Overwhelmed. I do have to ask myself, why am I living in the smoky hellhole that is Toronto right now when I could be in Halifax, a human-sized city with fresh fishy air, rows of beautiful multicoloured old shingled and clapboard houses, and an ocean around every corner?
I grew up here. Street names are resonant – Jubilee Road, that’s where Berna lived! There’s the church where I went to Brownies. That’s where we lived from 1950 to 1956, torn down for apartments but across the street, just the same.
And then there are old old friends. Chris Banks picked me up at the airport, friend since 1968, long story. He and his longtime partner Cathy Smalley and I know about a million people in common, from the theatre and the arts generally. I asked him to take me to Duncan’s Cove, where we both lived the summer of 1970 when we were working at Neptune Theatre, before I moved to a cottage in Dead Man’s Cove with Patsy Ludwick who’d become one of my closest lifelong friends. Duncan’s Cove is still remote, wild and very beautiful. Of course, Chris ran into people he knew and we ended up visiting Beverley, the wife of the man who originally bought the cove and its houses, in her own extraordinary home on the water, with a wood stove out of a fairytale.
Chris and Cathy invited for dinner Tim Leary, with whom I toured in a musical version of Under Milk Wood in 1972, and his wonderful wife Martha. “You and I dropped acid one time in a used car lot,” she stated with assurance, but I am equally assured we did not, I would not forget something like that. We had a delicious fish dinner filled with reminiscence about the million people we all know. Many laughs — the two couples are best friends.
Next morning, off to check in to my dorm room at King’s, which is reasonable but certainly basic, a single bed, a desk, the bathroom down the hall. Ah well. Lunch with Norrey, from whom we bought our Toronto house in 1986. Norrey moved to Halifax in 2019 – one of her daughters lives here – and is very happy in a condo. She has lent me her bicycle for the duration of my stay. So I set off in the cold drizzle — today was dreadful — for the Halifax Grammar School.
This school, started by my father in 1958, has now done a ten million dollar expansion and has nearly 600 students. Standing outside the new building with its giant sign, I burst into tears. If only my parents were here to see this. It’s extraordinary, a wonderful school; the principal Steven Laffoley gave me a grand tour, and I gave him a scrapbook Mum left behind full of HGS memorabilia.
Cycled home for a rest before dinner with Ian Thompson, a good friend the one year I spent at HGS myself, 1965-66, and his wife Donna. He gave me a tour too, down to Point Pleasant Park and along the industrial waterfront with its giant cranes for unloading tankers. Downtown has exploded, but much of the rest of the city is beautifully the same, with rows of old clapboard houses painted bright colours. So small, in comparison, so easy to get around. The air so fresh.
My throat is very sore, from my cold but also from talking nonstop. Just bought lozenges, because tomorrow the conference begins. How will I see the rest of the city, the famous new library, and take a walk in the Public Gardens and Point Pleasant Park? I’ll play hooky at some point. And I’ll have to come back sooner rather than later, and for longer.
A typical house. There are so many, beautifully painted and restored.
Beverley’s kitchen in Duncan’s Cove
Tim, Cathy, Martha, Chris. The best.
So impressive. Bravo, Dad, what an amazing legacy. The school started in a small old house in 1958, bought by a handful of parents who got second mortgages to afford the thousand dollars they each put in. They rustled up desks and blackboards, and voila, a school. I passed by, and it’s still there, a yoga centre now.
Tomorrow, many writers. The fun has just begun.