Lee Plaza Honeymoon









JOHN B. LEE is one of Canada’s most prolific poets. He sent me this piece by e-mail the other day after I told him I had been at the Lee Plaza Hotel a week ago. This once beautiful, art-deco building is abandoned now. The windows are all gone. Before dawn Sunday morning, I wandered through it, and stepped into the rooms. I found the remains of a piano in the ballroom. I found an entire closet full of clothes in another room. I found women’s hats, an umbrella, broken lamps and a jar of honey. I was with Windsor, Ontario photographer Jessica Bracken who spotted this white dress near a closet. I photographed it from the side. What follows below is John’s story of that hotel when his mother and father went there on their honeymoon.


My mom and dad were married in a home wedding on an uncommonly warm winter Sunday, January 9, 1949. After the ceremony in my mother’s homestead they went outside to be photographed in shirtsleeves on the lawn of the small hardscrabble farm a mile from Mull crossing. They set out from there in the dying hours of the day for the motor city where they stayed at the Lee Plaza hotel located in the shadow of the Olympia. That evening, my father and his new bride watched a game between the Leafs and the Wings from the standing-room only section of the arena. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, and Mother always remembered the pain in her feet standing on the hard and unforgiving floor in brand new high-heeled shoes. That was the first hockey game I attended, though my ovum waited in the warm darkness for nearly two years, a lonesome egg was I. Somewhere else, the team I would come to love, the Chicago Black Hawks, were waiting for me to be born a fan, though the first uniform I wore when I played my first game at 6 years of age would be that of a New York Rangers. Jar rings holding my shin pads and socks in place, I stumbled onto the ice like Andy Bathgate’s wobbly kneed newborn calf, I would have preferred a Black Hawks logo, but then, my father wasn’t one to ask me what I wanted. It seems my Mother was his willing partner even then. She hated hockey. She loved the man who took her to that game and made her suffer to be his companion in life, though now a widow, she still says of him, “he was the best man I ever knew. He gave me a good life. I miss him so.” I think of her there, her beauty often compared to that of Grace Kelly, so much did she resemble the lovely movie star, my aunt Emily bought her a Grace Kelly dinner plate that she placed on the dining room buffet. Still a great beauty at 87 years of age, my Mother laments those toe pinching high heeled shoes, the ones she wore the first night of her honey moon with George Emerick Lee on her arm as she headed for the Lee Plaza and the room where they would make love for the first time.

The Appointment

So, my term as Poet Laureate for the City of Windsor starts now. I met with Cathy Masterson at my “writing office,” which is located at Ypres and Walker Road (next to the Beer Store). It is Tim Hortons. Centre table. I’m there most mornings about 5:30. Tea and a bagel. You will see me tapping away at my laptop. Or reading. Wearing effectively what one might call pyjamas. Actually jogging pants and a hoodie. It is there that I write. After working for newspapers for some 40 years, I can’t stay home in the quiet that exists there. I need the clamour, the workplace, even though at this point in the day, it is quiet. Occasionally I spy someone in a corner sleeping at a table, their mug of coffee empty. It’s cold outside — I don’t blame them. The staff isn’t concerned. So, it is there at Tim Hortons that I met Cathy, but not at 5:30 a.m. We met in the afternoon. We talked about the position, and the plans for this two-year appointment. At this point, I’ve got high hopes, and the biggest one is trying to lure all the poets laureate from across the country to come to Windsor for a first ever literary reading of that kind. I am hoping for the spring, but that may be too soon. Perhaps BookFest? I will speak to Lenore and Martin about this.

I have to commend Ms. Masterson’s perspective on this. She is new to this job as cultural affairs manager for the City of Windsor. She arrived, and embraced Coun. Joanne Gignac’s push to start this poet laureate program in Windsor. Of course, I must also thank Joanne for dreaming up this program. It is a positive gesture in support of just how much the arts matter in this city.

I have received such wonderful response to this appointment. Hundreds of mentions on Facebook, email and twitter, and one special one from my son, Stephane, a hockey player in France who wrote this blog. Check it out: http://gervaisprohockeyfrance.blogspot.com/

Coun. Percy Hatfield had this to say about the appointment: “Marty Gervais is an outstanding choice for Windsor’s first Poet Laureate. While we will all have a learning curve to go through as to how best to promote the position and raise the Poet Laureate’s profile within the greater Windsor community, Marty already has a public profile from his many years of writing for the Windsor Star and his many years as a local poet, author, associate professor and publisher, so our job of promoting the position will not be all that difficult. I have known Marty since the mid-seventies and have always admired his work as a reporter as well as his love of this area’s rich history and heritage which he weaves so well into his story telling. I look forward to the many adventures he will lead us on in this new role and to the wonderful experiences which lay ahead as he prepares to bring to town, other writers, poets, and Poet Laureates to help him celebrate the role and responsibilities his new position . I don’t know the names of the other people who may have been nominated, but in my mind, the committee made the right choice and I applaud their decision and know Windsor’s arts and cultural community will welcome Marty with open arms as will our young students who are in for a treat when the Poet Laureate comes to school to introduce them to a new world of learning and creativity and an introduction to literature than only Marty can bring. We are all in for a treat and Marty’s new role is yet more proof that Windsor is a place where arts and culture, once struggling, is again beginning to thrive.”

Dr. Katherine Quinsey, department head of the English Dept. at the University of Windsor, made this comment: “If you’ve read the Windsor Star this morning, you will know that our own Marty Gervais has just been named Windsor’s first Poet Laureate. (The role of City Poet goes back a few centuries, so as an eighteenth-century scholar I have a special feeling about this!) As Poet Laureate of Windsor Marty will be the person to bring the voice and experience of our community to the wider world. This is something he’s already been doing for a long time. Not only as a poet but also as an eminent Canadian publisher, editor, journalist, teacher, photographer, and memoir-writer, Marty has contributed more to Canadian writing from and in our own corner of Canada than anyone I can think of. Here in the English Department we have been truly blessed in having Marty as our Resident Writing Professional; he has inspired generations of students of all kinds with his passion and skill for and with the written words and images that map and create our experience, reaching out from the classroom into the marketplace and community. I can think of no one better suited for this position!! Way to go, Marty! “

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