Precious pieces of history – Queensborough women’s history

Hazzard's Church by Vera Burnside

“Hazzard’s Church,” by Vera Burnside. A wonderful drawing by a very talented local artist (more on that below), and especially important because it shows the long-gone old drive shed where the horses would have been parked during services in the church’s first century or so. (Am I dating myself if I tell you that I remember that drive shed? Oh well, what the heck.) This framed edition of the drawing belonged to Bobbie Sager, one of the brightest and most important lights Queensborough has ever seen, and a great friend of Vera. And now, thanks to a gift from Bobbie’s sister Barb, it hangs proudly in the kitchen of the Manse.

I received a truly wonderful Queensborough-themed gift a while back, one that moved me almost to tears. Actually, excise that “almost.” There were tears. And it is high time I told you about it.

In fact, it was more like a gift package, because there was more than one item. A bunch of stuff, actually, all of it delightful. But three of the items were, and are, particularly close to my heart, and I’ll tell you about them. Over the course of tonight’s post, and tomorrow’s.

But first let me tell you about the person who gave them to me. She is Barbara Martin, née Sager, a Queensborough-born girl and the younger sister of the late Bobbie Sager Ramsay, who ran one of our village’s two general stores and generally kept things in order here in Queensborough for years and years and years. I’ve written about Bobbie many times before, but here is a post that tells the story of Bobbie’s wedding, one of the classic Queensborough stories of all time. Not because of my telling of it, you understand, but because of Bobbie herself and how great she was, and how important to our community; and also of what a stunning surprise she pulled off when she decided to go and get married. In fact, just because I can, I am going to show you once again a wedding photo of Bobbie and her husband, Allan, just after they were married. Right here at the Manse:

Bobbie and Allan Ramsay wedding

The newly married Bobbie and Allan Ramsay, after a top-secret ceremony right here at the Manse. As I write this post I am not two feet away from where they were standing. And I was there for the great (top-secret) event! It gives me goosebumps sometimes, the history in this house.

Bobbie’s sister Barb is an absolutely lovely person who, though she now lives about an hour’s drive away, keeps close ties with Queensborough, is a go-to source of information about our hamlet’s history, and is kind enough to read and sometimes comment on my ramblings here at Meanwhile, at the Manse.

In fact, those ramblings kind of led to her gifts. For which I will forever be grateful.

The first came because I’d mentioned my love for a style of serving trays popular back in the 1950s and ’60s. Come on, you’ve seen them: black background and, against that, a design of big, colourful (usually pink and red) flowers. The ones I wrote about came in the form of TV trays; my maternal grandparents had those ever-so-useful TV trays, and I wish to goodness I still had them. After I wrote that post, another friend, Ernie Pattison – proprietor of the funky and great tearoom and restaurant The Old Omsby Schoolhouse up in northern Hastings County in the hamlet of Ormsby – presented me with a miniature version of such a tray; details here. (Ernie has a bunch of them, acquired at an antique store, and they’re used at The Old Schoolhouse when they bring you your check and then the change. A nice vintage touch in a lovely vintage place!)

Okay, so: one of the gifts I received from Barb was a full-sized version of such a tray. Here it is, and I think you will agree that it is beautiful:Barb's shower-gift tray

But when it comes to why this tray is meaningful for me, the fact that it’s beautiful pales in comparison to this: Barb received this tray as a shower gift before she was married, which just happens to be 54 years ago this very month. (Happy 54th anniversary, Barb and Don!) Those of you with good subtraction skills will have already figured out that that was 1960 – a very good year, if I do say so myself. (Perhaps, if you are a regular reader of Meanwhile, at the Manse, you can do your own math and guess why I say that.)

Anyway: where was the shower held? Why, Queensborough, of course; I’ve already mentioned that Barb was a Queensborough girl. And where, more specifically? Why, at the one-room schoolhouse; that historic (built 1901) building was (and is to this day) our community centre. It was where the Women’s Institute met, where euchre parties were held, where we have the annual spring pancake breakfast – it was at this past spring’s pancake breakfast that Barb passed on these treasures to me – and where community bridal and baby showers have taken place since … well, probably since 1901.

