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Imaginary Places

By 49thShelf
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Some of the best known parts of Canada can't be found on any map, except for the ones in our literary imaginations. These books are each set in fictional Canadian settings that have become iconic.
Anne of Green Gables

Daring was the fashionable amusement among the Avonlea small fry just then. It had begun among the boys, but soon spread to the girls, and all the silly things that were done in Avonlea that summer because the doers thereof were “dared” to do them would fill a book by themselves. . . .

Now, to “walk” board fences requires more skill and steadiness of head and heel than one might suppose who has never tried it. But Josie Pye, if deficient in some qualities that make for popularity, had at least a natural and inborn gift, duly cultivated, for walking board fences. Josie walked the Barry fence with an airy unconcern which seemed to imply that a little thing like that wasn’t worth a “dare.” Reluctant admiration greeted her exploit, for most of the other girls could appreciate it, having suffered many things themselves in their efforts to walk fences. Josie descended from her perch, flushed with victory, and darted a defiant glance at Anne.

Anne tossed her red braids.

“I don’t think it’s such a very wonderful thing to walk a little, low, board fence,” she said. “I knew a girl in Marysville who could walk the ridge-pole of a roof.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Josie flatly. “I don’t believe anybody could walk a ridge-pole. You couldn’t, anyhow.”

“Couldn’t I?” cried Anne rashly.

“Then I dare you to do it,” said Josie defiantly. “I dare you to climb up there and walk the ridge-pole of Mr. Barry’s kitchen roof.”

Anne turned pale, but there was clearly only one thing to be done. She walked towards the house, where a ladder was leaning against the kitchen roof. All the fifth-class girls said, “Oh!” partly in excitement, partly in dismay.

“Don’t you do it, Anne,” entreated Diana. “You’ll fall off and be killed. Never mind Josie Pye. It isn’t fair to dare anybody to do anything so dangerous.”

“I must do it. My honour is at stake,” said Anne solemnly. “I shall walk that ridge-pole, Diana, or perish in the attempt. If I am killed you are to have my pearl bead ring.”

Anne climbed the ladder amid breathless silence, gained the ridge-pole, balanced herself uprightly on that precarious footing, and started to walk along it, dizzily conscious that she was uncomfortably high up in the world and that walking ridge-poles was not a thing in which your imagination helped you out much. Nevertheless, she managed to take several steps before the catastrophe came. Then she swayed, lost her balance, stumbled, staggered and fell, sliding down over the sun-baked roof and crashing off it through the tangle of Virginia creeper beneath — all before the dismayed circle below could give a simultaneous, terrified shriek.

If Anne had tumbled off the roof on the side up which she ascended Diana would probably have fallen heir to the pearl bead ring then and there. Fortunately she fell on the other side, where the roof extended down over the porch so nearly to the ground that a fall therefrom was a much less serious thing.

Nevertheless, when Diana and the other girls had rushed frantically around the house — except Ruby Gillis, who remained as if rooted to the ground and went into hysterics — they found Anne lying all white and limp among the wreck and ruin of the Virginia creeper.

“Anne, are you killed?” shrieked Diana, throwing herself on her knees beside her friend. “Oh, Anne, dear Anne, speak just one word to me and tell me if you’re killed.”

To the immense relief of all the girls, and especially of Josie Pye, who, in spite of lack of imagination, had been seized with horrible visions of a future branded as the girl who was the cause of Anne Shirley’s early and tragic death, Anne sat dizzily up and answered uncertainly:

“No, Diana, I am not killed, but I think I am rendered unconscious.”

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Why it's on the list ...
People from all over the world come to visit Avonlea, evoked in the minds of readers for generations. Visitors are never disappointed, however, because there really is a Green Gables, and the beauty of PEI is just as Montgomery described it.
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A Bird in the House

