Roads scholar

Roads wouldn’t normally be considered memorable. Yet I find myself wistfully recalling the roads down which I have trod or driven or been driven. The recollections are astonishingly acute. I can easily hark back to a road connected with every period of my life! This warrants attention akin to discovering a feature which has insinuated one’s life unawares. The detail goes far beyond pavement. The thrust of each road is unequivocally emotional or psychological or both!

Consider Mount Pleasant Avenue. The name alone is sufficient to capture the richness of my recall. It was usually in the autumn of the year that I sailed down Mount Pleasant Avenue in Toronto where I attended Glendon Hall on equally memorable Bayview Avenue. In either instance I was not likely to be walking but driving. I was 18 years old. My boarding school companion Max could very well have accompanied me to the inner city for entertainment – perhaps Yorkville Avenue off Avenue Road near Bloor Street. I remember one occasion in particular when a gentleman in a black Cadillac picked us up. What was peculiar about him was that the windows of the car were manual not electric (as we had been accustomed to seeing). He told us that he purposively bought the car with manual windows. I have no idea why other than he imagined they were more reliable.

Cadillacs figured in other drives arising from my many experiences at Glendon Hall. When I began my studies at Glendon I was visited by my former boarding school roommate Keith. He brought a motorcycle to the campus and took me for a ride. I sat on the back, hugging him for protection. It was in the days before helmets were mandatory in Ontario. He pulled up to the intersection of Post Road and Bayview Avenue. Stopped immediately next to us at the red light was a large black Cadillac driven by a cat-like woman with dyed black hair forming a cone above her head. She sat bolt upright with the massive black leather headrest behind her. Mechanically and disinterestedly she turned to look at us with her cat’s eyes. Keith took off in a roar to prove his superiority.

By coincidence Tommy Shultz, a colleague from the college, lived with his family nearby on Park Lane Circle. We often swam in his in-door pool. The house had a six-car garage each of which – except his at the far right – housed a Cadillac or Lincoln sedan. By contrast his car was a Mini Minor – what Tommy quipped was exemplary of the “distribution of wealth” in the family. Nonetheless on one occasion at least I recall Tommy got the privilege of driving one of the Cadillacs which he used to traffic us somewhere nearby for the evening.

An acquaintance at Glendon Hall was Rosalee whom I didn’t know other than as a Jamaican who knew my boarding school friend Alexander. Rosalee was visited by a family friend who lived nearby. The friend wanted to take us for a car ride. I was invited to tag along. The friend was an older woman (perhaps 40 years of age at the most). She was driving a black Cadillac. During the drive throughout the immediate neighbourhood, the Bridle Path and subsequently to an ice cream parlour she shared with us that, “The only thing I like better than drivin’ me Cadillac is lying in bed on a rainy day with a man with a hairy chest!

There was yet one more incident involving a Cadillac at Glendon Hall. Glendon was located in what was then called North Toronto. The college was a re-enactment of the former Wood Estate. Most of the properties immediately adjoining the college were large estates including that of E. P. Taylor who famously owned “Northern Dancer” the horse which won many races.

Edward Plunket Taylor was a Canadian business tycoon, investor, and philanthropist. He was a famous breeder of thoroughbred race horses, and a major force behind the evolution of the Canadian horse-racing industry. Known to his friends as “Eddie”, he is all but universally recorded as “E. P. Taylor”

He was a racehorse, his name was Northern Dancer and in 1964, he won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Queen’s Plate — all in the same year. 

My boarding school friend Keith knew I preferred Cadillacs to motorcycles. When he next visited me at Glendon Hall he brought his mother’s Cadillac Eldorado convertible. Keith permitted me to drive the car. We were participating in a Christmas outing for foster children. Our journey that day took us into an area of Toronto with which I was then unfamiliar. It required very little travel to break out of the centre of Toronto – Rosedale and Forest Hill – the area I knew. The areas of lower Church Street and Jarvis Street for example were then completely new territory. They had historically been known as “red light” districts but like so many they became “gentrified” in time – though not without first transitioning as a resort for pubs and nightclubs.

Seymour Street in Halifax was my touchstone road there. I resided in Domus Legis when attending Dalhousie Law School. It was an old tree-lined short street close to the university.

I can go back to my early youth (around age 8) when we lived on Edmunds St NW in Washington DC. Across the street was a wood. We seldom went into the wooded area because we worried about contracting poison ivy. There were also lady slipper flowers.

Bouncing ahead to northern Finland in 1965. My father, his driver and I were en route to a military base near the border with Russia. The road through the hinterland was lonely. Suddenly the road expanded in width the that of an aircraft runway – which is precisely what it was meant to accommodate.

Another northern trip occurring about the same general time saw my father and I headed in late summer along an equally lonely and desolate road, this time to the Arctic Circle. I did business along the way with a gentleman selling reindeer pelts. When I tried to bargain with him by going to another nearby vendor (an elderly woman) she laughed at me and explained that the other fellow was “Min soon” my son!

It is inescapable to involve the recollection of many roads with vehicular traffic. I am particularly mindful of Calabogie Road through Renfrew County from Almonte (Lanark County) to Green Lake where we spent a memorable month one summer.

Similarly coastal roads around Nova Scotia and Martha’s Vineyard are stoked with memories. On Martha’s Vineyard I was being taken around the island on a windowless antique tour buss. The tour guide showed us the silver door knockers on many of the houses. Also that only the front of the house was painted annually to overcome the constant peeling wrought by the salt sea air. He also showed us a staircase in the middle of a vacant lot overlooking the sea. He explained that the real estate agent invited prospective purchasers to mount the staircase to see the view they’d have from their bedroom!

In nearby Provincetown on Cape Cod I saw a group of men clad in evening wear come into a bar on Atlantic Avenue late one evening. I approached one of the members and asked whether they had just completed a Masonic Lodge meeting. The chap acknowledged they had and – after establishing that I was a Past Master of Mississippi Lodge No. 147 – invited me to see the Lodge rooms. The Lodge was located mere steps from the bar at the corner of Commercial Street. The Lodge rooms were magnificent! I learned that the Lodge had been constituted by Paul Revere who was then the Grand Master from Boston! I concluded I had trod upon the same floorboards as Paul Revere sometime after 1776!

Paul Revere — silversmith, patriot, subject of one of Copley’s most beautiful portraits and one of Longfellow’s most stirring poems — was also a Mason. He served as the grand master of Massachusetts from 1795 through 1797, during the infancy of the American republic, when 23 new lodges were chartered in the commonwealth.”

Yet I am bound to avow that the road with the most lasting appeal is the undulating ribbon down which I regularly travel in the summer from Carleton Place to Stittsville to get my car washed. Though it is a 4-lane divided highway it hasn’t the usual contamination of a freeway, being mostly little traveled except during the morning and evening rush hours in the work-a-day week. Otherwise it is a well-maintained highway penetrating the local large farmlands and having as a result all the bucolic attraction one would thus expect. What captures me about the road isn’t just its familiarity or its smoothness. It is a road from which I can imagine almost anything, at the very least those images which traditionally attract me like those of the sea. When I dip into a valley then rise to the sky I routinely find myself picturing the Ocean on the other side. It is naturally a chimera but it refreshes me.