Do you suppose we need a tractor for the Manse?

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The short answer to that question is no, of course. But because when I lived in the Manse as a child the back and side yards were filled with my dad’s tractor, front-end loader, various trailers and a truck or two – as those who knew him will tell you, he wasn’t your typical man of the cloth – it seems only natural to me that we should have a tractor. What would we use it for? Who knows? But surely we’d figure out something. This vintage red one, a Ferguson (i.e. from before Massey came along), has been sitting out front of a house on Highway 62 with a “for sale” sign on it for a while now. Aside from the oddly modified front wheels, I think it’s quite cute. And it would match Raymond’s red truck! What do you think, people?

The Manse as art

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Our Queensborough friend Dave deLang, an excellent photographer, sent us this amazing picture he had made of the Manse one early morning (I think, judging by the light) not long ago. “A different look!” his brief accompanying note said. And then, some technical language that I confess I didn’t really understand: “Pastel rendered in Photoshop and Corel Painter.” Well, be that as it may, Raymond and I think Dave’s interpretation of the Manse is absolutely stunning, and before long there will be a signed-by-Dave framed print of it in our Montreal home. So that we can proudly show it off and say to people: “That is our Manse! In Queensborough.”

And those people will think (and they will be right): Okay, it’s a Manse, but it’s also art.

Which it is. Thanks to Dave, who made it so.

Thank you, Dave!

And a good pig roast was had by all

John Barry minding the roasting pig, which by the looks of things is done to a turn. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

It suddenly strikes me that food has been the theme of this blog the last couple of days, what with yesterday’s post about my search for a Hastings County turkey for Thanksgiving and all the interesting local farms I found as a result. Well, what’s wrong with a food theme? Good food is something to celebrate.

Mike Aquin (left) and Frank Brooks carving the roasted pig. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

And good food was what it was all about at the community pig roast in Queensborough last Saturday. As I’d previously mentioned, Raymond and I had very much hoped to be on hand for it (Raymond especially; “Nothing beats a pig roast!” he pronounced in his Facebook post on the subject), but it turned out we had a prior engagement in Montreal – the opera, if you must know. And La Traviata was great, but evidently we missed an excellent meal and gathering at the Queensborough Community Centre.

Now THAT’s Queensborough: laden tables inside the Queensborough Community Centre (the former one-room schoolhouse; note the blackboard) featuring all the pot-luck offerings people had brought to accompany the roast pig. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

I love the photo above, because it’s classic Queensborough. Just look at that table groaning under its burden of great homemade food! I tell you, people, no one knows how to put on a spread like these folks.

Speaking of which, a reminder that the annual turkey supper at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough is this coming Wednesday, Oct. 3, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. And all I can say about that is this:

You will not leave hungry.

Good local Hastings County food, fresh from the farm

A terrific sign of the times in Hastings County: this is the sign at Strattons Farm, one of a number of local producers treating the earth sustainably and well and offering great food to those of us lucky enough to live (even if, in our case, it’s only part-time) in the area.

I took a day away from work today to try to cross a few things off my endless (and growing) to-do list in my “civilian” life. One of the more urgent things on that list was to order a turkey for not-far-away Canadian Thanksgiving, when the extended Sedgwick family (and friends) gather at the family homestead in Haliburton County for the annual feast.

This year, for the first time since I was growing up at the Manse back in the 1960s and ’70s, I’ll be heading to the family gathering from Queensborough, where Raymond and I will be based through the long weekend. So I decided I’d try to order a fresh turkey from one of the farms in the area that sell that products directly to the public.

Long story short, we have a nice 30-pound turkey on hold for us from the farm of Tim Hunt just south of Tweed. But long story long(er): I had a most pleasant couple of hours conversing by phone and email with farmers in central and southern Hastings County as I carried out my search. I found out: one, I should have ordered a turkey months ago – these are small farms with limited production, and their coveted products go quickly; and two, there’s a great community of people committed to raising healthy, frequently organic, food in Hastings County.

It was thanks to the Harvest Hastings website that I was able to find those farmers. Here’s what Harvest Hastings has to say (in part) about its ethos:

“Hastings County … with its forests, farmland, lakes, rivers and small and large communities, is well situated to lead in the field of alternative energy development, conservation of natural resources,  sustainable forestry and agriculture, and artisan food production. Harvest Hastings is about living lightly on the land and buying what you can locally.”

In the course of my search I discovered lots of farms in our area and learned about what they produce. The farmers I’ve actually spoken to (via phone or email):

Kara Enright of the Enright Cattle Company near Tweed, whose beef can be found at some very nice restaurants in Kingston and Toronto but that can also be bought “at the farm gate,” as they say – or ordered online and shipped. “All animals on the farm,” the Enrights’ excellent website notes, “are raised on a natural, all-vegetable diet without the use of artificial hormones.”

