Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: Mount Allison University

Time travel

Colville by Andrew Hunter / Goose Lane

Colville by Andrew Hunter / Goose Lane

Time travel boggles my mind. Yet, as a memoir writer I do it almost every day. One thing different about my continuum is physically I stay in the same place. But sometimes something happens and I’m transported, both body and mind, to a different era.

My husband gave me a book about Alex Colville for Christmas. Colville was an artist famous for his stark and muted everyday images that seem to have something hiding in them. He spent a lot of time in the Maritimes, in and around the areas I know well. He lived in Wolfville, Nova Scotia and while I was growing up near the quaint town, I used to see him and his wife, Rhoda, at church, walking down the street or in friends’ parents’ homes as supper guests. It wasn’t until I graduated high school did I understand that Colville was one of Canada’s prolific painters.

I didn’t know him but I feel like I do. My parents have a few of his prints and I have one too. When Canada Post included Colville’s Church and Horse work as part of its “Masterpieces of Canadian Art” stamp series, Colville autographed special envelopes for the Wolfville post office. I bought five of the envelopes for my family and kept one for myself. Now I have a whole book to look at, at any time.

Flipping through his photos and images many of them are scenes from places I’ve lived and even include people I know. Seeing these paintings I enter a different world. A world that existed yesterday and still exists today. There are scenes of Blomidon, a prominent landmark that sticks out like a pot handle into the Minas Basin. When you’re driving down Highway 101 into the Annapolis Valley from Halifax, you see Blomidon. Then you know you are home. Also along the same highway is Freddy Wilson: “The Waver” who stands on an overpass welcoming travellers to Kings County. Colville’s painting of Freddy is included in the book.

West Brooklyn Road, 1989 / Professor of Romance Languages, 1973

West Brooklyn Road, 1989 / Professor of Romance Languages, 1973

On the page next to Freddy is a work that many people might puzzle over. But I know it’s the Acadia University physical plant and a former professor. Once in a class that I forget now, we were told a story about that painting. But it’s an unsettling one that I won’t repeat.

Main Street Wolfville is featured by Colville. As a background to the main image of a woman and a vehicle, is the war memorial and post office and in behind these landmarks, houses where I went to parties filled with vodka and youth. Grand Pre and the dykes are caught in brush strokes too. In another painting, my friend’s sister rides a horse. And another, there’s Waterville Municipal Airport; where I got my pilot’s license. Today, the airport is in the midst of closing but Colville captured it alive and buzzing. Is one of those planes the one I flew?

Colville went to Mount Allison University and I worked there long after he left. Some of his images remain though for all to see as murals on buildings. I’m wondering if his Milk Truck piece is set in Sackville in the late 50s. I think I recognize the curve in the road.

Because of Alex Colville’s art, I have a tether to another world. I didn’t know him but I feel he knew me.

Anchorage House ghost

Anchorage House.

Mount Allison University’s Anchorage House – where Mrs. Bennett still roams the halls.

Anchorage House is a beautiful old mansion sitting like a grand gentleman on the Mount Allison University campus. The old man has a white beard, white hair, wears a black top hat on and is rather stout. He looks distinguished in the daylight, inviting enough to come in for a cup of coffee or a snifter of brandy. But looks can be deceiving and he can be quite the different sort in times of quiet, especially in the fall when the shadows of autumn grow to collect secrets.

I worked in Anchorage House for a few years. My office was on the second floor of the three storey building and it was a beaut. Hardwood floors and panelling, high ceilings and crown mouldings, windows with a view of tall elm trees and student life passing by. It was a cozy place to do business in fall. Usually.

Anchorage House was built in 1892 by a Sackville, N.B. lawyer and then sold to a doctor in 1906. In 1933 the home was bought by retired Mariner Captain Ronald V. Bennett, brother to the 1930s Canadian prime minister Viscount Richard Bedford Bennett. My office was once the bedroom of the captain’s wife.

It would have been a nice spot for a bedroom as it looked out to the landing, where the first floor stairs met the second floor. Mrs. Bennett could see whoever it was climbing up the staircase and probably watched her children nightly, ensuring they went to bed on time.

The story goes though, that her two sons died fighting in the Second World War. Their mother was distraught at the loss, often climbing the stairs to visit their empty rooms. It was said she did this even after her death many years later. I know this is true, I’ve heard her.

Yes, but Anchorage House was an office building, you say. There must have been lots of people coming and going, up and down those staircases. But not as many as you would think. One autumn lunch hour I was alone in the house. All alone. No one downstairs, no one on the second floor (except me) and no one on the third floor. There was no one else there.

My desk faced out the door with a direct view of the landing. Everyone using the stairs had to pass my office. Up and down and down and up. Even when I was busy with my work I could see all the different shapes of people treading on the steps and passing me by. Except one day.

One, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor.

I looked up from my computer to see if someone needed my help, as I was the only one there. But there was no one there. Oh, OK. My mistake.

Back to work.

Again, one, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor. I look up. No one there.

That’s weird. Maybe I’m hearing things. Maybe I’m tired. Maybe the old gentleman house is stretching his bones? There must be a reason for this. I walked to the landing and looked down the stairs. Nothing. No one.

Hmmmm. Do I let myself be scared? I don’t have to, as a co-worker rushed in the front door and up the stairs to her office, her office that’s straight across from mine. I didn’t tell her what I’d been noticing. I didn’t want her to think I was a silly goose.

One, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. Up and up and up until he or she got to the second floor. I looked up. And nobody.

This happened a couple more times until my co-worker came into my officer and asked me if I was experiencing what she was experiencing –  hearing footsteps but not seeing anybody.

“Oh yes,” I said. “It’s kind of freaking me out.”

“Me too,” she admitted.

