I noticed when they closed it and I noticed when they tore it down.
These events were separated by a handful of years, but when I saw a recent development notice, I knew the new landscape would permanently erase the old one this time.
Buildings come and go, ostensibly to better suit the needs of many, but more often to fatten the coffers of a few. The west end of Plains Road in Burlington – Aldershot – used to house a long block of stores. The people living out there had an A&P, videos, a Zellers (once Towers department store), a liquor store, a restaurant, a licensing office and a bank. It was a service plaza, the parking lot a little ratty, and it never really recovered after the Burlington Mall was built in 1968, an event even I can remember as A Very Big Deal.
It’s all been gone for years now, because beneath that tired asphalt was property value begging to be exploited. The irony, of course, is that they tore down all of this to put in various residential high-rises, and now those people must drive to shop for things once sold right there.
In the east end of that parking lot was a Canadian Tire. It was small; I think it had a single service bay when I was a kid, though I could be wrong. There was a larger, fancier Canadian Tire in the middle of town, one that kept growing and getting shinier as it adapted to Burlington’s burgeoning population. Even so, the tiny one in the west end was perfect for, say, a father and his small daughter to go to buy a handful of screws or a particular drill bit.
Unable to find the right-size washer on the twist tie where he stored them like beads on a necklace, dad and I would go to Canadian Tire. Today, I buy packages at a time, to always have on hand – because that is more efficient, because today we measure errand in terms of money and time, forgetting the value of excursion in other ways.
The AMC dealership was across the road and, though dad only bought a new car every 10 years, he would go to hang out, checking out advances in Ramblers, but mostly to be around cars. I’d pester him for a nickel for the gumball machine by the door, and the salesman would usually give me one, as if there was ever a worry my father would buy a car anywhere else.
If our station wagon was up on the hoist for some dire malady, I knew we’d cross the street to go to the Canadian Tire. Mom would take us to the mall for shoes and winter coats; dad was your guy to learn the difference between three kinds of screwdrivers, and yes, Robertsons made more sense and did I know they were invented by a Canadian?
The Canadian Tire catalogue was a big deal in most households. We’d fight over it twice a year, whipping past pages and pages of tires to get to the seasonal stuff: games and toys at Christmas, but more importantly, flippers and air mattresses for the summer. Our tiny west-end store had an even tinier section devoted to these goods, an alcove with a wooden floor, mashed full of a bit of everything. While my father was off deciding if he needed a new ball-peen hammer, my sister and I would dream of getting a new inner tube that wasn’t an actual truck inner tube with a huge nozzle that stuck into our side if we jumped off the dock incorrectly.
We never got the multi-coloured pretty toys, because my father knew that truck inner tube was much sturdier. We got new flippers if there wasn’t already a pair at the cottage that would fit, because we learned our lesson the hard way when a guest lost one, gone forever down into the muck of the lake. Four decades later, I still know it’s down there, and I still remember the lecture on carelessness.
If the car was being serviced for something in between maintenance dad performed himself and something that required some AMC expert, he’d let them handle it in the single bay at that tiny Canadian Tire. He knew the mechanics, and would hang around the garage like a mother keeping an eye on her newborn.
Job finished, he’d take his work order over to the narrow office. With an efficient twist, they’d roll his cash into the bill, tuck it into a cylinder and insert it into a magical tube where air suction would send it hurtling into outer space. I learned later it just went to the business office upstairs, but outer space seemed more interesting. Dad let me believe that, because even serious men can have moments of whimsy with children who can’t yet see over the counter.
The best part was when the tube came whooshing back, coins rattling in the plastic tube. The change and the receipt would tumble out, and dad would hand me a nickel for the candy machine in the corner. I had no idea who the Kiwanis were, but they got a lot of my nickels in the late 1960s.