Talkin’ ’bout my generation

This is my weekly newspaper column. Things you should known:  Michael Bliss was born in my hometown, and is a celebrated author of national stature.   He was a History Professor at the University of  Toronto and is “one of Canada’s best known and most-honoured biographers”. Here is a little bit of his story entwined with a little bit of mine and our hometown:

“People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Just because we get around (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I hope I die before I get old (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)

Why don’t you all f-fade away (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
And don’t try to dig what we all s-s-say (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m not trying to cause a big s-s-sensation (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)
I’m just talkin’ ’bout my g-g-g-generation (Talkin’ ’bout my generation)”
~ “My Generation”, The Who

What is a generation? From my spotty research, a generation can be as little as twenty years or as long as thirty-three. When The Who sang “Talkin’ ‘bout my generation’, they were of the age group that trusted no one over thirty. That generation (of which I am at the tail end) is now over twice that age. And while many of us still hold to some of our “revolutionary” beliefs, the “trusting no one over thirty” philosophy has died a thousand deaths.

What brought the whole question of generation to my mind was the opening chapters of “Writing History” by local boy made good, Michael Bliss. In those first chapters he paints a picture of the town of Kingsville just a few years before my time—but a Kingsville I recognize if not wholly, at least in part. Born in 1941, Michael, depending on your definition of generation is a half to a third generation older than I, and seeing Kingsville through his eyes and memories is an interesting tutorial in (fairly) recent history.

One of my favourite passages in his book is one in which he describes himself as a small boy experiencing his town while wheeling around on his trusty tricycle. He lived on Main Street in the block between Division and Spruce in the beautiful brick home torn down to the chagrin of many a town folk to make way for new development. I remember walking by the house many a high school noon hour and seeing a sizable cat sitting on the front lawn. The cat was famous for sporting one green eye and one blue eye. At that time Dr. Bruner had taken over the medical offices where Dr. Bliss, Michael’s father had his practice at one end of the house.

Here is Michael’s tour of the block that was host to his home: “The centre of my world was our big brick house on a double lot on the north side of Main Street, half a block east of the Four Corners.” (I love how he capitalized the Four Corners, giving them their proper due.) “When I grew old enough to expand my territory by tricycle—like Matt Goderich in Hugh Hood’s The Swing in the Garden—I would turn right, pass by the Kingsville Fire Department, then Babcock’s Restaurant, then a tobacco warehouse in the old Methodist Church, then the Kingsville Hotel, and finally reach the post office at the Four Corners. When I turned left, I passed a half a dozen homes with chestnut streets in their front yards, then reached the end of the block at Spruce Street.” When he was a little older and “finally allowed to go all the way around the block on my tricycle, I would peddle very fast past the pool hall, a hole in the wall of one of the town’s oldest brick blocks, whose proprietor, grey and cadaverous, would sometimes be standing on its doorstep, seemingly afraid to come out into a world of breathable air.” (Just a personal note here—I had a green tricycle upon which I had many an adventure thus can so relate to Michael and his tricycle—it was a magical vehicle which took me where I wanted to go as fast as my little legs would peddle. Had I run across the cadaverous proprietor once though, I would have probably changed my route.)

I recognize a few of the places that Michael talks about but am fascinated by the Kingsville of yesteryear of which he devotes about a quarter of the book. His descriptions are rich with nostalgia; and in the words of author, David J. Bercuson, his memories about the small town where he grew up “have a canny sense of time and place…. (he) manages to put his readers inside his story”. He is a wonderful story teller—something I did not particularly expect from someone who has written such tomes as “The Discovery of Insulin” (which may be a page turner in its own right).

In his preface he says somewhat modestly: “Almost every life is interesting enough to sustain a book if you know how to write it and if there is one person curious enough to start reading.” I am not sure what took me so long to pick up this book. Finally and gratefully, I have started reading it at the urging of Mr. Simon Vreman who lent me his copy. Admittedly I am only on the beginning chapters, but seeing my Kingsville through Michael’s eyes is illuminating—it reveals some of the foundation upon which our thriving little town continues to build itself.

