Thursday, October 25, 2012



Chapter 1 - Are some stories better left untold?

I consider myself a fortunate man. My father liked to write things down.

In 1975 he wrote his Naval memoirs (35 hand-written pages that covered the years 1941 - 1945), in the mid-1990s he wrote in more detail about a couple of well-remembered Navy adventures for books that are still considered significant today, and while he lived in the village of Norwich, Ontario he penned weekly columns for a few years that touched on various aspects of his life and surroundings.

He also left behind, after his death in 2003, many invaluable photographs and artifacts related to his Navy days, and would have left behind many more had he not lost, by theft, an important collection of souvenirs from a Navy warehouse in Egypt, about the time of D-Day in Sicily, 1943.

About the unfortunate event my father writes the following:

“Late June, 1943 was the last time I helped move that huge mound of baggage. We were in Dejehli, Egypt and we stowed them in a wonderfully clean army building there. I put a navy padlock on the door (I’m kingpin now), the baggage party walked to a waiting truck and none of us ever saw our gear again. Our clothing, photos, souvenirs, everything we owned, went missing.” (pg. 88, “DAD, WELL DONE”)

I can endure the loss of most of father’s authentic WW2 relics, including a piece of shrapnel taken from the deck of the oil tanker Ennerdale shortly after it was attacked at sea south of Milford Haven, Wales, June 22, 1942. 

[Dad writes, “We (Ennerdale) arrived at Cove (sic) the next
day with everyone happy to be alive.” I say he landed at
Cowes, Isle of Wight, protected by a Polish destroyer

Because after having conversations with other children of WW2 veterans who have in hand or memory very few, if any, wartime stories, photographs or artifacts, I consider myself (and my four siblings) very fortunate indeed.

And because father wrote things down I’ve been able to get to know him better, draw a little closer to him, even though he has been gone for almost ten years. Some stories reveal he and I are more alike than I would have known or even admitted a few years ago. 

That being said, and though some stories make me laugh and say to myself, “Of course, Dad, what else would a seaman do with several crates of officers’ rum? I bet would have done the same,” or wonder how he made it home alive, or encourage me to look for more background information about where he was at a particular time (e,g., Cowes, not Cove), or inspire me to applaud his actions, others raise questions and concerns and take me into challenging, sometimes unexpected territory.

.  .  .

I can’t recall exactly when I first read about my father’s wartime friendship with Gracie Purvis of Croydon (County Surrey, south of London, England). I believe it was when he was still alive and staying at Parkwood Hospital in London, and some time after I purchased two books that contained several of his wartime stories (St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War 1941 - 1945, Volumes 1 and 2). However, before I even cracked a cover, two or three years past, such was my level of interest. 

                                     ["Doug Harrison (later my father) inside a small cafe"]

When I did finally turn to one of father’s stories, it opened with the following: “My Navy buddy, Frank Herring, and I engaged in a Silent Pact overseas. When we were not required on board for duty we conspired to be the first ashore to get the pick. No Liberty Boat inspection for us - case the joint and slip ashore quickly and hopefully unseen.” (pg. 48, The Silent Pact and Its Epilogue) 

I can recall a few of my reactions after reading the complete story. 

For example, I felt it was a ‘Whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ story that didn’t stay in Vegas, but, maybe should have. I was surprised Dad wanted ‘the pick’ of unattached women. I mean, what would my mother think of that, even though my mother and father were not married in 1942, even though it sounded like his connection with Gracie was platonic? Was my dad some kind of hound dog?

Little else from the time of the first reading comes to mind. And a few seconds after thinking such things I probably moved on to doing something else, like cutting the grass or changing a lightbulb or driving to a sporting goods store to get my skates sharpened for my next hockey game. Dad’s stories about his past life and adventures quickly took a back seat - just like they had dozens of other times in the past - to my day-to-day life and all of its distractions.

And then, late at night on February 3, 2003 he died.

I say now he died at a time when we were warming up to one another. Because of our weekly drives together in the country, enjoyable conversations together were getting longer, more rewarding. Sometimes we’d agree on a subject.

(I’d pick him up at Parkwood Hospital at 1 p.m. He was always standing ready near the back door. We’d first pick up coffee, then follow our noses down many a dusty road before supper time.)

Our time wandering dozens of pleasant roads through unfamiliar or favourite countryside, in close quarters and near the end of his life, has left a deep impression upon me. For one, I now believe that in the challenging world of human relationships anything is possible.

And recently, while looking through his remaining files, I discovered our time on the road made an impression upon Dad as well.

.  .  .

My father loved his country roads and I succeeded in finding new and interesting ones to explore with him on a regular basis. Early rides together lasted but a short while, long enough to sip and finish a small take-out coffee. Later rides lasted a full afternoon, and we found ourselves buying large coffees before we headed out and refills at the turn-around point. Dad, in his early eighties, eventually had to ask for more than one pit-stop. I recall also that he occasionally paid for the coffees.

As I recently discovered, some time after our country drives became a habit, father put pen to paper and wrote a story - intended for his faithful audience, readers of the Norwich Gazette - from his unique point-of-view about some of our experiences together.

