A Trip to the Past

This past week I had my first break from work since December, and I took the opportunity to visit my grandparents in St. Thomas, Ontario. They always enjoy having me visit; and they are both lovely people who are full of stories and wisdom so I always enjoy visiting them too! I always find it interesting to visit St. Thomas. I was born there, and although I left when I was three I do somehow feel a connection to the city and the area. It saddens me because although St. Thomas has a rich history as a railway town and industrial centre, nowadays it is dying. Many people commute to London for work; the railway tracks are overgrown and their buildings disused; and few large employers remain. However, this makes what used to be all the more evident, and it is a fascinating place for someone interested in the past.

A lot of retirees call St. Thomas their home. My grandparents live in an established neighbourhood and many of their neighbours have, like them, been there for over fifty years. I visited one such neighbour while returning home and spying his classic car parked on the street! My grandpa was happy to accompany me, and the neighbour was happy to show me his car. It was a 1947 Chevrolet Fleetline, which he restored himself using many parts from other vehicles. A completely custom ride, and a very beautiful one too! Talking to him was very cool– he seems to spend his time restoring cars (he also has a 1946 Ford pickup and a roadster and coupe as well). Having a few sheds full of old cars to restore is something that is very appealing to me, I was jealous!

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I love the lines of 1940s automobiles. They had such style!

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Old engines are so different from the ones I’m used to seeing at work

My grandparents’ house is also full of treasures. They might be odd to some, but I think their collections are awesome! Hanging over the stairs in the back hall are a bunch of brightly painted model airplanes– they seem to be engaged in a dogfight, and they make a gallery-worthy display if you ask me.

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Suspended by wire, the planes make a striking and unique display

My grandparents also have a great collection of books. I think they are mostly my grandpa’s, since they are largely war or car books, and my brother and I have spent many a summer afternoon looking through consumer automotive reports, old copies of Popular Mechanics, and accounts of battles from the Crimean War to WWII.

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I really think there’s nothing better than a good collection of books!

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My grandpa shares my fascination for World War II– he has certainly encouraged my own interest and enthusiasm

I took many drives through the countryside this past week– driving around to obscure sites is something my grandpa loves to do, and he has a story or memory about everything. I drove them around in my new car quite a lot, which was fun for everybody! One place we stopped was a cemetery for a 19th century “House of Industry and Refuge”… or poorhouse. Although the term poorhouse seems more suited to Dickensian London than rural Ontario, there were many such establishments in Ontario in the 1800s.

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The cemetery is situated behind an unfinished and abandoned retirement residence– a sorry location for such a sombre memorial

These houses were places for the destitute, infirm, or elderly to live and- if they could- work if they had nowhere else to go and no one else to help them. The Elgin County example at least was situated on a farm, so the residents worked the land while they lived at the house. From 1876 to 1894, many people died at this poorhouse; but at least they are now remembered here.

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The names recorded here belong to all kinds of people; relatives, men, women, and even a few babies.

Our country drives took us to happier places as well, and for me rural southern Ontario really does feel out of a different time. It’s so quiet, and farmers who live here wave at you as you drive by. The rolling green fields and narrow twisting roads remind me a little of England and its B-roads, and it’s a really picturesque place. My grandma grew up on a farm with horses, so she has many stories of farm life from her childhood. Visually, the area hasn’t changed much since then!

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My beautiful car in an (almost) equally beautiful setting

There was one highlight from all these country drives; and that was a visit to the old St. Thomas Assembly, which from 1967 until its close in 2011 assembled cars for the Ford Motor Corporation. Most notably, it produced the Mercury Grand Marquis (of which my family has owned two); and the Ford Crown Victoria, which is used by taxi fleets and police forces across North America. It is a former police Crown Victoria that I now own, and these cars have been one of the brightest spots for Ford over the last twenty years. They are reliable, sturdy as anything, and although they are very old-school they are superior to most trendy new cars on the road today. They don’t make them like they used to; and the splendid vehicles manufactured at the St. Thomas Assembly are a prime example of this.

But although the Crown Victoria is an amazing vehicle, times are changing, and nobody seems to want one anymore. The last Crown Victoria was completed in September 2011, and its completion marked the closing of the St. Thomas Assembly. Empty since 2011, the plant’s huge complex is now finally being demolished. When I asked my grandparents if we could visit it, I wasn’t sure what I would find– and it’s a good thing I visited when I did, because demolition is slated to be finished in only four months’ time.

