Some small-town good news.

New Aron Theatre, Campbellford

The restored Aron Theatre, a great small-town cinema if ever there was one – and the reason why Raymond and I recently spent a very pleasant afternoon and evening in the town of Campbellford.

In last night’s post, I told you about some bad news that’s hit Marmora, a small town in our part of Hastings County where the only bank in town is going to shutter its doors. (And I added in a few choice thoughts about what a rotten move this is by TD Canada Trust.)

Tonight, on a much happier note, I’d like to tell you about some really positive and encouraging signs of healthy small-town Eastern Ontario life that Raymond and I spotted not too long ago. As I mentioned in last night’s post, seeing small towns do well is something dear to my heart, so our late-summer experience in not-far-away Campbellford was a happy one indeed. And, I hope, might offer some ideas for our local towns, which are Madoc and Tweed.

We were in Campbellford – a town with a population of about 3,500 in eastern Northumberland County, which borders the southern half of our own county, Hastings – for a night at the movies. And that fact alone tells you something about Campbellford that distinguishes it from so many other small towns: it still has a movie theatre!

The movie theatre in question is the Aron (or, as we called it back in the day, the New Aron), which I visited many times in my teenage years – because, you see, my family moved to Campbellford in 1975, when I was in high school. (So 1975 was the end of my childhood here at the Manse, and it took a heck of a long time for me to find my way back here.) Our visit to Campbellford and a screening of Guardians of the Galaxy at the New Aron was, therefore, a bit of a nostalgic one for me. (Particularly since the New Aron was where in 1977 I first saw, and loved, a predecessor of Guardians of the Galaxy, a little number called Star Wars.)

The Aron was privately owned and operated back in the ’70s, but a while back it was taken over (and doubtless saved) by a non-profit collective formed for just that purpose. It’s called the Aron Theatre Co-operative, and these folks have done a marvellous job of restoring the Aron and bringing great films (and other special events) to the people of Campbellford and area. They deserve a huge round of applause, and while you’re clapping I’ll show you a few photos of this coolest of small-town cinemas:

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Raymond and I did a couple of other things while we were in Campbellford (which is about a 50-minute drive from Queensborough): we enjoyed a really nice meal at a restaurant that we were most impressed with, called The Bridge; and we explored the downtown. That exploration partly entailed me seeking out signs of the retail Campbellford that I remembered from those long-ago teenage years, like the original sign for Rabethge’s Jewellers that you can find hiding behind the current modern awning:

Rabethge's old sign

But it also meant we had to do some shopping! And that’s what I mostly want to tell you about. We visited several great little shops (and were particularly impressed by Kerr’s Corner Books, a fine small-town bookstore that Campbellford is fortunate to have), but I fell in love with one modest-but-cool (or is that cool-but-modest?) store that was in many ways not much changed from when my family lived just a couple of blocks away from it:

O'Briens' Stedmans store, CampbellfordIt is a Stedmans store; do you remember Stedmans, fellow small-town Ontarians? It was/is a chain (though with fairly individual franchises, like the Campbellford one, in my experience), with an interesting history that you can read here. Your typical Stedmans store is an old-fashioned kind of place: basically, it’s a small-town department store. Kind of like the dry-goods stores that those of us of a certain age remember – stores like Stickwood’s of Madoc – in that it really does carry a lot of “dry goods” like clothing, shoes and materials for people who knit, sew and crochet (think “notions“). But the Stedman’s store run by the O’Brien family – now, just as back in the days when the O’Brien kids were in high school with my siblings and me – sells so many other things! Toys and lawn chairs and books and kitchenware and giftware and stationery and on and on and on. Why, there were even plastic decorative things to put on gravestones! Here’s my little photo gallery:

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So yeah, that’s what I loved about this store: it sells things that ordinary people in an ordinary small town actually need. At reasonable prices. It’s not high-end stuff; there aren’t designer labels. But if you need some extra dinner plates, or a measuring cup, or a wedding-shower or baby-shower gift, or toys for Christmas gifts, or a T-shirt, or some casual shoes, or some yarn to make a sweater with, or a tote bag, or … well, it’s all there.

People, that is the kind of store that will save your small-town downtown. It offers humans things that they need and want, and that they don’t have to drive three-quarters of an hour to a stupid Walmart (I hate Walmart) to get. It’s run by friendly folks who know their customers by name. And the names of their customers’ parents. And those of their children.

