Phlox. I must have phlox. Or is it Sweet William?

Beautiful, beautiful phlox. And they smell lovely too.

I have loved phlox ever since I was a small child, and I know why. It’s because when I was growing up at the Manse in Queensborough there was a healthy row of it growing all along the fence of our neighbours across the road, Will and Bella Holmes. The flowers had such a lovely delicate yet earthy scent; walking past, I loved to stop and bury my nose in them. And they were such pretty colours! Pink and red and fuchsia and mauve, all set off by some white ones. Whenever I see phlox anywhere now I have to stop and admire them and inhale the familiar scent.

Here’s kind of a funny thing, though: when I was a kid, I always called the flowers at the Holmses’ Sweet William. Did someone at some point tell me that’s what they were, incorrectly? I have no idea. But many years ago I somehow or other discovered that the plant I’d always called Sweet William is in fact phlox.

Sweet William – but you have to admit it looks a fair bit like phlox, no?

Or is it? Aha – the plot thickens. In starting to write this post, I thought about the Sweet William error of my younger days, and looked up some pictures of Sweet William. Well! They look an awful lot like phlox! Just a bit more uneven around the edges of the petals, as far as I can see. Very similar beautiful colours; tall, like phlox. Now I’m beginning to wonder whether the ones from my childhood really were Sweet William after all.

Anybody got any thoughts on this? I know that the flowers of my childhood and the phlox I’ve smelled in more recent times have the same scent. That would suggest that the Holmeses had phlox. But does Sweet William have a similar smell, I wonder?

At any rate, I plan to have one or the other (maybe both!) at the Manse. If we can find some vintage fencing of the type that once ran across the front of the yard, I can plant phlox – or Sweet William – all along it. And maybe small children will stop and admire our flowers, and breathe in the wonderful scent. That would be lovely to see.

Which river runs through it? I stand corrected

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As some eagle-eyed readers noted, my post the other day about the individual attributes of the towns of Madoc and Tweed contained an error: it is the Moira River that runs through Tweed, not the Skootamatta as I had said. When travelling to Tweed from Queensborough you cross the Skootamatta not far north of Tweed, which is where my error came from. But by the time you get to town, the Skootamatta has joined up with the Mighty Moira, which runs through a good portion of Hastings County and goes from Tweed south to Belleville. (The Black River that runs through Queensborough also ends up joining the Moira.) Would you like to know where the Moira’s name comes from? Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s named for a chap who was Earl of Moira, Moira being a town in Northern Ireland. The fellow was Francis Rawdon-Hastings, one of those hoity-toity Anglo-Irish toffs of yesteryear. He made quite a name for himself, though, serving with the British Army during the U.S. War of Independence (he saw action and made a name for himself at the Battle of Bunker Hill, among other skirmishes) and he later was made Governor-General of India. The people of Hastings County must have thought very highly of him, because they named lots of places after him: not only the Mighty Moira, but also Rawdon Township and the name of the county itself.

I don’t know that Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings and Earl of Moira, ever set foot in our neck of the woods, but he certainly left his mark.

Because every girl needs a retro turquoise UCW apron

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Today we are at Goose Rocks Beach, Maine, a place we love to visit every summer. One of the best things about coming here year after year is getting together with all of Raymond’s New England family and “extended family.” Into that latter category fall Margaret and Sam, who are from Quebec but have been coming to the Beach for many years, and whom we know through their longtime friendship with Raymond’s sister Jeannie.

This morning we ran into Margaret at the annual Cape Porpoise book sale (where we all buy tons of books each year) and she announced she had a gift she couldn’t wait to bring over for me. Well! You can imagine how intrigued I was. And the way Margaret spoke, I had a very strong suspicion that it had something to do with the Manse.

And it did! This evening Margaret brought over the gift. First the card, in which is inscribed: “Every girl needs a retro turquoise UCW apron. Enjoy!” And inside the gift bag: a hand-sewn (beautifully, by Margaret) full apron, made from vintage-patterned fabric that she had found in Burlington, Vermont. And it’s turquoise! With ’60s-style flowers! And – oh my lord, memories of the sewing lessons from my Grade 7 home ec class at Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc are flooding back – rickrack trim! As Margaret said, hitting the nail on the head about changed trends in sewing: “When was the last time you saw rickrack?”

When indeed? Margaret, this apron is classic. There is no other word for it. It made me recall how my mum had a whole drawerful of aprons in the space-challenged kitchen at the Manse; space or no space, any self-respecting housewife had to have – and use – aprons in those days.

Those days are gone. But it is so much fun to remember the sweet and good things about them – like a drawerful of aprons. And now I have one of my own, and it’s turquoise!

