We had so many interviews jammed in today that Charles and I had to split up. And for those of you who know the two of us, you have probably noticed we do almost EVERYTHING together. In fact, I'll let you in on a little secret - we're married too! So put that in your pipe and smoke it, while you read on... Well, to be honest, the day got off to a slow start with an early morning interview scheduled at the tatoo parlour which did not happen because no one was there yet! In retrospect, it probably was not the most ideal time to schedule an appointment with a tatoo parlour - but we'll try to catch up with them later...
Next, Charles went off to see the all knowing Mary Brae, a long time Londoner who bought and sold many properties downtown, and I went off solo to an INCREDBLE visit at My Sister's Place. The women at this drop-in centre awaited me and they were full of nostalgic stories about downtown and opinions on what could be done to improve the city. I was lucky to get a tour around this beautiful restored heritage house that they call home, and find out about the wealth of programming in this truly welcome, inclusive and positive space which some women told me saved their lives. I promised to return with ice cream. And I shall!!
Here I am interviewing one woman who told me that The Forest City has become the Butt City because of all the cigarettes on the streets. She is lobbying to see this change and she also imagines a future where people on the streets will be more friendly and accepting to everyone who passes by - regardless of social economic class or colour. I like the way she thinks...
While I trotted back from this glorious place, Charles was interviewing Long Phun at the amazing Tamarine and then we both headed to meet JOEeph KOOLafski, a.k.a., Mike Smith. He told us about the good ole’ days downtown, and tales of the buildings, the businesses and the bureaucracy. We LOVED hearing about the character of JOE KOOL who sometimes makes an appearance in his leisure suit. Costumes, alter-egos and public displays of goofery – now THAT is something we can dream around for our show! Thanks Mike / Joe!
Here he is in front of his wall of memories…
A walk around town with Sean Galloway is something we highly recommend. This is a man with a plan! Sean took us through the future ideas for downtown, including streetscape and sidewalk renovations, an urban beach at the Thames, plans to fill in some of the superfluous parking lots and his personal vision for the future… and we must say, if Sean gets his way, the future looks so bright you’re going to have to buy a pair of shades at a downtown shop! Here’s Sean at the site of some of his downtown dreams…
Next we me with Jonathon Bancroft-Snell at his breathtaking gallery at 258 Dundas Street. Jonathon opened in Galleria Mall during its heyday and then moved to his current location. Jonathon is a true storyteller and we had a ball interviewing him. We especially loved the story of one of his fantastical customers who comes in and picks out a whole shelf of ceramics as a gift for someone and asks to have the items wrapped and ready for when he returns. Jonathon plays along with this fantasy, knowing full well that this customer will not really be returning to complete this purchase. He enjoys meeting everyone who walks into his gallery and being part of the world of downtown.
In the early afternoon we met with THE David E. White. This gentleman, (and he is a true gentleman), takes care of the men of London. In his realm on Richmond, he not only has a men’s wear shop, but also a barbershop to get a cut and shave, a dry cleaners to keep it clean, and a little art gallery where you can buy a piece of art for your wife, perhaps. David spoke to us of the old days in London where there were over 50 men’s wear shops among a bustling downtown. The secret to success according to David E. White? Perseverance.
Finally, we made it out onto the street with our storymobile!!! Trading Chapmans Ice Cream for stories is our game, and many people were eager to play along. Young and old ducked inside to tell a story and 24 ice cream sandwiches later, we packed up and headed to have a pint at Joe Kools and then celebrate Londonlicious at Garlics!
Hey there! Today was full of interviews, which are proving to be indispensable in providing us with a base from which to launch our questions that we will ask the public from our story mobile on street level. Today we spoke to Kathy Novackas, the extraordinary founder of the London Fringe among a list of other grassroots initiatives. Kathy told us of the movers and shakers in the arts community downtown and the venues and theatres that pop up around town. She recounted her own memories of visiting Kingsmills and Roland Hill Shoe Store as a child where her mom would buy her oversized clothing for the year ahead, that she would have to grow between her next annual visit to London Ontario from London England where she spent her childhood.