And it’s also not a dollar store, which is the closest equivalent that many small towns have. Now, I’m not saying that dollar stores don’t provide a useful retail service, because they do. But the O’Briens’ store is a nice step up from that, with better-quality goods (most of them brand names) and a more pleasant and satisfying retail experience.

Raymond and I had more fun than anything looking around that store. I took some pictures, and bought children’s books (some classic Golden Books like The Poky Little Puppy) and a beautiful pair of leather moccasins for Raymond. And felt very glad, in making those purchases, to be contributing to the success of a retail operation that is in its own turn contributing to the overall success of the town it is in.

We left Campbellford that evening having had a nice meal, watched a fun movie in a great vintage theatre, and enjoyed an excellent shopping experience. And feeling like there was a lot of hope for small-town Eastern Ontario, if other towns follow some of the examples that Campbellford and its arts, food and retail communities are setting.

Some small-town bad news

Marmora TD Bank

The TD Canada Trust branch in Marmora, slated to close in mid-2015 – bad news for Marmora residents. (Photo by Margriet Kitchen, Central Hastings News)

As a fairly newly arrived – or, more accurately, returned – resident of Queensborough (in particular) and rural Eastern Ontario (in general), I find myself observing and thinking a fair bit about the state of the local small towns. Much more than I did in my years as a resident of Montreal, though I’ve always had an interest in smaller places – and so, whenever Raymond and I would travel, I liked to analyze what made some small towns prosperous and attractive and others depressing and sad. I long ago reached the conclusion that a flourishing arts community and an interest in heritage preservation are two key factors in boosting a town’s fortunes and all-round economic health – well, that, and a willingness by local residents to support local businesses.

But speaking of local businesses, tonight I want to tell you about an unfortunate situation in the small town of Marmora, which is about 18 miles southwest of Queensborough (not far from the border with Peterborough County) out on Highway 7. Marmora’s similar in size and temperament to Madoc and Tweed, which are the other two towns right smack in the centre of tall, narrow Hastings County, and obviously every resident of this central Hastings area has a vested interest in seeing all three of those pretty and historic little towns do well.

But one of Canada’s big banks is not doing its part on that front, at least when it comes to Marmora. TD Canada Trust, the only bank in Marmora – where it has been operating for more than 60 years, right at the main intersection downtown – announced a short while ago that it is going to close the branch and merge it with one in Havelock, a town of similar size about 11 miles west across the Hastings-Peterborough county line. You can read the full story by Margriet Kitchen, the Central Hastings News‘s Marmora reporter, here.

So this development will mean that Marmora will have no bank at all. And a town without a bank is – well, it’s not a good situation. Not good at all. I understand that Marmora’s politicians are protesting the closure vehemently, as well they should. I hope they make a big stink about it and get everyone in town involved, and will shame TD into reversing its decision.

Now, I say that with sadness, because I myself have banked at TD all of my adult life and have always found it to be a well-run and consumer-friendly operation. The folks at the little TD branch in our town, Madoc, couldn’t be friendlier or more helpful, and it’s a pleasure to go in there. (Though I usually do my banking online or through the branch’s two ATMs.) But I have to say that this decision by TD corporate – I am dead certain it wasn’t the people at the Marmora branch itself who decided to close it – is a genuinely terrible one, and gives the bank a big black eye.

I mean, what will people who don’t have cars do if they need to visit a bank? As Margriet Kitchen’s article notes, there are a couple of ATMs in Marmora, but neither of them is TD-affiliated, so TD customers who use them to deposit or withdraw cash have to pay extra fees. And besides – the people who need, or at least prefer, to do their banking face-to-face with a teller are, let’s face it, usually older and less willing or able to use ATMs, let alone do telephone or online banking. And it’s just those more vulnerable people that this great big bank is punishing by trying to save a small amount of money in closing one little branch.

And what about business-owners in Marmora? Will they have to drive to Havelock or Madoc at the end of a long day of work in order to make their deposits? Apparently they will. Which will be a disincentive to anyone who might be considering starting up a shop, restaurant or office in that town. Why would you set up a business to a place that doesn’t even have a bank?

For shame, TD. It is to all Canadians’ benefit that our small towns not only survive, but flourish. You should be doing your part.

Ah, but: tomorrow I will have some small-town good news.

