Yours to discover…

May 16th, 2007
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It’s been a while since I drove the highways and by-ways of Upper Canada. So it’s interesting to note what has changed – and what hasn’t – over the last 20-odd years.

There are advertised those timeless attractions like Santa’s Village, actually on the 45th Parallel (“You’re halfway there!”), that neither has Santa nor an actual village. Unlike the old days, it now also advertises itself as a “sport land”. Seems like selling every form of tourist kitsch and junk food wasn’t good enough.

There are the myriad artist workshops, candle makers, woodcarvers and crafts of all descriptions; golf courses and actual sporting venues for every walk of life. The local enterprises are often unique in their own way, such as an establishment called “Kaboom Fireworks”. That conjures up the cartoon image of a Warner Brothers’ character standing singed and black after an unexpected ignition, or simply Marvin Martian awaiting his “Earth-shattering Kaboom” from his Illudium Pew-36 Explosive Space Modulator. But fundamentally, if you’re buying fireworks, they should go KABOOM!

There are the eateries with “local colour”. I stopped at the famous Weber’s char-broiled burger place near Orillia – which was superior in every way. Mt friend Fred is so old he went to school with the original owner’s son (the link is to the townie location, but it gives you the flavour). I failed to stop at the sign that said “Do-it-yourself pig roast”. Somehow I imagine a dead pig, all the cooking equipment, all the fixins’, and an easy-to-read instruction booklet.

Other local peculiarities are just that, for the particular or peculiar. Like the South Simcoe Steam Train, which could only attract ex-pat train-spotters, modellers and the unfortunate relatives they drag along to it.

Part of the driving experience is that the province actually makes “official” signs advertising many of these places- most of the innocuous variety listed above. And then there’s the “Glen Echo Family Nudist Park” – prominently announced on a government sign north of Toronto. A quick look at the first page of 31,000 Google hits will give you a quick impression.

Here, in the literally pastoral landscape of red brick century homes on well-kept farms, small villages still have neat, modest churches and the odd Orange Lodge. Odd indeed, given the apparent diversions of some of the inhabitants – although it’s easier to imagine the nudists or “naturists” as they euphemistically call themselves, escaping from the clothed strictures of Toronto the not-so-good.

Like many shall we say, tangential human activities, it appears that nudism is attempting a bit of an image makeover. Forget about the fact that our remote, natural (Palaeolithic?) ancestors were generally clothed; one wonders what is particularly natural about flabby office workers wandering through the glade in the buff.

One also has to be a little curious about the gratuitous addition of the word “family” before “Nudist Park”. It’s like Las Vegas trying to cast itself as a “family” vacation destination.

Sure, there’s a cultural aspect to this. Our adolescent boys used to wax lyrical about the top-less beaches in southern France – until they actually saw one. And then there’s the propensity of north and central Europeans to doff their clothes at the least opportunity, not particularly gracing the landscape in the bargain. The English Garden in Munich regularly has grilled Wurst stands cheek by jowl with Burghers fried in the sun. The “Teutonic Grill” as many locals call it.

As with so many things, the concept is more alluring than the reality. And as with so many other things, it was captured in a Seinfeld episode, where Jerry bemoans the fact that his girlfriend insists on walking around the apartment in the altogether – coughing and opening pickle jars, only to reveal unflattering contortions of flesh.

One wonders what Stephen Leacock, who regularly skewered small town Ontario, might have said about the “natural” inclinations of his backyard’s present inhabitants. As for me, I’ll take my fireworks the old-fashioned way – with an earth-shattering kaboom.

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