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?)

Sayvette

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 (delangphotographics.smugmug.com) 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.

The Manse has lost its Manse Cat, our dear Sieste

Sieste in the sun

I took this picture of Sieste in a pool of sunlight in the middle of the Manse’s kitchen several months ago, and I’ve always liked it. I was saving it for a good time to share it with you. This evening seems like that time; Sieste died today. The Manse is a very sad place.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. I’ve been busy with other community projects, all of them worthwhile. But tonight I have to interrupt that worthwhile work to share with you some very sad news. It is this: Sieste the Cat, easily one of the most popular characters here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, is no more.

Sieste in her happy place

The cushion says, “This is my happy place.” And this is our happy cat on it, not very long ago.

I am pretty sure that from my many previous posts about Sieste – like here, when I wrote about her Big Move to Queensborough from Montreal, and here, when she took on the role of the In-and-Out Cat, and here, in which she was Queen of All She Surveys, and here, in which her daily routine at the Manse had become thoroughly established – you could tell how much Raymond and I loved her. She has been a part of our family since we have been a family, and a very important part. Raymond and I both love cats, but I think it might be safe to say that we loved Sieste best of all.

She died quietly today, after being ill for just a few days. She was old; while we don’t know her exact age (we adopted her from the SPCA), our best guess is 18. That’s not too shabby for a cat. While she’d been showing signs of age and some frailty for the past year or so, she was 100-per-cent her smart, full-of-beans, affectionate but independent-minded self right up until three days ago. Over those three days she quickly became weaker and less able to control her bodily functions, and at midday today her body quietly gave out. It was a blessing. We hated to see her so ill, and I am sure she hated being so ill.

But she was still our old Sieste to the end. In these last days she always acknowledged us when we came near to her bed, and purred when we stroked and cuddled her, which was often. She did her best to get up and follow us around when we were in another room, as she always has.

And here is the best story of all, one I will not be able to write for you without sobbing.

As I mentioned in this post chronicling Sieste’s daily routine here at the Manse, for a long time it was her habit to come upstairs early each morning and yowl at us when she thought it was time to be up. Which tended to be half an hour or so earlier than we actually needed to be up, half an hour before the non-feline alarm clock would sound. Many were the mornings when we would sleepily curse at this too-early wakeup call from Sieste, even while we (of course) always continued to love her and appreciate the fact that she wanted us to come and hang out with her at the start of a new day.

Sieste hasn’t done the early-morning wakeup for the past couple of months or so, probably because she was just getting elderly and tired. Those steps can be hard for an old girl to climb, especially the high, steep ones ones in the Manse’s back staircase (as opposed to the front staircase; and why there are two staircases is an interesting question). But frankly, Raymond and I weren’t complaining about the lack of early-morning yowling.

Last night we stayed up quite late with her, as she lay in her bed in the dining room downstairs, just beside where I am writing this now. She was very weak and obviously fading quickly. She could hardly move, and when she did try she could not go even a step without wobbling, often falling over and having to lie where she’d fallen. We knew she was almost gone, and it was hard to say goodnight.

I set the alarm for 7 a.m., when I had to get up to go to work.

At 6:30 on the nose, there came a quiet, familiar yowl from a familiar place.

Peekaboo Sieste

Sieste playing peekaboo a few months ago, on the same steep staircase that she climbed one last time this morning.

Sieste the cat, who was failing so quickly and had absolutely no strength left, had somehow climbed those steep old back stairs at just the right time (that is, half an hour before the alarm was to go off), lain down in her familiar old position as the sun was rising, and issued one last wakeup call to her people.

I spent a lot of time with her this morning in that place at the top of the stairs, stroking her and telling her over and over again how much we loved her and how much we appreciated the morning alerts. Which in general was not exactly the truth; but on this morning, it was the truest thing ever. What a good, brave girl to have forced her dying body to do it one last time.

She died a short time later.

As I take a few minutes to weep about that lovely final gesture, I will turn things over to some pictures of our Sieste, Manse Cat Extraordinaire:

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It feels so strange to be finishing this post without Sieste perched either on the living-room chesterfield (where she could keep an eye on everything) or on the hassock right beside me (where she could keep me close company). She was always an excellent assistant for Meanwhile, at the Manse.

The Manse feels very lonely tonight. And very quiet.