The gales of November

People, I am writing tonight’s post as fast as ever my little fingers will skip over the keyboard – because the wind is howling outside, the lights have been flickering like crazy, and I fear that here at the Manse we will be plunged at any moment into the darkness and cold that come with a hydro outage. But while we still have light and heat (and as Raymond prepares the vintage oil lamps for lighting, should we have need of them), let me tell you about the directions that this child of the Manse’s mind takes on a night like this.

I’d heard on the weather reports that it was supposed to be very windy here in Eastern Ontario tonight, but only realized how windy it had got when, on my drive home from work, I turned onto the last road that leads home to the Manse, Queensborough Road, and all kinds of interesting-looking things were blowing across the road in front of me. Not just leaves – much bigger things, like maybe branches. Yikes!

Very large trees very close to the Manse

Our huge and beautiful evergreens, alarmingly close to the Manse.

When I pulled in at the Manse and stepped out of the car, it sank in just how hard the wind was blowing. We’ve got a lot of very tall evergreen trees around us (some rather worrisomely – on a night like this – close to the house, as you can read here), and their branches were positively flailing. Raymond was outside doing a couple of car-related chores that I helped him with, and as I remarked on the strength of the wind he informed me that the waves on Lake Ontario were predicted to go as high as 13 feet. “I feel a Gordon Lightfoot song coming on,” I wryly commented – referring, obviously, to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Which at that moment I was utterly convinced had become a hit during the years of my childhood at the Manse (1964 to 1975), but which I have discovered just now thanks to my friend the internet actually hit the world’s airwaves a year after that golden childhood, in late 1976. But I’ve included the video of it at the top of this post anyway, because it’s pretty much the perfect soundtrack for a wild night like this.

Anyway, yes, one thinks tonight of the Edmund Fitzgerald and the 29 souls lost aboard it in one of the Great Lakes “gales of November” that Lightfoot sings about. And also about how fortunate one is to be under cover and warm and dry on such a night.

But, if one happens to be one of the three (counting Sieste) inhabitants of the Manse, one’s mind also turns to how we really should be thinking about getting a generator, as every other sensible household around here has, in the interest of still having heat and light when and if the power goes out.

And finally: one ponders those huge trees, which are awfully close to the house. Let’s hope they stay proudly upright through tonight’s gale of November.

A Queensborough link to Canada’s first prime minister

Sir John A. MacdonaldAs some readers will doubtless know, preparations are being made to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the most famous Father of Confederation and Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. He was born on Jan. 11, 1815, in Glasgow; emigrated to Kingston in Upper Canada with his family five years later; became a lawyer in that city; and went on to great political success and a permanent place in history by being one of driving forces behind the creation of our country in 1867 and prime minister for a total of 19 years.

I was reminded of the upcoming anniversary and attendant celebrations (see this link to some special events in Kingston and elsewhere) thanks to an excellent article by my friend Roseann Trudeau in this week’s issue of the Tweed News. Roseann’s article also reminded me that I should write here at Meanwhile, at the Manse about Sir John A.’s Queensborough connection. Yes, you heard (or at least read) that right: the Queensborough connection to Canada’s first prime minister. You see, Sir John A. was once a property-owner in Queensborough! So there.

I first learned of the Sir John A. connection from Times to Remember in Elzevir Township, the invaluable history of our area written back in 1984 by the late Jean Holmes, the longtime clerk of Elzevir and a woman I remember fondly from my childhood days here. Here’s what Jean’s book says:

Billa Flint

Billa Flint: Elzevir Township politician, entrepreneur, temperance man and all-round interesting character.

“Sir John A. Macdonald owned eleven lots in Queensborough between 1868 and 1870, and some again in 1886. It is reasonable to assume that he would have known the Hon. Billa Flint very well, even though Flint was a Liberal and Macdonald a Conservative. [Note from Katherine: Billa Flint (for whom the village of Flinton is named) was a prominent and wealthy Elzevir Township entrepreneur and politician; he was the local member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada before Confederation, and a senator after Confederation. The suggestion that Times to Remember seems to be making is that since Flint moved in those Ottawa circles, he might well have suggested to Sir John A. that he make an investment in property his neck of the woods, i.e. Queensborough. Flint was also, by the way, a vehement temperance man, which means that he and Sir John, the latter well-known for enjoying his drink, might have had some interesting conversations. Anyway, back to Times to Remember:] For some unknown reason, Macdonald purchased lots in Queensborough. Later he sold (or lost) all of them to the Merchants’ Bank for the large sum of $6,600.”