Linda Squibb of Misty Ayr Farm in the Stirling area, where they raise “Berkshire pigs, Katahdin sheep, Bronze turkeys, meat chickens and Peking ducks in a natural environment.” Linda tells me the Bronze turkeys have a darker meat than traditional white turkeys. I am anxious to try one, but of course was too late for this Thanksgiving.

Sally and Michael Knight of Strattons Farm, also in the Stirling area, a delightful young couple of British origin (if I judged their accents correctly) who have heritage pork, poultry, dairy goats, honey, eggs and vegetables – and an excellent blog full of information about their operation here. And something that I find very cool is that their farm is “powered by a team of Suffolk Punch draft horses.”

And of course Tim and his mum Dorothy Hunt of Countryman Road outside Tweed, the providers of our Thanksgiving turkey, raised in the heart of Hastings: a place where good local food is grown, raised – and appreciated.

The Big Dipper over Queensborough

When Raymond and I visit the Manse for a weekend, we often drive in on Friday night after work in Montreal – and since it’s a four-and-a-half-hour drive and our workday never ends early, that means we always get in quite late.

While the drive is long, it’s a pleasant one; we take mostly back roads, though the next-to-final stretch is the 60-odd-mile drive on Highway 7, the Trans-Canada Highway, from Perth, Ont., to Queensborough Road just west of Actinolite. Then again, while Highway 7 may be the Trans-Canada Highway and a main route through the area, it’s a quiet area – and the highway is like a back road compared to the wide and busy 401 not all that many miles south.

Anyway, it’s always a lovely feeling to turn north off 7 and onto Queensborough Road, knowing that in a few short minutes we’ll be at the Manse. There are no lights along that road save for the odd house light that might still be on at that late hour, and the darkness means two things: one, you have to watch out for the local wildlife (raccoons, skunks, turtles, porcupines, frogs, muskrats, deer) that might be on or crossing the road; and two, suddenly, if it’s a clear night, you can see the stars in all their brightness and magnificence.

I love looking at the stars on a clear dark night, more so since I’ve lived in the city where one really can’t see them. My father was knowledgeable about the stars and constellations, and I have very happy memories of him pointing them out to me. (I wrote here about the time he and I visited my aunt and his sister, Marion Sedgwick, when she was on a mission posting with the United Church of Canada teaching nursing in remotest Papua New Guinea, and he got up night after night to scan the skies so he could show me the Southern Cross.) Mind you, I never quite got the hang of those constellations; the only one that I ever could and still can actually find on my own is the Big Dipper, which I’ve been looking for in the skies since I was a tiny child and that always seems like a comforting old friend when I find it.

Which I did on the most recent late Friday night. As we drove the last few miles to the Manse along Queensborough Road, the Big Dipper was straight ahead and above us.

Shining right over Queensborough. A good sign.

Where once danger lurked, a nice piece of natural landscaping

A nice hefty piece of fieldstone now covers the Manse’s old well.

The former covering for the well – an accident waiting to happen.

A while back I posted a warning to anyone who might come visit the Manse to not, under any circumstances, step on the cover of the old well that is no longer in use. That cover is a cement square, inset into which are some boards that are not trustworthy at all, given how long they’ve been there and the greenery growing up through them.

We wanted to put something over those boards that would ensure no one would or could step on them (and potentially fall through), but we wanted it to be something attractive. Our hope was for a piece of nice local stone. So we asked Mike Tregunna, owner of the Tregunna Tree Farm outside Tweed from which our new elm tree came, about it – since the Tregunna folks are in the landscaping business as well as the tree business.

A closeup: I like the different-colored layers in the stone that Mike Tregunna found.

Mike promised to keep an eye open for a suitable piece of natural stone, and a couple of weeks ago he emailed me saying he’d found one at a good price. And now it’s happily installed, preserving us all from danger. And looking good to boot.

Hand made in Queensborough

What a great vehicle! Don Huff (right), the proud owner, and Jos Pronk (left), the guy who made it, at the Madoc Fair Show and Shine. It’s a proudly Made In Queensborough collaboration.

Queensborough is a quiet enough place that when someone drives past your house, chances are you look to see who it is. So when I heard a car passing last Saturday morning as Raymond and I were getting ready to go to the Madoc Fair, it was natural that I would glance out the window.

“Don Huff just drove by in some kind of cool-looking vintage jeep,” I told Raymond. Little did we know just how cool that vintage vehicle was.