Next we met with Michael Gibson, who has had an art gallery downtown since 1984, and in its current location on Carling Street since 1997. Michael wowed us with stories of the 80’s and 90’s on the scene and then how it felt to be part of the circle of people who held hands around the entire Talbot block to protest bulldozing it to build the John Labatt Centre. When asked about the stigma of downtown London, Michael brought our attention to his flower basket and the two benches he had the city put in across the street from his gallery. He wishes everyone would follow suit, knowing all the businesses have a vested interest in the improvement of downtown, but what he says is that not everyone agrees with the best way to make it happen…
Finally, we had a quick visit with Natalie Boot of Renaissance Massage Therapy and Spa Ltd. Natalie’s business is inside the Citi Plaza, which used to be the grandiose Galleria Mall. The Galleria Mall used to house Eaton’s, The Bay, The Gap, Eddie Bauer, and Ralph Lauren, to name a few. Those stores are long gone, and now there is a beautiful public library, among other smaller stores and services and empty spaces. We are curious about this enormous structure right smack downtown. There’s a story there, we are sure of it, and perhaps it will help shed some light on just what happened over the past few decades downtown….
As we walked back into the downtown office a gift awaited us… Felicia, who was visiting London from Vancouver regaled us with her stories of waitressing at the Mascot, and a Casino bar on Dundas Street, and her one day of working at the lunch counter at Kresge’s where the lights were bright outside the building and flickered on and off all day!
ANYONE ELSE REMEMBER THIS?! SEND US YOUR MEMORIES OF DOWNTOWN LONDON!
CALL 1-855-CAN-TALE or email us at INFO@FIXTPOINT.COM and add your story to the collective community memory!
Bright and early to the Downtown London office, on the corner of Dundas and Richmond, we were greeted by Kathy McLaughlin and Lisa Thomas, the most positive, cheerful, savvy women we could hope to collaborate with! We moved into the office, started booking interviews, making calls, and then went off to a fantastic lunch where we joined with another incredible Downtown London associate – Vicki Smith, to celebrate the birthday of their intern Sarah. Over lunch we were fascinated to hear a base of stories from downtown; what used to be here, what is new, who we should talk to, who we were already scheduled to talk to (yes – these ladies have things organized!). I was furiously note taking to try and take it all in. London is no small town. And at this first lunch, I got a hunch, that there are many many many stories in the living memory of this downtown waiting to be remembered…
The afternoon took us to the London Arts Council and London Heritage Council to meet with Andrea and Andrea. We heard about the vibrant community of artists downtown, and the history of some of the oldest buildings, the bulldozed buildings, the heyday of London visual artists in the 70’s, the selling of the London Free Press by the Blackburns, music venues like Notes and Call the Office, the food rotating in the old Albert’s Diner, City Lights, Mark Emery, and a great little anecdote about hiding in the fur coats in Simpsons department store. We cannot wait to listen through that interview to mine all the little story gems. One thing that struck us was hearing about a perceived stigma that surrounds the downtown. Apparently, downtown London is unsafe, undesirable and unclean according to the gospel of the suburbs. Bad press, or true? One thing is certain – we are here to get to the bottom of this urban myth….
We found the trophy!
Rich at Algonquin Outfitters told us the history of the legendary business that reaches us into the wilderness. Rich warmed us with his thermal sleeping bag smile and we were so happy to be on a trip with him into memory lane on the corner of Main Street in Huntsville.
Then we marched off to Hugh McKenzie’s house – former mayor of Huntsville, radio station owner, board director and all time jolly man. It was a thrill hearing his side of all the stories, getting a picture of Main Street when Eaton’s and Wardell’s was still at number 77.
more ice cream. more stories. more fun ahead – tomorrow the other four artists arrive!!!!
8:15AM call in segment for CBC’s sweet ONTARIO MORNING! Featured this week, Gus the SIGN GUY and Rudi the ROCK MAN, or so we call these two fantastic artists. Both of these guys have made the main street of Huntsville more beautiful.
Then Charles went to Toronto to pick up the equipment we will need next week for the show – speakers, headphones, projectors, piles of cables, a few lights and some select items from my costume trunk.
And I stayed in the went off to be on a show with Suzzanne Riverin on the awesome Hunter’s Bay, then interviewed the one and only show stopping Bill Sibeon who has not only owned Al’s Taxi in town for over 30 years, but is also celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary tomorrow! Oh Bill’s voice! I only heard his speaking one, but I can only imagine how he sounded in all the Rotarian musicals he starred in! Anyone have any of these on tape?!
