After bouncing from Paris to Boston to Halifax over the course of a couple of days, and then travelling through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and New England, I returned to Ontario to spend some time there for the first time since the summer of 2020.
I had just arrived in Port Dover, Ontario. My plan for the next few weeks was simple: spend a few weeks bouncing between my dad’s place in Port Dover, and my mother’s place in Hamilton, with perhaps a visit or two to my hometown of “Fake London”.
Discovering Port Dover
When my parents announced that they were moving from Halifax back to Ontario, I was already aware that my father might not be living in Hamilton (where my parents had lived prior to moving to Halifax in 2019) with my mother, but was quite surprised when I found out that he would be moving to Port Dover. I had driven through this small town nestled on the north shore of Lake Erie on a previous occasion, on a lovely day spent travelling along the shore of the lake in the summer of 2016, but otherwise, I knew nothing about it. When talking with friends in southwestern Ontario, I learned that the city’s claim to local fame was as the home of a large recurring motorcycle rally held every Friday the 13th.
On my first day in Port Dover, I took a walk around. Here are a few spots I enjoyed visiting:
As you can see, the spots that left their impressions on me were mostly green. The rest of Port Dover also left an impression, but there was nothing particularly noteworthy:
- There is a restaurant, 211 Main, that has some very tasty vegan options, allowing my parents and me to eat a nice meal together every once in a while. Most of Port Dover’s sit-down restaurants offer little or nothing for vegans, so this became a regular haunt.
- There is a library branch. This might seem trivial, but in a small town, this can be a sanity saver. My father is a regular client, having made his way through many books and most of their video collection. Fortunately, inter-library loans will there for him, when the in-stock selection gets old. Aren’t libraries great?
- Most everyday amenities are accessible within a 15-to-20 minute walk from my father’s house, the exception being the grocery store which is located on the other side of the town. This makes the town much more walk-able than some other areas of Canada where I’ve been (such as some of the new subdivisions in West Lethbridge, Alberta, where literally nothing is accessible by foot), not that that walk was terribly safe (due to the poor pedestrian infrastructure).
- Pathetic and dangerous pedestrian infrastructure connecting to the newer eastern parts of the community: the walk from my father’s house (which is within the community’s limits, on the northwest side of Highway 6 on the east side of town) to the small downtown area (on the same highway) requires walking directly alongside the highway on a sidewalk that randomly ends with no warning, requiring pedestrians to retrace their steps, cross the highway at an unprotected crosswalk, walk the rest of the trip into town on the opposite side of the highway, and then wait for a slow traffic light to cross the street again to have access to most of the town. I have no expectation of small Ontario towns to make an effort to make themselves truly pedestrian-friendly from a long-term design perspective, but making members of your community cross a highway with no real protection because you are not willing to pave a short strip alongside the highway for a sidewalk is just pathetic. The funny part is that on the side of the highway where the sidewalk abruptly ends, the sidewalk (or something similar to a sidewalk) continues not more than a couple hundred metres down the road, but because there is no subsequent pedestrian crossing, pedestrians can’t safely cross back to that side of the road until they’ve finished the entire walk into the town.
- Mad right-wingers who are incapable of expressing themselves: I am a relatively left-wing person in political terms, but am quite capable of accepting other people’s political viewpoints with which I may disagree. However, Port Dover seems to include a lot of people who are incapable of expressing their political stances in any way other than using the most popular political catchphrase in Canada, “Fuck Trudeau”. I never went long without seeing a Jeep, pick-up, or SUV with a “Fuck Trudeau” bumper sticker or banner on it, and noticed at least one house with a giant “Fuck Trudeau” banner hung in their living room window. Fun variations included replacing the first letter “u” with a maple leaf (does that make it less profane?), or even better, replacing half of the aforementioned maple leaf with a machine gun (what, are you going to shoot and then fuck Trudeau?). Folks, use your words. Instead of purchasing immature bumper stickers, perhaps you could try to promote political change by expressing your grievances. Right now, your weird “Fuck Trudeau” obsession makes you sound like a member of an angry, immature flock of adolescents, lacking any other method of self-expression.
