Does a blue dot mean these trees are in danger?

Blue dot on the tree of life

The spray-painted blue dot that I discovered this morning on the beautiful red pine across the road from the Manse. What does it mean?

A blue dot is innocuous enough, right? Well, people, I hope so. But this morning I got a start that got me wondering. Let me explain – and in the process ask you if you know what that blue dot means.

Over the last couple of weeks, crews with Hydro One – provider of electricity throughout rural Ontario – have been out and about in the Queensborough area, cutting down tree branches and, in some cases, whole trees. I have to assume this is because there is concern that these trees and branches are too close to hydro wires and pose a risk to both safety and electrical delivery if high winds, or the weight of snow or ice, cause them to fall onto the lines.

I don’t think it’s any skin off anyone’s back to see a few branches cut and cleared – and indeed, the crews have been dutiful about taking away the brush piles they create. But I find it sad when whole trees are completely, or almost completely, taken down. Here’s the remains of one recent casualty on Queensborough Road a little west of our hamlet:

Tree cut by Hydro One, Queensborough Road

And here’s an even sadder spectacle, a little further west on the same road:

Second tree cut by Hydro One, Queensborough Road

Here’s how you know it was Hydro that cut the tree – an orange H spray-painted onto the trunk before the cutting begins:

H marks the spot

Here are some small trees just south of the Manse on Bosley Road that, as of this morning, were still standing, but maybe not for long thanks to those orange Hs:

Orange Hs on Bosley Road trees

Or maybe in this case, as in most others I’ve seen, these trees will just lose some of their branches. At any rate, I assume this is work that needs to be done, but as I said, the loss of whole trees makes me sad.

Which leads me back to the scare I got this morning.

I looked out the front window of the Manse onto a sunny and almost springlike morning, and there were two Hydro One vehicles – a pickup truck and a tractor-y affair with a cherry picker on it – heading slowly south past the house. I figured they were headed down the road to do some cutting at the spot I showed you just now in my photo. But when they stopped at the end of our driveway, and stayed stopped for several minutes, I started to worry.


Because the Tree of Life – a red pine that is easily one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen – is located immediately across the road from our driveway:

The tree of life this winter morning

The Tree of Life (as Raymond and I call it) on this bright late-winter morning.

Surely, I thought with horror, it couldn’t be a target for the cut-down crew! There’d been no orange Hs painted on it; you can be sure I would have reacted before this if there had been. Not that the tree stands on my property, you understand; it’s at the corner of the expansive yard of our neighbours Steve and Dana and their family. But because it’s front and centre in our field of vision from the Manse, and because it is so, so beautiful, it looms large in our lives. I wrote a whole post about it here, in our early days at the Manse (when I hadn’t yet figured out what kind of tree it is); and here are two more photos of it, showing how glorious it is in the morning of an early-summer day or the late-afternoon sun of late summer:

Tree of Life July 2014

Late-summer sun on the Tree of Life

Alarmed that this beautiful tree might be at risk, I hastily changed from my bathrobe to my clothes and prepared to grab coat, jump into boots and head out the door if necessary to speak to the crew. Mercifully, at just that point they started up again, turned the corner onto King Street and drove out of sight. What a relief!

But once they’d gone, I took a closer look at the Tree of Life and saw, for the first time, that while it doesn’t bear any orange Hs, its trunk does have a blue dot spray-painted on it.

What does that mean?

I ask this not just out of concern for the Tree of Life, but because a little while ago I noticed that an identical blue dot had been spray-painted onto a tree we do own. It’s a tall, happy tree (whose species I am embarrassed to admit I do not yet know) that stands in front of the historic Kincaid House next to the Manse; Raymond and I bought that house a few years ago. Here’s a photo that shows the blue dot:

A blue dot on the Kincaid House tree

And here’s one that shows how tall and stately our tree is:

Stately tree at the Kincaid House

So what’s this all about? I assume that it’s Hydro One crews who have sprayed the blue dot, since they’re busy spraying those orange Hs all over the place. But a translation would certainly be helpful. Is it shorthand for “Owner of tree, we’re coming for your tree”? Or for “You’ll be hearing from us about the need to cut some branches”? I am mystified, especially since the blue dot’s been there on the Kincaid House tree for a while, and we’ve had nary a communication from Hydro One. If there’s cutting to be done, will Hydro One do it, or will we be expected to arrange it ourselves? And do I get a chance to appeal any tree- or branch-cutting determination that has been made by Hydro One?

Since Raymond and I bought the Manse a little more than six years ago, and moved from Montreal to Queensborough full-time 4½ years ago, I’ve learned – or re-learned – quite a bit about living in rural Ontario. I’ve learned about “911 numbers,” and bitterns, and the usefulness of long underwear on cold early-spring days. I’ve been reminded of a lesson learned in my childhood about the importance of keeping the mailbox shovelled out in winter. I’ve even made some progress on my tree-identification skills. And I’ve learned how to make pie crust!

But one piece of rural wisdom that I have not yet picked up is what a blue dot spray-painted on my tree, and on the beautiful tree of my neighbours, might mean. Can anyone help me out?

