A story that began exactly 50 years ago – and continues

Melanie and me at the Manse, 1965

This is the earliest photo I have of the Manse. It was not taken in 1964, the year my family arrived here, but a year later – June 6, 1965, according to my mum‘s handwriting on the back. That’s me on the right and my sister, Melanie, at the front gate that used to be here. The date is significant because it would have been Melanie’s third birthday, and it was also (again according to my mum’s notation) her first day at Sunday School at St. Andrew’s United Church. Scroll down for a 50-years-later version of the same scene.

I feel I must not let July 2014 slip away without mentioning that it has a very special significance for me. You see, it was 50 years ago this month – in July 1964 – that my family – my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, my mum, Lorna, and my younger siblings Melanie and John (Ken, the youngest in our family, wasn’t yet born) – came to live at the Manse in beautiful little Queensborough, Ont.

We came here because Dad, newly ordained as a minister of the United Church of Canada, was taking up duties at his first pastoral charge, which included the churches in Queensborough, Hazzard’s Corners and Cooper. (You can take a little tour of that pastoral charge with me here.)

I don’t think I remember the day we first pulled up in the driveway in Dad’s 1956 Chev. (I was, after all, only four years old.) My mum remembers it vividly because pretty much the first thing that happened when we got out of the car was Will Holmes, who lived across the street, calling out to us with a warning: “Don’t drink the water!” (The water in the well at the Manse at that time was not potable, which meant we had to carry our drinking water in buckets from a community pump up at the schoolhouse. You can imagine what happy news this was to a mother of three children aged 4, 2 and 4 months.)

I don’t know what was the exact date of our arrival in July 1964. However, I assume it must have been around the middle of the month, because I have Dad’s sermons from 1964 and the very first one is dated July 19.

I read through that sermon the other day, sitting on the front porch of the same Manse that my family arrived at all those years ago. It is a good sermon; Dad’s sermons were always good. His text was from Mark 6:34, which is in the story of the feeding of the 5,000: “(Jesus) had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he had much to teach them.”

Dad did a good job in the sermon of explaining how lost, confused and helpless a flock of sheep is when their shepherd – the person who lives with them and whose call they know, the one person whom they will trust and follow – is suddenly not there. I confess I’d never really thought about that before. Obviously that was only a small part of his overall sermon, but it stuck with me.

As did one other thing, a phrase that I found really striking. Dad was talking about “the instinctive reaching out of the human soul to God,” and saying how we, like the crowds who flocked to Jesus in the story from Mark’s gospel, often can’t say exactly what it is we are looking for: “There is some help, some guidance, some teaching we all lack even if we cannot put our finger on our particular need.” He goes on: “Underneath all our surface needs is the instinctive reaching out of the human soul to God. Jesus understood that need of man to reach out to God, the need of the finite to touch the infinite.” (Italics mine)

“The need of the finite to touch the infinite” – it’s a beautiful and profound turn of phrase, isn’t it?

Anyway, aside from the thought-provoking content of my father’s first sermon as a young minister: isn’t it something that exactly 50 years later I am able to read and reflect on that sermon in the very same house in which he wrote it? I feel very fortunate – perhaps blessed is a better word – to be living in the handsome old Manse once again. And to be here with Raymond, who is the best (and most patient) husband ever.

In fact, I am going to show you a photo of Raymond and me that pays tribute to that full-circle thing. Remember Melanie and me at the front gate? Well, here are the current occupants. Same place – and a half-century later on.

Melanie and me at the Manse, 1965

Same place and one of the same people (me) as in the photo at top – half a century later. (Photo by Ed Couperus)

We failed to buy this hi-fi. Was that a terrible mistake?

The hi-fi we failed to buy

This restored 1970s Electrohome hi-fi, complete with totally unnecessary wooden cabinet, was practically the first thing I clapped eyes on during my latest excursion to an antique warehouse. We didn’t by it. Should we have?

