The Early Years
Growing up in this small Ontario town, with a fairly stable childhood, schoolmates, and friends, working in the family-run business, having fun, enjoying life, and dreaming of the future was my boyhood experience.
You will find a selection of pictures on these pages from my younger days as I grew through the years – it’s a showcase of me through the years and a pictorial way of demonstrating my progression.
I was raised in a comfortable home environment with busy parents that ran the family business, golfed, and socialized. Our home was on a tree-lined street with lots of other children around. Our house was about 10 blocks from the city center and 5 blocks to the lake and town park – nothing was far away by walking, bike riding, or taking the local transit bus. We had nice neighbors with one being particularly close. The lady of the house was widowed and retired. She had a live-in housekeeper, May, who was like a nanny to me in the younger days – always baking, feeding me, and a great person to talk with. There were no fences between the houses in those days and life was very secure and content.
Our house was older but relatively nice inside. I do remember having nightmares and dreams of bad ghosts in our attic – a very scary place to visit as a young child. Nobody went up the creaky old stairs to the attic it seemed and that’s why I felt there were bad things there. Clearly, as I grew older it became a less scary place. There were a lot of open areas in the backyards of houses on the street and the children living on the street all played together, climbed trees, built forts, and got along very well. We all seemed to have pets and bikes and enjoyed playing together for hours on end. Usually having to be called home to eat.
With my family having their own business, which seemed to be thriving, this provided me with some extras and adventures that many others weren’t lucky enough to have. I went to summer camps and often rode horses with a family friend, we owned a power boat to enjoy the surrounding lakes and rivers of central Ontario, and we had vacations and ate out at restaurants. I had good friends and great mates to play with as a kid, but once old enough to work (around 10-12 years old) I spent most of my spare time when not a school or studying, working for my family’s business – a local vehicle garage repair and gas station.
This meant that most weekends and after school, I was pumping gas (petrol), washing cars, changing and repairing tires, grease, and oil changes, or doing minor vehicle maintenance or repairs. It was often dirty work and providing customer service during the hot summer, rainy days and freezing cold winters provided me with lessons in human behavior. The majority of customers were pleasant but on the night shift the drunks often were challenging. Complaints were handled by me calling home and letting my dad usually tell the complainant off. I learned to drive at an early age as I shuffled vehicles around the service station lot. We stored the large Greyhound buses overnight as well and I learned to move them in and out of the workshop.
I remember in the early years my dad operated a towing service and he would often get calls out at night to retrieve cars that had been in accidents, getting stuck or broken down. I thought it great fun to ride along and get involved with whatever activity was associated with the call out – it might be the police at accidents or a drunken driver buried in a snow drift – it all seemed fun. My dad often had arguments with those that thought the price was too much or wanted a line of credit for towing. Maybe this is where I picked up some of my customer service concepts?
Working and being mentored by the rough and tumble mechanics and varied customers that frequented the family enterprise exposed me to different types of people and behaviors – a great experience and a good grounding for my policing career and other roles later in life. I learned that people were important to a business and that your own business is hard and long hours of work.
I went to Hillcrest Public School and completed high school at Orillia District Collegiate and Vocational Institute (ODCVI) – both were only a few blocks from my house and that made it convenient especially in the midst of snowy winter days. The school was enjoyable but nothing special for me. I had my friends and participated in school activities. Having spent the better part of 12 years in my early education there should be a lot more stories to tell, but I really don’t have much memory of notable events – just the routine of school, classes & activities.
My grade 2 or 3 teacher was obviously a smoker as I recall that’s what I smelt every day from her – the other teachers didn’t leave any lasting memories. I was an average student and got along well with others in high school. I seemed to enjoy working at the family business more than doing school work as I recall but always passed my subjects without too much effort – I now understand that I could have done a lot better with a little more effort. After working and studying I graduated from year 12. I had planned to complete year 13 but decided to join the RCMP as a more grounded alternative and move on with my life. Now that’s enough of the classroom.
Living near central Ontario freshwater lakes couldn’t have been a better place to experience my youth. Swimming all summer, boating, and fishing, water skiing as my leisure activities was wonderful pastime. Having a nice 18-foot power boat turned out to be a certain drawcard. With a boat, you have friends – that received plenty of outings on the lakes and up the Trent Severn waterway that was a route from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay on Lake Superior. It offered endless miles of boating fun, fishing, swimming, waterskiing, and picnics on the lakes and rivers. Family outings, friends, and mates – we all had a great time on the water.
