By Todd Lihou - Editor
So Cornwall has taken its lumps over the years. We've had our battles with high unemployment, smuggling and the stigma of an ongoing sex-abuse inquiry.
Many people I went to school with have moved to larger centres like Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto – in search of high-paying jobs and life high atop the corporate ladder.
Good for them. But there is one thing sorely missing in places with populations measured with six figures.
That would be the small-town feel one gets walking down Pitt Street or circulating through Lamoureux Park.
Case in point would have to be the long weekend my wife and I kicked off with a Friday drive to my brother's cottage north of Ottawa.
My wife and I had been battling a stomach bug for a couple of days leading up to the trip. We were both feeling better, and we believed the constant race to the bathroom had finally loosened its vice-like grip on our abdomens.
But, as we approached downtown Ottawa my wife suddenly grabbed my arm.
"I have to pee – now!"
No problem. We're in our nation's capital...there are stores on every corner and surely to god people in downtown Ottawa go to the bathroom like everyone else.
Our first stop was a Tim Horton's – that holy grail of Canadiana that can be found on nearly every street corner. Like just about anyone else, my wife and I have probably spent half our adult lives waiting in line for something from Timmies.
I pulled into the parking lot and my wife ran into the store...and in what seemed like a flash ran back out.
"They don't have a bathroom for the public...just employees. They said I can't use it."
Are you kidding me? This is Tim Hortons...what kind of a place sells coffee by the bucket but won't let you use a bathroom to dispense with their product once you are finished with it?
In disbelief we left Tim Hortons and headed across the street to a service centre – one of those privately-owned garage types that will fix anything on four wheels and still sell you some gas.
This time I went with my wife...as if the sight of my ugly mug would somehow force the garage owner to allow her to use the facilities.
"Hi there, sorry to bother you. But do you have a restroom my wife could use?"
The mechanic/shop owner pulled his greasy head from under the hood and looked at me like I was asking for a $50 bill.
Then he looked at my wife, crossing her legs in agony and said: "Our bathroom doesn't work. It never has. Go somewhere else."
Sigh...back to the car.
We went a block further and found what has to be the biggest LCBO in the country. It even has elevators to cart alcohol from one floor to the next.
We burst through the front door like our pants were on fire – which wasn't far from the truth given the pained look on my wife's face.
I grabbed the first person I could wearing an LCBO shirt.
"Do you have a washroom my wife can use?"
"No, I'm sorry."
I lost it.
"You've got to be kidding. This place is as big as a grocery store. You're telling me no one here goes to the bathroom?"
"Well, we're a big store," said the woman, sneering down her nose as if my wife and I had just crawled out of the dumpster, looking for breakfast. "If we let everyone use our washroom then that's all we'd be doing."
At this point the look on my wife's face spoke volumes...and I continued to plead.
"Please, she's got to go and you're the third place we've been to."
I'd never heard someone sigh like that before...like all the oxygen was being sucked out of the room. She pulled herself from her work and jerked her hand toward us, beckoning us to follow her.
Finally!! My wife was shown to a washroom in the back of the store and found some relief.
After we left the store (purchasing $50 in liquor in the process) my wife and I further realized that Cornwall life is a lot of things – including polite.
I have seen, first-hand, owners of downtown businesses open their doors without so much as a passing glance to people with meagre means who need a place to warm up, cool down – or even go to the bathroom.
In bigger centres like Ottawa that is just not the case. Our mentality towards people in need here in Cornwall is different – and we should be proud of that.