Remember how yesterday I directed you (thanks to having been steered that way myself by reader Bob McKeown) to a Facebook group about growing up in Peterborough, Ont., in the 1970s (and, less importantly in my view, the 1980s)? Well, if you’ve forgotten, or didn’t see that post, it’s here. And if you check it out, or remember from when you did, you’ll know that one of the cool photos I found on the Facebook feed was of a vintage hi-fi set. You know – the kind with the tinny electronic apparatus built into a great big (and utterly unnecessary, as we learned in the later 1970s when we freed ourselves from such units) wooden cabinet that housed the large but tinny speakers. Every household had one, once upon a time.

Including, of course, the Manse! I wrote here (with a trace of nostalgia) about the Sedgwick family’s midcentury stereo, which as it happens was purchased from Pigden Electronics of downtown Madoc.

Well. Just think what Raymond and I came across for sale not long ago! Yes, you guessed it: it’s the hi-fi unit that you see in the photo at the top of this post. It was practically the first thing I found on our latest foray (we tend to get there at least once a year) to the wonderful Stratford Antique Warehouse in Stratford, Ont. My jaw dropped, not only with happy recognition but also at the price: a mere $150 for the unit in full working condition!

Hi-fi interior

Does that bring back memories or what?

Still: did we need it? Of course not. Would it be incredibly awkward, maybe impossible, to get home in our little Toyota? Indeed. We decided to take a pass. We left the store.

And went for lunch. And got talking about it. And then got talking some more. With the result that after lunch, we headed back to the Stratford Antique Warehouse.

Hi-fi label

A Deilcraft cabinet for the Electrohome stereo – I am 99.9% certain that that’s the same make as the hi-fi my family had at the Manse back in my childhood. Gulp.

You know, we got as far as measuring the hi-fi, and calculating ways to get it into, or on top of, the car. Raymond was even in the process of sorting through his impressive collection of bungee cords. But in the end, something stopped us.

It wasn’t the transportation problem. It wasn’t the price. (Lord knows $150 seems pretty reasonable for a piece like that.) It was the fact that something seemed a little bit off with the metal cylinder over which you place the hole in the record. Remember how those cylinders were maybe four or five inches high, and you could stack a whole pile of record on them, and they’d drop and play one at a time? That was how you did party music in those days – the 1960s/’70s equivalent of the iPod playlist. Man, I hadn’t thought of that in years and years!

But now that I had, I wanted the ability to re-create that vintage entertainment setup in my own home (which would be the Manse). And on this hi-fi, the cylinder was just a little thing that barely poked up above the turntable. No loading up of multiple records on that baby.

And that’s all it took. We came to our senses, and once again left the store without the hifi.

Am I sorry?

Yeah, a little bit. But I did take the card of the chap who was selling it… So stay tuned.

In my love for funky old things, I am not alone

Spirograph

Do you know instantly what this is? If so, you might be as interested as I am in the Facebook group I grew up in Peterborough Ontario (70′s and 80′s). This picture of some awesome Spirograph work was posted there by Michelle Walke Swan. Thanks for the memories, Michelle!

A big shoutout tonight to reader Bob McKeown of beautiful Stirling, who recently put me on to a Facebook group that – well, maybe it won’t change my life, but it sure makes me feel like I am not alone when it comes to a fondness for relics from midcentury central/south/eastern Ontario, where I grew up.

The Facebook group is called I grew up in Peterborough Ontario (70′s and 80′s) and you can find it here. (There is a separate group called I Grew Up In Peterborough Ontario 50s and 60s, which is, let us say, also not irrelevant to my past.) Now, I didn’t grow up in Peterborough (and neither did Bob), but my maternal grandparents moved there from Toronto in 1969, and over the years I spent a lot of time in that pleasant little city that’s only about an hour away from Queensborough. And, as Bob pointed out in his email to me, you don’t need to have grown up in Peterborough to appreciate the site’s posts harking back to fun stuff from the past, and the comments on them.

Rather than going into great detail, I’ll let those who are interested check out the Facebook groups for themselves. But perhaps I can whet your appetite with a few photos from the ’70s/’80s group, all of them posted by Kirb Scott, who clearly has a great eye for timeless stuff:

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Hey, if those don’t take you back, you must have grown up in a galaxy far, far away from mine!

I think I might have found a solution to the world’s problems.

Return to the Manse, high summer 2014

The Manse at about 4 o’clock  this afternoon, in the perfect afternoon sunshine of a hot day in high summer. It is a happy thing to come home to.