When Charles got back, we unloaded the jeep and had a beer. Pub on the Docs. “There’s always time for a quick one!”
At 9am we met up with the incredible Helena – President of the Huntsville Festival of the Arts / General Manager of the Huntsville Business Improvement Association / Set Designer for The Tale of a Town – Huntsville (she doesn’t know that part yet… we are just letting it happen bit by bit… ). Helena traced the letters onto the window, I filled them in, and Charles time lapsed the whole thing. Check out this link to see how fast it all happened….
Later that morning Chris from What’s Up! Muskoka met up with us for an interview and we let him in on some top secret show plans for Nuit Blanche North. Then we took a walk with Gus from Hilltop Signs and were amazed by his craftsmanship and all he knew about all the businesses on Main Street whose signs he had created – and there were many… Actually, Gus calls the Main Street of Huntsville his showroom!
Here’s a pic of him in front of the very first sign he made on Main Street, years ago… Next, I went to take in some music at the Trinity Church played by our next interviewee Doug Banwell whose band was performing as part of the music at noon series. I was pleased to take a moment of down time in this acoustically astonishing atmosphere. When we interviewed Doug, we found out just how close of a friend he was to the late David Kaye – the final owner of the infamous Empire Hotel.
Apparently Joni Mitchell wrote this song about the place:
Then our storymobile battery died. A few hours later, it was fixed because of a super nice man from an autoshop who drove here from Bracebridge and fixed it. He wouldn’t take a penny. Not even an ice cream!
And so – we leave you today with that.
A breakfast meeting on our way back from Alquonquin Park to plan the days ahead. On the agenda: look up and phone all those people who we were told we just HAVE TO interview…. refine our interview questions based on our the story leads we’ve gathered so far…. pick up some ice cream to fill our freezer…. and pack up our gear and supplies to MOVE INTO OUR POP UP STOREFRONT!!! at 54 Main Street East, right in the heart of downtown Hunstville. Here is the “before” picture of this awesome space with a great vibe. We say this, while our heart goes out to all of the businesses who have been there before, and all of those yet to come. Our stay here will be short and… super duper awesome.
And here it all begins to come together… as the stories find their place in space and time. Brown paper will soon line every wall. And we will throw ideas against it… some will fall, and some will stick. And all along the voices of all the people we have interviewed will resonate through the room as we try to find a way to tell The Tale of a Town here in Huntsville.
We headed down to River Mill Park bright and very early to scope out a sight for our storymobile and find power to plug in our freezer alongside it. Thanks to the awesome Canada Day crew here in Huntsville, it was easy as ice cream. Before we did anything, we filled up at the Rotary Pancake Breakfast. YUM! Then the band began, followed by the citizenship ceremony where over 20 people were welcomed as new Canadian citizens.
After the music and hubbub died down, we opened our storymobile for business. We spotted someone with a Bathtub Derby embroidered golf shirt, so we knew we had to talk to him! He led us to the Bathtub Derby exhibition at the docs where two boats were tested out by the next generation of competitors for the big come back of the contest in next summer!
It was our lucky day because we also met Rudi the Rock Man this afternoon, Manny from That Little Place by the Lights, Cathy from The Great Vine, Bob from Christmas Thyme and Chris Occhiuzzi from What’s Up Muskoka!
However, the most exciting and inspiring story traders on Canada Day were the kids. Here are some pics of the brave souls that came into our storymobile and told us some tales about this magnetic town!
A hot day came to a cool close at the Legion Branch 232 where we heard some more true stories about the downtown while enjoying a DELICIOUS roast beef dinner – our compliments to the chefs!
Exhausted and full, we headed back to our cottage by the lake, packed up and headed out of town – all the way to Burk’s Falls on Sunday night and Alquonquin Park on Monday July 2 to celebrate our one and only first year Anniversary – that’s right folks, we’re not only a couple of story sleuths, we’re also a couple in love!
