A new chapter!

Raymond with Aislin cartoon

My dear Raymond last night, home from the retirement party that the Gazette newsroom held in his honour and happily showing the cartoon by The Gazette’s legendary editorial cartoonist (and our friend) Aislin (Terry Mosher) presented to him to celebrate the occasion. Note the Boston Red Sox cap!

Today is a momentous day: it was Raymond’s last day at the Montreal Gazette, and as I write this post this evening, he is officially retired. It is a whole new chapter in our lives, and one in which the Manse is sure to play a big role.

(Which, by the way, was frequently made mention of at last night’s really lovely party in his honour, at which Gazette staffers present and past gathered to honour the outgoing executive editor for his 30 years of distinguished work. So many people asked us both about the Manse! It seems Queensborough is becoming quite well-known in our Montreal circles. And our Queensborough friends will probably find it quite amusing to know that the humorous special-edition front page of The Gazette that is traditionally presented to departing staffers featured a story suggesting that Raymond is mulling a run for mayor of Queensborough!)

Raymond in his Gazette office

One of Raymond’s final days at work, clearing stuff out of his office and taking calls from colleagues and well-wishers from across the country.

-30- on a 30-year career at The Gazette

-30- is the way typewritten news stories used to end; it was the indicator to the editor that the reporter’s text was done. (I’ve been in the news business so long that I remember using that symbol!) And it’s how Raymond marked the wall calendar in his office for his last day: -30- on 30 years at The Gazette, on Aug. 30, 2013.

The closing of a chapter in one’s life inevitably brings some sadness. It has felt so odd this week to see Raymond in his final few days in his office, cleaning out files and tossing (or sending for shredding if they were sensitive) documents that sometime in the past 30 years were vitally important to Gazette operations. But I have to say that he seemed to be doing it most of the time with a smile on his face. He seemed, in fact, to be exhibiting the early symptoms of the “post-Gazette glow” that staffers who have retired after a long and satisfying career tend to exude.

And it is truly exciting that he will now have time for so many other projects. For one thing, there are several thousand books to organize. And Raymond’s got some pretty interesting  Queenborough-area projects in mind, of a historical-research bent, as he wrote in a Facebook post (his page is here) this afternoon. And also, amid all that work, there will have to be lots of time to follow his beloved Boston Red Sox!

Then again, there is the not-so-small matter of the long-delayed renovation of the Manse to attend to. I kind of think this little sign, a recent gift to Raymond from his sister Jeannie and shown hanging on the screen door of the Manse, kind of says it all – don’t you?

Raymond is retired and "under new management."

Anyway, please join me in saying: Happy retirement, dear Raymond!

Ah, PCBs! Those were the days

Bosley Road, Queensborough

Bosley Road (looking toward the Manse) is one of the roads that, back in my childhood, was treated with an oily substance to keep the dust down. What was in that oil?

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are much in the news in Montreal right at the moment because an illegal stash of PCB-laden material was recently found warehoused in a residential section of the suburb Pointe-Claire. The neighbours – who had no idea the stuff was there – are, understandably, not amused, given the reputation of PCBs for being very nasty indeed when it comes to human health. (Though a popular Montreal Gazette opinion columnist/radio-show host who is also a scientist argues here that the risk is generally blown out of proportion.)

Anyway, all this PCB news got me thinking – doesn’t everything? – about my childhood days at the Manse. Now I suppose you are wondering what on earth the two could have in common. Was there a dumpsite for toxic waste like PCBs in Queensborough back then? No, no, a thousand times no. Here’s what it was all about: dust control.

Nowadays the road that runs in front of the Manse (called Bosley Road, though it didn’t have a name when I was a kid, as far as I can recall) is paved, or at least the in-town section is. But when I was a kid growing up at the Manse in the 1960s and ’70s, it was not. And the thing about dirt roads in hot, dry summer weather is that they tend to get very dusty when vehicles pass over them, to the point where visibility can be hampered and it’s dangerous. So rural municipalities use various techniques to try to keep the dust down.

And way back in my childhood, a common technique was to regularly spread an oily and rather smelly substance on the dirt roads. I can still smell it, and I remember how we kids – who spent a lot of time out walking up and down the roads in those days – would wrinkle up our noses and complain about it when it had been freshly put down.

But all at once the practice stopped. Which I didn’t think very much about when I was a kid, but later in life I learned the probable reason: the oil that was commonly spread on rural dirt roads contained PCBs. (You can read about the practice here and here. Now, I don’t know for sure that the stuff the Elzevir Township road crews were spreading had PCBs in it, but I expect there is a pretty good chance.

