Peaches and cream
I had just driven about three thousand kilometres across Canada in the late summer heat, so maybe I was a bit delirious. My mind was a tad delusional, that’s for certain.
After 15 years in the Yukon, I figured maybe it was time for the territory and I to take a break from one another. So when a friend was accepted to a college in a little town called Sutton, Ontario, I asked if I could tag along. I had a bit of money saved up, so I wasn’t desperate to find work right away. I had utterly no plan. Maybe I’d stay in Ontario for a winter, maybe I’d carry on to Prince Edward Island. Or Portugal. Maybe I’d return to the Yukon after a wee while, maybe I’d never see the place again. So I found a new home for Cumquat the cat and most of my other stuff, sold my palatial estate in a Whitehorse trailer court, threw a few things into my battered Toyota, and set sail on August 15, 1995. I had lived in B.C. and Alberta, but had only passed through Ontario a few times. This was going to be a grand adventure.
After a few days on the good old Trans-Canada, we arrived on the north shore of Lake Huron and decided, rather than driving through even more trees and rock, to take the short cut across the lake. We crossed the bridge to Manitoulin, boarded the ferry to Tobermory, and realized that if we hustled, we could get to Sutton by early evening, so on we sped.
It was then that we realized we were in an unfamiliar world. As we tootled along, we began to see farmers’ markets along the road, booths selling produce or flowers or maple syrup. This was new to me. There are precious few farms in the Yukon or on Vancouver Island, and most of my youth in Alberta was spent in the big city. We were intrigued, but the car was jam-packed, and now we were in a bit of a hurry, so we resisted the temptation to shop at one of the booths. Until…
We starting seeing signs saying, “Peaches and Cream, Just Ahead.” Our eyes were playing tricks, surely. Peaches grew in the Okanagan, not Ontario! But the signs kept coming… Peaches and Cream. Being hicks from the Great Northwest, we suspected southern Ontario would have a few more civilized perks than we were used to, but this was a cut above. Peaches and cream beside the road… what a treat! We started stealing glances at the booths as we passed. We couldn’t actually see anyone eating peaches and cream, or even a place where one might partake of such a delicacy, like a tent with tables and chairs and teacups. But we kept seeing the signs, so with our curiosity at a fever pitch, we finally pulled over.
You can imagine our crushing disappointment. No tasty treat. Just corn. Unhusked corn. Yellow and white corn. We didn’t have that kind out west, even in the supermarket, so I had no clue. My first big culture shock on arriving in Ontario had to do with vegetables. Sigh…
At any rate, our hunger for real peaches and cream unsatisfied, we motored on. After a few false turns (there was no Google Maps in 1995), we finally found Sutton. And our second big disappointment of the day. We had booked a basement suite from thousands of miles away, and it proved to be a disaster. Fortunately, the bulletin board at the school advertised a recently vacated granny flat on a farm near Egypt, only a few miles south of Sutton. It was perfect, and we soon came to an arrangement with Lou, our new landlord.
The next few days were busy getting settled while my friend got oriented at the school in Sutton. But then the weekend after Labour Day arrived, and we found ourselves with time to kill and an urge to get to know our new surroundings a little better.
“You want to see what rural Ontario is all about?” prompted Lou the Landlord. “You need to go spend a few hours at the Uxbridge Fall Fair!”
So we did. We set off early Saturday morning, and despite Lou’s careful directions, promptly got lost. You see, in the Yukon, there is usually only one way to get from A to B. In southern Ontario, there are dozens, and that day we saw most of the Township of Uxbridge before we finally found Elgin Park. The Fair was a feast for the senses, of course. The livestock, the midway, the food, all were wonderful. But the biggest discovery was in the Fair’s program.
“Auditions!”, the advertisements declared. Auditions for the Uxbridge Players’ fall production, and for the Uxbridge Chamber Choir. Hmmm… for me, this was even more tempting than peaches and cream. Less than a week later, I had been cast in the play by director Roger Varley, unsuspecting that I would continue to haunt him a quarter century later. And I became a member of the Chamber Choir, too, and after the very first rehearsal, alto Donna Van Veghel discovered that I had conducted a children’s choir in Whitehorse, and wondered if I might like to conduct her choir that winter, giving her a much-needed break. I said that I might.
But I had to meet some of the parents first, so they could interview me. And there, at the Hobby Horse one September evening 25 years ago, I met a lady named Lisa. And one thing led to another, and I never got to Prince Edward Island, or Portugal, or back to the Yukon. Funny what happens when you have no plan.