The Bridge to Goat Island

March 27, 2008

I remember the day in 1961 when the truck inched past my grandparent’s house on Concession Street in Westport with this enormous concrete arch straddled between two trailers behind it. I watched in awe. Without a connecting tongue, how can you control that back trailer? Won’t it twist and run the arch into the ditch?

Then came the corner of Concession and Spring Streets, where they had to turn the rig about 130 degrees in order to get to the lake. I remember that they spent a long time on that corner, and I believe they had to turn the trailers to get around it. Perhaps they used the crane to help with the turn. For some reason that’s as far as I get in my memory of the bridge’s installation. Perhaps my parents decided I’d be better off elsewhere.

That summer and for the next several years The Bridge became the focal point of our lives. It was the meeting place for swims, the trysting place of young love, the place where we challenged our demons with death-defying leaps from the top.

We delighted in spooking boaters in runabouts. Hey, we were kids, and we had developed our cannonball techniques to a fine pitch while routinely sinking the Reverend Ross’s green cedar strip canoe.

Many of us discovered the ultimate in low-cost personal mobility on the water, the inner tube. With flippers we could putter around the harbour and even down to Jake’s Bay in fine style, regardless of our various levels of swimming skill.

The boaters who congregated on the new Goat Island docks enjoyed a way of life which looked pretty good: spend the summer loafing on a dock much like us on the tubes, only with more expensive toys. Boaters were by and large without other transportation, so kids on bicycles often went off to run errands for them in return for tips.

I often wonder if those boaters understood the influence their generosity and good humour had upon the urchins hanging around the docks?

Years later Bet and I bought an old wooden cruiser on Toronto Island, and after a harrowing trip down Lake Ontario, fetched up in Westport. Captain Jack Hearn was most hospitable to novice boaters and we spent a lot of time on the docks before a permanent slip at Indian Lake Marina opened up. Needless to say a pair of jumbo inner tubes rode on the roof. The improvised floats made for pleasant afternoons with three-year-old Charlie and a spaniel puppy named Grover, who learned how to ride the tube with me. Clad in life jacket and hat, Charlie rode with Bet.

Our antics with the tubes produced some amusement for the other boaters, such as the time Charlie and I proudly hauled a substantial chunk of rose quartz by tube out to the anchored boat, but it wasn’t until I mentioned in conversation that we used to jump off the bridge into our tubes that Tony, a rather aloof sort up to that point, showed an interest.

“You mean to tell me you used to jump off that bridge into an inner tube?”

“Yeah, we did it all the time,” I answered.

“I don’t believe it.”

“Want me to show you?”

“This I have to see!”

Quite a crowd lined the bridge as I climbed up onto the railing, oversized inner tube in hand. I explained to my challenger: “The idea is to toss the tube down cleanly onto the water, and then jump so as to brush the forward edge of the tube with your heels, then reach down, grab the sides, and pull yourself down into it before you hit the water. Then you just hang on. Oh yeah, and make sure the valve is pointed down.” Privately I wondered if this would work. I had put on about a hundred pounds since the last time I had tried this, but my wife, son and friends were watching, so I had to make good on my brag.

I dropped the tube correctly, so I waited until the valve had rotated to 9:00, then followed it into the water. My heels brushed the far side of the tube just right; I grabbed on and splashed down without mishap. Applause erupted from the rather surprised crew in the gallery.

“Give me that.” Before I could even get up the ladder Tony had the tube from me and was marching up the bridge.

“Be sure to toss it flat, so that it doesn’t roll!” He sailed a beauty down to the water, then climbed up and jumped. That’s when things went a bit wrong. I don’t know if he missed with his heels or he had forgotten the instructions, but he jumped right through the tube. He came up scraped and bleeding.

That’s when I remembered the valve stem, a long, vicious brass thing.

That valve stem left Tony with some spectacular vertical scratches, but in the twenty-four years since he has emerged as about as good a friend as a guy could have.

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