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What was once a bustling operation employing over 1,000 people now looks like something out of Detroit

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I remember seeing photos of these parking lots full of row upon row of gleaming new police interceptors, waiting for delivery. What a sad sight they are now.

Of course, my grandpa had lots of information about the plant in its heyday. The complex itself is massive- 635 acres- and it had its own railway station, set of railway tracks, and sewage treatment plant. Situated in the middle of the countryside and surrounded by barbed wire, it would have been a truly impressive sight mere years ago. But today, it is simply sad to see. It had quite an effect on me to see it dilapidated and in pieces– it was such a huge part of the economy and culture of an area that is dear to me, and it was the source of a car that is also dear to my heart.

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The rear of the plant is very obviously being torn down.

However, my beloved Crown Victoria and many others still on the road are a testament to the illustrious St. Thomas Assembly. Long after the building comes down, the cars will still be running. Although it was sad, it was also very cool to see the site of such a long history of great cars. Watch any action-packed Hollywood movie, and you’ll no doubt see a few Crown Victorias involved in high-speed pursuits– these cars are a big part of automotive history. How awesome it is that they came from such an unassuming place; just a small city in southern Ontario. Although I feel mostly British and could easily wish that I had been born in the UK, St. Thomas’s history means that I am not unhappy that my history belongs there as well.

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I was eager to get a photo of my car where she was born. Five years ago she rolled off that assembly line, and I am so grateful that she eventually came to me!

 

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It’s Springtime, Somewhere…

The unfortunate souls of southern Ontario, of which I am one, are currently enjoying their third bout of winter in about two months; and by “enjoying” of course I mean “suffering”. Unless one lives in Antarctica, I don’t believe one should have to contend with snowstorms, ice on windscreens, and slippery roads in April. And yet here we are! A couple weeks ago spring seemed to be here, but that was short-lived and now it’s depressingly cold and white again. I’ll have to content myself with thoughts of springtime in England– a year ago I was there, but how very far away it seems now! I hope you enjoy this collection of photos from that lovely springtime holiday. I don’t know when spring is coming, but I am sure that it’s getting closer every day!

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Lush green grass outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

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St. James’s Park looks beautiful in the springtime, with crops of daffodils alongside the water and all kinds of geese and ducks wandering around

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Flowers like these never die, regardless of the season

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A stately home is made even more lovely with roses out front

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Plants thrive in the leafy environs of Highgate Cemetery

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Tulips and crocuses (I think) are a classic springtime mix at the Geffrye Museum

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Kensington Palace has breathtaking grounds which can be enjoyed by everyone. England is such a marvellous place!!

My London Itinerary

It’s hard for me to believe, but in one week exactly I will be breathing in diesel fumes and perhaps dodging raindrops as I enjoy the first day of my vacation in London! I’ve hardly thought about the upcoming trip until now- but now it’s on my mind, and I’m making up for the delay in my excitement! Here’s an incomplete list of some of the things I’ll be doing in London:

HMS Belfast

Belfast

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Alvesgaspar. CC-BY-SA 3.0

The HMS Belfast is going to be awesome! I’ve been past it so many times, both on land and by river, and I’m delighted that finally I’m about to tour it. I’ve heard great things about the ship’s museum experience, but it has enough history that it could be an empty shell and I’d still have a brilliant time!

Cabinet War Rooms

Cabinet War Rooms

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Porcupine. Attribution 3.0

Built beneath Whitehall for both secrecy and safety, the Cabinet War Rooms are another attraction I’ve always been aware of yet never visited. Now with my intense interest in World War II, it’s the perfect time for me to see them!

Pubs…

Pub Interior

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Ashley Pomeroy. Public domain

If you work behind the bar of a pub in or around central London, then chances are you may see me next week! I have a detailed list of pubs I want to visit, and I’m sure that many unplanned stops will also occur. There’s nothing more comforting and welcoming than a good pub, and I think that the friendly pub atmosphere might even convince my mum to have a pint or two! We’ll see about that, though… well, as long as I get a pint, I’ll be happy!

The Emirates

Emirates

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Dsims209. Public domain

No, I’m not going to Dubai- I’m going to Arsenal’s home ground instead! Not inside, mind you; even self-guided tours of the Emirates Stadium cost £20 and as much as I love Arsenal, I’m not about to spend £20 just to see a dressing room and walk onto a pitch. I can’t wait to just see the stadium, though!

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Soane

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Attributed to Acroterion. CC-BY-SA 3.0

I love collecting and accumulating things, so I think this museum will really speak to me. It’s also going to be fascinating to get a glimpse of not only Georgian life, but of artifacts from the Middle Ages and earlier as well.

