Home (or adopted) town: Milton, Ontario
Population: In 1963 – approx 5,800 – the year I was born in Milton, now approx. 100,000 – it was a quarter that size back in the 1970s. That’s when I was in high school, wearing disco boots and showing off my mullet.
Years in residence: Until I was in my mid-twenties – and realized how silly a mullet really was and how big the town was about to become.
Where do you live now? Peterborough, the birthplace of the modern day canoe.
Local school attended: Holy Rosemary Catholic School and Milton District High School, Class of 1981.
Local jobs held: Privately owned grocery store and bailing hay for local farms. Later graduated to Raptor Rehabilitator and Outdoor Educator for the Halton Region Conservation Authority.
Pastimes there: Riding my broken-down bike up the Niagara Escarpment to fish my secret trout streams.
Favourite hangouts: The creek behind the local millpond. My friends and I would gather under the train track bridge, and spend hours catching frogs, minnows and crayfish.
Best French fries: The ones my mom would make for my buddies and I after returning from a day down at the creek behind the millpond.
Favourite nature walk: Various sections of the Bruce Trail.
Best date spot: Lover’s Lookout up at Rattlesnake Point. Never saw a rattlesnake there – and never got past first-base either.
Best swimming hole: The quarry behind a friend’s farm. It was the first place I went skinny dipping, and the first place I had a leech attach to my crotch. Both were unique experiences.
Your town’s claim to fame? Besides being the hometown of astronaut Chris Hadfield (my sisters went to high school with him) Milton’s notoriety is being the fastest growing community that neighbours the City of Toronto – or what’s titled the “Golden Horseshoe.” In 2001 it got the go ahead for more development and the population increased by over 80% in under five years! Needless to say, it’s not the same place I grew up in.
Town Motto – Look to This Day – that’s ironic don’t you think?
What part of this place do you wish you could bring with you on the road? Just the memories of growing up there, when there were still trout streams to bike to and woodlots to camp out in. Now there are just rows and rows of housing developments and drainage ditches. It’s unfortunate for the kids growing up there now. Not sure what “parts” of the town they’d bring on the road with them now.
Last time you were home? My family celebrated my mother’s 80th. Birthday party this spring and we rented out the old downtown Charles Hotel. It hadn’t changed much. The bartender even recognized me and we reminisced how my dad taught me to drink there. It sure beat going to one of the many newer chain restaurants where the staff would have put a silly hat on my mom and bellowed out the happy birthday tune. At the Charles everyone gathered with a pint and sang a compilation of Irish and Scottish folk songs.
Your local mentor? Sister Francis, one of my teachers at Holy Rosary. She was the first Nun in our school to wear the short skirt uniform. All the other nuns, especially the principle Sister Alexander, thought she was a bohemian rebel. I thought she was an amazing person.
How has this place contributed to your career? It not only spawned my interest in the outdoors but it has now made me realize how much we still need trout streams and woodlots. Growing up in what was once a small town, surrounded by nature, and watching it dwindle away to nothing but shopping malls and houses that all look the same, reminds me that I chose the right career path. We need outdoor writers more then ever.
What else do you want people to know about this place? Last year I was honoured by having a plaque with my name on it placed in the entrance to the town hall. The initiative is titled “The Walk of Fame.” I was deeply touched by it; not only because some shy kid that used the town’s natural areas to escape to ended up using those moments to mould a career as an outdoor writer and educator, but because there’s so many other locals that shared those memories as well. Imagine, the plaques to the left and right of mine are astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Ernest Coombs (a.k.a. Mr. Dressup).
More than 40 years ago, in 1976, James Lawrence pasted together the first edition of Harrowsmith magazine on his kitchen table in rural Ontario. Totally unique, it was the first Canadian magazine to focus on organic living, alternative energy sources, and a country lifestyle. Lawrence’s ode to back-to- the-land virtues quickly attracted legions of fans and soon became Canada’s bible for rural living.