Material related to the Terminals/surrounding area excerpted from a self-published philosophical memoir

by Paul Young,

“…Always, and forever, it seems, I am drawn back to this harbour. First to the Shipbuilder’s Memorial, to lay a hand on the old dry-dock steam engine and then across the promenade to look at the shear-leg footings, the crane which during the war years hoisted the ‘Scotch boilers’ aboard the Corvettes as they lay moored to this very dock. After a quick look at the names on the memorial stone I turn to look upon the Dry-Dock and Launch Basins themselves. Soon this area will be developed into a waterfront housing and retail centre and public access by both land and sea to these historic Great-Lake docks has apparently been promised.

How will the drama and history of this modest site be communicated to the new residents and future visitors? How will the existing community explain that the empty Grain terminals to the north capture their heritage as would a silent family portrait rendered on a canvas as big as the sky. These naturalized concrete pillars are worthy of any art gallery anywhere. Built in 1929, this deliberately preserved rail and shipping link has become a highly cherished visual landmark and has been a welcome beacon for all manner of past/present land based and marine activity on south-Georgian and Nottawasaga Bay waters. Through its presence and central waterfront location, the Terminal silos themselves have become the single most significant and lasting monument to Collingwood’s undeniable contribution to Canadian Great Lakes Shipping and with their classic architecture and aesthetically pleasing proportions, they have succeeded in capturing early-to-mid twentieth engineering and shipping aspirations with a surprising and I suspect wholly unforeseen dignity.

How shall we make ourselves remember that these ripples on our harbour, reach out unbroken through time, to touch the very fact of every human experience? Young men sailed out of this small shipbuilding port to meet a war that was not supposed to happen. Through the physical and time embracing nature of water, I touch the very steel of their ships as they fade on the horizon. In the summer afternoons, I bathe in the clear waters off Sunset Point, east of the Terminals, to feel the inescapable truth of it. Though the shale is slippery and the zebra mussels can nick your feet and there can be dangerous currents if the wind and waves should rise, the overriding sensation remains one of healing and renewal and I attribute this to the nearby proximity of such elegant and historic municipal assets.”

“…Back at the harbour, you can continue north/west from the Shipbuilder’s Memorial to see how the perspective of the Terminals changes with every footstep. Past the Yacht Club and Watts Skiff building, where they are celebrating the town’s very first industry by preserving a working replica of the double-ended wooden fishing boats that once plied these waters. And if you look east across the shallow natural basin, toward Sunset Point, you can actually make out the ridge of shale just below the sparkling surface, which once offered protection from the open water to the earliest people of the region and by extension, held out the promise of the vibrant shipbuilding industry that was to follow.

At the tip of Heritage Drive, north of the Terminals, is a good view north and west over the open water. To the western horizon Collingwood’s Nottawasaga Lighthouse warns sailors of that same ridge-formation that created the safe-harbour itself. Dating to the very year of the town’s incorporation, the presence of this Imperial Lighthouse has been woven inextricably into the consciousness of the entire region and it speaks volumes to the unique challenges and triumphs of Great Lakes marine navigation.

At the terminus of Heritage Drive is a large cast-iron ship’s propeller, lying in a garden of rock and pebble looking exactly the way it looked, under water, where it lay undetected for perhaps a hundred years. No one is left who can remember which ship it was that strayed out of the channel and so sheered off its main-shaft where it entered the hub of this impressive casting. All of the ships are gone now and the silent harbour has become like a port in waiting, looking to see which way the wind might blow or what new product might be shipped to an unknown market. Could there not be some sort of new vessel, that might navigate by the points of a compass responding to a universal heading and having for it’s keel a clear and concise understanding of precisely what human thought is? Has the world really found any true or lasting happiness solely through the tangible assets hoisted aboard a ship? Have we stopped to consider how much displacement it will require, to float a universally neglected human consciousness?

They launched massive ships here into just fifteen feet of water. To those of us who never saw it done, it remains an unequivocable impossibility, yet you can see it unfold on film at the town’s nearby museum. How is one to grasp the scope and scale of what was physically accomplished in so little space. I like to compare the dimensions of these locally built vessels to the community’s nearby historic water tower. Located just inland from the harbour this municipal tower provides a convenient measure to size up the fabrication and launching of those massive ships. The tower itself can be seen clearly from the harbour’s Heritage Drive or from several locations along the connecting bike and walking trail. The ships were said to have been five or more stories high as they rested on the launch way, which means that if one were lying on dry land at the foot of the tower, its deck railing would have reached approximately half way to the top of the tower. If one of these ships had been stood on end, it would itself have dwarfed the municipal structure by almost five times! The imagery seems logistically inconceivable yet the specifications and events are documented fact.

“…What stands in the way of a world reaching out to embrace its own vulnerability? Why shouldn’t I see my own generation’s struggle to find its place as an extension of that single continuous thread of all human aspiration? Is it intelligence itself, that divides us, or space, generated through the product of unconscious thought? As the crowd dispersed into the night, I glanced back to imagine how this building (curling club building) might have looked on a similar night, nearly one hundred years ago. Once again, the building had provided a silent expression of its original mandate – to bring together and serve a larger community. From the ‘century palace’ (curling club building) and alongside the steel pillars of the 1940s water tower, we walked down the Memory Lane Trail toward harbour. It was too nice a night to go in just yet. Past The Station and along the promenade we walked amid the shimmering lights of the harbour, until we arrived at The Ship Builder’s Memorial. It was here that we had met the Merchant Marine sailor as he had stood immersed deep within his own thoughts – I remember so well the astonished surprise on his face as he realized that we were listening to his period of music by a very deliberate and personal choice. Neither of us wanted the magic of this evening to end just yet so we continued on past the Terminals and stood for a half hour under the star filled night sky, watching the steady and reassuring signal of the Nottawasaga Light. I forced myself to conjure up the image of the H.M.C.S. Collingwood and her crew of young seamen, as they might have looked stowing the lines and getting underway toward the mouth of the harbour.”

“…I know that the older generation feels that we are letting this whole thing slip away, that we are not rising to meet the critical challenges of our time as you did in yours. But this is not entirely fair. With the implication and utterly irrevocable nature of all that the twentieth century has set in motion, we must get this right, for all peoples, with the very first words we speak. Goodbye Father. Of course I love you.”

Excerpts from: The Layman’s Petition (Paul Young, original copyright 2002)

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