Remember how a long, long time ago I promise to begin posting a series of vignettes? Yeah? Well this is #2. My first one was about the sensation of returning to my Gramps’ house several years after his death. You can read it here.
Long weekends are meant for exploring, and I was in no rush to return home to Ottawa following a May long weekend camping trip in Mattawa. Headed south along Highway 17, I decided I had driven that route one too many times. I pulled into a gas station and bought a road map of eastern Ontario and Quebec.
The sun was shining and my voice was only half gone from belting summer tunes. I had a whole day before I was due back at work, and decided to take a detour through the back highways of Quebec. Would I discover anything? Would I get lost? All was unknown, all was possible.
Just half an hour into my road trip, I knew I had made the right decision. As I drove through the town of Saint-Joseph on L’Isle-aux-Allumettes, I saw it: a two-storey, wood-panelled house. Some 300 metres away, it looked as though the windows had been punched out.
Possibly abandoned. I was stoked.
I made a U-Turn in the middle of the empty road, and pulled onto the gravel shoulder.
Walking across the grassy field, my destination became more clear. The house was definitely unoccupied – a derelict mess of faded wood and peeling paint. I hopped the metal fence, and wandered cautiously up to the side door. I use the term ‘door’ loosely. The white frame was empty, the stoop sunken and rotting.
Climbing inside, it was clear no one had lived here for awhile. In the first room was an armchair with teal cushions, an antique armoire, and a maple bed frame with rusty springs. There was a lot of – pardon my French – shit on the floor, much of it, I suspect, in a literal sense. Broken glass and dirt had been blown into piles by the wind.
The next room was my favourite. There was an old torn couch and, standing in the middle of the room, a classic blue cruiser bicycle. I gasped at the discovery. As an avid cyclist, I’m always pleased and slightly surprised to encounter bicycles wherever I go. For a moment I seriously considered whether I could load it onto my car’s bike rack. I decided to leave it for the next curious adventurer to discover.
Upstairs, the rooms were empty and bright, early summer sun filtering through dusty air. I’m struck by how special it is to be alone in a place so often left unexplored.
The rest of the road provided a foil to the route I would normally take along Highway 17 and the 417. It offered charming small town scenes, a ferry ride across the Ottawa River, and an unexpected Elvis spotting in Quyon.
Next time you’re travelling back along Highway 17, give yourself a bit of extra time. Head off the main route, and opt for the winding two lanes of Quebec’s Highway 148.
As Robert Frost advised, how happy I was to take the road less travelled.