Another [memory] bites the dust - Denny Scott editorial
Over the last two weeks, there has been a lot to be disappointed about between our province’s leader allegedly being part of a group of premiers that wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “go to war” over the Keystone XL Pipeline, the news about COVID-19 vaccines being delayed and former U.S. President Donald Trump not pardoning Joe Exotic, but the most disappointing personal news I got was the demolition of The Candlelight restaurant in Goderich.
Over the past four years or so I’ve become a bit out of touch with the restaurant after it was a family tradition for years before that. It was a favourite for my father, but my own ties to the fine dining establishment that went back to my public school years.
I’ve known the Balkouras family, which ran the restaurant, since Kindergarten, if memory serves correctly. Owners Gus and Anastasia’s eldest son George was a classmate of mine and, for a number of years, we were good friends, though we did grow apart when I moved away from the town.
The Candlelight, for those of you who may not have had the pleasure of dining at one of Goderich’s premier establishments, was a comfortable place to eat and the kind of place where you were always greeted with a smile.
That went a bit beyond for me because of my history with the Balkouras family. Even after I had moved away during my senior years of public school, attended high school and graduated from university then came back to work for The Signal-Star, Gus still recognized me, welcoming me when I came to the restaurant or greeting me whenever I ran into him at events in the public.
Between the classic pebbled-plastic glasses, the buffet breakfasts and the birthday party or three I attended there, I can’t point at a bad memory of the restaurant and now it’s gone.
Gus decided to retire, deservedly so, and the restaurant was demolished earlier this month by the new property owners.
As much grief as I may give folks from Goderich about feeling like they live in the centre of the universe, I do have a lot of great memories from there and it seems that every time I return, some part of my childhood has been dug up, demolished or reworked to the point that it’s no longer recognizable.
It all started with the renaming/rebuilding of Robertson Memorial Public School, the elementary school I attended from Kindergarten to Grade 6. I’ve often discussed the fact that going to school there was unlike going to school anywhere else I’ve experienced. There were no cliques. Sure, there was a bully or two, but pretty much my entire class played with each other, whether it be touch football, soccer, baseball, soccer-baseball, kick-across or any number of other games we devised, or just climbing up the two-storey wooden climber that just wouldn’t exist on modern playgrounds.
I can’t think of a better educational experience, or a better social one, than what I had at that school. Everything that followed paled in comparison.
That school is now known as Goderich Public School (seriously, who renames a memorial structure) and includes a lot more buildings and a lot less playground. With those changes, the Town of Goderich became a little less recognizable.
The pier at the main beach in Goderich would likely be the next change that really made me realize the wisdom behind the words, “You can’t go home again.” For those who spent time at the beach, the pier was just a huge structure of metal and concrete stretching out from the main beach with a few small buildings on it. Those buildings were the perfect height and location to be climbed on and jumped off into the breathtakingly cold waters of Lake Huron in the early summer (you know, before the tourists arrived and some nosy Torontonian mother would give her two cents on how unsafe it was).
Even just jumping off the pier, with its climbable embankments every 10 feet or so, is a beautiful memory, skinned knees and all.
The new design, with the dropped-down concrete edge that’s at water level, just doesn’t offer the same excitement as a 10-12-foot plunge into the lake.
Aside from diving and swimming, the old pier also marked the first place I really felt like I had made the right decision to become a print journalist. It was the Canada Day fireworks display and I was behind the barricades on the pier, perfecting the long-exposure shot to get some truly great pictures. Sitting there, using a remote control from my camera, enjoying the solitude and the pyrotechnics, was the first time that I thought, “Yeah, this is where I’m meant to be.”
Then there are the places that, while they may not have changed much, have been blocked off for safety reasons. The best tobogganing and fishing places in town are now locked behind fences, leaving fewer experiences of my childhood that I can now pass on to my daughter.
So, farewell to the Candlelight and the magical memories from there, as Goderich takes one more step away from the place it is in my memories and another step towards something new.