One family’s story told, and local history comes alive

The Kincaid Chronicles

Today I want to tell you about a family-history project that has an extremely close connection to the Queensborough area, and that I consider not only an example but an inspiration.

It is the work of Keith Kincaid, now of of Toronto, though he grew up in Aurora, Ont., and before that the area of Unionville, Ont. “Hold on!” you’re doubtless saying to yourself. “What does a chap from Aurora and Unionville and Toronto have to do with the history of the Queensborough area?” Well, I’ll tell you – and if you’re from the Queensborough-Hazzards Corners-Madoc area yourself, you might have already guessed, thanks to Keith’s last name. For about as long as there has been settlement in our area, you see, there has been the name Kincaid.

That is because one Patrick Kincaid, Keith’s great-great grandfather, chose back in 1843 to leave a hardscrabble existence in Donegal, Ireland (his own ancestors having moved there from their native Scotland) and settled first in Hungerford Township (south of what is now the village of Tweed) and then permanently near Hazzards Corners, in Madoc Township. Which is just down the road from Queensborough.

In putting together the story of his family in a book called The Kincaid Chronicles: Beyond the Back Fence, Keith has used his training and experience as a journalist – the culmination of his impressive career in that field was his long service as president of The Canadian Press – to dig up the full story. And what a story! Why, there’s even a murder mystery! But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I won’t even attempt to retell the full story of Patrick Kincaid and his two brothers, all of whom came to this country in the late 1830s and early 1840s. For that, you need to get a copy of Keith’s great book; and if you’re interested in doing so, let me know and I’ll be happy to put you in touch with him. (Keith and I met through Meanwhile, at the Manse and through our shared interest in local history. My treasured copy of The Kincaid Chronicles was a gift when he attended Historic Queensborough Day last September.)

The short version of the story is that Patrick Kincaid, a widower with eight children, arrived in Hungerford Township in 1843 by way of the Atlantic Ocean, Quebec City, the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Belleville. He sold his Hungerford Township farm in 1850 and bought land in Madoc Township, at a well-known sharp bend in what is now Queensborough Road, the road west of our hamlet that runs to Hazzards Corners. The brick farmhouse that the family eventually built still stands and is still lived in; when I was a kid growing up in the Manse here in Queensborough, it was the home of farmers Gordon and Earl Sager. “The Sager Brothers,” my dad always used to call them. Good people.

Archie and the Shoe Wars, The Kincaid Chronicles

Archie and the Shoe Wars, just one of the may colourful chapters in Keith Kincaid’s book. It sheds a wonderful (and often humorous) light on early life and times – including retailing times – in the village of Madoc.

Keith does a fantastic job of telling the story of Patrick (who remarried and had two more children) and his descendants, some of whom stayed in the Madoc area even as others spread out to new adventures in other parts of Ontario. Along the way we learn about the family’s connection to historic Hazzards Corners Church (where services [which Keith often attends] are still held once every summer and once every Dec. 23); about the gold and mineral rush that struck central Hastings County in the second half of the 19th century, raising pretty much every farmer’s hopes that great riches would be discovered underneath his land; about the rough-around-the-edges life in early Madoc, which was “town” for everybody in the area in those days (and still pretty much is) – ordinances against public brawling and whatnot; about what the branches of the family (including those of Keith’s own immediate forebears) who moved away ended up doing; about some interesting and even famous members of the extended family, including a world-renowned entomologist, a would-be inventor, and John Weir Foote, winner of the Victoria Cross for bravery at the Dieppe Raid, where he was a chaplain; about colourful Archie Kincaid, retailer extraordinaire in Madoc; and about descendants through the years, who included Kel Kincaid, co-owner of Kincaid Bros. IGA in Madoc when I was a kid, and Kate Kincaid (a member of the family by marriage), who was the much-loved operator of the cafeteria when I was a student at Centre Hastings Secondary School back in the day. (She fed us well, and that cafeteria’s French fries were the best!)

Murder mystery, The Kincaid ChroniclesOh yes, and there’s that murder mystery I mentioned. It was quite the cause célèbre in Ottawa, back in the summer of 1959, when Joan Kincaid de Marcy, a beautiful young wife, model and owner of modelling agencies, was found dead in her home. Her husband, a dashing Frenchman, was something of a suspect, but there were other intriguing characters in her complicated story too. (Not to mention some dubious police work.) Eventually Joan’s death was found to be accidental, but as Keith’s excellent retelling notes, not everyone believes that.

