Split-rail fences, and the story they tell

Along the road between Queensborough and Hazzards Corners. I wonder how old this fence is.

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

4 thoughts on “Split-rail fences, and the story they tell

  1. Great to have you back in the community, This note is from your grade one teacher and her husband. Love your postings re your new home in Queensborough. We so loved your dad and mom. As to the split rail fences, they are original as placed there by the pioneers. We have never seen one replaced or repaired with new rails. Our pioneer ancestors built them to last. Hope you have the book, “Pilgrimage of Faith”, a history of the churches of this area in your collection. If not let us know and we will make sure we get one to you. Also, we wamt you to know about the Hazzard’s Church service the 3rd Sunday in August, a great community event. Plan to be there!…Welcome to you both, Gayle and Grant Ketcheson

    • It is wonderful to hear from you, Gayle and Grant! I was thinking of you this past week whenever we drove by the beautiful Hazzards church, the preservation of which you have championed and supported so much. I do indeed have a treasured copy of Pilgrimage of Faith, signed by the authors, whom I remember fondly. Raymond and I will do our utmost to attend the August service; it’s the week before the annual service at the old Hay Bay church in Prince Edward County, which I’d also hoped to attend, so we shall see. Is there still a service at Christmas each year at Hazzards?

      Gayle, I see from the local press that you are doing an excellent job of promoting the cause of the Madoc Library as chair of the library board. That is good stuff! I can’t wait to be able to spend more time in the area and get involved in cultural and community activities. It is good to be home!

      • Yes indeed we do have a Christmas service at Hazzards. The Hazzard’s trustees now run the service independant of the pastoral charge. We bill it as “Christmas at a Country Church” and have hot cider and cookies after the service. It has expanded so much that you should come early for a seat! Also, check out the O’Hara Mill website! The volunteers have done a great job. (Gayle is the school marm there). Love to have you guys drop in for any summer events. Big opening celebrations on May 27.

  2. If we can’t be at the August service at Hazzards, we will do our very best to come at Christmas. It sounds wonderful. The O’Hara Mill website is really well done, and it’s pretty impressive to see all the things that are going on there. (Why am I not surprised that Gayle is the schoolmarm?) I don’t think I have been to O’Hara’s since a school trip more decades ago than I care to remember (!), so it will be a treat to go back and see all that’s been done in the interim.

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