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(Special thanks to Martha Tatarnic for this write-up
When my daughter Cecilia walked into the hospitality room on check-in day of the Niagara Vintage Tour, 2010, her eyes lighted immediately on the brown, orange, and white A&W child’s car that would be given away as a door prize at the final banquet. I could see mirrored on her face the same sense of excitement and magic that I associate with being a kid in the HCCA. She was imagining herself in that little car, rolling around on summer days, knowing that fast-food-franchise convertible was just the right image, the right speed for her three year-old self. Even though the push-pedal engineering bears no resemblance to Henry Ford’s T, and despite the fact that I was mildly worried that, with the many children registered on this particular tour, her chances of walking home with the prize at the end of the week were slim, it’s a gratifying thing for any of us who are smitten with the old car hobby to see someone catch the ‘car bug’.
As it turns out, it was a week for even seasoned old car members to fall in love with the hobby all over again, and Cecilia’s eyes weren’t the only ones that stayed lit throughout. We descended on St. Catharines Ontario on Sunday July 18th, the weather promising to be just right for that carefree old car feeling of the wind refreshing the hot air, for justifying afternoon ice cream pit stops and evening cool drinks as a necessity for keeping energy levels up through each day’s excursions.
Monday was perhaps the most dramatic day planned, with the morning trip taking us to nearby Niagara Falls. The various tours and rides kept some of our group occupied for much of the day, while others of us continued on toward another kind of drama: Niagara wineries. The wine industry in this area is a relatively new venture, and yet it has already made some major in-roads into attracting global attention, particularly for the rare delicacy icewine. For those of us who have lived in this region, we have seen an amazing renewal of agriculture and tourism because of winemaking. And for anyone who enjoys wine, the chance to explore a few family-owned wineries, to sample their unique, artfully crafted vintages, was not to be missed. In fact, although the mileage was short, people of any generation, with any range of interests, would have been hard-pressed to do justice to all of the opportunities this first day presented.
Niagara Falls was on Tuesday’s route as well, but this time the route took us right through Lundy’s Lane, the “Las Vegas” strip of southern Ontario. My kids ooh-ed and ah-ed from the back seat as we passed by the flashing lights, the neon signs, the vendor’s competing attempts to convince tourists to drop their dollars in their store, rather than their neighbours. The frantic vibe of the strip couldn’t have been more sharply contrasted with the relaxed pace, the day full of simple pleasures, that ensued as we made our way past Niagara Falls and on to Fort Erie. Nothing says “I’m on vacation” quite like a buffet lunch by the beach, not to mention long stretches of driving on beautiful, unhurried roads.
Wednesday was more about the cars and less about driving. The morning afforded people an opportunity to un-wind, sleep in, shop, enjoy the hotel’s extensive facilities, do some basic parking lot mid-week tune-ups. The HCCA board, who joined an Ontario-hosted tour for the first time in its history ,and who offered a gracious and generous presence to our entire week, met for one of their meetings. And then it was a short jaunt out to Ball’s Falls for an afternoon of old car games, watermelon, cookies, and laying our lawnchair-claims on those perfect patches of shade.
It was a good thing to have this change of pace, because Thursday was the bragging rights day. Every tour has to give us something to sweat about, roads that remind us that Henry Ford and all of his contemporaries made great cars, but sometimes the road still wins. The tour to Hamilton was full of interesting stops – a steam museum, an aircraft museum, a memorial site, a farm toy museum – and regular refreshment breaks, and we needed the refreshment to keep us on our toes through the busiest streets of the city, to keep our spirit’s optimistic as we tackled the steep and lengthy incline of the Niagara escarpment. The roads gave their best effort, and there were some white knuckled moments, but each of our 58 cars made it safely and proudly through this touring day.
And Friday provided a different sort of challenge: rain. Ominous rolling black clouds, an unsettling wind, and pelting rain scared the majority of people into modern cars for this last day of touring. Those of us who knew the area had the ace up our sleeve. Weather in the Niagara peninsula is all bark and no bite. Sure enough, after about forty minutes of grumping, the skies cleared up and the rest of the day – shopping in the town of Jordan, lunching in Beamsville, and puttering around farmland roads lined with fruit orchards and wineries – generated the same kind of perfect touring weather we had seen the rest of the week.
Good food, roads it is hard to believe weren’t made with brass era antique cars in mind, interesting stops, perfect hot summer driving weather, and a week full of life’s little luxuries – banquets, ice cream, wine sampling, hotel pools – the A&W door prize was just the beginning of all of the magic and enchantment that the week would offer.
Which brings me to the most important part of the Vintage Tour. When the prize was finally drawn, Cecilia didn’t even notice that she didn’t win the car. She was running around the ballroom at the final banquet, laughing and twirling with a group of children who, over the course of the week, had become her friends. In the end, the story about this tour was the same story that has been part of Southern Ontario – North Jersey summer tours since they began 30+ years ago. The story that has expanded our group exponentially and which continues to draw new members, young members, young families, into the group. The story that lent a note of sadness to our gathering as we acknowledged the loss of Art Hart and Walt Grove – founding members of these joint tours – over the last year. It’s the story of friendship, of a community that is more than just a hobby, of people who look forward to seeing one another, of families and friends who appreciate the out-of-the-ordinary-pace-of-life time they get to spend with one another, of great conversations to remember and look forward to, memories to re-live and to be made, people we get to meet again and people we have yet to meet.