In the morning of day two we unpacked, went swimming and got our bearings then headed into town for an editorial meeting at The Forester, Huntsville’s newspaper. It was incredible to hear about the history of the newspaper owned for generations by the Rice family and it's recent handover to Metroland Media Group Ltd. Here’s an old sign we saw hanging on the wall. We met with News Editor Tamara, Mandy who is a new reporter at the paper and Tina Turley who works in production at The Forester but who is also a local legendary country musician. We talked about notable downtown people, the city's development and of course we heard more stories about the bathtub derby and the Empire Hotel. Tina even recounted times when she was a kid hanging out at the Empire while her father played there. Tina continues to perform all over Huntsville and the surrounding areas, and lucky for us she is playing next Wednesday downtown in the afternoon by the lake. Tina coined the unofficial name for the event "a twoonie for a tune" - we can't wait to hear her play!
After our meeting at The Forester, Charles took pics of every business along Main Street with his tripod. Lisa went to find the archives and local history room at the local library. And together we stopped and stared at the empty lot on the corner of main east and main west where the empire hotel had stood. We have heard it burned down several years ago, but it still feels alive in the memories of the few people we have spoken to already.
Back at our little cottage by the lake, we ate and drank and went to sleep early because tomorrow was looking like a jam-packed day.
Early morning meeting with the mayor cancelled because he penciled it in for yesterday. Who knows whose fault it was - but why lay blame....? We are seeing him Friday, and in the meantime we had breakfast at LOUIS' II DINER across the street from city hall. LOUIS' II DINER has been around since before anyone can remember. It burned down about 10 years ago and re-located across the street. LOUIS is an old Greek man and apparently a staple of Main Street. We can't wait to meet him and hear his stories. Next we head out to meet Rob, the general manager of the Huntsville festival of the arts, at holiday inn located in the heel of Huntsville’s "commerce area", a.k.a. industrial park.
We were Rob’s dates for the Rotarian luncheon. Greeted at the door by two fantastic men, we proceeded to find a table. Everyone stood up and sang O Canada! And then there were speeches and announcements and one notable event making a comeback in Huntsville this year: the bathtub derby.
After the luncheon, we meet up with Teri Souter, the town of Huntsville art, culture and heritage manager.
Teri got us up to speed on the "who's who" on main street in Huntsville and she also told us about her work with the aboriginal community, the commerce and business planning policies downtown and she also happened to be the president of the bathtub derby! We feel a story forming here... Here’s a pic of one of the many inspiring things in her super cool office.
Next we met up with Helena outside the town hall. Helena is the President of the Huntsville Festival of the Arts and General Manager of the Hunstville Business Improvement Association and this woman knows how to get sh*t done! She secured our storefront right downtown thanks to leads from Dan Watson the Nuit Blanche North artistic director and we move in on Sunday!
Helena introduced us to Cathy, a long time Huntsville resident who owns 2 stores downtown, Muskoka reflections and Intimate reflections . We arranged parking our storymobile in front of Cathy’s store on Friday and asked her not to call the bylaw officers while we are parked for longer than the 2-hour limit trading ice cream for stories! She willingly agreed and helped us arrange power from the light pole.
Back at our cottage by the lake, we formulated our story pitch for CBC Ontario Morning and sent it off to Ron the producer. Then we hit the hay. It’s taken a lot of energy to get ourselves on the road. Finally we had arrived!
A long day packing. Night after the Dora awards in downtown Toronto. Charles drives early in the morning to Chapman's to pick up the decked out storymobile. Lisa sleeps in and then posts Dora pics on Facebook. Charles goes out to buy a freezer for the ice cream. Lisa has a chat with her mom and then begins to pack.
We get on the road by 8:30pm
Before we get on the highway, we stop for a quick photo shoot with Tony & Danielle of little blue lemon photography. They set up lights, call us to action and click us into gear before we finally leave town. Their photos are beyond awesome.
...And as we drive away we feel ourselves slowly start to unwind. We arrive at 3am at our cottage by the lake
we are oh so very excited to present our first feature length radio documentary Small Time Stories from The Tale of a Town Queen West on CBC Radio 1 at 7am on January 2nd.Host Lisa Marie DiLiberto and storytellers Treasa Levasseur and Charles Ketchabaw present some of the fascinating stories that we discovered during the creation process of The Tale of a Town – Queen West.