A Bird in the House

Penguin Modern Classics Edition
also available: Paperback Paperback
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The Sound of the Singing
That house in Manawaka is the one which, more than any other, I carry with me. Known to the rest of the town as “the old Connor place” and to the family as the Brick House, it was plain as the winter turnips in its root cellar, sparsely windowed as some crusader’s embattled fortress in a heathen wilderness, its rooms in a perpetual gloom except in the brief height of summer. Many other brick structures had existed in Manawaka for as much as half a century, but at the time when my grandfather built his house, part dwelling place and part massive-monument, it had been the first of its kind.
Set back at a decent distance from the street, it was screened by a line of spruce trees whose green-black branches swept down to the earth like the sternly protective wings of giant hawks. Spruce was not indigenous to that part of the prairies. Timothy Connor had brought the seedlings all the way from Galloping Mountain, a hundred miles north, not on whim, one may be sure, but feeling that they were the trees for him. By the mid-thirties, the spruces were taller than the house, and two generations of children had clutched at boughs which were as rough and hornily knuckled as the hands of old farmers, and had swung themselves up to secret sanctuaries. On thelawn a few wild blue violets dared to grow, despite frequent beheadings from the clanking guillotine lawn mower, and mauve-flowered Creeping Charley insinuated deceptively weak-looking tendrils up to the very edges of the flower beds where helmeted snapdragon stood in precision.
We always went for Sunday dinner to the Brick House, the home of my mother’s parents. This particular day my father had been called out to South Wachakwa, where someone had pneumonia, so only my mother and myself were flying down the sidewalk, hurrying to get there. My mother walked with short urgent steps, and I had to run to keep up, which I did not like having to do, for I was ten that spring and needed my dignity.
“Dad said you shouldn’t walk so fast because of the baby. I heard him.”
My father was a doctor, and like many doctors, his advice to his own family was of an exceedingly casual nature. My mother’s prenatal care, apart from “For Pete’s sake, honey, quit running around like a chicken with its head cut off,” consisted mainly of admonitions to breathe deeply and drink plenty of water.
“Mercy,” my mother replied, “I don’t have to slow up that much, I should hope. Get a move on, Vanessa. It’s nearly five, and we should’ve been there by now. I suppose Edna will have the dinner all ready, and there won’t be a thing for me to do. I wish to heaven she wouldn’t, but try to tell her. Anyway, you know how your grandfather hates people to be late.”
When we got to the Brick House, my mother stopped hurrying, knowing that Grandfather would be watching from the bay window. She tidied my hair, which was fine and straight and tended to get in my eyes, and she smoothed down the collar of the white middy which I hated and resented having to wear today with my navy pleated skirt as though it had still been winter.
“Your summer dresses are all up to your neck,” my mother had said, “and we just can’t manage a new one this year, but I’m certainly not going to have you going down there looking like a hooligan.”
Now that the pace of our walking had slowed, I began to hop along the sidewalk trying to touch the crooked lines where the cement had been frost-heaved, some winter or other, and never repaired. The ants made their homes there, and on each fissure a neat mound of earth appeared. I carefully tamped one down with my foot, until the ant castle was flattened to nothing. Then I hopped on, chanting.
“Step on a crack, break your grandfather’s back.”
“That’s not very nice, Vanessa,” my mother said. “Anyway, I always thought it was your mother’s back.”
“Well?” I said accusingly, hurt that she could imagine the substitution to have been accidental, for I had genuinely thought it would please her.
“Try not to tear up and down stairs like you did last week,” my mother said anxiously. “You’re too old for that kind of shenanigans.”
Grandfather was standing on the front porch to greet us. He was a tall husky man, drum-chested, and once he had possessed great muscular strength. That simple power was gone now, but age had not stooped him.
“Well, Beth, you’re here,” Grandfather said. “Past five, ain’t it?”
“It’s only ten to,” my mother said defensively. “I hoped Ewen might be back – that’s why I waited. He had to go to South Wachakwa on a call.”
“You’d think a man could stay home on a Sunday,” Grandfather said.
“Good grief, Father,” my mother said, “people get sick on Sundays the same as any other day.”
But she said it under her breath, so he did not hear her.
“Well, come in, come in,” he said. “No use standing around here all day. Go and say hello to your grandmother, Vanessa.”
Ample and waistless in her brown silk dress, Grand mother was sitting in the dining room watching the canary. The bird had no name. She did not believe in bestowing names upon non-humans, for a name to her meant a christening, possible only for Christians. She called the canary “Birdie,” and maintained that this was not like a real name. It was swaying lightly on the bird-swing in its cage, its attentive eyes fixed upon her. She often sat here, quietly and apparently at ease, not feeling it necessary to be talking or doing, beside the window sill with its row of African violets in old ginger jars that had been painted orange. She would try to coax the canary into its crystal trilling, but it was a surly creature and obliged only occasionally. She liked me to sit here with her, and sometimes I did, but I soon grew impatient and began squirming, until Grandmother would smile and say, “All right, pet, you run along, now,” and then I would be off like buckshot. When I asked my grandmother if the bird minded being there, she shook her head and said no, it had been there always and wouldn’t know what to do with itself outside, and I thought this must surely be so, for it was a family saying that she couldn’t tell a lie if her life depended on it.
“Hello, pet,” Grandmother said. “Did you go to Sunday school?”
“What did you learn?” Grandmother asked, not prying or demanding, but confidently, serenely.
I was prepared, for the question was the same each week. I rarely listened in Sunday school, finding it more entertaining to compose in my head stories of spectacular heroism in which I figured as central character, so I never knew what the text had been. But I had read large portions of the Bible by myself, for I was constantly hard-up for reading material, so I had no trouble in providing myself with a verse each week before setting out for the Brick House. My lines were generally of a warlike nature, for I did not favour the meek stories and I had no use at all for the begats.
“How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle,” I replied instantly.
“Second Samuel,” Grandmother said, nodding her head. “That’s very nice, dear.”
I was not astonished that my grandmother thought the bloody death of Jonathan was very nice, for this was her unvarying response, whatever the verse. And in fact it was not strange, for to her everything in the Bible was as gentle as she herself. The swords were spiritual only, strokes of lightness and dark, and the wounds poured cochineal.
Grandfather tramped into the dining room. His hair was yellowish white, but once it had been as black as my own, and his brown beaked leathery face was still handsome.
“You’d best come into the living room, Agnes,” he said. “No use waiting here. Beth says Ewen’s gone away out to South Wachakwa. It’ll be a wonder if we get our dinner at all tonight.”
Grandmother rose. “Yes, I was just coming in.”
Grandfather walked over to the window and peered at the plants on the sill.
“Them jars could do with a coat of paint,” he said. “I’ve got some enamel left in the basement. It’s that bottle-green I used on the tool-shed.”
“Is there no orange left?” Grandmother enquired.
“No. It’s all used up. What’s the matter with bottle-green?”
“Oh, nothing’s the matter with it, I guess. I just wondered, that’s all.”
“I’ll do them first thing tomorrow, then,” Grandfather said decisively.
No tasks could be undertaken today, but there was no rule against making plans for Monday, so my grandfather invariably spent the Sabbath in this manner. Thwarted, but making the best of a bad lot, he lumbered around the house like some great  wakeful bear waiting for the enforced hibernation of Sunday to be over. He stopped at the hall door now and rattled it, running hard expert fingers along the brass hinges.
“Hinge is loose,” he said. “The pin’s worn. I’ll have to go down to the store and see if they’ve got one. That Barnes probably won’t have the right size – he’s got no notion of stock. Maybe I’ve got an extra one in the basement. Yes, I have an idea there’s one there. I’ll just step down and have a look.”
I heard him clumping down the basement steps, and soon from the area of his work-bench there arose the soft metallic jangle of nails and bolts, collected oddments being sifted through. I glanced at my grandmother, but if she was relieved that he was rummaging down there, she gave no sign.
I did not know then the real torment that the day of rest was for him, so I had no patience with his impatience. WhatI did know, however, was that if he had been any other way he would not have passed muster in Manawaka. He was widely acknowledged as an upright man. It would have been a disgrace if he had been known by the opposite word, which was  “downright.” A few of my friends had downright grandfathers. They were a deep mortification to their families, these untidy old men who sat on the Bank of Montreal steps in the summertime and spat amber tobacco jets onto the dusty sidewalk. They were described as “downright worthless” or “downright lazy,” these two terms being synonymous. These shadows of wastrels, these flimsy remnants of past profligates, with their dry laughter like the cackle of crows or the crackling of fallen leaves underfoot, embarrassed me terribly, although I did not have any idea why. Walking down main street, I would avoid looking at them, feeling somehow that they should not be on view, that they should be hidden away in an attic along with the other relics too common to be called antiques and too broken to be of any further use. Yet I was inexplicably drawn to them, too.

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Why it's on the list ...
Laurence's five best-known titles are known as the Manawaka Books, for the fictional town in which they're set, based on Laurence's own hometown of Neepawa, Manitoba.
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Fifth Business
Why it's on the list ...
Robertson Davies based the setting of his "Deptford Trilogy" on his native Thamesville.
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Penguin Modern Classics Lives of Girls and Women
Why it's on the list ...
Alice Munro's stories are set in small towns in Ontario's Huron County, Jubilee, Hanratty, and Walley—none of which appear on any maps. Some have noted a resemblance between these fictional towns and Munro's native Wingham, ON, but the Nobel Prize Winner denies the charge.
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Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

