By Clyde Sanger
Chalked neatly on a Bank Street sidewalk placard was an Emerson quote: “Conversation, when it is best, is a succession of intoxifications.” The board was beside the doorway to Irene’s Pub and you could have taken it as a welcome to that haunt of good talkers and better singers.
Perhaps. No, it was one of the last “happy morning” thoughts that Angie Nellis has posted there on behalf of the bicycle repair store where she has worked for almost nine years alongside the owner, Peter Conway. And, in the dwindling days of March, I came for a farewell conversation with her and Peter, for at Eastertime they are to close one of the Glebe’s beloved nooks, McCrank’s Cycles, ready for moving across town.
On the final day of March they held not a wake but a celebration of the 20 years since Peter took over ownership from Gary McCrank. Peter has a liking for making big moves in his life on April Fools’ Day. He shifted McCrank’s to a street-front on that day in 2006 and back towards the courtyard exactly four years later. Now it is off to Hintonburg, next to the Royal Bank at no. 1B McCormick Street, a side street parallel to Parkdale and its market.
Why is he moving? Is it because Amica’s building a large retirement home across the road? No, it has to do with Ernesto selling the barber shop and the new owner raising (well, all but doubling) the rent. Stefan Sauvé at the Glebe Meat Market is no more pleased than Peter by a six-storey block shadowing the street, but he is steadfast on the corner.
I last had an hour-long interview (sorry, conversation) with Peter in May 2001. It was one of the ‘Forty-two conversations with Friends’ that were reprinted in Glories of the Glebe. Much has happened in his life since.
His first assistant, Sebastien Guité, went adventuring and died recently in India. Peter faced throat cancer more than three years ago, fought it with radiation, and treats every day since as “borrowed time.” His way of paying back: since October 2017 he has been putting on monthly courtyard gatherings with beer and songs, and these have raised some $4,000 for the Ottawa Food Bank.
But 18 years is a long gap between conversations and our ages are showing. We talked a bit about the past. Peter is now 65. I interjected, “Come on, you are still 25 years younger than me.” He is still supporting Queen’s Park Rangers, the valiant soccer club in west London where he was born in 1953. He came to Ottawa in 1968, just when the first brave cyclists were venturing downtown on quiet weekends. (I was one of them, choosing the Easter weekend.)
I asked about Gary, who went off to live on a sailboat in Florida and used to take Canadians across to Cuba along with their bikes. I was remembering how, in the mid-1990s, he led a group of three nurses, a young doctor, my wife Penny and myself on a memorable cycling tour in Costa Rica. It offered the unique thrill of riding full-tilt down the outer slope of Poas volcano.
“Gary’s taking his boat through the Panama Canal and sailing up to a cottage on Munche Island near Nanaimo,” was the answer. There seems a special magic of renewable energy about folks who have run cycle stores.
Peter still has it with a big grin and the reviews of McCrank’s that you may consult online at Google Maps are all five star. “Super honest, amazing service, great prices.” (That was Emily) “Polite and timely service. The tune-up was superb.” (from a local guide Karim heading 165 reviews).
Looking to the days ahead in Hintonburg, Peter says, “The future is Angie.” And this praise in a recent review gives the reason. “Angie is a fantastic bike mechanic, friendly, creative, quick and super reasonable prices. Whenever I have taken any of my family bikes to her with problems or challenges, she has enthusiastically fixed them. Makes me very happy.”
I asked Angie myself about wait times for problem jobs, compared with other elective surgery– in hospitals. Glancing up from the frame, she smiled: “Inside a week.”
No wonder people say, “Hintonburg is the up-and-coming place.”
Clyde Sanger, journalist, author, poet and adventurer, is a longtime Glebe resident and Glebe Report contributor who now lives in Old Ottawa South.