How cool? Well, as we found out a little later that day, it’s a vehicle built around an old (from the 1960s, I believe, but please, anyone who’s reading this who’s connected to the “car-hand-made-in-Queensborough” project, correct me if I’m wrong) Toyota Land Cruiser base. But the spectacular thing about it is that it has all been hand made in Queensborough by Jos Pronk, who owns and runs Pronk Canada Inc., situated in what was once Bobbie [Sager] Ramsay’s general store.

Early in our Queensborough adventure we had heard about how skilled and talented Jos is. The short version of what we were told: “He can make anything.” Here’s the slightly longer version, his company’s official blurb: “Art design, repair of equipment, AutoCAD, manufacturing of new equipment & attachements, making of obsolete parts, specialty welding in stainless & aluminum, machining & fabricating of complete machinery, manufacturing & designing of artistic iron work, fencing, railings & gates.” I think you will agree that that is pretty impressive.

Don – who, like us, divides his time between work in the city and down time in Queensborough – acquired the old Land Cruiser some years ago and wanted to do something interesting with it. Fortunately for his project, he was just down the street from Jos Pronk.

It took Jos four years. Four years! Every part, every section, was hand-machined, and there was an extraordinary amount of design work involved as well. And last Saturday morning when I saw Don drive by, he had just taken possession of the finished product. A momentous day for both Don and Jos!

Last Sunday morning, the vehicle was on display at the Madoc Fair’s Show and Shine event, when owners of vintage vehicles put them on display for auto and design aficionados to admire. Of course Raymond and I – who had already enjoyed a gloriously slow-moving Saturday watching the horse pull (the drawing match) at the fair – had to be back for that. I mean, how often do you get to see a beautiful vehicle hand made in Queensborough? And hang out with the owner and the man who made it? And most fun of all, get to watch the people who love cars oohing and aahing (and asking a lot of questions) about a one-of-a-kind vehicle the likes of which they have never seen before?

That is one cool car. Hand made in Queensborough!

The joys (and lessons) of a slow day: the Madoc Fair horse pull

Madoc Fair horse pull

The home team: Troy Wickens of Madoc (holding the reins; and I believe that is Brian Ramsay of Queensborough helping him) in the light-horse pull.

The Madoc Fair‘s horse and pony pull last Saturday – the “drawing match,” as we used to call it in the old days – was supposed to start at 11 a.m. It said so on all the posters that we’d seen around town, and in the double-page advertisements in the local newspapers, one of which I’d torn out and brought with me for reference.

Raymond and I had got to Queensborough late the night before, having started our trip at the end of a long workday in Montreal. By the time we’d heated up and eaten our usual late-Friday-night-at-the-Manse dinner (frozen pizza, accompanied by a welcome glass of red wine), it was way, way past midnight. So it was a bit of a struggle, for me at least, to be awake and showered and alert and at the fairgrounds before 11 a.m.

You could tell things were just getting rolling at the fair at that hour. The crowds were light and the rides hadn’t yet started on the midway; no one was lining up for candy floss, and only a few people were taking in the display of antique steam engines. The team of taffy-rollers at the Ellis Taffy truck were just getting started in advance of the taffy-loving hordes that would come. The 4-H cattle showing hadn’t started yet; the young handlers of the animals were washing (and even vacuuming) them in preparation as we passed by on our bustle over to the area where the horse and pony pull was supposed to happen, so as to be there by 11 a.m. Which we were. And what was doing? Not a thing.

Same deal at 11:15. We were getting antsy: Are we in the right place? What’s going on?

Typical city folk. Typical clock-driven, time-pressed (or so we like to think) city folk. All we had to do was be patient.

Things started rolling a little after 11:30, when the woman who ably served as MC for the event announced that the first round would be for light ponies and that their owners could bring them to the draw area. At last!

Of course, being one of those typical impatient city people, I was eager to see the heavy horses and hoped it wouldn’t be long before it was their turn. Raymond had never been to a horse-drawing match before (or, as he pronounces it in his Boston accent, hoss-drawing match), and so as we watched the light ponies I happily recounted how back in the day the event was easily one of the main attractions of the fair, held on Friday or Saturday night – I’m not sure which it was – and bringing in huge crowds. (How times have changed, and not, I would say, for the better. Now the prime Saturday-night attraction – and it is an attraction; thousands of people come – is a demolition derby.) The heavy horses were the star attraction of that star event; people loved to watch the big teams try to pull several tons’ worth of weight.