Raymond and I buried Sieste late this afternoon. Her final resting place is beside the clothesline pole, a place that sees lots of action by her clothesline-loving mum (me). I will think of her every time I hang the laundry out and take it in. I know she would like that.

We don’t yet have a grave marker, so in the interim we put up a little sign that we bought a while back (at Wilson’s of Madoc) and that formerly hung in the corner where Sieste’s food and water dishes are. It was perfect for Sieste: “What part of MEOW don’t you understand?”

Sieste's grave

Here is her grave, with a tulip from our garden and a scattering of some Madoc Mix grass seed – the latter the subject of a future post.

Which I will have to write without Sieste’s help. Our good pussycat. Our good girl.

Never was a cat more loved.

Take it from me: you need some pancakes and syrup on Sunday

Pancake BreakfastWell, people, tonight I have yet another invitation for you to a fun community event that is happening this very weekend in Queensborough. And as is our wont here in Queensborough, it involves – food! (We know how to feed people. For evidence, check out my posts here and here and here and here.) And not just good food. Great food!

Queensborough Community Centre

The Queensborough Community Centre, which will be overflowing with people this coming Sunday morning, all enjoying a great pancake breakfast.

Here’s the deal: This coming Sunday morning, May 3, is when the annual Pancake Breakfast takes place at the Queensborough Community Centre. You can learn everything you need to know regarding time and place and menu and price from the poster that I’ve put at the top of this post. What you really need to know, though, is that it’s just about the best pancake breakfast around. You’ll be surrounded by friends old and new, from the Queensborough community and beyond, as you enjoy fresh locally made maple syrup with your pancakes and sausages and eggs and toast and whatnot. And all in the historic surroundings of Queensborough’s former one-room schoolhouse. And your admission fee will go to help the great work that the Queensborough Community Centre Committee does.

Here are some photos of the Pancake Breakfast from the past few years (and thanks to Queensborough’s Elaine Kapusta and Dave deLang for the photographic help):

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Is your appetite sufficiently whetted? I know mine is. I hope to see you on Sunday morning!

So, how IS the internet? Well, I’m glad you asked.

The internet comes to the Manse

Look up, way up. (I hope you will catch the Friendly Giant reference.) Can you see that small diamond-shaped piece of metal attached to the ancient TV antenna that towers over the Manse? That, people, is the magic gizmo that catches the Xplornet internet signal and brings it into our home. It has changed our lives immeasurably for the better.

I don’t suppose it’s been keeping any of you awake at night or anything, but I’ve had enough people ask me whether our new internet setup here at the Manse is working out well that I decided I should give those interested a full and complete report. After all, longtime readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse will be well aware of my many, many posts of frustration and sometimes even despair about the poor (and costly) internet options that until recently were all that was available to us in Queensborough.

(If you’ve any desire to take a nostalgic trip back through the Valley of Katherine’s Internet Despair, click here and here and here and here and here and here and here. It was a long-drawn-out saga, with many chapters.)

It has been a month and a bit since Raymond and I acquired a hookup through Xplornet, the company contracted by the Eastern Ontario Regional Network, a kind of municipal co-op with the mission of providing high-speed internet service to Eastern Ontario. That hookup was made possible by Xplornet making the excellent decision to erect a communications tower on Declair Road, just a little north and east of Queensborough. When those of us who live here in our pretty little river-valley village heard the news of plans for the tower, we were all atwitter: would this finally mean decent internet service? When the tower went into service early this year, we started signing up. Raymond and I were near the front of the line.

And now, after about six weeks of the new setup, all I have to say about it is this: our lives have utterly changed. For the better.

House of Cards

A brilliant online-only show that we can now watch at the Manse!

People, we have endless internet! All we can use, and to spare! We can use Netflix! We can watch House of Cards! We can watch anything! Online! In high definition! On our laptops and phones, we can watch YouTube videos and download audiobooks and even listen to streamed radio broadcasts. And on television (or his laptop, or his phone) Raymond can watch every blessed one of the games that his beloved Red Sox play. In HD.

And it is all costing us less than we were paying previously for the barest of bare-bones internet!

As you can probably tell, I am absolutely thrilled about this. And I am not just thrilled for Raymond and me at the Manse – because, contrary to what it might sometimes sound like here, it is not all about us.

