Peace and dignity, and local care, in the autumn of life

Heart of HastingsThere are so many things that I appreciate about living in this beautiful part of the world. One is – well, speaking of “beautiful,” its beauty. Especially at this time of year, as the leaves turn from green to red and gold and orange and put on a breathtaking display as one drives along the highways and back roads of Hastings County.

Another is the impressive number of community services and resources we enjoy, even though we live in a thinly populated rural area – some of us “north of 7.” No, we don’t have malls and Wal-Marts (thank God) and all those fast-food franchises (save for our beloved Tim Horton’s and the Madoc McDonald’s, which has been a welcome addition to the local scene) that larger centres have. But in Madoc alone – Madoc being “town” for most of us in Queensborough – we have an excellent grocery store that’s open 24 hours (fantastic when you run out of scallops at 9:30 at night), a really great library that offers all kinds of services even aside from lending books, and a medical centre that I cannot sing the praises of too highly. Raymond and I came here from the heart of Montreal, where we were treated, when we had health issues, at top-notch university-connected teaching hospitals by doctors who are national leaders in their field; but I have never felt better-cared-for, health-wise, since becoming a patient of the Central Hastings Family Health Team at the Tri-Area Medical Centre in Madoc. Why, you can usually get same-day appointments with your medical practitioner! It’s pretty rare to be able to do that in a big city.

But in today’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse, I want to tell you about another local facility that is doing a wonderful job: the Heart of Hastings Hospice.

I am inspired to write about the hospice – a fairly recent addition to Madoc – by a letter that came to me here at the Manse the other day. I’ve made in-memoriam donations to Heart of Hastings two or three times over the last couple of years; I think it’s wonderful when families request such donations to an important local facility when loved ones die. As a result, I’m on the mailing list, and this is fundraising season for Heart of Hastings. The letter was written by Dr. Cliff Derry, a much-loved and much-respected GP who practised in Madoc for many decades; everyone knew Dr. Derry when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse.

Hospice letter

His letter is beautifully written. I am going to share parts of it with you:

“Thanksgiving approaches again as the leaves blaze all around us and begin to fall, reminding us of the passage of time and the cycle of life. As we make plans for homecomings and family dinners, it’s inevitable that thoughts arise of those we have loved and lost. They have made us who we are and we cannot help but feel grateful for that.

“Each year I give to the Heart of Hastings Hospice as an act of celebration and gratitude for those people who meant so much to me. I give so that community members who are currently facing the autumn of their lives are able to do so with peace and dignity, free from suffering. I give with an eye to the future, a hope for meaningful support when my time comes. I give so that, even as individual leaves fall from the tree, I know the tree itself will remain strong.”

Dr. Derry goes on (addressing those who have supported Heart of Hastings in the past): “Your continued support will allow Hospice to continue to help local patients and their families transform this challenging period of their lives into a time of compassion and connection.”

Lovely! I suppose I need hardly say that my financial support will continue.

But, inspired by the letter, I decided to go and have a look at the hospice facility. I’d been reading about it in the local newspapers ever since Raymond and I bought the Manse back in January 2012; there are often fundraising events for Heart of Hastings that make the news. But I’d never actually seen the place, and until recently didn’t even know where it was. Then a while back I spotted some signs pointing to it, and yesterday I followed them up past Centre Hastings Secondary School to have a look.

Madoc hospice

What a nice, peaceful place. It’s a modern house on a very quiet little street, with trees and a well-kept lawn and just a great feeling about it. I would feel so blessed if I were able to spend my final days (hopefully a long way off) in that place, tended to by people who understand and practise (to use Dr. Derry’s words) compassion, connection, peace and dignity, and freedom from suffering.

We are so blessed to have the Heart of Hastings Hospice in our little rural community. I hope that you too might consider responding to Dr. Derry’s call for support. Click here to do so!

In which a historic church joins the internet, and turkey is served

St. Andrew's on Facebook

This year, the 125th of its existence, St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough joined the internet age with its own Facebook page. If you use Facebook (and who doesn’t?) please seek us out (the page is called simply St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough) and like us. You’ll get regular updates on what’s going on at our pretty little church – such as the ever-popular church suppers. You wouldn’t want to miss those!

Welcome to Monday at the Manse! In this instalment, I’ll tell you all about how I’ve got you covered when it comes to dinner this coming Wednesday, and how this great meal comes with the added bonus of some fine music and a chance to rub elbows with the friendly folks of Queensborough and area.

But first, a little tale about (and plug for) a historic country church that as of 2015 has joined the digital age, or the “information superhighway,” or whatever your preferred term is for the internet. And how, thanks to the introduction of this wondrous technology, you can keep up with what’s doing at that church from the comfort and convenience of your own laptop, phone or desktop computer. Life is good, people!

