RECORD STORE TALES #917: The Dangerous Walk of Death
Some of my fond childhood places no longer exist. What I would give to see some of those places again, as they were in my memories. Hi-Way Market, the old Record Store at the mall, or my grandpa’s old place in Guelph. Scant photos exist today.
I did find a couple of pictures from one old place that is no longer as it was. And that place is called the Dangerous Walk of Death.
One of the fulfilling activities at the cottage was to go for a long walk. If you said “I’m going for a walk,” it could mean you’d be gone for hours. There was so much to explore in just our little subdivision. If we walked to the north, there was a river and sometimes we’d walk along the riverbed and explore it inland. To the south was another river and the Dangerous Walk of Death.
My dad and sister discovered this place. There was a road to the south we called the “K” road. Today it is Kuehner Street. It had developments on both sides and came to an abrupt end after several cottages. It ended at a trail, and that is where our fun began. When we were very young, I used to scared my sister by telling her that “Henry the Hermit” lived in the very woods that our little trail crossed through. (I also convinced my cousin that sharks could swim up through the pipes into the toilets.)
When you entered the trail, you were immediately swallowed by the trees and things got dark quickly. It was a narrow space but you never passed anyone else. You had to walk single file. It seemed to be our place and our place alone.
If you traced this trail all the way to the end, there was a clearing where an old abandoned cottage once burned down. Then, the river that my dad dubbed “Dead Man’s River”. He called it that for good reason. Snapping turtles were known to make their home there. We were careful not to step in the waters of Dead Man’s River.
Today there is a quaint little walking bridge that takes you over to the next subdivision. In our day, it was only possible to cross when the riverbed was dry. But crossing was not the way to the Dangerous Walk of Death. To embark on that journey, one had to follow the river inland.
Once again, my dad and sister found the inland path. It had obviously been purposely cleared by someone many years ago. It ran parallel to the river, through the deep forest. Dad used to tell us that many of these trails were original indigenous hunting grounds. He was probably right. Artefacts were found by an archaeological team several years ago that proved the original inhabitants used to fish there. We were acutely aware that we were on very old land when we went on our walks. The wilderness had probably not changed that much and it was easy to imagine stepping back in time and bumping into a tribe of fishermen and hunters. They would have had a different name for this place.
Inland we walked, through different kinds of terrain. There was one area we called “stump land”. You had to watch your step, and walking there at night was foolish. Many times did one of us trip in our journey through stump land.
In the middle of stump land was a very small clearing with a large rock in the middle of it. Sitting Rock. This was our stopping point. It was quite scenic. The sun would dance through the trees making spectacular patterns of light on the ground. Fortunately I have a picture of this very place as it was in the mid-90s. An ex-girlfriend and I made a trip to the lake in August 1995 and took this picture. A much skinnier me is seated upon the rock. My Jann Arden “Insensitive” hat, a free promo from the Record Store, sits on my melon. And there I am on my mossy seat. I used to think this would be a cool spot to film a music video — me on acoustic guitar. Once, I sketched a picture of how cool I’d look playing acoustic guitar on top of Sitting Rock, me and my mullet and a guitar I couldn’t play. In the real photo, to my right you can see the trail behind. But this was not the place to turn back. Greater challenges and better views were ahead.
Following the trail further inland, you would reach a spot that appeared to be the end of the line. However if you pushed through the overgrown branches, you would find a sparsely wooded area that went steeply uphill. Watch your step that you don’t go over the Cliffs of Insanity.
This was the end of our odyssey. Here the trees cleared again and you could look down upon the river below. I do not have a picture of the view from here, but I do have a picture of us crouching at the edge of the cliff. The only hint of the chasm beneath are the trees behind us. You can tell from the distance and height of these trees that there must be a large gorge behind.
Here we usually turned back. In younger and more adventurous years we kept venturing inland through the woods until we finally hit the main road. Then we would walk back home. But that way was far longer and stank of anticlimax. Our pilgrimage’s natural end was at the cliffs and I’m glad I at least have a partial photographic document of this walk.
If Sitting Rock is still there, then it is inaccessible and on private land. These photos could be the only ones that exist of our old stomping grounds. And before us, the ones that lived off this land.