I know I’d promised to post a photo of the remains of the historic house that burned down in Queensborough recently, and I will, but that seemed like a sad way to end the week. Instead I thought I’d post something beautiful: the equally historic split-rail fences that you can see in the area, notably along many sections of the road between Queensborough and Hazzards Corners.
The fences are even more weathered now than when I used to watch them go by out the window of the school bus taking us to and from Madoc Township Public School and, later, Centre Hastings Secondary School. When the bus turned east off what is now called Cooper Road – the road that runs north from Madoc to the hamlet of Cooper – you were only a few minutes from home and freedom from the school day, which of course was a happy feeling. On a sunny spring or fall afternoon, it was a pleasure to watch the landscape go by, and those old fences were a big part of it.
I don’t think I ever saw anyone replacing any sections of those fences – at least, not replacing them with new cedar rails. If they were replaced, it was with wire fencing. So I imagine that many of the fences are the originals, or at least date from a long-ago time when old split-rail fence was replaced with new split-rail fence. Wouldn’t it be something to have a glimpse into the minds of the farmers who first built them, what they were thinking as they laboured away closing off their land from the road and demarcating their fields from those of their neighbours? What were their hopes for the future, for the livelihood that their farms would produce for their children and grandchildren? Did they know as they built their fences how hard they’d have to work to bring life and growth out of that thin soil atop the Canadian Shield? “Bush land scrub land,” as poet Al Purdy called it:
” … this is the country of defeat
where Sisyphus rolls a big stone
year after year up the ancient hills
picknicking glaciers have left strewn
with centuries’ rubble … ”
Between Hazzards and Queensborough (closer to Hazzards than Queensborough) there are still some good farms, still operating, as I’ve noted in an earlier post. As you approach the village, though, the Shield takes over. There are no farms now. But the fences are still there. People tried.
And as Purdy says, it is a place
” … where a man might have some
opinion of what beauty
is and none deny him … ”
I think these old fences speak to that.
Excerpts from Al Purdy’s The Country North of Belleville copyright (c) Al Purdy. From Beyond Remembering: The Collected Poems of Al Purdy, Harbour Publishing www.harbourpublishing.com. Used with permission.
To learn more about the campaign to save Al and Eurithe Purdy’s A-frame house in Prince Edward County: purdyhouse.ca