He starts the story with a joke, in my opinion: “Every Sunday I get taken for a ride, sorry, my son guides me around the London area in his car.”

He mentions several items of interest and - perhaps for the first time ever - he and I appear in the same sentence doing something we both greatly enjoy: “This time of year we watch for the white flowering elderberries. My son Gordon maps them and we know exactly where to go when they ripen. The maps are available, at a price of course.” (He is right about the map. It’s quite expensive).

[“... son Gordon maps them and we know exactly where to go...”]

He writes a great deal about a short tour we took through a Quaker church that stands one kilometer north of Sparta, Ontario and finishes off with one more word about our beloved elderberries. (Mother made the best elderberry pies in Oxford County. He and I could both agree on that).

Thanks to finding and reading his story I can safely conclude that, to the end, he had a sharp eye and mind and liked to tell his stories. However, that being said, never did we speak about Gracie Purvis, and I regret my missed opportunity to this day. I’m sure, based on other conversations I had with my father about very delicate matters, we could have addressed the matter in a carful manner, without me passing any negative judgment on events that occurred nearly 60 years earlier.

Missed opportunity. 

Here I am today - almost ten years after father’s death - very interested in knowing more about a woman who was father’s dear friend for three months while he was in England (as a young sailor and brave combatant), a woman he could likely recall quite easily, even vividly, if he was here with me. But he is not. He is gone. So are some of his best stories. Such is life, my father would say to me.

No doubt there are people who will tell me that some stories are better left untold, perhaps even forgotten. The past is the past. Shouldn’t be disturbed. The notion that men in uniform formed alliances with other women, forgetting for a time or turning their backs on commitments to girlfriends back at home, is a disagreeable matter about disapproved arrangements.

My own mother, if she was here, would likely be the most concerned person of all. She might be pointing a finger straight at my nose right now.

But even if she is or would if she was here, I feel there are some stories - difficult, challenging, upsetting stories for some people - that have to be told. Need to be told. At least explored, like winding, dusty, country roads.

And that’s what I intend to do.

*  *  *  *  *

More to follow.


Please click here to read the more about Dad’s Navy Days

Sunday, October 7, 2012

(1) Where are you, Gracie Purvis?


My dad joined the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) in 1941 and put his shoulder to the wheel of World War II. 

In his Naval memoirs he writes the following:

March the first, 1941, I left my employment at the Norwich Co-op and joined the Navy as a probationary rating, at Hamilton, taking instructions each evening. I stayed at the home of my sister Gertie... (“DAD, WELL DONE”: The Naval Memoirs of Leading Seaman Coxswain Gordon Douglas Harrison)

He said good-bye to his job at the Co-op in the west end of the village of Norwich as well as to his mother (his father died when he was 10), brothers and sisters and a girlfriend, a young girl who lived in a small house under the village water tower, one block from the post office in downtown Norwich.

 [“Edith Catton (later, my mother)
outside her small house, Norwich”]

I’m sure it wasn’t long before letters between Dad, his mother and his girl friend flew back and forth, all expressing feelings about new experiences, strong affections and their separation from one another. 

[“Doug Harrison (later, my father)
at barracks, Halifax, 1941”]

I’m also sure it’s true that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ In the recent past, as I compiled my dad’s naval memoirs into book form, I learned he and many other young men missed their mothers and girlfriends greatly and couldn’t sing certain songs without tears forming in their eyes. 

As well, I learned that affectionate alliances were formed between many young Canadian sailors and women in Great Britain during the harsh war years, and that the attractions and affections - even after the men and women returned to their own homes, friends and families - lasted long after the second world war ended.

A short story follows about an alliance my dad made when in England in 1942, the effects of which can be felt to this day.

* * * * *

More to follow.

Please click here for more about Dad’s Navy days

[Photo of old photos by G.Harrison]


SHORT STORY: "Where are you, Gracie?"

Another attempt at a brilliant short story is coming soon.

Title: Where are you, Gracie Purvis?

Setting: Norwich, Ontario and Southend-on-Sea, England

Time: 1941 - 42

Characters: Dad, Mom, Gracie Purvis

Trouble: Oh yeah!

[Photo of old photo by G.Harrison]


Please click here for more details about the set-up photo

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

SHORT STORY: Discovering the World in One Pair of Pants


Between August 24 - 27, 2012 I completed a round trip by bicycle between London and Port Bruce, Ontario. The distance was approximately 125 km. 

Among many other things I learned the following:

Cycling with too much weight is hard work

* * * * *

CHAPTER ONE   -   Why cycle to Port Bruce?

Why ride a bike over 60 kilometers to an almost-forgotten old fishing port I’ve visited one hundred times already? Good question. 

I ask in return, why not? It’s guaranteed to be quiet, peaceful and several flavours of ice cream are sold at the Sand Kastle restaurant. Good answer.

I like travelling no matter the method. By foot, bicycle,  canoe, motorcycle, train or plane. I like travelling a short distance for a few hours (e.g., through Chicago by foot or to Lake Erie by bicycle) or a long distance for several hours (e.g., to Switzerland by plane). The rewards are plentiful along the way and more await at my destination.

