Thursday, June 19, 2008

The drive

The stretch of Highway 3 that runs from St. Thomas to my hometown of Leamington is a study in contrasts. When making the run from Toronto, as we did a couple weeks ago, we're usually sick of the monotony of the 401 by the time we hit London. So, after a delicious chickenburger at the Flying M Truck Stop, we often divert to Highway 3 and embark on what my folks quaintly call "the old way."

And in many ways, it is. Before superhighways found their way to southern Ontario, this lonely two-lane slog along the shores of Lake Erie was the main thoroughfare connecting communities like Kingsville, Leamington, and Windsor to London and points east. But when the 401 went in just to the north, the dollars followed, leaving a host of decrepit farms, motor inns, and restaurants in their wake. But all is far from lost in this part of the Ontario hinterland.

Well, perhaps here all is lost. This farmhouse, near Talbotville, was standing only a short while ago. I noticed last spring that it had crumbled into this still-dignified looking ruin. Highway 3 is dotted with many such places. They're a haunting reminder of the difficulties of farm life, and many, long abandoned, have been knocked down, perhaps because the landowners fear they would be liable if anyone were to wander in and injure themselves.

Dealtown, not far from Chatham, possesses my favourite Ontario town name. The origin of the name eludes me, but there is not much space in Dealtown in which to make a deal. The back of the sign announcing to motorists coming in the other direction that they, too, are entering Dealtown is a stone's throw from this one.

The past meets the future near Port Crewe, about thirty kilometres east of Wheatley. This is probably the most desolate stretch of the route, with the whitecaps of Lake Erie crashing against the high cliffs that drop down not far from the highway's edge. The wind really whips through here, making the area a perfect spot for a wind farm. The completion of the massive project will give the old highway a look that its designers, in their wildest dreams, could never have imagined.

As we neared my parents' home on Point Pelee, we noticed that the locals were to be entertained by a "Jet Event" on this particular weekend. When I was little, these were known as "airshows," but perhaps the language has since evolved. In any case, these little signs, lovingly hand cut by someone, lined the various corners of the last part of the route. The stiff winds that weekend would have made any type of air event challenging, but this would've been music to the ears of the wind farmers.

I guess that along Highway 3, as with many other places, there are clear winners and losers.

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