What a lovely and thoughtful gift. And Margaret’s citing of the UCW in the card was the icing on the cake. She said it was our secret code, Margaret and I both having United Church of Canada roots. UCW stands for United Church Women.

And that is an organization where there were a LOT of aprons going on.

Going to town. Would that be Madoc, or Tweed?

Tweed has one thing that Madoc does not: stoplights. Two sets! Madoc has only a flashing-red four-way stop at the main intersection. I wonder if the folks of Madoc wish they had stoplights too.

In my previous post, I got all enthused about the fact that tiny Castleton, Ont. (about 80 kilometres southwest of Queensborough in neighbouring Northumberland County) still boasts a bustling general store, and I mused about the chances of Queensborough being able to support one too.

I mentioned that “town” for Queensborough residents – that is, the place where they have to go to buy anything at all – is about 15 minutes away. (Which is why it seems so appealing, to me at least, that Queensborough would have a general store again, as we did – two stores, in fact, Bobbie’s and McMurray’s – back in the 1960s when I was a child at the Manse.)

“Town” for us is either Madoc or Tweed, which are about equidistant from Queensborough in opposite directions, although Madoc might be a minute or so closer. In the olden days when I was growing up, our “town” was Madoc; our postal address was a rural route of Madoc (which it still is), and we went to senior elementary school and high school there. It was the default position for “town.” But now Raymond and I now lean a bit more to Tweed, perhaps because Queensborough has been absorbed into the Greater Tweed municipal area. One all-important determinant for what “our” town is: Tweed is where we take our garbage (and recyclables) to the dump.

So what’s in “town”? Well, let’s have some fun with a “best of Madoc” and “best of Tweed” list. Caveat: I haven’t spent all that much time in either town in the few months since we’ve owned the Manse, which means that most of what I know or remember about them is from many decades ago. Those who know Madoc and Tweed better in their present incarnations should feel free to correct me, or offer your suggestions!

Madoc has:

  • Quite a good Foodland supermarket, big and bright and with a thoroughly decent produce section (that’s my main guide for judging a supermarket). It’s also open till 10 p.m. every night, which is handy.
  • A public library that’s much expanded from my Nancy Drew-borrowing days, with an archives/research setup and space for arts displays and public readings. I haven’t yet had time to visit, but I look forward to doing so.
  • A medical clinic, with at least one doctor and dentist and sundry other practitioners.
  • What looks like a great kids’ skatepark and water park and all-round good playground and activity space. When we drove by on a sweltering day recently I was really wishing I could get away with joining the little tykes splashing in the water fountains.
  • A throughly excellent – and I mean excellent – butcher, the One Stop Butcher Shop. Their steaks, sausages (house-made) and so on are superb, and the service is friendly and funny.
  • This is the screened-in rear verandah of The Barley restaurant and pub, looking out over Deer Creek in Madoc. A lovely place for lunch or dinner.

    A really nice restaurant/pub called The Barley. Cozy in winter thanks to wooden floors and ceiling and a roaring fireplace; lovely in summer because there’s a screened-in terrace right beside the creek that runs through Madoc. It’s in the town’s old firehall and has been restored and renovated very nicely.The first time I walked through the door I said, “This is in Madoc???” (Sorry, Madoc. That was unfair, and I’ve since learned my lesson.) They have amazing fish and chips and very good steaks (from across the street at the One Stop Butcher Shop).

  • The Hidden Goldmine Bakery, which I’ve written about before but that has just recently moved into much bigger new digs in the centre of town, where long ago the Kincaid Bros. IGA store was. Everything Hidden Goldmine makes is amazing, but I am particularly partial to their chocolate-chip cookies, which I think are the best in the whole world.

Tweed has:

  • The Tweed Heritage Centre, run by the indefatigable Evan Morton, is a happening place.

    Well, the highlight has to be the Tweed Heritage Centre, a wonderland of heritage information about the area, all lovingly collected and tended by the amazing Evan Morton, whose energy never seems to flag. There are archives, displays, collections, artwork, books, stuff for sale – it’s absolutely amazing.