[The beach at Port Bruce]

I’m a willing traveller who likes to pack (often too much), unpack, take walk-abouts and scores of pictures and talk to complete strangers when I’ve had enough time playing quiet observer. I like learning a few new things each day away from home and then packing up for the return trip.

I like trying to pack light (one pair of pants) and hanging onto my money. My favourite souvenirs are rocks, tans and photos.

So, on August 24, a gray-skied Friday, I bicycled to Port Bruce in order to camp for three nights, read at the beach and enjoy a King Burger at the Sand Kastle. Now that I’m home, and after much careful thought and several complicated mathematical calculations (including one Venn diagram), I give the trip a score of 8 out of 10. 

[Miele bike, CCM trailer and me, ready to go]

About the score: The weather was great, I couldn’t ask for better, I felt my bones relax, and though the broken sign that read “Are Strictly Prohibited On The Beach” probably referred to Alcoholic Beverages, the first cold beer I drank under the spreading arms of twin scrub trees tasted absolutely great. And if it was illegal then it tasted even better. However, a few snags appeared along the way, as did the cold nose of a frisky dog - almost inside my shorts - when least expected.

* * * * *

I settled on lunch under a shady tree at New Sarum Diner @ 12:45

CHAPTER TWO   -   A detour and a free lunch   

I left my house and my anxious wife (“What will I do with all my free time, now that he’s gone?” she wondered.) at 9:45 a.m. on Friday, the 24th of August, and headed to a nearby bike shop to buy pedals with toe clips, but I found it was closed, so I past some time by pumping up the tires on my bike and heavily-loaded trailer, and tapping my feet. 

In all I waited about 15 minutes but couldn’t wait any longer because the thought of riding 60 kilometers weighed heavy on my shoulders, as did the extra pounds of gear I had behind me... compared to a similar trip earlier in the summer. (My large can of Irish Stew with its ‘preformed chunks of meat’ alone felt like five pounds of excess cargo during the first two blocks of pedaling. I decided to keep it on board anyway, along with a lot of other stuff I used once - or not at all - during four days of camping. My packing skills are a work in progress).

“Forget about the pedals,” I said and headed south toward Bradley Avenue, Pond Mills and Wilton Grove Roads. They led me to my favourite route south to Lake Erie, i.e., Old Victoria Sideroad.

Though Old Vic has a few sections still in gravel (the road isn’t called ‘Old’ for no good reason), the hard-packed dirt is a decent ride and the lack of traffic is a welcome relief. When motorcycling to Port Bruce in the past I often used the road at low speed for sight-seeing. I once spotted elderberry bushes in bloom and another time wild turkeys on the run - nearly 50 miles per hour it seemed - in harvested corn fields.

On this day I found it closed due to construction.

[My favourite route is closed]

“Darn it all,” I said, though not politely. “Now I’ll have to take the Belmont Road to New Sarum (on Highway 3).”

On the plus side I would have all paved roads. On the minus side I would have heavier traffic, more noise - compared to birds - and less solitude. And I like solitude. I like stepping off the bike in quiet spots and listening to the wind in the willows, chirp of golden finches and quietness of wide open spaces.

[Sometimes, on a quiet day, I hear corn grow]

Not today, I thought. At least, not until I get to Quaker Rd. south of Highway 3.

My trip diary - it’s always close at hand - records the following: I continued east (RATS!) on Wilton Grove Rd. = busier, w chewed up shoulder. Belmont Rd. was OK w shoulder and I arrived in Belmont @ 11:50 but pressed on (w 2 major hills) to Mapleton. Made good time so settled on lunch under a shady tree @ New Sarum Diner @ approx. 12:45.

According to my well-organized ‘camping menu’, which I kept on a separate piece of paper in my wallet (close to my money, as if to say, “Go easy, man. Stick to some sorta budget”), I planned to buy myself, as some kind of reward for endurance, a nice lunch at the New Sarum Diner, the home of ‘four-penny cheese’ in the not-too-distant past. 

[I planned every meal. But didn’t stick to it!]

But my wife had packed a lunch for me so I relaxed in the shade outside the diner, stuffed my face for free and put the frustration of the detour behind me.   

[In the shade, outside the diner]

Note to readers: I wrote a column in The Londoner (London’s finest community newspaper) several years ago re the New Sarum Diner and their world famous ‘four-penny cheese’. If it wasn’t world famous then, it is now. 

* * * * *


“I stopped several times for water and butt breaks.”

“I wasn’t kidding about the hills. Tough sledding.”

“Biking uphill would be easier with less weight in the trailer! And on a motorcycle!”

“Definitely time for lunch (in New Sarum).”

“It’s one hot day.”

“My first view of the lake is over two hours away.”

* * * * *

Reached Jaffa Rd. @ 2 p.m., then biked uphill to Pleasant Valley Rd. (saw Golden Eagles on motorcycle 5 years ago).

CHAPTER THREE   -   About motorcycles and ointment

I left my motorcycle in storage this year so that I didn’t have to pay to insure it because I’m trying to save money for an important trip to Scotland. (A museum, built after World War II and dedicated to soldiers, sailors and airmen involved in Combined Operations (e.g., my father, a member of RCNVR) is found in Inverary).