St. Andrew's by Dave deLang

St. Andrew’s United Church, in a great picture by Queensborough photographer Dave deLang.

As regular readers will doubtless have guessed, the church I am referring to is St. Andrew’s United in Queensborough. Built in 1890, St. Andrew’s is the only one of the four churches our hamlet once boasted – the others being St. Peter’s Anglican, St. Henry’s Roman Catholic and the Queensborough (or Queensboro, as it was often spelled once upon a time) Methodist Church – that is still operating. St. Andrew’s has been a very important part of the community for 125 years, the place where generations of Queensborough and area residents have worshipped, have been baptized, have been married, and, yes, have been bid farewell at funerals. As in so many Canadian churches, our congregation is smaller now than it once was (like, back in the days of my Queensborough childhood in the 1960s and ’70s, when my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was the minister there), but it is still active, and it has grown in recent years. St. Andrew’s is a friendly, pretty and welcoming church, one that I am proud to be a member of.

So as our church prepared to celebrate its 125th anniversary this past May, I decided it was time to get the word out about the good things happening at St. Andrew’s. How best to do that? Well, I thought, since everyone and his or her cat seems to be on Facebook, that’s probably the best place. I’d never created a Facebook page before, but how hard could it be?

Not hard at all, as it turned out. I had the Facebook page up about five minutes after I started. Oh, okay, maybe 10 minutes. But still – it’s ridiculously easy.

And now historic St. Andrew’s United Church is on Facebook, and if you go to our page, which is right here, and hit the Like button, you’ll get regular updates (one or two a week – don’t worry, we won’t flood you with quotations over images of cloudscapes or anything like that) about what’s doing at St. Andrew’s. The time of the service for the coming Sunday (it’s sometimes 9:30 and sometimes 11 a.m.), special events, etc. Pretty straightforward stuff, but how exciting it is for us to have this new tool to share our news!

Turkey Supper Facebook postAh – and speaking of sharing our news, let’s get back to that food thing I mentioned. If you click on the St. Andrew’s Facebook page right now, you’ll learn that this coming Wednesday, Sept. 30, is the day of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper. The supper is a tradition with deep, deep roots in Queensborough, and an event at which people have been gathering to enjoy a great meal and a visit with friends and neighbours (and the new folks who show up!) for many decades.

I’ve written about our church suppers before, and you can read those posts here and here and here. In this one I recounted a bit of the history of the suppers, throwing in my happy memories of them from my childhood. But all you really have to know is that if you beetle up to Queensborough, and specifically to St. Andrew’s (the address is 812 Bosley Rd., just up the hill from the Manse) between 4:30 and 7 p.m. this coming Wednesday (Sept. 30, 2015), for the very reasonable price of $12 for adults, $6 for children aged 6 to 12, and absolutely free for kids under six, you can enjoy turkey and mashed potatoes (some peeled by yours truly) and all the trimmings in a great country-church setting. And the icing on the cake (so to speak)? The huge selection of pieces of homemade pie that will await you for dessert! Take a look at this photo, taken at our Ham Supper this past spring:

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

Raspberry, blueberry, apple, pumpkin, pecan, choccolate, lemon meringue, coconut cream… and all homemade! What are you waiting for?

Now if that doesn’t whet your appetite, I can’t image what would. I am fairly sure that for a significant number of the people who attend the suppers at St. Andrew’s, the pie is the best part.

(Yes, you are allowed seconds. I knew you were wondering.)

Finally, there’s this: something new and wonderful will be added to the Turkey Supper in this 125th year of the life and work of St. Andrew’s in the Queensborough community. As you sit in the old pews, nicely polished by a century and a quarter of occupation, waiting for your number to be called so you can go into the church hall and eat, you will be entertained by two members of our congregation, Katherine Fleming and Carol King, who have wonderful musical gifts. Both women are well-known throughout this area for their vocal abilities, and we are so blessed to have them at St. Andrew’s. On Wednesday, whether you’re a member of St. Andrew’s or not, you will get the chance to hear them in performance.

Good music, good food and good conversation, all in a beautiful little church in a beautiful little hamlet: if that’s not worth hitting the Like button on Facebook for, I don’t know what is!


With autumn closing in, time to say so long to sweet summertime

Going fishing

Looking a bit Norman Rockwell-esque, two young Queensborough people head “down’t street,” fishing poles in hand, to go fishing on a perfect summer day. That would be summer in Queensborough at its best.

Happy almost fall, readers!

Did you know that fall officially begins this coming Wednesday, Sept. 23? No? Well, neither did I – until CJBQ radio host Jim Wright dropped that fact during this past Saturday’s broadcast of ’60s and ’70s oldies, a show that (as you can imagine, knowing as you do my feelings for that era) I love.

