Grace Lake: The Return

After 12-15 years, I returned to what used to be my home – the shores of Grace Lake in the northern reaches of Central Ontario.

The view from the beach was the same as ever with the eye’s attention drawn to the ‘large’ island in the center (which is actually not that big when you look at it from the side or at it’s rear flank).

However, from the shoreline to the main highway a kilometer away, it’s very hard to pick out the features that are so ingrained into my memories.

Gone are the open spaces where you could roam around at will – replaced with trees and bushes so thick that they’re all but impenetrable.

All of the landmarks that I saw every waking day for the first 12 years of my life (okay – more like 10 years since I was two years old when my mother shacked up with my stepfather) were nowhere to be seen, and let me tell you, that is an incredibly disorienting feeling.

You folks out there who have been born and raised in urban centers can’t possibly understand what that feeling is like since it can’t really occur to you because no matter how much the city changes around you, there will always be something to help you find your way: a bridge, a street, a statue, a park, a landmark municipal building… none of these thing ever go away.

Sure, your favorite stadium might be torn down… or that crappy shopping plaza down the street from your parents house might have been razed so that a new movie theater and restaurant can be put in it’s stead, but the fact is that the road it fronts on to will still be there and you’re not going to get lost because you can’t see the busted sign for the dilapidated bowling alley.

However, imagine going away to college, then university, and then getting employed overseas – a journey through life that takes you 15 – 20 years before you make that trek back to where you started from.

Now imagine the entire city simply having vanished with nothing but a few broken bricks strewn about to even say there had been anything there.

How lost would you feel? How stupid would you feel for not knowing which way was what?

That’s how I felt upon returning to Grace Lake after my family’s property had been sold, divided up, and remade to the new owner’s visions – and make no mistake: the property that my grandparents sold to former MPP Chris Hodgson measured in multiple hectares.

Hell, I had to walk a kilometer just to catch the school bus every morning (and yes, I’m aware of sounding like an old timer when I tell you that).

That very road that I walked along through sun, rain, sleet, or waist deep snow now has homes built along it – each with sizable lots.

The cottage resort with 30 slots for recreational travel trailers was completely gone… not that I expected it to be there.

I knew that the wealthy had come and built a series of million dollar cottages on the shores of Grace Lake, but I had no idea that those buyers would let the land go to seed – that they would plant so  many trees that you wouldn’t even know that there was a lake to be seen if you didn’t already know it was present.

I had to access the shoreline via a family friend’s property, and even then, it was only about 15 – 18 feet of undeveloped trees and sand… looking out onto a breath-taking body of water that drew me into it’s grasp: I couldn’t control myself and waded out knee-deep into the crystal clear water that seemed to welcome me like a long lost relative.

But all I had to do was look to my left and see the perversion of what had been all mine: docks and floating piers supporting pleasure craft and luxury speed boats – instead of a pristine sand beach longer than the length of a football field or soccer pitch.

Grace Lake 2010

However, we all know that time stops for no one – no matter how we wish for it sometimes.

Every step we make, every breath we take, and every time we blink our eyes only moves us further and further along time’s highway… and it’s a highway filled with speeding cars and trucks that only go one way – so there’s no point in trying to thumb a ride back towards the beginning (at least not yet).

To borrow a lyric from Gordon Lightfoot – and one that seems to apply here: Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

As you’ll see in the attached video, Grace Lake has no shortage of waves, and they just keep rolling in without stop… furthering the days and years until there will be nobody left that remembers a cottage resort named Birch Villa – which is a certainty.

All that remains is the faces and the names… of the residents… of the customers… of 30 years or so of seasonal visitors.

Sure – there are photographs tucked away in dusty attics all over this continent that show what the lakefront used to look like.

But how long are those going to last? A generation past those who actually camped at the lake?

How long before those pics get shoved in a trash can by some kid in the future who thinks they’re lame – and kids already think the outdoors is a waste of time as it is.

It’s not like they can hop in a car and visit what’s in the photos in the grand tradition of road trips of self-discovery.

If it’s not going to be there for me – who lived there 24/7/365 – then it’s not going to be there for them.

All that’s left for me is a fading road sign that bares my surname…

.

.

…pointing towards a lake that you can’t see.

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4 Comments

  1. I remember birch villa, I grew up in Bren Holmes cottage and trailor park. Now 35 I haven’t seen those magical shorelines for 17 years. Though I have a large panoramic photo of the grace lake horizon from the beach looking at the island. This area is my heaven on earth and regularly visit it in dreams hearing lapping waves on my canoe. Now living in bc I try to appreciate the same beauty in the surrounding wilderness knowing man will eventually leave his ugly mark. Thanks for the video!!

    • I note that your video was posted on July 27.2010 which was 61 years and 1 day after I saw that view of Grace Lake for  the first time. I saw it regularly for the next 38 years until my father died in 1987. It is indeed the most beautiful place I have seen in my life. Your grandparents and your step-father were good friends.
      Cheers
      George

  2. Hello Mr. Outram, I as well remember birch villa very fondly and was last on beautiful grace lake back in 1974-75 you may remember us as the rock hounds from St.Catharines Ont we left grace lake in search of a larger lake which was Paudash lake until last fall,when our resort to was sold from under us to the rich with no regard for us . It is with great irony that I have now returned to Grace lake to a beautiful spot called River bank cottages with my family and do not plan on leaving this place again any time soon.You are correct when you say the lake welcomes you back with views of the island and so on, but your right their is not one familiarity of were Birch Villa use to stand ,Sad.but it is good to be back. Best regards Gene Krasichynski, P.S come and see me sometime

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