it became Niagara Stone Road Emil picked up speed past the big wineries.
As we passed the Niagara District Airport he reached into his jacket pocket.
“Smoke?” he asked, gesturing with a pack of Export A’s.
In the painting of the fishermen spinning nets the man with his hands jammed into his pockets and sitting on the ground, leaning on a wall, his legs splayed out and his dog beside him, is smoking a pipe.
“What the hell, sure,” I said.
Get your tickets now for this year’s first Side Hustle performance: “It’s a Date!”, Friday May 13th, 7:30pm at the Guild. We will be featuring this talented crew of improv artists throughout the summer so you don’t want to miss a show.
Only two weeks left until Somebody Loves you, Mr. Hatch. This fantastic show touches on themes that are on all our minds lately – what a great way to spend a Saturday evening at the Harbourfront Theatre with your whole family. For tickets, call our box office or go to www.harbourfronttheatre.com