In fact, one of the things I love about the era of the ’60s and the ’70s is that those were the days when fall started on Sept. 21 – every year. Just as summer started on June 21, winter on Dec. 21, and spring on March 21. There was a kind of reassuring certainty about those unchanging seasonal start dates, despite the fact that blizzards were known to dump several feet of snow on the first day of “spring,” and we’d often been suffering through a weeks-long heat wave by the time summer “started” on June 21. Now that science and technology and whatnot have got us all fancy about precision when it comes to the start of the seasons (as with everything else) – well, you just never know (unless Jim Wright tells you) when autumn might officially begin. And where’s the usefulness of that? Thank goodness for Jim.

Anyway. I’ve ranted about that topic before here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and I probably will again. Had to get it out of my system. But let’s go back to where we started: Happy almost fall!

Boxes of books

Some of the many, many boxes of books that had to be moved from Montreal to Queensborough.

I hope your summer has been long and languorous and happy, filled with family times, and perhaps with travel to new places, and with some seriously good gardening. I am painfully aware that one thing your summer has not been filled with is reading posts from yours truly here at Meanwhile at the Manse. Raymond and I have spent our summer truly, finally and completely getting our stuff  – primarily books – moved from our former home in Montreal to our new home in Queensborough. This has involved many, many long trips between the two places, much packing, much stress, much expense. I’ll spare you the details, but I hope you’ll be understanding and excuse my absence from your internet space.

And hey, here I am again! I don’t think my busy schedule will allow a return to daily posting, but I think once a week is highly doable. What do you think: does “Monday at the Manse” have a bit of a ring to it? I shall aim for a post for you every Monday (with perhaps some occasional extra posts when I can manage it or feel particularly inspired) for the foreseeable future. And hey, this is the first one!

And so now, as the air turns crisp and cool, the leaves on the trees turn to scarlet and gold – autumn closing in, as Bob Seger once sang – I’d like to show you lots of pictures of what summer 2015 has been like for Raymond and for me and for Queensborough. It was great! If you weren’t here, you missed a lovely quiet rural old-fashioned summertime. Sweet, sweet summertime, to quote Bob Seger once more. Here it is – or at least, was:

Welcome to Queensborough planter

Welcome to Queensborough! The beautiful flowers and plants at one of the entrances to our hamlet, courtesy of the Queensborough Beautification Committee. Note the Canadian flags in honour of Dominion Day.

Helping a turtle on Barry Road

Summer isn’t summer without turtles crossing the road – something we all should try to help them with, to save their lives. Here’s Raymond helping a tiny one cross Barry Road between Queensborough and Cooper.

Bee balm

Beautiful bee balm in the Manse garden. Good for the bees and pretty to boot!

Wild parsnip

Wild parsnip – a problematic, invasive plant that is, unfortunately, taking over the roadsides in our area. Watch for a future post specifically on the subject. And in the meantime, avoid touching the wild parsnip!

Johnston's before move

The interior of Johnston’s Drugstore in Madoc just before the old store on the main street that’s been there for so many years finally closed and moved to a new, larger location. Johnston’s is a truly great local family business of many decades’ standing.

New Johnston's

An employee cleaning the windows of the new Johnston’s location, just before the opening. It’s a nice big store! But it’s still sad to lose the old one.

Historic sign planter

Another beautiful planter in Queensborough, this one around the sign by the Black River telling a bit of the history of our hamlet.

Bob Hudson Queensborough painting

A lovely painting of the bridge over the Black River in Queensborough by Bob Hudson, a talented artist with strong ties to the Madoc area. This original painting is now in the Sedgwick-Brassard collection: it was my gift to Raymond on his birthday this past July 30.

Toad before disappearance

This is a toad that showed up in the Manse garden one summer afternoon and commenced to doing something quite amazing: it disappeared into the ground! See next photo …

Toad after disappearance

Can you find the toad? Neither can I! it parked itself in a corner of the garden, and proceeded to bury itself and just … disappear! I looked into it on the internet and discovered that this is actually a thing with toads. Amazing!

New Queensborough sign front

The Queensborough Beautification Committee undertook an excellent project this summer: erection of a new sign at the northern entrance to town on Barry Road. The sign was designed and made right here in Queensborough at the Pronk Canada Queensborough Machine Shop.

New Queensborough sign back

Here’s the back side of the new sign. Beautiful! And – thank you for visiting!

Ray's Famous lobster and crab salad

Raymond and I did actually take a holiday this summer – two weeks in Maine, where we love to go. Here is one supper from that vacation, Ray’s Famous Lobster and Crab Salad (one scoop of each, on top of a bed of greens). It was inspired by a similar dish at the wonderful Kennebunkport restaurant Mabel’s Lobster Claw, and Raymond pulled it off smashingly.

