On Nov. 11 the bells will peal, and Queensborough will remember

Legion Bells of PeaceOn Nov. 11, 1918 – one hundred years ago this Remembrance Day – bells rang out across Europe and all over Canada. The bells pealed from every church steeple and clock tower to tell a populace heartsick and weary from four terrible years of war that the conflict we now call World War I was over at last. For many Canadians, the ringing of the bells meant that beloved husbands, sons and fathers would be coming home at last. That the horror and danger in which those far-off loved ones had lived the past years of their lives were over. That they could return to their farms, their trades, and their families.

It is almost impossible for us, who have never lived through such a time, to imagine what joy the sound of the bells must have brought those hearers in cities, towns and villages across our country.

But for many others, the ringing of the bells announcing the Armistice would have been bittersweet at best. Like their friends and neighbours, they would have been happy that the brutal, senseless conflict was finally over; but for them, there would be a son, husband or father who would never come home. The bodies of their loved ones would lie through eternity in cemeteries far away across the ocean.

Tilloy cemetery

“Between the crosses, row on row.” The British War Cemetery in Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, France, where Sgt. Winfred (Fred) Glover of Queensborough is buried. I told Winfred Glover’s story a few years ago (you can read it here), and his is one of the names that will be read out prior to the ringing of the bells on Nov. 11 in Queensborough.

As Canada marks Remembrance Day 2018 this coming Sunday, bells will toll again in many places. The Royal Canadian Legion and the federal government have partnered for the Bells of Peace project, urging communities and churches to ring their bells 100 times, precisely at sunset, to commemorate the end of the Great War and to remember those who served and, in so many cases, died in the conflict.

It is sure to be deeply moving to ring and to hear the bells, and to think about what that sound must have meant 100 years ago.

Here in Queensborough, we will be doing our part. At 4:46 p.m. Sunday – the precise moment of sunset in Queensborough on Nov. 11, 2018 – our community’s bells will start to ring, once every five seconds, until they have rung 100 times. And the community is warmly invited to come and take part, and to help ring the bells.

St. Andrew's Easter 2

Usually the ringing of the bell in the steeple at St. Andrew’s United Church is to signal the start of Sunday worship. This Nov. 11, however, the bell will ring 100 times as we remember those who gave so much in the Great War.

HQD QCC with Buddy Table

In the clock tower at the Queensborough Community Centre (formerly our one-room school) is one of the bells that will be rung on Sunday, Nov. 11.

Where are our bells? They are in the steeple of St. Andrew’s United Church, and in the clock tower of the Queensborough Community Centre, the historic building that was once our village’s one-room school. One hundred years ago there would have been more bells – those in the steeples of the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist churches, none of which are still operational – but we are fortunate that we still have two historic bells that can be rung, just as they certainly would have been a century earlier.

A flyer going out to mailboxes throughout Queensborough and area this week invites everyone to come and take part. But even if you live outside our area, you are welcome to join us and, if you’d like, to help ring the bells. Just come to St. Andrew’s (812 Bosley Rd.) or the community centre (1853 Queensborough Rd.) no later than 4:15 p.m. Sunday.

We especially hope children and teenagers will come and take part, as a way of learning about the Great War and the people from their own community who gave so much in it. Any who are too little to pull the bell ropes themselves are welcome to get a helping hand from a parent; there will be some veteran bell-ringers on hand to help out as well.

WW1 names from QCC

The World War I Honour Roll, showing those who attended or had graduated from Queensborough’s school who served in the war. The names will be read out on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Elaine Kapusta)

On the walls of both the community centre and St. Andrew’s, there hang plaques listing the names of people from Queensborough who served in both the First and Second World Wars. Those names will be read out prior to the bell-ringing, as we remember their service.

Descendants of those who fought in the Great War are especially welcome. Anyone who has photos or letters from the war era that they could bring to show is encouraged to do so.

After the bells have been rung, everyone will be invited to stay at the church or the community centre for hot cider and conversation. We hope this will be a way to bring together the members of our community – those who’ve lived here all their lives, along with those who’ve only moved to Queensborough quite recently – to share and celebrate our history.

Ring the Bells of Queensborough this Remembrance Day

The flyer going out to Queensborough-area homes this week. I hope you can join us on Sunday.

In asking that the bells be tolled at sunset, the Legion has cited a beautiful and well-known line of poetry: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning / We will remember them.”

The poem, entitled  For the Fallen, was written by a Briton, Robert Laurence Binyon, and published in the Times newspaper in the U.K. in September 1914 – very early in the war. Before it was over, so many more would fall. You can read the full poem here – it is quite lovely – but I particularly like two of the stanzas:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Indeed we will. I hope you can join us in Queensborough at sunset this Sunday as we do so.

“So what’s happening in Queensborough?”

Welcome to Queensborough, fall 2018

Welcome to beautiful Queensborough, where things are always happening! And one of the best things about our hamlet is the work that the volunteers on the Queensborough Beautification Committee do to enhance our community’s welcome and street signs.

“So what’s happening in Queensborough?” People ask me that question all the time.

It comes from members of my extended family when we gather at times like the recent Thanksgiving weekend. It comes from colleagues at work. It comes when I attend events in far-flung parts of Ontario, and well beyond. It comes in emails and social-media messages from across Canada and all over the world.

And here’s the thing: the people who ask me that question already know what my answer will be. (It’s always just one word: “Lots!”) Why? Because the news has got out that Queensborough is a happening place. I am modestly proud of the part that Meanwhile, at the Manse has played, over the almost seven years of its existence, in spreading the word about Queensborough. Bust mostly I am proud (and not at all modestly) of the work that the people of this tiny, beautiful place are doing to make it punch way above its weight when it comes to interesting events and widespread recognition. I would go so far as to say that Queensborough is one of the better-known population-75 places (okay, maybe our population’s a whopping 200 or so when you count – as we should – the Greater Queensborough Area) on the entire planet. And that is something!

Regular readers will doubtless have noticed that Meanwhile, at the Manse has been a bit quiet lately. I apologize for that; my excuse, such as it is, is that I’ve been awfully busy. But that’s part of the deal with living in Queensborough, isn’t it? There’s always something.