  • Not one but two Home Hardware stores – one focused primarily on building supplies and home renovation, the other more a general hardware store – that have supplied us with many an item. (Mind you, so has the Home Hardware in Madoc. Maybe I should buy some shares in Home Hardware, since we’re getting to be their best customers…)
  • The Old Cheese Factory, a lovely shop in a historic stone building on the northern edge of town. All manner of fresh and frozen prepared foods for sale, as well as kitchen stuff, giftware, and even furniture.
  • Quinn’s of Tweed, a store that has been there forever but that has morphed into an art gallery, a great display space for the work of local artists. It adds a real touch of class to the main street.
  • The Skootamatta River, which runs very prettily right through town.
  • The Tweed News, a great old-fashioned extremely local weekly newspaper. It’s a hugely wide broadsheet like they just don’t make anymore. Dedicated to local coverage, and they do a very good job. I also like the fact that the News’s offices on the main street double as a stationery and office-supplies store – something that small-town papers used to do but that you rarely see these days.
  • The Elvis Festival. Oh dear, should I mention the Elvis Festival? Well, let’s put it this way: it’s a big deal for Tweed, and if you’re an Elvis fan (or maybe more to the point, an Elvis-imitators fan), it might be right up your alley. (This year’s edition is Aug. 24, 25 and 26.) But let’s just say you probably won’t see Raymond and me there.

So there you have it: a highly personal tour of the interesting things we’ve found in our two towns. I look forward to adding to those lists as we get to know Madoc and Tweed a little bit better – in my case, all over again.

Is this thriving general store a model for Queensborough?

The general store in tiny Castleton, Ont.: if Castleton can do it, why not Queensborough? (Photo by Will S. via Flickr)

I’ve written before about the excellent blog Ancestral Roofs (ancestralroofs.blogspot.ca). It explores heritage and architecture, with a particular focus on southeastern Ontario, including Hastings County. Pretty and historic little Queensborough is frequently cited in it, to my great pleasure (and, I’m sure, those of other Queensboroughians who love to see the attributes of our hamlet celebrated).

Anyway, one recent post at Ancestral Roofs has been buzzing around in my head for a while. In the post (which is here) we read about the general store in Castleton, Ont.: “Post Office, LCBO, general merchandise – what more could a village want? Judging by the traffic in and out, folks are pretty satisfied with the services offered. Built in 1870, and featuring some of the original counters and display cases, the building has Greek Revival grandeur – reminds me of the old store in Queensborough, though the years have been kinder to this structure.” (There are also some beautiful photos showing details of the building. Go have a look!)

I learned a bit more about the store at the Visit Cramahe website. (Castleton is a hamlet in Cramahe Township, which is part of Northumberland County – the county immediately to the west of Hastings County, where Queensborough is.) Here’s what that site’s page on the store tells us:

“You will truly take a step back in time when you visit the Castleton General Store. Built in 1870, it still contains some of its original countertops and display cases. Now one of the longest continually run general stores in Canada, it is very well known for its ice cream lineups in the summertime. The store also offers a variety of gifts and groceries. Open 7 days a week until 9 p.m. For more information call (905) 344-7341.”

Now, here’s what else I found out about Castleton while doing some quick research for this post: the population is only about 350 people! That’s not vastly more than the population of what I like to call the Greater Queensborough Area, which would include Queensborough proper, the reasonably well-populated area to the east of it on Declair Road and Rockies Road, the hamlet of Cooper, the hamlet of Hazzard’s Corners, the homes south of town on Bosley Road, and the homes west of town on Queensborough Road.

In addition, Castleton is located more closely to a “town” than is Queensborough: it is less than 15 minutes to Colborne (and Highway 401), whereas it’s 15 minutes or a little better from Queensborough to either Madoc or Tweed (both of which are still half an hour north of the 401).

So here’s what I’m getting at: if tiny Castleton, population 350ish, can support a thriving general store, could Queensborough do so once again? (I wrote about the general stores of old here.) It certainly would not hurt one bit if such a store were able to have Liquor Control Board of Ontario and Beer Store franchises, as the one in Castleton does. Not that I’m suggesting the people of Queensborough (or Castleton, for that matter) are lushes, but hey: it’s a draw for a community if people are able to buy wine, beer or spirits there – in addition to food and other essentials, of course!

Since we bought the Manse, several people in Queensborough have been kind enough to say that if we ever run out of anything – milk, eggs – to not hesitate to come borrow it from them. And we’ve also been told that people making a run to Madoc or Tweed or Belleville don’t mind picking up necessities for others.

But wouldn’t it be awesome if Queensborough, like Castleton, boasted a place to mail a letter, to buy a hot cup of coffee or a newspaper or an ice-cream cone, to pick up the milk and butter and eggs and toilet paper that you always need, as well as perhaps some locally made home baking or handicrafts, maybe some freshly picked local corn or tomatoes or blueberries, and maybe some beer or a bottle of wine, maybe even some gardening or hardware materials: to me, that would be absolute heaven. We could enjoy the Manse and never have to go anywhere if we didn’t want to!

I know that a couple in Queensborough are thinking of – actually, I think they have moved beyond the “thinking” to the “planning” stage – opening a café that might have a store or even bed-and-breakfast component. That would be so terrific.

