worth the drive to Acton–life in a small town

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Truckers can live anywhere—besides in their trucks I mean. Guys might work for a carrier in New Brunswick and keep a home in Kamloops, work out of Montreal and keep a place in the Gatinois, have a ranch in rural Alberta and work for a company in Mississauga. That’s the thing about this profession, drivers are not, in general, bound by the strictures of a nine to five job and subject to absurd commuting schedules. It’s not surprising that many of us choose to live outside of a metropolis. We don’t get home that often, but when we do home is where we choose to live, and they’re usually pretty nice digs, often rural in nature.

With amusement I read that Truck News publisher Rob Wilkins is hanging up his hat and moving out of Toronto. Some other editorial colleagues at Truck News, including James Menzies and Lou Smyrlis have already made the transition, trading the Big Smoke for life in a smaller, more intimate community.

For my part, I’ve spend the last 25 plus years in Toronto and never really thought about moving seriously, although, in my past I have hung up a shingle in Keswick and St. Thomas, but always seemed to get pulled back into the bustle of the big city. After spending a stint of time in York University I rented a loft in Parkdale. Lots of access to culture and good restaurants, but after awhile those experiences got kind of hollow. I used to think that the crazies wandering the streets were pretty interesting, but after awhile even they seemed run of the mill.

About 18 years ago I bought a house in sleepy area of Toronto, north of High Park and just across the street from the old Consolidated FastFreight yard in the west end. Old timers might remember this as the old TorMon CP yard where I spend many an hour as a young man unloading general freight onto these chain driven railroad carts that would circle around the facility, until a marker pulled them off the cycle , made some chalk scribbles, and directed them to the right box car. This was a cold dock in winter as I remember, and there were still stock yards from the 60s extant at the east end of the property from the days when cattle would get shipped by rail, until Consolidated built its office on that corner.

Things change, and soon enough Consolidated packed up and moved up to Vaughan on Hwy 50. I went to a townhall meeting where there was discussion that Rona was going to buy the property and put up a lumber yard. Only a year later WalMart bought the site and constructed a mega store. Some locals might have liked the idea, but for me it was the beginning of the end. That whole block of St Clair west is now packed with strip malls and a car dealership.

Meanwhile my little house was getting run down, although I always loved the back yard, a real sanctuary for me as the cedars and butternut and sumach trees put down roots and cloistered me in. Last fall I knew the roof needed to be redone but thought I could get away with it until the spring. Not so, as a mother raccoon ripped up a board and decided to have her brood in my attic in March. I got to know a wildlife control company and had a new roof installed, but the dilemma was that the house needed a facelift and I was not keen on doing it.

The real estate market bailed me out. A little house just across the street from the
WalMart was highly coveted and I put the house up for sale and got a fair return on my investment in about three days.

With the cash I was able to buy twice the house in Acton, a sleepy little town just 45 minutes away from my workplace. The house was a real house, solid bricks and mortar and built in 1906. Nothing ostentatious about the property, 2,000 good solid square feet of house, oak floors and that big old solid baseboards and trim. It needs some work and insulation to bring it up to code but I’m pretty happy with this.

Acton is a real small town with small town sensibilities. Its future growth is limited as it sits on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment and is located in the green belt buffer zone around the GTA. It will never grow much bigger as development is limited by this factor and the limited amount of town well water.

My gal and I, who’s a small town girl with a farm not ten minutes from town, are making a stand there. Right now we’re living in a finished apartment in the basement while we get the work done just the way we like it. But make no mistake, moving is a serious business, more difficult as you get older–pulling up well-established roots and trying to a get a foothold in a new community is always a struggle. But so far we are persevering.

We were actually thinking of renting an apartment before this house came along. That would have driven us both crazy. Lots of people right next to you and hundreds of dollars surcharge per year to park two vehicles. Max the cat needed special permission to live with us, and I can’t have people telling me what I can do. We were close to moving into a nightmare.

Acton is a real white bread town. Ethnic types might run the variety stores, Asian and middle eastern, but they know what kind of bread gets buttered. The choices are wonder bread or wonder bread. It’ also an aging village, more seniors than young folks. The Sally Anne Thrift Store is second to none in Ontario, good prices, good quality merchandise and none of that mildewy pong you find in similar establishments across the province.

A recent report rates Halton Region as one of the safest, least crime-ridden communities in Canada. The big local news item is that some wayward youths smashed Molly the Moose (one of those moose sculptures you see around), located in front of Molly’s Sweet Shoppe, and broke both of its legs. This is treated as a heinous crime among the local press. Molly was attacked before, last year, and one of its ears was broken off, but these thugs left the moose severely damaged and lying on the ground with two broken legs. Halton police are looking at videos of the perpetrators and the local BIA has started a campaign to restore the statue to its original glory.

Acton has been officially designated Halton Hills, which does little to distinguish it from its local rival Georgetown, located just east on Hwy 7. Actonites consider themselves the poor cousin of Georgetowners who seem to get the lion’s share of whatever money is available for upgrading.

But Acton doesn’t have the trappings of the snobbish Georgetown denizens. Where else would you see a farm tractor and farmer pull up to the funeral home and go inside to make arrangements regarding some kin’s remains. Saturday morning is also the time for the Trunk Sale, held in the parking lot of the GO Station, where vendors compete for the hard-earned quarters and loonies from the local folks.

Acton has more than a dozen churches, a food bank, curling club and a seniors centre (soon to be checked out by myself and my lady). We might even take up curling this winter. I’ve always liked those thick sweaters and had a compulsion to slide granite rocks across a plate of ice yelling, “Hurry Hard! ”This might be the perfect sport for our retirement—whenever that is. And the Acton Fall Fair is just around the corner. It’s one hundred years old this year, and is considered one of the premier Ontario agricultural fairs. So far, at least, it’s been worth the drive to Acton!

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Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.

With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.

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  • Nice story, Harry. Glad you’re enjoying your new digs. I think the ability to live pretty much anywhere – and to avoid the high cost of city living – is one of the most underrated aspects of the professional driving career.

  • I grew up in the Acton area. Never again. I’ll pay more for the bright lights, diversity and anonymity of the big city any day. Acton too closely resembles Mayberry, and if you don’t fit in then God help you.

    • Not so, and we don’t fit in. We are professionals, bought a family home and are quite comfortable with the anonymity, the short commute to Mississauga in exchange for a beautiful view of the city far off in the distance, garden space and privacy, quiet and secure. I love the city, we go routinely, but I like leaving it too. Its a wonderful exchange.

  • I have always loved my country drives through the Halton area. My son and his little family will be moving to Acton in June of this year and I can’t wait to visit. We all grew up in the big city of Brampton and look forward to having a safe small community to raise children. ☺

  • I’ll stick with big city crazy. Small towns are too white bread for me. I thrive on high energy and youthfulness; Actonians are too stodgy and old-fashioned. I knew a few classmates who married early, eschewing post-secondary education for 1950s-style domestic bliss. As soon as I was accepted into Ryerson, I left. Bye.

  • My family is looking to purchase a home in the GTA, affordability has become an issue since prices have gone through the roof. We saw a home for $399,999, we are also a brown family. Would you recommend since we are brown that it would be ok if we moved to Acton or is it not recommended?