The Hostelry of Mr. Smith

I don’t know whether you know Mariposa. If not, it is of no consequence, for if you know Canada at all, you are probably well acquainted with a dozen towns just like it.
There it lies in the sunlight, sloping up from the little lake that spreads out at the foot of the hillside on which the town is built. There is a wharf beside the lake, and lying alongside of it a steamer that is tied to the wharf with two ropes of about the same size as they use on the Lusitania. The steamer goes nowhere in particular, for the lake is landlocked and there is no navigation for the Mariposa Belle except to “run trips” on the first of July and the Queen’s Birthday, and to take excursions of the Knights of Pythias and the Sons of Temperance to and from the Local Option Townships.
In point of geography the lake is called Lake Wissanotti and the river running out of it the Ossawippi, just as the main street of Mariposa is called Missinaba Street and the county Missinaba County. But these names do not really matter. Nobody uses them. People simply speak of the “lake” and the “river” and the “main street,” much in the same way as they always call the Continental Hotel, “Pete Robinson’s” and the Pharmaceutical Hall, “Eliot’s Drug Store.” But I suppose this is just the same in every one else’s town as in mine, so I need lay no stress on it.
The town, I say, has one broad street that runs up from the lake, commonly called the Main Street. There is no doubt about its width. When Mariposa was laid out there was none of that shortsightedness which is seen in the cramped dimensions of Wall Street and Piccadilly. Missinaba Street is so wide that if you were to roll Jeff Thorpe’s barber shop over on its face it wouldn’t reach half way across. Up and down the Main Street are telegraph poles of cedar of colossal thickness, standing at a variety of angles and carrying rather more wires than are commonly seen at a transatlantic cable station.
On the Main Street itself are a number of buildings of extraordinary importance, – Smith’s Hotel and the Continental and the Mariposa House, and the two banks (the Commercial and the Exchange), to say nothing of McCarthy’s Block (erected in 1878), and Glover’s Hardware Store with the Oddfellows’ Hall above it. Then on the “cross” street that intersects Missinaba Street at the main corner there is the Post Office and the Fire Hall and the Young Men’s Christian Association and the office of the Mariposa Newspacket, – in fact, to the eye of discernment a perfect jostle of public institutions comparable only to Threadneedle Street or Lower Broadway. On all the side streets there are maple trees and broad sidewalks, trim gardens with upright calla lilies, houses with verandahs, which are here and there being replaced by residences with piazzas.
To the careless eye the scene on the Main Street of a summer afternoon is one of deep and unbroken peace. The empty street sleeps in the sunshine. There is a horse and buggy tied to the hitching post in front of Glover’s hardware store. proprietor of Smith’s Hotel, standing in his chequered waistcoat on the steps of his hostelry, and perhaps, further up the street, Lawyer Macartney going for his afternoon mail, or the Rev. Mr. Drone, the Rural Dean of the Church of England Church, going home to get his fishing rod after a mothers’ auxiliary meeting.
But this quiet is mere appearance. In reality, and to those who know it, the place is a perfect hive of activity. Why, at Netley’s butcher shop (established in 1882) there are no less than four men working on the sausage machines in the basement; at the Newspacket office there are as many more jobprinting; there is a long distance telephone with four distracting girls on high stools wearing steel caps and talking incessantly; in the offices in McCarthy’s block are dentists and lawyers with their coats off, ready to work at any moment; and from the big planing factory down beside the lake where the railroad siding is, you may hear all through the hours of the summer afternoon the long-drawn music of the running saw.
Busy – well, I should think so! Ask any of its inhabitants if Mariposa isn’t a busy, hustling, thriving town. Ask Mullins, the manager of the Exchange Bank, who comes hustling over to his office from the Mariposa House every day at 10.30 and has scarcely time all morning to go out and take a drink with the manager of the Commercial; or ask – well, for the matter of that, ask any of them if they ever knew a more rushing go-a-head town than Mariposa.
Of course if you come to the place fresh from New York, you are deceived. Your standard of vision is all astray. You do think the place is quiet. You do imagine that Mr. Smith is asleep merely because he closes his eyes as he stands. But live in Mariposa for six months or a year and then you will begin to understand it better; the buildings get higher and higher; the Mariposa House grows more and more luxurious; McCarthy’s block towers to the sky; the buses roar and hum to the station; the trains shriek; the traffic multiplies; the people move faster and faster; a dense crowd swirls to and fro in the post-office and the five and ten cent store – and amusements! Well, now! Lacrosse, baseball, excursions, dances, the Fireman’s Ball every winter and the Catholic picnic every summer; and music – the town band in the park every Wednesday evening, and the Oddfellows’ brass band on the street every other Friday; the Mariposa Quartette, the Salvation Army – why, after a few months’ residence you begin to realize that the place is a mere mad round of gaiety.
In point of population, if one must come down to figures, the Canadian census puts the numbers every time at something round five thousand. But it is very generally understood in Mariposa that the census is largely the outcome of malicious jealousy. It is usual that after the census the editor of the Mariposa Newspacket makes a careful re-estimate (based on the data of relative non-payment of subscriptions), and brings the population up to 6,000. After that the Mariposa Times-Herald makes an estimate that runs the figures up to 6,500. Then Mr. Gingham, the undertaker, who collects the vital statistics for the provincial government, makes an estimate from the number of what he calls the “demised” as compared with the less interesting persons who are still alive, and brings the population to 7,000. After that somebody else works it out that it’s 7,500; then the man behind the bar of the Mariposa House offers to bet the whole room that there are 9,000 people in Mariposa. That settles it, and the population is well on the way to 10,000, when down swoops the federal census taker on his next round and the town has to
Still, it is a thriving town and there is no doubt of it. Even the transcontinental railways, as any townsman will tell you, run through Mariposa. It is true that the trains mostly go through at night and don’t stop. But in the wakeful silence of the summer night you may hear the long whistle of the through train for the west as it tears through Mariposa, rattling over the switches and past the semaphores and ending in a long, sullen roar as it takes the trestle bridge over the Ossawippi. Or, better still, on a winter evening about eight o’clock you will see the long row of the Pullmans and diners of the night express going north to the mining country, the windows flashing with brilliant light, and within them a vista of cut glass and snow-white table linen, smiling negroes and millionaires with napkins at their chins whirling past in the driving snowstorm.
I can tell you the people of Mariposa are proud of the trains, even if they don’t stop! The joy of being on the main line lifts the Mariposa people above the level of their neighbours in such places as Tecumseh and Nichols Corners into the cosmopolitan atmosphere of through traffic and the larger life. Of course, they have their own train, too – the Mariposa Local, made up right there in the station yard, and running south to the city a hundred miles away. That, of course, is a real train, with a box stove on end in the passenger car, fed with cordwood upside down, and with seventeen flat cars of pine lumber set between the passenger car and the locomotive so as to give the train its full impact when shunting.
Outside of Mariposa there are farms that begin well but get thinner and meaner as you go on, and end sooner or later in bush and swamp and the rock of the north country. And beyond that again, as the background of it all, though it’s far away, you are somehow aware of the great pine woods of the lumber country reaching endlessly into the north.
