Peacock Alley

To my horror I have unwittingly discovered that the term Peacock Alley applies to luxury linens, a television entertainment corporation, a black-and-white silent film, a black-and-white sound film, a restaurant, a jazz club, a room at the Windsor Arms Hotel in Montréal and naturally the walkway in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Upper Manhattan at 301 Park Avenue, New York City.  Reputedly it was along this walkway that patrons of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel would perambulate with the shameful ambition to show themselves off.  I prefer to characterize the vulgarity as the more innocent expression of native curiosity affecting those of any class of society.

The name of the hotel is ultimately derived from the town of Walldorf in Germany, the ancestral home of the prominent German-American Astor family who originated there. The hotel was originally known as the Waldorf-Astoria with a single hyphen, as recalled by a popular expression and song, “Meet Me at the Hyphen”. The sign was changed to a double hyphen, looking similar to an equals sign, by Conrad Hilton when he purchased the hotel in 1949. The double hyphen visually represents “Peacock Alley”, the hallway between the two hotels that once stood where the Empire State building now stands today. The use of the double hyphen was discontinued by parent company Hilton in 2009, shortly after the introduction of the Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts chain. The hotel has since been known as the Waldorf Astoria New York, without any hyphen, though this is sometimes shortened to the Waldorf Astoria.

Though is would not be the first time I have introduced to the denizens of Upper Manhattan the little known bucolic hamlet of Almonte in the County of Lanark and Province of Ontario – and this instance may prove to be as disenchanting as it was many years ago with the New Yorkers – I nonetheless stand fast to my adoration of the village and its own demonstration of a Peacock Alley.

If you’ve ever wanted to travel off-road in an award-winning region, the time is now. The opening of the Ottawa Valley Rail Trail (OVRT) in Lanark County has created a transportation corridor for pedestrians, cyclists, four-wheelers, and snowmobilers travelling from Carleton Place to Mississippi Mills, and beyond. With a multi-purpose, year-round use, the OVRT will connect three of Lanark County’s prettiest towns – Carleton PlaceAlmonte and Pakenham.

At the risk of divulging my personal snobbishness – an ingredient which I persist to maintain because I feel it rightfully applies to my beloved Almonte and is therefore endurable – a brief analysis of Almonte’s bicycle path along the erstwhile railway right-of-way reveals its own historic magic and social imperative. The hallmark of Almonte’s Peacock Alley is that it is indeed a former railway right-of-way (one of Canada’s elemental features). This attribute in and of itself is not immediately evident of social propriety but it is no accident that the railway is parallel to the picturesque Mississippi River as it wends its way through Lanark County. Nor is it an accident that along the corresponding trail on both sides of the River there are highly capitalized commercial undertakings (namely, run-of-the-river hydro plants),  important retail operations, municipal offices and grand homes.

The grand riparian homes are within the central part of Almonte on both sides immediately adjoining the Maclan Bridge in Almonte. A saunter or cycle within this central zone (diverting around historic Coleman’s Island of Rosamond Woollen Mill fame) is certain to promote the acquaintance of local residents who have the convenience and privilege of connecting to the right-of-way. Unsurprisingly the costumes of the pedestrians and cyclists are casual and comfortable, a trait which naturally obscures the renown and importance of those one may encounter. There are for example many celebrated individuals who live nearby the pathway. Among that venerable number is a family physician, the former owner of First Air, distinguished legal counsel, a former Justice of the Federal Court of Canada, a hydro components manufacturer, numerous successful local business owners and those who by fate or fortune or both are entitled to reside within the sound and sight of the River. I have as well encountered young, enthusiastic cyclists on the pathway from as far abroad as Dunrobin.

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic travellers on the path tastefully observe the mandate of social distancing. The congregations along the pathway are at times congested but predominantly isolated. The singularity of the railway is no small compliment to the municipality because its initial construction entailed enormous expense particularly where bridges were required. Now the railway right-of-way is truly a useable public alleyway.  During the pandemic the pathway affords the opportunity to many to mingle casually, to reaffirm alliances and naturally to share gossip and recollections. Such is the manner of showing off in Almonte!