No, what I am really thrilled about is the possibilities that this service offers to our own rural area and to others like it in Eastern Ontario. Suddenly it is possible for a business that needs good internet service (and what business in 2015 doesn’t need good internet service?) to operate here. It means that smart, creative people who are tired of city life and want to come live and work in God’s country (translation: North of 7) can do so, and by doing so can and will contribute to our local tax base and economy and community life.

So please allow me, the person who complained so loudly and so long, so unequivocally and so publicly, when the the internet was bad, to hereby offer up my huge thanks to the good folks at the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (with a special shoutout to Hastings County chief administrative officer and co-leader of the EORN team Jim Pine, who was kind enough to reply helpfully to my emails of inquiry and concern about the situation when I first realized how bad it was), and to those at Xplornet (who put up that blessed tower on Declair Road). Thank you, thank you, thank you! You have made our community a better place, one with more to offer and with a much greater potential to thrive.

People, this is a good-news story, pure and simple. The internet has come to Queensborough. It is good internet. It is reasonably priced internet.

Just when you thought that life in Queensborough couldn’t get any better – it did.

A picture that tells our story

Farmstead, central Hastings County

The huge rocks pulled long ago to make a farm field out of virgin forest; the half-ruined split-rail fence; the old farmhouse in the distance; the blue sky over all. To me this photo says so much about the industrious past and the quieter but beautiful present of the place where I live.

Not long ago I did a post with the headline “The poetry of decay,” featuring photos of an old shed not far from Queensborough that is slowly, and rather beautifully (in a melancholy sort of way), crumbling. (That post is here, if you’re interested in reading it.) Tonight’s post feels like a bit of a followup to that one. And perhaps to several other instalments of Meanwhile, at the Manse, particularly those having to do with The Country North of Belleville, also widely known as “north of 7.”

Now, truth be told this photo was taken south of 7 (that would be Highway 7; click here for an explanation of the terminology), but only barely. I came across this abandoned house and its surrounding farm – the land still being farmed, as far as I can tell, but with not much happening on it on a very early spring day – one recent Saturday morning when I was poking around the back roads north of Tweed. It struck me as a visual summing-up of so much about our neck of the woods, which is central and central-north Hastings County.

There is, first, the abandoned – but, I should note, certainly not crumbling – farmhouse, a reminder of the early settlers who claimed this land, cleared it, and planted crops on it in the hope and expectation of making a go of it in this country. This is probably not the first house built on the farm, but rather a later and fancier (when compared to what might well have been little more than a shed) iteration, put up when the family felt that they truly were settled and were making out all right. I like its typical-of-the-area red colour (Hematite red? Hematite is a common mineral in Hastings County, and dust from operations to mine it was commonly used as pigment, as you can read in the comments on this post), and its semi-rusted roof that I’d be willing to bet still keeps most of the rain out. And it looks so solitary and striking out there in the middle of the surrounding yellow-brown field. What stories could that house tell?

I like the old barns and sheds that you can see at the left of the photo, holding up very well despite obviously being well over a century old. You can’t see them in the photo, but there were pieces of farm equipment stored in the outbuilldings on the day I passed by. Another clue that this farm is still a farm, even if the house is no longer lived in.

I think most of all I love the half-wrecked split-rail fence and the large boulders at the front of the property and in the foreground of the photo. They are silent testament to the hard, hard work that the first settlers had to put in as they cleared the land and made fields out of forest. Big stones like that would have been pulled from the fields and moved to the edge to make fences; you can still see such old stone fences all over central Hastings, a country where there is no shortage of rocks and stones. As any farmer north of 7 will tell you, the task of clearing those rocks and stones is an unending one; each spring a new crop comes up from the Canadian Shield that lies so close to the surface here.

I do not for a second consider myself a good photographer, but I do like this photo. To me it is kind of an iconic image of what central Hastings County has been – and is. There is beauty in the ruins and in the silence and the emptiness and the landscape. Is it desolate? No – because there is life all around. To both sides of this old house and farm, and across the road from it, are newer houses, and people who still live and work here and call it home. But I like the thought that in the midst of 21st-century life is this beautiful reminder of what was. I think its continued existence helps us, whether we realize it or not, to better understand the place we live in, and the people who were here before us, trying so very hard to make it a good place to live. In which, by the way, they succeeded.