Not that the little town is always gay or always bright in the sunshine. There never was such a place for changing its character with the season. Dark enough and dull it seems of a winter night, the wooden sidewalks creaking with the frost, and the lights burning dim behind the shop windows. In olden times the lights were coal oil lamps; now, of course, they are, or are supposed to be, electricity, – brought from the power house on the lower Ossawippi nineteen miles away. But, somehow, though it starts off as electricity from the Ossawippi rapids, by the time it gets to Mariposa and filters into the little bulbs behind the frosty windows of the shops, it has turned into coal oil again, as yellow and bleared as ever.
After the winter, the snow melts and the ice goes out of the lake, the sun shines high and the shanty-men come down from the lumber woods and lie round drunk on the sidewalk outside of Smith’s Hotel – and that’s spring time. Mariposa is then a fierce, dangerous lumber town, calculated to terrorize the soul of a newcomer who does not understand that this also is only an appearance and that presently the rough-looking shantymen will change their clothes and turn back again into farmers.
Then the sun shines warmer and the maple trees come out and Lawyer Macartney puts on his tennis trousers, and that’s summer time. The little town changes to a sort of summer resort. There are visitors up from the city. Every one of the seven cottages along the lake is full. The Mariposa Belle churns the waters of the Wissanotti into foam as she sails out from the wharf, in a cloud of fl ags, the band playing and the daughters and sisters of the Knights of Pythias dancing gaily on the deck.
That changes too. The days shorten. The visitors disappear. The golden rod beside the meadow droops and withers on its stem. The maples blaze in glory and die. The evening closes dark and chill, and in the gloom of the main corner of Mariposa the Salvation Army around a naphtha lamp lift up the confession of their sins – and that is autumn. Thus the year runs its round, moving and changing in Mariposa, much as it does in other places.
If, then, you feel that you know the town well enough to be admitted into the inner life and movement of it, walk down this June afternoon half way down the Main Street – or, if you like, half way up from the wharf – to where Mr. Smith is standing at the door of his hostelry. You will feel as you draw near that it is no ordinary man that you approach. It is not alone the huge bulk of Mr. Smith (two hundred and eighty pounds as tested on Netley’s scales). It is not merely his costume, though the chequered waistcoat of dark blue with a flowered pattern forms, with his shepherd’s plaid trousers, his grey spats and patent-leather boots, a colour scheme of no mean order. Nor is it merely Mr. Smith’s finely mottled face. The face, no doubt, is a notable one, – solemn, inexpressible, unreadable, the face of the heaven-born hotel keeper. It is more than that. It is the strange dominating personality of the man that somehow holds you captive. I know nothing in history to com pare with the position of Mr. Smith among those who drink over his bar, except, though in a lesser degree, the relation of the Emperor Napoleon to the Imperial Guard.
When you meet Mr. Smith first you think he looks like an over-dressed pirate. Then you begin to think him a character. You wonder at his enormous bulk. Then the utter hopelessness of knowing what Smith is thinking by merely looking at his features gets on your mind and makes the Mona Lisa seem an open book and the ordinary human countenance as superficial as a puddle in the sunlight. After you have had a drink in Mr. Smith’s bar, and he has called you by your Christian name, you realize that you are dealing with one of the greatest minds in the hotel business.
Take, for instance, the big sign that sticks out into the street above Mr. Smith’s head as he stands. What is on it? “jos. smith, prop.” Nothing more, and yet the thing was a flash of genius. Other men who had had the hotel before Mr. Smith had called it by such feeble names as the Royal Hotel and the Queen’s and the Alexandria. Every one of them failed. When Mr. Smith took over the hotel he simply put up the sign with “jos. smith, prop.,” and then stood underneath in the sunshine as a living proof that a man who weighs nearly three hundred pounds is the natural king of the hotel business.
But on this particular afternoon, in spite of the sunshine and deep peace, there was something as near to profound concern and anxiety as the features of Mr. Smith were ever known to express.
The moment was indeed an anxious one. Mr. Smith was awaiting a telegram from his legal adviser who had that day journeyed to the county town to represent the proprietor’s interest before the assembled License Commissioners. If you know anything of the hotel business at all, you will understand that as beside the decisions of the License Commissioners of Missinaba County, the opinion of the Lords of the Privy Council are mere trifles.
The matter in question was very grave. The Mariposa Court had just fined Mr. Smith for the second time for selling liquors after hours. The Commissioners, therefore, were entitled to cancel the license.
Mr. Smith knew his fault and acknowledged it. He had broken the law. How he had come to do so, it passed his imagination to recall. Crime always seems impossible in retrospect. By what sheer madness of the moment could he have shut up the bar on the night in question, and shut Judge Pepperleigh, the district judge in Missinaba County, outside of it? The more so inasmuch as the closing up of the bar under the rigid license law of the province was a matter that the proprietor never trusted to any hands but his own. Punctually every night at 11 o’clock Mr. Smith strolled from the desk of the “rotunda” to the door of the bar. If it seemed properly full of people and all was bright and cheerful, then he closed it. If not, he kept it open a few minutes longer till he had enough people inside to warrant closing. But never, never unless he was assured that Pepperleigh, the judge of the court, and Macartney, the prosecuting attorney, were both safely in the bar, or the bar parlour, did the proprietor venture to close up. Yet on this fatal night Pepperleigh and Macartney had been shut out – actually left on the street without a drink, and compelled to hammer and beat at the street door of the bar to gain admittance.
This was the kind of thing not to be tolerated. Either a hotel must be run decently or quit. An information was laid next day and Mr. Smith convicted in four minutes, his lawyers practically refusing to plead. The Mariposa court, when the presiding judge was cold sober, and it had the force of public opinion behind it, was a terrible engine of retributive justice.
So no wonder that Mr. Smith awaited with anxiety the message of his legal adviser.
He looked alternately up the street and down it again, hauled out his watch from the depths of his embroidered pocket, and examined the hour hand and the minute hand and the second hand with frowning scrutiny.
Then wearily, and as one mindful that a hotel man is ever the servant of the public, he turned back into the hotel.
“Billy,” he said to the desk clerk, “if a wire comes bring it into the bar parlour.”
The voice of Mr. Smith is of a deep guttural such as Plancon or Edouard de Reske might have obtained had they had the advantages of the hotel business. And with that, Mr. Smith, as was his custom in off moments, joined his guests in the back room. His appearance, to the untrained eye, was merely that of an extremely stout hotelkeeper walking from the rotunda to the back bar. In reality, Mr. Smith was on the eve of one of the most brilliant and daring strokes ever effected in the history of licensed liquor. When I say that it was out of the agitation of this situation that Smith’s Ladies’ and Gent’s Café originated, anybody who knows Mariposa will understand the magnitude of the moment.
Mr. Smith, then, moved slowly from the doorway of the hotel through the “rotunda,” or more simply the front room with the desk and the cigar case in it, and so to the bar and thence to the little room or back bar behind it. In this room, as I have said, the brightest minds of Mariposa might commonly be found in the quieter part of a summer afternoon.
To-day there was a group of four who looked up as Mr. Smith entered, somewhat sympathetically, and evidently aware of the perplexities of the moment.
Henry Mullins and George Duff, the two bank managers, were both present. Mullins is a rather short, rather round, smooth-shaven man of less than forty, wearing one of those round banking suits of pepper and salt, with a round banking hat of hard straw, and with the kind of gold tie-pin and heavy watch-chain and seals necessary to inspire con fidence in matters of foreign exchange. Duff is just as round and just as short, and equally smoothly shaven, while his seals and straw hat are calculated to prove that the Commercial is just as sound a bank as the Exchange. From the technical point of view of the banking business, neither of them had any objection to being in Smith’s Hotel or to taking a drink as long as the other was present. This, of course, was one of the cardinal principles of Mariposa banking.