I think tiny Castleton can show us the way!

Floor archeology (II)

Yippee! My little brother John (a few days over one year old, in March 1965) is clearly happy about the tile floor at the Manse kitchen, and so would I be if I were able to magically restore it. Notice in the background a corner of our Findlay wood stove. (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

The current kitchen floor, in a photo taken very early in our Manse ownership. You can see why I’m kind of eager to replace it.

Yesterday’s post was about what lay beneath the current worn-out vinyl flooring in the dining room of the Manse. Today it’s on to the kitchen, and I shall wax nostalgic about the old turquoise-and-white linoleum that was there in the 1960s.

As faithful readers will remember, I have become very fond of turquoise, due in no small part, I imagine, to its presence at the Manse in those long-ago golden days of my youth.

The kitchen walls were turquoise (above white wainscotting, and don’t even get me started on how much I love wainscotting), and the floor was, as I recall, a nice match. Mind you, it was all very worn, and the floor thoroughly scuffed. While the excavations that Raymond and grown-up John carried out showed that the old turquoise-and-white floor is still there underneath many layers, I harbour no hope whatsoever of if being salvageable.

The result of the kitchen-floor excavation: underneath all the layers of linoleum and vinyl are narrow wooden floorboards, like what you’d find in an old general store. At left you can see a tiny trace of the 1960s turquoise-and-white linoleum.

What I do want to do, though – and we haven’t got around to it yet – is pull up enough of the other layers to get a better fix on what shade of turquoise that floor was, and then see if there’s any way of finding something similar.

As I have reported before, old-fashioned linoleum is kind of coming back into its own. Not only is it funky, but it’s environmentally friendly and it’s not expensive. But I don’t think all that many people can be buying it, because the choices that I’ve found online are pretty limited. That is, I haven’t found any linoleum flooring with a pattern of turquoise-and-white squares, or even individual turquoise tiles – though white tiles are no problem. Does anyone know any good sources for linoleum?

While there is an original wooden floor under all the other layers, I don’t think that’s what I want in the finished kitchen. To me a wooden kitchen floor has kind of a late ’70s/early ’80s vibe to it – you know, the era when everyone had (or wanted) an old butcher-block table in their kitchen. I have moved on from all that woodiness.

Actually, I guess it’s more accurate to say that I’ve moved back.

Floor archeology (I)

My wide-eyed, tousle-haired little sister, Melanie, in a photo taken in the Manse’s dining room in January 1965, when she would have been two and a half years old. That’s quite the loud pattern on the linoleum floor, isn’t it? (Photo by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

This is one of the linoleum mats, probably from the 1940s or ’50s, in the Manse bedrooms – in this case, in the master bedroom. I love the colours.

The flooring that we found in the Manse when we purchased it was, while completely adequate in a bare-bones way, nothing to write home about. The upstairs situation improved dramatically when we hauled out some old carpeting to reveal the very funky mid-century linoleum mats that I remember from my 1960s childhood (and that had doubtless been there for many years before that). They’re what’s on the upstairs-bedroom floors now, and even though they’re damaged in places, I’m getting quite attached to them. The colours are great, and they are beautiful in their own simple way.

But this post is about the dining-room floor, and more specifically What Lies Beneath.

Here is what the dining-room floor looks like now:

This vinyl floor was installed while my family lived in the Manse – I’m guessing maybe 1970 or thereabouts. We thought it was just wonderful having this new floor, but until the other day when I was looking at some old photos I’d forgotten what it replaced: the floor that you can see in the background of the photo of Melanie. Here’s another shot of that floor, probably taken at the same time and featuring my brother John, 10 months old:

I think those are my chubby legs in the background. (Photo by J.A.S. Keay)

I kind of get why we thought it was a good thing that it be replaced – except I suspect it was just covered up, rather than replaced. When Raymond and my brother John (yes, that would be the lad in the photo) did some excavation on the kitchen floor (more on that in the next post) they discovered layer upon layer upon layer of flooring.

We also did some excavation in the dining room; the end result is here:

This was a quick dig, aimed not at uncovering the individual layers of flooring, but discovering the condition of the wooden floor that we knew must lie underneath it all. We were pleased to find that it isn’t bad at all, and that same wooden floor, in a refinished state, will probably end up being the “new” floor in the dining room.

Anyway, it’s quite the wild fern pattern on the dark background on the old floor, isn’t it? And in the photo of John you can see the metallic strip that I guess covered a join in the linoleoum. Now that I see it again after all these years, I suddenly remember the feeling of its ragged edge catching the bottom of my foot, bare or leotard-clad, back at the dawn of time.

The period that this archeological project is excavating, in fact.