- Many services require driving to other towns: This just comes with the small-town territory, and isn’t surprising in a place that is entirely car-centric: the size of the town doesn’t permit having all services, so the closest Canadian Tire, motorcycle dealerships, supermarkets, electronics shops, movie theatres, and similar non-daily destinations require driving to neighbouring areas, though such a drive would rarely exceed 30 minutes (each way).
That’s about all I’ll say about Port Dover. Despite my issues with the town, which are similar to those of many small Canadian towns, my memories of it are fond. The people are generally friendly (though I never tried mentioning Trudeau), and my father lives there, so that’s good enough for me when I visit.
For my first few days in Port Dover, I would work for a few hours in the mornings, go for a run along the Lynn Valley Trail, and then putter around the house, perform some basic maintenance on my motorcycle, work on upgrading the Wi-Fi, or just spend some time with my father. After a few days, though, the time had come to head to Hamilton.
Although I’ve never lived in Hamilton myself, my parents had previously spent a few years there, so the city was not entirely unknown to me. Heading from Port Dover to my mother’s apartment in Hamilton was a drastic change. I had never had a terribly great opinion of Hamilton following my previous visits to see my parents, but over the course of this summer, my view of Hamilton (or, at least, Hamilton’s downtown area) really improved:
- Everything that one might need is accessible by foot, with real sidewalks! Grocery stores, shopping malls, hardware stores, and shops selling even relatively niche items can all be visited easily by foot, or on public transit for those who don’t like long walks.
- The amount of vegan food available was more than satisfactory. There were several vegetarian and vegan restaurants within a short walking distance, and most other places had options for herbivores. Finding something to eat while walking around the city was never a daunting process, and I looked forward to trying out the various options.
- There was no shortage of things to do: cinemas, little artisan shops, bars catering to various tastes (from jazz and metal music to board games), and should the need arise, a train service connecting Hamilton directly with downtown Toronto.
- Despite the urban environment, there are lots of running trails. Every day, I had the choice of running to and along the shore of Lake Ontario, or running through trails on the Niagara Escarpment, known locally as the “Mountain,” that separates the lower (downtown) and upper parts of Hamilton.
Once again, some “green” shots:
Although some time spent running and some more time working each day gave me some structure, I didn’t travel to Canada just to work and run! Being in Ontario, apart from allowing me to spend time with my parents, also allowed me to see friends that I had not seen in a long time. One of my dearest friends, whom I have known since ninth grade, also ended up living in Hamilton, and I really cherished the time I was able to spend at his place, sharing some lovely afternoons and evenings of talking, walking, cooking, and whatever!
Revisiting Fake London
London, Ontario holds two very non-prestigious titles in my mind: “I was born there,” and “I survived eighteen years there.” It hasn’t been a place that I’ve associated with the idea of “home” since I left it over a decade ago, and isn’t a place I get much enjoyment from visiting.
To be clear, I have some very fond memories of my childhood, but nothing about my hometown contributed to this. As I child, I spent lots of time in the nearby parks playing with my brother for hours on end (at a time when parents were still comfortable letting ten-year-old children leave the house unaccompanied and without cell phones) and taking advantage of the cycling trail that followed the path of the nearby Thames River (most of London’s names for notable things/places were taken from the “real” London). I can at least say that I never felt unsafe in London, so its contributions to my childhood can be summarised with “not dangerous” and “there were some trees and paths.” I do consider those to be important points, but really, they’re just the basics that I would expect of any city where I’d even consider living. My mother, a lifelong Torontonian, joined my father in London when they got married and wanted to have children. I was quite aware that moving to London was probably not a terribly positive experience for a woman who had spent almost her entire life living in Canada’s most populous and multicultural city. Being a child who was happy to adopt his parents’ opinions until he had enough information to form his own, my mother’s occasional jabs at London convinced me that I was growing up in a horridly boring place. Since leaving the city, I have looked back on the London in which I grew up, and come to the conclusion that it’s… just okay.