Isn’t that just a most intriguing tidbit? Though I will confess I wasn’t sure whether to actually believe it, and indeed I infused some doubt about the veracity of this tale when I made mention of it in the text of the booklet about Queensborough’s history that I helped put together for the Queensborough Community Centre Committee. (The booklet is a fundraiser for the committee’s work, and if you’d like a copy, it can be yours for a mere $3 [plus postage]. Just let me know.)

However, prior to our committee’s wildly successful Historic Queensborough Day last September (which you can read about here; that was a wonderful day!), I saw the proof of the matter. It came in the form of a copy of a legal document that seems to be the turning over of the property to the Merchants’ Bank by Sir John A. and his wife, Agnes, who apparently was co-owner. It is dated Feb. 1, 1870, and all the details are there, including mention of “Lots Numbered Eighteen and Nineteen in the First Range and Forty and Forty One in the Second Range of the Village Plot of Queensboro“:

Sir John deed Page 1

And it is signed by both Sir John (who is listed at the start as “The Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald, of the City of Kingston, in the County of Frontenac and Province of Ontario, Knight Commander of the Bath“) and Agnes (“Dame Susan Agnes Macdonald, his wife”):

Sir John deed Page 5

Now, legal documents tend to give me hives because, as a journalist and editor, my life’s mission is to see that information is conveyed in language that anyone can understand, whereas legal documents tend to be written in language that no one can understand. So I wasn’t really sure exactly what this document between the Macdonalds and the Merchants’ Bank is, but since it cites the same amount that Jean Holmes mentions, $6,600, it seems like it is the turnover of the property for default of payment that she refers to. That is confirmed in a note I have from the person who is owed enormous thanks for finding (back in the 1970s) and making a photocopy of this precious document, local lawyer and Queensborough property-owner André Philpot. As André explained in sharing the document with the Queensborough Community Centre Committee: “The copies aren’t perfect but they do show that for whatever reason Sir John bought land in (Queensborough), mortgaged it to ‘The Merchants’ Bank’ and seems to have signed it off to them – presumably because he couldn’t keep up the payments … Sir John was a better nation builder than investor and it looks like this may just have been a speculation that didn’t work out.”

Anyway, since we’ll all be hearing a fair bit about Sir John in the next while because of the bicentennial of his birth, I thought it timely and important to share his Queensborough connection. Really, doesn’t our little hamlet and its history just never cease to amaze you?

“Are you building a museum?”

Manse telephone table

One of the best “museum”-style objects in the Manse: our vintage telephone table. It is comfortable and useful, and I love it. It’s one of those old-timey things that people who don’t like old-timey things are totally missing out on.

“Are you building a museum?” That’s the interesting question that Jim, who’s a friend and former Montreal Gazette colleague of Raymond and me, asked in response to my post of a couple of days ago – the one in which I announced that I felt I needed to acquire for the Manse one of those colourful 1950s-’60s metallic folding-step step stools that we all used to have.

Jim’s question is a good one. I expect there are others among you good people who read Meanwhile, at the Manse who have wondered the same thing, as I ramble on about cool and funky midcentury (mid-20th-century, as I always realize I need to explain) stuff that I’ve managed to acquire, or would like to acquire. I think it’s a polite way of saying, “Why the heck are you collecting this old junk?”

But let’s keep the question to “Are you building a museum?” Here is the answer: “No. But.”

No, I am not building a museum. (And neither is Raymond.) But: the more time we spend on this Manse adventure, and the more time I spend remembering and reflecting on the years when I was growing up here, the 1960s and ’70s – well, the more interested I get in vernacular mid-20th-century design, in things that we all had and used back in those days and thought nothing of, but that we realize in retrospect were beautifully designed and are kind of worth retrieving now, in the 21st century, when so much of what is made is disposable and (not to put too fine a point on it) crappy.

Things like a red dial phone (you can find it in the photo at the top of this post), the receiver of which feels comfortable and beautifully ergonomic in your hand when you are making a call. Especially if you are making that call from the comfort of a 1960s-era telephone table!

And a made-in-Peterborough (Ont.) Westclox clock that is easy to read and brilliantly precise, and beautiful to boot:

Westclox clock

And timeless children’s toys, like the Fisher-Price garage:

Fisher-Price Garage

And, yes, a useful and space-saving folding-steps step stool:

Gorgeous step stool

Which I have now absolutely determined I must have, sooner or later.

