Exploring My Old Urban Haunts


I shared a video with you in my last blog, where I got together with an old childhood friend to search for a campsite we’d set up 27 years before.

I hope it brought to mind some of your own childhood adventures and memories, and that you spent a couple days taking a mental journey through the hazy summers of your youth.

But I’m not quite finished taking you down Memory Lane…

We didn’t just search for an old campsite in the woods on that weekend last August. We also explored a few of our old urban haunts around my hometown of Prescott, Ontario. And Rob was there with his camera to capture some of it.

We’ll get to the video in a second. First I’d like to set the context, so that you’ll get a little more out of our rambling talks.

We started the day by looking for a location from Rob’s very first feature film. He created this cool adventure story when he was 16 or 17. And I helped the guys out by bringing my old .22 rifle and taking a shot at a couple of their props.

We filmed those scenes in the woods just north of my grandmother’s old house in New Wexford.

When I was a kid, there was an old railway track there. It’s heyday was long over, and back then it was just used to store rail cars filled with road salt in the winter. Rail cars that we climbed all over, running along the top and jumping from car to car, just like the heroes of our favourite films and books.

I loved taking walks back there — sometimes alone, and sometimes with friends. I explored all those woods. Raked through the ruins of an old hermit’s shack. And even camped on some of the ridges one winter.

The tracks are long gone now, and the area is badly overgrown. An unexpected beaver dam nearly derailed our plans too, but we crashed through the bush and took a detour through the golf course.

The old railway bridge on the main line is long gone too. I remember how quickly the fast passenger trains would come around the corner when we were standing on that bridge, without any warning or noise. I came within a few feet of getting hit once when my grandmother’s dog ran up there and froze in fear in the middle of the tracks. And Rob nearly lost his testicles in an ill-informed attempt at rappelling off the side.

After cutting back on a different rail siding, we picked up the car and cruised around town.

We walked down by the river, too, and found the spot where me and Jason Saunders used to jump off a drop off holding big rocks, so we could sink to the bottom and explore St. Lawrence depths.

And we passed the public beach: the site of a story that still makes us giggle like we used to in my room when we were 12…

I had accidentally put my foot through the mayor’s door in a game of Nicky Nicky Nine Door gone terribly wrong. The heat was coming down hard, and we were in trouble. I needed to get out of the house and get a breather, so I grabbed my bike and Rob took my sister’s.

We rode around by Newell’s Woods. And then coasted fast down the big hill at St. Lawrence Street, all the way to the public beach. It was late Fall by then, and the first frost had already split the ground. The beach was closed, and there was no one around. It was a good place to talk over our predicament, and to try to come up with a plan.

It was at that inconvenient moment that stress and anxiety grabbed hold of my stomach and gave it a mighty twist. And then it happened again.

I looked around in a panic. And I noticed that Rob was clutching his stomach too.

There was nowhere to go. And neither of us would have made it back to my house, up that steep hill.

Fortunately, our obsession with MacGyver came to the rescue.

The public toilets had all been padlocked for the winter. But we had our trusty Swiss Army Knives…

The latch for the padlock had been screwed on from the outside, and it only took a moment to remove it. We both struck the flint of our zippo lighters — Crops and Potes — and made a quick dash to the toilet stalls.

It was actually quite pleasant to sit there in the dark, taking an emergency dump by the flickering light of that small flame. Unfortunately, the plumbing had also been turned off for the winter, and the un-flushable toilet bowls were filled with antifreeze…

I’m not sure what happened when the washrooms were opened again the following summer. But we carefully screwed the padlock back into place on the door, and left things (more or less) as they were when we’d found them.

We could be accused of a lot of things as kids. But a lack of resourcefulness certainly wasn’t one of them.

Every block in that West end of town contains layers of stories for me, from so many different ages. Some are adventure tales. And some involved heartbreak and loss.

There were long hot summers of water and green smells. And dark cold winters of frosted up windows. And there were so many days and nights spent in my tiny bedroom, listening to music and staring out the window, dreaming of the things I might do one day if I could only get out there into a wider world. A world that I could barely conceive and didn’t understand.

Anyway, yeah. Here’s a video with a few more glimpses of that weekend:



I hope it brings back some memories of your own childhood adventures.

Where did YOU grow up? And what were the sites of YOUR greatest adventures?

Please share that with me in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it.




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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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