Raymond and I returned home to the Manse and Queensborough late this afternoon after a pleasant long weekend mostly spent in big, bustly Montreal. (Though I must note that the most important part of the weekend, and the reason we were back in Quebec, was a celebration in the Eastern Townships of the first birthday of Raymond’s grandson, Henry. At one year old, Henry is one happy, healthy little boy, and a delight to be around.)

Anyway, yes, the return home. For me it is always a pleasure to get back to the Manse after being away from it, no matter how enjoyable – vacation trips, grandson’s birthday, etc. – the reason for the absence. Today, though, it struck a particularly deep and happy chord.

It is a perfect hot, sunny summer day here in Queensborough, and as we drove up, the Manse looked its handsomest in the sunshine. But it was when I stepped inside the front door into the kitchen, sunny as always but pleasantly cooler than outside, that an almost overpowering wave of familiarity and of being right where I wanted to be swept over me. To be back on such a perfect day in the place where I grew up, where I spent some of the very happiest years of my life, and to know that it is now my place (and Raymond’s place) again, for as long as we want it to be – it was a feeling of pure quiet joy.

And this is what struck me: if everyone could be so lucky as to be able to go back to the place where they spent their childhood (that is, if their childhood was a happy one), or to the place where they were happiest in life; and if it could be on a perfect peaceful, sunny day in high summer like this one is…

Well, the world would probably be a much happier place.

When it comes to no-maintenance herbs, I am an awesome gardener.

The herb garden

My growing-like-mad herb garden on the south side of the Manse; I am very proud of it. Note nice new sign! (A gift from Raymond.)

Having yesterday shared with you a gardening tale that may very well have no happy ending – that is, my wish that I could grow lavender here at the Manse – I thought that tonight I would post something about my big gardening success story. It is… my herb garden!

Which, as you can see from the photo above, looks extremely healthy indeed. It’s just what I hoped for when I ruminated long ago about my desire for a flourishing herb garden. And doesn’t its newly acquired sign (a gift from Raymond) just add the finishing touch? (Along with the nice bit of bright-red colour from the adjoining oil tank, of course.)

Yes, my tarragon, sage, marjoram, rosemary, basil and especially Italian parsley and oregano are doing very well indeed. In fact the Italian parsley has, unfortunately, overshadowed, overgrown and kind of killed off my previously happy chervil. And the oregano has gone nuts.

My one issue with the herb garden is one I’d never faced with previous herb gardens. It gets so much sunlight, and the soil seems to be so accommodating, that things are growing a little too well. In addition to the aforementioned Italian parsley and oregano, the curly parsley is showing signs of overgrowing and not being nice anymore. I now think I was supposed to cut back these plants a bit when they started to grow so well, to keep them under control. But since never before have I had a herb garden that grew so prodigiously, I was blissfully unaware of this requirement. It’s a lesson for next year.

Anyway, the best thing about my herb garden is that herbs basically need zero maintenance – aside, I guess, from cutting them back a bit when they get too boisterous. This means that when it comes to herbs, I look like a success as a gardener even when I’ve basically done squat.

Now that is my kind of gardening!

Apparently even I could grow lavender. Or could I?

Doris's lavender

A gorgeous lavender bush in front of the home of our Belleville friend Doris. It got me wildly excited about the possibility of growing lavender at the Manse – excitement that I now strongly suspect was premature.

I haven’t written much about our garden lately, primarily because it is in a shameful state of weediness that I don’t like to think about (or broadcast, though here I am doing exactly that). I find it amusing, though not in a particularly good way, that I seemed to have more time to weed the garden in the two previous summers, when Raymond and I were only able to get to the Manse on the occasional weekend, than this summer when, theoretically at least, we are in full-time residence. The problem is this: we went and planned so much activity (including travel) for this summer that I can’t find any time to experience what I once called the zen of weeding. What I desperately need is one long, sunny, warm-but-not-too-hot-and-not-too-buggy day with nothing else to do, so I can spend it on hands and knees getting those same hands and knees gloriously dirty, pulling out the weeds that are trying to suck the life from our perennials.

But it hasn’t happened yet. Still, even though my garden is weedy, I can continue to dream garden dreams – can’t I?