London is classified by Statistics Canada as a large urban area, and is one of the fifteen most populous cities in Canada. It is an incredibly car-dependent city that continues to see outward sprawl in the form of (mostly) single-family homes in areas with strict zoning laws that result in the need to have a car available to access everyday goods. Public infrastructure projects typically take the form of adding additional lanes to streets instead of investing in better public transit or safe cycling infrastructure. When I lived in London, the aforementioned public transit system consisted essentially of relatively infrequent buses with limited hours and no bus lanes to speed things up: not ideal for a teenager not wanting to beg his parents for a ride to any possible destination.
The wheels on the bike do not go round and round…
I had planned to spend around three weeks in Ontario, visiting family and friends and performing maintenance on my motorcycle (which needed a new set of tires before heading to the west). This maintenance work was mostly finished by late June, at which point I wanted to do the last little bit: I removed the motorcycle’s wheels and took them, along with unused tires that I had ordered in 2020, to the closest motorcycle shop to have the new tires installed. This took a few days (although the shop refused to give even an approximate estimate of when the work would be done, despite a tire change being a quick job), so I was thrilled to pick up the wheels with their new tires when I received the call indicating that the work was done, as it would allow me to start my journey right away. I planned on travelling for some time around Alberta and British Columbia before visiting my good friend Max in Lethbridge, Alberta, in mid-July, where he would be performing music at the South Country Fair festival in mid-July.
Upon arriving at the shop, however, I noticed that the front tire seemed to be mounted the wrong way, and in fact, that it was a rear-wheel tire that had been installed on the front wheel, although it was the right size. It seems that when I had ordered the tires over the telephone from a motorcycle shop in Alberta two years prior, they had mistakenly ordered two rear tires instead of a rear and a front tire, and because I never saw the tires until 2022, and they appeared to be the correct size, I had no reason to expect that the motorcycle shop would have ordered the wrong type of tire in 2020.
Riding on an incorrect tire could have serious safety and performance implications, so there was no doubt in my mind that the tire would need to be replaced. However, the motorcycle shop claimed that they wouldn’t be able to receive the correct tire for several weeks. This would have entirely ruined the plan for the summer: I would miss my friend’s concert at the South Country Fair, miss the time spent in Western Canada, and questioned the viability of heading to Western Canada, knowing that I’d have to return to Ontario by late August for a wedding. After having a bit of a nervous breakdown in the parking lot (I was mentally very, very ready to leave Ontario), I looked for alternatives: where else could I get a tire quickly? I found a Canadian online retailer that could have the tire sent to me in a couple of days, so I re-entered the motorcycle shop, saying that I could get the tire myself in a short delay and that I’d bring it to them. Suddenly, however, their tune changed rapidly, saying “We’ll get you the tire soon, don’t worry”. In my mind, I was sceptical: how had they magically been able to change their delay from a few weeks to a delay short enough to compete with my two-day delay from an online retailer? Against my better judgement, wanting to support the local dealer and figuring that they had under-promised and over-delivered on my previous service request, I agreed to let them order the tired.
Then, I waited, and waited. Days passed with no update. I was feeling trapped in Port Dover, with no way to get around (my motorcycle was wheel-less, and my father had only one vehicle), and every day where I had no update was another day where my plans had to be further limited and altered. I started speculating that I should just try to take a train to the west, assuming that the motorcycle shop had just made a false promise and would actually take weeks to receive the much-needed tire.
Bike Trip West: a New Hope
I was close to cancelling the trip out west entirely, when almost two weeks after being promised that the tire would arrive quickly, I finally received a call saying that the tire had been received and was ready to be picked up. My father and I immediately hopped in his truck and went to retrieve the wheel and tire, which we promptly installed on the motorcycle. On July 13, after almost two weeks of disappointing delays and changed plans, I was finally able to begin the 3100-kilometre ride to Alberta the next morning – hopefully in time to attend the South Country Fair, which would start just three days later.