The distance to the US border from the island of Montreal could be covered in just over and hour, so I asked Anil to indulge me in a little side trip to visit the grave of my beloved Aunt Rita and Uncle Fred in Hudson, Quebec. Rita was the only sister of my father and there are many photos of David and I with her whenever my mother made the long trip from Alberta to visit our French Canadian relatives. She felt quite strongly, that if we were to bear the name of our father’s family, we should know them well. I have often heard that it was not in the nature of Easterners to travel west, and indeed, the first member of my father to come to Alberta was my Uncle Art and his wife Doris to attend my wedding to Anil in May 1974.
Actually, this is a fact I long held to be true until just this moment. The real truth is that my father came to Alberta while serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, for training at the Lancaster Air Base just north of Edmonton. It was while he was there that my mother was encouraged to attend a dance at the base, by her good friend Julie. The rest, so they say, is history.
The second Lalonde family member to come west was Aunt Rita herself. She met and married a Saskatchewan native, Mike Dewores. Her daughter Dianne was born in Kirkland Lake and then Rita and her daughter followed Mike to Saskatchewan to the home of his Ukrainian parents. Unfortunately, the marriage failed and my father arrived to take Rita and baby Dianne to Edmonton for a short time before she returned to Kirkland Lake to live with her mother once again. It was during this period that my mother formed a very strong bond with my Aunt Rita that would last till my mother’s death in 1977.
When I was finished my first year of studies at the University of Alberta, I was keen to spend the summer in Montreal with my aunt with hopes of learning to speak French. I had taken French as a second language in high school, but my teacher was Irish and her pronunciation was terrible. My Aunt agreed to have me stay the summer with her and her second husband, Fred Burbridge. They lived in a comfortable bungalow on Rue St. Louis in Dorval, a suburb of Montreal. I got a job working in the bakery at a Dominion grocery store and enjoyed every minute of my stay there. Most of the residents of Dorval speak English and as a result my French didn’t improve a great deal, but it was my first adventure living away from home and I fell in love with the city.
I came back several times over the years and even visited with Uncle Fred and Aunt Rita in Rawdon, where they lived on a golf course after they retired. Anil and I were able to make a visit to see Aunt Rita in 2004 shortly after she celebrated her 80th birthday. By this time Uncle Fred had passed away and she had moved into a senior’s residence in North Bay, to be near Uncle Art and Aunt Doris. Uncle Art was the most loving of brothers and took great care of his dear sister until her death in February 2005. I wanted to visit the home where I spent the summer with her and Uncle Fred and also to pay my respects at their grave. Uncle Art gave me a Google map with directions to the cemetery and instructions as to where to locate the headstone.
We found Hudson easily with the help of the map and the grave with Art’s exacting directions. It was then I learned that Uncle Fred had been buried in the same location as his parents, and that Aunt Rita I asked to join him there too. The town of Hudson is small and quaint, situated along the Ottawa River just west of the island of Montreal. We spent a little time there, remembering our visit to Rawdon with Adia and Rajan. Uncle Fred had taken the children for a ride in his golf cart and had even let nine-year-old Raj drive. He was thrilled beyond words. Fred and Rita were in their element in Rawdon, living on a golf course and playing each and everyday with friends. Following the gesture I had seen at the cemetery in Swastika, I left a golf ball perched on a tee beside their grave when we left.
We stopped in Hudson for lunch at a lovely outdoor café, just to linger a little longer, and had a bowl of delicious French onion soup. It was a fitting meal for our last afternoon in Quebec.
Our route to the US border took us back onto the island of Montreal, and instead of staying on the freeway, we detoured along the southern side of the island through the towns of Sainte Anne de Bellevue, Baie d’Urfe, Point Claire and Dorval. We stopped in Baie d’Urfe to visit the monument that was erected by the Lalonde ‘clan’ to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the death of our ancestor, Jean de Lalonde in 1687. He had arrived in Canada in 1665 and apparently there are over 40,000 Lalonde’s who claim to be his direct descendents.
After visiting the memorial, we carried on to Dorval and stopped at the house at 270 St. Louis where I spent the summer of 1969. You might recall that this was quite a momentous year. I vividly remember watching the ‘Walk On The Moon’ and also hearing of the Woodstock Music Festival in neighbouring upstate New York. Who’s to say that if I had known about the festival, I might have been there myself? As we have plans to tour the Adirondack and Catskill mountains, perhaps I can visit the site of Woodstock almost forty years later.
As we left Canada we began to see evidence of the arrival of autumn. The weather had been unseasonably warm and the leaves were just beginning to change colour. We arrived at the US border in no time, the traffic was light in the middle of the afternoon and we were almost the only people crossing at that time. I had worried about a long line up but the border guard asked us only cursory questions before allowing us to proceed. She did ask us why we had so many stamps from so many different countries in our passports and we explained our retirement lifestyle. She told us she envied us our freedom and ushered us on our way.