We sat and watched the whole light-ponies event, but contrary to my impatient expectations, it was not over quickly to make room for the big boys. It takes time for each team of ponies to try pulling a light load, and then a slightly heavier load, and then a heavier one still, and so on. With all the teams pulling the weights successfully for the first several rounds – so none eliminated – I realized that this was going to last considerably longer than I’d thought.

But it was worth staying to the end, because the high drama comes when it’s down to the last two or three teams and the weights get really heavy. Unlike in the early rounds, the teams often can’t pull the load the prescribed distance in just one go; they get two tries and if they don’t make it, they’re out. Adding to the excitement is the fact that the animals are all charged up, excited and eager to pull – we saw no sign that the pulling was a hardship for any of them; it’s what they’re trained to do, and by God they want to do it – and this can make it quite an adventure for their handlers to get them hitched to the stone boat carrying the load and then jump quickly out of the way as they start pulling with all their might.

So we stayed and watched as a lanky young man and his lanky young assistant (his brother, I think) and their team from Thomasburg took the top prize. “Now, the big ones,” I thought to myself.

But no. The next round was announced as being light horses, and there were a whole slew of teams. And that was to be followed by the heavy ponies, and then would come the heavy horses.

Aha. This was clearly not going to be an event that lasted as long as, say, the average movie. Or a Madonna concert, for that matter. This was slow-moving entertainment.

Impatient, multi-tasky people that we are, we decided to go do some necessary errands in downtown Madoc while the light horses were doing their thing. We figured we’d get back just in time for the big horses.

So off we went, and we were gone well over an hour. And back we came, only to discover – the light horses still doing their thing. The pace is slooooooow.

So we did the fair. We bought hamburgers and perhaps the best French fries we’ve ever eaten from the booth operated by the folks at the Madoc Baptist Church (the same booth that for decades – until a couple of years ago, when there just weren’t enough people to do it any more – had been operated by St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough). We looked at poultry and sheep and goats and rabbits and baby water buffalo, and prize-winning squashes and watermelons and beets and carrots, and jams and maple syrup and cakes and pies and squares, and photographs, and quilts and crocheting. We bought candy floss and a candy apple and taffy from the legendary Ellis operation of Trenton (here is a great article about them from the excellent Hastings County magazine Country Roads). We looked at the exhibits by commercial vendors set up in the arena: The “Bringing Internet to the Middle of Nowhere” booth was of interest, as were (for Raymond) some big shiny new trucks from a local dealership. Raymond bought a cowboy hat and I bought a sundress, and we both bought organic garlic from Elly from Railway Creek Farms near Cooper.

We saw what had been billed as a sheep-herding exhibition that turned out to be a duck-herding exhibition. You really couldn’t make this stuff up, but I have proof! Here’s the video:

In short, we did everything there was to do. (If you’d like to see still more of the fair, here is a video done by CHTV, the local cable station in Madoc.) And then we went back to the drawing match, which was moseying along at its own sedate pace.

As the day went on, the number of spectators sitting on the wooden bandstand benches and the terraced flat rocks, and leaning on the wire fence that lined the drawing track, gradually grew larger. People sat down with people they knew, and we overheard slow and leisurely conversations taking place around us: commentary on the horses and their handlers and the action generally. Talk about the fair, and the astounding pie selection at the Madoc Baptist Church booth. Discussion of whether they might head to the Port Hope Fall Fair, about 60 miles west, the next day. Shooting the breeze. Taking it easy. No one in a hurry. The horses are still pulling. It’s mid-afternoon. The weather is fine. We’re moving on to another round.

Completely contrary to my expectations, the heavy horses were not the best part of the event; the heavy ponies, the second-to-last act, were. Those sturdy ponies showed more interest than the big horses did in getting the job done. We were particularly taken with the eventual winners, a team from Bancroft called Bob and Scout (and unfortunately I didn’t make a note of the name of their very able – and clearly, and deservedly, proud – owner). Not only were they the only team to “take the boat out all the way” (pull the weight the required distance) on their first try every time, but they were terrific fun to watch as they were driven back to the side of the track after each successful pull – totally chuffed with themselves.

Bob and Scout in action

Bob and Scout from Bancroft in action (driven by Calvin Stein) …

Bob and Scout getting their ribbons

… and getting the red ribbon for their first-place finish in the heavy-ponies category. They were our favourites of the day.

The afternoon wore on. At one point, maybe an hour before the pull finally came to an end, as I was vaguely listening in on the quiet, unrushed discussions taking place around me and the announcer telling us whether the latest team and handler had taken the boat out all the way and the bandstand performer off in the distance singing Early Morning Rain, and as I was meanwhile leafing through the guide to the fair and seeing how many names I recognized in the list of past recipients of the Agricultural Service Diploma (“awarded for personal effort and dedication in the furthering of the aims and purposes of the Madoc Agricultural Society,” which runs the fair), I noticed that a gentle breeze was rustling my hair. And I realized how understatedly perfect this day had been.

