My husband, The Scientist, grew up in the then sleepy, little “wrong side of the tracks” town of Port Dalhousie, Ontario when he and his family emigrated from Germany in the 1950’s. They moved into a little house on the shores of Lake Ontario where his parents still live. Today it’s THE SPOT for buying real estate in St. Catharines. Anybody who’s anybody wants to reside in Port Dalhousie (even given a period of “stain” a few years back as the site of highly publicized, beyond comprehension crime). Many of the wartime cottages and cabins have been grazed, replaced by architecturally designed homes making the best of a view that on a clear day includes the Toronto skyline with its signature CN Tower.
Each time we visit we have our rituals:
I help out the local economy with a purchase of Prana yoga wear (this time a headband) at Tangled Yoga store and studio (regrettably their class schedule never coincides with mine), and I make a stop at the Market to see what’s cooking in Anna Olson’s bakery (regrettably now closed…I knew she had sold the shop to an employee shortly after we’d last visited but guess that without Anna’s famous and discerning touch, it lost its flavour, favour, and, ultimately, business with patrons who even crossed the border for her sweets).
And we always make the short trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, passing numerous vineyards on the way, to arrive at our favourite, Konzelmann Estate Winery, and buy several bottles of their Pinot Noir 1 – not available in Alberta. This time we visited with Claudia Konzelmann and enjoyed an afternoon of conversation, sipping flights of red and white and some special reserves, and left with several favourites to grace the Christmas tables.
Yesterday while walking, I turned right instead of my usual left, and found myself over on Henley Island, the site of the world famous Henley Rowing Club and Regatta. I meandered along the shore of Martindale Pond and then made my way back over to the mainland and an old cemetery with headstones dating back to the 1800’s and several trees whose enormous girths would suggest being at least that old.
Nut trees abound in these parts, the paths were strewn with acorns, black walnuts shells and chestnuts husks…it’s easy to see why the black and grey squirrels are so big.
Every time I visit, I imagine “what if” we were to return and take up residence. As a “daughter of Niagara,” having been conceived in Niagara Falls, born in Buffalo, NY, and raised on the Niagara River in Fort Erie, the power of this place is compelling. Most members of both our families reside here. World-class vineyards and local food and produce abound. Hardwood trees that colour in the fall, and the flowing waters that resonate so deeply within my own.
Though when I’m here in Niagara I miss the vast spaciousness of the prairie and parkland landscape, our brilliant blue skies, the bracing dry cold and snow. Mountains whose magnificence more than compensate for the four-hour drive. A life made rich through meaningful work and enlivening culture and community activities. Friends who have become chosen family.
This time when I walked, I sang an iteration a little made-up-the-moment song:
Right now I stay put
“What next” not yet mine to see
Trusting I’ll know
Where and when to go
The who, how and what
A surprise, a mystery
Tonight, Christmas Eve, we celebrate with my husband’s family, thirteen around the table, our traditional dinner of veal sausage, potato salad, red cabbage and good Konzelmann wine. Gifts shared, snippets of conversation to reconnect kin until the next time. And as is our ritual, tomorrow, Christmas morning, we drive the short distance down the “Queen E” to reunite and celebrate with my family.
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”