The torch has been passed, and the pies have been made

Betty shows how it's done

Betty Sexmith demonstrates the fine art of pie-making as fellow teacher Barb Ramsay (to Betty’s right) and eager students look on. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

“So,” you’re probably saying to yourself, “I wonder how that pie-making class in Queensborough last weekend went.” Well, people, I am here to tell you: It was absolutely fantastic. And I have the pie to prove it.

You might recall that in telling you about the Queensborough Community Centre‘s first-ever Master Class in Pie-Making (in a post that is here), I mentioned that I was a card-carrying member of the large segment of the population that cannot produce a homemade pie. I thus planned to be in the front row as Queensborough pie-makers extraordinaire Barb Ramsay, Ann Brooks and Betty Sexsmith shared the secrets of perfect pie crust. And on the sunny, springlike Saturday afternoon on which our Master Class was held, there indeed I was: watching every move Barb, Ann and Betty made, asking questions, taking notes and snapping photos.

Get your aprons on!

Students, don your aprons! There was a lot of happy bustle as the historic former schoolroom filled up and eager students got ready for their lesson. On the tables were laid out everything they needed: recipes, mixing bowl, ingredients, etc.

And I was far from alone. As predicted by me and many others, all available spots in our Master Class were filled very quickly. More than one would-be student had to be turned away, though with the news that we’ll probably hold the pie-making class again. After all, success should be repeated!

So along with 26 other students and some onlookers and helpers, I watched Ann, Betty and Barb as they made their trademark flaky and delicious pie crust: Betty and Barb by hand, using a pastry blender, and Ann using her high-powered KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook.

Blending the pastry

Betty Sexsmith demonstrates the use of a pastry blender.

Betty and Ann demonstrated lard pastry, while Barb made hers using vegetable shortening (suitable for vegetarians and vegans). I don’t know that any of the three have acted as teachers before, but they did a brilliant job, clearly explaining the various steps as they went along, and reassuring us that whatever might go wrong – for instance, a bottom shell that doesn’t quite stretch to the edge of the pie plate – can easily be remedied – in this case, with a bit of patching.

Barb's rolling-pin technique

Barb Ramsay demonstrates the fancy way to get the dough into the pie plate: rolling it around your rolling pin, and then unrolling it into the plate. Impressive!

They showed us the two techniques for getting the pie dough into the pie plate. Betty and Ann folded it in half, lifted it and placed the fold in the centre of the plate, then gently unfolded it. Barb, meanwhile, showed the very impressive rolling-pin technique, in which you roll the dough around your rolling pin and then unroll it into the pie plate. Wow! (I was too scared to try it.)

They showed us how to cut slashes and make the top of the pie look fancy, and different ways of pinching the edges together – with a fork, or by fluting them with your fingers.

And then it was our turn!

Making pie at my tableMaking pie at Table 2Making pie at Table 1

Me making pie crust

Here’s me blending up my pie crust, nervous as all get out. Longtime readers might recognize the turquoise apron (complete with vintage-style rick-rack) that I was wearing; it was made for me by my friend Margaret Squibb, who is a baker extraordinaire. Margaret bakes all the amazing pies served at the Montreal restaurant Tuck Shop, where her son, Theo Lerikos, is owner and chef. Thanks, Margaret! (Photo by Jill Cameron)

As we nervously measured out our flour and began our blending, the three experts and some helpers roamed from table to table, watching, offering advice, answering questions and calming our anxieties.

Ann helps James

James Cipparone of Queensborough celebrated his 11th birthday Saturday by taking part in the Master Class. He chose to make his pastry using Ann
Brooks’s KitchenAid mixer, and she talked him through the whole process.

Ann advises the pie-makers

Ann Brooks visits a table of pie-makers to calm nerves and answer questions.

Frankly, I don’t know what I would have done without Betty’s frequent visits to our table to check on us. When is the pastry sufficiently blended? I didn’t know, but she guided me through it. Have I rolled it out properly? Sure I had, she encouragingly told me. How do you cut those fancy slashes again? Betty kindly showed me once more.

And by the end, I had a pie!

My pie

And so did everybody else!

Happy pie-makers

(Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

All we had to do was take them home and bake them. Which of course I did, and here’s my finished product:

Finished pie

I cannot tell you how proud I am of having produced this raspberry pie. As Raymond (my husband) will confirm, it was delicious – and the pastry was nigh on perfect.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos of the day to give you a sense of what a great afternoon we all had:

Elaine starts us off

As the afternoon kicked off, Elaine Kapusta of the Queensborough Community Centre committee explains to the students how we came up with idea of the Master Class in Pie-Making. Looking on are our teachers: from left, Barb Ramsay, Betty Sexsmith and Ann Brooks.

We are ready to make pie

This roomful of people is ready to make pie!