At any rate, the whole project is a tribute to how much historical treasure can be unearthed (never mind those never-realized mineral riches underneath the old Hastings County farms) by one person’s interest, persistence and hard work at researching, interviewing, sleuthing, and travelling to the scenes of past chapters in the story.

If you’re interested in the history of Kincaid family and/or the history of our part of Hastings County, I highly recommend The Kincaid Chronicles to you!

KIncaid Chronicles back cover

Please help me get to the bottom of the cold-storage business

The cold storage

Okay, people: what can you tell me about the past life of this Madoc building?

This rather nondescript, and I believe currently unused, building on Russell Street (or is that Russel Street?) in Madoc is a small mystery for me, and I am hoping that you readers will help me figure it out. Tonight, in other words, it’s you and not I who must jump into the roadster, grab Bess and George, and make like Nancy Drew.

Every time I drive by this building a vague thought along the lines of “cold-storage place” comes into my mind. That’s because this building was, back in the days of my childhood at the Manse in Queensborough (just a 12-minute drive from Madoc, which is generally “town” for us), a cold-storage place. Or at least, I think it was. In my memory this building is associated with large blocks of ice and large pieces of meat – like, half-cows and the like. So what’s the story on that?

Was it a butcher shop? I don’t think so. Was it a place that simply sold meat by the large quantity? I do remember that back in those days it was quite common for people to buy a quarter or a half of a beef cow – and maybe pigs too? – that would be cut and ground up into the usual forms for serving – roasts, steaks, hamburger, soup bones, etc. – by the butcher or seller, and these pieces, wrapped in dark-pink paper and carefully labelled, would be stored in “the deep freeze” (as we called freezers back then, especially chest freezers).

Okay, so if people stored these large quantities of meat in “the deep freeze,” why was there a need for this cold-storage place? Is it possible that, in those long-ago days when maybe not everyone had a deep freeze, people rented freezer, or at least cold-storage, space in places like this?

If my vague memory is at all right, I kind of like the fact that this building still has one of those buy-your-ice-here boxes out front. (Though I imagine it is empty, given that the building itself seems to be.) A nod to its former use.

I was also intrigued, as I took some photos of it this afternoon on my drive home from work, by the fine old wooden doors you can see off to the left side in the photo at top. Here’s a closer look:

Old doors and apparatus at the cold storage

Those are great old wide wooden doors – three panels’ worth each!

And have a look at the old wood-and-metal apparatus that comes out of the wall immediately above them. I’ve got no idea what it is, but I wonder if it’s something to do with hooking up large slabs of meat (like, half – or whole – cows) and hauling them in to the cold storage.

Am I close? Am I way off base? People, please share what you know!

Queensborough as seen by an artist

Queensborough by Bob Hudson

The bridge over the Black River in Queensborough as seen through an artists’s eye – that of Bob Hudson. This gouache is called Queensborough, 1980. Copyright, and used by permission of, Bob. Isn’t it beautiful?

Remember my post last night, featuring one of my own typically inexpert photos of the pretty scene in downtown Queensborough that features the bridge over the Black River (and my friend Graham’s collection of colourful Adirondack chairs)? If you don’t, check it out here; and after you do, I hope you will marvel at how a real artist has brought that same scene to beautiful life.

The picture at the top of this post is by artist Bob Hudson, and it is a gouache done way back in 1980, when Bob and his family lived in nearby Madoc. As luck (or fate, or whatever you want to call it) would have it, he posted it on Facebook a few days ago – and as you can imagine, I was thrilled to see it. I inquired of Bob whether it would be all right to feature his beautiful painting here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and he very kindly gave me permission. Thank you, Bob!

I’m sure a fair number of my readers, especially those with ties to the Queensborough-Madoc area, will know Bob, or at least know of him. He and his family moved to Madoc (from the Toronto area) in the early 1970s, and he was well-known as a fine artist and potter. His family and ours (when I was a kid growing up at the Manse in Queensborough) knew each other a bit, and it is so nice to reconnect after all this time – especially over a picture of Queensborough! Bob now lives (and paints) in Toronto, but the very fact that he posted this great picture suggests to me that he has fond memories of his time in this area.

