May (pt. 2: My City Was Gone)

“I went back to Ohio
But my pretty countryside
Had been paved down the middle
By a government that had no pride
The farms of Ohio
Had been replaced by shopping malls
And Muzak filled the air
From Seneca to Cuyahoga Falls
Said, a, o, oh way to go Ohio”

– Chrissie Hynde

May was a time for me to explore: my self, my past, what has changed, what hasn’t. As all things similar, it starts with necessary rhetoric and then is up to the tenaciousness of the individual to sort out.

I rented a car and drove to Brantford.

I don’t have a hometown; our family moved much too much for me to lay claim to such a thing. Yet, if pressed, I will say Brantford, Ontario. Technically, we didn’t even live in Brantford proper, but rather on the outskirts, off a rural highway, where we had a house which stood near the bank of the Grand River, on the edge of Onondaga Township.

It was here where I spent my childhood years, which I’m only able to accurately map in terms of school rather than age or calendar time (Grades 3 through 8, to be exact). As regards my family life, this was the part which I sometimes refer to bittersweetly as The Camelot Years. We lived in a big, red brick Victorian house detached from the world, with a huge apple orchard behind us and acreage aplenty. Eventually, my father took advantage of a small barn on our property and we ended up owning hens, and subsequently more fresh eggs and Macintosh apples than we knew what to do with. I could go on, but you get the point.

School was another matter. To quickly summarize my scholastic life, I didn’t have a very good time until college. Part of this can be blamed on the cruelty of youth(s). Part of this can be blamed on me being who I was. Part of this can be blamed (if one could really use such a word) on the simple complexities of life and the logistics of time.

I went to find my old school – the last place I remember seeing my classmates who I loved and hated. I drove. I drove more (faster). Went back over my tracks, wondering if my memory had betrayed me.

It hadn’t. It was gone: Onondaga-Brant Public School was no longer there. Instead, the smaller one, the place I’d spent my introductory Grades 3 and 4 was still standing; furthermore, the town had renamed it from Brant Public School to the same moniker as the one I was searching for in vain.

In other words, if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know – the one might as well have swallowed the other. I took pictures of what remained – the imposter school – and later found out from my mother that it too was slated to go. It really couldn’t be more metaphoric.

I drove by our old house, thankfully still standing, but of course everything around it has changed. The cattle barn on the property beside us had been replaced by several ugly houses, sitting there as if defying the logic of the land. The palatial (to the eyes of a child) homestead on the other side – the Bournes’ house, as we knew it then – is now a yoga retreat.

I went to capture something I didn’t quite know, me being an older version of the child who oscillated between having the best and worst times of his life there, and in the end I left it all with a handful of photographs and an emptier heart.

I drove into downtown Brantford and visited my grandmother’s grave, something I promised myself I would do on my own, without my mother’s prompting or my inability to schedule enough time on family visits. I knelt by her stone, having bought some long-stemmed roses, and spoke to her quietly.

The truth is that when we moved away long ago – to Alberta of all places – everything in Brantford went to shit. Two major manufacturing plants went bankrupt, laying off thousands. The city council then approved the replacement of the central downtown square with an Eaton’s Centre (a giant, ugly suburban mall placed in the middle of a beautiful classic town as if to clearly defy logic). It bombed and still sits there half-empty as a textbook lesson for how not to plan a city, Brantford now trying to dig itself up from “ghost town” status. There is a telemarketing centre in the mall; those people who call you from the 519 area-code during dinner are calling from Brantford.

It pained us to move away, but – similar to what happened a few years later when we abandoned Stony Plain, Alberta – it was probably a good decision no matter how difficult it was for my brother and I to swallow.

I drove home from Brantford, and on leaving felt closer to the past if not in full agreement with how it has shaped me, nor with the terms on which I am to live with it. I live in Toronto, but in some respects I think I’ll always feel rootless; grasping for something which historically has always been pulled away from me, even if for good intentions.


3 Replies to “May (pt. 2: My City Was Gone)”

  1. This is beautiful and makes my heart break for you. I can also relate to the loss of a hometown. Mine’s not there yet, but I fear it will be lost eventually through unchecked development. Your pictures are also excellent. You should send this to a magazine, if you haven’t already done so. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Thanks for the comments. I don’t normally expose my personal life that much here, but I’ve also gone a long time only able to channel this through fiction, which sometimes isn’t enough.

    Julie – that’s an interesting suggestion…something for me to think about. I *am* in a lit-submission phase now, so perhaps I could pitch this to someone.

    Thanks again,


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