Betty and Teresa

The class was billed as a passing of the torch, as veteran pie-makers taught younger folks (okay, not all of us were younger) the art of pie-making. This was beautifully exemplified by the participation of Teresa Laton, granddaughter of teacher Betty Sexsmith. (Photo by Jill Cameron)

QCC members at pie class

Our pie class was organized by members of the Queensborough Community Centre committee, some of whom are (right to left) Elaine Kapusta, Ann Brooks, Joan Harrison Sims, Betty Sexsmith, Barb Ramsay, Stephanie Sims and yours truly. (Photo by Jill Cameron)

And here’s the good news: most of the people who attended this first class – which focused on the fine art of the pie crust – are already signed up for a followup session on making pie filling using fresh fruit. Success breeds success! Also, as I said, there will probably be another session on pie pastry for those who couldn’t be squeezed into this first class and those whose interest may be aroused by the positive publicity our class got. (We had two reporters there to document the day.)

Ann and James with James's pie

James Cipparone with his pie whisperer, Ann Brooks, and his finished product, lattice-topped and all. Pretty nice to go home on your 11th birthday and have a pie like that for your family to enjoy!

People, I think we are on to something. The fact that it’s something delicious just makes it that much better.

Canada’s oldest gas station? We’re getting closer to the story

Canada's oldest gas station by cjaremk

Today as I sought out more information about “Canada’s oldest gas station” in the local hamlet of Eldorado, I found this nice photo on the photo-sharing site Flickr. The photographer is cjaremk, and you can check out his/her/their other great photos here.

Thank you so much to all of you who responded to my recent post seeking information on a building in our neck of the woods that proclaims itself “Canada’s oldest gas station.” I haven’t – yet, at least – got the proof I’m seeking that this claim is true, but I sure know a lot more about that gas station, and the history of Eldorado, the hamlet where it’s located, than I used to. I feel confident that the full story behind the oldest-in-Canada claim will come out before much longer.

From several readers I learned that the gas station – which I should say right here is no longer operational as a gas station – was built and opened by Charlie and Keitha Pigden. (My thanks to Charlie and Keitha’s granddaughter, Dianne Brick, for being the first to share that information.) Precisely what year the Pigden garage and gas station began operating I do not yet know, though it seems to have been in or about 1920. But thanks to another reader, Gurney Barker, I do know that for building materials, Charlie Pigden used reclaimed stuff from a former copper mine in the Eldorado area. Gurney helpfully sent me the appropriate section from the book Eldorado: Ontario’s First Gold Rush by my friend Gerry Boyce, Hastings County historian extraordinaire. (Raymond and I have a lot of Gerry’s books of local history, but unfortunately not that one. Yet.) Here’s the passage in question:

“The mines remained a fact of life for Eldorado’s people. When Charlie Pigden arrived soon after World War I, his family first lived in what had been the mine’s first boarding house; his children played in and around the shaft and pits. Pigden dismantled the old copper mine buildings and used the materials to build an Imperial Oil garage. He provided economical power packs (motors on car frames) for miners who continued to work the Richardson and other sites.” [Note from Katherine: The Richardson mine was the site of the gold rush for which Gerry’s book is named.]

Here’s more, this time from Gurney himself, who grew up in Eldorado:

“I remember the old boarding house. But also when I was in public school during the late 1940s, a local gent by the name of Bob Blakely owned a portable homemade sawing machine which was built on an old car frame and running gear. The engine was from a 1928 Chevrolet car (my dad said). Blakely towed it around with a team of horses from farm to farm each fall sawing firewood from the trees which the farmers had cut months before. I understood that this was one of the so-called “power packs” which Charlie Pigden built.”

And here’s more from Gurney, this time on Charlie and Keitha’s remarkable son Gordon Pigden (and I should note that Gurney was not my only correspondent who pointed out Gord Pigden’s accomplishments):

“Charlie’s son Gordon was an electronic legend around there when I was young, with his clandestine radio transmitter, etc. What really impressed my brother and myself was that he hand built the very first television set anywhere in that country at a time when the closest TV station was in Syracuse, N.Y. He displayed it in the window of his Madoc shop and it always seemed to attract a cluster of curious watchers on Saturday evenings. Gordon was in part the inspiration which led my brother and me to become electrical engineers.”


I’ve made mention of Gord Pigden before, in the context of the cable television station he established in Madoc and that filmed footage of many, many important (and not-so-important) events in this area’s history – work that is carried on today by that Gord’s son, Terry, and daughter-in-law, Eileen. And I’ve mentioned my memories of Gord’s store in Madoc that Gurney refers to, selling and repairing TVs, stereos and records; I used to love looking through those racks of records (Quadrophenia! Planet Waves!) in my early teen years in Queensborough, and I am certain that the stereo we had at the Manse back then – one of those great big wooden ones with the turntable inside – came from Pigden’s. But I hadn’t realized quite what a trailblazer Gord was. Reader Mark Godfrey noted that Gord was “also a pioneer and innovator in the field of radar during the war.” Let me say it again: Wow! Who knew there’d be so many stories dug up just by asking about an old gas-station sign.

But speaking of that gas station, let’s get back to it.