One time I wrote about the bridal-shower tradition in Queensborough as I remembered it from my childhood. That post is here, but the highlights from it are these:

  • All the women and girls from the community would come.
  • All the just-unwrapped gifts would be passed around the circle of attendees so that we could ooohh and aaahh over the tea towels and dishcloths and whatnot – hey, those were simpler times, and practical gifts were needed and welcomed!
  • And most importantly, the bows from all the gift wrapping were stitched to a paper plate by an able assistant sitting beside the bride-to-be, and at the end of the evening that blushing young woman would don the finished product and wear it as a colourful hat.

That, my friends, is fine old-fashioned community fun, all focused on (and enjoyed by) the women of the community. And I miss those days.

And I love to picture Barb – who is a very good-looking woman “of a certain age” now, and must have been a knockout as a young woman at the time of that bridal shower – wearing that made-for-her-from-the-gift-bows hat, and exclaiming over the gift of the very tray that now has pride of place at the Manse. Here is what Barb wrote me (in part) when I sent her a thank-you for the gifts:

“I was only too happy to pass the things on to someone who would really treasure them. The tray was a shower gift from Queensborough and we will be married 54 years this August so you know how old it is and if I ever find my book with the record of gifts in it, I would be able to tell you who gave it to me. I know Bobbie is up there thinking how wonderful for you to have the drawing and have it hanging in the old Manse. I so wish she had lived long enough to enjoy yours and Raymond’s company in the Village.”

Did I mention that this makes me cry? I just feel so honoured that Barb would not only pass on treasures from her own, and Queensborough’s, past, but also those kind words saying, basically, “Welcome (back) to Queensborough. You (and Raymond) belong here.”

Okay, on to “the drawing” that Barb mentions. It is a black-and-white sketch of Hazzard’s Corners United Church, a beautiful and historic old building just up the road from Queensborough that I have written about many a time; here and here are just two examples. The drawing is by the late Vera Burnside, a woman who in my view was, and is, like Bobbie (and Barb), a model of strength, beauty, brains, talent and resilience.

Vera, a schoolteacher by training, lived in the Hazzard’s area but, after that church closed in 1967, attended and was very active in St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough. She taught Sunday School (including brats like me), was active in the UCW, and just generally was busy doing useful and helpful things for church and community. And (to boot) was an accomplished artist! Here is my post about finding, and being fortunate enough to be able to purchase, a Vera Burnside original painting at an auction. That painting is not five feet away from me as I write this. It makes me happy, and happily reflective, every time I look at it. Which is many times a day.

As I write all of this, I am struck by how all the players and characters in the stories – Barb, Bobbie, Vera, the women and girls who took part in the bridal and baby showers at the schoolhouse, me – are female.

Yes, this is history. Community history. But also – it is women’s history. Women in tiny rural places like Queensborough. Their history – our history – often gets short shrift in the overall scheme of things. People, I think we are on to something, thanks to inspiration from my friend Barb and her wonderful gifts. Tomorrow, Part 2, and it’s a good one: the Queensboro Cook Book!

2 thoughts on “Precious pieces of history – Queensborough women’s history

  1. Katherine, the old tray looks pretty good , glad you found a stop for the picture and thank your for all the lovely comments and yes, tears came to my eyes as I read about Bobbie. My Bridal shower was hosted by Mrs. George Gordon, who as you probably remember lived in the old railroad station just below our house. Will be down on the 7th of September to take part in the events and hope to see you then.

    Barb

    • Barb, it’s I who thank you! Yes, I remember Mrs. Gordon, and I even remember delivering some of my dad’s maple syrup to the Gordons in that historic old house. (A big can of maple syrup is very heavy for a little kid to carry all the way from the Manse to that house!) I am really looking forward to seeing you (and tapping into your Queensborough knowledge once again) at Historic Queensborough Day.

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