Is the Manse a museum? No. It’s a place where the ever-patient Raymond and I like to have, and use, and appreciate, thoughtfully designed stuff, no matter what era it’s from. It is, I hope, an interesting place. A little on the eclectic side.

A place where every object has a story.

Here is what the Manse does NOT need next.

Macrame booksOkay, so yesterday I told you about the next great vintage thing I need to acquire for the Manse, which is one of those folding-steps step stools that everybody used to have back when I was a kid. Today I’ve come across another ubiquitous mid-20th-century phenomenon, but this is one that I most definitely do not need a sample of as part of our home decor.

People, it is macramé. And to all you macramé fans, I apologize in advance. But I never did like that knotty handicraft, even back in the day when all the gals were doing it. And I certainly don’t like it now.

I was reminded just this evening of how bad macramé could get when used for home decor. How did I come across this reminder? By stumbling across a vintage treasure at the Tweed Public Library!

Raymond and I were there for the latest instalment in the Friends of the Tweed Library‘s excellent meet-the-author series, this one featuring a most interesting talk and some readings by Roy MacSkimming, who discussed his historical novels Laurier in Love and Macdonald. Because we got there early, I had a chance to browse through the ever-present rack of used books for sale at the library, and was thrilled to find some early-1970s-era knitting and macramé pattern books. Remember when your mum used to have those on hand? Of course you do. Well, actually, my mum had the knitting books, but she never (thank goodness) got into macramé.

Anyway, the macramé books that I found this evening (you can see the covers in the photo atop this post) showed such godawful creations that I just had to have them. Those photos take me straight back to about 1974, when you couldn’t escape that stuff.

Oh, but before I share a couple of the cunning and useful knotty designs, I’ll show you one other reason why I picked up these books, aside from the macramé memories. Get a load of this original price sticker:

Simpsons-Sears price tag

Simpsons-Sears! Bet it’s been a while since you saw one of those.

Anyway, here’s one ghastly thing you can do with macramé, according to my new acquisitions. Hey, would wouldn’t want a macramé lampshade?

Macrame lampshade

But the best, the absolute best, is this one. Get ready for it, people… It is… wait for it… a macramé wine rack! In a great shade of 1970s burnt orange!

Macrame wine rack

Dear lord. But anyway, should you wish to craft a macramé wine rack of your very own, just come on over to the Manse. I’ve got the instructions.

Here is what the Manse needs next.

Vintage step stoolyellow step stoolIf you’re of my age, or somewhere around it, I just know you’ll remember the step stool in the photo above. (A photo, by the way, which I came across thanks to the entertaining Facebook group called 1960’s and 1970’s Advertisements.) I am fairly sure that once upon a time (the 1960s or so, when I was growing up here in the Manse) pretty much every household had one. My maternal grandparents had a yellow model at their home in the leafy Toronto suburb of Leaside, though somehow I don’t think it made the trip with them to Peterborough when my grandfather retired and they moved there. (More’s the pity, because then it might still be in the family and I might be able to get my hands on it.)

red step stoolAnd if I’m not mistaken – and I shall count on my cousins to correct me if I am – my Uncle Philip and Aunt Genevieve had a red model in their farm kitchen outside the Lindsay-area hamlet of Reaboro.

But for some reason we Sedgwicks didn’t have one at the Manse in Queensborough. And by gum, now that I am back in this house, I want one.

Those stools were great! Good design: they were reasonably comfortable to sit on, with steps that allowed even a kid to climb up easily, and for the sitter to rest his or her feet on once ensconced in the seat. The steps also folded away when not needed, which was quite handy for saving space in those midcentury kitchens that were often considerably smaller than ours are today.

Also, they looked good. And came in many colour options. (I love things that come in many colour options. As you will know if you read my post last night about our plans for a new wood-burning stove.)

And finally, I need one of those step-stools because the way the Manse kitchen (pre-renovation) is laid out, there’s only room for one of us – either Raymond or me – to fit into the pantry and do the cooking, and if the other one wants to hang out there and chat with the chef – possibly, just possibly, with a glass of wine in hand – that person needs a stool to sit on!

So I guess the next mission is for find me one of those vintage step stools to add to the Manse’s decor. Anyone got one that they’d like to get rid of?