occasionally locally social


I’m not a social person. Let’s just get that straight, because what follows may lead some to believe I am. But… I am not. Blips in scheduling sometimes occur, blips that have me gadding about in ways completely alien to my true nature. Happy blips in this case.

Thursday: Writing workshop at the shelter and there is talk of a spaghetti dinner on Saturday to celebrate the birthday of a one year old. I am invited.

Thursday Night: Eve of International Women’s Day and I am at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery eating scrumptious Berry Hill Food kabobs and food in various other forms and quaffing free red wine. (Also being one of thirty five women honoured for commitment and support of the Denise House shelter. Still feeling a little emotional about that one.)

Friday: International Women’s Day and I am at Soebys buying bunches of tulips for a couple of gals who inspire me with their passion in all matters of art and life and kindness. We sit down to lunch over bowls of seafood bisque, crusty bread, and endless, truly endless, chat.

Saturday: I am at the Visual Arts Centre in Bowmanville, listening to Jane Eccles tell the stories of women from all walks of life, women whose dresses she’s painted over the past fifteen or so years. There’s something about a disembodied dress that begs story, that reminds us of the difference yet sameness we all share. I have a soft spot for textile (including upholstory), the way fabric holds things, the essence of memory it conveys.

Saturday night: I drop by the shelter for a spaghetti dinner that is nowhere near ready and I can’t stay until it is but I chat for an hour anyway with a couple of residents and so begins a series of spaghetti sauce secrets that takes me to something called passata which is so apparently ubiquitous that I’m not sure I know how I’ve managed all these many decades without it.

Sunday: I have been invited to a UAW hall in Oshawa where I listen to women speakers, women affected by the loss of the GM plant, who with brave voices encourage both women and men to find ways ahead, to remain positive but to challenge governments, to question when necessary and, (my favourite bit) to be not only trail blazers, but path wideners for each other. Path wideners.

Monday night: I am at the shelter again where I bump into a few of the women from last week’s writing workshop. There are hugs and stories about birthday cake (and spaghetti dinners that may or may not have materialized) and visits to Ripley’s Aquarium and I have to bite my tongue because I have strong feelings about how I’d like Ripley’s to better use their power to more accurately portray the oceans, i.e. how there are areas of plastic twice the size of Texas, and how wildlife is dying from ingesting it all, not to mention the lingering effects of oil spills, but there is a child who’s recently had to leave its home under the worst kind of circumstances and whose future is up in the air and who lovingly embraces a stuffed blue shark as I speak to his mother and so I smile and simply say nice shark and then I have a brief chat about fish, generally, with a couple of kids. No mention of plastic. Not yet.


how to do campbellford in twenty four hours


Start in Oshawa. At the RMG. Give the current exhibition of abstract paintings too little of your time and make a note to go back when it’s the only item on your itinerary.

Take Hwy 2 to Bowmanville and stop at the VAC. Be delighted to find Frances Ferdinands’ work. Fall in love with a couple of the pieces.      Continue on Hwy 2 (on this getaway we’re generally flipping the bird to the 401) to Newcastle and make your way to the waterfront where you’ll find a monarch recently arrived from Texas and the air pungent with seaweed.

Take the Lakeshore Road east along the shoreline and through the countryside and past a field of cows that apparently live in the forest.

Take that beautiful winding road all the way to Port Hope where you have lunch at Gusto. Have the fresh bright green dairy-free pea soup and the smoked trout and arugula and shut up about not getting a table on the patio because oh my god already… you have a window seat and air conditioning and the baby at the next table isn’t even crying. Life is good.

Get on the 28 to the 9 and go west a bit to the lavender fields of Laveanne. Shrug when they say you cannot have tea because there are no tables free (tables overlooking the lavender fields!) because they’re expecting a large wine group whatever that is. Buy shortbread cookies instead. Use the loo.

Go back along 9 until it turns into 29 and then magically becomes 30 or Grand or something that takes you into Campbellford where you wonder how you’ll manage to find your B&B because you misplaced the address and then, presto bongo, it appears before you like B&B magic.

Wander about town for just a bit.

Then settle on the patio for a glass of pre-dinner wine in the most ultra Canadian way — under a big old maple.

Have a dinner of curried mussels while listening to a guy in shades sing Dylan. Call it a night when he starts doing Led Zeppelin.

Next day,  cross a suspension bridge into the woods and find a pianist playing birdsong at almost-dawn.

