They are digging up Sylvan Lake. Well, not the actual water part of the lake — then they would have to call it just “Sylvan,” but they are ripping up just about everything else along the shoreline of the lake.
Well, not all the way around the lake, but the part along the shore where the town is. You know, the part where all the people go when summer comes.
I was out there the other day, and they really are tearing up the town. Not in the fun way we teenagers used to tear up the town, but in the way that many machines and workers in bright orange vests tear up towns.
All along Lakeshore Drive, from one side to the other, it’s a mess, just in time for the warm weather crowds.
Quick question: Is there a place where you just get all turned around? Where you are convinced that north is that-a-way but everyone else knows that it’s actually west, and the fact that the sun is setting in the north is obviously an optical illusion?
Sylvan Lake is like that for me. I think it’s because I made several hundred thousand trips to the lake on the “old Hwy 11” heading west, and when I came to the lake it felt like Lakeshore Drive turned left, heading south. But apparently it doesn’t. They tell me it only veers. And the veering is still to the west, not south.
But even after looking at maps and even after flying over the lake many years ago in a hot air balloon, I’m still convinced that everyone is wrong, and that when you turn off Lakeshore drive onto “Main Street” (which is what I call 50th Street where my in-laws live), that street connects to the new Hwy 11, and that 50th Street definitely runs east to west, even though the rest of the world says it’s north and south.
You can see why I’m seriously confused most of the time.
Point is, I’m already discombobulated when it comes to Sylvan Lake, and now there’s an even higher factor of discombobulation.
All that digging up begins at the far end of Lakeshore Drive (my north, your east). A few blocks along there used to be a nice park on the left with humungous trees and lawns, and next to that there was the Amusement Park with the coolest flying saucer ride and a miniature train, and trampolines and pre-digital game machines inside.
I remember it well on account of my girlfriend used to work there a long before she became my Better Half, and I was always sorry that I was too big to ride the little train.
Now the whole area is a collection of freshly decapitated stumps and a nice flat layer of asphalt. And you have to leave the shoreline drive and swerve around the ripped-up trees and the parking lot on another road that goes by cabins and houses of people who used to have a lovely location.
Mind you, the plans are apparently to make the area into a nice strolling space that connects to the lake. So that people can still see their cars while they frolic on the beach I guess.
I used to love that drive along the lake, rattling along in my favourite car —my 1957 Triumph TR3, with the top down, trying to impress the girls on the beach by overheating the engine and stalling in the busiest part of the street, and having to push the beat-up British sports car over to the side of the road by Varsity Hall.
It’s hard to look cool causing a traffic jam while trying to push a dead car by yourself; I speak from a great deal of experience in that regard.
But a chunk of that cruise along the lake is gone now, as is the legendary Varsity Hall — many years ago now, of course. All that remains of that epic magical memory-making dance hall where our band played and I where met my future Better Half is a little stone monument on the sidewalk about the size of a garbage can that most people don’t even notice.
I have to stop myself from genuflecting every time I walk by the thing.
Further south (west), it gets even more messy. The sides of the street are all dug up, as they seem to be replacing the nice paving stone sidewalks with other similar and more expensive sidewalks.
From the Big Moo ice cream place featuring a life-size plastic red and white cow with a maple leaf painted on it standing out front, down past The Center, which was everybody’s favourite funky log restaurant with a walk up window and the best home-made french fries in the universe and down to the big ugly empty chunk of choice land that used to be the Sylvan Lake Hotel on the corner, there are digging machines and cement trucks and orange vests that have invaded the places where we used to hang out on happy sunny days.
I’m hoping that all this mess will sometime this millennium result in something resembling improvement.
I’m all for making spaces better, but if the ridiculous, expensive bathrooms that I’ve carped about several times before — those buildings the size of small hotels that were placed in the stupidest places on the beach and still aren’t finished — are any indication of the so-called “improvements” Sylvan Lake is attempting, then they might as well dig up the entire lake.
Then there would be lots of room for a really, really big parking lot where the water used to be.
But it could be worse. At least there’s still a big red and white maple-leafed plastic cow facing west (north) on Lakeshore Drive.
I hope the town planners don’t notice that it’s there. They’d probably tear it down and replace it with a small stone monument. And a nice little parking lot.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate.