Pacey’s Service Centre, Hwy 17

It used to be that the mere mention of Glenn Gould and his affinity for the town of Wawa, Ontario, would fill me with happy thoughts of our own family trips from Sault Ste. Marie, along Highway 17. As you may know, I have a kindred spirit kind of connection to Glenn’s work and for his love of solitude and the area that for me was, literally home.

However, lately when I hear associations between Glenn and Wawa, of perhaps a Glenn Gould-inspired tour of the town, or of the rooms he stayed in at the Wawa Motor Inn (#101 and 102 in case you’re wondering) I feel inclined to head in the opposite direction. The connection is over-saturated, at least for me and I do prefer a less-trodden path, which brings me to the subject of this blog post.

Last week, I had the misfortune of having burned the proverbial candle at both ends, putting myself in a really bad state of fatigue (sadly, it’s how I work best, you know, give 1000% and then crash and burn out, rest and repeat.) Anyhow, my condition was exacerbated by a chronic sinus situation I’ve learned to live with and would have had in control, were it not for the provincial-wide (nation-wide?) shortage of over-the-counter cold medication. I try to only take decongestants when needed and boy did I need them last week. Too much information? Perhaps, but it sets up the story.

There I lay, in bed resting and trying to stay warm for several days. I was very tired, even just reading or watching a movie made me weary. The past few years have really been rough. I also live on my own and so have to be extra careful, because nobody’s going to come and fix me a bowl of soup. The one thing I can do no matter how weary I am, is to quietly listen to the radio (my secret best friend) specifically, music wafting in, rather out-of-focus, on the AM dial. There’s something about this experience. I am enamoured by the charm of the disembodied voice coming at me, in my solitude, from literally anywhere.

Recorded sound, radios, even walkie-talkies have always enchanted me and I can remember carrying my radio around on my bicycle handlebars, or taking my Realistic AM/FM radio/cassette tape recorder to elementary school and playing with it in the playground at recess. I even used to find a quiet corner of my room, to pick up truckers on my walkie-talkies. It was a thrill to pick up voices out of nowhere! This was in the 1980s and, come to think of it, those truckers would most likely have been driving along Glenn’s favourite route.

Getting back to the story at hand, I was dozing with the AM radio on very low, just loud enough to be a kind of white noise. I recognized a few tunes, others not so much. All of a sudden, on came Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, sung by Kathy Mattea. The song came out in March of 1988. I was not quite ten years old and Glenn had been dead for a little more than five years. From my sickbed, half asleep in that wonderful groggy (and congested) state between worlds, I immediately had in my mind, the image of being in the family vehicle long ago, headed east along Highway 17 towards Sudbury (where we have family) and specifically, rounding a bend in the road, lush with enormous and ample evergreen trees. The memory was crystal clear and the music I heard was this song. The weather was cold and dreary, very likely late Fall or early Winter. Whether or not we heard this particular song on a day of that nature, on that particular stretch of road, is unknown. It is possible and perhaps, more likely than not, as we made the trip many times.

This song I quite enjoyed when I was little and I quite it enjoy it today. Lyrics not about the romance between a couple, but rather, of being on a highway, late at night, listening to “the all-night radio.” I like to think that had Glenn lived just a few years longer, he, too might have appreciated the song. But what does this all have to do with the title of this post?

The image I just described, of hearing this song, its lyrics (specifically the minor chords that align, ironically enough, with the words “miles” and “radio”) and of the memories it brought back, reminded me of a place called Pacey’s Service Centre. Pacey’s was a Texaco gas station and they had a family friendly kind of restaurant. It was located in the town of Espanola, right on Highway 17 near the turnoff one would take to get to Manitoulin Island. Today, it’s an Esso gas station and there’s a Tim Horton’s restaurant, as well. Pacey’s no longer exists and, as I recall, it seems as though the last time we serviced the car there and had a bite, was perhaps in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

Location of the former Pacey’s Service Centre, in Espanola, Ontario, along Highway 17. (Image via Google)

As I lay there, resting and listening to my little radio (even after the song had ended) it struck me that Glenn himself would very likely have gotten gas at Pacey’s and, perhaps he even sat down inside a few times and ordered the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy (which I recall being on the menu.) Our family didn’t usually order this kind of food (it was a treat) but for whatever reason, on that particular trip, we were hungry and the meatloaf and gravy sounded good. It was good, very salty, but warm and satisfying. Comfort food!

I know that Glenn liked this kind of trucker restaurant and, with his trips taking him along this very stretch of highway (and with so few opportunities to get gas in between) it’s entirely possible, no, likely, that he knew of Pacey’s. Of course, we shall never know, nor does it matter, but it is a nice replacement, at least for me, to the tired image of Glenn in Wawa. Of course, thoughts of our stops at Pacey’s made me also think of spin-off places nearby, such as the Husky gas station and restaurant (remnants still remain) as well as the old hotel on a hill, now Lively Inn & Suites.

Now that I am feeling back to normal, I need to go and practice the music of J. S. Bach, as I am working hard to grow my YouTube channel. Thanks for reading and getting nostalgic with me!

Pacey’s Service Centre, Hwy 17, Espanola, Ontario, date unknown. (Photo via Pacey’s Facebook group, May 2011).

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