Travels with Beth (and Gordie)


Beth and I Headed to Canada for an Independence Day/Anniversary overnight in Elora, Ontario celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary.

First we dropped son Ben at Toronto airport because he was heading for Vancouver to meet a friend and his cousin for a music festival.

His friend is one of 3 people I know who have made efforts to become Canadian citizens recently because of political strife. Often we hear people threaten to leave the United States. Seldom they actually act but the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court declaring all men are created equal but some are above the law is offensive to most people I know.

It was interesting to hear Ben start the day jamming to Rush in our living room. YYZ is the call for Pearson International in Toronto. It is also the 2nd greatest Rush instrumental after La Villa Strangiato. It wouldn’t be on his usual playlist but you know how millennials and Google searches work.

Traffic heading too, and away from the airport was a mess. What is it with people needing to weave in and out of traffic as if they are going to get someplace faster? Even after we exited the 403 Route 6 was a mess.

We are spoiled by living in a place where I can pedal to Tops or DeCamillo’s in 10 minutes for cinnamon rolls like I did Thursday morning. Even when we drive, most things are now 10 minutes away. It used to be 15 to 20 and dealing with Transit Road on the Amherst/Clarence border which may as well be Route 6 around Morriston or Niagara Falls Boulevard by Trader Joe’s.

Thankfully we stumbled upon Cox Cellars as we cut across backroads toward our destination. We stopped to share a flight of wine and to let Gord stretch his legs. Beth liked the apple wine. I thought the Cuvee red blend was fantastic. I wanted a bottle or even two but it was sold out.

The samples were generous, not quite Bella Rose, but ample. Gord ran off leash like a madman, stretching his legs, sniffing, marking and hoping for a squirrel upon which to nosh.

We headed onward to Elora. Our single room in an AirBnb was more than ample for two people and a dog. Our host Kelly Brook was gracious, welcoming and immediately charmed by Gord.

We were in the heart of a lovely historic village with good restaurants, boutiques, a brewery and distillery, even a couple bookstores and a bike shop. The only thing missing was a record store.

Everywhere we visited was dog friendly with doggie bowls and even treats behind the counter.

One trio of boutiques, including Epiphany, Jammed Lovely and one with a name I forgot. All 3 had a sandwich board outside saying something like “thank you for visiting our small business.”

Beth bought a straw hat that was tactfully displayed on a rack outside, a well-placed inexpensive sale item, $15 US or so.

We had ice cream from The Scoop next door and watched a worker from Epiphany doting over the display windows. She must have gone from window to sidewalk and back 6 times. I complimented her on her artistry.

“The owner wants them to ‘pop’” she said, a reference to Laura Demers, the entrepreneur driving things.

That’s the good side of Elora, supported by lots of visitors from elsewhere. The bad side is trapped between what was and what is.

Just like Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Elora struggles with high-dollar sprawl from Toronto that destroys character and squeezes out lots of authentic small businesses if they can’t figure out how to harvest the new money wandering around for 6 to 8 months of the year. There are plenty of jobs but places where the average Joe can afford to live are in short supply.

Working as a guide, I talked to tour guests last week in Niagara Falls, N.Y. who ranted about how expensive Niagara Falls, Ont. is and how little it had to offer. They wanted the hiking trails, bike paths and Goat Island we have stateside.

We want the boutiques, coffee shops and fine dining of Elora and Niagara-on-the-Lake. No one wants Clifton Hill. As Yogi Berra said, “it’s too crowded, no one goes there anymore.”

Our host in Elora, Kelly offered great recommendations about where to eat, which shops are best and where to walk with Gord. She said she hesitated to rent to host a dog but his temperament won her over because he is so sweet and affectionate.

Hosts like Kelly are the reason we rent AirBnb. Real people, in the community, know where to go, what to see and how things fit.

We walked to Elora Brewing for a pint and truffle parmesan fries, both fantastic. Gord sat patiently at our feet and drank from the water bowl our server brought.

Coming back, 3 older gentlemen were smoking outside the Royal Canadian Legion and, seeing my hat, struck up a conversation about the Sabres. I made the requisite joke about how you know it’s spring when you see the Leafs fall.

They countered by ribbing me about how long it’s been since the Sabres made the playoffs. We laughed and agreed the hockey world will be a better place when the Sabres and Leafs are both good again and we can have a real rivalry.