Dominion Day planters

The lovely planters throughout the village (with Dominion Day windmills as of July 1), installed and tended to by hard-working volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee.

Colourful carrots

Colourful (and delicious) carrots from the garden of our friends and neighbours Jen and Ed. Pretty as a picture!

Farm equipment at Jos's

Kind of a classic photo of summer in Queensborough: farm equipment in for repairs at the Pronk Canada Queensborough Machine Shop – the former Sager’s General Store. Jos Pronk’s work is much appreciated by local farmers for his ability to repair all manner of equipment.

Camaraderie at Hazzard's service

The wonderful local music group Camaraderie performing at the annual summer service at historic Hazzard’s Corners Church

War of 1812 ceremony at Hazzard's

… and a ceremony honouring a War of 1812 veteran buried in the Hazzard’s cemetery that was part of the same summer service.

QCC yard sale

The giant fundraising yard sale held by and at the Queensborough Community Centre (the village’s historic former one-room school).

Moving Chuck's shed

An exciting late-summer afternoon: loading a heavy old shed from the property of our friends and neighbours Chuck and Ruth onto a big truck owned by Smokey’s Towing of Queensborough. We all came out to watch this interesting (and eventually successful) operation. Good Queensborough entertainment!

Queensborough rainbow

Full-bow rainbow over Queensborough after a midsummer rainstorm.

Croissants on the back deck

A breakfast that, sadly, Raymond and I can’t get in Queensborough (until that patisserie – French bakery – eventually opens up here): croissants and pain au chocolat with morning coffee and reading on our back deck in Montreal. Probably for the very last time, given our move to Queensborough.

Red truck at 780 de l'Epee

Raymond’s red truck in front of our former home in Outremont (Montreal), during one of our many trips back there to move stuff this summer. That’s our place with the green door.

Not-quite-ripe tomatoes

The heirloom tomatoes in our garden at the Manse that didn’t quite turn ripe and red in time for Raymond to live his dream of entering them in the vegetables category at the Madoc Fair. Maybe next year!

Fair teacups

Hey, and speaking of the Madoc Fair – you know it’s coming when the teacup ride shows up in the parking lot at the Madoc arena in mid-September.

Honey Bunny

The big news for Raymond and me at the end of this summer was the arrival of our two new kittens. Here is Honey Bunny…


… and here is her sister Teddy – who we initially thought was a male, and hence the name. Now Teddy is short for Theodora.

Tired kitties

And here are both Teddy and Honey Bunny, exhausted after a day of chasing each other around the Manse. They have brought much happiness to the Manse, which was a sad place after our beloved Sieste died at the start of the summer.

Unloading boxes of books

The end of the endless move! Just this past weekend, our books from Montreal were unloaded from the great big moving truck into our new acquisition: the historic Kincaid house next to the Manse.

Yes, people, the end of Summer 2015 for Raymond and me was the excitement of being able to become the new owners of the great old house next door, a funky place even older than our 1888 brick Manse. It is the new home of our many, many books. And one of these days we hope to restore its interior, along with that of the Manse – and maybe there’ll even be some sort of commercial enterprise there. Like, say… a bookstore? Bosley Road Books, Queensborough? What do you think?

Queensborough is a beautiful place to be – pot of gold and all

Pot of gold in Queensborough

This confirms what we in Queensborough have known for a long time: the pot of gold is here! A beautiful rainbow over the millpond on the Black River, in “downtown” Queensborough, this past Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)

Have you had occasion to visit Queensborough recently? If you haven’t, and if you are within driving/biking/motorcycling distance (you readers from western Canada and the U.S.A. are off the hook), you really owe it to yourself to come have a look-see, as people used to say. Our little hamlet is looking so nice!

For that we owe an awful lot not only to individual property-owners who are making their gardens, and their properties in general, look anywhere from tidy to downright gorgeous, but especially to the volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee, who’ve been doing an outstanding job of keeping the village’s public spaces looking terrific.

Ah, but photos speak so much better than words. So herewith, a visual tour of our little piece of heaven in this splendid summer of 2015 (with full credit and thanks to the good folks at the Queensborough Beautification Facebook page, the source of several of these pictures):

Painted bridge and flowers

Newly painted “bridge” (over a culvert and tiny stream on the sidewalk leading to St. Andrew’s United Church) decked with lovely flower baskets – both baskets and bridge-painting thanks to the volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee. (Also note the day lilies, which are looking lovely all over Queensborough.)

