Hey, 2014 was a great year!

Historic Queensborough Day

This photo shows my happiest memory of 2014: Historic Queensborough Day. (You can see that I’m happy by the smile on my face as I wave to my neighbour Ruth.) I was the designated tour guide for horse-and-wagon rides looking at the historic highlights of Queensborough. Bruce and Barb Gordon and horses Don and Barney did a terrific job of getting us all around. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Steele)

As this evening we bid farewell to 2014, I was trying to think of what photo would best sum up the year that’s been here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. Suddenly I thought of one that our friend and neighbour Ruth was kind enough to send me a while back, and voilà: here it is.

It’s a photo of Historic Queensborough Day, a celebration of past history and present community – and beautiful gardens to boot – in our little village. And as you’ll know if you joined us that day, or read my post about it here (or saw the videos of the day done by Terry Pigden of Centre Hastings TV and posted here), it was an absolutely smashing success. The weather was perfect, the crowds turned out, everyone was in a happy mood, the hordes got well fed at the community barbecue, and an absolutely terrific time was had by all. While we might not repeat the event in 2015 (we think we need a year to recover from all the excitement!), it is very possible that there will be a followup Historic Queensborough Day in 2016. To which you are all invited, of course.

Ruth snapped this photo from her front porch as a wagonload of visitors took advantage of the horse-and-wagon rides offered by Bruce and Barb Gordon. (As it happens, Bruce grew up in the very home that Ruth and her husband Chuck now live in and took the picture from!) Those wagon rides were really popular, though I felt sorry for Bruce and Barb, and maybe horses Don and Barney too, having to listen to yours truly give the historic-Queensborough-tour spiel over and over and over. (That’s me waving at Ruth, by the way.)

Anyway, as I look back on this year – which of course has had its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows and happy surprises and unexpected worries, just like any year – that sunny day in September is what I remember best. Our lovely little Queensborough was full of life and good humour that day, and I think there was a general sense that with all of us working together, things can only get better here in our little community.

So on that hopeful and happy Queensborough note, may I wish you all, from Raymond and me here at the Manse: Happy New Year!

A small-town main street, then and now


“Durham Street, Madoc, circa 1960” reads the caption below this photograph. What a lovely, nostalgic image of a bustling small town at the peak of mid-20th-century prosperity!

I’ve written many times before (like here and here, among lots of other posts) about how many books Raymond and I seem to have acquired over the years. So given that, you won’t be surprised to know that one of our favourite shops in Madocwhich is “town” for most of us in Queensborough, although sometimes Tweed is “town” too – is a bookshop. It’s a used-book shop, actually, and it’s a there for a good cause; all money raised from sales of the books goes to support the (excellent) Madoc Public Library. The store is called The Bookworm, and it’s operated by the Friends of the Madoc Library.

Both Raymond and I have found some really interesting books at the Bookworm over the course of many visits there. One thing I particularly like about it is that it has a fairly big section of classic hardcover and softcover books. (In other words, it’s not all about Danielle Steele paperbacks, though if you like those, there are lots of them too.) I’ve come across some pretty unusual and cool books in that section, and let me tell you, the prices are unbeatable. For those who might like to stop in: it’s at 80 Durham St., kitty-corner from the wonderful Hidden Goldmine Bakery.

Anyway, while I’m happy to pass on a tip on a great source of secondhand books, the real point of this post is something else. I wanted to share with you a photo that hangs on the wall at the front of the Bookworm: my photo of that photo is what’s at the top of this post. It’s a shot of Durham Street, which is more or less the main street of Madoc, taken “circa 1960,” as the caption at the bottom of the photo says:

Durham Street citation

When I spotted this photo during my most recent visit to the Bookworm, I was captivated by it, and by the feeling of nostalgia that washed over me.