Further on down the road we struck up a conversation with friendly Canadians looking at an architectural monstrosity staining the Grand River like some sort of gargantuan misplaced cruise ship. A 1400-square-foot condo can be yours for just $1.2 million Canadian. Hey, that's only $900,000 or so in US dollars. A really nice place will set you back $1.8 million Canadian. (That’s $1.2 million to me and you.)

The First Nations people objected to the way the forest was raped and the cliff was dynamited, but money speaks more loudly than pickets and people who can afford those condos shop in boutiques, dine in fancy restaurants and drive fancy cars.

It reminded me of years ago when Spaulding Lake was being developed and I was Clarence Bee editor. The Onondaga Escarpment Nature Preserve was sold as a great benefit to the community. I walked it with Todd Snyder, Rollie Boller and Peter Wolf. We admired the old growth oaks, black walnuts, bladder nut shrubs and tulip trees. Trillium and spring beauty were underfoot.

I don’t think those men, who have all since passed, had any idea what was going to become of that pristine forest today covered with sprawling, often vacant McMansions that today sell for $800,000 or more. In other words less than a 3-bedroom, 2-bath 1800-square-foot split-level ranch in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The “Onondaga Escarpment Nature Preserve” was actually less than 10 acres of undevelopable wetland and cliff. It was a bill of goods. We were the buyers and the developers were thieves.

Elora allowing development of that equally misplaced sprawling cruise ship on a once pristine gorge is as out of place as those cavernous homes on top of that escarpment in Clarence.

Friday, I rose early in Elora and took Gord for a walk looking for coffee. We paused to admire a beaver swimming in the river. The nearest coffee shop didn’t open until 7:30 a.m.

We had a great time in the early morning calm and then came upon a lost poster seeking a “childlike sense of wonder.” That deserves it’s own blog entry at

We wandered back to our abode where Beth was waking and, after a bit, ready for breakfast.

The 3 of us wandered toward breakfast and came upon Box Social which was open and looked enticing. There were two tables on the patio, one occupied and the other marked reserved with a table tent. Beth stuck her head inside and was immediately rejected.

I didn’t hear the conversation but the greeting she received was rude, crass and ungrateful. Some people like Kelly, work in the hospitality business. Others, like that business owner, are inhospitable.

The people sitting at the table graciously said they were leaving and offered it to us.

“Sorry,” I said. “We don’t want to give our business someplace it is not welcome. We would rather go somewhere happy to have us.”

They nodded in consent as we left an empty table. I hope no one used it for the rest of the morning. Guests should be welcomed, not scorned.

We found our way to Lost and Found around the corner. I had a smashed chickpea wrap. Beth enjoyed a bagel sandwich with smoked salmon. We spent most of the day in Elora. It was funny how many people would stop, pay attention to Gord, ask his name and say “that was my grandfather’s name”, “Gordie Howe was my favorite hockey player” or “I had an uncle named Gord”. It's a very Canadian thing.

We sat in a little park filled with sculptures late Friday morning and watched college students unload musical instruments. They were the University of Waterloo Balinese Gamelon Ensemble. The students played classical music on mostly percussion instruments made of brass and bamboo.

It was the first event of several that will take place daily through July 20. Learn more here.

Elora was also dotted with tasteful sculptures on almost every street corner with a small sign telling the title, artist and price and nicely accenting well-conceived flower gardens.

Gord and I sat at one point and watched a couple cute girls watering hanging flower baskets. It reminded me of the days in Clarence where every summer, it seemed like the Parks department had a casting call for which young ladies would be in charge of weeding the flower garden in front of the Town Park.

The traffic home on the Queen Elizabeth Way was nasty. We bailed and made it to Cornerstone winery in Beamsville to relax a bit and let Gord have a rest before the final push home.

We are happy to be back in Niagara Falls, NY, with all its warts and imperfections.

We even went to Red Coach Inn for an anniversary dinner by the American Rapids Friday night. Our server was named Omer. He said I touched his heart by correctly guessing he was from Turkey. The clue, to me, besides his accent, was the “Omer” not “Omar” which would have been Arabic.

The people at the tables behind us were jabbering cheerfully, sharing joy and laughter. The languages sound similar enough I couldn’t tell but I can’t remember the last time I saw cheerful Russians so I concluded they were from Ukraine.

If you don’t know, never ask someone if they are Russian because if they are Ukrainian, it is an insult. Russians, asked if they are Ukrainian, sulk in shame.

It doesn’t matter where you travel, but when you do, support small businesses. Seek out real people. Ask the locals where to go and what to see. They will never let you down.

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