Now, that all said, none of us seems to have suffered any dire consequences. And I have to say that despite the smell of the stuff (which in the end wasn’t all that bad), some of my happiest childhood memories are of going for long summer-day walks along the country roads around Queensborough, stopping to examine the wildflowers and cattails and little streams along the way.

Just call the scene “Rural Pastoral, With PCBs.”

Historic Hastings returns, expanded and better than ever

Gerry Boyce and Historic Hastings

Belleville historian Gerry Boyce and his update of the classic Historic Hastings – hot off the presses. (Photo from the Belleville Intelligencer)

Tonight I have some exciting news about something that’s taking place tomorrow morning in Belleville, Ont. It is the official launch/unveiling/dedication of a new, expanded edition of the classic history of Hastings County, Historic Hastings. The book was first published as a project for Canada’s centennial in 1967 (not exactly yesterday!) and has now been expanded, updated and republished. Tomorrow morning there will be a launch ceremony at Hastings County council. Good stuff!

And you know what’s really cool? The author of the new and expanded Historic Hastings (who just happens to be a faithful reader of this blog) is Gerald (Gerry) Boyce, a mover and shaker in Hastings historical circles for many years – and the same guy who wrote the original.

(Here I have a confession to make of how dopey I can be: Gerry alerted me to the book launch in a comment he made on my post of a couple of days ago, but being the modest type, he didn’t mention the important fact that he is the author. And I totally failed to figure it out! At first, anyway. Then when I went poking about online, it all came clear. Sorry for not being more on the ball, Gerry!)

Historic Hastings 1967 edition

The original edition of Historic Hastings, published in 1967.

Historic Hastings is a book that was on the shelves of most Hastings County households (including ours) back when I was a kid growing up at the Manse in Queensborough. I don’t know what happened to my family’s copy, save for the fact that I didn’t end up with it. For quite a while I’ve been meaning to try to rectify that critical gap in my local-history collection thanks to my friends at the used-book site abebooks.com. (The original has been out of print for many years.) But now I can get a brand new one, with improvements including a full index and updated maps. And there’s more to come! The book being launched tomorrow is just Volume One; Gerry has also been working on Volume Two, with information on all that happened in Hastings County between 1967 and the present day.

While in this recent article about the project in the Belleville Intelligencer Gerry modestly pays tribute to those who helped him with the research work  – and I think we must not fail to make mention of one of them: his wife, Bev – I can only imagine how many hours he must have devoted to Historic Hastings, both the last time around and now with the new edition. (In between writing other works of local history and being a driving force behind the preservation of that history, I might add; Gerry is a charter member of the Hastings County Historical Society.) But what a wonderful thing to be able to say you produced in your lifetime: the definitive history of an entire county, something that has been a reference for thousands of people in the past and will continue to be into the future.

Congratulations on a job very well done, Gerry!

And to those who, like me, would like to get their hands on a copy: I am sure it is being offered for sale in the bookstores of Hastings County, but you can also order it (print version or CD version) here. And Gerry, if there are other points of sale we should know about, please send details! (And P.S.: Can I get my copy autographed?)

An Adirondack chair is just the thing.

Adirondack chair at the Manse

Our new – to us, although in reality vintage – Adirondack chair, in the shade of the ash tree on the south lawn of the Manse. Pretty inviting, non?

As I’ve mentioned before, the Manse’s lawn is fairly expansive. It’s not a rambling estate or anything like that, but when a person has to rake up all the spring debris or fall leaves, that person (who happens to be me) gains a new respect for the size of the property. As I’ve also mentioned before, the lawn is wildly uneven, making it perfect for some challenging croquet or bocce games that have not yet taken place on it, but will, you can be sure.

And when it’s all nicely mowed (which our neighbour John looks after, doing an absolutely excellent job) and there’s been enough rain to keep things green, it is a very handsome lawn indeed, if I do say so myself.

And what does a nice green handsome lawn need? Why, an Adirondack chair, of course!

Not everybody loves Adirondack chairs – or, as they’re sometimes called in Ontario, Muskoka chairs. Some people find it uncomfortable to sink so far down into a wooden chair, and they also find it hard to get out again. But I quite like them. I think they look like the epitome of summer; and I like the fact that their wide arms give you lots of space to park the book you’re reading, your phone and/or camera, and perhaps a refreshing beverage. And I also find them extraordinarily comfortable.

So I was quite chuffed to see a gently used cream-coloured Adirondack chair out on the sidewalk in front of Madoc vintage/antique store Kim’s Kollectibles this past weekend. But there was no price tag on it, so I thought maybe it was just there for the customers (or maybe the patron) to relax in.