I am so happy to be able to show you this picture. And it makes me think – and not for the first time – how wonderful it would be if we could put together even some of the many artistic works that have been done in, and inspired by, our historic and pretty hamlet over the years. Here is a post that I did quite some time ago that tells about the Schneider School of Fine Arts that was located in the nearby Elzevir Township hamlet of Actinolite back when I was a kid, and from which groups of artists would regularly come on excursions to set up their easels and paint scenes of Queensborough. Oh, to be able to find even a few of those paintings and sketches now!

But you know, now that I reflect on it: maybe the serendipity of Bob posting that picture and giving me permission to share it when I found it, and thus giving me occasion to ruminate (as I now am) about somehow finding and showing Queensborough-themed art – maybe this is a start! Could we make it happen?

I feel a Queensborough Art Day coming on…

A colourful sign of spring, down by the riverside

Bright chairs beside the Black RiverOkay, so maybe this evening it doesn’t feel that much like spring, what with the damp and the grey and the wind, and a 50-per-cent chance of snow in the forecast for tomorrow afternoon. But then again, an awful lot of snow has melted in recent days (revealing an awful lot of mud), and really one can’t help but feel that the prospects for the bulbs one planted last fall actually coming up out of the ground are not that bad.

And here’s another sign of spring, at least here in Queensborough: Graham’s colourful lawn chairs!

Do you see them there, on the far bank of the Black River, in my photo taken from the heart of downtown Queensborough? Our friend Graham has got quite a few Adirondack chairs in a rainbow of colours, pink and white and yellow and green and so on. (I suspect the ones you can see here are not the full extent of the collection.) Here’s a closeup for you:Closeup of the riverside chairs

Graham of course uses the chairs to sit in and admire the view of the far side of the river on pleasant days, and in that respect they are useful to him and his guests. But what I – and, I am sure, many other Queensborough residents – appreciate about his setup is not so much the usefulness of the chairs as the nice splash of colour they bring to the landscape.

The fact that the chairs are now out is a surefire made-in-Queensborough sign that the good weather cannot be far away.

Sprucing up a historic old place

White Lake Pioneer Cemetery

If you have to be buried somewhere – and we pretty much all do – the tree-filled White Lake Pioneer Cemetery, built on a hill, is a nice-looking place for it, don’t you think?

In the interest of being first on the scene with the local news – remember I am a journalist; and hey, it was me who brought you the story of the mysterious arty signs in Madoc and what they were all about, before the official news media got to it – I thought that tonight I’d tell you about some work being done at a very historic spot. And, since the local weekly papers don’t show up in newsboxes and mailboxes until tomorrow or Thursday, I think I’ve got a scoop!

Mind you, I will confess that I haven’t had time to find out the “who” or the “why” behind this story, though I can surmise them. Also, I expect one or more of my readers might be able to supply that missing information. No, I’m just documenting yet another interesting thing I’ve spotted in my daily travels through central Hastings County – and I’ve got the “what” and the “where” covered.

What it is is some kind of cleanup/tree-thinning work at the White Lake Pioneer Cemetery, which is where some of the earliest residents of that tiny hamlet just a bit south of Madoc off Highway 62 are buried. You can read an interesting article here, from a couple of years ago, about the history of the cemetery – it has headstones dating back as far as 1847 – and one local family’s good work at keeping it in good shape. (There are some great photos too.) And here you can see closeup photos of its headstones. Recognize any names?

Trees cut at White Lake Pioneer Cemetery

This photo shows the simple sign at the White Lake Pioneer Cemetery and some of the downed trees after the work bee that took place there late last week.

I think the tall, tall trees in this old cemetery are what make it so visually arresting, but I imagine that such trees need to be thinned now and again, and as far as I can tell that was what was going on during a work bee I spotted the other morning on my daily drive to my job in Belleville. I don’t yet know (this is the “who” part) whether the work was being done by volunteers or by the Centre Hastings works department. But as far as I can tell, this project has not hurt the place aesthetically; there are still lots of great tall trees there, and as of my commute home this afternoon the downed logs had been removed.

