Roots and wings

My daughter Alison and I recently spent a day visiting Guelph, my home town. We began on Wyndham Street, walking from the train station to the cenotaph and back. The main street still includes a few restored architectural gems such as the Petrie building with its unusual metal facade but all the retailers from my youth are long gone. No more Treanon, Vorvis or Peacock restaurants. No more Ryan’s or Budd’s department stores. No Marshall’s or Stewart’s drugs. Only the Big Five Banks still do business there, a sure sign of their eternal life.

Two places where I worked summers as a teenager, the Parkview Motel and the College Motor Inn, still exist, although the latter has a different name and is currently being demolished. At the Parkview, I started as a dishwasher and parfait maker, graduating to busboy. At the College Motor Inn I was gardener, waiter and night desk clerk, checking in ball players from the local team with that night’s after-game popsies. Of my two public schools, only King George remains, in a rebuilt state. A picnic lunch beside the Speed River in Riverside Park offered familiar surroundings.

But there is one important place that mattered most: St. George’s Park. As an only child, the park was crucial to my growing up. No matter the time of day or the season, from our home where I lived from birth to fourteen, I could walk out the door, cross Metcalfe street, plunge into the park and find something to do and someone to do it with. In winter, there was the rink where I learned to skate. In the other seasons the swings, baseball diamond and city-run summer program with its art projects and group games. I learned to co-exist with kids from all walks of life: the rich and the poor, the capable and the disabled. All were equal in my eyes.

As a youth I walked every inch of the park that covers an area three blocks by two blocks. Trees still stand today where they did when I was a boy. I owe my parents, whose grave we visited at Woodlawn Cemetery, my life. But St. George’s Park is also hallowed ground. Those environs made me a better man than I would otherwise have become.



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