I was chatting on-line recently with someone I knew years ago in Toronto, and found by chance again on the Internet. We had a good, interesting chat that led to me inviting him to come up sometime for a visit. After going on, as I do, about the natural beauty of the Bruce Peninsula and my little corner of it here in Hope Ness especially, I asked the long-time Toronto resident if he’d ever been up to the peninsula. He said no, and wondered how long it would take him to get up here by car from the city, where he lives downtown. About four hours, more or less, I said.
I wasn’t surprised; after all, it took me a long time to find my way here, after going on various searches much further in other directions, but never really feeling at “home” where I ended up. Yet, here it was, all along, right in my “back yard,” so to speak.
I had the opportunity as a child born in the big city to live on a couple of farms in the southern Ontario countryside. The family circumstances that led to that happening were sad and difficult, but I won’t get into that.
My point here is going from the city to the countryside was a revelation for a boy of six when I went, first, to the farm near Streetsville, west of the city. It was only a distance of about 25 miles, or 45 kilometres, but it seemed like a totally different world.
Going from the city to that farm in the rural countryside was like going from black-and-white to colour.
It was a beautiful place, a 100-acre (40 hectare) farm-homestead along what was then called Rogers Road, which ran off the two-lane Highway between a village called Erindale, to Streetsville. I lived there with Mr. and Mrs. Weir and their teenage son David from 1949 to about 1953, when I moved back to the city. We used to go to the United Church in Streetsville regularly. I remember it as a pleasant, pretty little town. Eventually, after I left, the Greater Toronto Area’s urban sprawl came out and surrounded it, in a process that really got going big time in the early 1970s, with one subdivision after another. Today, Streetsville is part of the large suburban municipality called Mississauga. But it has managed to retain (the last time I was there anyway, which was more than a few years ago) much of its small-town charm.
The Weirs sold the farm in the 1970s. As an adult I occasionally went out to have a look – just a drive-by really, because the farm itself was hidden behind a thickly wooded ravine, with a lovely, little, winding stream running through. But the last time I went the landscape had changed so much and become so residentially developed that I could hardly find it. After that I confess I never went back.
But the farm still exists beautifully in my memories: there was the ravine, of course, where I spent so much time playing, and which was virtually carpeted in the warm season with white trilliums, and the occasional, rarer pinkish ones here and there; the two-storey, wood-frame, white-painted, farm house with several nearby, mature maple trees giving it shade; the cherry tree I used to climb to pick cherries, or just for the fun of it; the nearby raspberry patch where I also spent a lot of time harvesting the fruit, and, I confess, eating a fairly high proportion of what I picked right there and then; and the towering, majestic elm tree in the middle of the big oat field on the south side of the driveway from the house to the barn.
I learned to drive the 8N or 9N (I’m not sure which) Ford tractor. I even drove it to Streetsville a couple of times on some errands, and nobody so far as I can recall, going or coming back, batted an eye. I did my share of the chores to look after the horses the Weirs boarded. I even helped around the construction site when Mr. Weir, David, and another young man helped build a new house for sale up by the road.
I made good friends with a neighbour boy my age who lived in a big, stone house just down the road. They were well-off. There was a grand piano in the wood-panelled and richly-furnished living room near a big window that looked out on their beautifully landscaped property. My friend’s kind and considerate mother played the piano, and accompanied us that Christmas season when we were practising the carols we were scheduled to sing at the annual church Christmas concert. I could probably still sing my “descant” part in Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem if called upon.
I spent endless hours with a lacrosse stick bouncing the hard, rubber ball against one of the barn’s cement foundation walls. I got pretty good at it, I dare to say, but never actually played the game in an organized way. But give me a wall and a lacrosse stick and ball and I think I could probably still make it happen.
And, lastly, but certainly not least, I went for long walks through the fields and woods at the back of the farm with my two part-setter, canine best friends, Pat and Mike.
Mr. and Mrs. Weir were good to me. I became part of the family, and felt “at home.” I used to walk the mile or two down Rogers Road to flag a Gray Coach bus for the trip to Toronto to visit Mom on a regular basis.
I moved back to the city after I had just turned 10. But two years later family circumstances took me again to another farm in the rural countryside, this time further away from Toronto, in Grey County’s Egremont Township, near the town of Durham, south of Owen Sound.
My earlier experience with farm living no doubt helped me adapt to the more challenging life there, including barn chores relating to the care of 25 horses at what was then called Rolling Acres Ranch. In the summer it was a riding camp for children from fairly affluent homes in the city. During the school year the owners of the Ranch boarded other children, mostly from “broken homes,” as used to be said; maybe still is. There were about eight of us that year, as I recall. Breck and I were the oldest, at 12. We helped “Dad” Brush do the morning and evening chores. But Breck was gone after a couple of months.
The hard work and protein-rich food helped me grow like a weed that year, six inches in height and 50 lbs in weight.
I haven’t been back to the Ranch for a look-see in close to 10 years. But the last time, I noted the big, painted Rolling Acres Ranch name was still visible on the barn.
That day, many years later when I was going crazy in Toronto traffic and just had to get away, I headed up in that direction, since I already knew the farm near Streetsville wasn’t there anymore. And after all it was about getting away from the city, and more, much more than that, I now realize. So it was the Egremont-Saugeen Highlands countryside I was heading for, with some vague idea about buying a “piece of land” like so many of us “back to the land” boomers thought of doing at the time.
But when I got there things had changed; either that or something was pulling me further north.
So, I kept going, past Owen Sound, past Wiarton into the heart of the Bruce Peninsula. I followed an impulse to take a right turn onto Bruce County Road 9, drove past farms, around curves in the road, past wooded areas, and the big “Angel-Stone” quarry, and finally past Hope Bay.
Then there was one more curve in the then, still-unpaved section of the county road. It straightened out at the Hope Ness Road corner, but I kept going a bit further, ‘til I got to within sight of an old farm house and a faded, “For Sale” sign posted on a big maple tree beside the driveway.
I stopped right then and there, in the middle of the road. It was as if the house was speaking to me. I said out loud to myself, “That’s it. There’s home.”
Well, it was for a few years. Stuff happens, as I’ve said before. For some of the past 35 years I haven’t always lived in Hope Ness. But ever since that day I’ve known my home-heart has always been here.
That’s how I found Hope Ness initially. There was, there is, a spirit here that reaches out. I haven’t always paid enough attention to it. (Now, isn’t that an old story?) But I know now I am fated to be here. And I know I’m not the only one. For example, I look forward to seeing you, Ron.
Finding Hope Ness is a continuing “process” that must, and shall continue.
I look forward to family, friends, and searchers, finding their way down Cathedral Drive, or coming out of the Hope Bay Forest, formerly Cathedral Woods, off the Bruce Trail at the end of my driveway.
We’re all pilgrims, you know, looking for home.