Coming Ashore is the third installment in Catherine Gildiner’s autobiographical series and anyone who requires three volumes to cover her life up to age twenty-five has obviously lived a more interesting life than mine. Boomer Broads will love her books. I guarantee it. The first book, a best seller, Too Close to The Falls covers her life as a young girl growing up in the fifties in Lewiston, New York. As the precocious daughter and only child of a pharmacist father and a mother who never cooked a meal, Cathy McClure as she was known then, lived a rather unconventional lifestyle as a pint-sized drug dealer. Actually, she rode around in the delivery vehicle with her father’s illiterate driver acting as his reader and partner while they delivered prescriptions in the Lewiston and Buffalo area.
The second book, After The Falls which was also a best seller covers her teenage years marked by the beginning of her involvement in political activism. As a teenager she kept company with such interesting characters as members of the Black Panthers and her romantic relationship with a married man, whom she didn’t know at the time was married. We’ve all been there.
Coming Ashore takes Cathy McClure to Oxford University in England on a scholarship won by writing her one and only piece of poetry which she composed under the influence of speed while cramming for exams. Since meeting her future husband while attending University of Toronto’s Victoria College in the early 1970s, she has lived and worked in Toronto.
As a Boomer I could relate to her experiences on so many levels in each of the three books but this third one really hit close to home. The clothing she wore, the music she listened to, the cultural touchstones of the time, the streets she walked on and the buildings she moved through were so close to my own experience that I felt I was re-living my own life as it was then. McClure moved to Toronto in 1970, lived for a brief time in a rooming house on Huron Street then Rochdale College near University of Toronto. She describes the Yorkville scene as it was during the Riverboat, Purple Onion, Myna Bird, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young days.
When I compare her experiences to my own life at that time, I probably passed her on the street and perhaps even sat in on the same feminist meetings. I clearly remember attending one such meeting at the Park Plaza when feminist Laura Sabia was the guest speaker in 1971 and could so easily picture what she describes in her book. At the time I was living on Alexander Street, a couple of blocks north of Carlton, just east of Yonge Street. Gordon Lightfoot was then living in the tower next door and I passed him on the street one day on my way home from work as he was walking toward Yonge Street in his fringed buckskin jacket accompanied by a friend. It was the most incredible time to be living downtown.
At that time, I was working on Bloor Street across from The Colonnade and would walk down to have dinner once a month in the grand dining hall at U of T’s Victoria College with my brother who was studying English there. Fran’s Restaurant, U of T Law School, Philosopher’s Walk, Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education are all familiar landmarks. The trip north on Bathurst Street to visit her future in-laws in their modest apartment on Wilson Avenue is so perfectly detailed that you feel you’re there.
McClure even worked for a while at Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital at the foot of Kipling Avenue in Mimico. The former patient buildings have now been converted into classrooms, workshops and administrative facilities for Humber College and a couple of years ago I sat in classrooms in those same buildings while taking writing workshops. I loved the book so much I’m now going to sit down and re-read Part 3 (starts on page 235) of Coming Ashore which describes her life in Toronto just so I can savour a bit of life the way it was for Boomers more than forty years ago. Thank you Catherine Gildiner for delivering an amazing read.
P.S. To read Catherine Gildiner’s own comments on this posting, open the Comments section, and feel free to add your own.
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