Then one, two, three footsteps creaked on the carpeted stairs. There! We were hearing it together. Tiptoeing out into the landing we looked down the staircase. It was a student, my friend Pete, climbing the stairs. He looked up at us expectantly and we started laughing.

I asked him if he had been here earlier and he said no, it was his first visit.

It wasn’t the grieving mother’s first visit and I doubt that day was her last. After that I made sure when I was working evenings to turn on all the lights although it made leaving torturous. I had a million switches to shut off before I left, each light I turned off brought me closer to the darkness. But good old Anchorage and Mrs. Bennett left me alone.

 

 

Surprise, you’re in a triathlon

Tour of Alberta.

The inaugural Tour of Alberta finished in Calgary on Sunday, Sept. 8. The speed of the cyclists created a strong wind. Amazing. Click here for a video of the finish.

The Tour of Alberta, a professional bicycle race, ended in downtown Calgary two weekends ago. My husband and I were at the finish line when the cyclists sped to the finish – and blew us away. Literally. The athletes were pedalling so strong and fast the peloton created a stiff breeze. What amazing and powerful riders, there’s no way I could even imagine keeping their pace. It reminded me of a time I got stuck among triathletes competing in Sackville, N.B.

While living in Sackville I did a lot of sports but combining three and doing them in a row was not on my radar at that time. I was happy to swim and bike and run at different times on different days. That was good enough for me.

After being in the small university town for three years, I was moving on to other prospects. I was packing up my belongings at the end of August, ready to move out of a five bedroom townhouse that I shared with four Mount Allison University students. I had already taken apart my bicycle so it could be easily loaded into the moving van (my parents’ SUV).

A friend called me and reminded me I had left some bowls at her place after a potluck. She lived about five kilometres away in Middle Sackville, an idyllic spot. The way to her home was a meandering road that passed by green fields and towering elm trees and offered a lovely view of the Tantramar marsh. A nice drive, but I didn’t have a car. Nor did I have a working bike.

One of my roommates had a bicycle. She was petite, about 5’2”, about to go into her fourth year. She had brought her bike to school for first year but hardly ridden it. I asked her if I could borrow it for about an hour and she said sure. Then told me it was actually a child’s bike that was given to her as a present one birthday or Christmas. Oh, no wonder it looked small.

But the tires were pumped full of air and the brakes worked. I hopped on the bike and started for Middle Sackville. Riding the tiny thing was a bit uncomfortable – my knees were almost hitting my ears when I pedalled. To hang on to the handle bars I had to hunch over, way over. I looked ridiculous and felt like an idiot. I couldn’t go fast either because my feet barely fit the kiddy pedals.

“Oh well,” I told myself. “No one will see me if I go the back route.”

The back route was a trail, an old railway track that went almost all the way to my friend’s place. So that’s the path I took.  A ways into my trip a cyclist whizzed by me. Then another, and then some more and then there were people on the side of the path cheering. For me?

No, I had somehow managed to insert myself into the middle of a triathlon. Here I was on a child’s bike all scrunched up and looking like a fool while all these athletes, kitted out with the latest and greatest and best bikes, flew past me. I was embarrassed and wanted to shout at the cyclists and cheering crowd that this wasn’t my bike. I usually ride faster than this. Please don’t think I’m actually a competitor.

I said nothing and continued my slow and contorted journey for another 10 minutes before the racers turned off onto another trail. At my friend’s house I collected my bowls and made sure I took the road back into town. If the triathletes were running I hoped I would be at least be a little faster than them.

 

Missing Silver Lake

Achorage House.

Me in front of Anchorage House on the Mount Allison University campus. I used to work in the historical home in Sackville, N.B.

There’s not much heat to escape in Calgary this summer…unlike the rest of Canada. It seems as if Alberta is stuck in a hole of terrible weather with a few nice days thrown into the pit now and again. Today I’m yearning for the warm summers of Sackville, N.B.

I worked at Mount Allison University for a few years starting in 2003. Mount A is located in beautiful Sackville, a town made up of quaint gardens and pretty homes. On campus there are many historical buildings and my office was in one such place, Anchorage House. It was a lovely old house to work in with original fixtures and high ceilings and a grand wooden staircase going up three floors.

There is one down side to working in the magnificent home where a shipping magnate once lived. Because of the property’s age it didn’t have air conditioning. When summer struck, the building would heat up quickly and no matter how wide the windows were thrown open, the legendary mighty Sackville winds never cooled off the rooms one bit. As well, because the town is surrounded by the Tantramar Marsh, the humidity rises along with the temperatures.

I did find a way around the swelter: a noon-hour swim in Silver Lake, a sandy pond not far away from the middle of town. Every work day I changed into my bathing suit and hopped on my bike to make the 10-minute pedal to the water. Making sure not to get my hair wet (I still had to look professional when I went back to work), I would paddle about for a bit until I felt I was OK to cycle back. Returning to the office I could get through the rest of the sticky afternoon feeling refreshed.

One day I got to the beach and there were two boys probably around the ages of 12, standing on the beach.

Silver Lake Beach.

Silver Lake beach and Lillas Fawcett Park in Sackville, N.B. A great place to swim – when there’s no poop.

“Are you the lifeguard, miss?” they asked.

“No, sorry,” I replied.

“There’s poop in the water,” they said and pointed in the piece of crap’s direction.

“Oh, gross,” I said. “I’m not the lifeguard.”

“Well you should see it. It’s a big log floating around. Are you sure you’re not the lifeguard?”

“Pretty sure. But thanks for telling me about the, um, excrement. Hope the lifeguard shows up soon.”

I did not go look at the turd sailing on the lake. Nor did I go for a swim that day. But at least the boys called me miss and not ma’am.

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