Some will soon say, however, my ability to save money is a lot like my ability to pack light, i.e., it’s a work in progress, because the $700 I saved on insurance this year I used to purchase the Miele bicycle I rode to Port Bruce, as well as the CCM trailer I hauled behind it. 

Thanks to recent purchases of bicycle accessories I’m actually in the hole. However, if I sell my motorcycle next spring I’ll be way ahead in the savings department. That is, if I sell it. (“Scotland, here I come?”)

I thought about my motorcycle a lot during the bicycle trip. Every time I felt the trailer tug at the back of the bike - almost every ten seconds, especially often on uphills - I thought about how much easier were past camping trips when I strapped all my gear to the back of a Suzuki or Yamaha. 

[“My motorcycle and heavy load in Halifax, 2010”]

Every time I felt the sharp strain of a leg muscle or the dull ache of my hinder parts I thought of the lovely 1100cc Yamaha Virago sitting in storage. Every time I saw another hill - short, medium, long; they were everywhere - I thought of my motorcycle’s reliable motor.

I asked myself several times, “What was I thinking?”

[“It seems all uphill to Pleasant Valley Rd.”]

But for every uphill there is a downhill (never of equal length in my mind) and for every negative thought there is a positive.

For example, after passing Jaffa Road, two miles north of the historic village of Sparta, I climbed - slowly, on legs beginning to cramp - toward Pleasant Valley Road and recalled the moment several years ago when two golden eagles passed silently over my shoulder while I motorcycled toward the narrow bridge at the base of Pleasant Valley. I sensed the presence of the gliding eagles before I saw their shadow upon the ground. Hair raised upon the back of my neck. It seemed the sky grew dark, and when I lifted my head I saw the pair pass above me 15 feet away. Though I shivered for a few seconds at the thought of them carrying me easily (Maybe not ‘easily’. I do weigh a lot more than a baby sheep.) to some distant aerie for lunch, I was happy to be afforded such a good look at such rare and majestic birds.

And during this bicycle trip I wrote the following about Pleasant Valley Rd.:

(It) may lead to a pleasant valley but it felt great, for the most part, to coast easily into Sparta on the downhill side.

I suppose I said “for the most part” because my legs were tired and my rear end was numb. I took great pleasure in standing up on the pedals and airing out my shorts for half a mile. And thank goodness one can buy ice cream at Sparta’s one gas station. 

[“New York Cherry Cheesescake - all for me!!]

Had the gas station sold soothing ointments I would have sat down in a bucket of their best, but the cold ice cream helped me forget my aches and pains for a few minutes at least. As well, the short break set me up nicely for my last hour of pedaling for the day. I was on Dexter Line inside of 20 minutes and soon thereafter snapped my first views of Lake Erie. 

And it wasn’t long before I flew down a steep hill into Port Bruce to receive an unexpectedly cold welcome to my campsite for the weekend.

* * * * *

I predicted I’d be in Port Bruce by 3:30, in the lake by 4:30. First prediction (came) true.

CHAPTER FOUR   -   Cold nose, cold beer, good sleepin’

According to an old Elgin County Atlas (1876), Port Bruce was “A Romantic Village at the mouth of Catfish Creek, on the north shore of Lake Erie, township of Malahide, county of Elgin. It is a port of entry.

I didn’t arrive at my destination under a sweetly-romantic moon-lit sky with a mouth watering for fried catfish. Rather, I entered the port by way of a steep downhill ride at about 30 miles per hour. Only my bicycle’s sturdy hand brakes kept me from racing through a stop sign and landing in the tepid waters of Catfish Creek on my way to a waiting campsite at J.R.’s Beach trailer park.

After pitching my tent and organizing my gear I found the main office and knocked on the door before entering. Once inside I was greeted by a bearded man I’d seen earlier travelling around the trailer park on a golf cart, and as I opened my wallet for my debit card I was also greeted - coldly, very coldly as I recall - by a shaggy black dog that had his wet and unwelcome nose up and inside my baggy swim shorts before the count of “one, two, thr-eeeeoo!”   

[Except for the dog’s cold nose, money well spent.]

Transaction completed, I walked to the nearby beach, unfolded my chair in the shade of a small tree, placed valuables inside a thick towel and gazed at the welcoming waters of Lake Erie. Upon seeing shallow waves and feeling a lovely breeze upon my sweaty back I sorted various worthwhile goals into their order of importance:

-go jump in the lake
-wash off a thick layer of dust
-bob up and down like a kid for awhile
-sit down in the shade
-enjoy a cold beer
-read and write

Beyond a doubt I took great pleasure in jumping, washing and bobbing in Lake Erie for 10 - 15 minutes. My body temperature dropped from ‘sweatin’ like a pig’ to ‘feelin’ human again’ and once back on dry land, and after looking carefully in all directions several times, I savoured one fine, cold bottle of beer.

My “brilliant notes” reveal my pleasure: “WATER FELT GREAT!! WATER FELT GREAT!! dust from the journey (about 60 km.) washed off nicely and I opened beer on almost deserted beach. BEER TASTED GREAT!! BEER TASTED GREAT!!