Shopping!

Regent St

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/aguichard/5656782231/in/photostream via Wikimedia Commons. Attributed to aurélien. CC-BY-SA 2.0

Thanks to a fortuitous temporary job, at which I’ve been working nearly full-time and which pays much more dependably than writing does for the moment, I actually have a decent amount of money to spend in London! I’m not kidding myself that I’ll be able to afford anything from Burberry or Victoria Beckham, but I’ll certainly browse the high street and secondhand shops as well. I can’t wait to see what I’ll find!

The Orangery

Orangery

Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Steve Cadman. CC-BY-SA 2.0

This will be a real treat- my mum and I are going to have afternoon tea at Kensington Palace’s Orangery! This is a very posh place indeed, and it will be so wonderful to have tea in the middle of Kensington Gardens in springtime!

While I’m away, I won’t be posting anything- but I promise I will make up for it once I get back! There’s so much I’m excited about doing in London, and I’m really looking forward to posting about it all once I’m home. I hope you’ll stay tuned!

Looking Ahead to London…

I can hardly believe it, but in just over two weeks I will be off to London, the greatest city in the world, once again! As always, I am extremely excited. My mum and I have all sorts of wonderful activities planned, but no matter what you do in London you’re guaranteed to have a good time! Sadly, this will in all likelihood be my last trip to the homeland in awhile (it’s quite heartbreaking to think about that…), so I am determined to make the most of this vacation. Today I’m going to share some of my favourite photos from London; and in a few weeks I’ll have hundreds more to share!

Admiralty Arch

The glorious Admiralty Arch

Mayfair

London streets are always busy!

Thames

The river Thames, so integral to London’s identity!

Bligh House

History is everywhere in London

Mandela Way

One of my favourite hidden gems, Bermondsey’s resident T-34

Pub Portrait

I plan to be in at least one pub per day on this upcoming trip…

Frigate

You never know what you’ll see in London!

London Garden

Such a green and pleasant land

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So much of London’s architecture, past and present, is iconic

London Rain

Beautiful even in the rain

Trafalgar Pub

That flag is one of my greatest sources of pride. Great Britain, here I come!

Sitting in an English Garden: Powis 2011

Except for a rather confused phase of stark modernism in my preteen years, my style has always been one that appreciates symmetry, classicism, and anything traditional. That must be why I so deeply appreciated the breathtaking Baroque gardens and grounds of Powis Castle, which I was fortunate enough to visit in the summer of 2011. Located in Wales, Powis Castle is a truly Welsh castle- built by a Welsh dynasty instead of by the conquering English. I guess that, in this case, my series title isn’t too accurate!

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The courtyard of Powis Castle

Powis’s gardens are also unique, as they are a rare example of true Baroque design in the United Kingdom. The drive to Powis (through lovely rolling hills and fields on a bright June day) was amazing, and the view once I arrived was even more incredible. The gardens at Powis make the most of its steep terrain by utilizing terraces borrowed from Italian garden design, and they make for a striking setting and a beautiful view.

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Parts of the lawn were steep indeed!

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This classically-inspired wall almost looks Mediterranean rather than Welsh

I absolutely loved the setting, and touring the various terraces and formal gardens was a real treat. Better still, the weather was unparalleled- it might have been the nicest day I saw on my entire three-week trip to the UK!

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The terraces of Powis Castle

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I loved this hedged garden- it was so organized and restrained!

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Another sight that looks as if it could be straight out of Italy

My mum and I enjoyed strolling through the gardens and marvelling at the flora, while my brother was more interested in charging up and down the hills around the castle. Either pursuit was pleasing to me, however! Powis was such a lovely place that I wanted to enjoy it in as many ways as I could.

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I’ve never seen such ravishing poppies!

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A gigantic allium

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There were lots of vines and climbing plants at Powis, like this honeysuckle

In the shadow of the castle and its terraces there were several other buildings, all surrounded by charming gardens themselves. It seemed bizarre that Powis is so close to the so-called “Desert of Wales”, because everything here was verdant and in full bloom!

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Add climbing, flowering plants and a building instantly becomes twice as pretty!

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The grounds of the castle are home to various wildlife- like deer and peacocks

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The view up to the castle, in all its splendour

I would truly love to go back to Powis Castle! Of course, due to its amazing gardens and grounds it must be most impressive in the summertime, but the setting itself and the interior of the castle are gorgeous as well. This was one of the most memorable and dramatic gardens I’ve ever seen, and once I have a garden of my own I’m sure I’ll be taking some tips from Powis!

