6 - Random notes, scraps of conversation.

A ghost named Alice, who was killed near the school building now occupied by the Oakville Centre arts and library complex, is said to haunt Oakville Centre.

"You need a dose of suburbia to get yourself back in order."

Young men who are not married leave their shirts untucked. Once a year, during a summer festival, they jump into Sixteen Mile Creek. This is forbidden by town bylaws. When Craig MacBride was a boy, classmates told him the Kerr Street Posse was out to beat him up. This gang did not exist.

There was or is a whorehouse in Oakville. During our interview, Doreen Blake made it clear that she knew its whereabouts, but would not divulge this information.

Teresa Casas, of Oakville Galleries, believes that the airport has become what the Great Lakes port once was: a zone of sleaziness, colour, enthusiasm, and so forth. Transience, emotion, prostitution, religious mania. There is a church near the Toronto international airport in which parishioners, seized by the Holy Spirit, bark like dogs. I have heard that people come from all over the world to witness this phenomenon.

The belief that Oakville is getting too big, which I heard stated often, has nothing to do with geography or demographics. It is an expression of helplessness in the face of urban concentration--a recognition that, suddenly, strangers are everywhere.

When I was staying in Oakville, the CBC ran a contest for the ugliest place in Canada. Many peopled named Toronto, even more fingered Hamilton. Nobody mentioned Oakville. Remarkably, there is nothing genuinely ugly in Oakville, apart the suburban sprawl along Trafalgar Road north of the Queen Elizabeth Way, and some cul-de-sacs now being populated with large and horrible houses.

Oakville used to call itself "The Garden of Canada."

Craig MacBride: "We are addicted to branding. It's homogenizing every aspect of our lives. The whole suburban life is a brand. You're buying a lifestyle. You move into one of those big houses because you imagine you want to be a rich person. Oakville is a brand name, there is nothing excellent here." Mr. MacBride says that certain young people, known to each other as the Suburban Resistance Network, hold clandestine meetings in Coronation Park on summer evenings.

The great utopian urbanists--Ebenezer Howard, Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and so on--deeply disapproved of segregation of the population into "neighbourhoods" on the basis of income or class. Suburban sprawl creates exactly this kind of segregation. In all Oakville's rush to do good things, where is there any civic idealism?

Oakville never abandoned its lakefront. Toronto disliked its waterfront from its emergence as an industrial interface with the rest of the world, rowdy and sweaty and much-used. We turned out back on the inner harbour, until the collapse of Toronto's importance as a Great Lakes port. The Toronto Islands were for wealthy holiday-makers, while the district now known as the Beach was less affluent. The affection for lakes is one that is acquired, and I do not have it.

Toronto's first deluxe suburban development, Rosedale, was the prototype of all those to come, including Oakville: a place of retreat from the decaying and increasingly incomprehensible city of the early twentieth century.

Modernity is the experience of unfamiliarity. The discomfort of not recognizing a face in the crowd, the uncanny awkwardness of being in a situation or urban episode one does not really understand. Marxism sought to overcome the experience of Modernity with class war. Suburbia seeks to do so with zoning.

Harry Buxton, who is active in the Oakville Historical Society, told me that, in the 1880s, Oakville's fading fortunes were reversed by a White Star steamer popularly known as the "The Sunday School Boat." This craft brought visitors out from Toronto on summer day trips. A little later, in the 1890s, wealthy people obtained land for summer residences, that gradually became year-round dwellings. The dying ship-building industry was revived by the new market in yachts and luxury schooners. With the coming of automobiles, especially with the construction of the Queen Elizabeth Way in the late 1930s, Oakville was recreated yet again, as an origin of commuter traffic into Toronto. "Oakville began to get a sense of itself after the Second World War, when it became commercially self-sufficient," Mr. Buxton said. " You could get all you needed here."

Graffito in the men's room at East Side Mario's, Oakville: "Start fighting the corporate slave state."

Jane Coryell: "Everybody comes back."

(to be continued)            comment on this article     back