Where I’m From

I’m from a town in southern Ontario called Cambridge. When I was born it was called Galt, and then the province decided to amalgamate three villages, Galt, Preston, and Hespler, into one city. As a result it has three ghost-town downtowns, and one booming big-box area that sits in the geographical middle of the three original towns.

When I was a kid, though, that big-box area was in its infancy and the downtowns were far away and full of ancient gift shops and department stores, and I thought Cambridge was the most boring place on Earth. There wasn’t a mall, we had only a two-screen twin cinema that always showed babyish movies, and the only exciting attraction in town was the roller rink. Cambridge sits at the junction of two rivers, and as a result is a very industrial town, and most people worked in factories then went home at night to watch TV, or maybe took their truck out for a joyride if they were really lucky.

I was BORED.

Gal Smiley has a Grade 3 project to write about any city or town in Canada. The Captain did this project last year and he chose Calgary, for no good reason other than the fact that no one else in the class had picked it. We learned about Calgary together and now I kind of want to go there, although it’s the last place on Earth that the Captain wants to visit, because he is worried I will make him act as our tour guide.

And so I shall, dear, and so I shall.

Anyway! Gal Smiley came home last week and mentioned this project and announced that she had picked Cambridge as her city to talk about. I snorted, because ugh, what is there to say about Cambridge?

(Rhetorical question followed by the sound of crickets.)

So we read Cambridge’s city site, and went to wikipedia. I got out my old photo album from when I was a kid, and we looked at pictures of when the Grand River flooded the whole downtown in 1974, and at shots of my old high school (I think it’s the oldest public school in Ontario), the old mill, the library. I was reminded about African Lion Safari (CLASSIC, we went every year), Reid’s Candy and Nut Shop (best on the planet), all the beautiful bridges and the farmer’s market heritage building where we spent many a Sunday morning. I learned that the old Tiger Brand factory has been converted into the University of Waterloo’s school for architecture, and that there’s a butterfly conservatory there. And of course, we talked about the coming of the Toyota plant, and how that completely changed the face of the city when I was in high school.

It’s been a blast, and the best part is that Gal Smiley is really interested in hearing all my stories. She chose Cambridge in the first place because she knew I grew up there, and Nanny still lives there. She can’t get enough of hearing about me as a kid, which is both flattering and powerfully moving, because I feel like my life and the lives of those I loved will be passed on.

So here’s what there is to say about Cambridge: it’s where I’m from. REPRESENT.

12 thoughts on “Where I’m From

  1. Howdy neighbour. I moved to Brantford from Montreal when I was 10 and lived there until I was 21. My family is still there. I always thought Cambridge was so picturesque with all those restaurants backing onto the river and the bridges. Having said that, it was even smaller than Brantford so UGH. I get you completely about the whole boring thing. Brantford’s downtown was so destitute for a while there that they shot zombie movies on its streets. No joke. I think that’s the story for so many smaller cities in southern Ontario now. Sad.

    1. Galt’s downtown now primarily serves as a film set. Most of the stores downtown are closed and the empty storefronts, deserted streets, combined with the heritage-type buildings and bridges make for a picturesque Maine-type setting. There’s lots of made-for-TV romances made there. Can’t decide if that’s sad, or awesome. A little of both, I guess.

  2. I totally get this, being from Cornwall I always thought it was the most boring town ever. Our proximity to Montreal had me filled with constant day dreams of the high life in the big city (Ottawa wasn’t considered much fun 30 years ago). Now I go back to visit my mom and get very nostalgic for the old days, small town, knowing everyone and having gobs of family close by.

    1. Exactly. I used to think it was so dull there, and I guess it was, but it was still home, you know? I like it that my kid likes it there.

  3. Jackie

    Here’s a shout out to Tiger Brand! If ever we were driving by Cambridge, we always had to make a detour to the Tiger Brand outlet, best track pants ever!

    1. WORD. Everyone in Cambridge wore Tiger Brand track suits! They were THE SHIZZLE. The new architecture school is lovely and a coup for the town but when I heard Tiger Brand was closed down, I sobbed a little.

  4. OMGeeeeeee! I AM FROM CALGARY! If you come visit, tell the Captain that *I* will be your tour guide! So many awesome things here, as long as you don’t mind totally shitty weather. And we’re close to Banff which is a national TREASURE so you should really come and visit.

    1. We are actually pretty serious about coming out there – I’d love to hang with you guys! Will let you know how the Convincing of the Kids progresses :).

  5. Actually, I think our high school is the second oldest in Ontario, and maybe the third oldest in Canada or something like that.

    Wish I had known! I have Nana’s copy of the Cambridge book. Could have brought that to you on Saturday.

    1. I didn’t even know we had a Cambridge book in the family! Gal Smiley’s project is due next week but I’d still love to see it – bring it over at the holidays.

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