By now, some readers will realize it doesn’t take much to amuse me. Besides the cool water and cold beer, I took great pleasure in receiving my own key to the bathroom and shower house. “Cool! Life in Port Bruce comes w perks,” I later wrote. In such a positive mood, I’m not surprised that, after calling my wife from the end of the pier (the one spot where cellphone service was usually available) to say I’d arrived safely, I bought myself supper instead of cooking it up myself back at the campsite.

Honestly. Here were the choices:

King Burger at the Sand Kastle vs canned spaghetti and meatballs at my picnic table. 

$5 price tag vs $1.09.

Burger, cheese, peameal bacon vs canned pasta and mystery meat.

Marvelous vs mysterious.

Easy decision, right? It took me less than 5 seconds to readjust my plans for supper. (I think the long bike ride had a part to play in tilting the scales heavily in favour of the easy kap-easy route and letting somebody else cook on my first night of camping near the peaceful shores of Lake Erie. Of course, I do have a lazy streak).

And once I entered my tent for the night, though a few thoughts about future trips entered my mind (e.g., “Cycling w too much weight is hard work. I may have to think about a B&B scenario or... a cheap, dark motel!!”), they didn’t linger long. I slept like the proverbial rock.

* * * * *


* * * * *

Lazy bum am I.” (Historically speaking, of course).

CHAPTER FIVE   -   Sir William... meet Sir Gordon

Readers who know about Port Bruce’s exciting history will undoubtedly be aware that, on Friday, August 24, at about the same time I was speeding down Dexter Line toward a stop sign - with 50 pounds of gear strapped to my bicycle and hoping my hand brakes would save me from ripping across a busy intersection and splashing into Catfish Creek - Sir William Johnson approached the creek from the opposite direction, from Long Point, with “his son Lt. John Johnson, Capt. Slosser, the Royal Americans under the command of Ensigns Francis Slosser and Robert Holmes of the 60th regiment in four "battoes" (bateaux or large boats) and the Yorkers under the command of Lt. Amos Ogden in eight boats and one birch canoe... (along with) a group of Mohawk Indians giving a total of 13 boats in the expedition” 251 years earlier to the day. (History: At Port Bruce)

[Sir William Johnson visited Port Bruce in 1761]

[Meet Sir Gordon, 251 years later]

Some readers, now that the dates are fresh in their minds, will also know that August 25 is a significant day as well, and that exactly 251 years before I sat on the Port Bruce beach under lovely, sunny skies with a few cans of cold beer and read some of the last chapters of a thick book about D-Day in Normandy (WWII, France), Sir William, after receiving significant news “of the surrender of Belle Isle to his Britannic Majesty, the 7th of June last; also an account of our defeating the Cherokees the tenth of last July, and burning fifteen of their towns,” assembled his mighty forces around him - along with a quantity of gunpowder and alcohol - and “gave orders for the Royal Americans and Yorkers, at three o'clock, to be in arms, and fire three volleys, and give three cheers; after which, each man is to have a dram to drink his majesty's health.” 

Hip hip hooray! What a lovely day, I say.

[Sir William wrote, "Tuesday 25th, A fine morning; wind at N. E."]

According to my notes, I too raised a glass (in my case, a plastic cup) at about three o’clock, and was quite likely the only person in the entire world celebrating - somewhat unknowingly - ‘The Royal Salute’ on the beach upon which the very first was given. I’m a proud, historic man. 

According to Sir William’s diary, however, the same cannot be said for all who took part in the original salute. It says, “All the officers dined and spent the afternoon with me, and Mr. Gambling, the Frenchman, who got very drunk this night, and told me several things very openly.

What shameful, historic secrets were blurted out over tall glasses of rum I can only imagine.

My day and evening past peacefully. I spent most of the afternoon reading in the shade and bobbing in Lake Erie. I ate healthy meals and, because Hallowe’en was celebrated in the campground, I treated myself to ice cream after supper - far away from the noise.

[Motor 'battoes' entering and exiting Catfish Creek]

While looking at the selection of ice cream at the Corner View Cafe I also answered what was likely the most important question of the day.

Question (from my notes): What ice cream flavour tops off my 2nd meal of No Name Irish Stew with “formed chunks of meat”?

Answer (also from my notes): Something without chunks, maybe! 

I later enjoyed tea at The Sand Kastle, with my D-Day history book in hand, and as the sun set I returned to my tent, hoping all young ghosts and goblins were zonked out on sugar. 

Most were, and ten minutes after parking my head on a pillow inside my tent, steps away from the last bits of Hallowe’en madness (“It’s 10 o’clock Saturday night in August, for Pete’s sake,” I said to myself.), I fell fast asleep, with not a care in the world, except for that Hallowe’en thingee.

[Port Bruce, August 25, 2012]

An account of Sir William Johnson's visit to Port Bruce, Ontario (site of the Royal Salute, Tuesday, August 25, 1761) is found at this link. References to my participation have not been found.

* * * * *


A historic birdhouse

Gord cuts a historic pose

On the look out for historic fish

Historic lumber

All’s quiet before a historic Hallowe’en

Historic sand... and shade

Saturday, August 25, 2012 was a historic day in Port Bruce

Please click here to read little-known history about the day.

