Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Homecoming #1

I’ve written a number of times here about my longtime love of Pelee Island. When I was a kid, my grandparents owned a small wooden cottage on West Shore Road, and no matter where I go in life, this little island, with its many charming quirks and its stunning natural beauty, always seems to call me back.

A couple of weeks ago I received that call yet again, and as a result Amy and I excitedly landed on the dock here last Friday for a bit of a mini-holiday. But this trip was a bit different than any I had made in the past -- I had a newborn in tow; along with the camping gear, I stuffed a box of Lake Erie Stories into the trunk of the car before we left Toronto. And, to me at least, it kind of felt like we were bringing her home.

Amy takes a break with a (mediocre?) book on the steps of the Westview Tavern, billed as the southernmost tavern in Canada. And now its title is undisputed; with the closing of the Pelee Island Hotel, just metres to the south, a couple of summers ago, the Westview stands alone as the only place to go for a cold draft on the entire island. It’s also just off the ferry dock, and a great first stop after the ninety-minute crossing. I’ve spent too many hours here to count, and was shocked this weekend to learn that the tavern had altered its dress code:

After a cold brew at the Westview (or perhaps it would be better if you went before), you can head next door to the Pelee Island Heritage Centre, where curator (and the island’s unofficial Minister of Information) Ron Tiessen will answer any questions you might have about Pelee’s rich human and natural history. The museum, which occupies the old town hall, is filled with artifacts of the island's past and priceless items from nearby Middle Island, which was both a speakeasy and a haven for rumrunners during the prohibition years. There is even a small bookstore where Ron sells a number of his excellent books on Pelee’s history. He was kind enough to allow me to deposit a few copies of Lake Erie Stories there as well, making the book's homecoming feel complete.

Amy patiently waits for a bus that will certainly never come on the island’s east side. This transit stop, stuck in the ground in front of a cottage by some prankster, remains the official property of the Toronto Transit Commission, though I bet this is the last place they’d ever come to look for it. On one side is a weathered advertisement for the TTC’s “TimeLine,” which, in its day, told you when the next bus would come. It took much of my strength to restrain myself from calling it.

A couple of times over the weekend, I heard islanders mention that they had to get ready to do their banking. I was perplexed as to how this was done; there is no bank on the island, not so much as a bank machine, actually (the white-label one in the tavern doesn’t work). Did islanders have to go to the mainland and back (three hours total ferry ride) to complete this, one of life’s simplest tasks?

Here was my answer. Last Monday, a credit union from Essex County came over and set up shop in, of all places, the local legion. I don’t know how often the credit union does this, but I assume it's only once a week. For those of us who grew up on ATM machines, it’s a stark reminder of how disconnected the island really is from the hurly-burly of mainland life. And, if you’re of the right mindset, you’ll quickly see that it’s one of the many things that make this place so very special.

To read more about Pelee Island on this blog, click here.

For the Pelee Island Heritage Centre web site, click here.

For the official Pelee Island web site, click here.

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