So let me fill you in on what’s been going on. Late summer and early autumn weren’t quite as busy as the whirlwind few months we had last spring, but there’s still lots to share with you.

St. Andrew's Turkey Supper 2018 – enjoying the meal

Enjoying the meal: some of the hundreds of people who came out to enjoy the St. Andrew’s United Church Turkey Supper in late September.

I believe I’ll begin with the annual Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough, which took place in late September. Now, regular readers will know that our St. Andrew’s suppers (which I’ve written about many times, notably here and here and here) have a long tradition of success, attracting crowds of people from all over the place who are eager to enjoy a splendid meal in the congenial atmosphere of our pretty, historic country church. But this Turkey Supper was something special.

St. Andrew's Turkey Supper 2018 – lineup of cars

Raymond outside St. Andrew’s United Church surveying the very impressive lineup of cars that brought people to the Turkey Supper. And there were just as many lined up in the other direction!

On a day that turned from grey and gloomy to gloriously sunny just in time, hundreds of people turned out. As usual, there were lineups even before the doors opened at 4:30 p.m. What was a little less usual was that the people just kept coming. And coming. And coming. Normally by 6:15 p.m. or so – the supper runs until 7 – almost everyone who’s going to come has already showed up and is seated at the communal tables, enjoying the meal. This year, there was turnover after turnover in the church hall, with seats in the waiting area – the church sanctuary – filled by new arrivals as soon as they’d been emptied by those who’d been called in to the meal. There was still a churchful of people waiting well after 6 p.m.!

St. Andrew's Turkey Supper 2018 – waiting to be called 2

The thing about sitting in the St. Andrew’s sanctuary and waiting for your ticket number to be called so you can go in and enjoy the Turkey Supper (or, in the spring, the Ham Supper) is that it’s a marvellous opportunity to catch up on the news with friends and neighbours. Which is exactly what everyone in this picture is doing!

The men and women who were working their butts off (to use a not very churchy term) to keep the turkey and trimmings coming out of the kitchen, and the places set, and the dishes done, began to worry that we might run out of food. But in the end, we had exactly the right amount: every visitor ate heartily and well, the church members and supporters who had worked so hard were able to do the same once the crowds were gone, and there was even a bit left over.

Pie at the Turkey Supper 2018

As always, the selection of homemade pie at the Turkey Supper was impressive – and delicious. Queensborough is justly renowned for its homemade pie.

And when all was said and done, almost $3,500 was raised for the ongoing work of St. Andrew’s! That is a very big deal for a small country church. Everyone who came out to the dinner, and everyone who roasted turkeys, baked pies, peeled turnips, set places, and washed and dried mountains of dishes deserves huge thanks – not just for a job well done on that particular evening, but for keeping a truly great Queensborough tradition alive.

Okay: what else? Well, let’s talk about the Orange Hall!

Welcome to the Orange Hall

The main entrance to the former Orange Hall at 24 King St., Queensborough, as it looks these days. It’s a far cry from the ugly and decrepit look the front of the building boasted for decades before Jamie Grant and Tory Byers purchased it.

When last you heard about the Orange Hall – from me, at least – it was early June and we were basking in the success of the Black Fly Shuffle (a community dance) that had just been held there. It was the first time in half a century that a public event had happened in that building, one of the oldest in our hamlet and a place that, back in the day, regularly played host to dances, concerts, travelling shows, wedding receptions and all kinds of other socials. After decades of disuse that saw the building fall into extreme disrepair, it was purchased and saved by Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, a couple – from the perspective of my advancing age I think of them as a young couple – who are bursting with energy and creativity. What they did to repair and restore the Orange Hall in such a short time brought smiles and wonderment on the evening of the Shuffle to those who’d last been there 50 or more years ago. To me, looking on and thinking hard about how important that evening was, it brought (well-concealed) tears of joy. The restoration of the Orange Hall is a huge step in the revitalization of our community.

But hey – that was almost five months ago! Things have happened since then!

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Jamie and Tory went on to purchase the large empty lot that is immediately east of the Orange Hall. (That lot is much more empty since a shocking fire in 2012 destroyed a beautiful historic brick house that had been on it.) They also were able to buy the smallish 19th-century house that’s just to the east of the empty lot. Taken together, this will allow them to do a lot more with the Orange Hall, which came with only the land that it sits on and, as a result, no plumbing (because no land for a septic tank). With the empty lot added in, all that’s changed, and the possibilities for the building have opened up immensely. In addition, in very short order Jamie and Tory bought and spiffed up the little house next door to the empty lot, and now it’s as cute as all get out. And they brought in a gazebo for the lot in between! They (and we) have visions of concerts in summer evenings, kids’ activities, all kinds of fun community stuff on this centre-of-town property that they’ve brought back to life.

So what’s next in Queensborough? Well, in just a couple of week’s it’ll be Halloween, and I’ve already told you what a bang-up job Queensborough does on that front. On Oct. 27 – the Saturday before Halloween – the annual Family Halloween Party takes place at the Queensborough Community Centre. Again, I’ve told you about it previously in this space, but this event is getting bigger every year – thanks in part to so many young families having moved into the Greater Queensborough Area in the past few years. So many kids! So much potential for big fun at the QCC on the 27th! The Halloween Party has turned into one of the social events of the year, and you don’t want to miss it. Especially if you have kids.

Queensborough events

The draft – emphasis on draft! – lineup of events for 2019, as discussed at last week’s meeting of the Queensborough Community Centre committee (and marked up with my own scratchings). As you can see, we have a busy year ahead!