Jos repairing the north bridge

Jos Pronk of the Beautification Committee repairing another sidewalk bridge, this one at the north end of the village. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)

Ruth and Chuck at work on the north bridge

Our neighbours Ruth and Chuck Steele, volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee, hard at work cleaning up and painting the north-end bridge. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)

Ruth's garden

Ruth Steele’s own garden, which (fortunately for Raymond and me, because we get to look at it every day) is right across the way from the Manse. Isn’t it beautiful?

Anne's poppies

Anne Barry’s poppies. Gorgeous! (Photo courtesy of Anne Barry)

Queensborough history sign July 2015

Our sign about the history of Queensborough, with flower plantings thanks to a group of volunteers, beside the Black River.

Concrete with rebar

Some unsightly (and potentially dangerous) old broken-up concrete, containing rusty rebar, that had been plunked at a streetcorner. This is what it looked like before the municipal cleanup prompted by local residents…

Topsoil at the corner

And this is the “after” shot, with residents John Barry (who does an enormous amount of beautification work on his own time and dime), Jen Couperus, Ed Couperus and Tom Sims spreading topsoil donated by the Walters family over the spot from which the concrete was removed. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)

Pat's lilies

Amazing lilies, clematis and other lovely things in the front garden at Pat Steele’s home.

Windy-road sign uncovered

One of two old road signs discovered when John Barry and Chuck Steele cut back some way-overgrown bush. Winding road, people!

Hidden Entrance sign unhidden

Another uncovered hidden sign, this one, rather amusingly, warning: “Hidden Entrance.”

Johnny's truck

John’s truck loaded up with some of the brush that he and Chuck cut away from the signs. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)

Lovely-smelling white flowers

I’m not sure what these pretty white flowers are, but they smell even nicer than they look! On the way up the hill toward St. Andrew’s United Church.

Beautiful flower baskets

The made-in-Queensborough street signs by Jos Pronk and the fantastic flower baskets put up all over town by Queensborough Beautification – and click here and scroll down a bit to the July 5 post to see a fun little video of the man who carefully waters the plants every evening, John Barry, hard at work.

First phlox at the Manse

I’m happy to say that here at the Manse, we’re working to hold up our end on the beautification front. Here are the first of our phlox to have bloomed this season.

Country Roads cover featuring the Thompson House

Hey, it’s not just us who think Queensborough is beautiful! Check out the latest issue of Country Roads magazine, with Queensborough’s Thompson House, home of Elaine and Lud Kapusta, gracing the front cover (and inside a brief text about it by yours truly). How nice is that?

All in all, people – wouldn’t you really rather be in Queensborough?

Welcome to Queensborough sign

Long time gone, or: after 40 years of wandering, a return home

The Manse on Dominion Day 2015

The first three-quarters of Dominion Day 2015 (don’t get me started on “Canada Day”) were cloudy and rainy here in Queensborough, but as I was taking this photo of the Manse the sun suddenly broke through. A good sign for a momentous (in my life, anyway) anniversary!

Happy Dominion Day, everybody! As you can see from the photo I took today, the “new” (well, new as of 1965, a mere half-century ago) Canadian flag has replaced our usual Ontario flag in adorning the Manse in celebration of July 1. As I’ve reported before, Raymond likes to use his ever-growing flag collection to mark special national and regional days. If you noticed Quebec’s fleurdelisé flying at the Manse a week ago today, that was in celebration of St. Jean Baptiste Day, Quebec’s “national” holiday; and you’d better brace yourself for the Stars and Stripes this coming Saturday, the Fourth of July.)

But national holidays are not what this post is about. This post is about anniversaries, and the passing years, and the joys (and sometimes sorrows) that come with them.

Let me back up a tiny bit.

The weekend before last, we were thrilled to bits to have a visit from Raymond’s sisters Eloise and Jeannie, coming all the way from their homes in the Boston area, and his daughter Dominique, from Montreal. It was the first time that any immediate members of Raymond’s far-flung family have been able to come see us here in Queensborough, and it was just delightful to have them and to show them the Manse and the beautiful area in which we live. It was also a very lively time; normally the Manse is a pretty quiet place with just Raymond and me knocking about in it (and especially since we no longer have Sieste the Manse Cat to share her point of view with us). With four women and Raymond in the house, the place was full of chatter and laughter, and that was just great.

The gang on the front porch

A houseful of Brassards! Left to right, Dominique Brassard (Raymond’s daughter), Jeannie Brassard Tremblay (Raymond’s sister), Raymond, and Eloise Brassard Maddox (Raymond’s sister), all enjoying the view of Queensborough from the Manse’s front porch.