But happily for Raymond and me, when I inquired of Kim’s very affable husband, who was minding the store in her absence, it turned out it was indeed for sale. And at a great price! “Five bucks,” he told me. “You can’t beat that.”

You know what? You can’t. And as the photo at the top of this post proves, I didn’t even try. Does that Adirondack chair not look like it totally belongs at the Manse?

The Manse’s happy herb garden

herb garden at the Manse

I just wanted to show you all that I really have managed to have a respectable-looking herb garden at the Manse. It was something I’d wanted to do from the outset (though it was not exactly a realistic goal at that point, given that Raymond and I bought the house in January!), and that early this summer I actually got around to. And look! The herbs are doing quite nicely there in their sunny spot below the pantry window.

In fact, let’s talk about chervil for a moment; it’s something people so rarely do, don’t you find? Chervil is one of the herbs – along with chives, parsley and tarragon – that my idol Julia Child suggests for her omelette aux fines herbes. (Have I ever mentioned that I can make a bang-up omelette à la Julia? If you like omelettes, you owe it to yourself to be at our house for one sometime. There’s nothing better for a nice light supper than an omelette, a green salad with tart lemony vinaigrette [Julia’s recipe, of course], a good baguette [sadly, problematic in this country, outside Quebec], and a glass of red wine. Though things get even better if Raymond’s Famous Frites, which turn it into a slightly heartier supper, are added to the plate.) You rarely see chervil for sale in the grocery store – even the fancy-schmancy grocery stores like the one we are lucky enough to live close to in Montreal – and often when you try to grow it yourself it gets rather peaky (as Mrs. Weasley of Harry Potter would say) and doesn’t produce much. But just look at my chervil, people! (That’s the one at lower right.) It is the healthiest-looking chervil plant I have ever seen! Growing right there at the Manse. Just waiting for some of it to be chopped up for an omelette.

To which there is only one thing to say:

Bon appétit!

This is how you know it’s going to be a great day



How do you know it’s going to be a great day? People, I will tell you how.

You wake up in your very comfortable (nice new from Ikea) bed in your sunny bedroom in the house you grew up in, in Queensborough, Ont. Outside it is perfectly quiet except for the sound of birdsong and cicadas (or, as my mum calls them, heat bugs; it is a pleasantly warm, sunny day). You head downstairs to find that your husband is not around; clearly he has bombed into town (Madoc) to do errands. But since he is the best husband in the world he has left behind a freshly made pot of Tim Horton’s coffee, so you’re already all set.

And then your husband pulls into the driveway. And it turns out that not only has he been to Madoc; he’s gone further south on Highway 62, to the Amish farmers’ market at the hamlet of Ivanhoe, where he’s bought freshly picked sweet corn and green beans for that evening’s supper. And not only that! He’s also headed still farther afield, down the side road that leads to the home-baking stand of one of the Amish families. Where they make honey-dipped doughnuts the likes of which you haven’t had since you were a little kid and the bakery in tiny Minden, Ont. (the nearest town to your family’s ancestral home/farm in Haliburton County, where your childhood Julys were spent) used to make them on Saturday mornings and the whole village would have that heavenly smell as a result.

And your husband has brought a dozen of those doughnuts home. And they are STILL WARM. So you can have them with your coffee. And (I believe I have mentioned this, but it bears repeating) it is a beautiful sunny day.

And you are at the Manse in Queensborough. And the day’s adventures are still in front of you.

And that is how you know it is going to be a wonderful day.

Simple things remind me of simpler times (II)

Judy's bridal-shower bow bonnet

This is Judy, author of the terrific blog My Front Porch and someone whose email acquaintance I am very happy to have recently made. She kindly gave me permission to use this photo of her from about 40 years ago, when she was a bride-to-be being honoured at a bridal shower. Please note the bonnet made of shower-gift bows and ribbons! (And also, as Judy pointed out in her post on the shower, the crepe-paper streamers. “I haven’t seen those in awhile,” she noted. Me neither!)

Yesterday I told you about how picking up evergreen cones from the Manse lawn reminded me of a sweet little game we played at a community shower in Queensborough long ago, when to be the winner you had to be able to pick up and hold in your hand more wooden clothespins than any of the other guests could. Now that was good clean fun!

The memory of the clothespin contest also got me thinking about showers, specifically bridal showers, and how they traditionally happened in Queensborough back in those days. And that reminded me of another simple but sweet tradition.

Queensborough Community Centre

The former one-room schoolhouse in Queensborough that later became the Women’s Institute hall, and is now the Queensborough Community Centre. It was where all community bridal showers were held once upon a time.