* * * * *

Sun., Aug. 26. Lovely day at PB, coffee at The Pier by 8:30” 

CHAPTER SIX   -   Sunday, Sunday PT 1

Sleep came easy at night in PB. Long bike rides, hours in the sun, breathing fresh air and bobbing (repeating whenever desired) in Lake Erie certainly helped.

Meals came easy too whenever I cooked at the campsite. With my tiny but very handy propane stove (Pocket Rocket) I heated up tins of stew or spaghetti in a flash and made toast in less than 120 seconds. And though I could boil water for coffee without walking a step from my picnic table, I preferred to visit one of three diners most mornings - after a shower and shave - in order to stretch my short legs, wake up slowly and answer the pressing question, “What’s going on this morning in this wee lakeside retreat?”

Usually the answer was, “Not much, but there’s coffee on.” And that was perfect as far as I was concerned.

Sunday, my last full day to relax, was a significant treat. I sipped two large coffees, $1.75 for the first one and 85 cents for the refill. According to my photos I was within sight of the lake, and my notes describe a leisurely pace.

For example, while sitting and sipping I watched “gulls lined up like sailors on the beach and cormorants fly west in small to large groups.” I bicycled “back to campsite by 10-ish for toast and porridge” and was back “@ beach by 11:00 to read D-Day by A. Beevor.

[“Gulls lined up like sailors on the beach...”]

“Getting into the last few chapters.” Sitting in the shade. Snapping a cap. Feeling a breeze upon my face. ‘A leisurely pace’ is right, though that day I read several serious chapters about D-Day, 1944 and my mood was surely affected by details about the liberation of France.

I read the following: As the remains of the German Seventh Army pulled back across the River Orne, the British VIII and XXX Corps advanced rapidly west, liberating one town after another. ‘We have had a warm welcome all along the route,’ wrote a British officer, ‘although quite a number of the people still seem dazed and bewildered. The very young do not know what is going on. I saw one little boy proudly giving the Nazi salute as though it were the correct greeting and others looking at their mothers to see if it was right to wave.’ (page 464, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy)

[“8:30 a.m. The view from my chair at The Pier diner”]

 I had a hard time putting the book down on Sunday and finished the book later in the evening at another table, at another diner.

* * * * *


[“Sunday, Sunday. I had my pick of chairs”]

[“I liked coffee at The Pier diner. And a refill”]

[“I’d better start saving up”]

[“Sunday, Sunday”]

[“Sunday’s full agenda”]

[“Easy speed in Port Bruce. My speed”]

* * * * *

Sun., Aug. 26. Pat arrived early and enjoyed an ice cream w out me!! 

CHAPTER SIX   -   Sunday, Sunday PT 2

I enjoyed sunny skies and peaceful outings during my brief stay in Port Bruce recently. If I’d been carrying whiskey and gunpowder around - like Sir William Johnson did 251 years earlier, I’d have fired off my own Royal Salute to the weather and quaint, quirky surroundings.

(re Sir William: He visited Port Bruce over two and a half centuries ago by boat and is “known to Canadians for being the husband of Molly Brant, brother-in-law to Mohawk Chief, Joseph Brant and ancestor of poetess Emily Pauline Johnson” - online history 

Early in the morning I read several pages from a history book while sipping coffee at The Pier diner and watched gulls and cormorants traverse a clear blue sky. While doing so I think I lived up to a favourite quote of mine about travelling: ‘The less you spend the more you enjoy, the more authentic the experience it is, the more profound, the more exciting, the more unexpected’. (A Sense of Place by M. Shapiro)

Later, back at the ranch, I ate a leisurely and authentic breakfast of hot oatmeal and toast, then returned to the beach to read a book, and bob in the water whenever I felt the need to cool off... even unexpectedly. All the while I kept one eye on my watch because my wife Pat planned to join me at 2 p.m., and we’d planned to meet at the Sand Kastle restaurant situated 100 yards from where my chair sat in the shade of two scrubby trees. 

Unfortunately Pat arrived 20 minutes early, while I was again back at the campsite eating a highly nutritious lunch, i.e., a packet of Mr. Noodle soup minus half the contents of the heavily salted ‘flavour pouch’. (For those that don’t know, I think the beef flavour pouch is 90 per cent salt and 10 per cent mystery ingredient, and was put together deep inside a chemical factory by a guy in a grease-stained smock who has never stepped foot on an actual cattle farm. And now you know). 

When we finally connected at the appointed hour my wife informed me that instead of looking for me she visited the Sand Kastle ice cream counter. It hardly seemed fair at the time (“You didn’t think that I’d like two scoops of New York cheese cake?”), but because she later bought supper and carried half my gear home in the car on her return trip home, I submitted no formal complaint.

Once we were settled in the shade of my two scrubby trees she asked, “So, how was your day?”

I shared a few words - while admiring the clear blue sky - about my terribly hectic schedule and mentioned that cormorants might be returning soon from wherever they spend their daytime hours.

Photo link to Gavan Watson

“So we should be on the look out,” I said.