Horse riding features as a favorite hobby of mine for a number of years. A business friend of my dads who owned the local Canadian Tire store had a lovely property near the narrows at Atherly, just outside of town, where he and his wife kept horses. I learned to care for and ride horses, and got to meet and hang out with local farmers and their kids – it provided a different perspective than living in town. They were a well-traveled couple and had seen the world and returned with odd souvenirs that they displayed around their home. I always liked the stories of trips to Egypt and Africa and what they saw. The place had its own barroom – very flashy in those days. The couple didn’t have kids as I remember, so my visiting and staying with them from time to time, I was like a surrogate child I guess.
During some of my more youthful years, I would be shuffled off to summer camp with anticipation of fun and learning great new things. Most years it was to the local YMCA camp Couch on the far side of Lake Couchiching where a group of boys would enjoy adventures and time away from the family. Playing and frolicking in the lake, woods, or cabins under the watchful eyes of our camp counselors. There were games, crafts, sports, swimming, archery, and night-time campfires with tales of old and ghosts.
Then as a young teen, I remember fondly going to the fashionable Taylor Stanton summer camp in Algonquin National Park where extensive outdoor activities, horse riding, and canoe trips were part of the busy activities. It was an amazing time and very enjoyable with other young boys as your mates. I had somehow found out about this camp and pestered my parents to let me attend – it wasn’t cheap either. Located on the mainland shore of Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park, a wilderness National Park, Camp Ahmek for boys offered adventurous summers to campers. It has been in operation since 1921 with a goal and mission to give campers an experience that will improve their lifestyle by developing an advanced harmony with nature, their peers, and themselves. I am sure it provided me with new insights into life and helped mold me in some small way.
This certainly was upmarket and the programs were more extensive with horse riding training, water sports and sailing, canoe trips, and camping out. I remember the canoe trip to be through the very wild and native countryside. We were in a group paddling and doing portages between lakes all day and setting up tent camps by night for a week. Being exhausted from the long days the food around the campfire, a few stories, and then everyone would be dead-tired and ready for sleep ahead of the next day’s grueling experience. It was good for my soul and taught me some outdoor ways of life that would be useful later in the NWT of Canada. I still have the brochure that got my attention and excited me all those years ago.
My Friends & Me
Like any normal youth, I had a number of friends from my younger playmate days through public and high school. There was Keith, Garry, Jim, Paul, Steve, Ron, Tom, and more along with some girls once in high school. I remember one of my young friends being killed in an accident which was devastating. Playing as a youth I remember wanting to be a Policeman and would pretend to direct traffic while my friends rode their bikes – and I became one. Keith always wanted to spin records and make radio commentary as we all listened – I later found that Keith had become a well-known radio personality in Canada. Riding bikes around the town, and going to the lake to swim or skate in the winter kept us amused. In winter snow forts and tobogganing on the nearby golf course hills took up our time. There were early crushes on girls and teasing if you showed any interest in the opposite sex from your friends. We were a close bunch and enjoyed each other’s company.
Jim and I were good friends as teenagers and often visited his family’s wilderness cabin on Lake Kanasuta, in Quebec near Rouyan-Noranda. It was about 450 km north of our hometown, a long drive up Hwy 11 to North Bay, Ontario then on past such places as Temagami and Temiskaning, Ontario. In the summer it was a boat ride to get to the cabin. It was in the wilderness of northern Quebec where treed forests, abundant lakes, and heaps of mosquitoes were the environment. Oil lamps and wood stoves were the means of survival. I remember one winter making the trek and that required a walk across the frozen snow-covered lake with wolves howling and following us. I remember we were glad to arrive at the cabin and get the stove going – I thought it was cold but later in the NWT, I found out what cold really was. This time with nature was always a great escape and an adventure.
My dad for years used to go hunting and as I got older was taken along on some fishing and hunting trips to northern Ontario. I remember catching large fish and dealing with the deer meat that was salvaged from the animals that were shot. The fishing was fun but I must say the hunting aspect was not something that I took to. It was fun to go to the woods and rough it and I got to take friends along for company which was always way more fun. The other many stories of my youth and teenage years will have to stay in my memory for now. I thought a few sample shots of me over the years might be enough to record the history.
Once I left my hometown and moved on in the world I didn’t keep in touch with any of these friends as our ways had parted with different lives. In checking out some of the names, as I was writing this, to see if I could locate any I found out that Steve had passed on early. Others just can’t be located. I did find a high school website dedicated to tracking classmates but that didn’t prove useful in making contact. You meet, interact and move on as you progress in your travels through life and friends become good memories.
Stock Car Fun
My dad sponsored a stock car that was driven and maintained by a mechanic that worked at our business. I was really interested in this sport for a time and participating in stock car racing provided lots of fun for a teenage boy. For a time I went along on weekend races when I could (and was not required to work) to be a support crew for the team. It was always lots of thrills and spills on the stock car track and learning to maintain the cars was fun. The car usually ended up getting damaged to some degree each race and there would be weeks worth of repairs before the next race during the summer season.