I imagine the pioneer families of Huntingdon Township (which is what the area was before it merged with the village of Madoc to become Centre Hastings) – the people who had braved a perilous ocean crossing to come to this rough country and start a new life, who had chopped down so many trees with their axes to clear land and create places for modest homes and barns, and who chose that pretty little hill as the place to bury their departed loved ones – would be pleased to know that so many years hence, people would still be taking care that all was shipshape.

And I bet they would have been awfully envious about the chainsaws.

The Mill on the Floss, and the Mill on the Black

The Mill on the Black

“The Mill on the Black” – it sounds like a novel! This grist mill on the Black River, around which the village of Queensborough grew up and that has been preserved by its present-day owners – the daughter and son-in-law of the last miller – makes me think of the picturesque mill on the River Floss of George Eliot’s famous novel. For more than one reason.

To while away the miles on the road that I travel each weekday between Queensborough and Belleville, going to and from work, I like to listen to audio books. I have decided that this is a prime opportunity to catch up on all those fat Victorian novels that I should have read many years ago but didn’t get around to: all the Dickenses that are left after David Copperfield, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol; much of Jane Austen; the minor Brontës (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and the like), and most of all the works of George Eliot, universally admired – if Wikipedia is to be believed, both Julian Barnes and Martin Amis have called Middlemarch the greatest novel in the English language – and, until this point in time, untouched by me.

George Eliot

George Eliot, the brilliant female novelist who used a man’s name to avoid being lumped into the category of Fluffy Woman Writer.

At the moment I am listening to my first Eliot, The Mill on the Floss. To my delight, I have discovered that the opening chapters of the book are utterly charming and very funny as they introduce us to the main character, a smart little girl named Maggie Tulliver, whom many have likened to the young George Eliot (real name: Mary Ann Evans) herself.

Maggie’s father is the owner of the titular mill on the River Floss, and one of the great joys of the novel is Eliot’s descriptions of the beauties of the English countryside where that fictional river and mill are located.

This afternoon as I was driving home I was particularly struck, and moved, by a passage that is about how precious the things of childhood seem to us all our lives long, even if those things in and of themselves, viewed by a critical outsider’s eye, are not precious at all. And I thought I’d share the passage with you, because it’s lovely and because it explains better than I ever could how attached I am to the Manse and to Queensborough – where I spent the happy years of my childhood, and where I am now returned once again.

The passage occurs fairly early in the novel, when Maggie Tulliver’s slightly older brother, Tom, who is away at school and having a horrid time with Euclidean geometry and Latin, is finally transported home at the Christmas holidays:

But it was worth purchasing, even at the heavy price of the Latin Grammar, the happiness of seeing the bright light in the parlour at home, as the gig passed noiselessly over the snow-covered bridge; the happiness of passing from the cold air to the warmth and the kisses and the smiles of that familiar hearth, where the pattern of the rug and the grate and the fire-irons were “first ideas” that it was no more possible to criticise than the solidity and extension of matter. There is no sense of ease like the ease we felt in those scenes where we were born, where objects became dear to us before we had known the labour of choice, and where the outer world seemed only an extension of our own personality; we accepted and loved it as we accepted our own sense of existence and our own limbs. Very commonplace, even ugly, that furniture of our early home might look if it were put up to auction; an improved taste in upholstery scorns it; and is not the striving after something better and better in our surroundings the grand characteristic that distinguishes man from the brute, or, to satisfy a scrupulous accuracy of definition, that distinguishes the British man from the foreign brute? [Note from Katherine: keep in mind that Eliot is mocking her own society in that last bit.] But heaven knows where that striving might lead us, if our affections had not a trick of twining round those old inferior things; if the loves and sanctities of our life had no deep immovable roots in memory. One’s delight in an elderberry bush overhanging the confused leafage of a hedgerow bank, as a more gladdening sight than the finest cistus or fuchsia spreading itself on the softest undulating turf, is an entirely unjustifiable preference to a nursery-gardener, or to any of those regulated minds who are free from the weakness of any attachment that does not rest on a demonstrable superiority of qualities. And there is no better reason for preferring this elderberry bush than that it stirs an early memory; that it is no novelty in my life, speaking to me merely through my present sensibilities to form and colour, but the long companion of my existence, that wove itself into my joys when joys were vivid.

“The long companion of my life, that wove itself into my joys when joys were vivid” – is that not one of the best descriptions you have ever heard of the lifelong attachment, and love, that we have for the simple things we remember from our earliest days?

