Since the last days of the twentieth century, nothing has been heard from...
...beyond 30ºW...until now
My past experience of Canada has been brief to say the least. Back in 1989 on my third trip to the U.S., I had tried to see as much of it as possible in one go. During a five-week trip that began with the ECOF gathering in California, I toured Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Kentucky, Maryland and New York. I had seen the Grand Canyon by air and by foot and then I wanted to see the famous Niagara Falls. So I journeyed briefly into Canada for a few short hours and then returned to the U.S. for my flight home.
My next experience of Canada was almost as brief for in 1991, Elaine Casella and I were making our way to the ECOF gathering in Williamston, Michigan and we decided that the shortest route was via Buffalo to Fort Huron. But construction forced our hand and we ended up in Detroit.
Now I would get a third chance and this time I wanted to see just a little more than the passing view from a car window. Elaine too was of the same mind and together we agreed to travel a few days early to see some of the attractions that Toronto had to offer.
On a warm, sunny morning, the taxi took me to Gatwick Airport - a drive of about 25 miles south from where I live. The check-in area was very congested with so many airlines to choose from at England's second largest airport. But once I had got to the U.S. Airlines desk and moved to the departure lounge, the surroundings became much more comfortable. I was disappointed to find that the airline still chose to charge for use of the earphones when so many have given up that practice years before, but as their choice of films and TV shows was limited, the entertainment centre was easy to ignore.
There were long lines at the customs desk, but having cleared that, transferred my luggage for my connecting flight, I took the long walk from Terminal A to F (with a little help from a bus part of the way). I boarded a small commuter jet plane that took me on the 35-minute flight to Binghamton, NY. It was cloudy for most of the journey but once we had dipped below their ceiling for our final approach, I was able to make out some very familiar landmarks.
The last time I had flown to Binghamton via Philadelphia, my luggage arrived several hours after I had done, so I was more than happy to see my bags appear on the carousel this time. There was no immediate sign of Elaine so I decided to wait outside the building for her arrival. But I didn't have long to wait as just as no sooner had I sat down; she pulled up beside me in her blue Toyota. Elaine had been held up for some reason but had seen a plane flying overhead as she drove to the airport and had wondered then if it was my flight.
The next couple of days were a mixture of work, rest, and meeting Elaine's family. Her sister Anita had brought new life into the back garden with flowerbeds, a pond, bird feeding areas and garden ornaments. After breakfast I had found Anita working on an area by the pool that needed the soil turning over. Always one to lend a helping hand, I lifted the pickaxe and began to attack the ground. The blisters came soon enough, one of which burst, but not before the majority of the work had been done. Next we drove to see her mother and stepfather. Elaine's mother was slowly recovering from replacement knee surgery two weeks earlier and still required the use of a walker, but was in good spirits as the healing process was progressing well. Shortly after our arrival, her stepfather invited us to join him in walking their dog. It may have only been a 4-mile walk, but over hill and down dale over rough ground, we soon knew who had had the real exercise.
I also took the opportunity to buy the new Disney Tarzan II film on DVD. This has not yet been made available in England, as has been the case with many of Disney's direct-to-video productions, often making their appearance on our shelves many months later.
After loading up the car with my two suitcases (one filled entirely with books for Bill Ross) and Elaine's one case we set off for Toronto. Our journey took us via Syracuse to Buffalo. Somewhere close by was the Niagara Falls that we figured we would stop at on our return journey. The border custom's post was no problem wanting only to stamp my passport and taking Elaine's word that she was an American, not even bothering to see any ID that she was carrying. Unfortunately we took a wrong exit shortly after crossing the border which delayed us for a while, but eventually we found our way to Unionville and the Howard Johnson hotel where several other attendees had decided to stay. We were later to discover that Bill Ross was not so lucky as he was prevented from crossing the border carrying the books that he had brought for Jerry Spannraft and had to leave them in a lock-up during his time in Canada.
Shortly after breakfast, Fred and Wanda Lukas met us in the hotel lobby and it was decided that we would follow them back to their apartment to see Fred's collection. I first met Fred at the ECOF event in Louisville 1985 and our paths have criss-crossed ever since. The walls of their living area is adorned with wonderful artwork based on ERB's characters with Tarzan featuring strongly in most of them. One of the bedrooms had been taken over by Fred's collection with yet more art on the walls by a variety of well-known artists. His collection of German editions also contains many drawings that he has had commissioned over the years. One very unusual aspect of Fred's collection is a number of pencils hung on the wall, all once owned by various artists. But it was in the bedroom that I had the biggest surprise when I saw the model treehouse that Fred had built many years before. I suddenly recalled seeing a photo of this very same model that appeared in either Erbania or Erbdom but I never thought that one day I would see it for real. A true labour of love that must have been painstakingly put together was wonderful to see.