She informed me that cormorants can be a bit of a nuisance, which made me wonder 'in what way', because I knew they were good fishermen and had a distinct flying style, but that was about it.

I have since read the following: In some Ontario parks, Parks Canada officials shoot cormorants to stem the loss of trees. Wildlife defence groups argue about a hierarchy of values in nature: Are trees and the forest canopy more worthy than a colony of cormorants? These widely unloved, fish-eating migratory birds are ruthless nest builders. With their hook-tipped bills, they strip tree branches; their guano becomes a hyper fertilizer, wrecking the chemistry of the soil. Trees die three to 10 years after the birds build their nests. (www.thestar.com

So, my wife was right. And why should I have been surprised? She’s a genius. As well, I thanked her several times the next day - in my mind and in person once I got home - because my bike trailer felt much lighter while hauling it back to London and my right leg didn’t cramp up like it did on ‘day one’ of my bicycle trip.

My journal says ‘we said our goodbyes after burger and fries’ and reveals that ‘I was reading D-Day again in lovely downtown PB by 5:30 - 6:00 p.m.’ I found the final chapters engrossing and felt glad I’d taken it with me over lighter fare.

My notes for the day conclude with the following: ‘Lovely night, as evidenced in photos of turbines and quiet road side scenes.

I can only recall that I ended the day with a cup of tea, a few thoughts about the next day’s (predicted) rainy weather and another deep sleep. 

[Photos, except of cormorants, by G.Harrison]

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A gravelly, scrubby beach area likely makes Port Bruce unpopular with many young people looking for a place to play volleyball or gather in great numbers.

However, the same qualities make PB very popular with me and other quaint and quirky people.

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Mon., Aug. 27 - sprinkling @ breakfast 7:45. I’ll be gone soon in wet clothes?” 

CHAPTER SEVEN   -   Good memories, great trip PT 1

The answer to the above question (i.e., “I’ll be gone soon in wet clothes?”) is yes. 

But I didn’t care at 7:45 a.m. I knew a cool, drizzly day would make for a cooler bike ride home to London from Port Bruce, a distance of 60 - 65 kilometers if my motorcycle odometer - during dozens upon dozens of trips to the small port over the past 6 years - can be trusted.

I packed up my camping gear while a few early risers from nearby trailers went about their own chores and felt, with a lighter load, my ride home would be a lot easier than the ride to the seashore three days earlier.

I already felt the short trip or mini-vacation was a success for several reasons. I’d combined fun with fitness, finished a good book on the beach, ate and drank well, slept soundly in spite of night-time Hallowe’en activities in the campground, splashed about in Lake Erie, celebrated (somewhat unknowingly) the 251st anniversary of The Royal Salute with cold beers in the shade of scrub trees mere meters away from where the original salute took place (the beers may even have been prohibited, so that made them taste awfully good), got a lot of use out of one pair of pants and was going home with many excellent photographs and memories.

Good memories of Port Bruce have piled up over the years, starting over 45 - 50 years ago when I was invited to the wee hamlet for a couple of days during the summer by Ken Faulds, a butcher of some repute.

That may sound a lot worse than it is. Ken Faulds and I worked at the same grocery store (Maedel’s Red and White) in Norwich, Ontario for a few years in the mid-1960s. Ken ran the butcher shop full-time and I stocked shelves part-time, but I happily helped in the butcher shop - because of the perks - by grinding hamburger and wrapping and tagging packages of meat whenever Ken needed an extra pair of hands. Not only did I get my regular pay but I often went home with a small bit of steak as a ‘thank-you’ for my general all-around helpfulness (I was one of the best sweepers and cleaner-uppers in the business) and positive attitude with grocery store customers.

“This regular ground beef looks a bit too fatty for me. Can I get 2 pounds of lean ground beef?” someone would often ask while Ken was slicing and dicing pork loins.

Ken would give me a look and I’d walk over to the customer and say something like, “Why, sure. I’ll just go out back, grind some up fresh and be back in a jiff. And I guarantee it will be leaner than anything you’ll get south of Little Otter Creek.”

After I finished my task of grinding, wrapping, tagging and waving ‘good-day’ to the customer, Ken would say, “What did you do to get the lean ground beef?”

“I took about two pounds of regular and reddened it up by adding some chicken gizzards and pork scraps from the bucket on the middle shelf in the cooler,” I’d say.

“See me on the way out, my boy,” he’d say. 

And one time he said, “And how’d you like to come to the lake this weekend to meet my wife and kids? I think you’ll get along great with my oldest son. I’ll fry us up a few T-bones.” 

A good connection was made with Ken, his wife Jean, older son Peter and younger son Billy on a pleasant summer night that smelled of warm beer, hot fried steak and cool breezes in a tiny lakeside port that few people ever pay much attention to these days. At least that’s how I think of it - and thought of it when I was 16 years old... and it’s my story after all.

Peter Faulds plays a central role in another favourite story of mine, related to Port Bruce, and I’ll share it next. Once you hear it you’ll want to visit the place yourself.

[Photos by G.Harrison]

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“Quiet, uneventful trip home in light, cooling drizzle w good speed” 

CHAPTER SEVEN   -   Good memories, great trip PT 2

When travelling I often follow my nose. So I go down many a crooked lane.