Then there was Mr. Diston, the high school teacher, commonly known as the “one who drank.” None of the other teachers ever entered a hotel unless accompanied by a lady or protected by a child. But as Mr. Diston was known to drink beer on occasions and to go in and out of the Mariposa House and Smith’s Hotel, he was looked upon as a man whose life was a mere wreck. Whenever the School Board raised the salaries of the other teachers, fifty or sixty dollars per annum at one lift, it was well understood that public morality wouldn’t permit of an increase for Mr. Diston.
Still more noticeable, perhaps, was the quiet, sallow looking man dressed in black, with black gloves and with black silk hat heavily craped and placed hollow-side-up on a chair. This was Mr. Golgotha Gingham, the undertaker of Mariposa, and his dress was due to the fact that he had just come from what he called an “interment.” Mr. Gingham had the true spirit of his profession, and such words as “funeral” or “coffin” or “hearse” never passed his lips. He spoke always of “interments,” of “caskets,” and “coaches,” using terms that were calculated rather to bring out the majesty and sublimity of death than to parade its horrors.
To be present at the hotel was in accord with Mr. Gingham’s general conception of his business. No man had ever grasped the true principles of undertaking more thoroughly than Mr. Gingham. I have often heard him explain that to associate with the living, uninteresting though they appear, is the only way to secure the custom of the dead.
“Get to know people really well while they are alive,” said Mr. Gingham; “be friends with them, close friends, and then when they die you don’t need to worry. You’ll get the order every time.”
So, naturally, as the moment was one of sympathy, it was Mr. Gingham who spoke first.
“What’ll you do, Josh,” he said, “if the Commissioners go against you?”
“Boys,” said Mr. Smith, “I don’t rightly know. If I have to quit, the next move is to the city. But I don’t reckon that I will have to quit. I’ve got an idee that I think’s good every time.”
“Could you run a hotel in the city?” asked Mullins.
“I could,” said Mr. Smith. “I’ll tell you. There’s big things doin’ in the hotel business right now, big chances if you go into it right. Hotels in the city is branching out. Why, you take the dining-room side of it,” continued Mr. Smith, looking round at the group, “there’s thousands in it. The old plan’s all gone. Folks won’t eat now in an ordinary dining-room with a high ceiling and windows. You have to get ’em down underground in a room with no windows and lots of sawdust round and waiters that can’t speak English. I seen them places last time I was in the city. They call ’em Rats’ Coolers. And for light meals they want a Caff, a real French Caff, and for folks that come in late another place that they call a Girl Room that don’t shut up at all. If I go to the city that’s the kind of place I mean to run. What’s yours, Gol? It’s on the house.”
And it was just at the moment when Mr. Smith said this that Billy, the desk-clerk, entered the room with the telegram in his hand.
But stop – it is impossible for you to understand the anxiety with which Mr. Smith and his associates awaited the news from the Commissioners, without first realizing the astounding progress of Mr. Smith in the three past years, and the pinnacle of public eminence to which he had attained.
Mr. Smith had come down from the lumber country of the Spanish River, where the divide is toward the Hudson Bay, – “back north” as they called it in Mariposa.
He had been, it was said, a cook in the lumber shanties. To this day Mr. Smith can fry an egg on both sides with a lightness of touch that is the despair of his own “help.”
After that, he had run a river driver’s boarding-house.
After that, he had taken a food contract for a gang of railroad navvies on the transcontinental.
After that, of course, the whole world was open to him.
He came down to Mariposa and bought out the “inside” of what had been the Royal Hotel.
Those who are educated understand that by the “inside” of a hotel is meant everything except the four outer walls of it – the fittings, the furniture, the bar, Billy the desk clerk, the three dining-room girls, and above all the license granted by King Edward VII, and ratified further by King George, for the sale of intoxicating liquors.
Till then the Royal had been a mere nothing. As “Smith’s Hotel” it broke into a blaze of effulgence.
From the first, Mr. Smith, as a proprietor, was a wild, rapturous success.
He had all the qualifications.
He weighed two hundred and eighty pounds.
He could haul two drunken men out of the bar each by the scruff of the neck without the faintest anger or excitement.
He carried money enough in his trousers pockets to start a bank, and spent it on anything, bet it on anything, and gave it away in handfuls.
He was never drunk, and, as a point of chivalry to his customers, never quite sober. Anybody was free of the hotel who cared to come in. Anybody who didn’t like it could go out. Drinks of all kinds cost five cents, or six for a quarter. Meals and beds were practically free. Any persons foolish enough to go to the desk and pay for them, Mr. Smith charged according to the expression of their faces.
At first the loafers and the shanty men settled down on the place in a shower. But that was not the “trade” that Mr. Smith wanted. He knew how to get rid of them. An army of charwomen, turned into the hotel, scrubbed it from top to bottom. A vacuum cleaner, the first seen in Mariposa, hissed and screamed in the corridors. Forty brass beds were imported from the city, not, of course, for the guests to sleep in, but to keep them out. A bar-tender with a starched coat and wicker sleeves was put behind the bar.
The loafers were put out of business. The place had become too “high toned” for them.
To get the high class trade, Mr. Smith set himself to dress the part. He wore wide cut coats of filmy serge, light as gossamer; chequered waistcoats with a pattern for every day in the week; fedora hats light as autumn leaves; four-in-hand ties of saffron and myrtle green with a diamond pin the size of a hazelnut. On his fingers there were as many gems as would grace a native prince of India; across his waistcoat lay a gold watch-chain in huge square links and in his pocket a gold watch that weighed a pound and a half and marked minutes, seconds and quarter seconds. Just to look at Josh Smith’s watch brought at least ten men to the bar every evening.
Every morning Mr. Smith was shaved by Jefferson Thorpe, across the way. All that art could do, all that Florida water could effect, was lavished on his person.
Mr. Smith became a local character. Mariposa was at his feet. All the reputable businessmen drank at Mr. Smith’s bar, and in the little parlour behind it you might find at any time a group of the brightest intellects in the town.
Not but what there was opposition at first. The clergy, for example, who accepted the Mariposa House and the Continental as a necessary and useful evil, looked askance at the blazing lights and the surging crowd of Mr. Smith’s saloon. They preached against him. When the Rev. Dean Drone led off with a sermon on the text “Lord be merciful even unto this publican Matthew Six,” it was generally understood as an invitation to strike Mr. Smith dead. In the same way the sermon at the Presbyterian church the week after was on the text “Lo what now doeth Abiram in the land of Melchisideck Kings Eight and Nine?” and it was perfectly plain that what was meant was, “Lo, what is Josh Smith doing in Mariposa?”
But this opposition had been countered by a wide and sagacious philanthropy. I think Mr. Smith first got the idea of that on the night when the steam merry-go-round came to Mariposa. Just below the hostelry, on an empty lot, it whirled and whistled, steaming forth its tunes on the summer evening while the children crowded round it in hundreds. Down the street strolled Mr. Smith, wearing a soft fedora to indicate that it was evening.
“What d’you charge for a ride, boss?” said Mr. Smith.
“Two for a nickel,” said the man.
“Take that,” said Mr. Smith, handing out a ten-dollar bill from a roll of money, “and ride the little folks free all evening.”
That night the merry-go-round whirled madly till after midnight, freighted to capacity with Mariposa children, while up in Smith’s Hotel, parents, friends and admirers, as the news spread, were standing four deep along the bar. They sold forty dollars’ worth of lager alone that night, and Mr. Smith learned, if he had not already suspected it, the blessedness of giving.