One of the other delights to see was the original artwork done by Roy Krenkel that was the logo for Erbdom. I believe Caz had given it to John Flint Roy (who also happened to be the uncle of our host, Doug Denby). Fred had purchased it from Doug and now proudly adorns his bookroom wall.
Wanda had been busy in the kitchen preparing lunch when Fred showed us a series of knives that he had carved. These he intended to give to each of the convention attendees and as Elaine and myself were the first arrivals, we had the pick if the crop. A short time later Fred's daughter Jennifer arrived and was prepared to give us a tour of the city.
Some months earlier, I had seen on TV the English edition of the Antiques Roadshow that was doing a one-off special having been filmed at a medieval castle known as the Casa Loma built in the centre of Toronto. It was the result of life-long dream by Sir Henry Mill Pellat, a prominent financier and military man, to build a castle on a hill that overlooked the city. Work had begun in 1911 taking 300 men, nearly 3 years to build at the cost of $3.5 million. Sir Henry and his wife Lady Mary had less than 10 years to enjoy the castle before financial misfortune forced him to abandon his home. For a number of years, the castle's future looked bleak with some calling for it to be demolished, but it was eventually bought by the City of Toronto and operated by the Kiwanis Club as a tourist attraction in 1937.
So Fred drove us down to the castle and with Jennifer acting as our guide, we toured this wonderful place of romantic fulfilment. Actually we were each given a recording device that responded to certain numbers tapped in that corresponded with each room and gave us a full account.
Following our tour of the castle, we caught the subway down to Union Station situated close to the lake. We passed by the eye-catching spire that is the CN tower with its revolving restaurant near the top and down to the waterfront to a nearby restaurant to eat. Replenished, we then took a stroll down by the waterfront as boats of all shapes and sizes carved through the waters of Lake Ontario.
Jennifer then left us as we took the subway back up to Finch Station where we called Fred to pick us up. By the time we reached our hotel, the days exercise was enough to ensure a sound night's sleep.
The next day we set off for the African Lion Safari, one of the earliest known parks that provides an environment where endangered species can roam in a habitat close their natural setting. Opened in 1969, it is located about one and half hours drive south west of Toronto and clearly signposted along the way except at the final turning that is obscured by overhanging branches. However, we found our way into the park just in time to see the elephants take their twice-daily bath. The elephants, as Elaine was quick to point out, were Asian not African (that can be far more dangerous), wallowed in the cool waters as the sun began to beat down.
Next we took the tour bus through the animal enclosure. We could have driven through ourselves but were warned that some of the animals, in particular the baboons, may cause damage to the vehicle. It was a sensible suggestion especially how we saw several cars and also our bus, become a playground for the primates in their search for food. Despite the many signs that visitors should not attempt to feed the animals, many chose to ignore the direction, and possibly causing irrecoverable damage to these endangered wildlife.
After lunch we took in a display at the Birds of Prey conservation centre where much to Elaine's delight, a hawk swooped close to her head. This was followed by a visit to the elephant's enclosure where they were put through their paces showing off their strengths and characteristics. A quick check on our watch showed that if we were to make the early arrival meeting at Jean and Doug Denby's home on time, we would have to make a start back. Unfortunately the traffic proved to be so heavy on our return journey that for the last few miles we were almost at a standstill for much of the time. However we finally made it to their home and found that almost everyone that was coming to the convention had already arrived.
With a barbecue already in full swing, we greeted everyone, most of whom I had not seen for at least two years having not attended an ERB convention during 2004. After everyone had had their fill, Doug brought out a pile of folders, one for each of us. Prior to the convention, Doug had set about making a list of all the convention buttons that had been made. Together with all of the pins produced by Disney and the accompanying merchandise, the list began to grow rapidly. With more than a little help by members of the two ERB list servers, images of buttons from past and present began to flood in. The resulting catalogue now holds more than 550 images of buttons and pins that will be a source of reference for years to come. It was not long before Doug invited us to see his collection that is situated over the garage. Obviously doubling as a games room with a full size pool table in the middle, couches to one side and office at the rear, his bookroom was full of wonderful treasures. Not least were the many maps that were pinned to the sloping roof that were originally drawn (or designed) by the late John Roy. These had come into Doug's possession after his uncle's passing when he was asked to help clear the estate. But the tour did not stop there as Doug led us into the basement below the house. The basement area had been extended just a few short years before to create their very own movie room, complete with projector and screen. It was just as well the extension was undertaken as it revealed previous work had left the house seriously exposed to structural collapse.
Back at the hotel, Mike Conran began to hand out the long awaited latest issue of ERB News Dateline.
