Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com
GRAVENHURST — John McMechan will do anything to get out in his 1931 Model A.
Like taking extra bottles and cans generated by the grandkids to the recycling centre on a Saturday morning.
Or taking a reporter on a wild goose chase for a gang of elusive Hells Angels gassing up in town — which proved a little slow when topping out at only “35 miles an hour.”
No problem for the Gravenhurst resident, though, he’s used to tooling around town in one of more than four million model As Henry Ford built.
McMechan, himself, has built a career on building, repairing, recycling, retro-fitting and repurposing antique cars, classic boats, Muskoka golf courses and homes and much more.
A long way from a major Toronto dairy-producing family.
His dad Colin and his grandfather John Sr. ran the Donlands Dairy for decades.
John Colin McMechan grew up on milk — and admits he once had a few extra pounds with all that tempting ice cream around.
But that was after the Second World War, when his dad came home a veteran and rejoined the family business in his mid-20s and started his own family. Later he had his own Canadian Dairies business selling everything from tiny creamers to iced treats and concentrated liquid milk you could add water to to extend its use multiple times.
Colin McMechan was a member of the “Kangaroos” — more formally known as 1st Armoured Carrier Regiment, now based post-war in St. Thomas.
“They were a tank unit that went ahead and cleared the way for the rest of the troops,” said his grandson yesterday, while sitting on the shore in front of his Muskoka Bay home that houses cars, boats — and grandkids on weekends and summer holidays.
“The Kangaroos were the tip of iceberg, because of the light manoeuvrability of their lighter tanks.”
After Labour Day McMechan, who just turned 73, and his wife Jane Templeton, 78, will be ‘Going Dutch’ on a trek in the footsteps of his father through parts of Holland as part of delayed 75th year anniversary celebrations.
Organizer Karen Hunter, whose parents lived in Gravenhurst for many years and still have family including artist Nancy Hunter, will be walking for her father Gill and her mother Carol.
Originally scheduled for May 2020, In Our Fathers’ Footsteps: A Dutch Liberation Pilgrimage, will go ahead this September after several COVID-related postponements.
Almost 100 Canadian descendants of Second World War liberators from across the country will “walk” 60 kms along the route of the Canadian troops in the Netherlands, participating in commemorations and celebrations along the way.
The one-time, not-for-profit event, which sold out in 2020, is accepting participants until this Thursday July 28 if anyone would still like to join them. See the above website for more information and to express your last-minute interest.
The cost is about $5,000, says Hunter, whose parents transitioned permanently from their cottage to Gravenhurst and were also big volunteers in the Anglican Church, the Opera House and the Seniors’ Centre, where Gill worked a lot in the wood shop and was also president of the Muskoka Field Naturalists.
The IOFF contingent will carry The Canadian Remembrance Torch designed and built by a team of engineering students at McMaster University. They will accompany the group and take part in a special ceremony at Het Loo Palace with Princess Margriet during which The Canadian Remembrance Torch will be passed “to the next generation.”
“The highlight will be our walk, as a large Canadian contingent with flags and a military band, into Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn where we’ll be met by Princess Margriet,” says Hunter.
The Canadian Remembrance Torch is a registered charity with a mission to make Canadian remembrance relevant, vibrant, and accessible — especially for young people — so as to inspire year-round gratitude for peace and freedom, says the Guelph resident.
Colin McMechan was a legion member and wrote two books about the war that his son devoured and now cherishes as his dad, like many veterans, spoke little about a part of life that while defining him didn’t confine him.
So John II wants to experience a small part of his father’s life and try to capture somehow what it may have felt like for his dad by travelling the some of the same roads, seeing and imagining part of his own roots.
The former landscape architect, contractor and superintendent, who worked 31 years for various Bruce Evans companies — and built a lot of Muskoka including Pine Ridge in Gravenhurst, the J.W. Marriott in Minett and re-igniting Grandview in Huntsville — says he’s been to Holland before under different circumstance. But he is looking forward to viewing the Netherlands through a uniquely different personal lens.
And sharing with his wife — Jane whose father Walter had eye trouble and couldn’t enlist — how the Dutch set the gold standard for war remembrance.
John says his dad went back to England, but not Holland where his whole tour was.
Colin was the second last member of his regiment, at age 94 to die, in 2017.
“I think that got him,” John said.
Imagine, he said, what it was like to be packed in 24/7 in a tank with comrades for years.
After the war Colin and his dad John Sr. ran successful dairy businesses and the family eventually sold to Beckers and subsequently Nielson’s.
And now this third generation of the McMechan family is following in his father’s footsteps.
He hopes the crippling heat now will have cooled a little in the next five weeks and that plans for an extended trip in to Spain won’t be hampered too much by victims being housed in hotel on that separate leg of their vacation tour.
If so John Jr. is ready for anything. He’s travelled much of the world — and almost, but not quite opting to live in Australia.
But nothing, he says, beats living in Muskoka — and driving his 91-year-old Model A or his 1951 green Pontiac.
It beats a tank under any circumstances.
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