Now, my time in the Madoc area didn’t begin until a few years after 1960; it was 1964, to be exact, which is when my family moved to the Manse in Queensborough. But certainly in the years we lived in the area, Madoc looked far more like that image from 1960 than it does now. Gracious – all those businesses that are no longer with us, more’s the pity. (Like Stickwood’s Dry Goods, and Ross’s Ladies’ Wear, just to name a couple.) And what’s even more a pity is the great buildings that are no longer with us, notably the one on the left housing the Café (what was that café?), with the amazing curve at the top of its facade. Sadly, there have been a number of fires on the main street of Madoc resulting in the loss of some beautiful and important old buildings – presumably including that one.

Now, don’t get me wrong: the downtown area of Madoc still has lots of well-kept historic buildings. And it’s still a bustling little place. But like so many small towns, it’s not quite as bustling as the scene you see in the photo. Here’s a (much less good) photo I took this past month of the same scene:

Durham Street, Madoc, 2014

More or less the same view of Durham Street, but 54 years later: my photo taken in December 2014. It should be noted that this was an early-morning photo, before the retail business of the day had really got started – hence the scarcity of people in the picture.

Anyway, I think it’s delightful that such a memento of the old days is on display at the Bookworm. And I also think it’s delightful that the Bookworm is part of the main street. It is one of the businesses that helps keep Madoc a lively and interesting place, all these years later.

Times long gone: here are the visuals.

Classrom script

Do you remember this? Probably not, if you’re below the age of 50 or so. But back in the days when I started school (at Madoc Township Public School), every elementary-school classroom had this script posted at the front of the room, to remind us how to make our letters. (Mind you, I believe the rules have changed since them on capital Qs.) Hey, do the kids of 2014 even know how to make letters anymore? Or do they just type?

“If you are under 55, you simply won’t understand,” read the top of a recent email I received from a local friend. It then proceeded to show a whole bunch of photos that, one after the other, kind of made you whack your forehead with the heel of your hand and say, “Good God! I had totally forgotten about that!” Or: “Oh, man, that takes me back!”

In other words, I did recognize what was in those pictures. (And I can say that even though I’m under 55 – though just barely.) But I am pretty certain that anyone not many years younger than I would have been utterly bemused by them.

I used one of those photos in a recent post I did about the days when Christmas trees were laden with tinsel, and in that one I promised to follow up with more of those entertaining and very much of-their-time photos. So since we’re finished Christmas and approaching Auld Lang Syne time, when we tend to look back at the past even as we look forward to a new year, I thought you might enjoy this little trip down memory lane. Oh, and if you don’t know what some of the photos are: just ask anyone over 55.

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Meanwhile, at Woodstock…

We interrupt the regular ramblings here at Meanwhile, at the Manse to bring us all a reminder of something that happened in the Manse years – that is, the years when I was growing up in this fine old house that I now am happy to call home once again. Those years were 1964 to 1975, and as I have said many times before, they were remarkable ones on many fronts – but perhaps especially for popular music. Oh, and by the way, it’s not just me who thinks that; I imagine it is most, if not all, of you; and here at this link is an excellent take on the subject by John Harris of the Guardian.

Harris’s piece, headlined “The giants of rock are leaving the stage: their music never will,” was prompted by the death this past week of Joe Cocker. What everyone thinks of when they think of Joe Cocker is, of course, his inspired cover of the Beatles’ A Little Help from My Friends, and his even more inspired (and spasmically frenetic) performance of it at no less a time and place than Woodstock, three days of peace and music in August 1969 that were attended by half a million children of God, as Joni Mitchell put it. (And an event that was also the inspiration for Queensborough‘s own rock festival, the Rock Acres Peace Festival.)

I urge you to read the article, the thesis of which is that the generation of musicians that included Cocker “made music that has never been surpassed.” And this from a writer who was born in the year of Woodstock, and thus is much too young to remember the glory days of Cocker, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Who, etc. etc. etc. (Including maybe Joni Mitchell, come to think of it.)

“Be in no doubt,” Harris writes of Cocker’s generation of larger-than-life and massively talented musicians: “as they go, these people take an entire culture with them, and by around 2030 our understanding of rock’s essence will be synonymous with recorded music, old footage, and the overwhelming sense of art that no subsequent generation could top.” It’s a great and thought-provoking piece.