The uses of philanthropy went further. Mr. Smith subscribed to everything, joined everything, gave to everything. He became an Oddfellow, a Forester, A Knight of Pythias and a Workman. He gave a hundred dollars to the Mariposa Hospital and a hundred dollars to the Young Men’s Christian Association.
He subscribed to the Ball Club, the Lacrosse Club, the Curling Club, to anything, in fact, and especially to all those things which needed premises to meet in and grew thirsty in their discussions.
As a consequence the Oddfellows held their annual banquet at Smith’s Hotel and the Oyster Supper of the Knights of Pythias was celebrated in Mr. Smith’s dining-room.
Even more effective, perhaps, were Mr. Smith’s secret benefactions, the kind of giving done by stealth of which not a soul in town knew anything, often, for a week after it was done. It was in this way that Mr. Smith put the new font in Dean Drone’s church, and handed over a hundred dollars to Judge Pepperleigh for the unrestrained use of the Conservative party.
So it came about that, little by little, the antagonism had died down. Smith’s Hotel became an accepted institution in Mariposa. Even the temperance people were proud of Mr. Smith as a sort of character who added distinction to the town. There were moments, in the earlier quiet of the morning, when Dean Drone would go so far as to step in to the “rotunda” and collect a subscription. As for the Salvation Army, they ran in and out all the time unreproved.
On only one point difficulty still remained. That was the closing of the bar. Mr. Smith could never bring his mind to it, – not as a matter of profit, but as a point of honour. It was too much for him to feel that Judge Pepperleigh might be out on the sidewalk thirsty at midnight, that the night hands of the Times-Herald on Wednesday might be compelled to go home dry. On this point Mr. Smith’s moral code was simplicity itself, – do what is right and take the consequences. So the bar stayed open.
Every town, I suppose, has its meaner spirits. In every genial bosom some snake is warmed, – or, as Mr. Smith put it to Golgotha Gingham – “there are some fellers even in this town skunks enough to inform.”
At first the Mariposa court quashed all indictments. The presiding judge, with his spectacles on and a pile of books in front of him, threatened the informer with the penitentiary. The whole bar of Mariposa was with Mr. Smith. But by sheer iteration the informations had proved successful. Judge Pepperleigh learned that Mr. Smith had subscribed a hundred dollars for the Liberal party and at once fined him for keeping open after hours. That made one conviction. On the top of this had come the untoward incident just mentioned and that made two. Beyond that was the deluge. This then was the exact situation when Billy, the desk clerk, entered the back bar with the telegram in his hand.
“Here’s your wire, sir,” he said.
“What does it say?” said Mr. Smith.
He always dealt with written documents with a fine air of detachment. I don’t suppose there were ten people in Mariposa who knew that Mr. Smith couldn’t read.
Billy opened the message and read, “Commissioners give you three months to close down.”
“Let me read it,” said Mr. Smith, “that’s right, three months to close down.”
There was dead silence when the message was read. Everybody waited for Mr. Smith to speak. Mr. Gingham instinc tively assumed the professional air of hopeless melancholy.
As it was afterwards recorded, Mr. Smith stood and “studied” with the tray in his hand for at least four minutes. Then he spoke.
“Boys,” he said, “I’ll be darned if I close down till I’m ready to close down. I’ve got an idee. You wait and I’ll show you.
And beyond that, not another word did Mr. Smith say on the subject.
But within forty-eight hours the whole town knew that something was doing. The hotel swarmed with carpenters, bricklayers and painters. There was an architect up from the city with a bundle of blueprints in his hand. There was an engineer taking the street level with a theodolite, and a gang of navvies with shovels digging like fury as if to dig out the back foundations of the hotel.
“That’ll fool ’em,” said Mr. Smith.
Half the town was gathered round the hotel crazy with excitement. But not a word would the proprietor say.
Great dray loads of square timber, and two-by-eight pine joists kept arriving from the planing mill. There was a pile of matched spruce sixteen feet high lying by the sidewalk.
Then the excavation deepened and the dirt flew, and the beams went up and the joists across, and all the day from dawn till dusk the hammers of the carpenters clattered away, working overtime at time and a half.
“It don’t matter what it costs,” said Mr. Smith; “get it done.”
Rapidly the structure took form. It extended down the side street, joining the hotel at a right angle. Spacious and graceful it looked as it reared its uprights into the air.
Already you could see the place where the row of windows was to come, a veritable palace of glass, it must be, so wide and commodious were they. Below it, you could see the basement shaping itself, with a low ceiling like a vault and big beams running across, dressed, smoothed, and ready for staining. Already in the street there were seven crates of red and white awning.
And even then nobody knew what it was, and it was not till the seventeenth day that Mr. Smith, in the privacy of the back bar, broke the silence and explained.
“I tell you, boys,” he says, “it’s a caff – like what they have in the city – a ladies’ and gent’s caff, and that underneath (what’s yours, Mr. Mullins?) is a Rats’ Cooler. And when I get her started, I’ll hire a French Chief to do the cooking, and for the winter I will put in a ‘girl room,’ like what they have in the city hotels. And I’d like to see who’s going to close her up then.”
Within two more weeks the plan was in operation. Not only was the caff built but the very hotel was transformed. Awnings had broken out in a red and white cloud upon its face, its every window carried a box of hanging plants, and above in glory floated the Union Jack. The very stationery was changed. The place was now Smith’s Summer Pavilion. It was advertised in the city as Smith’s Tourists’ Emporium, and Smith’s Northern Health Resort. Mr. Smith got the editor of the Times-Herald to write up a circular all about ozone and the Mariposa pine woods, with illustrations of the maskinonge (piscis mariposis) of Lake Wissanotti.
The Saturday after that circular hit the city in July, there were men with fishing rods and landing nets pouring in on every train, almost too fast to register. And if, in the face of that, a few little drops of whiskey were sold over the bar, who thought of it?
But the caff! that, of course, was the crowning glory of the thing, that and the Rats’ Cooler below.
Light and cool, with swinging windows open to the air, tables with marble tops, palms, waiters in white coats – it was the standing marvel of Mariposa. Not a soul in the town except Mr. Smith, who knew it by instinct, ever guessed that waiters and palms and marble tables can be rented over the long distance telephone.
Mr. Smith was as good as his word. He got a French Chief with an aristocratic saturnine countenance, and a moustache and imperial that recalled the late Napoleon III. No one knew where Mr. Smith got him. Some people in the town said he was a French marquis. Others said he was a count and explained the difference.
No one in Mariposa had ever seen anything like the caff. All down the side of it were the grill fires, with great pewter dish covers that went up and down on a chain, and you could walk along the row and actually pick out your own cutlet and then see the French marquis throw it on to the broiling iron; you could watch a buckwheat pancake whirled into existence under your eyes and see fowls’ legs devilled, peppered, grilled, and tormented till they lost all semblance of the original Mariposa chicken.
Mr. Smith, of course, was in his glory.
“What have you got to-day, Alf?” he would say, as he strolled over to the marquis. The name of the Chief was, I believe Alphonse, but “Alf” was near enough for Mr. Smith.
The marquis would extend to the proprietor the menu, “Voilà, m’sieu, la carte du jour.”
Mr. Smith, by the way, encouraged the use of the French language in the caff. He viewed it, of course, solely in its relation to the hotel business, and, I think, regarded it as a recent invention.
“It’s comin’ in all the time in the city,” he said, “and y’aint expected to understand it.”
Mr. Smith would take the carte between his finger and thumb and stare at it. It was all covered with such devices as Potage à la Mariposa – Filet Mignon à la proprietaire – Côtellete à la Smith, and so on.
But the greatest thing about the caff were the prices. Therein lay, as everybody saw at once, the hopeless simplicity of Mr. Smith.
The prices stood fast at 25 cents a meal. You could come in and eat all they had in the caff for a quarter.