And then what? Well, I’m glad you asked. Just a few days ago Raymond and I were at the monthly meeting of the Queensborough Community Centre committee, of which we are both members. The main item on the agenda was planning events for 2019, and I think it’s fair to say it’s a heck of a lineup we’ve got. I mean, really (in chronological order, starting in January): a chili cookoff; our annual community potluck supper, which this year will also be a Games Night; hamburgers, hot dogs and homemade pie served up by the Black River during kayaking season in the early spring; the Earth Day trash bash, to clean up the roadways in and around Queensborough; an Easter egg hunt; the St. Andrew’s Ham Supper; the ever-popular Pancake Breakfast in May; a Queensborough-themed art show (Queensborough having been a mecca for artists for much of its history); a kids’ softball tournament; the annual children’s summer drop-in program at the community centre; a new fall harvest event, complete with fireworks and – get this – a street dance (!); the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper; a followup to our hugely successful pie-making class, this time teaching pie newbies how to make a world-beating apple pie; the family Halloween party, of course; and Christmas carolling throughout Queensborough, to be followed by an evening of Christmas skits and other fun.

An ambitious lineup for a tiny hamlet? It sure is.

Can we pull it off? Of course we can! We are Queensborough – a place filled with community spirit and dedicated volunteers.

The only question that remains is: won’t you join us?

Watch this space, the local media, and the Facebook pages of the Queensborough Community Centre and St. Andrew’s United Church for details on each event. Please join us for as many of these events as you can; if you live here and can help out with some or all of them, please do!

So what’s happening in Queensborough?

I feel like my old standby answer, “Lots!” is no longer sufficient. We’ve moved past that.

What’s happening in Queensborough? More than ever!

Summer memories made in Queensborough

Painting at QCC 3

Look at these amazing (and very intent) young artists! They were taking a lesson from local artist Linda Myrie at the Queensborough Community Centre‘s summer drop-in program. Read on to see a photo of their finished artworks.

As I write this post, the summer of 2018 is fading into memory. It is Labour Day evening, and all over Queensborough and everywhere else, children are being put to bed in good time so they can be awake early to catch the bus on the first day of school. I’m willing to bet that every single one of them has a little knot of nervousness in their stomach, perhaps enough to keep them awake for a bit. They’re wondering what the school year has in store for them. What will their teacher be like? Will the classes be hard? Will all their friends from last year still be around? By the time they jump off the bus tomorrow afternoon, at the end of Day 1, they’ll be happy and relaxed and feeling comfortable about it all. But this evening? This evening, they’re a little bit anxious about what lies ahead. And you know what? Their teachers are feeling exactly the same way. I can say that because I’m a teacher – and I’m already fretting about the close-to-sleepless night I’ll probably have, thinking about what tomorrow has in store.

Before the end of this last day of summer – not officially, but the start of school always makes you feel that summer’s over –  I’d like to tell you about a fantastic thing that happens every summer here in Queensborough. And it’s all about kids.

Summer drop-in schedule

The flyer that went out to Queensborough-area households in June, letting them know about the summer drop-in program. Pretty great lineup of activities for kids, isn’t it?

For more than 10 years, volunteers with the Queensborough Community Centre Committee have operated a children’s summer drop-in program. It takes place Tuesday and Thursday afternoons throughout July, and kids can attend a single session or the whole shebang at an extremely modest cost: $15 per child for all eight sessions, with a maximum of $30 per family no matter how many kids they have; or $5 per single session.

The drop-in program was the brainchild of tireless Queensborough volunteer Elaine Kapusta, who spent her professional life in education as a teacher and principal and thus brought a world of knowledge and ideas to the proceedings. But over the years more and more of the heavy lifting has been taken on by other volunteers from the community – including young people who started at the drop-in centre as wee kids!

Raymond and I are often travelling in July, and thus in the years since we moved to Queensborough I haven’t had much of a chance to check out the summer program. But our vacation schedule was a bit different this year, and so one bright afternoon in mid July, I headed up to the community centre to have a first-hand look.

The community centre – our hamlet’s historic former one-room school – was a happy blur of noise and bustle when I walked through the door. The activity that day was painting; a long table had been set up, and on both sides of it, kids were ranged in front of miniature easels, working away at their canvases. Some of the younger ones were at separate smaller tables, where their parents, other adult volunteers and the drop-in centre’s tween- and teenaged counsellors and counsellors in training were helping them. Leading the proceedings was Tweed artist Linda Myrie, one of an impressive array of visiting presenters for the program. Everybody was having a good time – and here are the results!

The kids with their paintings

Good work, guys! Queensborough drop-in program participants with their paintings. Photo courtesy of the Queensborough Community Centre Committee

I was impressed with a whole bunch of things during my visit:

  • How many kids there were. The place was full.
  • How focused they were on their painting activity.
  • How well-organized everything was – everything from painting materials to snacks was on hand as needed, and volunteers would appear whenever one of the young artists needed a bit of help or encouragement.
  • How much fun everyone was having!

This is just a wonderful setup for the kids in our community – and not just the littler ones who come for the fun. It also provides paid summer jobs to the counsellors – most of whom are “graduates” of the drop-in program – and, for the counsellors in training, experience that may well lead to that paid summer job in future years. Here are the 2018 crop:

Drop-in counsellors and counsellors in training

This year’s drop-in program counsellors and counsellors in training were (from left) Kira Davidson, Bradon Shaffer, Evelyn Stephens and Brook Gylytiuk. Photo courtesy of Elaine Kapusta

There was a day very early in the summer when I was out on the front porch of the Manse working on something or other, and I suddenly realized that there’d been a steady stream of early-teen kids going by on their bikes or on foot – about one every 20 minutes or so. What was up? I wondered. And then I realized: they were going to their interviews for counsellor positions at the drop-in program. What a terrific experience for these kids!

The budget for the drop-in program is not huge. The money to operate it comes from generous donations from community organizations – the Tweed Festival of Trees, the Madoc and Tweed Kiwanis Clubs, and the volunteer-run Madoc thrift shop, which raises money for a host of community causes – as well as from individuals. Meanwhile, it’s the hard work of dedicated volunteers – Joan Sims, Stephanie Flieler, Lisa Whalen and Jamie Gordon – that keeps it all running.

