Down Ontario Highways

This blog is taken from a Facebook post I wrote in reaction to the recent story of Greyhound Canada ceasing all operations. As you can see, it stirred up some memories.

Looking forward.

I am a child of the road.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, my family took regular road trips from Ottawa to Toronto and then on to Kitchener/Waterloo, Cambridge and Brantford. Through a successive series of station wagons and sedans, and throughout the eventual separation and divorce of my mother and father, the open roads of eastern Ontario became a familiar journey every summer and winter.

The most familiar and beloved rest-stop along Highway 7

After I moved from Ottawa to Toronto for school, the bus soon became the only affordable option for me to return home to visit my mom. After I graduated, and settled into my own life in Toronto, the bus continued to be my source of transportation. I loved the train but it was a rare luxury. The bus remained both affordable and quick; just pay your fare and line-up for a good seat. I took it several times a year and found the 5 hour journey a welcome retreat to read, write or sleep. Sometimes I had company… but most times I was on my own.

Staring out the window at the landscape passing by was meditative and I knew the route like the back of my hand. East along the 401, up route 37 from Belleville to Tweed and Actinolite and then on highway 7 through Perth and Carleton Place. In later years, the route would change from the 401 to 416. It cut down the travel time but much of the magic was lost. Seeing the small towns and roadside homes along that route allowed me a brief glimpse of the kind of communities that I simply did not see living in the big city.

Whizzing by Silver Lake

As I got older, and still regularly took the trip to and from Ottawa, the bus trip became a touchstone. Memories of the past were posted at the side of the road and with each marker another reminder of what had been; picnics at Silver Lake, the bears of the Log Cabin Restaurant, and the literal giant apple at the Big Apple Restaurant. But the passage of time brought other changes including a noticeable increase in the number of cars on the 401 and the time it took to reach Toronto. But I never tired of it. I always liked to sit close to the front of the bus. I yearned to see the endless stream of traffic in front of me as we barrelled down the highway. Where were all of these people going and what stories did they have to tell?

When my mom fell ill, travel on the bus became a literal lifeline. As I raced down the highway, memories of the past rushed past and through me with every road sign and rest stop. I felt like I was saying good-bye to the landscape and to every little community along the way. The day after she died, I stepped onboard a bus and took what would become one last ride down to the 401 towards my home in Hamilton.

To pee, to smoke and to eat

You need to know that the buses were ALWAYS full. Two sometimes three at a time would stop at the Tweed Esso station, the Log Cabin restaurant or the Trenton ONroute. Weary travellers would pour out from the buses to pee, smoke and eat. Public travel on the bus was never roomy. It was cramped, long and sometimes uncomfortable. If you were lucky you had the seat next to you for yourself. That rarely happened.

But, as with so much, the pandemic has drastically changed things. Public transportation of the kind afforded by the bus is a risk when an airborne virus is in our midst. Today’s news that Greyhound is ceasing operations is not a surprise. But it’s pretty devastating. It will affect countless travellers who do not have a car, cannot afford the train or the plane and prefer not to ride-share.

Looking back.

Highways and roads criss-cross and connect us all in this country. I will always remember the road that I shared with so many travellers, both family and strangers alike, and the bus that made it happen.

Do you have memories of the Greyhound Bus that you want to share? Let me know!

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