Over the years, especially when motorcycling, I’ve ended up at Port Bruce, bought a coffee and walked out to the end of the pier. While walking from the Beach Hut (now the Corner View Cafe) to the ‘light house’ I’d recall my first car ride around the area.

It occurred during the summer of 1965 or ’66, during a weekend when I’d been invited there by an expert butcher, Ken Faulds, to meet his family. His older son, Peter, had a friend with one of the smallest cars I’d ever seen (maybe a 1950s Austin Mini), and together they took me for a ride - around and around some local highlights - one I’ll never forget.

[“We sped past the Rocabore Inn”]

Late in the evening, well after the supper hour (because we stopped for burgers at The King’s Cupboard at some point; also, the diner is now a lovely yellow-sided cottage), Peter and his pal loaded me into the back seat of the small car and decided to test my nerve. We sped past the Rocabore Inn, past the King’s Cupboard and headed straight toward Lake Erie, about as fast as the wee car could go. I gripped the front seat behind Peter’s head and hoped there was a turn ahead, a nice gradual turn.

[“We sped past the King’s Cupboard”]

No such luck. There was a turn, but it was sudden.

“Let’s see if we can roll it tonight!” said the driver and he turned sharply left, tires skidding and gravel flying. By the momentum I was shoved against the side of the car and a fat, onion-laden cheeseburger was shoved against the side of my right kidney. Shite, I thought, or something to that affect.

Wee headlights momentarily revealed the lake through the windshield, then Port Bruce channel, then a narrow road back to the Rocabore Inn.

“We’ll have to go faster this time!” said the driver and away we went for another attempt at rolling the car.

Past the Inn, the Cupboard, the first corner, and the rapidly disappearing views of the lake and channel amid laughs and cheers and somebody’s nervous prattling from the back seat. But on the third time ‘round I caught on. It was Saturday night and Peter and his friend had done this before to scare the wits out of some unsuspecting rube. My laughter soon joined theirs and away we went for a few more rounds.

Can you blame me for making Port Bruce a frequent destination whether by car, motorcycle or bicycle? I’ll likely be drinking coffee on the pier when I’m eighty-five, still chuckling about the trips around the traffic circle opposite the Corner View Cafe.

Vivid memories are good reasons to return to a spot time and again, and my bicycle trip to Port Bruce gets a big thumbs up from me. I’ll do it again next year unless the cherry blossoms in Paris or a bean fest in Zurich turn my nose in a different direction.

Trust me. Anything could happen as I continue to discover the world in one pair of pants.

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I stopped at the side of the road shortly after leaving Port Bruce to take my first photo of the day and noticed the lake was barely visible because off the gray weather.

I consider seeing a train on an old line north of Yarmouth Center a ‘rare event’.

Many ditches and fields adjacent to Yarmouth Centre Line were filled with goldfinches. However, none of the birds stopped for a photo.

My choice of roads was often perfect. No traffic. Good views.

I was inside the city shortly after noon. I felt cheerful because it was almost all downhill from Ferndale and Homeview.

My last photo of the day tells a story.

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Summary: rain not bad, keeps body cool. I need cycling shoes and toe clips, mirror to view traffic behind” 

CHAPTER EIGHT   -  Brief Debrief

After any trip I like to sit on the back deck and think or talk about the miles covered, people seen, likes and dislikes, pros and cons and what I could do better next time. Because there will always be a next time.

When I summarized some of my feelings on paper while sitting at the corner of Ferguson and Yarmouth Centre Line, still several miles from home on Monday, August 27 I wrote the following:

I should consider fenders...

Maybe I was tired of water from the road flying onto my hat.

I continued:

... paniers front and back, video camera mount, (therefore) save time, though getting off bike is a GOOD thing

Maybe I was thinking that ‘lighter is better’ and that people would love to watch videos of me cycling down a country road in baggy shorts. Maybe my rear end was sore. 

Actually, it was really sore because I added these words next:

Wider seat, eg., like a tractor (seat) for my sore bum

Hey, at least I’m honest. And at the time I was pretty happy because my final note says this:

Goal: go again, plan next trip, doesn’t have to be longer.

And from those words I deduce that I had a good time during my four day bicycle trip to Port Bruce. As well, I had so much fun I wanted to go on more trips like it. I perhaps felt I'd do the same trip again someday and realized four days away from home was a very good break for a guy of my age and temperament.

Already I feel future destinations might include Long Point, Turkey Point, Paris, Damascus, Brussels, Zurich, and Vienna. I hear Paris is especially beautiful at anytime of year and is within easy reach by bicycle from my home in London, Ontario. Less than 100 kilometers, I think.

Perhaps I’ll forget the tractor seat idea and walk next time, say to a camp ground closer to home. Though a walk to Port Bruce can’t be too daunting can it?

We’ll see. Anything is possible as I continue to discover the world in one pair of pants.

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Photo by G.Harrison

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Risking life and limb and a pretty cool bike, I returned from my very exciting bicycle and camping trip with one brilliant video. Please view the YouTube video here.

["White Oaks Rd. South, near Dingman Drive"]

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