Thanks to the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page, I can show you a few other photos of the fun that the kids had at this year’s drop-in program. There was first-aid-training day…

First aid at drop-in program First aid 2

… and a visit from some wild creatures that belong to Tyrannosaurus Pets in Belleville…

Giant snake at drop-in program

hedgehog at QCCJoanie with the giant snake
Meeting a varmint

And perhaps best of all, the traditional Water Day that concludes the summer drop-in program – a day for the kids to get outside in their swimsuits and, thanks to water balloons and water everywhere, get really, really wet:

water day 1

water day 2

Here’s what one parent posted on the QCC Facebook page the day Water Day was announced there:

Noah has been talking about it all morning!!! Woke up to his smile and “Is it camp day?” this morning. You have all been doing such a great job with this program! Thank you!

I’m sure that this mum was speaking for all parents of the kids who were able to enjoy the drop-in program this summer, and in summers past. It makes me so proud to know that, thanks to an inspired idea by Elaine and so much dedication by her and the other volunteers through the years, our tiny hamlet is able to offer this marvellous experience to our children.

As we bid farewell to summer 2018, I know that a whole bunch of Queensborough children and teenagers are eagerly awaiting the drop-in program of 2019. Way to go, Queensborough!

The internet came, and then it went away again

Queensborough, we have an internet problem. Again.

But then, if you live in the Queensborough area, I’m pretty sure you know that. Why? Because not long ago I asked you, and you answered. Boy, did you answer.

Some good news about this internet problem, however, is that I have put my journalistic skills to use, made some inquiries, and now have a suggested plan of action. It does require something from you, my dear Queensborough reader, but only this: that you pick up your phone and call our local internet provider. Yes, you know the one:

Xplornet logo

For the benefit of non-Queensborough readers, let me provide some background on all this. And then I’ll share what I’ve learned about what can be done.

Longtime readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse may recall my many posts on the topic of slow to non-existent internet from the early years Raymond and I spent here in Queensborough. Between our purchase of the Manse in January 2012 and a magical day in March 2015 (more on that in just a bit), our internet situation was absolutely dire. The signal was impossibly slow; streaming services such as Netflix were out of the question; and the incredibly lame service that we had was still costing us $100 a month. (You can read some of my posts on the topic here and here and here.) Many were the evenings when the frustration of the endless hours it took to do a simple internet thing like putting up a blog post for you all to read had me practically in tears.

But then on March 19, 2015, the internet came to the Manse! Xplornet Communications, the company tasked with providing high-speed internet to rural Eastern Ontario, had just erected a tower on DeClair Road a bit east of Queensborough. On that magical Thursday in March, a technician came to the Manse to install a setup allowing us to connect to the tower. As you can read in my excited post about it here, and an even more exuberant followup a month later, we suddenly had endless and gloriously fast internet, for about the same price we’d been paying for the previous ghastly setup. We could watch Netflix! Raymond could watch his beloved Boston Red Sox games, streamed in high definition! I could do blog posts quickly and without tears! It was wonderful!

And it wasn’t just us: suddenly all of Queensborough (with exception of one household that had too many trees between it and the DeClair Road tower) had access to lightning-fast internet. Basically, it changed our lives – forever, we thought.

Alas, “forever” turned out to be about three years.

Since this past spring, internet in Queensborough has once again been terrible. Not so much in the daytime, mind you; but in the evening, when everyone’s home and online – Facebook, Netflix, Raymond watching his Red Sox via the Major League Baseball streaming app – it slows to a crawl at best and a complete freeze a great deal of the time. Here, let me show you with a little video of the action – actually inaction, due to the internet freeze – during a Red Sox-Tampa Bay Rays game the other night. The only “action” you’ll see until the freeze finally lets up is the ever-circling “loading” wheel – appropriately named (not by me) “the spinning wheel of death”:

These freezes happen dozens of times during every game. Lately, Raymond’s just given up trying to watch most evenings. And while that’s causing him so much grief, I’m usually trying to compose emails or blog posts or some such, and experiencing exactly the same thing – freeze after freeze, and more of the spinning wheel of death. The situation is every bit as frustrating as it was pre-2015. And we’re paying more than $100 a month for this?

About 10 days ago, I decided I’d had enough. It was time for action.

Step 1 was to get confirmation of how bad, and how widespread, the problem is. I already knew from a couple of conversations I’d had with neighbours that we are not the only household experiencing suddenly terrible internet. I felt quite certain that all of Queensborough was having the same problem – doubtless because more families have moved to the area in recent times, and because they (and everybody else) are using the internet more than ever. My educated guess was that the DeClair Road tower could no longer meet internet demand from Queensborough. But I needed some ammunition for Step 2, and so I sent out a message via social media outlining our no-internet-in-the-evenings situation and asking my fellow Queensborough-area residents to tell me if the same thing was happening to them. Which they did.

Facebook post on slow internet

The Facebook post in which I asked residents of our area whether they are experiencing the same internet problems as we are here at the Manse. The replies came thick and fast, and confirmed that we have a Queensborough-wide problem.

“I have the exact same experience and complaint, Katherine,” wrote one person.

“We had tons of issues in the last year with the internet service,” wrote another.

“Same issue,” said several others.

“I almost curse them all the time now,” wrote someone who happens to be a devout Christian. Wow!

Armed with confirmation that the problem is Queensborough-wide, I moved on to Step 2, which was to call Xplornet. Two hours on the phone later, I had a much-reduced internet bill and quite a bit of information. Which I now want to share with my fellow slow-internet sufferers.

The first department I got was customer service. I explained to the pleasant woman who took my call (after about 45 minutes on hold) about how all of Queensborough was experiencing the same internet problems, that the tower that services us must be beyond its capacity, and that we’re all pretty darn frustrated. She told me that:

  • Additional panels can be put onto a tower to resolve the problem of overload (though she stressed that this technical end of things was not her area of expertise).
  • All calls about such problems are logged and actively monitored by Xplornet, and if there is a sudden influx of calls of complaint from one particular area, there’s more likely to be action to resolve the problem. Which is why, Queensborough people, you should call! The number (which you can find on your bill) is 1-866-841-6001.

Anyway, back to my call. The last thing the customer-service rep did was: cut my monthly internet bill by $30! The reduction is good for the next six months, and if service hasn’t improved at the end of that time, it will be renewed.

And when I politely but persistently reminded her that I’d already paid more than $100 a month for several months’ worth of terrible service, she also gave me a rebate of one month’s charge. The next bill arrived a few days later, and because of all the reductions, I ended up with something even better than a zero balance: a credit of about $25.