My latest dream is about having lavender, although I am far from sure that this is a realistic dream.

I was inspired by a recent visit to our friend Doris, who lives in Belleville. Thinking I had discovered something exotic (for southeastern Ontario), I brought Doris a little bouquet of lavender that I discovered for sale at the farmers’ market in Stirling on the way (the long way) to Belleville from our home in Queensborough. I’ve always loved lavender, perhaps partially because of its deep association with beautiful Provence (where Raymond and I spent part of our honeymoon). I am so interested that it is now being successfully grown in some parts of Quebec (notably at the large Bleu Lavande operation in the Eastern Townships) and Ontario – including, obviously, somewhere close enough to Stirling for the product to be sold at the farmers’ market there. It seemed so pleasantly foreign, and so that’s why I picked some up as a little gift for Doris.

So what did Raymond and I see as we pulled into Doris’s driveway? A gloriously healthy lavender bush right there in her front garden!

Of course I felt dopey about bringing something as a gift that she already had in plenty, but I also used the occasion to try to learn something about growing lavender here in our part of the world. Doris told us that the lavender she has success with is the English kind, and she mentioned two varieties, Munstead and Hidcote. When I expressed surprise that they could be grown here, she said it was not a problem at all in Zone 5b. (Do you know about growing zones? Neither do I, particularly, but they are explained here.)

Spot for lavender

I love these big tall bushes of yellow flowers because they happen effortlessly (for me) – but since there is a bit of a surfeit of them, I think some could be removed to make this prominent corner of the Manse’s perennial garden just the spot for lavender. That is, if it’ll grow here.

Okay, so far so good. By the time Raymond and I got back to the Manse we had already decided where we wanted to plant our lavender. I was very excited!

However … it turns out (and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this) that Queensborough, in its north-of-Highway 7 location, is not in Zone 5b, as Belleville, on the shore of Lake Ontario, is. According to this map from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, it isn’t even in Zone 5a, the next-colder one that takes over a bit north of Belleville.

No, once one gets just a bit north of 7, one is in Zone 4b, where winters are colder still; and it looks rather doubtful that lavender would survive that.

Maybe it would, though; the entry on Munstead lavender on this gardening-company site says that it is their most hardy version, and while it lists its growing zones as 5a to 11, it also says that is is “cold-tolerant to Zone 4.” It doesn’t look like Hidcote lavender is a possibility; that one is listed as being in only in Zones 5a-5b for hardiness.

So this is the juncture where I would like to ask my Queensborough-area gardening friends (you know who you are): What are my chances of successfully growing lavender in the Manse’s garden?

Once I get the weeds out, that is.

What is “North of 7″?

Highway 7

This photo of Highway 7, which I took this very afternoon, gives you a sense, I think, of what a geographical divide it is between “the fat south/with inches of soil on/earth’s round belly,” as the poet Al Purdy put it, and the “lakeland rockland hill country” of the Canadian Shield, as Purdy also said. Note the rock through which the highway had to be blasted.

If you’re a regular, or even occasional, reader of Meanwhile, at the Manse, you’ve probably noticed me using the phrase “north of 7″ with some regularity. If you live in or are from the Queensborough area or quite a wide swath around it, you will be instantly familiar with the phrase and know what it means.

But I always keep in mind that it probably doesn’t mean a thing to readers from elsewhere, and so every time I use it I try to get in some kind of an ever-so-brief explanation – often something as simple as noting that “7″ refers to Ontario Highway 7.

So I thought it might be useful, both for readers and perhaps especially for me, to try to give a once-and-for-all explanation so that every time I say “north of 7″ in future posts I can just link back to this one (for those who are puzzled and want more information) and so that I won’t have to explain it every time.

Okay, so what is “north of 7″?

Well, to begin with – and the main reason why I use the term so often – it’s where Queensborough is, and thus by extension where the Manse is. Living here makes Raymond and me by definition north-of-7 people.

And yes, “7″ is Highway 7, or, if you want to get all formal about it, “The King’s Highway 7″ – though why ownership hasn’t been transferred to the current female monarch, who has, after all, been ruling for sixty-two years, is kind of beyond me. I have many times linked to the Highway 7 section of the very interesting website The King’s Highway (thekingshighway.ca) that is put together by Cameron Bevers, who has a vast interest in the geography and history of Ontario’s highways. If you’ve never gone to those links I urge you to check them out: go here to get not only some quick facts about Highway 7, but also an excellent recounting of its history, and here to see some great historical photos of it.