Readers also shared the information that Jerry Morrison bought the gas station when the Pigdens sold it and moved their operation into Madoc. I remember the large Pigden garage and car dealership on Russell Street in Madoc from my childhood; a while back we got to see again, for the first time in many years, what the front of that operation looked like, when it was briefly uncovered during renovations by the building’s current owner, Bush Furniture. Here’s my photo:

Pigden Motor Sales sign at Bush Furniture

Two or three other owners followed Jerry Morrison, readers told me. At one point (not long before it closed down, according to one reader) it was operating under the name Eldorado Emporium and Gas Bar, and the owners were seeking to shore the business up by adding a Liquor Control Board of Ontario outlet and the post office for the hamlet. Here’s an article about that (helpfully sent by a reader!) by Diane Sherman in the Community Press weekly newspaper in October 2008 (click here to read the full story):

Community Press story on Eldorado gas bar

I wasn’t around this area back then, but I’m guessing that the owners’ efforts were rejected by the LCBO and /or Canada Post, which may have led to the business closing down not too long after the story appeared. And that’s really sad, because the closure ended almost 90 years of the building being a bustling hot spot in Eldorado. This recollection from the 1940s from Gurney Barker paints the picture really well:

“I recall Charlie Pigden’s garage and my dad filling his Model A Ford from those old fashioned ‘sight glass’ gas pumps out front. From an early age I understood that Charlie built the building using lumber from an old gold mine. I remember Wilfred Thomson who worked there as a mechanic. I recall getting our radio wet cell batteries charged at Charlie’s place. Charlie also sold Ferguson tractors from the premises. When I was in high school the Morrisons ran a small restaurant in the old Pigden building building adjacent to their body shop. It was called the Squat and Gobble, and an overhead sign proclaimed it as such. I also remember the weatherbeaten gold-rush-era boarding house which stood across the street, and I remember the old Conlin hotel which stood at the junction of Highway 62 and the Rimington Road. Both were torn down in the 1940s. My parents patronized the two general stores in the village: Strebe’s (later Anglin’s) store and grist mill, which both burned down in the 1940s, and Mrs. Arkell’s store, which still stands and is featured in at least two ‘ghost town’ books. And my dad ran the old Fox blacksmith shop for a while in the late late 1940s.”

That, Gurney, is seriously good stuff. (Wouldn’t it be terrific if Eldorado still had all that activity going on?) Thank you to you, to Dianne Brick, and to all the other readers who have been kind enough to share what they know about “Canada’s oldest gas station.”

But, my friends, the full story remains to be told. As my friends Gary and Lillian Pattison – who operate the marvellous Old Hastings Mercantile gift shop in tiny Ormsby, up Coe Hill way, and so pass (and wonder about) the sign proclaiming the Eldorado building’s history whenever they travel south on Highway 62 – said in an email of appreciation for all the information that has come out so far: “ I don’t think I’ve seen yet in the replies why this was considered the oldest gas station. We’ve wondered about that forever!

So, people, let’s carry on with this inquiry. We know that Charlie and Keitha Pigden opened the gas bar in the early 1920s – according to this photo captured from Google Street View in 2013 (though the photo is probably older than that) and kindly sent to me by the Pattisons, in 1920 precisely:

Eldorado 1

We know that Charlie Pigden repurposed materials from an old copper mine to build it. That’s all good stuff.

But what do we know about the claim to it being “Canada’s oldest gas station?” There the mystery remains. Diane Sherman’s 2008 news story says the owner at that time claimed that “the couple’s gas bar is the oldest gas station in Canada – ‘until otherwise proven.’ ”

Hmmm… What’s the story, people? Was Charlie Pigden’s gas bar really the first in Canada? If so – how come? Where were service-station entrepreneurs in, say, Toronto, or Montreal, or Halifax, or Winnipeg, when Charlie and Keitha were getting those gas pumps into operation?

But let me leave you with this final word from Gurney Barker, which pretty much sums up how I feel about the great response I’ve had to my query:

“Who knew that a mention of this little backwater hamlet would arouse so much interest?”

Gurney, I’m going to take mild exception to your characterization of Eldorado as a “backwater” (though, since you grew up there, you’re allowed to say it), but yes: who knew? Please keep that information coming, people!

Your ticket to learn the secrets of Queensborough pie perfection

Pie FlyerYou heard about it here first, people: early next month, you get your chance to learn how to make pies as great as the ones you enjoy whenever you come to Queensborough for church suppers and the like. As I reported back in January, the volunteers at the Queensborough Community Centre committee are organizing the first – and, we hope, far from the last – Master Pie-Making Course. And now, as I promised in that earlier report, I have all the details for you, plus – as you’ll see at the top of this post – your registration form for this fantastic event.