As part of the package contained within the folder Doug had handed out the day before, were directions to the home of Joe Lukes who lives some 80 miles east of Toronto. We first convened in Jean and Doug's garden for last minute directions and then set off in a convoy of cars. However, the convoy soon broke up at the first set of lights with Jerry Spannraft in his custom van, with Elaine DJ Huck and myself in the second car close behind. Jerry likes to put his foot down and was doing around 120kph (80mph) that perturbed Elaine slightly as I kept pace. Actually the instruction I got was that if Jerry wanted to do 100mph, there was no need for me to follow suit. Fortunately that battle of wills was never tested.
Upon our arrival at the Lukes home, we were whisked to the rear of the house where Joe keeps his collection. But it was not his ERB collection that first caught our eye but his gun collection that range from semi-automatic machine guns to muskets. All of the guns were safely locked up, their firing pins removed and locked in another location as well as all of the ammunition in a third place. By keeping such a collection, Joe has waived his rights and the police can enter his home at any time. Joe also has an extensive book collection of both World Wars and several western writers.
The majority of his collection however is Edgar Rice Burroughs and in pristine condition. A common phrase used by fans when viewing another's collection is that someone always has something that no one else does. This was certainly true as I toured the bookroom and discovered bound editions of Penny Magazine (a 1922 British magazine that published The King and the Woman, better known as The Mad King in eleven parts). Also on his shelf was a bound copy of Happy magazine that contained part of a 9-installment serialised version of Tarzan and the Golden Lion that ran from August 1923 until April 1924 in Great Britain. Equally rare was one issue of Sovereign magazine dated April 1920 again published in England and contained the second of a six-part serialisation from Tarzan the Untamed. So unusual are these magazines that when I later mentioned them to Frank Westwood, editor of the British ERB Society's journal, he was completely unaware of their existence.
Several large pizzas were ordered with a variety of toppings and everyone adjourned to the rear deck for lunch. However it was not long before ERB once again became the topic of conversation and it was back to the bookroom finding more treasures in Joe's collection.
As we bade farewell to Joe, we replaced Huck in the car with Brad Vinson and set off. Unfortunately I made the mistake of turning off the highway at Brock Street instead of Brock Road (several miles too early as it turned out) but it made for a more pleasant drive back to our hotel along the back roads.
After a quick change of clothing, Elaine, DJ and myself set off for downtown Toronto to take in an evening at a Medieval Times tournament. Guests are assigned a knight to cheer on and we were designated the Green Knight. Elaine and DJ, both horse riders in days gone by, certainly enjoyed the early part of the evening as the horses were put through a display of dressage moves that are supposed to mimic their movement in battle. In typical medieval style, the only cutlery implements were our own fingers - although the soup did take a while, the bread, chicken and spare rib were finger licking delicious. A jousting tournament was then held to win the fair hand of the King's daughter. But treachery was at hand and after the green knight had won the day, one of the King's own advisors played his hand and civil war broke out. Good triumphed over evil and the treacherous knight was banished from the kingdom.
A short time after our return to the hotel, Bill Ross and Mike Conran arrived from their own excursion. They had been book hunting in downtown Toronto and discovered one store that happened to still be open purely because the proprietor was working late. It was fortuitous for them as Mike came away with several British ERB paperbacks in practically mint condition.
The weekend had arrived and the final full day of this ECOF gathering. Even without this knowledge we could tell it was Saturday simply by the number of people at the hotel restaurant that morning. Breakfast took forever but finally we set off towards the centre of Unionville. Just beyond the railway tracks and across the road from the Denby home, is an old railway building now used for a variety of town functions. Doug had hired the building for the day to be used as a huckster room where a wide variety of Burroughs related material was laid across the tables. Jim Thompson brought along his Jetan chess set and began teaching the game to the uninitiated. Wanda Lukas put on display for the first time two portfolios of the late Gray Morrow that brought home the sad reality that this talented artist is no longer with us.
The railway building or at least the outside and surrounding location also appears to be a favourite spot for wedding photographs as 3 or 4 different parties turned up to capture their event on film. Shortly after noon, it was suggested that we walk into the village where a number of pubs served a cooked lunch and cold beer for those that were feeling the effects of the mid-day sun. A little piece of England still survives even in the part of the Commonwealth as they served Fish and Chips and also Bangers and Mash (sausages and mashed potato). Outside yet another wedding had taken place only this time the groom was obviously a member of the local fire department as the fire truck was used as a prop for many photographs.
Doug then offered use of his movie room to screen Disney's latest Tarzan adventure. As it would be a few more days before I would get home to see the DVD, I was one of several who took him up on his offer. Unfortunately we did not get to see the whole film as Fred Lukas had arrived with his home movies that he intended to show inside the railway building. But there was a problem with that and therefore Tarzan II made way for a candid look at Fred meeting some of the actors that have portrayed the ape man in days gone by. I believe I saw some of these movies at an early gathering in Louisville but that did not distract the enjoyment we had seeing such wonderful people as Denny Miller, Johnny Weissmuller, Jock Mahoney and Miles O'Keeffe.