So: did I mention that you should make that call? That number again is 1-866-841-6001. (But make sure you have a cup of coffee and something to read in hand, to get you through the wait time to speak to an agent.)

So then my helpful customer-service rep transferred me over to Xplornet’s technical department, where I had a long and enlightening chat with a member of the technical team. Once again I told my whole story, including the fact that all of Queensborough is experiencing the same problem.

He told me that towers, including the DeClair Road one, are being upgraded with what’s called an overlay, to add capacity. He noted – and I know this is true – that these upgrades can’t be done at the drop of a hat; there are licensing issues involved that take time. But he did confirm that the work “is under way.” When I asked when it would be completed, he said Xplornet does not give out end dates for such projects, but said he suspects it’ll be mid to late September at the latest – if only because the company doesn’t want its workers up on the towers when bad weather comes.

When I told him about the customer-service rep’s advice to urge people to call about the problem, he agreed that a bunch of calls from our area might well get the timeline for the tower work bumped up. So people! Call! 1-866-841-6001. And please tell them, as I did, that the problem you’re experiencing is shared by everyone in our area. This definitely adds oomph to the complaint, and avoids an agent trying to solve a (probably nonexistent) problem with your own personal setup.

Oh, and a bit more information I got: for those of you who get your internet via Xplornet satellite rather than from the DeClair Road tower, but are experiencing the same problem with painfully slow loading times: it’s again because of capacity issues. Demand on the satellite signal is growing very quickly, just like demand on the towers. I suggest you too call to let the company know about the problem, and inquire what can be done about reducing your bill until the signal comes up to snuff.

Internet announcement

The posting on Hastings-Lennox and Addington MP Mike Bossio’s website about the plan to bring the internet via fibre-optic cable to our area. The announcement was made at the Signal Brewery in Corbyville (once the site of the famous Corby Distillery), and on hand were (from left) Signal owner Richard Courneyea, Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis, Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of innovation, science and economic development, Jill Raycroft of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, MP Mike Bossio, and Xplornet chief executive officer Allison Lenehan.

FibreRoute

The network of fibre-optic cables that will bring super-duper internet to our area within a couple of years – or at least, that’s the promise. (Photo via lennox-addington.on.ca; click to enlarge)

Now, in the slightly longer term there is some good news for us all. Last month, our MP, Mike Bossio (a schoolmate of mine in Madoc back in the days when I was growing up in this area), announced a partnership between the federal government and Xplornet to improve high-speed internet in Eastern Ontario using an existing network of fibre-optic cables. You can read about it here, and you’ll see on the map, as well as in the news story, that our entire area – the Municipality of Tweed, of which Queensborough is a part, and neighbouring Madoc Township, which is Queensborough-adjacent – are included. This is fantastic!

The only down side is that this new and improved service won’t be up and running until 2020. And yes, I know we’re already more than halfway through 2018, but a year and a half is a long time to deal with frozen-screen baseball games. Just ask Raymond.

So until then? Call Xplornet. Be polite but persistent. We had great internet for one brief shining moment. (Okay, it lasted three glorious years). We need to get it back!

In which the yellow peril of the plant world shows up

Our wild parsnip

Looks kind of pretty, doesn’t it? But people, you do not want to discover this plant on your property. Unfortunately, I did.

Among the many things that urban dwellers (such as I once was) rarely or never have to think about are invasive plants. By this I mean flora that are a) non-native and therefore shouldn’t be growing where they are; or b) dangerous; or c) both of the above. Wild parsnip is most assuredly both of the above.

Here in Eastern Ontario, we’ve been hearing about the threat of wild parsnip for the past number of years – pretty much ever since Raymond and I bought the Manse in 2012, and very possibly before that. Here’s the lowdown on it, courtesy of the website Ontario’s Invading Species Awareness Program, run by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters:

Wild parsnip is an invasive plant native to Europe and Asia. It was [probably] brought to North America by European settlers, who grew it for its edible root. Since its introduction, wild parsnip has escaped from cultivated gardens and spread across the continent. Wild parsnip roots are edible, but the sap of the plant can cause severe burns … Wild parsnip, which is also known as poison parsnip, is a member of the carrot/parsley family. It typically grows a low, spindly rosette of leaves in the first year while the root develops. In the second year it flowers on a tall stalk and then dies. The plant can form dense stands and spreads quickly in disturbed areas such as abandoned yards, waste dumps, meadows, open fields, roadsides and railway embankments. Its seeds are easily dispersed by wind and water, and on mowing or other equipment. Like giant hogweed and other members of the carrot family, it produces sap containing chemicals that can cause human skin to react to sunlight, resulting in intense burns, rashes or blisters.

In North America, scattered wild parsnip populations are found from British Columbia to California, and from Ontario to Florida. It has been reported in all provinces and territories of Canada except Nunavut. The plant is currently found throughout eastern and southern Ontario, and researchers believe it is spreading from east to west across the province.

Lovely, huh? Apparently if you manage to get yourself into a patch of wild parsnip, the effect on your skin can make poison ivy look like a picnic. (Though I have heard anecdotally from people around Queensborough that the poisonous sap affects some people more than others, and some people not at all. I do not know if this is scientifically true, or just a well-meaning attempt to downplay the problem.)

Once the wild-parsnip problem penetrated my consciousness a few years ago, thanks to awareness campaigns by the likes of the anglers and hunters federation and, of course, the provincial government, I quickly became aware of the extent of it. In our area, wild parsnip is, not to put too fine a point on it, everywhere. Along the roads, in ditches, at the edge of wooded areas – and, most worrisomely to me, alongside sidewalks right here in Queensborough. Here, take a look:

Wild parsnip alongside the sidewalk

Just look at all the wild parsnip reaching out across a sidewalk in Queensborough. This is not great for people who might be using that sidewalk – especially kids – and brushing up against the noxious plant.

In a village where there are a lot of children running and skipping and riding their bikes around – which is a wonderful thing – do we really want our sidewalks lined with a plant that can cause very unpleasant damage to tender young skin? I think not. But here’s the thing: wild parsnip is a bugger (excuse my language) to get rid of. As I discovered first-hand a month or so ago.