Potluck Supper poster 2018The first thing I have to tell you is this: act fast! Spaces in the class are limited and, judging by the enthusiastic response I received to that first post both here and on social media, they will fill up very quickly. If you want to learn from the best of the best, follow these instructions:

  1. Click on the photo at the top of this post showing the registration form.
  2. Go to the bottom right of the next screen you’ll see. Click on “View full size.”
  3. Drag the image to the desktop of your computer.
  4. Print it out, fill in your information, and mail it off as soon as you can – or better yet, come to the potluck supper this coming Sunday (Feb. 18, 2018) at the Queensborough Community Centre and drop it off ahead of time. (Hey, how about this: we’re having a Queensborough Trivia competition at the potluck supper – how much fun is that? People, we in Queensborough know how to have a good time.) Also: if you have trouble downloading the form, you can also find it, readily downloadable, at the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page.

And hey – how about the amazingly low registration fee for this class? Only $10 to learn life-changing pie-making skills from the pros: Betty Sexsmith, Ann Brooks and Barb Ramsay. Plus the QCC supplies all your ingredients! (That would be flour, lard or shortening, pie filling, etc.) You’re not likely to find a better deal than that.

Now, you do have to supply some stuff yourself, as noted on the information sheet. Presumably you all know what a rolling pin is, but we decided to use a photo of a pastry blender because there are probably some potential pie-makers who have never used one. Wondering about the dry-measure measuring cups? As the lovely Mrs. Meraw taught me in home-economics class at Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc way back in the days when I was growing up in Queensborough, you must use dry-measure cups for ingredients like flour, sugar and so on – not the measuring cups you use for liquids like milk, oil, etc. Here’s a visual to help the measuring-cup-challenged, with Raymond, my husband and in-house chef extraordinaire, doing the modelling. Dry-measure cups look like this:

Raymond with dry-measure cups

And liquid-measure cups look like this:

Raymond with the liquid-measure cups

There! A baking-utensils lesson from me, of all people. All credit to Mrs. Meraw for this knowledge. She was an excellent (and very patient) home-ec teacher.

Now, a couple of other things to note:

  • The spaces for this session really will fill up quickly. We don’t want people to be disappointed, so if it turns out that the class is full by the time your registration arrives, don’t despair! We can and will do it again.
  • After lengthy deliberations, the planning committee decided that this first Master Class will be strictly about the magic of making good pastry. We thought that adding instructions for turning fresh or frozen fruit (or savoury ingedients, such as the makings of chicken pot pie) into pie filling would be too much for one session. As a result, the pies that students will take home to bake will contain canned filling. But! If there’s interest and demand, we’ll hold another class on making yummy fillings for your perfect pie crust.

Okay, there you go. Round up your materials – borrow them if you don’t have them, or stop by your friendly local Home Hardware store or equivalent to buy some of your own, because lord knows you’ll be making pies after this pie-making class. Send in your registration. And come to beautiful Queensborough on Saturday, March 3, for this extraordinary culinary experience.

The organizers think of this as a passing of the pastry-blender-shaped torch, from the veteran pie-makers of Queensborough to the next generation.

I want to be there to catch that torch. You do too.

Postscript: Thank you so much to all of you who responded to last week’s post, sending me some answers to my questions about “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” in Eldorado. I promise I’ll get back to that topic, and share the information you sent, very soon. But right at the moment, pie-class registration is urgent!

This time it’s your turn to tell ME a story.

Lounge: Gas and Food

The vintage sign suggests comfort: a place to stop, get warm and get both your vehicle and yourself refuelled. Unfortunately, these days it’s an empty promise because the food, fuel, groceries and ice cream still proclaimed on signs at “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” in the hamlet of Eldorado are no longer available, the operation having closed down an undetermined number of years ago.

My friends, I’ve told you a lot of stories over a thousand-odd posts since Meanwhile, at the Manse began in January 2012. This time, I want you to tell me a story.

Here’s what has prompted my request.

A couple of weekends ago, I was driving south down Highway 62 toward Madoc, having returned some borrowed books about old-home restoration to a friend in the hamlet of Bannockburn.

As I zipped through the next hamlet south of Bannockburn, which is Eldorado – a tiny but historic place, being the site of Ontario’s first gold mine and all, and as close as rural Madoc Township gets to having a township seat – something that I’d vaguely noticed many times before suddenly stopped me in my tire tracks. As I reversed up the highway so as to get a closer look and some photos, I said to myself, “Self, what on Earth is the deal with that ‘Canada’s Oldest Gas Station’ sign?” Here, take a look at what I mean:

Canada's Oldest Gas Station

Canada’s Oldest Gas Station? In Eldorado? Really? I need to know the story behind this.

People, why would tiny North-of-7 Eldorado be the home of Canada’s oldest gas station?

Or at least, what maybe once was Canada’s oldest gas station. Since this gas station is no longer a gas station, perhaps another one still in operation somewhere else across the length and breadth of our vast nation has usurped its claim.

“Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” still has gas pumps, but they’ve clearly not been used for some time:

Gas tanks at Canada's Oldest Gas Station

The gas pumps at the onetime gas station are definitely not the pay-with-your-card type that you see most of the time these days. It looks like Canada’s Oldest Gas Station was a full-serve operation.

