Monday, December 20, 2010

Secrets and Fries: A Tribute


This is a story about the Esquire Grill, the restaurant my father owned  in Timmins, Ontario. I am sharing this to honour the 25th Anniversary of his death. 

The Esquire Grill. It was a family restaurant, coffee shop, a hub of activity in downtown Timmins, Ontario for over forty years, closing in the early 1980s.  The Esquire was an institution, a community, a joint with great fries and gravy. The regulars ordered a clubhouse sandwich and the resto even had a baseball and bowling team. The restaurant really was a  place where everyone knew your name. For many of  those years, the Esquire Grill had the same cook, Mme Cecile Levesque. In its shiny red booths, and on its counter stools sat the bums of students and politicians, bankers and cashiers, musicians and miners and secretaries, and anyone else who happened by. If you had a coffee in there any time from the 1940s on, you would probably have met one of my parents. They owned and ran the place.

I left Timmins over twenty-five years ago, but for me, The Esquire Grill is mythical and legendary. There aren’t many of these kinds of family-run enterprises around anymore, given the increase of the big box store and star branding of coffee. I grew up in that place and was introduced to the morning muffin ritual.

The restaurant has a long history. 

My uncle Luke Couture started in the business with the White Fort on Third Avenue. Later, he opened the Rainbow Bar on Cedar. When my dad came back from his service in World War II, they joined forces to open the Esquire Grill in the mid 1940s. In the first few years of the Korean War, my dad left my uncle in charge, electing to perform in the Canadian Army Show overseas. My mom eventually became his business partner, until my dad sold the restaurant without her signature, still an unresolved issue. My memories of the Esquire Grill are a snapshot of me as a person too young to know that adults have complicated lives.

My dad, A.G. (Ed) Couture, was not only a successful restaurateur, though this might be an inaccurate interpretation. He was also a city councillor in Timmins between the years 1957 and 1975. In the early 1960s, he ran as a Liberal candidate for MP, losing magnificently, I’m told. In fact, he served as an alderman in the City of Timmins’ first amalgamated council in 1973, one of Canada’s first “megacities.” 




My dad is the first man on the left, above the coat of arms on this commemorative Timmins Dollar which has been on my fridge for 25 years. Anyway, much of that stuff happened before my conscious time. I remember playing waitress and making “root beer” from the soda fountain while a cast of municipal politicians and personalities played poker behind the papered up windows of the “closed” restaurant. It was common for local celebs to have coffee and shoot the breeze at the Esquire. As a family, we ate, hung out, fought and ran around that place everyday. God knows what the customers thought, but as I remember it, everything important to us happened within earshot of The Esquire Grill. 

Forty years later, I still remember the phone number. All of the surviving siblings do. For a short time, when I was in grade one, our family lived above the restaurant. I was even fired at one point (maybe twice) – a dishwasher’s wage of $2.15 per hour wasn’t much of an incentive to miss a summer’s day at the beach in Timmins. Up to the age of sixteen or so, I dragged all of my friends there. But things change, and old buildings gradually serve new purposes. Over the years, my family has made a sport out of keeping track of what occupies that location on Cedar Street South. After my dad sold, nothing in there has had quite the success that he had with his unlicensed, family restaurant. He and my mom raised six kids (I’m number five), and many grandchildren in that place, not a bad living for a town of 45,000.

In December 1985, I had just turned 22.  Trying to fill in details about my father’s life has exposed the only truth that I know about him. I love him still and miss him extraordinarily, especially today.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A darn test

My post course afternoon. Okay, so it's not writing the Great Canadian Novel, but come on.



- Posted using BlogPress from my iTouch.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Disconnect

This is currently on display in front of Vancouver's downtown public library:

As I took this photo, a man asked me, "...but do you know what it means?"

I replied, "No, but then who does?"