“No, sir,” Mr. Smith said stoutly, “I ain’t going to try to raise no prices on the public. The hotel’s always been a quarter and the caff ’s a quarter.”
Full? Full of people?
Well, I should think so! From the time the caff opened at 11 till it closed at 8.30, you could hardly find a table. Tourists, visitors, travellers, and half the people of Mariposa crowded at the little tables; crockery rattling, glasses tinkling on trays, corks popping, the waiters in their white coats flying to and fro, Alphonse whirling the cutlets and pancakes into the air, and in and through it all, Mr. Smith, in a white flannel suit and a broad crimson sash about his waist. Crowded and gay from morning to night, and even noisy in its hilarity.
Noisy, yes; but if you wanted deep quiet and cool, if you wanted to step from the glare of a Canadian August to the deep shadow of an enchanted glade, – walk down below into the Rats’ Cooler. There you had it; dark old beams (who could believe they were put there a month ago?), great casks set on end with legends such as Amontillado Fino done in gilt on a black ground, tall steins filled with German beer soft as moss, and a German waiter noiseless as moving foam. He who entered the Rats’ Cooler at three of a summer afternoon was buried there for the day. Mr. Golgotha Gingham spent anything from four to seven hours there of every day. In his mind the place had all the quiet charm of an interment, with none of its sorrows.
But at night, when Mr. Smith and Billy, the desk clerk, opened up the cash register and figured out the combined losses of the caff and the Rats’ Cooler, Mr. Smith would say:
“Billy, just wait till I get the license renood, and I’ll close up this damn caff so tight they’ll never know what hit her. What did that lamb cost? Fifty cents a pound, was it? I figure it, Billy, that every one of them hogs eats about a dollar’s worth a grub for every twenty-five cents they pay on it. As for Alf – by gosh, I’m through with him.”
But that, of course, was only a confidential matter as between Mr. Smith and Billy.
I don’t know at what precise period it was that the idea of a petition to the License Commissioners first got about the town. No one seemed to know just who suggested it. But certain it was that public opinion began to swing strongly towards the support of Mr. Smith. I think it was perhaps on the day after the big fish dinner that Alphonse cooked for the Mariposa Canoe Club (at twenty cents a head) that the feeling began to find open expression. People said it was a shame that a man like Josh Smith should be run out of Mariposa by three license commissioners. Who were the license commissioners, anyway? Why, look at the license system they had in Sweden; yes, and in Finland and in South America. Or, for the matter of that, look at the French and Italians, who drink all day and all night. Aren’t they all right? Aren’t they a musical people? Take Napoleon, and Victor Hugo; drunk half the time, and yet look what they did.
I quote these arguments not for their own sake, but merely to indicate the changing temper of public opinion in Mariposa. Men would sit in the caff at lunch perhaps for an hour and a half and talk about the license question in general, and then go down into the Rats’ Cooler and talk about it for two hours more.
It was amazing the way the light broke in in the case of particular individuals, often the most unlikely, and quelled their opposition.
Take, for example, the editor of the Newspacket. I suppose there wasn’t a greater temperance advocate in town. Yet Alphonse queered him with an Omelette à la License in one meal.
Or take Pepperleigh himself, the judge of the Mariposa court. He was put to the bad with a game pie, – pâté normand aux fines herbes – the real thing, as good as a trip to Paris in itself. After eating it, Pepperleigh had the common sense to realize that it was sheer madness to destroy a hotel that could cook a thing like that.
In the same way, the secretary of the School Board was silenced with a stuffed duck à la Ossawippi.
Three members of the town council were converted with a Dindon farci à la Josh Smith.
And then, finally, Mr. Diston persuaded Dean Drone to come, and as soon as Mr. Smith and Alphonse saw him they landed him with a fried flounder that even the apostles would have appreciated.
After that, every one knew that the license question was practically settled. The petition was all over the town. It was printed in duplicate at the Newspacket and you could see it lying on the counter of every shop in Mariposa. Some of the people signed it twenty or thirty times.
It was the right kind of document too. It began – “Whereas in the bounty of providence the earth putteth forth her luscious fruits and her vineyards for the delight and enjoyment of mankind –” It made you thirsty just to read it. Any man who read that petition over was wild to get to the Rats’ Cooler.
When it was all signed up they had nearly three thousand names on it.
Then Nivens, the lawyer, and Mr. Gingham (as a provincial official) took it down to the county town, and by three o’clock that afternoon the news had gone out from the long distance telephone office that Smith’s license was renewed for three years.
Rejoicings! Well, I should think so! Everybody was down wanting to shake hands with Mr. Smith. They told him that he had done more to boom Mariposa than any ten men in town. Some of them said he ought to run for the town council, and others wanted to make him the Conservative candidate for the next Dominion election. The caff was a mere babel of voices, and even the Rats’ Cooler was almost floated away from its moorings.
And in the middle of it all, Mr. Smith found time to say to Billy, the desk clerk: “Take the cash registers out of the caff and the Rats’ Cooler and start counting up the books.”
And Billy said: “Will I write the letters for the palms and the tables and the stuff to go back?”
And Mr. Smith said: “Get ’em written right away.”
So all evening the laughter and the chatter and the congratulations went on, and it wasn’t till long after midnight that Mr. Smith was able to join Billy in the private room behind the “rotunda.” Even when he did, there was a quiet and a dignity about his manner that had never been there before. I think it must have been the new halo of the Conservative candidacy that already radiated from his brow. It was, I imagine, at this very moment that Mr. Smith first realised that the hotel business formed the natural and proper threshold of the national legislature.
“Here’s the account of the cash registers,” said Billy.
“Let me see it,” said Mr. Smith. And he studied the figures without a word.
“And here’s the letters about the palms, and here’s Alphonse up to yesterday –”
And then an amazing thing happened.
“Billy,” said Mr. Smith, “tear ’em up. I ain’t going to do it. It ain’t right and I won’t do it. They got me the license for to keep the caff and I’m going to keep the caff. I don’t need to close her. The bar’s good for anything from forty to a hundred a day now, with the Rats’ Cooler going good, and that caff will stay right here.”
And stay it did.
There it stands, mind you, to this day. You’ve only to step round the corner of Smith’s Hotel on the side street and read the sign: ladies’ and gent’s café, just as large and as imposing as ever.
Mr. Smith said that he’d keep the caff, and when he said a thing he meant it!
Of course there were changes, small changes.
I don’t say, mind you, that the fillet de beef that you get there now is perhaps quite up to the level of the filet de boeufs aux champignons of the days of glory.
No doubt the lamb chops in Smith’s Caff are often very much the same, nowadays, as the lamb chops of the Mariposa House or the Continental
Of course, things like Omelette aux Trufles practically died out when Alphonse went. And, naturally, the leaving of Alphonse was inevitable. No one knew just when he went, or why. But one morning he was gone. Mr. Smith said that “Alf had to go back to his folks in the old country.”
So, too, when Alf left, the use of the French language, as such, fell off tremendously in the caff. Even now they use it to some extent. You can still get fillet de beef, and saucisson au juice, but Billy the desk clerk has considerable trouble with the spelling.
The Rats’ Cooler, of course, closed down, or rather Mr. Smith closed it for repairs, and there is every likelihood that it will hardly open for three years. But the caff is there. They don’t use the grills, because there’s no need to, with the hotel kitchen so handy.
The “girl room,” I may say, was never opened. Mr. Smith promised it, it is true, for the winter, and still talks of it. But somehow there’s been a sort of feeling against it. Every one in town admits that every big hotel in the city has a “girl room” and that it must be all right. Still, there’s a certain – well, you know how sensitive opinion is in a place like Mariposa.

