06 March 2010

I love Canada

Talking to MrsBen in the comments earlier today has had me thinking about my early experiences with hand pumps and why I find the image of them so compelling. The answer goes back a few years.

In 1969, the nine members of my family piled into this station wagon and pulled a boat into the great land of the north.

We were in for an adventure, a cabin in the woods. A cabin in the woods on the shores of huge lake. I was four and although I don't remember the drive, I do remember being there for the first time.

I can't believe it, but I just found the driveway on Google Maps.

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In 1969, that was a dirt road and things like power and sewer lines were but a dim memory.

Every summer after that we'd pile into the station wagon and go back. We had no plumbing and no electricity but what we had was wilderness and each other. I don't have any interior shots of the cottage, but if I did, you'd see a kitchen sink with a hand pump. The water that came out of that pump was from the lake and was for washing only. Drinking water came from another pump about a hundred yards down a path into the woods.

These are my siblings and I on the beach of our lake in about 1971.

Even now, the region of Ontario where we'd go is remarkably isolated. And to us, living for a couple of weeks at a time without plumbing and electricity was a badge of honor. All credit goes to my Dad for that. From an early age we learned that not having modern conveniences wasn't really that big a deal and it made us appreciate them when we did get back to civilization.

This is my sister and my youngest brother after a big day spent trolling for northern pike and small mouth bass.

Being in another country at an early age taught us a thing or two about seeing the world as more than the small part of it we knew. As we got older we'd trek out of the bush for long enough to visit places like Ottawa, Toronto and Kingston and see first-hand that not all Canadians lived like the subsistence trappers we knew from the back country.

This is my Dad and youngest brother in 1969. The three boys on the end of the dock are my brothers Matt, Tom and me. I'm in the center.

Those early experiences embedded in me a profound respect for wilderness, for modern conveniences and above all for Canada. I can never thank my parents enough for introducing us to a world we could have never known otherwise.

The guy on the right in the previous photo is now the guy on the left in this one. The little guys surrounding him are three of his sons.

I don't think anybody thought about generational legacies when we piled into the car in 1969, but that's precisely what's happened. I don't think there's been a year since then that "our" lake wasn't swum in by someone who shares my last name. I haven't been back in years but hearing my nieces' and nephews' stories about their adventures and discoveries is an absolute thrill. It reminds me too that I need to go back.

This is my grandmother on a hike at some point in the '80s. She is in her own 80s at this point and though she didn't share our appreciation for the lack of electricity, she was always up for an adventure.

My siblings have families of their own now, and every one of my nieces and nephews has an indelible mark placed on them by that place and their marks match mine. It's good for the soul to know what it's like to pump water or to go to sleep to the sounds of the whip-poor-wills and loons or to catch and eat your own dinner.

So thank you Mom and Dad, thank you wilderness and last but not least, thank you Canada.

"Our" lake a couple of years ago.


  1. Except for the urban areas, Canada is not crowded at all. There are so many places still that seem to be in the middle of nowhere. Being in the middle of nowhere in Ontario makes you appreciate its quiet beauty.

  2. That lake country on the Cambrian shield in southern Ontario is like no where else on earth. There's a starkness to the countryside that really sings to my soul. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Our tweets just passed in the night! Beautiful post. You brought us back to our roots and tugged at our heart strings. :)
    p.s. Great photo quality - wow!

  4. Thanks girls! I come from a long line of shutterbugs, what can I say?

  5. Paul I have such great child hood memories of similar vacations every summer to Kentucky Lake. We had plumbing and electricity so we didn't rough it like you did, but let me tell you the car ride down was character building! I remember the vinyl seats, no ac and being piled in the very back of a station wagon-- all worth it when you got out on the boat though! I really think my love of anything to do with water stems from those vacations.

  6. When I look at that photo of the station wagon I just gape in awe. I can't imagine agreeing to those kinds of travel arrangements now, but back then it was adventure itself. You pegged it with the vinyl seats and no AC. Incredible times.

  7. So funny -- because I was talking to a Canadian yesterday about how everyone loves the Canadians, and that the population density is so low considering that there are roughly the same amount of people in California as in the entire country of Canada -- that just blows my mind.

    Also, your dad is kinda hot. :)

  8. Great post. I love the old photos, especially the one of all you guys sitting on the ground. I agree with adrienne - your dad has that old school cool about him.

  9. Adrienne: Canadian kindness and hospitality is no stereotype. Wilderness that's never been logged, parceled or settled is unheard of in the eastern US, but Canada has land like that to spare. It's an amazing place. You're not the first person to tell me my Dad was a babe and he did have an air about him back in the day.

    Melody: Thanks, I'm glad my brother Steve has a scanner and all of our old photos. He's spent countless hours converting our old carousel slides into .jpgs and he deserves an award for it. I never realized it at the time of course, but when I look back at photos of my old man, he really did have that mid-century cool thing down.

  10. What a wonderful 'walk down memory lane' that you shared Paul. I immensely enjoyed this 'glimpse of your heritage'. Your Father was definitely an exceptional man.

    Also, on behalf of my fellow country-persons I thank you for your kind compliments about Canada. -Brenda-

  11. Brenda that post was all your doing. All that talk of hand pumps yesterday made me nostalgic. You're from that part of Canada, are you and your family lake cottage people too?

  12. Paul ... you're welcome!

    As someone who lives in what was the epicentre of the 2010 Winter Olympics, I have witnessed first-hand an amazing transformation in the personality of this country. We've always been very proud of being Canadian, but have been reluctant to show it. That's all changed now, and the result is the rest of the world is starting to notice what we've loved all along.

    ps - Ontario is lovely. If you get the chance, make your way out to BC where we keep the "real" wilderness! ;-)

  13. We are about a two and half hour drive from Tamworth.

    Yes, when growing up we were cottage people too.
    Ours was located in the rolling Gatineau Hills, on Mahon Lake in the village of Rupert (Quebec)which is basically a 'Dairy' farming district. The latter speaking of which; I believe there may be an 'Alpaca' farm called Calypso Moon in the vicinity of your family's cottage. (Might make for a different excursion for your Nieces and Nephews to see?) -Brenda-

  14. Arne: The opportunity you guys seized at the Olympics were like a worldwide coming out party and it was a real thrill to watch. So congratulations! I've been hearing from west coat Canadians since yesterday; yes I need to get to western Canada.

    Brenda: Your mentioning Tamworth brings it all right back. Such times!

  15. I'm a week late reading this post but I just wanted to say thank you for your story Paul. Boy can I relate to the hand pump and the station wagon. We had a Volkswagen van and being the littlest, I was crammed in a corner of the 'hump' with a new coloring book and crayons. We were in heaven!

    But more importantly, I am born, raised and have lived most of my life in the Fraser Valley (40 miles east of Vancouver. I'm a proud Canadian and it was lovely to read you words of fondness for Canada and Canadians.

    Take this as a standing invitation to come stay with us if you ever get a chance to come to the Canadian West Coast. Fishing is amazing!!!

    Hugs 2 U

  16. Thanks you! That was a lot of fun to write. My two younger bothers and I were jammed into the far back of the station wagon. I remember it being a lot of fun. But my God, we crammed nine people into a station wagon for a nine hour drive. Wow.

    I've been collecting Western Canada invitations since this appeared and I just may take you up on that.


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