I was out pacing the acreage of the Manse one perfect summer morning, admiring the work I’d done in a shade garden in one corner and nearby, against the fence on the property’s southern edge, my newly installed asparagus plant. Suddenly I noticed another plant along that same fenceline: tall, with attractive yellow flowers. Attractive it may have been, but it was indisputably wild parsnip, the seeds that created it doubtless having been borne by the wind from one of the hundreds of other such plants growing around here. Yikes!

I looked up the drill on removing wild parsnip from your property, as explained by the natural-resources ministry:

Wear protective clothing, including waterproof gloves, long-sleeved shirts, pants and eye protection. A disposable spray suit over your normal clothing provides the best protection. Spray suits are commercial-grade waterproof coveralls. After working around the plant, remove your protective clothing carefully to avoid transferring any sap from your clothing onto your skin. Wash your rubber gloves with soap and water, then take off your spray suit or outer clothing. Wash your rubber gloves again and then take them off. Finally, take off your protective eye wear. Put non-disposable clothing in the laundry and wash yourself immediately with soap and water.

“Dear god,” I thought to myself. “Do I really have to do this?”

Yes, I did. But a spray suit? To get rid of one plant? That was a bit much. Instead, on a day of blazing sun with the temperature in the 30-degree range (that’s high 80s to you Fahrenheit people), I donned jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, socks and shoes, garden gloves and eye protectors. I grabbed the pointy garden shovel that Raymond found at a yard sale a while back, and attacked our wild parsnip plant.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I put on all that unseasonal clothing, I checked the rest of the fenceline to see if there were more wild parsnip plants. The bad news: I found another one. The good news: that was all – just two in total. And as it happened, the second plant was on the other side of the fence that divides the Manse property from the lovely one of our gardening-wiz neighbours, Brian and Sylvia. I figured that since I was going to be tackling our plant, I might as well offer to tackle theirs too – no sense all of us having to get all kitted out with protective gear – so I called them up, explained my discovery, and offered to dig it up. They appreciatively accepted the offer, and in return said they would look after the disposal of both plants. Because get this: you can’t toss a dug-up wild-parsnip plant just anywhere; the disposal is almost as much of a pain in the rear as is the digging-up of the thing. Here’s what the natural-resources ministry has to say about that:

DO NOT burn or compost wild parsnip plants that have been cut down or dug up. If possible, leave the stems to dry out completely at the site. Carefully dispose of plant material in black plastic bags and leave in direct sun for a week or more. Contact your municipality to determine if the bagged plants can be sent to your local landfill site.

Man, this plant is just bad news from first to last.

Anyway.

Wearing my middle-of-winter attire and armed with my trusty shovel, I successfully dug up the wild parsnip plant that was on our side of the fence, and then the wild-parsnip plant that was on Brian and Sylvia’s side. Here’s the specimen from our side, lying on the ground, root and all:

Pulled-out wild parsnip

And here’s Brian and Sylvia’s:

Pulled-out wild parsnip at Brian and Sylvia's

You can’t see it in my photo (I was staying well away, needless to say), but it had a very impressively sized root. It was quite the job to get them both out, and I was proud of myself at the end. And very grateful to Brian and Sylvia for agreeing to dispose of them.

I’m also proud of myself for discovering the plants before there were many of them, and for doing the right thing in getting rid of them. When you drive along our local roads and see the thousands of wild-parsnip plants everywhere, it’s discouraging. Given that wild parsnip is officially listed as a noxious weed in Ontario, municipalities should probably enact bylaws requiring property-owners to get rid of any plants that may show up on their land; but with the rather overwhelming extent of the problem and the daunting task of digging up and disposing of the weeds properly, I can see why they don’t. How would you ever police or enforce such a bylaw, when the problem is so out of control?

However. I am very happy to report that there are zero wild-parsnip plants growing on the Manse property, and if any should show up in future, they will be dealt with. If we all tried to do this, it would be a good thing.

And then all we’d have to worry about would be dog-strangling vine. Oh dear. It’s always something.

A very useful birthday present

Herb My friend and neighbour from just east of Queensborough, Herb Holgate – source of one of the most useful birthday gifts I have ever received.

Regular readers will doubtless recall that last week’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse, had a birthday theme: it was marking the significant birthday of my very patient husband, Raymond. And thank you so much (from both of us) to all of you who responded with cheery birthday wishes for Raymond! Now, before we get away from birthdays entirely, I want to tell you about something that happened a few weeks earlier in July – on my birthday, as it happened.

I’ll preface the story by telling you that Raymond and I have taken to starting our days with a brisk hour-long walk. It’s not the ultimate fitness regimen, but it’s significantly better than nothing on the good-for-you scale. And it’s a pleasant way to take in the sights and sounds – a hawk diving for its prey, a marshland tree looking like something out of a Group of Seven painting – on the outskirts of Queensborough.

I’ll add a second preface by also mentioning that this summer has been a particularly bad one on the deer-fly front. If you’re an urban person and not too sure what a deer fly is, you can find a good explanation of it (along with its larger relative, the horse fly) here; but this summary from the Friends of Algonquin Park is as useful and to the point as any:

Deer flies and horse flies appear similar to large house flies, but they pack a strong bite. Unlike the sucking mouth parts of a mosquito, these insects have biting mouth parts that occasionally feel like they are “taking a chunk of skin” as a meal. Horse flies are relatively larger and darkly coloured, while deer flies are smaller and have colourful eyes and dark-patterned wings. Deer and horse flies are most abundant during the summer months and fly only during the day. Being visual feeders attracted to motion, these insects circle humans waiting for a good time to land and obtain a meal. Insect repellent is less effective against deer and horse flies than compared to other biting insect species.

