Renfrew Stories: Even while at school in Windsor, Renfrew Foundry Made a Big Impression

x YOU CAN TAKE THE BOY OUT OF RENFREW BUT ... x George Heath, a former Renfrew resident and a keen follower of www.stephenweir.com, sent me a clipping announcing the January closure of the H.Imbleau & Sons Foundry in Renfrew. George's wife Marie is a member of the Imbleau family. The company, founded in 1858, is the town's longest running business. For over 150 years the factory has put the Renfrew name on the map ... literally. One of the company's most successful products is manhole covers. When I received George's note about the closure, I wrote him a quick letter, reprinted below, which tells my story of the impression the foundry had on me in the early 70's while a student at Windsor University. .
Back in my days at Windsor University I worked a variety of part-time jobs so that I would not have to move back to Renfrew and work in the mines at Haley's Station in the summer. One of my steady gigs was in the student pub, which was held in the residence cafeteria between Laurier and McDonald Halls. In 1970 our student pub had to get special banquet permits to operate on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. To qualify as a banquet, every person entering the pub had to pay $1.00 for 3 sandwiches, ham, ham & a cheese slice and a straight cheese slice sandwich. There was a big garbage bin by the front door where you could throw out your sandwiches as soon as you passed the on-duty cop checking to make sure we complied with that license. I spent Thursday, Friday afternoons and Saturday afternoons making the sandwiches. I spent the rest of the week eating the sandwiches people didn't buy or wouldn't eat. They kept me feed for one whole semester. Bruce Payton briefly stayed with me, and those sandwiches feed him too. But I digress. Back at the pub, I also worked as a waiter. I was pretty bad. The music was too loud to hear peoples' drunken orders. Ask me for whatever you wanted but you always got a 50 or jug of draft. I would lie and say we were out of Black Horse, or Red Cap or whatever someone might have asked for. . "Oh, they aren't cold." "Oh man, sorry, last bottle just got sold." Didn't matter, how much they asked for something different, I always gave them a 50 or a jug of draft. We sold a lot of 50. Most nights, but not every night, we drained a lot of draft beer kegs. The music was terrific. Live. Many of the acts were from Detroit, coming over to Canada to slum on a Thursday night. Mitch Ryder. Alice Cooper, the MC5, the Stooges and my favourite Detroit band ... The Frost. There were Windsor bands too, Danny Bonk (who died three years ago) and Buzz and the Blues Train (Buzz died before turning 25). The student pub was student run. The tips were bad. The food never changed. But the music was oh, so, good. Favourite night was Saturday. When it all ended at 1am we waiters cleaned off the tables, carried the bodies to the front door and talked to the music acts. We'd also drink beer and stuffed those sandwiches into our mouths ... as a favour to the establishment. Seriously. Our pub manager Brian Ducharme, now a Windsor lawyer (who made his fortune defending strippers in the all-nude Windsor Clubs dubbed collectively as the Windsor Ballet) would let us finish off the kegs that hadn't been drunk dry. A half open industrial sized beer keg wouldn't keep from Sunday morning until the next Thursday night.
It was the difference between the optimist and the pessimist. Sometimes the keg was half full, sometimes the keg.... well you know how it goes. The night I called the Imbleau night, the Keg was way more than half full. In fact it was a shot glass less than full. Some thirsty waiter cracked it open just as we were screaming "Last Call". 10 waiters drank 20 jugs in 1 hour and 20 minutes. Security shared a jug or two too and then threw us out. I left upright. But by the time I crossed the main campus I was staggering. I remember crawling sorta along the sidewalk that lined University Avenue (Windsor's Raglan St). I kept one knee in the gutter and the other on the sidewalk. Figured I wouldn't get run over, and I wouldn't block pedestrians if I went down for the count. It was a 3-block crawl. Just as I got to my house I realized I was going to be sick. I was ashamed of myself. Had I sunk so low that I was about to be vomiting in the street? (Yes!) In my limited and failing vision, I saw a manhole cover -- I was saved. I crawled out to the cover. My plan was to lift the cover and void all that swirling beer and sandwiches in my stomach into the sewer. Who was I kidding? I reached the cover. I tried to get my fingers into the crowbar opening to pull the cover up. No luck. Fingers too thick. No strength. No chance. I was sick. 2 Jugs worth. And 5 ham and margarine sandwiches and 4 pickled eggs. I lay my head down in the mess I made. Three hours later, with dawn breaking, I awoke. Still in the street. Still with my head on the manhole cover. Lucky for me, Windsor in 1970 was as busy on Sunday morning as Calaboogie on Friday night ... no cars out and about to run me over. No good citizens to look the other way as they walked by. I got into my apartment on McKay Street. Cleaned off my face and looked in the mirror. I could see that lying on the manhole cover had created, momentarily at least, a Renfrew tattoo, for there on my cheek you could see the word Imbleau. You can take the boy out of Renfrew, but some nights, you can’t take Renfrew out of the boy (although, aside from my blood shot eyes, my face returned to normal pretty quick!) Pictured Top: A Renfrew manhole cover Pictured Bottom: Photo of Danny Bonk tribute story, Windsor Star

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