I loved having a Canadian family growing up. My dad was born on a farm in Brigden, Ontario, the third of seventeen children of a Scottish mother and English/Scotch father. Dad quit school after 8th grade to go to work and help the family. He eventually landed a union job at Chrysler in Detroit and became an American citizen. My grandparents later retired to a house on Lake Erie, where my family often spent weekends. We used an outhouse and as kids, my brother and I found that was fun. In fact, my mother’s Slovak parents had a farm upstate near Vassar that had an outhouse, too!
In June, I finally traveled back to the Bear Creek Cemetery to visit the grave of my parents and my dad’s parents – along with other relatives. I used to travel there with my brothers when I first returned from New York. We always took the ferry from Marine City across Lake St. Clair, then traveled along the river on the Canadian side to Brigden. It has been several years since my older brother Gil died and I stopped the trips.
This year I went with my friend Bob and we had to take a longer trip to the Blue Water Bridge that links Port Huron and Sarnia, since the ferry has been discontinued. The adventure seemed gone. The ferry never had long lines, although you might need to wait 20 minutes for it to return from the other shore. Once on the way, you were allowed to get out of the car briefly. It was fun to enjoy the breeze and look for other ships further up the river.
After driving off the ferry, we rode up a highway north along the river, sometimes pulling over when we saw a huge ship coming in order to take photos. Eventually we had to turn away from the river and drive inwards to Brigden, passing a museum that included a wing named in honor of the Shaw family. My grandmother was born Mary Alice Shaw and was close to her brother Francis Shaw, who became a successful communications entrepreneur.
My stay at the Bear Creek Cemetery was brief this year, just long enough to honor my parents and grandparents – and also to walk around to view some of the other Shaw gravestones. I still have many cousins in the Sarnia area and we have promised to stay in touch, even though it could mean long waits now in line to cross back and forth across the bridge.
The series “The Gilmore Girls” was recently revived on Netflex – and GIs were interviewed on the national news saying the series represented the kind of small town life they felt represented the best of America. I recently drove to Brigden, Ontario Canada with my brother Bill for a family funeral – a town that in my memory felt like Stars Hollow. (And yes, my mother’s Slovak parents had a farm near Vassar, Michigan that was also a small town haven, but that’s another blog!) My Aunt Mary Jane passed away at 93 in a London, Ont. long term care home and was my late father’s youngest sister – only one more older sister survives now in Florida.
Brigden is less than a two hour drive from the northern Detroit suburbs, with the option to take the Bluewater ferry at Marine City or drive farther north to the Bluewater Bridge at Sarnia. We lucked out and got to the ferry right before it left, then drove up the region’s pastoral roads. Continue reading