If you’re a rural person like us here in Queensborough, you of course already knew all this. And you also know that the deer flies have been brutal in the summer of 2018.

deer fly

ttps://atthemanse.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/a-very-useful-birthday-present/deer-fly/” rel=”attachment wp-att-17872″> The deer fly – a major hindrance to enjoying a summer walk in the country. (Photo from the website of Hammerhead Kayak Supply)

[/caption]Now, if you noted the Algonquin Park people’s description of deer flies being “visual feeders attracted to motion,” you can doubtless imagine what happens when a person goes out for a walk on a midsummer day. It doesn’t take the deer flies any time at all to spot your motion and start circling your head and body, looking for a tasty spot to land and take a bite. Soon all its friends and relatives have showed up too. And the more your healthy exercise makes you sweat with the exertion, the more the deer flies are attracted to you. So you find yourself getting additional exercise by flailing your arms around in the hopeless effort to make them go away.

Okay, now for my story proper.

On the afternoon of my birthday in earlyish July, I was out for a walk on my own. I’d chosen the route that runs east from Queensborough, past the pretty and peaceful Greenwood Cemetery and Moore’s Corners, turning to return home when I’d reached the 2.5-kilometre mark at the intersection of Queensborough and DeClair roads. It was a hot day, and as I laboured up Holgate Hill – an informal name that comes from the family that for many years has lived at the top of it – the deer flies were buzzing all around me.

tthemanse.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/a-very-useful-birthday-present/walking-up-holgate-hill/” rel=”attachment wp-att-17869″> Here’s Raymond walking up Holgate Hill on Queensborough Road east of Queensborough.[/caption]At the

At the crest of the hill, my friend and neighbour Herb Holgate pulled out in his pickup truck, heading in the same direction I was. He recognized that my walk was a purposeful one and knew I couldn’t stop to chat, so he drove very slowly alongside me for a few minutes and we had an excellent catchup on each other’s news. Toward the end, he remarked on how my head was looking like the control tower for a deer-fly airport, and suggested a solution: clear plastic sticky strips that you attach to the back of a baseball cap. They work, he said, like those rolls of sticky tape you’d sometimes see suspended from farmhouse ceilings in my childhood, use to nab houseflies: the bugs are attracted to the tape, fly to it, get stuck, and die there. And possibly live specimens, seeing their immobilized friends and relatives dead or at least well on the way, will steer clear of you.

It might sound gruesome, but let me tell you, if you’ve ever been plagued by deer flies, you really wouldn’t mind being the death knell for some of them. Herb assured me that these sticky strips work, and told me I could get some at the farm-supply shop in Madoc (which is “town” for us). “Tell them I sent you,” he said genially. I was thrilled to learn of this new-to-me product, and told Herb that it was my birthday and the information he’d just given me was an excellent present. With a grin and a wave and a foot on the accelerator, he was on his way.

The next day I headed to Madoc and the farm-supply store. Now, as it happens there are two farm-supply stores in Madoc. I had leaped to the conclusion that the one Herb was referring to was the more rustic of the two; don’t ask me why. I told the friendly chap at the counter what I was looking for, and he told me that while the store had once stocked them, they unfortunately no longer do. Disappointing!

Why on earth I didn’t stop at the second farm-supply place to check I cannot explain. I just had it in my head that Herb had meant the first store, and that was that. Oh well.

But a little later that same day, when I was out working in the garden, Herb’s truck pulled up at the Manse. “Did you find those fly strips?” he asked me. I explained what had happened – and you can guess what comes next. He had meant the other farm-supply place. He also reinforced his story of the efficacy of the sticky strips by showing me the back of his own baseball cap. It was shocking in a thrilling way: stuck to the strip pinned to the cap were a good 20 or 30 dead deer flies. Wow!

Herb wasn’t going to leave it there. He hopped back into his truck, roared up the road to his house, and was back in just a few minutes with four of the sticky strips, two each for me and for Raymond. (Raymond is very popular with biting insects of all sorts, which means he has a lot more issues with the deer flies than even I do.)

What a great gift!

The deer flies are starting to tail off now so I’m holding my powder till next summer, but Raymond attached his sticky strip right away. And guess what? It works! Here, let me show you the evidence. The sticky strip is attached to Raymond’s walking cap of choice (you can tell by the sweat stains):

Queensborough cap front

Now take a look at the back of that cap:

Cap with deerflies

(I realize you’ve probably had to have experienced deer-fly misery at least once in your life to appreciate the wonderfulness of this photo.)

We can’t thank Herb enough for sharing his knowledge about the deer-fly strips, and especially for being kind enough to give us some to get us started. Here’s Raymond’s in action on a recent morning walk:

Deerfly catcher in action

I gotta tell you: to me that is a beautiful sight. Thank you, Herb!

This is dedicated to the one I love

Oban scotch on a cold, rainy day

Cheers to Raymond on his birthday! Here’s a very recent photo of him enjoying a small glass of Oban scotch whisky as a warmup on a cold, rainy day in Kennebunkport, Maine. It seemed appropriate because almost exactly a year ago, we had visited the whisky’s distillery in the beautiful coastal Scottish town of Oban.

Today we interrupt the regular goings-on here at Meanwhile, at the Manse to pay tribute to someone who plays a critical role in everything that goes on at the Manse. As it happens, today (July 30, 2018) is that person’s birthday, and quite a significant birthday at that. (I won’t say what it is, save that it is five years more significant than the last significant birthday.) You’ve probably guessed that the person I’m talking about is none other than my husband, Raymond. He’s feeling a little put out about having reached this landmark birthday. So let’s try to cheer him up a little by reminding ourselves – and him – of what a remarkable and wonderful guy he is.

As Raymond might well be the first to tell you, probably the single biggest proof that he loves me is this quote that crosses his lips fairly frequently: “I came to Queensborough!”

Queensborough, of course, being the location of the Manse, the house that I grew up in during the heady midcentury days of the 1960s and ’70s. As you know through almost countless (oh, okay: 1,334) posts here in this space, Queensborough is a beautiful and interesting place to be. But let’s just say it was not exactly where Raymond had envisioned spending his retirement years. In fact, until Raymond met me, he’d never heard of Queensborough. (I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.) The places he dreamed of retiring to were, you know, a farmhouse in the south of France. Or a rambling cottage on the New England coast. (Raymond is a native of Lowell, Mass., so a born-and-bred New Englander.) Or a nice big flat in Paris. Or his beloved Eastern Townships of Quebec, a beautiful place where, during his long career as managing editor and then executive editor of the Montreal Gazette, he lived part-time for several years. Queensborough was not exactly on his radar.