It dawned on me that I hadn’t sat quietly watching and enjoying a slow-moving thing like this – the entire event lasted more than five hours – for longer than I could remember. And I also hadn’t had such an unhurried, unstressed, undemanding day since a long, long time ago.

It was kind of a magical moment. Slowed down by the horse pull at the Madoc Fair. Well, it was time something did it.

The rains finally came.

The grass at the Manse is green again! And in the foreground, you can see how even the large circle where the old maple-tree stump was taken out last spring is starting to green up at last, thanks to the arrival of long-awaited rainfall.

Regular readers will know from my previous posts here and here – and of course Queensborough residents will know from lived experience – that this summer just gone has been the driest that most people can remember. Lawns turned brown and crispy, crops dried up, gardens were a disaster, and wells were beginning to run dry.

Even at the height of the drought, our new elm tree had a ring of green around it, thanks to watering by John Barry.

Had Raymond and I not had the exemplary help of our friend and neighbour John Barry, we would have worried mightily over the summer about our newly planted elm tree; as everyone knows, newly planted things need lots of water to survive and thrive. But John has watered it carefully for us, and even at the peak of the dryness at the end of August and beginning of September, there was a lovely and telling circle of bright green well-watered grass around the elm.

John, who mows the grass and whatnot for us, had also strewn grass seed on the soil where the stump of the huge old long-dead maple tree on the Manse’s front lawn was removed this past spring. Eventually, we hope, that bare section will fill in and look like part of the lawn. But grass won’t grow if it doesn’t get water, so through the summer things weren’t going all that well on that front.

Before: the swamp (or “wetland,” as people call swamps these days) at Hazzard’s Corners on the Labour Day weekend, as dry as anyone had ever seen it.

But the rains finally came!

There was a downpour just after the Labour Day weekend, and then another one after that, and since then there’s been a fair bit of precipitation. When Raymond and I were back in Queensborough last weekend, just two weeks after everything had been looking completely arid and burnt, it was a much-changed landscape.

After: a week ago (two weeks after the previous photo was taken), at least a little bit of the “wet” has returned to this wetland.

Greenness and freshness had returned. The garden looked only half-dead (and on the point of resurrection), instead of completely dead. The dew on the grass (and the car, and the truck) in the morning was downright thick, and I don’t think a person can appreciate the miracle of a good heavy dew until that same person has lived through a genuine drought.

And that stump circle is filling in nicely. Thanks to the blessed rain.

Bring your appetite to Queensborough

All those with hearty appetites and a love of home cooking take note: there’s not one but two community events coming up in Queensborough at which you will, I promise, eat well and enjoy yourself.

The first is this coming Saturday (Sept. 22), when there’ll be a pig roast at the Queensborough Community Centre. Now, I have to tell you that as a person who’s considerably more fond of vegetables than of meat, I was a little put off by some of what I found when I went to Google Images looking for a pig-roast photo. (Hence my choice of the cartoony image.) But I am assured by Raymond that pig roasted over an open fire is utterly delicious, and I believe him. The event, which starts at 4:30 p.m., is pot-luck, which I imagine means the roasted pig is there for all, but bring a salad or a dessert or some such. My recent field research in Queensborough suggests that everyone in town is going to be there, and I am disappointed that we are not (as is Raymond, only more so); unfortunately we have a prior commitment that day.

The turkey supper will take place in the hall (the white addition) at St. Andrew’s – but enter by the main door to get your ticket. And then sit in the sanctuary and wait till your number is called, smelling the delicious smells…

Then on Wednesday, Oct. 3 (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving) it’s the annual (for lo these many, many decades) St. Andrew’s United Church turkey supper. I have to tell you, the only thing that comes even close to this event is the St. Andrew’s United Church ham supper in the spring. The community will be out in full force, as will people from well beyond; the St. Andrew’s church suppers are legendary. It runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and tickets are $12; I expect children eat for less, and there are family rates.

I am salivating just thinking of it. There will almost certainly be the baked beans that St. Andrew’s does better than anywhere else on the planet (sorry, Boston), and of course turkey and all the fixings. I rather doubt that Raymond and I will be able to attend, given that it’s a weekday and we’ll be working here in Montreal; but if we can swing it, we will. It would be so wonderful to be back at St. Andrew’s for a church supper. Oh, the smell of the food as one sat in the sanctuary waiting for one’s number to be called…

I think I need a close-to-midnight snack. Where the deuce are the baked beans?