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Crossing Canada Day #17: Pembroke Ontario

We continue our Chronicles of Crossing Canada. Welcome back!

We left the Comfort Inn off Hwy 201 in Port Hope and headed back to the Ottawa River Valley. Our destination: Pembroke Ontario.

Christie Street, Pembroke by Jaime Lee Lightle (2022)

Jim writing…..

Well, we woke up in Port Hope to sunshine. It will be a great day drive to Pembroke I thought. We took the long way to get there, taking roads I used to bike as a child. Hwy 7 was the only major highway we took.

We drove past Hastings, Norwood, and Havelock. Havelock is the home of the Country JAMBOREE. I went when I was younger and more foolish but had a great time. I even saw Canadian legend, Stompin Tom Conners performing there. When we passed Marmora, I was reminded of my time spent at my best friend Jeremey Reesor’s family cottage. I fondly remember standing in a canoe on the river playing crash up derby versus my brother. We called that getting silly on the water.

We kept driving and came upon Kaladar on the junction of Highway 7and 41. We headed north on Highway 41 towards Pembroke. For 14 years I traveled this route to Port Hope to visit my parents while I was posted at Petawawa. I knew the road so well that I could have closed my eyes and still made it to Pembroke. We took a detour and made our way through Eganville and tried to make it to the falls on Fourth Chutes Road on the Bonnechere River. There was road construction, so we had to find another way to get there through the village of Douglas, home of the largest Saint Patty’s Day celebration in the Ottawa Valley.

Walton Street, Port Hope by Jaime Lee Lightle (2022)

When we finally got to the Bonnechere river, we parked at the Bonnechere Caves parking lot. We used the facilities and left a monetary donation for the park, then we walked down to the first waterfall. It was at this very same location that I took a picture of my brother Greg and his future wife Sarah standing atop the falls many years ago. Jaime painted this very photo, and it now hangs in Greg and Sarah’s home. This area holds a lot of meaning to me. Afterall, it is the Ottawa Valley where Jaime and I fell in Love.

Our first stop in Pembroke was at our old neighbour’s Bob and Shirley house. They are great people to have living next to you. When I was away in Bosnia they looked after my house. They also checked in on it when I was in Afghanistan. They were my grandparents of the north. They always checked in on me. When I was injured, they would stop by and see if I was okay. Shirley often sent Bob over with church sandwiches to brighten my day. When I brought Odin home back in 2009, they were worried at first about having a half-wolf living next door, but they grew to love him so much.

Our old home in Pembroke Ontario. Photo credit: Jaime Lee Lightle

I missed Bob and Shirley so much and when we stopped in, I was afraid they would be mad at me. I haven’t talked to them since leaving for Nova Scotia. Shirley said she had almost given up on me. Those words stuck in me like a dagger. I responded to her: “don’t ever give up on me”. We talked about the current events and how things have been in Nova Scotia. They talked about their grandkids and what they were up to. The main question was, however: “How is our Boy Odin?” I told them the truth that he was getting older, and it was harder for him to get up and lay down, he lives for his walks I explained. They still had the picture of Odin on their fridge. We left them with our phone numbers and our address in Nova Scotia.

We headed towards our final stop for the night: Tony, and Roxanne’s driveway. It was great to see them. We met Tony and Roxanne at the Pembroke Curling Club back in 2011 and we all became quick friends. Tony took me, Jaime, and our friend Kassia on as rookie curlers and our team became a formidable force by the end of the season.

Our neighbours Ryan and Christina also showed up. We had great conversations about the past and about the future. When we left Pembroke for Nova Scotia, Ryan and Christina’s kids were just little. Now they are older, and Ryan said one is a “gambling champ with a dreidel”. They usually spend their weekends at a camp on the Ottawa River in the Summer.

Tony and Roxanne are always ready for a party. They are genuine people, like constants. We saw them in 2019 when Jaime and I took a quick visit to the Valley following the passing of Jaime’s grandmother. Our reunion then consisted of the old curling team: Tony, Kassia, Jaime, me plus Roxanne. We had a great Schnitzel dinner at the Rocky Mountain House in Renfrew. This time it was different. We had a plandemic that had gotten in the way of everything.

Everyone seemed to be tired of the pandemic. We commiserated and listened to them vent about the things that seemed to be bothering them. We could tell who watched the mainstream media and who did not. We kept our views to ourselves and just enjoyed their company. I made my point of saying, "I am more afraid of bullets and bombs than Covid-19". Most acknowledge this, yet some I sensed still had fear in their hearts. I wanted to say: “Talk to God and that fear will go away”.

Jaime writing.....

Every small town we passed on our route on this sunny day seemed to have something to say. There were some freshly restored buildings and shops and of course there were still signs of economic depression with many buildings and businesses looking abandoned. We also noticed that there were more “No More Lockdown” signs, signs for the People’s Party of Canada and signs for a multitude Independent Candidates running for Federal Parliamentary seats than we have seen anywhere else in Ontario.