Raymond in his Gazette office

Raymond in his days as executive editor of the Montreal Gazette – a life far, far removed from the one he now leads in Queensborough.

But you know that saying “Happy wife, happy life”? Raymond appears to be a subscriber to that philosophy. I wish I could capture the look that came over his face the day I told him back in late 2011 that I’d just discovered that the Manse, my beloved childhood home in Queensborough – a fixer-upper located an inconvenient 4½-hour drive from our home and work in Montreal – was for sale at the price I could afford, and that the die was cast; we had to buy it. The look certainly wasn’t one of horror; I’d describe it more as a mix of:

  1. Surprise;
  2. I’m bracing myself;
  3. Gulp; and
  4. Loving support.

And with that, our joint adventure in Queensborough began.

We bought the Manse in January 2012. For the first year and three-quarters, it was our house in the country, the place we’d get to for a weekend once or twice a month after a long work week at the Gazette, and for somewhat longer periods during the summer.

Those were the days of Raymond discovering, and me rediscovering, what life in Queensborough, a tiny village in very rural Eastern Ontario, was like. We learned about the importance of things like:

  • Vacuuming ladybugs and cluster flies and wasps and other seasonal winged visitors out of the windows (and everywhere else) in the Manse:

raymond bugs

  • Appreciating prizewinning giant watermelons at the Madoc Fair:

Raymond and the watermelons

Raymond and the newly painted oil tank

Red Truck Ray

  • Shovelling the driveway after every snowstorm:

Raymond shovelling

clothesline

  • Planting trees – this elm is the first of two (the other was a maple) we successfully planted in the Manse’s front yard:

Raymond elm tree

  • Doing yard work, when you have quite a large yard (and a lot of trees dropping leaves and needles):

Raymond yard work

Raymond helping the turtle

Raymond on carving duty

  • A hairdryer when the pipes under the kitchen sink freeze:

hairdryer on frozen pipes

Raymond tries our crokinole

To name just a few.

Among Raymond’s many adventures in living at the Manse these past six years have been:

  • Cooking in a kitchen that is ridiculously small, is serviced with ancient (midcentury Harvest Gold) appliances, and has essentially zero counter space. Oh! But it does have the washing machine. (Wait. What?) Here’s Raymond doing his best to produce a great dinner in that tiny space, as he does – very successfully – so many evenings:

Pantry December 2014

  • Cats: As regular readers will know, there are a thousand stories on that front, some happy, some heartbreakingly sad. All our cats (we have five currently) are rescues, and we love them very much. Here is Raymond with Teddy, who was born with a degenerative illness and did not live very long. But while she lived, she was very happy at the Manse, especially when she was in the lap of her beloved dad, “helping” him do his early-morning work:

Teddy loves her dad

  • Considering whether we could justify (or afford) the purchase of a gorgeous small Massey-Ferguson tractor for snowplowing and snowblowing and, you know, whatever else you need a multipurpose tractor for. (We decided we could neither justify nor afford it, but it was fun to dream):

Raymond and the red Massey Ferguson

Raymond at the A-frame

Raymond introducing Paul Wells, Tweed Library

  • Taking on the demanding volunteer job of treasurer of St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough; Raymond spends hours every week staying on top of the finances and the books. He also does many other volunteer jobs at St. Andrew’s, the only one of Queensborough’s four original churches that’s still open. Here he is (in checked shirt) doing one of those jobs – pouring coffee and tea at our famous annual Turkey Supper:

Turkey Supper 2016 2

The gang at the QCC booth

The Queensborough Community Centre booth at the Hastings County Plowing Match in 2016. The QCC volunteers are (standing, from left): Raymond Brassard, Dave DeLang, Ludwik Kapusta, Ann Brooks, Barb Ramsay, Joanie Harrison Sims, Elaine Kapusta and Frank Brooks; (seated, from left) Stephanie Sims, Susanna Sims and Tyler Walker.

Raymond and the chipmunk

Those are some excellent adventures!

So today I’d like to invite you all to join me in wishing a very happy significant birthday to Raymond, who is…

  • The keeper of the flag rotation at the Manse, keeping passersby guessing what special day it might be in some country or other based on the flag out front (in this case, the Scottish saltire):

Scottish flag at the Manse

Raymond on Campobello Island

And here he is at the statue of Greyfriars Bobby (a very good wee dog) in Edinburgh:

Raymond and Greyfriars Bobby

  • A willing participant each Christmas season in making the Manse the most Christmassy house of all. Here, for instance, is Raymond gamely installing the Yoda Christmas-light set I had decided I had to have as a decoration for the Manse’s front door:

Raymond putting up the Yoda lights

And here is the fabulous finished product:

Yoda lights at the Manse

Red Sox Ray

  • An avid cribbage player (in the rare junctures, like vacation, that he has time for it); here he is just a few days ago with his sister, Jeannie, and her partner, Bob, considering strategy as he thinks about which card to play next:

Raymond, Jeannie and Bob playing cribbage

  • A newbie chainsaw owner! (Hey, if you live in Queensborough, you kind of have to own a chainsaw.) This is kind of a starter version (and yes, he knows you have to take the blade protector off to actually saw something):

Raymond, chainsaw owner

  • The best cat dad ever. Here is handsome Raymond with handsome Roscoe the kitty:

Raymond and Roscoe

  • Finally, and most importantly, a proud and kind father and grandfather. Here he is with his children (clockwise from top left), Justine, Mathieu and Dominique, and grandson Henry…

Raymond and Roscoe

… and here he is with the newest grandchild, Frédérique (who is very interested in her Pépère’s beard):

Raymond and Fred

Raymond, you are the best. I (along with many, many others) wish you a very happy birthday. And to return to the song referenced in the title of this post, and in keeping with the midcentury vibe that I try keep going at the Manse, I’m dedicating this next number (from 1967 – a very good year) to you: the one I love.