Also as a teenager, I got involved with a local scuba diving club to learn the sport and improve my swimming and that became a wonderful pastime. We used the YMCA pool in winter for training and the lakes in summer. Diving in the freshwater lakes of central Ontario was an adventure and even ice diving in the winter; was a chilling experience. The lakes are not colorful like coral diving in the ocean but they were a place of wonder under the waves and something new to explore. When this hobby turned professional it is funny how the fun wains. I and others in the club started to offer our services on a commercial base. Diving for lost articles from boats, cutting underwater pilings, doing work on docks, cleaning boat keels and other tasks kept us busy – but the sporting fun was lost as some of this was very hard work. All this provided a great experience and exposure that I would use to do one last dive in Fort Norman, NWT. It was a gruesome task to recover the body of an accident victim, who had gone overboard from a barge on a forklift into the McKenzie River – and the finality to my diving career.
I was an avid golfer as a young teen. My parents belonged to the local golf club and it was only about 2 blocks from our house so heading to the course was an easy stroll for me. There were games with friends and regular competition sessions. Playing for a number of years I don’t remember being a good golfer just an average hitter that enjoyed the game until I left home for my RCMP life. I never took up the game again due to postings and other priorities in life – funny thing. It was a frustrating sport, I had a terrible slice, but it provided fun and social times.
Early family travels
Florida vacations, California relatives, weekend trips
Maybe I was lucky, more than I realized at the time, but there were a few holiday trips when I was younger that must have inspired my love of travel and wondering to see new and different things. Recalling weekend trips in the family car, where I often got sick and had to throw up, because my parents smoked, reminds me why I never smoked. Sitting in the back seat I would be choking on their smoke as we traveled for miles on windy roads to seek out the scenery. We would often travel north for weekends and stay in motels which I found exciting – I got my own room as I got older and took my mates along which was even more fun for us. Travels around the countryside of Central Ontario were common with trips to visit my aunt in Burlington, Ontario.
In my teenage years, my parents used to travel to Florida to get a break from the snowy cold winters and I got to go along on a few of those trips until traveling with my parents was no longer cool. Seeing Florida with its warm weather and ocean, palm trees, and exotic birds always made mind dream of faraway places. Seems I’ve ended up retreating to one now I have retired.
We also visited my uncle in California once at Christmas time which was a great adventure for me as a young teenage boy. Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, Farmers Market, Sunset Boulevard. I remember seeing Western cowboy movie sets and sitting atop a horse next to a movie star of the day. California seemed cool and so much better than small-town Orillia…I must return.
Parent Challenges and Opportunities
Life has a way of dealing with both good and bad hands and it is up to us as to how we play the hand we are dealt. I felt that for all we had and the fun times as a youngster, I had to grow up quickly and had to deal with family issues.
As a teenager and dealing with your own emotions and changes, trying to complete high school and supporting the family by working at the garage was demanding. My parents had me later in their life. My father was busy with work and his own pastimes as I recall. My parents both enjoyed golfing, drinking, and parties. Being exposed to an alcoholic father and a mother who was eventually hospitalized for mental health issues had its challenges for a young man. My father spent many years working hard and drinking likewise. He had bottles hidden around the business and at home. His alcoholic vice was the cause of much anxiety around the home and at work as well as many family arguments. He was admitted to rehabilitation centers on a number of occasions but these didn’t seem to be successful. I remember the trips to visit him – not very pleasant as I recall.
My father due to his abuses had a health problem, particularly a heart that regularly suffered attacks. There were numerous angina attacks that required ambulance attendance to our house and transport to the hospital. Visits to the hospital and managing the business with my mother took on more strain. Later in life, his hospital admittances increased and his problems got more severe. It was most troubling to have to watch your father speaking to imaginary people and having alcoholic withdrawal attacks while his body was slowly shutting down. Eventually, it was too much for his body and he passed away.
My mother for one reason or another couldn’t cope with everything and her mental state required hospitalization and electric shock treatments that were popular in the 60s. Her fun-loving and outgoing personality was never the same after that, I hated the required visits to this mental hospital in Whitby, Ontario. Her being committed was not voluntary and that was a point of concern for the rest of her married life. She eventually suffered a massive heart attack and while initially, she recovered she eventually suffered a massive heart failure at a family friend.
I am sure the exposure to all this trauma and family challenge helped me later in life as a Police officer to understand human frailty and the situations that occur in life. This understanding was also used as my career required me to embrace people management and mentoring skills. As I have wandered the world my association with my hometown has now faded with my only real connection these days being my parents’ graves in the local cemetery. I hope to visit there one day before I pass on to offer my last respects. From growing up I moved on to a career and to my adult family life.
Why not check out more memoirs including my career in the RCMP, travel adventures, and a final family trip across Canada