Three thousand, three hundred and fifty-nine kilometres
after setting out (with only one wayward turn
in Saskatoon), I arrived in St. Catharines eager
to begin my two-day search for a new home.
It seemed completely appropriate that the last
Travelodge of my cross-country trek lay at the
base of the QEW’s Ontario Street ramp.
Sore from four days in the saddle, I set off
for downtown on foot.
Having said my farewells to Edmonton—city
of strip malls, absentee-hero-named freeway, and
premier-sponsored homeless shelters—I was
looking forward to re-establishing my roots in
the province that could afford licence plates
on both ends of its cars.
The mix of restaurants, convenience stores, bedding
warehouses and bowling alley with hotel en suite
was reassuring; the complete blocks of General
Motors most impressive. I marvelled inwardly at
how Alberta’s oil and Ontario’s assembly
lines kept the economies of both Tory hotbeds
aflame just as their low taxes but plethora of
user fees sealed the fate of their disenfranchised
It took longer than it looked on my CAA map to
reach St. Paul Street, but I was glad for the
chance to walk the cobwebs out of my knees. One-way
main streets made me pine for Kingston and I immediately
took to the storefronts’ architecture.
But I soon realized that Brock’s two-lane
pub crawl would be a fierce competitor to University
of Alberta’s Whyte Ave in the bar-seats-per-square-student category. I remembered last July’s
appalling Canada Day riot and hoped that revelry
Niagara-style precluded the actions of an ugly
few ruining the fun and frolic of the majority.
I vowed to investigate, but housing came first.
A two-bedroom, close to shopping, clean, warm
and “with view” apartment was my goal.
Nothing too fancy, as recent tragedies have forever
purged my “bottom-line” envy.
An unexpected heavy rain (like Calgary, where
the weather changes more frequently than a politician’s
platform) forced me to take refuge in the bowels
of a courthouse where I scanned the rental ads
sipping a deftly constructed Manhattan. As I peered
up through the barred windows, I realized the
ironic wisdom of locating the “honest”
lawyers just across the street.
Armed with six circled prospects, I sloshed back
to my room and began setting up the viewings.
Early next morning my trip nearly ended abruptly
as I attempted to turn onto Bunting from the Garden
City Skyway. Map Reading for Dummies went to the
top of my library list.
After the consequent side-trip that included
Niagara-on-the-Lake and beaver-dam suburbia, I
reached my first appointment where the Emerald
Isle agent assured me that despite its location
(no shops in sight), ”Once you’ve had
a look ‘round, dear, you won’t want
anything else. We’re just one big family.”
All sweetness and charm, she broadly hinted that
I could move in a few days early if I’d sign
immediately. However, as I wrestled with wish-list
compromise, an inflamed tenant burst into the
office accusing the saccharine super of unlawful
entry and demanding the Ontario Rental Housing
Tribunal’s telephone number, which she frantically
jabbed into her palm.
Nonplussed, my hostess remarked—in a tone
that would freeze mercury—“I’ll
deal with you later.” But not with me!
The last two possibilities were both on the same
street. One had just come available—the result
of “a domestic.” The manger was efficient
and to the point: “It’ll be repainted
and cleaned—use your imagination.” Nonetheless,
its corner position meant a balcony with
Perfect! When I tired of the auto wrecker’s
tableau, I could browse the endless stream of
vehicles that burned up more fuel in line than
the price of the hockey-hero-coffee that kept
their drivers going.
The final stop was pretentiously up-scale and
reminded me of being forced out of my atrium-enhanced
digs in Ottawa when they suddenly flipped into
condos just as rent controls ended: buy, or move,
or pay the “new” rent.
I waited expectantly in the marble-like foyer
perched on a plush easy chair that was discreetly
anchored to the floor.
“You’ll love it here. We get a different
kind of tenant,” demurred the building’s
commandant. “Not like that other place up
the street—cops go there every Saturday night,”
she concluded confidentially.
That clinched it.
Four months later, I’ve come to enjoy my
freshly painted suite. Having finally found, then
settled into “my space,” I now look
forward to sharing the other facets of life in
Niagara that have further validated my decision
to come home. JWR