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100 kms east - 100 years in the past

One hundred kilometres east and one hundred years back in time I arrive at the small town. The message had been simple, “Meet me at Dr. Corbett’s Inn, we have to talk”.

Enquiring at the front desk of the ten room, converted bank building, the clerk told me she was waiting in the dining room. I walked through to the Palm restaurant, a skilfully understated blend of palm trees, ceiling fans, and white table cloths and… there she was, beautiful as the last time I’d seen her, a little older, a little softer, and maybe a little sadder. She smiled when she saw me, the same smile I remembered from ten years earlier. A glass of Chateau Des Charmes Gewürztraminer was waiting for me. “I ordered your lunch, I hope you don’t mind”. Before I could reply the waitress brought Cognac liver pate for me and a fig compose for her, the same hors d’ouevres we’d eaten the day we met. “Let me guess the main course is Panko crusted chicken for you, pepper crusted salmon for me, followed by chocolate cake for you and crème brulee for me”. “You remembered”, she smiled.

Leaving the restaurant, we walk along John Street passing the gates of the Hill and Dale, a grand mansion built in 1851. Bypassing the many art, antique and other specialty stores we turn right on Walton Street stopping to look in the windows and open doors of the eclectic stores in the Gillett-Paterson Block, a Greek Revival style building built in the nineteenth century and now restored to its former glory.

She takes my hand as we reach the Ganaraska River and watch the fishermen casting for trout. I want to ask why she called, but know she’ll tell me when she’s ready, so we talk about old memories, old times, old friends.

As we cross the iron bridge we pass the Turner House, one of the many former seamen’s inns that dot the town, and we’re reminded of the town’s past as a Great Lakes Port. Finding the East Beach deserted we sit on the sand and watch the seagulls, another reminder of another time, another place. “Why…” “Later… Just walk with me”. Leaving the beach we admire Canada House, the oldest building in the town, built by the town’s founder Elias Smith in 1800, later serving as a school, a post-office, a seaman’s inn and now a bed and breakfast. We walk along King Street past The Little Bluestone, built as a wedding present for Elias’ grandson, The Bluestone, the Little Bluestones big brother, the Clemes Duplex, and St. Mark’s Church one of the country’s earliest framed churches still in use today, and then a little further, on the other side of the street is the home of Farley Mowat. I wonder if he wouldn’t like a visit from a fellow writer. But apparently we have other plans. “I’ve booked a room for you at the Lantern Inn”. “But, why not Dr. Corbett’s”? “Not this time! Check in then meet me in front of the Capitol Theatre at 7.30”.

The Lantern Inn, built in 1845 and designed by the renowned architect William Thomas, has been painstakingly renovated and restored by the current owners. I’m shown to my room, one of only twelve, featuring a working fireplace, a custom crafted four poster bed, and a private balcony overlooking the Ganaraska River.

I have a couple of hours before we’re to meet, and since this wonderfully romantic room is wasted on a man staying by himself I quickly unpack my bags before taking a walk around the town.

The town is home to 16,000 people who are served by a number of very old, very beautiful churches, six by my count just in the downtown area alone; The United Church, St. John’s Anglican, Our Lady of Mercy, St. Paul’s Presbyterian, First Baptist, and St. Mark’s. Originally the town was also served by eight distilleries, none of which have survived. I’m sure there is some sort of moral there, but philosophic wonderings are not foremost on my mind at the moment.

My aimless wandering takes me past the Gillett- Patterson Block again, then past Lent Lane, originally a railway track, and up to the St. Lawrence Building, built in 1853 as a hotel and now home to a number of different stores, including antique stores, of which there is rumoured to be more than 60 in the town! Across the road stands the Royal Bank, in a commercial block that originally housed a music hall and opera house. I think maybe there’s another moral here somewhere! On the corner of Walton and John St. stands the Walton Hotel, a hotel has stood on this site since 1819 but the current building is, sadly, now mostly boarded up. Further down John St. is Meredith House formerly the home of Farley Mowat, close by to The Beamish House and the Midland Hotel which was built in 1880, and backed onto the railway station.

Time is moving on, by my watch, although seemingly standing still in the town, so I turn down Augusta and past the town hall, built in 1851 and surviving pretty much unchanged, since that time. In the front of the Town Hall stands a statue of Lt. Col. Arthur Williams, who according to the inscription was “the gallant hero of the Battle of Batoche”!

Returning to my room I have time for a quick shower before taking the 5 minute walk to the Capitol Theatre. She’s not there! Which doesn’t surprise me, punctuality never was her strong point, but she was usually well worth the wait. And tonight is no exception! Turning onto the street she floats towards me with a smile, her hair pulled back, accenting her cheek bones and beautiful brown eyes, a cream dress draping from her shoulder, caressing her limbs like a long lost lover while alternately hiding then revealing every curve of her body. I’m stunned, speechless, thunderstruck, gobsmacked!

“You… You look…” Laughing, “You look pretty handsome yourself. Come on don’t just stand there we’re late for the show!” She takes my arm and walks me into… A medieval castle!

The Capitol Theatre is Canada’s last operating “atmospheric” theatre. Entering, you get the illusion of walking into an outdoor mediaeval courtyard, reclining under a blue sky with twinkling stars and slowly drifting clouds. The lights dim as the show begins, a romantic comedy, did she pick this on purpose? Two hours later, the lovers having overcome numerous obstacles, are reunited, and live, apparently, happily ever after.

Taking my arm, we leave the fifteenth century castle and return to the nineteenth century town. Walking to the park we sit under real stars and real clouds, at the band shell. Neither of us speaking both lost in our own thoughts. The breeze freshens; she shivers and moves closer to me. “Let’s go back to my hotel. I’ll buy you a drink”. I take her hand and we return to the Lantern. The almost deserted patio overlooks the river and we make our way to a quiet table and order house cured salmon and a bottle of wine. The moment is almost perfect, marred only by what is left unsaid, and neither of us wants to go to that place. Finishing the wine I stand and take her hand. “You know we can’t”. “Why”? “Please don’t ask”. “But…” “No, please don’t. I’ll see you in the morning”. Before I can argue she kisses my lips and walks toward the front door. “I thought you wanted to talk”. Turning… hesitating… “I know, I’m sorry… tomorrow, I promise”. And she’s gone. Back in my room mystified and confused I lay on the king size bed listening to the sounds of the night wondering… A knock at the door… And there she is, a shy smile on her face. “Don’t say anything”, she melts into my arms, the door closing behind her.

I wake to the sun shining in the window. Smiling to myself as memories of the night drift back, I reach out… An envelope... I fumble it open. “My dearest…”

Leaving Port Hope I take the 100 kilometre, 100 year journey back to Toronto.

For more information on sites visited in this article:
Dr. Cobets Inn www.drcorbettsinn.com (1-800-383-3316)
Lantern Inn & Suites www.lanterninn.ca (1-800-361-1957)
The Capitol Theatre www.capitoltheatre.com (1-800-434-5092)
Port Hope Tourism www.porthope.ca (1-800-767-8467)


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