Cherry Beach regulars step up and get the scoop
The Hughes bench story proved to be an elusive one. Dinah Forbes suggested we check with the Memorial bench department of the City and the “sleuthy” Karen Lewis tracked down Judith Chant, the daughter of Grace and Alan and got her story. Thank you Karen for your persistence, patience, and offer to help, the story couldn’t have been told without you.
Sadly there were no photos available of the family and their dogs so I took a bit of artistic licence and substituted a few. The photos are interpretations of the Hughes’s dogs.
Below, in her words are Judith’s memories of her family, dogs, and how the bench came to be.
Paddy, the Irish setter who loved ice cream
My family had 4 memorable dogs, Paddy, Jolly, Otto and Tonto. Paddy was a gorgeous but neurotic Irish setter, fairly old when I was a baby. He was my grandparents’ dog during the war, driven crazy by bombing raids when he howled continually. He also loved ice cream and occasionally he was rewarded. The corner store was the magic place and if he could escape, went there himself, put his paws on the counter and they gave him a treat. My grandfather found out when presented with the bill for Paddy’s ice cream, so that was the end of that. When I came along he proudly guarded my pram, retrieving anything I tossed out.
Jolly, the pedigree poodle with bad hair
After Paddy died my grandmother said no more dogs, so when my grandfather, a compulsive gambler who knew another when he saw one, accepted a puppy as payment for an outstanding debt, she wasn’t pleased. Jolly came into our lives, a poodle with impeccable pedigree that normally would have been bred, but his coat, unlike normal poodle coats looked like a washed out perm, not curly, so his stud career was doomed. He was a marvelous dog and Grandma loved him to bits if no one was looking. She had been left very deaf by the Spanish flu and usually couldn’t hear the doorbell or phone. Jolly cottoned on to this quickly and became her hearing dog. When Jolly was middle aged my mother, who had been a very young widow, married Alan Hughes. He bravely took on a wife with a 13 year old, my ailing grandfather and a dog. Being an early riser he walked Jolly and he quickly came to love him as much as the rest of us. Jolly lived to be 17 and lived up to his name every day of his life.
The border collies, Otto and Tonto
After Jolly’s death my father became enthralled by the British TV show One Man and His Dog, about sheepdog trials and the next dogs were border collies Otto and Tonto. I was living in Canada by then and they were named after Ottawa and Toronto following a visit here. Mum had been skeptical about border collies, rightfully as it turned out. Otto was a very calm dog, middle aged in demeanor even when young, but Tonto was hyper and a handful and he failed obedience school a couple of times. Sadly Otto, a calming influence, died young and Tonto continued his career as the bad border collie.
Tonto enjoys Cherry beach
They all immigrated to Canada and Tonto became acquainted with Cherry beach after my father had discovered it. He loved water of any kind, cold, muddy, shallow or deep. In the winter he charged into the lake and on really cold days would emerge with icicles hanging from his legs. He had a steel plate in one leg after an altercation with a car but it didn’t slow him down for long. Eventually they moved further north but Tonto continued to swim and be bad, even into old age. Both my father and Tonto died and Mum, who had become frail, moved back to Toronto and we shared a house. I had hoped that we’d get a dog then. I had always had cats as I was at work, but I thought that the chance had come. Mum felt she wasn’t up to looking after a dog again, and didn’t like the idea of getting a dog walker for lunch time, so another cat it was. However, she loved to see dogs in action so every weekend we took coffees down to Cherry beach to dog watch. While she was able she walked a little, later I’d go for the walk and report back on the action and Mum could see the dogs arriving in the parking lot. She just loved this and we went in all but the most frigid weather. We did this until just before her death and it was a total joy to her.
My parents’ ashes and those of Tonto are scattered up north, a long way to go for a contemplative visit so I decided to get a bench to honour them. I walk every day at the Boardwalk and originally thought I would get the bench there. However, the dog beach seemed to be the obvious choice as my parents loved it there even when they no longer had a dog. I still go there quite often, sometimes to dog watch, sometimes with my neighbours and their dogs.
When the bench was installed and I went to look at it for the first time I burst out laughing, not the reaction I had expected. There were 15 dogs milling around and as I got closer one cocked his leg on the bench. They’d have loved it!