It would have been around 7:30 a.m., maybe 7:45 if Mom had let me sleep in. I'd hear her say, "Bobby, it's time to get up," and then the morning would begin. Most days started off the same at the Orr house back then. Dad would be up and at it early, and off to work at the CIL plant. Mom would usually have some breakfast waiting for us, but other times we'd make our own. Then it would be out the door and off to school.
We walked to Victory Elementary, because there was no one to give you a ride, and there wasn't a school bus to pick you up. It was a decent hike whether we went straight up Bowes Street or took a shortcut through the woods. But in wintertime, the snow got pretty deep, so we usually stayed on the sidewalk. I walked that route so many times, I could probably make my way to my old school blindfolded even today. I might as well have been blindfolded then, for all I stopped to look around. I suppose I was like any other kid, never content to be just in one place. I was always on my way to somewhere else.
That meant one of two places. If it wasn't school, it was the water. I was the kind of kid who was always on the move. In a town like Parry Sound, there was always something to keep us busy. In the warm weather, whether it was after school or on the weekend, I never missed a chance to grab my fishing rod and head across the road directly in front of our house, the road that followed the river. There, I could slip down an embankment and in seconds have my line in the water, imagining that some monster fish would be waiting to take the bait. It might have been only for a few minutes, but it always made my day.
While I never hated school, I loved to fish. It's funny what you remember. I don't recall much from my geography classes, but I clearly remember what it was like to be sitting on the shore of the Seguin River, waiting to see what I could pull from the water. I loved it, and that enjoyment has lasted my entire life.
During the long winter months, I would sit at my school desk and that big clock on the classroom wall would take more and more of my attention as the afternoon started to wind down. I couldn't wait to be dismissed so I could get through the front door of that school once all my books had been put away. I understood that soon enough I would have on a pair of skates and all would be well—as long as there was enough daylight to see the puck. The routine of my daily life as a kid was pretty simple. One way or another, it always seemed to lead me in the direction of a body of water, regardless of the time of year. The only question was whether the water would be frozen solid for hockey or open and flowing for fish.
If you want to answer questions about where you have ended up in this world, it is important to understand first where you came from and where you have been. It's kind of like framing a cherished photograph. Where someone is born and raised serves as the border for many of the events and incidents that will play out in any particular picture. The place where it all begins for any of us puts everything else into context.
For me, home was Parry Sound, Ontario, a small town nestled along the shores of Georgian Bay. I suppose Parry Sound was the same kind of small town you would have found all across Canada at that time. By that I mean it was a safe place, generally very quiet, and a great place to be a kid.
Parry Sound is a few hours north of Toronto, far enough north that there is still a lot of bush and water for kids to explore and enjoy, and a lot of space. It had a small-town flavor. When I was growing up, the permanent population might have been around five thousand people during fall, winter, and spring. But come July and August, I'd guess that those numbers swelled maybe ten times over with cottagers and tourists. The nearby lakes and waterways, and the thirty thousand islands that dot the coast of Georgian Bay, have always been irresistible during the summer months.
Still, despite the annual migration of vacationers, it was a tightknit community where people knew everybody else's children and kept an eye on them. If someone got into trouble, the word spread quickly, and sooner or later a brother or sister, mother or father would know all the details of your problem. As a result, most of us realized early in life that it was best not to get in trouble unless you wanted it to be a topic of conversation around town.
It is no surprise to me that my grandfather Robert Orr chose a place like Parry Sound when he immigrated from Ballymena, Ireland. The community he came to was quaint and small and had many of the characteristics you might find in a tiny Irish town. It was here that he met and married my grandmother Elsie. My father, Doug, was their third child. In 1943, he married my mother, whose maiden name was Arva Steele, and they decided to continue the family tradition by settling down in Parry Sound. My parents would have five children: Patricia, Ronnie, myself (the middle child), Penny, and Doug Jr.
I can vaguely remember living in a house on Tower Hill, and my most vivid memory of that location was the black-and-white television set in the living room. That would have been in the 1950s, so our programming selections were pretty limited. I can still picture all of us sitting on the floor eagerly watching the test pattern until it was time to go to bed. I suppose you could assume from that description that it didn't take a whole lot to entertain the Orr kids.
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