Have breakfast on yet another patio in a town where, oddly, there are not that many patios.

Discover a place that cares for feral cats. And another with a lineup for doughnuts.

A visitor centre that grows tomatoes.

A big twoonie.

And the woman who used to run the Ultramar who has now bought the old bowling lanes and is making them wonderful (truly wonderful…!) including a tropical themed patio (in a town where there are not that many patios).

At the farmers’ market, buy organic lettuce picked this morning and something called rat tails that look like snap peas but taste like radishes and buy a bright red perennial and sample the clover tea.

Have conversations EVERYWHERE. Because you can’t buy a stamp in this town without the friendliest people engaging you in the sweetest banter.

Choose the house you’d live in if you lived here.

And where you’d buy your subs.

And your trophies.

Buy postcards at Stedmans. Buy an optical illusion wind-chime thingy for the garden. Buy a bright orange and yellow tea towel that will make it 1965 every time you dry a soup bowl. Give thanks that places like this still exist, who sell garden hoses and slippers and sheets of gingham patterned vinyl by the metre (what does one do with the vinyl?) and so much else you didn’t know you needed, all in adjoining aisles. This truly is the only way to shop.

Visit the WestBen site and vow to return for the music.

Visit Kerr’s Books and marvel that a town this size has an indie.

Visit Empire Cheese and find not only whiskey mustard cheddar but maybe the best veggie chips around and a view of the land in this part of the world.

Take your time driving home.

Above all, continue the theme of bird-flipping to all major highways.

You’re welcome.

(Note: *do* is just another word for relish.)

More travel notes here…





take a city

Take a city. Any city.

Take one that despite its city status has a crazy small town vibe where people still say “Oh, you mean where the Boychyns used to live?” of a house where the Boychyns have not lived for decades. Where everybody seems to have gone to school with somebody that somebody else knows and where possibly one of the best chip trucks in the country is parked on a distinctly unglamorous corner.

And where, because it’s a city, terrible things happen—women and children end up in shelters and young men are sometimes shot. There are daily lineups outside the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and a crowd of smokers huddle outside the Timmy’s. There’s sadness on the streets, insanity too, but if you stop someone for directions chances are you’ll be surprised by kindness, by the thoughtfulness of the answer.

Take a city where you are stuck behind a woman at the corner shop whose husband has a new hip and the cashier wants to know how things are going with Ted. Be prepared to shift about, to be on the verge of muttering unpleasantries when you’re overcome with relief to hear that things are on the mend, that Ted is doing okay. And just as you consider taking up peevishness again, the silver-haired woman turns to you and says “Men, eh! The old farts don’t know how good they’ve got it!”  When she snaps her purse shut with a happy cackle, you can see her kitchen, the apron on a chrome chair, a kettle that’s always just boiled, her whole house smelling of pie and Hamburger Helper… and as she leaves you almost want to shout “Say hello to Ted for me!”

Take this city and its factories, its history of lunch pails, shift work and layoffs, picnics at the lake, fights at the bar, a gallery of fine art. A city where people who live there wouldn’t live anywhere else and those who’ve never visited have crystal clear misconceptions.

Where economic nose dives hit extremely hard. Hard enough to close down small businesses. But not all… people are loyal to old favourites.

And new favourites emerge from the rubble.

Take a city where, among the alleys and row houses, brick bungalows, flats over tattoo parlours, funky cafes, restaurants and thrift shops, among empty storefronts… a group of local artists have invadedfilling spaces behind doors that are normally locked with ‘For Lease’ signs in their windows… filling those spaces with people, art and music.

At least for a short while.
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Take a city that can’t be broke.

ethanol on the beach: one story, three versions, with pictures

Version I

The city didn’t want it. Another city did. Some shady dealing went on. The city that doesn’t want it is getting it anyway. And they’re upset. And the city that wanted it is upset too. And please don’t ask if an environmental assessment was done because that’s just silly. Of course it was NOT done. The new rules say we don’t need such fluff and nonsense.

So there.

End of story.


Cronyism has won the right to build an ethanol plant in Durham Township, right on Oshawa’s busy and environmentally sensitive waterfront, much to the dismay of everyone except the cronies. Meanwhile, nearby Brock Township has a site they’d love to dedicate for just such a purpose but the cronies wrinkled their noses and said no, they want to play at the beach instead. It’s rumoured that one stamped his foot and threatened to hold his breath until he turned blue(r).


In Search of Gifford Hill—my take on visiting the site.

And pictures too.