But at one point in the weekend, I had occasion to leave the hubbub behind for three-quarters of an hour and enjoy some quite reflections on this place in which we live. The occasion in question was Raymond having forgotten to buy a key ingredient of his Caesar salad – that would be the romaine lettuce, a rather important part of the whole operation – and I volunteered to drive in to town (Madoc, in this case) to pick some up. It was about 7 p.m. on a glorious summer day, the time when late afternoon is just turning into evening, when the shadows are ever so slightly beginning to lengthen and the slowly declining sun puts a golden evening glow on everything.

It’s only 10 or 12 minutes to drive to Madoc from Queensborough, but those 10 or 12 minutes there and back were so filled with the beauty of this place that my eyes were brimming with tears more than once. That golden glow that I mentioned made everything – the rolling farmland, the rocky outcrops, the silos, the old farmhouses, the split-rail fences, the pretty flower displays at the entrance to Queensborough, the gardens at some of the places along the way – look its absolute best. The quiet of the evening was broken only by birdsong. “We are blessed,” I thought.

us six at the Manse

My family – Dad and Mum and (left to right in front) me, my sister, Melanie, my brother John and my brother Ken – in about 1968. At the Manse, of course.

And then something struck me. It was this: that it was at this exact time of year – end of June/beginning of July, when everything is green and golden, and summer holds out its promise, and life is good – that I first came to Queensborough, as a child of four; and it was also the time when I left Queensborough (though not forever, as it later turned out), as a 15-year-old, having spent all of my formative years in this lovely and never-a-dull-moment little place. My dad, the newly ordained Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, arrived here to begin his career as a minister at the start of July 1964, with my mum and three little kids (we later became four) in tow; the only thing I remember about that first day in Queensborough was the shouted warning from our across-the-street neighbour Will Holmes not to drink the water that came out of the tap. (More on that story, and the years of carrying buckets of drinking water from one of the village’s communal wells, here.)

Actually, there is one other thing I remember about that first day in Queensborough, which could very well have been 51 years ago this very day: It was bright and sunny and warm and summery. Just that kind of day that this July 1 has turned into. Queensborough looked its best.

As it did on another sunny summer day 11 years later, on or about July 1, 1975, the day that my family left Queensborough as my dad took up a new pastoral charge in Seymour Township, outside Campbellford, Ont. So much had happened in those 11 years, in Queensborough and in the world. Humans walking on the moon. Vietnam. Trudeaumania. Watergate. Hippies. Woodstock. The Rock Acres Peace Festival!

Rock Acres Peace Festival, Queensborough, Ont., 1971

The Rock Acres Peace Festival, Queensborough’s answer to Woodstock.

And I had grown up. And watched and read about all those exciting things happening in the larger world from right here at the Manse in Queensborough. I remember how very sad I was as we drove away, to be leaving behind that golden past and that golden place, the place of my childhood. “I never dreamed you’d leave in summer,” a pretty song sung by one of my (and my dad’s) heroes, Joan Baez, goes. Well, I never dreamed that I’d leave in summer. But I did.

And was gone for a long time. And lots happened in the interim, both to me and to Queensborough.

But now … well, now I am home again. And you regular readers all know the story: how Raymond and I bought the Manse, on a whim and a prayer (i.e. not really knowing what on earth we were doing or getting into), back in January 2012. How we quickly began to love our connections with this beautiful and little-known part of the world as we visited when we could, on the occasional weekend away from home and work in Montreal. And how we ended up, counter to all expectations, actually moving here in October 2013, Sieste in tow to make it really official. And how life has never been the same since. In a good way. I am so, so happy to be home. To have returned. In summer.

Today, the rest of Canada celebrates our country’s 148th birthday, and that is an excellent thing. But I hope you will excuse me, as I sit here in one of the most beautiful parts of Canada, if I celebrate another sort of anniversary, a far more personal one: the one in which, 40 years from when I left, I am back from my wanderings – not quite in the wilderness, where some people famously spent 40 years, but wanderings nonetheless. It is summer; and I am home.

Life is good.

Treasures and memories: why yard sales are the best

T.P.T. ashtrayOkay, people, here is my latest yard-sale treasure. Put up your hand, right now, if you remember the T.P.T. (Toronto-Peterborough Transport Company Limited) freight line! Remember the big tractor-trailers with T.P.T. painted on the side, heading east or west on the 401 and many other smaller south/central/eastern Ontario highways besides? Why, I believe that I even remember a T.P.T. truck passing once (maybe more than once?) on the small country road on which my elementary school, Madoc Township Public School, was (and is) located. “It’s the T.P.T.!” a boy shouted; and we all caught the reference and recognized the logo on the side of the big truck.

