I grew up (and currently live) in Cambridge, Ont. As a child it was fine, as a teenager it was boring, and for a few unfortunate years in my early-to-mid twenties, it was the bane of my temperamental existence. It is surburban, it is quaint, it is strip malls, it is history. And while I’m allowed to make fun of it whenever I want, if I hear any of you talking shit about my hometown, I will fight you in the same parking lot the boys I loved once skateboarded in.
Which is why I’m the only person qualified to map it out for our newest additions, Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin. Having just purchased property outside the city limits—and with Justin reportedly wanting to make Canada his homebase—my precious son and his soon-to-be bride are in need of a guide to Cambridge that’s honest, accurate and will ensure that we run into each other frequently. And while I guess the rest of you can follow it too, I also couldn’t care less. This is for J-Biebs, Ms. Baldwin, and a future in which I hang out with them regularly. See you soon, precious fam.
Finished in 1902, the restaurant/spa/hotel was formerly a country home but is currently the closest I will ever get to living in Downton Abbey. Naturally, the food is unparalleled, the high tea is tremendous, and the photo ops are spectacular. But most importantly, Drake shot album art for Views on the driveway a few years ago, which brings us all nearer to the dream of Aubrey, Justin and myself bonding over scones and clotted cream. That, or seeing ghosts of the former owners.
I’ll take either.
A fact I like to scream into the faces of strangers is that The Handmaid’s Tale films in a part of Cambridge called downtown Galt. (Specifically, the scenes in which Offred and friends walk by the river.) This typically earns a half-hearted, “Wow, really?” while I nod smugly, as if I scouted the location myself. I did not. But should Justin and Hailey want to look at old buildings and churches that back onto the Grand River, this is where they can do so. Provided they invite me.
And since we’re in Galt, we might as well take advantage of LA Frank’s—the seasonal hotdog/hamburger/ice cream stand that I personally can’t order anything from (I have the digestive system of a small infant), but will happily stand awkwardly near as my friends consume food like normal adults. A right of passage. A fast way to make me feel sad and jealous.
Years ago, Cambridge was a city brimming with bowling alleys. (There were three. Maybe four.) Today—and until the construction of the bowling alley/arcade/restaurant in the mall is finished—there is one. And while I don’t know the origin story of this Galt-based mecca’s name, I do know that when I was 21, I wasn’t paying attention on my way out and fell down the stairs, spraining my wrist as my friends stifled laughter. I also learned that black lighting makes one’s tears glow. Biebs and Baldwin deserve to see this for themselves.
The Cambridge Centre
Behold! The mall I worked at from 2005-2009. Is it worth going without being able to see me fold jeans at American Eagle? No. But maybe Hailey likes Marshall’s. Perhaps Baby Biebs adores Bootlegger. And if all else fails, there’s still a movie theatre inside. So let’s just meet up after the 7:10 screening of Little Italy, and take it from there.
Thrifting in Cambridge (and the Waterloo region) is better than in any other region and in any other city. Last week, I paid $49 for seven pieces that will make me look exactly like Sandra Bullock in Practical Magic. (Exactly. I will look exactly like her.) And why wouldn’t two kids saving for a big wedding want to wade into the waters of previously owned and loved clothing? Why wouldn’t Justin want to pick up a few new Hawaiian shirts? Why wouldn’t he want me to push him around in a cart like the caring mother I am? Why wouldn’t he look up at me from between ’90s-era sweaters and tell me how proud he was to be my son?
Rising Dough Bakery
Of course, after burning through calories trying on pleated pants, we could and would descend on the Scottish bakery in Preston (another area of Cambridge—please don’t worry about it, unless you grew up here, you won’t care and it doesn’t matter) where the pasties and pastries are equal parts prevalent and delicious. Once, I bought a week’s worth of cookies and and ate them in about two days. I felt deathly ill, but it was worth it. And guess what: I’ll probably do it again.
Fashion History Museum
And then there’s Hespeler. (Okay, fine. Here’s the history: Cambridge consists of three parts that used to be former towns. They amalgamated in the 1970s, but some of us grew up in families who do not acknowledge said amalgamation. Thus, Hespeler, to me and my family, is superior in every way.) Located in the old post office, the Fashion History Museum is, in a word, the fucking bomb. The two owners have a collection that spans centuries, continents and historical narratives, and the exhibits are well thought-out and interesting. It’s also not-for-profit, so only good things can come from visiting. Which is why Hailey and Justin should go. Also, because I’m specifically ordering them too.
This is the restaurant I grew up eating chicken wings at. It’s also older than time. I’d be ashamed to find out Biebs and Balds didn’t go. I’d also be ashamed if they didn’t order me chicken wings.
The Hespeler Arena
No, not the actual arena. (I mean, sure: hockey and figure skating happens there, but also welcome to southern Ontario where there are no less than 46 arenas per person per city.) Instead, let’s focus on the parking lot. And, since we’re talking about paved spaces ideal for parking, standing, and talking shit, let us also branch out to include the McDonald’s and Food Basics plaza parking lot, where much of my young life was shaped by standing, by sitting, by drinking Mike’s Hard Lemonade, by smoking Players cigarettes, by watching skateboarders.
Frankly, you will never “experience” Cambridge until you experience it in a parking lot. Which morphs this guide into a straight-up challenge: when Justin and Hailey find their own lot to loiter in, Cambridge will finally be home.
More from Anne T. Donahue:
What Buck-a-Beer Feels Like to an Alcoholic
How I Get Shit Done Working from Home
How to Use Professional Jealousy to Figure Out What You *Really* Want
#HowIMadeIt: How Anne T. Donahue Became a Writer
Even Unf-ckwithable Women Need Help Sometimes