But why does being “north of 7″ constitute a state of being that is so different from, say, “south of 7″ (or, for that matter, “north of the 401,” or “north of Highway 2“)?

Well, I’m no expert in this stuff, but here’s my take on it. People, if you have information to add, or a different perspective on this locally important subject, please share your knowledge in the comments section!

Basically, in Hastings County, Highway 7 (which runs east-west) is the unofficial yet remarkably accurate demarcation between the rich (agriculturally speaking) lands to the south, down to Lake Ontario, and the Canadian Shield. North of 7 is where the soil thins out dramatically, where rocks and lakes and evergreen trees take over from wide-open fields and big, flourishing farms. Yes, there are pockets of reasonable soil and some nice farms north of 7; but they are relatively few and far between. For the most part, north of 7 is a different kind of country altogether.

It is the country that poet Al Purdy so memorably described in his poem The Country North of Belleville. (You can read all about that poem, and read the poem itself, in my post here). Except when Purdy was talking about “bush land scrub land … lakeland rockland and hill country” he really was describing “the country north of 7″ more than “the country north of Belleville.” (I think the latter title just sounded better to him, and it is very possible that more of his potential readers would have twigged to “Belleville” in the title than to “7.”)

“This is the country of our defeat,” Purdy says, taking on the identity of one or all of the would-be farmers who tried to make a go of it in the land north of 7 after it was opened up in the 19th century. It is, he says,

… where Sisyphus rolls a big stone
year after year up the ancient hills
picknicking glaciers have left strewn
with centuries’ rubble
                backbreaking days
                in the sun and rain
when realization seeps slow in the mind
without grandeur or self-deception in
                noble struggle of being a fool…

As it happens, there is a just-published book on the very subject of Hastings County north of 7 being “the country of defeat” for early pioneers. It is called The Trail of Broken Hearts (you can read all about it here), and it is by Paul Kirby, a writer and publisher who has done an enormous amount to explore and share the history of Hastings County. The Trail of Broken Hearts of the book’s title is the Old Hastings Road, which I wrote about at length here and which is the perfect symbol for the tough times that people of past generations have dealt with in the land now known as “north of 7.”

Not that there was a Highway 7 in pioneer times, of course. As I wrote here, the local section of the highway was built during the Great Depression as an employment project. Here is a wonderful photo of that time, which I have thanks to Keith Millard, a descendent of an early family here in Elzevir Township, the Kleinsteubers:

Highway 7 under construction, 1932

Highway 7 (in the Actinolite area, a bit southeast of Queensborough) when it was under construction in 1932. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

What is interesting is that when it came to constructing that roadway, the powers that be, whether consciously or unconsciously, did lay it out in a path that demarcated two different ways of living.

But I think it’s fair to say that “north of 7″ isn’t just a geographical thing; it’s also a state of mind. Longtime residents have told me they remember the days when if you lived north of 7 – say in Queensborough, or Cooper, or Eldorado, or Bannockburn, or Millbridge, or Gilmour, or maybe way up north in Coe Hill or Ormsby or Bancroft (where the writer of the excellent blog Living North of 7 [livingnorthof7.com] is based) – some people from south of 7 would look down their noses at you. You might be considered the Canadian version of a hillbilly, in other words. And l think there is no doubt that over the years, some hillbilly types have chosen to live in these relatively remote and undisturbed parts. But so have people who just want to get away from it all; if you want to be left alone, this traditionally has been a pretty good place to do it.

I don’t know whether any misguided people south of 7 still look down their noses at those of us who choose to live north of 7. But I do know that times are changing, and areas that were once seen as remote and forbidding are becoming ever-more-sought-after by people – and I’m not talking hillbillies here – who want to live, even if only part of the time, in a place that is quiet and beautiful and unspoiled. Like this:

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So yeah, I think “quiet, beautiful and unspoiled” pretty much sums up north of 7. And I know I am far from the only person who is very proud indeed to call “north of 7″ by another term. That would be: home.