Looking at the crowded calendar of touring events listed in the Ontario Cycling Association (OCA) Yearbook, it is hard to imagine that twenty-five years ago,that calendar numbered little more than a dozen events. Some, like the Tour of Rideau Lakes,
are well into their third decade, while others, like the Pedal to the Pines, live on only in memory. Standing proud of all this is the memory of the person who got it all started, a memory preserved in an OCA award presented
annually for services to recreational cycling, the Tom Parry Award.
In the early 70's, bicycling was experiencing the ten speed boom. Driven by the fear of heart disease and the aftermath of a gasoline crisis, people were turning from their cars and back to bicycles in unprecedented
numbers. Established cycling clubs experienced difficulty coping with the influx of cycling novices. training rides far beyond the capabilities of the uninitiated, left newcomers in the dust and cycling clubs with a tarnished elitist image.
With a view to making the sport more appealing, Ken Smith, then Executive Director of the Canadian Cycling Associaton (CCA), organized a conference in Ottawa to address the issue. The outcome of this conference was a commitment from each of the
provincial organizations to establish a calender of events that would give newcomers a gentler introduction to the sport than the cut and thrust of a training ride.
Enter Tom Parry. Tom was actually introduced to cycling by his Ford co-worker, Claudio Pante, then OCA Chairman. Tom's only prior involvement with cycling had been with the Optimist Club bikeathon. But always ready to accept a new challenge,
Tom joined with a small group of volunteers to promote a series of touring events which would comprise the first OCA calendar.
Events such as Pedal to the Pines, Tour of Quinte, Rideau Lakes and Madawaska were among the ten tours listed in 1973. After that, the calendar began to swell as Tom added some tours of his own and cajoled others into doing likewise. Soon, there
were over 30 events in the calendar with a participation of over 50 regulars and as many or more occasionals.
In 1975, a milestone was reached with the two week PreO tour from Toronto to Ottawa and back. It attracted over 90 participants and still holds many fond memories for those who participated. It was followed in 1976 by the Cycle Canada tour which
ran from coast to coast, heading for the Montreal Olympics. Once again it was Tom's guiding hand that kept this project on track, with a field of over 700 arriving in Montreal in time for the cycling events.
In 1977, the focus shifted to Woodstock, Ontario for the first Great Canadian Rally, just in time for the opening of the movie "Breaking Away". Never has a more partisan audience filled a movie house than the 500 who showed up for the preview.
Woodstock was also the scene of the very first "Twinklebone Pinic" at which Tom encouraged rallyists to bring their camping leftovers for a pot luck lunch.
The Great Canadian was supplemented by Tours of Lake Ontario running from 1977 to 1980. Tom was once again on the scene with U-haul trailer and his team of yellow shirted tour volunteers. by this time Tom had amassed a wide selection of
touring routes and overnight stopovers, which he made available to just about anyone who enquired, immaculately scripted in Tom's impeccable hand.
Besides the big events, Tom organised many smaller scale tours. It was with these that Tom attracted his greatest following. Lambasted by Tom's inimitable epithets, cyclist of all ages and abilities were treated with liberal doses of delightful
rural scenery and mercifully smaller, though equally potent, does of undulating terrain.
All of this would be accompanied by sumptuous quanitities of food, often served in the garden of Tom's family home in Carlisle, which by 1977, had become a mecca for itinerant cycle tourists.
Tom was equally renowned for a number of tougher tours, notably the Halton Hilly Hundred. These tours attracted a following of diehards who, undeterred by Tom's unrelenting banter, followed his directions to the very last letter, no matter
what the road had in store for them. Many of these participants in these tours gained prominence among the top rankings in the Canadian Mile Achiever Program (C-MAP) now the Canadian Kilometer Achiever Program (CKAP), yet another brainchild of Tom's.
Tom resigned from the OCA in 1980 to open the Twinklebone Tea Shoppe in St. George, near Brantford. Twinklebone's soon became a Mecca for hungry cyclists as Tom continued his banter, and Mai his wife continued to bake the soda bread which had
become such a favourite on his tours.
A history of heart problems in the family did not augur well for the future, and it was with regret that the cycling world learned of his early death at the age of 49 on 5th. Febuary 1987. Those of us who knew Tom will continue to treasure his memory.
For those who never had the chance to get acquainted, perhaps these few words will give a new generation of cyclists good reason to treasure the memory of a man who may truly be called the "Father of Ontario Bicycle Touring.