Now, a brief search on the internet has landed me precisely zero information about the no-longer-extant Toronto-Peterborough Transport Company Limited. It was certainly a going concern, with lots of trucks and staff and whatnot, back in my youth here at the Manse in Queensborough. (Queensborough being just a little more than an hour’s drive away from one of the T.P.T.’s termini, Peterborough. Or “Peterboro,” as people used to sometimes spell it back in those days – when Queensborough was often “Queensboro.”) Doubtless that relatively small company was swallowed up by a much bigger one, as so often happens. And so the T.P.T. lives on only in some people’s memory.

Well – in some people’s memory, and also in the old-fashioned heavy-duty ashtray that I was thrilled to find at a yard sale last weekend! It was a tremendous yard sale, put on by the good folks at St. Peter’s Presbyterian Church in Madoc. (Possibly the only Presbyterian church in the whole world named after the founder of the Roman Catholic Church, but that’s a whole other story.)

Raymond and I hadn’t known in advance about the giant St. Peter’s yard sale, but were lucky enough to spot a poster for it at the One Stop Butcher Shop (best burgers ever) in downtown Madoc a mere half-hour before it was due to end at 2 p.m. You faithful readers all know (thanks to many posts, like those here and here and here and here) how much we love yard sales, and so you can surely imagine how speedily we zipped up St. Lawrence Street West in our little Toyota, hoping to find some treasures before the whole shebang shut down.

And we did! The T.P.T. ashtray being decidedly the best, if you ask me – even though the Manse is decidedly a non-smoking household. Just to see that old logo again, after all these years! And to think about the smoky 1960s/’70s trucking-company offices where that ashtray might have lived, and probably been overflowing with butts… And yes, I know I am one of the few people you can think of who gets nostalgic about overflowing 1960s ashtrays, but what can I say? Those days were golden, “toasted” Lucky Strikes and all. (Would the Canadian equivalent of Luckies be Sweet Caps, I wonder?)

What else did we find at the St. Peter’s yard sale? Well, I’m so glad you asked! Here is a photo showing most of the loot, though I should note that behind the Password game you see is yet another Password game (bonus!):

St. Peter's yard sale finds

(Oh, and there’s also this: the price tag on one of the two Password games. Apparently it was purchased for $1.99 at a store called Sayvette. Does anyone remember Sayvette? I have to say I do not; what do you know about it, readers?)


And here is a delightful find. Do you remember these? Of course you do! Every kitchen had one, for the bills and letters and postcards and shopping lists and whatnot. And now the Manse does too:

That thing for bills

All right, then. So much for last weekend’s yard-sale excitement. Now on to this weekend’s yard-sale excitement, which takes place in (you will probably not be surprised to know) – Queensborough!

QCC yard sale

Yes, this Saturday, June 13, the Queensborough Community Centre (our hamlet’s historic former one-room schoolhouse) is the place to be for a giant yard sale and barbecue. As you peruse all the wondrous items for sale, you will enjoy the aroma of peameal bacon and hamburgers (with fried onions, yum!) and hot dogs being barbecued by master chefs Raymond Brassard and Chris Whalen. You can also partake in homemade sweets and coffee. And you can enjoy just hanging out at a fun community event in beautiful downtown Queensborough!

And who knows? Perhaps you will find something as wonderfully nostalgic for you as was that T.P.T. ashtray for me. Finds like that, people, are what I call good stuff.

After 125 years, a church community is still – community

St. Andrew's by Dave deLang

I think that this beautiful image of St. Andrew’s United by Queensborough photographer Dave deLang ( gives you a great sense of our pretty and historic little church, up there on the hill and serving its community today in 2015 as it has for the past century and a quarter. (Photo by Dave deLang)

Hello, dear readers! I know it’s been ages since last I posted (about the demise of our beloved Manse Cat, Sieste), and I apologize for my absence. But there is a reason for it: I have been over-the-top busy with a project that I took on in my role as secretary of St. Andrew’s United Church here in Queensborough. And tonight I’m going to tell you a little bit about that project, and don’t you dare yawn at the prospect. It is a project that has taught me a lot about how small rural communities work, and about how good work quietly gets done in them. So there.

But first, an invitation! This coming Sunday, May 31, is the 125th anniversary of St. Andrew’s, and any and all of you who are, or would like to be, in the general vicinity of Queensborough are very welcome indeed to come and join us in a service of worship celebrating that remarkable milestone. The service begins at 11 a.m., will feature special musical performances, and will – this being Queensborough, where you always come away well-fed – feature a lunch afterward. St. Andrew’s is at 812 Bosley Rd., just up the hill from the Manse.

As a lead-up to that century-and-a-quarter milestone, yours truly decided that the church’s historical roll and mailing list should probably be updated – the latter mainly because, as I reported a while back here, Canada Post has become reluctant to deliver mail that is addressed only to a rural-route number (as opposed to an actual “street address,” which is kind of a funny thing to talk about in rural areas where there are no “streets.” Here we call those street numbers “911 numbers,” since with the advent of 911 emergency service came a number for every home and property. Modernization!

