Tales of drinking and brawling at Eastwood Hotel remind me of Norse mythology
Over the years I’ve recorded many stories about the Eastwood Hotel.
The photos at this post are from a 35mm Nikon 801 SLR which I bought decades ago. The images have a characteristic feel to them. It reminds me that digital cameras are not the only way to go. That said, I like what digital cameras can do. For example, I like the optional ‘Photo Illustration’ effect on the entry-level Nikon D3300 digital SLR that I use now when not using an iPhone. I’m reminded of the characteristic “presence” of music from vinyl records. I’m reminded of the characteristic “resonance” of a voice played back from years ago from a cassette tape recording.
A March 27, 2008 Etobicoke Guardian article, entitled “Bittersweet moment as historic Etobicoke hotel is demolished,” highlights the hotel’s history.
Air thick with smoke
I will not try to recount details, aside from the air being thick with smoke, that I remember from interviews or conversations I’ve recorded, regarding the Eastwood Hotel. Instead, I will wait until I’ve transcribed the recordings, before I post the details.
What I can share right now, however, are a couple of my own stories. I will also share thoughts about the Eastwood Hotel and Norse mythology.
The first story concerns how far a bad reputation can travel. In this case it travelled from Kipling Ave. just east of the eastern border of Long Branch to just west of Fortieth St., almost all the way to the western border of the Long Branch neighbourhood. It goes back to 1997.
We bought a house in 1997 on Villa Road, a 10-minute walk from the hotel. Around that time, we got word that living that close to the Eastwood Hotel was possibly not the best idea. The source of the helpful commentary was an institution of secondary education, located at Kipling Ave. and Birmingham.
Fortunately, things turned out well for us, despite the proximity to the Eastwood Hotel. Indeed, over time it was established that the proximity to the hotel had no bearing on the value of our house, or on our well-being as residents of Long Branch.
Under the influence
The second story concerns an occasion, perhaps around the late 1990s, when I was walking home one evening on the south side of Lake Shore Blvd. West just west of Thirty Seventh St.
As I was walking, I noticed an older car parked in front of the Eastwood Hotel. I also noticed a bar patron stepping forward from the hotel. Unsteady on his feet, being from what I could gather somewhat under the influence, the person in question opened the door, of the parked car that I had just noticed, and drove off. I noted the license plate and called 911 on our landline phone when I got home.
Norse Mythology refers to Valhalla, where warriors who have died in battle relive their days of glory
And now for my essay, regarding what comes to mind, when I think about stories that I’ve heard, about days and nights of brawling and drinking at the Eastwood Hotel.
The brawling and drinking occurred in a setting so thick with cigarette smoke, that you could take out a knife, and cut the smoke with it.
That’s what I heard recently, from Garry Burke who paid a brief visit to the hotel on an errand, many years ago when he was an adolescent. The smoke was so heavy you could cut it with a knife. Garry Burke said, and I paraphrase, “Talk about second-hand smoke!”
After we sold our house in Long Branch in July 2018 and before we bought a house in Stratford, we stayed at short-term rentals across Ontario and hotels across Europe, as I’ve noted at a previous post.
On the way back to Canada in September 2018, I picked up several books at the Amsterdam airport including a paperback copy of Norse Mythology (2018) by Neil Gaiman. The book features Gaiman’s retelling of Norse legends.
When I think of the brawling and drinking at the Eastwood Hotel of long ago, I think of the story of Valhalla, which is prominently featured in Norse mythology.
When I think of Valhalla, I also think about the Valhalla Inn, that used to be in place until 2009 at a location where a condo now stands, along the 427 as you’re travelling north toward Burnamthorpe.
Often when I’ve driven by that location, I’ve thought about a remark, by a lawyer friend named Michael Niven who lives in Calgary.
He and I were both members of a board of directors of a national nonprofit organization that both he and I had been involved in founding, at a conference in Banff, Alberta in 1991. Some years later, we had an annual meeting, for the organization, at our family’s house on Villa Road. On that occasion, Michael rented a room at the Valhalla Inn.
On the way to the airport after the board meeting, or on some other occasion during his visit to Toronto, I asked Michael Niven how his stay at the Valhalla Inn had turned out. “Oh,” he said, and I paraphrase, “it’s a good place to stay. It’s a place that’s in keeping with my station in life.” (Michael has a sense of humour.)
I liked the expression – “my station in life.” From time to time I’ve been reading extensively about the history of the British empire, and Michaels’ remark reminded me of how, in the mythology related to the British empire, each person was assigned to a particular station in life, and everybody (from highest to lowest) was expected to affirm contentment with being an integral player in the vast expanses, and vast populations, of the empire.
As with any empire, the British empire had plenty of mythology associated with it, including in history books, that I was reading at the time, from the Toronto Public Library, that either extolled or refuted the myths associated with the British version of an empire.
Nil Gaiman describes Valhalla in “The Story of Gerd and Frey”
The story concerns Frey. “Frey, the brother of Freya,” as Gaiman recounts (p. 181), was the mightiest of the Vanir.” He had just about everything that a god of the Vanir could desire in life, but he was still missing something, and couldn’t figure out what it was. In Gaiman’s version of the story, Frey travelled to Asgard. Gaiman’s description (p. 182) took strong hold of my imagination when I first read it; the passage reads:
“When they reached Asgard, they walked towards Valhalla, the great hall of the slain. In Odin’s Valhalla live the Einherjar, ‘those who fight alone’ – all the men who have died nobly in battle since the beginning of time. Their souls are taken from the battlefields by Valkyries, the warrior women charged by Odin with the task of bringing the souls of the noble dead, battle-slain, to their ultimate reward.”
As the story proceeds, Freya and his servant, Skirnir “heard the sound of battle as they approached the fields around Valhalla; they heard the clash of metal on metal, the thud of metal on flesh. As they watched, they saw powerful warriors of all ages and places, well matched in battle, dressed in their war gear, each man fighting his hardest. Soon enough half the men were lying dead on the grass.”
A voice calls out a halt, to the fighting, announcing the battle is over for the day.
“At this, those who were still standing helped the dead men get up from the courtyard floor. Their wounds healed as Frey and Skirnir watched, and they clambered on to their horses. All the soldiers who had fought that day, whether they had won or lost, rode home to Valhalla, the hall of the noble dead.”
The warriors then entered an enormous hall, where they proceeded to an enormous feast, with mead to quench their thirst. The next day, the battle routine would start again. Half the warriors would again be killed in battle. When the battle was over, those still standing would be helping the dead warriors get up, and they would once again all proceed to their great hall to feast and drink.
That to my mind is a formidable story about fighting and drinking.