Community bridal showers (and as far as I can recall, there was a community shower for every young woman in Queensborough who was to be wed) took place at the Women’s Institute hall, the village’s former schoolhouse (now the Queensborough Community Centre). The bride-to-be would sit at the front of the room and all the guests would sit in an elongated circle around her – though one woman would be stationed right by her side. The guest of honour would open the gifts one by one and they would be passed around the circle for us each to ooh and aah at the collection of tea towels or whatever it was. But before each gift was passed, the woman at the bride-to-be’s elbow would take the bow and/or ribbon that had adorned the gift and, working quickly and nimbly, attach it to a paper plate she had ready at hand with a needle and thread. By the time all the gifts had been opened the paper plate would be a bundle of colourful ribbons and bows, and the creator would make sure two long ribbons hung down from either side. And then the confection was placed on the young bride-to-be’s head; it was a hat, you see! And it would be tied under her chin with the two dangling side ribbons. And we’d all laugh, and someone would take a snapshot or two with a Kodak Instamatic.

Is that sweet, or what?

I was so tickled to discover a photograph (very possibly taken with a Kodak Instamatic!) of just such an event when I went looking for a picture to illustrate this post. It comes from a delightful blog called My Front Porch, where blogger Judy (who lives on a dairy farm in British Columbia) writes absolutely charming posts about, as she puts it, “family, friends, food, farming, faith and a few of my favorite pastimes…did I mention travelling?” (She and her husband have just been on what sounds like an amazing road trip across North America, and her dispatches are terrific.) Judy also has a food blog, called From My Table To Yours, and she is a contributor to the astounding blog Mennonite Girls Can Cook (whence came a terrific salad recipe for last night’s dinner at our home in Montreal). She is, not to put too fine a point on it, a ball of fire – and as far as I can tell, from her blog posts and an email exchange we recently had, a lovely person.

So thanks to Judy, you can, in the photo at the top of this post, get a perfect image of what a young Queensborough woman would have looked like at the grand finale of her bridal shower at the Women’s Institute hall, c. 1971. (The only difference being that in the Women’s Institute hall there would have been a formal portrait of the Queen in the background. Hey, it was the Women’s Institute. Appearances must be kept up!) Most important point: the bow bonnet. Simple and sweet. And a long time gone.

Simple things remind me of simpler times (I)

evergreen cones on the Manse lawn

I arrived at the Manse last weekend to find the north section of the front lawn littered with fallen evergreen cones. The exercise of picking them all up brought back a happy long-ago Queensborough memory.

The other morning I had a bit of a job to do: picking up the dozens and dozens of cones that had dropped, unseasonably early (perhaps due to recent high winds) from the two huge evergreen trees in the Manse’s front yard onto the grass below. (Which was causing problems when the grass was mowed.) It was a warm and sunny day, and I was quite happy to have an easy chore to do outdoors, enjoying the peace and quiet of a Queensborough morning while I did it.

There were rather a lot of cones, and my hands are small. I found I couldn’t pick up more than three at a time in each hand, though sometimes I tried (without much success) to wrap my fingers around a fourth.


How many could you pick up in one hand?

That simple exercise on a quiet sunny morning cast my mind back 45 years or more, to an event – I think a shower of some sort – held at a the home of the Feeney family in Queensborough, just across the way (more or less) from the Manse (though the house itself no longer stands and has been replaced by a newer one and different residents). Community events like wedding or baby showers in those days always included games, and I remember that one of the games at this particular event at the Feeneys’ was a contest among the (all-female) attendees to see who could clasp the most wooden clothespins in her hand. Given that I have small hands now as an adult, and at the time of that shower I can’t have been more than seven or eight years old (I would have been attending with my mum), I didn’t have a chance of winning that one. (Ah, but if there had been a spelling contest…)

It made me smile as I was stooping and picking up those evergreen cones from the Manse lawn. I smiled to remember the simple pleasures we enjoyed back in those more innocent days, in Queensborough and in so many other places, rural and even perhaps urban.

Though my smile turned just a little bit rueful when I thought of how far we’ve come from those times, when something as simple as a clothespin contest could bring gales of laughter to a whole roomful of women. Those were good times.

Tomorrow: More reflections on simple pleasures, pegged to a colourful tradition at Queensborough bridal showers.

