By Victoria Foote

On October 5, two weeks before our move from Don Mills to downtown Toronto, the staff at Ontario Nature smelled something odd. Although one staff person swore it reminded her of chicken soup, to most of us it smelt much more like burning rubber. We went through room after room, sniffing and looking at each other in bewilderment. The smell eventually faded without our ever discovering its source.

Life works in mysterious ways and creaky Locke House, along with its Ontario Nature inhabitants, was no exception. The quirky building that we worked in acquired its own personality over the years and staff became accustomed to its unpredictable ways.

The first week: “I remember my first week here,” recalled one former staffer, “was very strange. On my third day I discovered that Locke House had been struck by lightning – which actually happened frequently. When I drove into work the next day, there was an enormous hole in the driveway. You couldn’t get in.” The hole – a canyon really – had also come as a rude surprise to the newspaper delivery man. The water main underneath the drive had burst in the wee hours of the morning, and the pavement collapsed. Driving at a good clip in the dark, the poor fellow drove right into the canyon, cracking his nose on the steering wheel.

The great flood: Several months into the job, I arrived one day to find my boss, mop in hand, frantically wiping up a large puddle on the first floor hallway. Water poured from above via the light fixture. The hot water pipe had burst in the upstairs bathroom and water gushed and pooled above as staff charged about lifting papers, books, computers and carpets up off the floor. The bathroom door was so warped, it didn’t close properly for weeks.

Food: Barbecues and corn roasts were a constant feature outside Locke House during the warm season – pizza and, more recently, Thai food when it was too cold for a picnic. And it’s no secret that simply any excuse sufficed to buy a cake. In fact, so devoted is Ontario Nature staff to the consumption of cake, that even the memory of someone who once worked with us has been known to justify its purchase.

Animals: Work came to a halt – even job interviews stopped abruptly – when deer glided out of the ravine to graze outside the office. Staff would stand, motionless, at the windows until the graceful creatures wandered back into the woods. Other wildlife encounters were more immediate. We were startled to discover that a skunk lived in the shed. Staff once helped a baby raccoon clamber out of the dumpster by putting a plank in it so that the animal could walk up and out. A former staff person found a milksnake curled up on her desk one morning (she screamed). Another former staffer once erected a hand written sign by the side of the long, winding driveway that said, “Please don’t drive over the snails.” After puzzling over a number of consecutive technical breakdowns, we discovered that mice had been disconnecting the computers one by one by chewing through the wires.

Dianne: Without exception, all staff ended up at some point hanging out in the front office over which Dianne presided until this past summer (see “Dianne (Dee Dee) Slyford: 1957 – 2006, page 46). Dianne was full of good cheer and humour and gossip. Her long, highly informative, pages over the intercom were the stuff of legend and, like so many other aspects of Locke House, could never be replicated.

In the fall, I brought my sons to work for one last look around. On the way home, Jacob, my elder son s aid, “Mommy, when you move, will the same people be at the new office?”

Our new address is: 366 Adelaide Street West, Suite 201, Toronto ON, M5V 1R9. The telephone number, fax and email addresses are the same as before. And so is the staff.