And it still has signage proclaiming all the things that one could once have purchased there when stopping for gas, including “Great Food,” “Ice Cream,” “Takeout” and “Groceries”:

Groceries and ice cream at Canada's Oldest Gas Station

But clearly none of this is any longer on offer to the travelling public. This place that must once have been the hot spot of Eldorado looks long-shuttered, sadly.

So I’d like anyone who knows about this to tell me the story of what it once was. And mainly I’d like to know whether it’s true that this place in tiny Eldorado is (or was) Canada’s Oldest Gas Station, and how that came to be.

And here’s another thing I’d like to know, about myself and, perhaps, all of you: I’d like to know how many times in our days, our weeks and our lives we pass by interesting and/or odd things – such as a sign in Eldorado proclaiming “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” – and pay them little or no mind. How many stories, how many pieces of our collective and community history, do we miss learning about and passing on to future generations because we – like me, every time I drove south through Eldorado except this one last time – don’t stop to wonder about, and maybe look into, what’s right before our eyes?

Lesson learned for me. Now, Eldorado, Bannockburn and Madoc Township people: please tell me the story of Canada’s Oldest Gas Station!

Want to be a genius pie-maker? Come to Queensborough!

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

The pie table at a community supper at St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, is proof that the art of pie-making is alive and thriving here.

I have noticed that the world is divided into two kinds of people:

  • Those who can make pie.
  • Those who cannot.

By my unscientific calculation, the second group outnumbers the first by a factor of about 377 million per cent.

It wasn’t always like that – at least, not in the world I grew up in, which was North America in the middle part of the 20th century.

In that world, every woman – or at least, every woman I knew, here in Queensborough and elsewhere – and also some men, could make pie. And by “make pie” I do not mean “could pour a can of pie filling into a frozen pre-made pie crust.” No, I mean taking a basket of freshly picked apples, or strawberries, or peaches, and peeling or pitting or stemming or whatever you had to do to them, adding some magic ingredients such as maybe cinnamon and definitely a whole lot of sugar, and then putting it into a homemade pastry shell, covering it with another piece of homemade pastry (possibly in the form of fancy latticework), crimping the edges prettily, cutting a few artful slashes in the top, and after it spending a certain length of time in the oven, producing a mouth-watering dessert that needed only a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of whipped fresh cream, or – if we’re talking apple pie, and if we’re in dairy-farm country like my own Hastings County – a slice of nicely aged cheddar to turn it into something that everyone at the table would adore and ask for seconds of.

That, people, is pie-making.

Pies at the church food tent

Homemade pies at the food tent that St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, helped run at the Hastings County Plowing Match at the McKinnon farm just west of the village in the summer of 2016. We sold every piece!

But now that we’re well into the 21st century, it seems to be something of a lost, or at least disappearing, art. Can you make melt-in-your mouth flaky pie dough, dear reader? Can you make a raspberry pie that would have them coming back for seconds?

I know people – notably my mother, Lorna – who used to whip up homemade pies at the drop of a hat, but who for some reason have lost their pie-making mojo, or at least think they have. “I can’t make pie crust anymore,” my mum tells me quite frequently. I don’t think it’s true, but I do know that, unlike in the days of my childhood, she doesn’t make pie very often.

Then there’s the vast number of people – including me – who never had that mojo in the first place. For all of my life – until just a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll tell you that story in a bit – I’ve been unable to make pie, because I could not make pie crust. The few times I tried it, even under the watchful eye of an experienced pie-maker, the crust was an utter disaster, falling apart as I tried to roll it out, hard and unflaky when baked. It was a stressful, discouraging experience. I’ve always thought of people who could actually make great pie crust as being – well, kitchen magicians.

Ruth's pie vs. my pie

This is the time a couple of years ago that I tried to make a lemon meringue pie to contribute to a community event. The result – the pie on the left – was an appalling embarrassment, and went straight into the garbage. My pie-making neighbour Ruth, who just makes the best pies, saved the day with a lemon meringue pie of her own – the beauty on the right.

Carol's pie pastry recipe in my recipe box

Carol’s recipe for pie pastry, safely stored in my vintage recipe box.

(My recent modest conversion to the side of people who can produce a pie crust – if not necessarily yet a full pie – came about thanks to a conversation on the picket line, of all things. As many readers will know, faculty at all of Ontario’s community colleges were on strike for an agonizing five weeks this past fall. Since I’m a faculty member at Loyalist College in Belleville, that included me. As I walked the picket line with a colleague named Carol one day, we began talking about pie-making, and I referenced the same sad tale I’ve just told you about my lack of pie-making skills. Carol told me that if I had a food processor – which I do – I had no excuse, that she had a recipe that would never fail me. The next day, she produced it on one of those old-fashioned recipe cards. I tucked it away in my old-fashioned recipe box [of course you knew I’d have an old-fashioned recipe box] and promised Carol, and myself, that I’d try it one day. Well, that day came one late night two days before Christmas, when Raymond was making a fancy recipe for tourtière and the fancy recipe’s recipe for the dough failed utterly. Raymond was not happy, and I knew I had to step in if Christmas cheer was to be restored. “I have Carol’s recipe!” I told him, trying to sound more confident than I felt. I knew that if I messed up on the the pastry, and all those lovely tourtière ingredients – various meats, spices, vegetables, herbs, stock and so on – that Raymond had so painstakingly prepared couldn’t be baked in it, there’d be a whole lot of crankiness at the Manse. So I gathered my courage, followed Carol’s simple recipe to the letter – and voilà:

Tourtière saved by Carol

I like to call this “Carol saves Christmas.” The pastry isn’t perfect – you’ll spot the place where it had to be patched a bit – but it looked, and tasted, wonderful!