Historic Roll

The Historic Roll of St. Andrew’s United Church

Anyway. A church’s historical roll is an important document, because it records everyone who has ever been a member of that church. Names are never removed from a historical roll; if a member dies, or transfers his or her membership to another church, or asks to be removed as an active member, that information is recorded – but the fact that the person was once a member is always preserved for posterity. And meanwhile, the information for people who remain as members has to be updated as their lives and circumstances – addresses, spouses, etc.– change.

Many, probably most, churches struggle to keep their rolls up to date, because in the 21st century people move a lot more often than they did when the whole idea of historical rolls was born. Also, in those days larger churches would have had a paid staff person to look after such records, and smaller churches had volunteer workers who could and did devote endless time to keeping on top of the records. These days, paid church staffers are a rarity, as are volunteer workers with any amount of spare time – and so many churches’ membership records are a bit of a disaster.

Now, the records at St. Andrew’s were far from a disaster; in fact they were probably in better shape than those of many churches. But it was time for an update, especially because of that Canada Post mailing rule that I’ve already mentioned. And so I thought I’d just tackle that little project. Which, I soon realized, was a way bigger project than I had expected.

One problem was ascertaining who people listed on the rolls actually were. I mean, there were many names I recognized from my childhood here at the Manse, when my father was the minister here; but many people had come and gone since then. (It was 1975, not exactly yesterday, when my family moved away from here, after all.) Many of the names were unfamiliar to me, though as it turned out one reason for that was women who’d changed their last names upon marriage. Quite often during my research I’d have an a-ha moment, as in: “Aha! That’s (so-and-so) Devolin! or Cassidy! or Alexander! or Holmes! – or whatever was the woman’s maiden name, under which I’d known her when she was a girl or young woman all those years ago.

And then there was the matter of figuring out where people who, when their names were entered on the rolls, had “Queensborough” or “Cooper” or “Eldorado” or “RR# Whatever,’ listed as their address, actually are now. Some of them are still in the same places, but we needed a 911 number to be able to contact them by mail; and many others had moved to other addresses altogether, near and far. What a job it was tracking them all down!

But I was not without assistance, and that is the real point of this post. First I asked some of the longtime members of St. Andrew’s for help, and we spent a long evening of consultation and tea and cookies here at the Manse going through the list of names and pooling our knowledge. (Actually I should say pooling their knowledge, because they were the ones who had it, and I was just the collector of all this information.)

And then once I’d recorded everything I had gleaned from that session (which was a lot), I realized there were still some holes and some missing addresses and information. And so I would call up people and pick their brains and ask who else I could call. And so often those people volunteered to make the calls themselves, to help me out. I spent a lot of time on Canada411 trying to track down addresses and phone numbers; and I used email and Facebook and anything else I could think of to try to find people.

It took a lot of time. There were a lot of phone calls. But those phone calls, those conversations – some with people I’d known ever since my childhood; some with people I’d never spoken to in my life before; some with people I’d known a little bit but hadn’t talked to in years – were revelatory, and wonderful. I learned so much.

It wasn’t just getting to the bottom of the proverbial “Where are they now?” and thus being able to contact the church members. It was connecting the dots, so to speak; in many cases putting faces, or at least information (“daughter/son of so-and-so, lives in such-and-such a place now, has become an insert-profession-here”) to what had before then just been names on the list. And everyone I spoke to, even those who said things to the effect of “Gracious, I haven’t been in the area for ages; you should take my name off the list!” was so kind and helpful, and, I sensed, a little pleased to hear from a representative of the church of which they had once been a part. Those conversations made the work so very rewarding.

The absolute best part of the work was learning about the things people are doing to help St. Andrew’s that I hadn’t even been aware of, even though Raymond and I are very active members of the congregation. For instance, I learned about how, every time there is a Ham Supper or a Turkey Supper at our church (major fundraisers for its work, and also important social events in Queensborough), a long-established network of communication goes into high gear. Calls are made: “Could you make a salad? Scalloped potatoes? Baked beans? A dessert?” They can, and they do. Or if they can’t, they make a financial donation instead. And they in turn call their friends and neighbours, inviting them to help out, to support the event, to attend and enjoy it.

Many – most – of these people don’t come out to Sunday services at St. Andrew’s. But they remain attached to the church, remain committed to supporting it in many different ways.

So my exercise in getting the church membership roll updated, and by extension getting myself up to speed on who is who and where they are, turned into a bit of an education about community and how it works. Which, it turns out, is: quietly. Without any fuss. But with a deep sense of commitment to the connections of the past and the present. And with hope for the future.