Just before Kaladar we made a pit stop at a rest area near a slow-moving brook. There we met the gentleman who maintained the latrines in this area for the better part of half a century. He complained that he has never seen so much property destruction and vandalism at the hands of youngsters this past Summer. He surmised this destruction was due to boredom. “They’re back in school now”, he said with the expectation that the vandalism would cease. He told us that he was impressed with our camper and sense of adventure after we told him a bit about our trip thus far. He said he wants to travel himself after he retires from his 30-year highway maintenance career.

We took a left at Kaladar Ontario on Hwy 41 towards Eganville Ontario.

As we drove past Bon Echo Provincial Park, we were reminded of one of our first camping trips and one of our first and only times we took the dogs with us. It was Odin, our Wolf-Husky mix who leapt out of the 3-inch opening in the back window of our old Volvo to chase after a baby deer as we were leaving the park. Don’t worry, he didn’t catch the Deer and James managed to track Odin. I remember how Odin was panting like crazy when Jim returned him to the car. The nice ranger at the park office gave him a big bowl of water.

As we approached Eganville, Jim wanted to stop at one of his favourite places: the Bonnechere River at Fourth Chute Road (between Eganville and Douglas Ontario). We had to take a detour on account of some maintenance on the Fourth Chute Road bridge, so we took an out-of-the-way route through Douglas. Unfortunately, this also meant that we would not be able access the stone arch which is a neat natural feature near the bank of the river. Across the river is the Bonnechere Caves, another neat place to visit.

Bonnechere River. Photo credit: Jaime Lee Lightle

We got to Pembroke at 2 PM and it shocked me how so little seemed to have changed in the last 6 years. The only evidence of time’s slow crawl was the trees on Mary Street; they seemed a bit bushier, and the buildings seemed to have a little bit more patina – just like us.

We turned right off Mary Street and parked on Moffatt Street. We wanted to surprise our old next door neighbours Bob and Shirley Purvis. I could hear Bob’s voice raise in a crescendo of "ooooohhhh" once he saw Jim’s face through the window in the door. He sounded like he saw a ghost. He opened the door, and his face was brimming with a huge smile. Bob invited us in and slowly climbed the stairs to the second floor to fetch his lovely wife who was taking a nap. In the background, CNN was blasting on the TV.

While we waited for Bob to return, we looked around the corner from their living area to their kitchen to see that the fridge still had a picture of our dog Odin hanging on it.

Bob slowly climbed back down the stairs, and Shirley followed a few minutes later. A lady needs to “powder her nose” after a nap. When Shirley finally joined us in the living room, the first question she asked was about “our Odin”. We were happy to report that he was still around and kicking. They were not too concerned about Dory, but we did tell them of Diego’s passing (our Dachshund crossed the Rainbow Bridge the previous year). All our dogs were spoiled incessantly by Bob and Shirley when we lived next door to them.

We were happy to hear that everyone in the Purvis family were doing well. We also learned that the new owners of our house were expecting. James and I had always surmised that our old house in Pembroke was cursed as none of the previous owners in the last 20+ years had had children.

After about an hour and a half visit, we took our leave. We still had our final destination to reach. We were planning on setting up our camp in Laurentian Valley, at the home of our good friends and old-curling buddies, Roxanne, and Tony Scott.

After a quick stop at the Staples for some supplies, we headed in the direction of Laurentian Valley through the main drag of Pembroke, bypassing the downtown core.

At the home of the Scott’s, Roxanne greeted us with a huge smile and a powerful hug. Tony was still at work at the plant. Soon we would be joined by Christina and Ryan, our other neighbours from Mary Street.

When Ryan and Christina arrived at the Scott’s, we were greeted with more gleeful hugs and boisterous, “we are so happy you’re here!!!”. As the rims of all our eyes were starting to fill, I made a vow that I would work harder at staying in contact with our old pals. I moved a lot as a kid, so I learned to cope with the sadness of separation by letting old bonds slowly, and naturally decompose like last year’s fallen leaves.

Around the dinner table we caught up, laughed, and feasted. It was great to be amongst our Pembroke friends again, but reminders of how the world has changed seeped through like a wet blanket. For example, the group admitted to us that they hadn’t all gotten together in the last 2 years at all! How is it possible that it took us driving across the country to Pembroke to prompt this reunion? We used to all get together at least four times a year when we still lived in Pembroke. Sadly, new habits replace old ones.

Pembroke Reunion. Photo credit: Tony Scott

At about 9 PM we said our goodbyes to Ryan and Christina as they were off to their trailer where their kids were being looked after by Christina’s brother – good-time uncle Jason. Tony was passing out in his chair on the back deck – tired after a long day so we also decided to sojourn to the truck-house for sleep ourselves. Tomorrow would be another day of reunions, so we needed our energy.

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