Up at 5am to check out of Le Dauphin and walk to the Gare Centrale - Montreal Central Station- for our train at 6.40 am to Toronto, followed by a second train to London.
Montreal station had places where you could have breakfast and a much better system than Toronto for boarding. This trip confirms my sense that train travel is the most civilised way to go - leg room, head room, nice scenery, comfortable seats... )
All of this went without a hitch and we were happy to see Rita waiting to collect us at London Station. A quick stop along Adelaide Street to collect a drill for Ron and we arrived at the farm some time before 4. It was so good to be back where we had both spent time in 1984. Rita, who is a wonderful and health-conscious cook, prepared a lovely meal for us, and we were joined by Gerry, Rita's brother, who was keen to catch up. He has moved out of London and so lives (relatively) close to Rita. It was good to see Gerry again. He and Rita recounted stories and in particular the wonderful trip they took to Malta in 2005 with their parents (Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary) and Theresa, their sister who died a couple of years later. She would be 60 this year- the third in the family.
The evening's entertainment - for the boys at least - was a bonfire. With rain on the way, Ron needed to burn some of the product of a big clear out when he knocked down an old barn. Gerry and I drove in an old Buick behind Ron on the front-loader tractor. It was complicated because Ron knew where the fire was to be, but we had the headlights (while the tractor had none!). We provided the light from the rear.
As you can see from the picture, we were very successful in getting things under way.
In 1984 Mick was helping Ron on the farm at a very busy time of the year and he spent endless hours sometimes up till 3 am driving the wagon while Ron drove the combine harvester. Ron and Rita run a crops farm with corn, winter wheat and soy- much the same as they do now. There are no animals on this farm but there is a lovely dog called Rosie that Beth became quite attached to in 2009 when she came for a visit. (As I type this, Rosie has squeezed her rather large self in the space under the desk at my feet so I am being careful not to run the chair wheels over her feet!) After the harvest of 1984 Mick and I organised our own apartment in London- at 24 The Ridgeway- and Mick worked in a couple of schools and I worked shiftwork at a juvenile detention centre that had just opened in Ailsa Craig which I drove to out of town about 40 minutes in good weather. Mick was able to walk to work and / or catch a bus.
The moisture content, rain, threatening snow, wind etc- are all crucial to a farmer and so life runs around the weather. If the crops don't come off in time, rain or snow may prevent an optimum harvest. On the other hand, leaving the crops in the ground too long can cause other problems such as decay. So I think this is quite a stressful job to have! Then the farmer in this part of the world has a rest for a few months from normal duties as the land is blanketed in snow. I am sure Ron will find machinery to fix etc during this time! This is so beautiful as are the maples that line the farm drive. I doubt I have ever seen anything quite so beautiful as the Fall leaves in their vibrant colours, and then the snow! (M: They have had to take out one side of the original maples and replace them because of an illness. the other side is to follow.)
On Wednesday moring Ron was good enough to give us a history of the farm starting with documents of ownership and the gun labelled 1824 that his great, great grandfather brought here to Canada when he arrived from Scotland in 1842. He spent three winters preparing the land while living in a cave cut out of the gravel. They breed them tough in the Scottish Highlands! Ron then took us in the old Buick, which he was driving in 1984, on a "farm tour." He showed us the place where his ancestor had lived in the cave. So Ron is a fifrth generation farmer here.
There are acres and acres of corn and soy bean plants on this and the surrounding farms that will be harvested soon and Ron explained that there are many kinds of beans here in Canada. Marthese had told him when she was here for a visit four years ago that there was no need for him to explain beans to a vegetarian! Ron and Rita are assisted by thier son Tobias who lives now with his family in Ron's parents' old house nearby. Ron's Dad died in January aged 92. He was still playing his saxophone at Nursing Homes until a few weeks before he died.
Mick and I well remember the passion Tobias had for farm machinery when he was three or four in 1984 and it is good to see this has translated for him into work he obviously loves. He works the farms and also repairs farm machinery. Ron and Rita's daughter Natasha lives in Toronto with her husband Chris and baby Violet, and we visited them a few days ago, and their son Joshua is working on the oil wells in Alberta, the province east of BC.
Rita had to be at work on Wednesday but has Tuesday and Friday off. She works for a federal member of parliament in Stratford, on the Avon, which is about 35 minutes drive away in good weather. As most of you know, London is on the Thames. The English legacy is strong. As I conclude this blog entry, Rosie is still sleeping at my feet!
Gerry was keen that we see his new house in Port Franks, and Rita was kind enough to drive us across (in the rain) almost as soon as she got back from work. The house was designed and bult by someone with real artistic flair, and Gerry is doing some renovations which are very faithful to the original vision. The wonders of the basement as a feature od Canadian homes are easy to see here with bedrooms, a ping pong room, a pool room and a couple of workshops all fitting into the available space. (And I may have forgtten something!). Gerry certainly has the Bezzina "handy" gene.
We were a bit late getting back to the farm, but Rita still managed to put together a delicious salmon meal and we passed the evening in conversation. The meal was so good that Ron (who had made himself something earlier) managed to eat a good share!