Perhaps I am particularly taken with this novel because Queensborough too sports a mill, the Mill on the Black (River). This historic building, erected as a grist (flour) mill in the middle of the 19th century – and a companion to a sawmill that once stood beside it – is the very reason there is a Queensborough today; like so many rural villages the world over, ours grew up around a mill on a river. And I think that Queensborough’s mill is every bit as pretty as the one I imagine on the Floss, in my mind’s eye, when I am listening to George Eliot’s novel.

And when Tom Tulliver is overjoyed to be once again among the beloved scenes of his childhood on his return home – well, that is my story too, isn’t it?

Songs in the key of Grade 3

Songtime 3Does this book trigger any school-day memories for you? It sure did for me when I came across it recently in a thrift shop in Campbellford, Ont., and so of course I snapped it up. It is one in a series – the third, clearly, given its title – produced for classroom use back in the days when I myself was in the classroom, at Madoc Township Public School not far from the Manse here in Queensborough. Songtime 3 was published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston – a Canadian publishing company that as far as I can see is no longer with us –  in 1963, just in time for my school days.

Days, I might add, when singing was something that was actually taught and practised in the classroom. Every school had a music teacher (who might be shared among a few schools, but nevertheless who was there in your classroom for music class at least once a week), and we not only learned and sang songs, but actually learned something about how music works – doh, re, mi, fa, sol and so on, but also a little bit about how to write music: half-notes and whole notes and quarter notes and bass clefs and treble clefs and all that stuff. Is there a hint of this in today’s elementary-school classrooms, I wonder? I suspect not, and more’s the pity.

Anyway, it’s a trip back in time to leaf through Songtime 3, and I’m going to take you on that little trip.

The first time I examined it, standing in that thrift shop in Campbellford, I failed to recognize any of the songs I came across, and wondered if perhaps my experience with the Songtime series began in Grade 4 as opposed to Grade 3 (when, again from its title, I’m assuming this book would have been used in the classroom). But later, when I went through it more carefully, some of the little ditties started to come back to me. Ah, the soundtrack of school days!

The first thing the struck me about the book was the funky midcentury-style drawings that accompany the songs. Sometimes they are quite cool, like in these two:

Five Little Pumpkins

Home on the Range

And other times, especially when illustrating songs supposedly representative of other countries and cultures, they are more than a little bit facile and stereotypical:

Come, Senorita

Chiapanecas

One thing that really struck me was the prevalence of Christian hymns and songs:

Morning Hymn

Away in a Manger

God Who Touchest Earth With Beauty

Prayer at Evening

I mean, I suppose the argument could be made, with some of these songs at least, that they were directed at the God of one’s choice and not necessarily the Christian version of God; but Away in a Manger is pretty definitively Christian. Now, as someone who considers herself a Christian I don’t have a problem with this on a personal level, obviously; but in multicultural Canada of 2015 it’s pretty hard to imagine – even if you lived through it, which I did – a time when it was considered perfectly okay to includes songs like this in the standard classroom songbook. Had any Jewish or Muslim kids happened to show up in class at Madoc Township Public School, they would have felt pretty uncomfortable, I imagine.

A few other things that struck me during my perusal of Songtime 3:

The inclusion of songs paying tribute, in a possibly ham-handed way but doubtless well-meaning, to our country’s First Nations:

Indian Children

Lullaby of the Iroquois

A once-popular song I would never have thought of again in my entire life if I hadn’t spotted it here:

Polly Wolly DoodleAn astoundingly inappropriate (by today’s standards) number called Mother, I Want A Husband:

Mother, I Want a Husband

(Though I think it is quite sweet that the young woman who wants a husband – apparently more than anything else in life – rejects  “a Frenchman,” “a German” and “an Englishman” for … a farmer. That particular element of the song was very appropriate for the rural Ontario environment in which I grew up.)

And finally – well, of course any Canadian school songbook would have to end with these two numbers:

Canada/God Save the Queen

It was a sweeter time and a simpler time, wasn’t it? There were some wackadoodle and inappropriate songs in that book; but there were some really good ones too. And of course the funky illustrations.

And they taught kids about music and singing in those days. Even if it was to the tune of Mother, I Want a Husband.