As a transplanted Ontarian, there are a few things I miss about my old home. I miss being able to drive out in any direction and find small towns, adventure, and sometimes ice cream (I’m lookin’ at you there, Pakenham). I miss architecture that is attractive and sticks around for more than 50 years, and I miss going swimming in fresh water that doesn’t freeze your appendages off. Today’s Ten on Tuesday is all about things you can do at the beach, and if it wasn’t for growing up outside of Alberta where there actually is a concept of “Beach” that doesn’t involve leaving the province, I suspect I wouldn’t have much of a frame of reference.
When I was wee and living in BC, my parents would take my brother JP and I to a beach just over the Canadian/US border in Washington State. Apparently it was one of the less-crowded sandy beaches around. By the time we were getting old enough to swim around on our own without a ton of parental supervision, my folks were renting a cottage on the Ottawa River from one of my Dad’s aunts for two weeks during the summers. Later, we moved to an old Victorian home just a ten minute walk from the river itself, just down the street from Robert Simpson Park in Arnprior, Ontario. JP and I spent as much time in the water as we could – we had the months pretty much mapped out as to just when in May you could get away with taking your first swim of the season (1).
We would be at the river almost every day – Making castles, critters and other sculptures out of sand (2), getting a tan (3), or – more likely – getting a burn (4). We learned very quickly that the one thing that very fair-haired kids needed to do was to wear a shirt to the beach (5). Preferably a light one.
When my maternal Grandfather would visit, he’d take us fishing. The beach in the park had a wharf, and as long as you didn’t aim towards the swimmers, you were allowed to fish from it (6). There was also a boat launch, and Boompa (our name for Mum’s Dad – my cousin couldn’t say ‘Grandpapa’, and it stuck) loved to put in his little three-man fishing boat with the 10 HP Johnson motor so that he and my brother could go fishing (7). My brother now has that same boat up in Yellowknife for much the same purpose. Friends of the family had a much larger cruising boat, so there were times when we were able to take tours of the different islands (8) in our part of the river.
The beach was also a great place to enjoy live music (9), as the park down the street used to play host to a festival called the “Salute to the Ottawa Valley“. I seem to recall that it was mostly country music, but googling to see if it was still an annual event shows that it was discontinued at some point. Apparently they’re trying to get another festival going in its place.
When we got older, it seemed that the big thing was attending bonfire parties on the beach (10). I never attended any of the unsupervised teenage bonfires, but then…I somehow don’t think I missed much. I much preferred the family-and-friend parties where you could enjoy the fire and the songs of the frogs in the reeds after a long day of activity.
Here in Alberta, there don’t seem to be a lot of public beaches, and the season is really quite abbreviated. I haven’t seen a lot of pools in backyards the way that we used to in Ontario, and I think that it’s because the swimming season is so short. There are campsites that seem to have swimming holes, but they seem to be few & far between – and they’re up in the mountains, so they tend towards being full of glacier water. A little cold to swim in, from my meagre wading experience. The only swimming I’ve done in the past 15 years has been in well-chlorinated pools. While I still enjoy the occasional swim, chlorine is one of the things that deters me from doing so more often.
And yes, it does make me nostalgic for the days when all I needed to do was toss some clothes on over my swimsuit, hop on my bike, and ride down the street to the beach 🙂