And to prove how right Harris is, I urge you to click on the video that’s at the top of this post, and take yourself back to that time and place. Have a listen to Joe Cocker in his prime, and then just try and tell me that when it comes to rock’n’roll and pop, the Manse years weren’t the best years ever.

What did I get for Christmas? Vintage building blocks!

Sta-Lox Blocks under the tree

Under our Christmas tree, my new (old) set of Sta-Lox Building Bricks. Just like the set I might have played with under the Christmas tree (in the exact same place here at the Manse) back when I was a very young child. All thanks to my friend Lynn, whom I thank for such a wonderful vintage Christmas gift!

“What did you get for Christmas?” Remember how all the kids used to ask that of each other when we reconvened at school after the Christmas holidays, in early January?

Knowing what I know now, but failed to see through childish eyes then – which was how very poor some of the families around us here in the Queensborough area were, and how probable it was that a fair number of those kids got nothing for Christmas except, hopefully, a decent meal – I wish I hadn’t ever asked it.

But I did. We all did. Can’t change that now, though I sure wish I could.

Anyway. Even though Raymond and I decreed this a gift-free Christmas (which, let me just tell you, really alleviates the stress of the season), I did get a gift. And I want to tell you about it, because it is (of course) a vintage classic. Which, by the way, cost the giver precisely nothing, so so much the better. It is: a set of Sta-Lox Miniature Building Bricks! Does it get any better than that?

All right, I know perfectly well that you’re yawning at this revelation. But people, look at those blocks! Here is another image:

Sta-Lox blocks, closeup

Two words for you, people (okay, maybe only one word if you count the hyphenation): pre-Lego.

These Sta-Lox blocks are the building blocks that all us North American kids – or at least us Canadian kids – had, and loved, before those Scandinavian Legos conquered the world, which was sometime around the time when my younger brothers (John and Ken) started playing with building blocks in the later ’60s and early ’70s. Sta-Lox were perfectly good building blocks, if you didn’t mind the fact that they were small enough to readily make their way into a child’s mouth and choke him or her. Which, come to think of it, might well be the reason why Sta-Lox were eclipsed, or, actually (truth be told), obliterated by Lego.

Our good friend Lynn, who visited Raymond and me at the Manse just before Christmas on the way from her home in Nova Scotia to spend time with family in Toronto, had picked up this wonderful tube of Sta-Lox for me from – get this! – someone who had been throwing them out! She saved them from the dump! And she brought them to me in Queensborough, knowing I would recognize and love them. Which of course I did. I took one look at them and remembered being about four years old, on the tiled linoleum floor of my maternal grandparents’ comfortable home in the leafy Toronto neighbourhood of Leaside, trying to build homes and maybe even castles with those same blocks.

Which were, by the way, made right there in Toronto! Back in the days when we actually manufactured things in Canada! Here’s the evidence, from the back of the tube of building blocks that Lynn gave me:

Sta-Lox Peter Austin Manufacturing

Oh, and one last photo. I was pretty useless at making good stuff from those little flexible red bricks, but obviously others were not; get a load of this Sta-Lox suburban masterpiece, courtesy of the internet:

Sta-Lox built

Anyway, this has perhaps been a longer post than it needed to be. Long story short: Sta-Lox Building Bricks were a brilliant and important part of my early childhood, which was mainly at the Manse. Where Raymond and I now live again; and so a gift from Lynn of some Sta-Lox bricks for the Manse was just a perfect Christmas present.

And so: what I got for Christmas could not have been better.

And so, Happy Christmas.

I expect you had to have been a teenager, or at least a young adult, in the middle 1970s to consider John Lennon‘s Happy Xmas (War is Over) an essential piece of Christmas music, and an important part of the season generally.

