Memories of people and places rekindled in Ontario road trip

Trip home reveals things don't change that much

I recently completed a six day, 1,134 kilometre road trip through the heart of Ontario’s cottage country, paying a visit to friends, family, and places, some of whom and which  I had not seen for more than 20 years.

It was a pleasant journey of rediscovery and reunion. The old adage, “The more things change, the more they remain the same” could aptly apply to humans, too. I was surprised at the seemlessness of the visits I had with those who I hadn’t seen for two decades or more – we picked up where we left off years ago as though it might have been last week. The annual year end exchange of letters at Christmas has obviously helped to maintain that continuity over the years.

I have to admit that everyone looked older – but surprisingly, not all that much. It was good to see that everyone was still in good health – including 93 year old John Ayling, who is the father of a friend of mine from Rexdale.

I arrived at his family cottage near Bala one hot, humid and rainy Monday afternoon. My arrival was unexpected, and John was the only one at the cottage. I found him outside, busily tending to a woodworking project under a canvas awning. He looked at me for a few seconds before recognizing me  – after 23 years and only a  handful of previous meetings.

His appearance, speech and actions belied his age by  the two decades since we’d last met, his memory still razor sharp. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at how John had fared -my recollections of him as a 70 year old was that of an enthusiastic wet suited windsurfer and sailor back in the late ‘80’s. He still sails, drives, plays the tuba in two local bands in Gravenhurst, and seems to have no problem keeping it all together.

Truly phenomenal.

Ontario’s answer to going to heaven without the inconvenience of dying must be their famous beer distribution system, manifested by the  placement of “The Beer Store” outlets in every community of consequence in the province.

The cool, beery smelling atmosphere of these summer oasis’ is sheer nirvana, especially on a hot, humid central Ontario summer day.

In some of the larger ones, you can wander up and down refrigerated aisles of literally hundreds of brands of ales, porters, and lagers. The inescapable aroma of hops and the clatter of rollcases are for me, a nostalgic experience dating back to my childhood when my dad was a somewhat frequent customer of what was then known as “Brewer’s Retail” stores.

But alas – all is not perfect in Ontario’s retail beer industry, as the province continues to struggle with puritan liquor laws that only allow The Beer Store to be open for a half shift on Sunday.

Pity.

Travelling Central Ontario’s cottage country in the summer time involves time spent on many of the province’s efficient but crowded two lane highways. The congestion has the potential to be both frustrating and dangerous, as few people drive at the posted limit of 80 kilometres per hour. My experience with this speed is that it is too slow when traffic is light, and, under certain circumstances, too fast when long lines of vehicles plug up the highways between the many traffic light controlled crossroads. I was careful, having heard my share of tales about ticket happy Ontario Provincial Police.

When I lived in Ontario, summertime weekend trips to cottage country always had a nostalgic element to them. All these years later, it’s comforting to know that that feeling still remains.