A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster
I must tell you what Orillia was like when the Fosters moved here in 1950. Orillia was just a small town back then and not the booming metropolis it is today. Why look at us now with a half dozen Horton’s and even a couple of Starbucks in case an American accidentally drives by. The main street alone has thirteen or fourteen empty stores all ready to be painted and filled with antiques to attract buyers from all over the world.
If one so desires he or she can sit right on the sidewalk on the main street and drink beer on a hot summer’s day and that, my friends, is progress. For reasons I have never understood, we never see anyone sitting out there in January and February; there must be some bylaw against it, either that or we Orillians aren’t quite as hardy as we claim to be.
This was mainly a summer town when we moved to Orillia in a futile attempt to bring some measure of culture to the backward souls who lived here. Except for the curlers (a seedy lot at the best of times) no one went outside after the end of October – even to the liquor store – probably because there wasn’t one. It was tough on the alkies back then but not on the cab drivers who zipped down to Barrie or up to Gravenhurst for a jug or three to help those in need.
The folks from the big city used to come up for their annual summer picnic in the park on CNR and CPR excursion trains in July and August. Do you remember that?
Some of you geezers are really old and probably remember Samuel D. Champlain stepping out of his canoe to take a whiz beside his mythical statue in Couchiching Park. I say mythical because it seems to have gone missing and there is the growing suspicion it was never here in the first place. It may be like the little Scottish town of Brigadoon that shows up once every hundred years then disappears into the mist only to return a century later. Personally I don’t really think Sam’s statue is really missing; I think it is buried in that hole by Cedar Island where the new pumping station is rumoured to be built but will never be finished – well, it might be but not in our lifetime..
Back to the 40s and 50s; the whole town would gather to watch a steam train filled with vacationers chuff into the siding that ran beside the ram-shackle old boathouses across from the legion and along the waterfront halfway to French’s Stand. The decrepit old shacks eventually fell down when a low-flying seagull crashed into the last one and they all tumbled like so many dominoes until all that was left was a pile of weather-beaten scrap lumber.
As a kid, I remember those trains so well with city folk hanging out the train windows waving little Red Ensigns and throwing up. Hundreds would spill out dressed in their white cotton shorts and little halter-tops. I forget what the women were wearing. Everyone would jump down from the train carrying their picnic baskets and coolers to the park so they wouldn’t have to buy anything. There they would spend a few hours sitting under the trees reminiscing about the very same things they reminisced about the year before, or looking for a conductor who could tell them how long they had to stay before they could climb back on the train and head home.
The excursion trains are no more now, another grand tradition gone down the tubes. Last year Mayor Steve tried to convince one of the big banks to bring up a trainload once again for their annual summer picnic. But their response was lukewarm at best. Even the fact the tracks no longer run this far and their employees would have to ride the Go Train to Barrie and walk the remaining 25 miles, was passed off as an excuse – although a flimsy one at best.
But that was long ago, my friends. It’s not the same town anymore. In fact it is a city now and it will never again be Old Stevie’s Mariposa. I guess it is time for Orillians to move into the future, to revamp our image of how the Sunshine City is seen by the rest of the world. We must change.
Change! Are you out of your mind? Of course I am, but most of you already knew that, we need to change like Canadian politicians have been promising since Sir John A. fell off the boat from Scotland; promised, but have never delivered.
Okay, Mr. Foster, we must change but how do you we do that? How do we propel this backward community to its rightful place as the cultural centre of Central Ontario and therefore, all of Canada?
It is simple, my friends, you do it by listening to me.
You have a plan?
Do I have a plan? DO I HAVE A PLAN! Not really but I sure hope I can come up with something before next week.