There are various spots in this country that were crafted in heaven. One is the Gulf Islands, warmed by the Japanese current, between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Another is Chester, the pastel sailing retreat down the Atlantic coast from Halifax. A third is the Eastern Townships, the rolling-hills retreat along Quebec’s Vermont border. Toronto’s Anglo establishment drives up to four hours to find solitude in Muskoka cottages. Montreal’s Anglo establishment finds the same bliss just 90 minutes outside Montreal. For such people, the Quebec election was the death of a dream.
We are in Lennoxville, situated on the mighty Massawippi River. It is the 25th anniversary of the class of 1964 at Bishop’s University, the survivors never having gathered before to examine sagging jowls and choice of mates. It is Homecoming Weekend and therefore a suitable occasion to collect those from a quarter-century ago who are brave enough to show off their bald spots and their divorce papers.
Bishop’s is everything that Jacques Parizeau hates. It was founded in 1843, being older than the country. It is like a small Ivy League college, on a farm-like setting of 550 acres, still with only 1,600 students. There is a faculty member for every 16 students. Most everyone lives on the campus or is within walking distance of it. Unlike the sausage factories that pass for universities in Toronto and Vancouver and elsewhere, there is the sense here that one can detect individuals, real live personalities, rather than computer numbers and useful tuition cheques.
There is, of course, the Homecoming football game against Montreal’s Concordia assassins. The local heroes collapse in the fourth quarter, but hardly anyone notices. It is pouring rain. The Bishop’s students stand, or stagger, in the open stands—dressed, as all privileged children do these days, as layabouts and refugees from a remnants sale. The colors of Bishop’s are violet and white. Most inmates are in baggy and torn violet coveralls. One has the impression of be-
ing at a convention of janitors.
Their faces are painted, like jungle warriors on the warpath, in polka-dots and school colors. One imaginative chap is the Phantom of the Opera in violet and white. Safe from the drizzle, the Class of ’64 is under a marquee, imbibing beer and box lunches, the ladies with lowered eyelids trying to visualize who will be wearing what at the big dinner—do we do casual elegance or drop-dead cleavage?
The grads have kick-started their reminiscences with a picnic at a certain tee on the golf course that adjoins the campus. The spot was chosen because, in their day, it had a special name. It was known as Wino Hill.
The dinner is at the weekend pit stop for the grads, Hovey Manor in North Hatley. The village, on mighty Lake Massawippi, is now a retreat for such as Mordecai Richler and has an interesting genesis. Most of the early settlers were United Empire Loyalists who left New
England in disgust after the American Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Its peculiar architecture comes from even farther south, since its first summer people were aristocrats and large landowners from south of the Mason-Dixon Line. After the Civil War ended in 1865, the toffs from the Deep South could not countenance New England’s “Yankeeland” as their respite from summer heat and headed even farther north into Canada, often in private railway cars. (Some drew their blinds when passing through New England.)
Thus was born North Hatley. The American visitors brought their black servants and butlers with them, along with the gentlemanly sports of tennis, golf and sailing. The most splendid of the summer mansions was built in 1900 by Henry Atkinson, owner of Georgia Power in Atlanta. With its broad verandas, white pillars and dark shutters, it was patterned after George Washington’s home in Mount Vernon in Virginia, across the Potomac from Washington.
The 35 bedrooms tucked into Atkinson’s summer cottage, stables, servants’ quarters, icehouse and caretaker’s residence is now Hovey Manor, the nostalgia hideaway for the grads in the joys of middle age. It is named after Captain Ebenezer Hovey, a United Empire Loyalist from Connecticut, the first settler in Hatley and credited with being the discoverer of mighty Lake Massawippi. The bedrooms have four-posters and fireplaces.
The damsel who wins the z “best-preserved” assess2 ment from her sisters is tall £ and black-haired and lives in 2 Victoria. The gracious innkeeper is of the ’64 vintage. There is the Candice Bergen lookalike who lives in Florence and dodges shrapnel in Beirut. The ladies of 1964 who opted for children question her closely and wonder if they’ve gone wrong.
The nostalgic gang is especially nostalgic over the appearance of their old principal, who is now 76 and has the sharpest mind of any of the speakers. It gives some contemplation to the 47-year-olds who think they are into early Alzheimer’s. Most of all, successful in their fields, they see a changing Quebec that is not crazy for an elite private university for WASPs who still have their song sheets of Beatle songs and satirical tunes about the local pubs and Wino Hill.
There is enthusiastic talk about a 50th reunion (the principal allows that he does not plan to be there), but they would be unwise to proceed. This was a dream that died and should be left there.
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