But just because I can now produce a pie crust doesn’t mean that I know anything about filling a pie, or doing that lattice-work thing with the top crust, or marking the edges look nice – Raymond did that with the tourtière – or actually baking it.)

I believe I’m safe in saying that those of us who can’t whip up a pie tend to be in awe of those who can. And that we would love to have that skill, would love to be able to proudly produce a delicious blueberry or lemon meringue pie, or a savoury chicken pot pie. In my case, I’d like to be able to be one of the women of Queensborough and area who, when a church supper or other community event involving food looms, turn out two or three delicious pies in a snap to contribute. My contributions always have to be something else, because of my pie-making shortcomings. Despite my recent start on the pastry front, I’m still out of the pie-making clubhouse.

Does my situation describe your own? Or are you maybe one of those people, like my mum, who thinks you’ve lost a knack you once had? Or are you maybe just in need of a bit of pie-making inspiration? Well, people, I am here to tell you that help is at hand! Right here! And soon! It’s your chance to learn about making pie from the best of the best: the women of Queensborough!

HQD QCC with Buddy Table

The Queensborough Community Centre, where the March 3 Master Pie-Making Class will take place. It’s at 1853 Queensborough Rd. But because of expected demand you’ll probably have to pre-register (rather than just showing up), so watch this space for details!

On Saturday, March 3,  at 1 p.m., there will be a Master Pie-Making Class at the Queensborough Community Centre – our village’s historic former one-room schoolhouse. At this session, you’ll have the opportunity to learn the art of pie-making from three of Queensborough’s best and most experienced pie-makers. And this won’t just be a watch-the-teacher-do-her-thing session; people, we are talking about hands-on learning! You will have flour on your hands, and you will be rolling out that pastry yourself, under the careful eye of a master of the craft.

Does it get any better than this? I think not.

Word of our Master Class has already gone out in some tourism and coming-events publications, and people are excited. Members of the community centre committee are being stopped in the aisles of the Madoc Foodland by people who want to come on March 3. It seems that even if the skill of pie-making has got a little bit lost these days, the interest in acquiring that skill has not.

We’re still working out some of the details of the pie-making session, like whether students will have to bring anything (probably not, aside maybe from an optional apron), and what kinds of pies we’ll make, and how much the fee for the session will be (small, but necessary to cover the cost of ingredients). So keep an eye on this space, on the Queensborough Community Centre Facebook page, and on the local media as we get closer to the date – or message me here if you have questions. Meanwhile, please feel free to tell your friends, family and neighbours – men and women! young and old! – about this amazing opportunity to learn pie-making from those who do it best.

I, by the way, will be the keener in the very front row.

New Year’s Days of yore – plus a bonus candy recipe!


What do this delicious-looking fudge and long-ago New Year’s Day celebrations in Queensborough have in common? Read on! (Photo from the Lost Recipes page of

Well, the holidays are behind us, and a long and – to judge by how it’s been so far – very wintry winter lies ahead. Doubtless we’ll make it through to the other side, to those happy days when the streams start to run, the crocuses peek through the snow, and the scent of sun-warmed earth greets us when we go outdoors of a morning. But on this early-January evening, the end of a day when several inches of snow fell and fell and fell and fell on Queensborough and a great deal of shovelling, snowblowing and plowing was done by all, springtime seems a long way away.

So to cheer us all up before Christmas fades too far into the rear-view mirror, I’d like to share a wonderful Queensborough holiday memory from sometime around the early middle of the last century.

The memory is not my own (though I wish it were); it comes from Barbara Martin, a good friend of Meanwhile, at the Manse and of Queensborough generally. Barbara (née Sager) grew up in Queensborough, one of several children of the proprietors of Sager’s General Store, Bob and Elsie Sager. (In later years, the running of the store was taken over by Barbara’s older sister Bobbie, a woman who is legendary here for her community service, strength of spirit, terrific sense of humour and kind-heartedness, and for just generally being a force of nature. I’ve written about the late Bobbie Sager Ramsay and her store before, notably here, and my first-person account of Bobbie’s wedding – a surprise event that stunned the good folk of our hamlet – is here.) While Barbara and her husband, Don, have lived elsewhere for many years, she keeps Queensborough close to her heart and visits whenever she can. One reason she is important to this place is her vast store of memories of what it was like in the days of her youth.

