Thursday, May 1, 2014

Getting the Facts

When I set out to write a blog post such as the one I delivered this week at Blog Out Loud, I tend to massage the facts until what I have is a vivid story. What I end up with can be closer to fiction than reality.

When I first published my post, If I Had a Time Machine, I wanted to tell a touching story of childhood, reflection, and loss. The idea of this story came to me when I was taking a power walk from my home to the Walter Baker Sports Centre, where there is also a branch of the Ottawa Public Library. I was returning some books, and rather than hopping in my car to drive the four-and-a-half kilometers that is required to travel by roads, I thought I would get some exercise by walking the 2.6-kilometre-long route of pathways and side streets.

What was a seven-minute, lazy drive would be a 30-minute workout. Each way.

I don't know what made me think of my friend, but I somehow got to thinking about my old Parkwood Hills neighbourhood and how the surrounding environment had changed over the decades. And then my friend—one of my earliest childhood friends—popped in my head. And the story formed on my walk home from the library.

I didn't remember all of the details. I did remember playing with him in the neighbourhood, hanging out in Hippie Hideout, and how he had invited me to go out and play with him on that fateful morning.

When I crafted the story, I decided that I was going to use another name, rather than give my friend's real name. His name wasn't Jeremy: it was Charlie.

We weren't four years old, nor were we five. We were three. It's no wonder that my memory of the events aren't clear. I'm surprised I remembered it at all. The main parts of what happened are still with me: some of the details, however, were off.

Before the accident, there was no chain-linked fence that blocked off the main pool. As with the wading pool, a wooden fence surrounded the perimeter. Charlie managed to squeeze through a gap in the fence. Because of the tragedy, the chain-linked fence was put into place.

When I read my story at the Ottawa International Writers Festival, my mother came out to hear the story. She remembered that one of her friends in the neighbourhood, who had a son, also drowned in General Burns pool. She said my friend must have been Colin Chadwick, who was also three when he fell into a pool and drowned.

But no, I remembered Charlie, I told her. And yesterday, I decided to do some fact checking.

Both Charlie Marquis (I didn't remember his last name: I don't even know if I ever knew it) and Colin Chadwick drowned in that pool that morning of October 2, 1968. It seems that after he called on me, Charlie talked Colin and some other neighbourhood boys into going to General Burns pool.

In my story, I suggested that if I had gone with "Jeremy," there could have been two kids that would have been found in the pool. I was right: two young boys had ended up at the bottom of the deep end.

Five other boys were with them, but they were chased off the pool deck by neighbouring adults, who saw them in the restricted area. Apparently, none of the boys reported Charlie or Colin in the pool because they were scared.

The story of the drownings and the subsequent inquest was reported in The Ottawa Citizen.

We lived in a very new community. I searched archival maps to see if I could pinpoint the neighbourhood. I found one aerial photo, taken in 1965, but there is no Bowhill Avenue, no Chesterton Drive, no General Burns pool. The rubble where we played, upon which Chesterton Towers would be built, appears to be a farm: possibly, Borden Dairy Farm.

The next map I found was dated 1976, which would have been eight years after Charlie's death, but the neighbourhood had changed very little. The field between our houses and the K-mart/Dominion Plaza was a little more landscaped and the grove with Hippie Hideout was slightly diminished (yet, the main spot where we hung out was still there). You can see my old "territory" in the modified image, below.

Today, the plaza has changed. The old structures that housed K-mart, Dominion, TD Bank, Gow's Chinese take out, Gilio's Barbers, and Brewers Retail are gone, have been demolished and rebuilt. Now, there's a Winner's, Home Outfitters, The Shoe Company, and more. Other buildings fill the old parking lot: a Scotiabank and The Beer Store. Behind where the old plaza was situated, a new street—Grant Carman Drive—snuggles up to the western extent of the town houses, and a new Independent grocery store sits atop the creek, which is almost completely covered.

Hippie Hideout has been wiped out of existence.

If I Had a Time Machine was born out of a kernel of a memory. Now, you know the facts.

My apologies to the Chadwick family. I had forgotten all about Colin. I don't think I knew him well, but I'm sure I must have played with him and Charlie. I'm hoping that in some small way, digging up the facts will honour both young boys who lost their lives that day in 1968.

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