We were then called upstairs for dinner in the garden where Doug had arranged caterers to arrive and we could eat in the comfort of the summer evening. Tarzan himself may have looked on in horror at the cooked meat, but the steaks were done to perfection and everyone had more than their fill.
There was then a call for group photos before an unofficial Board meeting of the Burroughs Bibliophiles took place in Doug's bookroom. This carried on until around 11:00pm after much discussion that included an urgent update was required of the BB website. Some final farewells were made that night before we retired to the hotel. Elaine and Bob Hyde then joined Bill, Mike and myself for a little late night conversation before yawning heads decided it was time to call it a day.
Bill and Mike left early the following morning as Jerry Spannraft needed to go the long way around back to Chicago via Buffalo in order to pick up the books Bill had in storage for him. The farewell breakfast at the Pickle Barrel in Unionville was a small affair as most people had left for their long journey home. All too soon another convention had come to an end and Elaine and I said our goodbyes and headed south.
The traffic was very light until we came within a few miles of the border when it picked up considerably. The customs official either appeared confused that I was travelling into the United States just to fly back to England, or was trying to trip me over my story. Either way, she let us through after checking my passport and we continued on our journey. We had initially intended to see the Niagara Falls but as we had both seen them before, we felt that we should spend our time taking the scenic route and seeing some of the other natural beauty spots down by the Finger Lakes. By early evening we arrived back in Binghamton tired after the long journey.
My flight home the next day should have been a simple affair but for the fact an electrical storm over Philadelphia prevented the plane taking off. We had waited at the end of the runway for clearance that never came. By the time the pilot taxied back to the departure gate, I had missed my connecting flight back to London and had to reschedule for the next day. Elaine had already left the airport and I had to make a few calls to track her down so that I could have someplace to sleep that night.
Eventually I did make it to Philadelphia but the bad weather forced a 2 hour delay before finally the last leg of my journey was underway.
It had been 11 days well spent participating in a very enjoyable Edgar Rice Burroughs convention, seeing old friends, making new ones and doing other activities too that could be seen as ERB orientated with a visit to a castle, watching knights in armour joust, and an African safari to cap it off.
When I was nearing completion of my coverage for the convention, I sent Doug Denby a note to ask for a little more information about the wonderful old railway station that we had used during the event. A few hours later he replied in such a way, that I just have to share with you what he had to say in full…In the 1870s the railroad companies in Ontario began running north from the ports on Lake Ontario to the resource rich areas to the north. Mainly wood and minerals. They did not at the time have the legal right to force the sale of property for their use but with the price of rural land, farmers were easy to deal with. Small villages, towns and other entities quickly realised that having a station in town would quickly make the community an economic magnet. The railroad set a standard price of $20 000 for a station and the communities fought each other to pay this premium and grant land easements through or near the community. The Township of Markham quickly paid the fee and arranged the for the train to go through just north of the Village of Markham, 3 miles to the east of Unionville. However, a major politician, and owner of the Unionville Grist Mill fought a political battle against this decision. In the end, in 1872, the railroad, with the encouragement of another $30 000 passed through Unionville and Markham villages. Unionville, as the true center of the Township, quickly captured much of the trade. A planing mill was built right beside the tracks east of the station (on the other side of the tracks to our house). Our house was built at this time as were several other buildings in the business and residential sections.
The train station itself was a standard design. A room for baggage, a room for passengers and the center for the stationmaster's office. The baggage room was where we set up the huckster room. The stationmaster's office has been converted into the washrooms and kitchen.
Shortly after 1900, an elevator system, dubbed Stiver's Mill, was developed just to the west of the station. Over time as the use of the train evolved, the passenger traffic increased. The wheat got eclipsed by coal and then oil and then after World War II slowly declined to almost nothing by 1970.
When we moved in to our house in 1973, there was only a single train, one a week and it didn't stop in Unionville. About this time, historic buildings, having been wiped out in many communities, became worthy of preservation. Unionville, a dying town, rode the crest of this movement. By the mid 1980s, a bypass around the town had been built thus preserving the old village. The train station was bought by the Town of Markham (including the villages of Unionville and Markham and several smaller hamlets), a new municipality created by the province in 1969. The grist mill had burned down in 1935 but the pond and dam were also purchased by the Town and efforts to preserve and enhance the community began to be visible by the mid 1980s.
The subdivision and bedroom communities were rapidly growing. The commuter train started operation and the station was renovated and used as a ticket and station. By 2000, the number of trains and commuters had evolved to too large of numbers and a larger train station with enormous parking lot was built a mile or south of the village (Huck arrived at that station on Thursday evening). The Unionville station, then began to be rented out as a community hall about that time. Thus we got it for our event.
Probably a lot more information than you wanted. But you asked. So there it is! ~ Doug Denby
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