 

Exploring Conwy

One of the coolest things to do in the United Kingdom is explore castles; and really, truly explore them. Forget the audioguides and interpreters- sometimes the best experience comes from walking around with no real direction, and seeing what one discovers. My brother and I embraced this approach when we were at Conwy Castle in north Wales in May 2011, and it resulted in an amazing time in what is surely one of the most impressive castles in all of Wales.

Conwy Castle

Castell Conwy (as it’s known in Wales) proudly flies the Welsh flag on its major towers

Conwy Sign

I’m used to seeing bilingual signs in Canada- our official languages are English and French- but here, the signs were all in English and Welsh!

Conwy Castle is a very imposing structure. It’s built on a sort of rocky outcropping right beside the River Conwy, and as we approached it from below it looked as if the castle walls were an extension of the rock itself. Edward I, who built the castle in the late 1200s to support his conquest of Wales, certainly chose an appropriate location!

Conwy

The castle must have been a very formidable sight to the various forces that besieged it over the course of its history!

Conwy Harbour

Conwy Castle affords wonderful views of the river and harbour…

Conwy Environs

…and of the inland hills, which are dotted with sheep. It is Wales, after all

As soon as we were inside the castle walls, my brother and I abandoned our parents and decided to go round the castle by ourselves. The castle was so well-preserved and so impressive that we just wanted to get lost in it! We picked one tower in particular that we wanted to reach, and then we made our way to it as best we could without the help of any castle map. We were also without the help of my sense of direction, since I essentially don’t have one!

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Conwy has multiple towers; and as I remember, most of them were accessible to visitors

Conwy Chapel

I don’t remember a great deal of Conwy’s interior, except that it was beautifully constructed and fairly well-preserved, as this photo shows

Conwy Stairs

One of the many constricted and treacherous circular staircases of Conwy; worn down by 700 years of footsteps

At a few points, we did feel slightly lost- Conwy is not an insubstantial fortification! But that added to the fun of the exploration, and we reached our chosen tower while our parents were still touring the ground level! We were quite proud, and enjoyed a few moments of jubilation as the wind whipped around and the Welsh flag flew above our heads.

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At the top of that tower, I suddenly felt very aware and proud of my Welsh background

Conwy View

The glorious view from the top!

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A view of the entire castle, seen from the wall which attaches to the castle and surrounds the medieval town of Conwy

Exploring Conwy Castle was so fun- even though I had no idea where I was most of the time or what purpose a given room had, I have better memories of Conwy than I do of other castles where I paid attention and carried a guidebook! Of course, I would love to return and take time to learn more about the history of the castle. But based on experience alone, this couldn’t be beat!

 

The Streets of England

England is a country of many wonderful things- including wonderful automobiles! I am a bit of a petrolhead (to use an expression from the classic British program Top Gear), so I always look out for beautiful and exotic cars whenever I’m travelling. And while I have travelled elsewhere, the most amazing cars I’ve ever seen have been in England! Here’s a collection of photos of some of those amazing cars- I hope you enjoy them!

Lambo

A chrome Lamborghini, straight from Dubai. Definitely the flashiest car I’ve ever seen!

Painted London Cab

A traditional London cab painted in a very unique livery

Maserati Earls Court

Maseratis like this one are unusual in Canada, but commonplace on the streets of London

Kew Car

I wish I remember what type of car this was- it’s adorable!

Land Rover

Land Rovers are a true British classic… even driven by Her Majesty herself!

Defender Shrewsbury

An example of an older Land Rover, seen here in Shrewsbury

E-Type Ironbridge

The Jaguar E-Type has to be one of the most attractive vehicles ever designed

Caterham

Caterhams are usually seen at track days, but this one was driving round the cobbled back streets of Shrewsbury!

Aston Shrewsbury

An Aston Martin DB9- Astons have been used in multiple James Bond films

Rolls

What a fantastic- and enormous!- car this vintage Rolls-Royce is

Car Fountains Abbey

This unique motor is a Morris Minor Traveller, which originated in the 1950s

TVR Greenwich

This Rotherhithe home is completed by a TVR sportscar in the driveway!

I never know just what kind of cars I’ll see when I travel to England- but I can always be sure I won’t be disappointed! The roads there are full of people carriers, transit vans, and compact hatchbacks, but it seems that there’s also a supercar around every corner! For me, that makes any trip to England an utterly awesome and complete experience.