Goldie’s famous Queensborough quilt, and its narrow escape

Goldie Holmes's most famous quilt, featuring Queensborough homes and buildings. Top row, left to right (warning: I am going to name the inhabitants as they were back in my day, which was also Goldie's day): Mrs. Barry's house, the Leslies' house and John Thompson's barn (both no longer standing), and the Wilson house. Middle row, from left: St. Andrew's United Church, Goldie and Art Holmes's home (complete with outhouse!) and the Manse. Bottom row, from left: the Orange Hall, Carl and Lois Gordon's house (where Chuck and Ruth Steele now live), and the Walkers' house (where Brian and Sylvia MacNeil now live).

Goldie Holmes’s most famous quilt, featuring Queensborough homes and buildings, which I think I can identify (though please correct me if I’ve got any of them wrong). Top row, left to right (warning: I am going to name the inhabitants as they were back in my day, which was also Goldie’s day): Mrs. Barry’s house (where the Sims family lives now), the Leslies’ house and John Thompson’s barn (both no longer standing), and Ralph Wilson’s house. Middle row, from left: St. Andrew’s United Church, Goldie and Art Holmes’s home (complete with outhouse) and the Manse. Bottom row, from left: the Orange Hall, Carl and Lois Gordon’s house (where Chuck and Ruth Steele now live), and the Walkers’ house (where Brian and Sylvia MacNeil now live).

Yesterday I wrote about Queensborough’s Goldie Holmes, “the quilt lady,” and promised another Goldie story today. It’s about Goldie’s most famous quilt, the one you see at the very beginning of the CBC-TV video I linked to yesterday, from a program in which Goldie was interviewed about her work by Sylvia Tyson. It’s the same quilt as the one you see above, and it features several of Queensborough’s homes and buildings. It is a beautifully done piece of true folk art, a living memory of a certain time and place. (As Goldie says in the film, explaining her work: “I want people to know there is a Queensborough.”)

The Manse as depicted on Goldie Holmes's quilt.

The Manse (and garage) as depicted on Goldie Holmes’s quilt.

I don’t have a clear memory of seeing the quilt in my youth, and perhaps I never did; in the film Goldie tells Sylvia Tyson that she only started doing quilts showing buildings in 1975, and that was the year that my family moved away from Queensborough. Then again, it is very possible that I saw it on later visits. Certainly I was well aware of its existence – but until quite recently I didn’t know where it was, and was almost afraid to ask. Had it ended up in the hands of a private collector? That would almost certainly have meant that the rest of us would never be able to see it again.

What a relief it was to learn that the quilt resides at the Tweed Heritage Centre, a wonderful place where tireless curator Evan Morton has accumulated a gold mine of historical artifacts and documents about the Tweed area (which includes Queensborough). The next time we were in Tweed, Raymond and I stopped in and asked Evan if we could see it.

Tweed Heritage Centre curator Evan Morton, on the job and suitably dressed, given that the building's furnace had recently given out.

Tweed Heritage Centre curator Evan Morton, on the job and suitably dressed, given that the building’s furnace had recently given out.

It was a cold, raw day, and it was cold and raw inside the Heritage Centre too; the building’s furnace had given up the ghost a few days before, which made life particularly hard for Evan, who lives upstairs. He was clad in a warm sweater and toque as he talked about his hopes that money would come through from a government source and/or donations to replace the furnace. (We left a donation, and I sure hope others have come through as well. Click here for the address to which donations can be sent… It’s an excellent cause!)

Anyway, the ever-chipper Evan very graciously brought us to see the quilt and we had a great time talking about it with him. He was pleased that I recognized the buildings it shows, and we have promised to take and send him photos of each one as it is now so that the display can include some information on each one.

I expressed relief that the Heritage Centre has the quilt, and asked about how that came to be – and Evan told us a bit of a hair-raising story. Apparently the quilt had ended up with an Ottawa antique dealer, from whom an American collector had bought it. Somehow or other Evan heard about this; I forget whether it was because the collector, for whatever reason, visited the centre, but it may have been. So the quilt was on its way to the U.S. – imagine! No doubt it would have been appreciated and admired there, but no one who admired it would have known anything about the village or the buildings it depicts – and it would have been lost to its own community forever. What a tragedy that would have been.

And then something very lovely happened: upon learning where this quilt was from, and how much a part of the area it was, the collector (who had doubtless paid a hefty price for it) up and donated it to the Heritage Centre. Where it is to this day, on proud display.

Now how’s that for a story with a happy ending?

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