Tell us what you know about historic Thomasburg

Slush General Store, Thomasburg

The Slush General Store, which Carol Martin tells me was a longtime landmark in the hamlet of Thomasburg. The building is still standing, and is now a private home. Readers: might you have any other historic photos of Thomasburg? (Photo courtesy of Carol Martin)

Thomasburg, as you may or may not know, is one of five hamlets in the municipality of Tweed (or, as I like to call it, the Greater Tweed Area) – the others being Queensborough (of course), Actinolite, Stoco and Marlbank. All are tiny and pretty, though you can readily guess which of them is closest to my heart. Until very recently, Thomasburg was the hamlet I was least familiar with; I’d heard about it all the years I lived in Queensborough as a kid, back in the 1960s and early ’70s, but had never actually been there. One recent sunny early-summer day, though, Raymond and I made an excursion down Highway 37 south of the village of Tweed to Thomasburg and poked around it a bit.

It’s a hamlet chock-full of interesting old buildings, including some very handsome 19th-century homes. A couple are so large as to suggest that they once served as hotels – a reminder of the long-ago days when a trip from, say, Belleville north to Tweed was a long and arduous affair, and people might have needed to stop for refreshment or, if it were late in the day, for the night.

One thing we agreed during our little tour around Thomasburg was that it would have been helpful had there been some sort of a sign, or brochures available at a central location, giving a bit of the history of what is clearly a historic little place, and perhaps explaining what some of the buildings used to be. And now, lo and behold, I have discovered – thanks to correspondent Carol Martin, who lives in Thomasburg – that the Thomasburg Beautification Committee is engaged in the project of erecting just such a marker at the Thomasburg Hall, with a short text about the hamlet’s history that Carol is writing, and some historic photographs. How great is that?

Now here’s where you come in, readers: the Thomasburg Beautification Committee has been able to unearth a few vintage photographs of the hamlet (thanks to the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre, and they’ve also checked with the Hastings County Historical Society), but they would love to have some more. So: do any of you out there by any chance have any old photos of that pretty little hamlet? Or do you know anyone, or any organization, that would? If so, Carol would love to hear from you at cjmartin.thomasburg@gmail.com.

And my thanks (and Carol’s)  in advance if you can help out with this excellent project that preserves and celebrates the history of one of the lovely little corners of Hastings County!

In search of the perfect furrow

Hastings County Plowing Match 2012

This is what it’s all about – and believe you me, plowing a perfect furrow is not easy! This photo is from last year’s Hastings County Plowing Match, which took place at Donnandale Farms in Centre Hastings. (Photo from centrehastings.com)

If you live in Hastings County you’re probably aware of what I’m about to tell you, but if you don’t, listen up: tomorrow and Thursday (Aug. 21 and 22) are the dates of the 2013 Hastings County Plowing Match. Now, you urban folk will be wondering what I’m on about, so let me tell you: a plowing match is a terrific place to rub shoulders with the folks in your local agricultural community, and to see what they’re up to.

Hastings County Plowing MatchYes, there are plowing competitions, for both tractors and horses – plowing a perfect furrow is a very fine art – but as I was reading through the special supplements on the big event that graced the two local newspapers when I was at the Manse in Queensborough last weekend, I got the sense that the plowing part of it is kind of an excuse to just have a big old farm-themed get-together. And it sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m very sorry I won’t be there this year (why do they hold it mid-week instead of on a weekend, I wonder?) but hope to be on hand for the 2014 event.

There are always a ton of exhibitors at these things, showing off wares that run the gamut from barn-building materials to farm machinery to pellet stoves to insurance policies and on and on and on. There’ll also be information booths from all sorts of community groups, including Harvest Hastings (an excellent organization that works to promote locally produced foods) and, if I’m not mistaken, the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre. There’ll be kids’ activities and an arts and crafts show and – of course – food!

The only plowing match I’ve ever attended was one that took place a long, long time ago – 1970, in fact, and thank you, internet, for coughing up that fact – in Lindsay, Ont., and it was the International Plowing Match, which was a very big deal. I would have been 10 years old and I don’t remember a single thing about the plowing; it is eminently possible I didn’t even see any of the plowing. What I remember is the huge tent city of exhibitors (many of whom were giving away free samples of exciting stuff like 3-in-One Oil), and the mud. It had been a rainy week leading up to the match, and the field in which it was held was just a sea of deep, sticky mud. I remember my boots getting stuck, so that my sock foot would come out and the empty boot would still be sticking out of the ground. (I guess it was kind of like Glastonbury with tractors.) Anyway, it was fun.

So listen: if you’re casting about for a late-summer activity to keep you busy in the next couple of days, my suggestion to you is to head over Stirling way (here is a map showing where the match takes place, and there’s lots more information here) and get to know a bit more about what’s going on down on the farm.

And into the bargain, you may gain a whole new appreciation for a nice straight furrow. Not to mention a sample-size tin of 3-in-One Oil.