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Why it's on the list ...
While Mariposa is fictional location onto itself, Orillia, Ontario, long ago embraced its native literary son, and wears any resemblance between it and Leacock's Mariposa proudly. Beware of the boat cruise.
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Lesser Blessed

Lesser Blessed

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Why it's on the list ...
Van Camp has based many stories in Fort Simmer, based on his hometown of Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories.
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Crow Lake

Crow Lake

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tagged : sagas, literary
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My great-grandmother Morrison fixed a book rest to her spinning wheel so that she could read while she was spinning, or so the story goes. And one Saturday evening she became so absorbed in her book that when she looked up, she found that it was half past midnight and she had spun for half an hour on the Sabbath day. Back then, that counted as a major sin.

Im not recounting that little bit of family lore just for the sake of it. Ive come to the conclusion recently that Great-Grandmother and her book rest have a lot to answer for. Shed been dead for decades by the time the events occurred that devastated our family and put an end to our dreams, but that doesnt mean she had no influence over the final outcome. What took place between Matt and me cant be explained without reference to Great-Grandmother. Its only fair that some of the blame should be laid at her door.

There was a picture of her in my parents room while I was growing up. I used to stand in front of it, as a very small child, daring myself to meet her eyes. She was small, tight-lipped, and straight, dressed in black with a white lace collar (scrubbed ruthlessly, no doubt, every single evening and ironed before dawn each day). She looked severe, disapproving, and entirely without humor. And well she might; she had fourteen children in thirteen years and five hundred acres of barren farmland on the Gaspé Peninsula. How she found time to spin, let alone read, Ill never know.

Of the four of us, Luke, Matt, Bo, and I, Matt was the only one who resembled her at all. He was far from grim, but he had the same straight mouth and steady gray eyes. If I fidgeted in church and got a sharp glance from my mother, I would peer sideways up at Matt to see if he had noticed. And he always had, and looked severe, and then at the last possible moment, just as I was beginning to despair, he would wink.

Matt was ten years older than I, tall and serious and clever. His great passion was the ponds, a mile or two away across the railroad tracks. They were old gravel pits, abandoned years ago after the road was built, and filled by nature with all manner of marvelous wriggling creatures. When Matt first started taking me back to the ponds I was so small he had to carry me on his shoulders through the woods with their luxuriant growth of poison ivy, along the tracks, past the dusty boxcars lined up to receive their loads of sugar beets, down the steep sandy path to the ponds themselves. There we would lie on our bellies while the sun beat down on our backs, gazing into the dark water, waiting to see what we would see.

There is no image of my childhood that I carry with me more clearly than that; a boy of perhaps fifteen or sixteen, fair-haired and lanky; beside him a little girl, fairer still, her hair drawn back in braids, her thin legs burning brown in the sun. They are both lying perfectly still, chins resting on the backs of their hands. He is showing her things. Or rather, things are drifting out from under rocks and shadows and showing themselves, and he is telling her about them.

Just move your finger, Kate. Waggle it in the water. Hell come over. He cant resist.

Cautiously the little girl waggles her finger; cautiously a small snapping turtle slides over to investigate.

See? Theyre very curious when theyre young. When he gets older, though, hell be suspicious and bad-tempered.


The old snapper they had trapped out on land once had looked sleepy rather than suspicious. Hed had a wrinkled, rubbery head, and she had wanted to pat it. Matt held out a branch as thick as his thumb and the snapper chopped it in two.

Their shells are small for the size of their bodies, smaller than most turtles, so a lot of their skin is exposed. It makes them nervous.

The little girl nods, and the ends of her braids bob up and down in the water, making tiny ripples which tremble out across the surface of the pond. She is completely absorbed.

Hundreds of hours, we must have spent that way over the years. I came to know the tadpoles of the leopard frogs, the fat gray tadpoles of the bullfrogs, the tiny black wriggling ones of toads. I knew the turtles and the catfish, the water striders and the newts, the whirligigs spinning hysterically over the surface of the water. Hundreds of hours, while the seasons changed and the pond life died and renewed itself many times, and I grew too big to ride on Matts shoulders and instead picked my way through the woods behind him. I was unaware of these changes of course, they happened so gradually, and children have very little concept of time. Tomorrow is forever, and years pass in no time at all.

When the end came, it seemed to do so completely out of the blue, and it wasnt until long afterward that I was able to see that there was a chain of events leading up to it. Some of those events had nothing to do with us, the Morrisons, but were solely the concern of the Pyes, who lived on a farm about a mile away and were our nearest neighbors. The Pyes were what youd call a problem family, always had been, always would be, but that year, within the privacy of their big old gray-painted farmhouse, offstage as far as the rest of the community was concerned, their problems were developing into a full-scale nightmare. The other thing we didnt know was that the Pye nightmare was destined to become entangled with the Morrison dream. Nobody could have predicted that.

Theres no end to how far back you can go, of course, when youre trying to figure out where something started. The search can take you back to Adam and beyond. But for our family there was an event that summer catastrophic enough to be the start of practically anything. It took place on a hot, still Saturday in July when I was seven years old, and brought normal family life to an end; even now, almost twenty years later, I find it hard to get any sort of perspective on it.

The only positive thing you can say about it is that at least everything ended on a high note, because the previous day, our last day together as a family, my parents had learned that Luke, my other brother, other than Matt, had passed his senior matriculation and won a place at teachers college. Lukes success was something of a surprise because, to put it mildly, he was not a scholar. I remember reading somewhere a theory to the effect that each member of a family has a role, ”the clever one, the pretty one, the selfish one. Once youve been established in the role for a while, youre stuck with it, no matter what you do, people will still see you as whatever-it-was, but in the early stages, according to the theory, you have some choice as to what your role will be. If thats the case, then early on in life Luke must have decided that what he really wanted to be was the problem one. I dont know what influenced his choice, but its possible that hed heard the story of Great-Grandmother and her famous book rest once too often. That story must have been the bane of Lukes life. Or one of the banes, the other would have been having Matt as a brother. Matt was so obviously Great-Grandmothers true intellectual heir that there was no point in Luke even trying. Better, then, to find what he was naturally good at, raising our parents blood pressure, say, and practice, practice, practice.

But somehow, in spite of himself, here he was at the age of nineteen having passed his exams. After three generations of striving, a member of the Morrison family was about to go on to higher education.

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Why it's on the list ...
From Mary Lawson's website: "The precise setting of the novel – the fictional community of Crow Lake, in Northern Ontario – came about through a combination of nostalgia and laziness on my part. Northern Ontario, with its lakes and rocks and forests, is the landscape I think of when I think of home, and I placed the story there purely for the pleasure of revisiting it in my mind. I decided that Kate Morrison, the central character and narrator of the story, would grow up in a small farming community because (here’s where the laziness comes in) I grew up in one, and I hate doing research, and that meant I didn’t have to do any."
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Cool Water

Cool Water

also available: eBook Hardcover
tagged : literary
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Why it's on the list ...
Warren's Governor General's Award winning novel was published in the US under the title of the town in which it's set, the fictional Juliet, Saskatchewan.
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