Barb Martin at former Sager's General Store by Queensborough Beauty

Barbara Martin outside her family’s former general store (now a private home and the headquarters of the Pronk Canada Queensborough Machine Shop) on Historic Queensborough Day this past September. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beauty)

Jamie and Tory at LOL by Gary Pattison

Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, new owners of the former Orange Hall, are turning it into an arts space that can be used for community events such as the Black Fly Shuffle dance. (Photo courtesy of Gary Pattison)

In the comments section here a few days ago, Barbara shared one of those memories. Since many readers don’t see all the comments that are posted, and since this one was too good not to pass on to you, I decided to build this week’s post around it. And there’s an added bonus: you get a candy recipe out of it!

Here are Barbara’s words, sent in response to my New Year’s Day post a week ago. In it, I mentioned events planned for our village in 2018, one of the most fun of which is the return of the Black Fly Shuffle community dance in the former Orange Hall. (It’ll be on Saturday, May 26, and you won’t want to miss it. Stay tuned to this space for details as the time gets nearer.)

I think you’ll agree when you read this that Barbara conjures up a lovely, Christmas-card-type image of Queensborough in the – well, not quite the “olden days,” but let’s say in times past. Over to you, Barbara:

It is ironic that you mention a possible dance in the old Orange Hall, as I had just mentioned to Don last evening how on New Year’s Day we always went to Uncle Bruce and Aunt Carrie’s for a dinner at noon, sleigh riding and horse and cutter ride in the afternoon, back for supper in the evening and then to the dance in the hall that night. Also Aunt Carrie always made homemade ice cream and Russian toffee. I do make the toffee, but have not had homemade ice cream since Bobbie passed away. What wonderful memories.

Oh my goodness! Can’t you just picture yourself bundling up in your warmest coat, mittens, hat and scarf, after a big holiday noonday meal, and being taken for a horse-and-cutter ride in the snow and the sunshine, the clear, brisk air reawakening both you and your appetite? There are many farm fields around Queensborough – notably in behind the spot where the home of Barbara’s Uncle Bruce and Aunt Carrie Leslie stood – where one could go dashing through sparkling, pristine snow in the proverbial one-horse open sleigh. And then another meal, complete with homemade ice cream and that candy I hinted at earlier, and then gathering with all your friends and neighbours for a community dance in the Orange Hall, the old kerosene stove blazing as the music played, couples swung ’round, kids watched in delight, older folks chewed the fat, and a roaring good time was had by all. Now that’s what I call a New Year’s Day celebration!

Thanks to Barbara’s evocative description, I almost feel like I was there. I sure wish I had been.

Two Queensboro Cook Books

My two treasured copies of the Queensboro Cook Book, given to me my two wonderful Queensborough women: Barbara Martin and her cousin, the late Isabella (Sager) Shaw.

But on to the candy. I was intrigued by Barbara’s mention of Russian toffee, which I’d never heard of before, and so I asked her about it. In a followup email, she filled me in and steered me to the recipe – which I am delighted to report is in my two treasured copies (one of which, you won’t be surprised to hear, I got from Barbara) of the Queensboro Cook Book! Published in 1966, when I was a six-year-old living here at the Manse, it is one of those church cookbooks produced by the thousands across the country back in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. As I’ve written before, leafing through its pages and seeing the names of the recipe contributors and the advertisers takes me right back to my happy minister’s-kid childhood in this house.

Ads in the Queensboro Cook Book

Advertisers in the Queensboro Cook Book. Wow, does this take me back.

So back to Russian toffee, or taffy as it seems to be more commonly called. Sure enough, just as Barabara told me, there it was on Page 37 of the Queensborough Cook Book, the first page of the Candy, Jelly and Preserves section:

Candy, Jelly and Preserves in the Queensboro Cook Book

And the recipe was contributed, it turns out, by Barbara’s niece, Sharon Cassidy! (Who is now Sharon Morgan, and who I was delighted to see again after all these years when she visited Queensborough on Historic Queensborough Day.)

In doing a bit of quick research on Russian taffy online, I discovered that it seems to be something of a specialty of the New Orleans area. I found mention of it here, in a blog called Louanne’s Kitchen, where it’s referenced as a New Orleans treat; here (where it is oddly spelled “Russin Tafffy”) on a site called Cajun Grocer (“Louisisana’s Best to Your Door’); and here, on the site of New Orleans’s venerable newspaper, the Times-Picayune.

And I thought to myself: Isn’t that odd? What could be the connection between Queensborough and Louisiana for a creamy fudge treat? Any thoughts, readers?

At any rate, here’s a closeup of Sharon’s recipe if you’d like to try it yourself, which I assure you I intend to do:

Russian Taffy recipe, Queensboro Cook Book

And here is some additional helpful advice from Barbara:

You really do have to stir it constantly or it will stick to the bottom of the pot.  Also you need to use a pot with a heavy bottom.  Be sure and time it as soon as it starts to boil, because if you boil a few minutes too long it will get hard.

It should be chewy and I put it in the fridge to cool and get a bit harder, take it out, cut it and wrap in pieces of wax paper. (The recipe) does not mention pan size, but an 8 by 8 is the perfect one to use.

So there you go, readers – one last holiday treat for you. Enjoy!