Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tales Of A Road East And Cheers! Dalton Camp

FREDERICTON – Finally, Fredericton. After miles and miles –okay, kilometers and kilometers – of highway driving in the pounding rain, The Caravan Unlocked has arrived here at the home of our colleague Lori Wheeler, husband Jeff Williams and her two Shih Tzus.

The drive from Ottawa was hard.

Sheets of rain, Montreal at rush hour, a stop on the road for what absolutely had to be one of the worst meals of the trip so far (a motel restaurant that offered fondue chinois – thin slices of beef dipped in a boiling vat of salt, essentially, with crudités and gluggy curried mayonnaise – I thought it would be healthy) and crossing from Quebec City to the other side of the St. Lawrence in the dark, to the hypnotic staccato beat of the windshield wipers, and on to the hypnotic Highway 20 Est, inky in the rain.

Music got us through. We got a copy of k.d.lang's Hymns of the 49th Parallel. And hearing her sing Helpless as we got sloshed by an eighteen-wheeler passing us was perfect.

We listened to the Doobie Brothers getting out of Quebec City and Kathleen Edwards' Back to Me CD on our way into Montmagny. We camped there for the night and headed for Rivière-du-Loup in the morning...the turn you make away from Quebec to head for Edmundston, New Brunswick. The Caravan pulled off Highway 20 Est in favour of the far more scenic Highway 132. Beautiful old manoir houses with the traditional sloping mansard roofs. Big brick barns. The cathedral spires piercing the sky. And sunshine.

We listened to the music of the talented young Québecoise artist, cellist and composer Jorane. And as we headed into New Brunswick, we got out Stevie Wonder's Greatest Hits, including his early stuff when he was known as Little Steveland Morris. He's always been a genius in my books.

We stop for a swim in the Saint John River...yes, it's September 27th. But Sue and I have never encountered a body of water on this trip that we could resist. And so plunged we into what turned out to be fairly warm water. If you are a whale. And for me, with my perma blubber, it felt fine. Sue is more stoical by nature. We both enjoyed it. And then drove to Fredericton.

As we were driving, I had a brainwave. I wanted to go to Dalton's bar in Fredericton...Dalton being Dalton Camp, the Tory strategist, the journalist and the C in KCL (Kierans, Camp and Lewis) on Morningside.

Dalton died three years ago. He was a good friend. My relationship with him was mostly over the phone. For instance, when Pierre Trudeau died, I called him and asked what he thought I should bear in mind the next morning on the air. He said, "Just remember: it wasn't all good."

We had some great conversations about politics, softwood lumber and friends from the past. But geography prevented me from ever having a drink with him at his watering hole. So, I had to find it.

First, we went to the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel. We found a server named Anne who knew him. And when I asked him where he used to drink she said, "Wherever he wanted. If the Governor's Room (the private, darker room off the restaurant) was closed, we would open it for him. Same with the patio. But this wasn't his bar."

Anne directed us to the Delta...the old Sheraton. We walked in to the spacious, contemporary lobby. It just didn't look like Dalton. Then we heard some raucous laughter. And turned towards the sound. It was D.J. Purdy's Bar. Old dark green leather chairs. Wood panelling. Low lighting. Much more like it.

I went up to the bartender and asked where Dalton Camp used to sit. He knew and directed us to the back of the bar, just in front of the bookcase, "Camp's Corner" it's called.

We ordered whatever he used to drink. And there before us were the biggest, Jeezes martinis I have ever seen...three ounces of Beefeater Gin, a drop of vermouth, and five olives, all served over ice in a highball glass with a spoon. The spoon is for fishing out the olives and stopping the ice from spilling all over your front.

We vowed to finish them. And somehow the world got a bit nicer for an hour or so. Jokes were funnier. I knew I was funnier. Wasn't I, Sue? And more profound, too, right?

Then I felt a real pang sitting in Dalton's seat, having a "Dalton" and imagining the conversations he used to have.

There is a framed poem that hangs in "Camp's Corner" with a picture of Dalton right beside it. I read it as I drank my Dalton. The poem goes:


Welcome friend, this is the place
that Dalton Camp once used to grace

With cheerful greeting, twinkling eyes,
a man both eloquent and wise.

He told of struggles fought and won,
always with a sense of fun.

And loved to listen when among
acquaintances both old and young.

He helped students on thier way,
enouraged them to have their say

Advice and wisdom freely shared,
He was a man who clearly cared.

Upon our lives he left his stamp.
We sorely miss you, Dalton Camp.



Lovely, isn't it? And a fitting tribute from his friends at D.J. Purdy's Bar.

I have had thoughts of Dalton Camp, Urjo Kareda (longtime artistic director of the Tarragon Theatre and opera critic extraordinaire) and, of course, Peter Gzowski many times over the past six weeks. I think I know what they would be thinking about this lockout mess. And how they would understand just how much is at stake the longer it goes on.

So, here's to absent friends.

– Shelagh

We encourage you to use the blog comment feature below to pass on your thoughts and/or you can write Shelagh while she’s on the road at: shelaghscaravan@yahoo.ca

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