 

 

Published in: on May 6, 2014 at 11:23 am  Comments (17)  
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My Little Town – Paul Simon Revisited

MV Jiimaan leaves port at Kingsville for Pelee...

MV Jiimaan leaves port at Kingsville for Pelee Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was published in a newspaper called The Daytripper that is distributed in southwestern Ontario. Written in answer to the question: ‘What makes your town worth a daytrip”, it will give you a little glimpse into my hometown. When I was younger, I sang along with Paul Simon and agreed with his despair in living in a small town. I no longer have angst about small town living—having married a hometown boy and raised my sons here. I have lived in the town “proper” for the last 32 years. Without further ado:

~ An Appealing Town ~

“You may no longer hear the strains of “The Mettawas Waltz” from the former Mettawas Hotel that once made Kingsville famous, but the town is one of the most picturesque in the area.  Despite the fact that whiskey magnate and owner of the Mettawas, Hiram Walker, pulled up stakes from the town long ago, it has grown and flourished.  And it is no wonder:  located on the shores of Lake Erie, it is a quaint, yet modern mini metropolis that has not lost its small town feel.

Coat of arms of the town of Kingsville, Ontario.

Coat of arms  Town of Kingsville, Ontario. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A town is more than its location. While we vie for the title of southernmost town in Ontario with some of our neighbours, it is in our community spirit that we excel. I know this because I attend and cover the Town Council meetings for the local newspaper. The people of Kingsville love their town and want it to grow, while at the same time not risk losing its appealing charm. In fact, our logo a few years back dubbed us the Port of Appeal.

Council meetings in our happily amalgamated town can be quite lively, especially if it concerns something the residents are passionate about.  Preservation of our historic homes and buildings has taken a front seat since people started to become aware that some of our heritage buildings were being razed without proper notice. One very shining example of a community project is our Train Station, restored to its former glory, and currently open to the public in its reincarnation as a restaurant.  We have a state-of-the-art library in the town core (one of three within the municipal town limits), located in a refurbished building that was sitting empty. Its former home, a Carnegie building, is being considered for new life as a possible Arts and Visitors Centre, instead of being a target for the wrecking ball. (Since this was written, the Carnegie has been beautifully refurbished and is not only an Arts and Visitors Centre but also our Tourist Information Centre.)

We have it all—small shops, restaurants galore, specialty stores, as well as big markets and large retailers. They all fit neatly into the puzzle that is our town.  While the town proper is a hub of activity, our municipality of Kingsville boasts fertile farmland, a fishing industry, and manufacturing. Amalgamation gave Kingsville a big bonus–the villages of Cottam and Ruthven, which each have their own unique attractions.

I have lived in this area all of my life, except for a sojourn in the big city of Windsor for post-secondary education (for seven short years). For the first twenty years of my life I was a “country girl” and grew up in a close knit community (with amalgamation, my old community is now part of the municipality of Kingsville) where school and church were the centres of social activities, and a trip to town was always something to look forward to. For the last —-ahem, number of years I have lived in an older area of the town proper. Having resided in both the rural and urban areas of Kingsville, I have come to the conclusion that it is the people of the municipality that makes this area special. I think it must be something in the water. And it is not just the fish.

Kingsville has beautiful Lakeside Park with rolling hills just right for winter tobogganing, stately trees to picnic under, and a Pavilion that hosts all kinds of activities year round. It is most notably home to the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary, and just a few minutes away are the historical John R. Park Homestead, and a gem that is truly a well-kept secret that must be revealed: the Canadian Transportation Museum and Village. With wineries galore, (at least 13 and growing within 20 miles) Kingsville is a destination truly worthy of any daytrip!”

So, if you are ever in my area, drop by my “little town”—it is only about 30 miles from the Windsor/Detroit border. We do not care what anyone else says—we are the southernmost point in Canada. As Christmas approaches, the town is lit up with snowflakes on our main streets, and we have the Fantasy of Lights in Lakeside Park.

Are you a big city dweller, small town girl or boy, or do you enjoy country life? What does your town do for Christmas?