I mean, it’s not a particularly great song, right? (But then again, with the exception of White Christmas, how many pop Christmas songs are great? Jingle Bell Rock? Don’t get me started.) Happy Xmas is not John Lennon at his brilliant songwriting best – at the level of, say, Norwegian Wood, or In My Life, or even Mind Games. (As for Imagine – well, I told you not to get me started when it comes to terrible songs. But maybe that’s just me.) Right, back to Happy Xmas: there’s one line in particular that is so dopey that it drives me nuts every time I hear it. That would be, of course: “Let’s stop all the fight.” Hello? John?

War is Over

You know, the message is as true and as good at Christmas 2014 as it was way back in the ’70s when John and Yoko released the song. Thanks for the poster, Yoko! (You can get yours, in almost any language you choose, here.)

But Happy Xmas became a huge hit at a time when I was young – when so many of us were young. (In my case, I was young at the Manse in Queensborough, so doubly blessed.) It was unavoidable on the airwaves in those days. And the music of one’s youth is the music that one always loves, is it not? In addition, Happy Xmas had a good sentiment, otherwise expressed as Give Peace a Chance. And finally, Yoko for once sounded downright tuneful and soulful when she sang on it. All of this taken together translates into my abiding affection for Happy Xmas (War is Over).

Oh, and there’s one other thing: it was a standby of the Christmas-season playlist back in the days when DJ Joey Edwards was entertaining us all here in Hastings County with his weeknight show on good old CJBQ radio (Belleville and TRENTOONNN, 800 on your AM dial). One of the absolute highlights of this past year for me (which you can read about here) has been connecting with Joey, who’s still in the audio/music business, though way off in Beijing. (Note to Joey: You should come home to Madoc for Christmas!)

Anyway, to quote John: And so this is Christmas. And so, dear readers: A very merry Christmas. And a happy new year. Let’s hope it’s a good one – without any fear.

From then, to now, to you: the Sedgwicks’ Christmas card

Luke's gospel, inscribed by Mum

Indeed, as the inscription in my mum’s neat handwriting says, Luke’s gospel does contain “The original Christmas story.” Which is why I’m sharing this story with you on this Christmas Eve.

A little while ago, a Queensborough-area friend gave me something very special that I have been waiting until this night, Christmas Eve, to share with you.

In the 1960s and ’70s, when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, Christmas cards were a bigger deal than they are now. It seemed like everyone sent Christmas cards. And probably because my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was the local United Church minister, our family was on practically everyone’s Christmas-card list; I remember the cards arriving in heaps. We kids used to love to look through all the colourful cards – displayed thanks to masking tape and thumbtacks around most of the Manse’s interior doorways – and to read the hand-written messages. It was a lovely, friendly tradition.

My family in turn sent out cards by the dozens, if not the hundreds, every year; somewhere kicking around the Manse here I have a copy of my parents’ list, circa 1968, of names of members of Dad’s churches‘ congregations and other local residents to whom cards were to be sent. The list just goes on and on and on, and brings back many memories of good people no longer with us. (And happily, some of the names on the list are still with us!)

Sometime in the early 1970s, however, Dad decided that our Christmas cards should be in a different form. And so for a few Christmases – probably four, since there are four gospels – we sent out small booklets produced by the Canadian Bible Society, each one containing one of the gospels in what was called “Today’s English Version.” (I don’t know a lot about different versions and translations of the Bible, save that the one I use most is the Revised Standard Version, and I find the cadences of the King James Bible as magnificent as the English language gets. “Today’s English Version,” later called the Good News Bible, was, I believe, an attempt to put it in “words that everyone could understand.” It was not the first or last such attempt, and while the goal is undoubtedly laudable, the poetry and beauty of the biblical language are generally tossed overboard in these editions. Anyway, it was the ’70s; what can I say?)

I have good childhood memories of helping my parents stuff and address the envelopes containing these little booklets. It was quite a project, let me tell you.

But it was all only a memory until that recent gift to which I referred at the top. The gift was two of those little Christmas booklets:

Good News gospels

My family’s Christmas cards in 1972 (Good News by a Man Named Luke) and 1974 (Good News by a Man Named Mark). What a gift to have these little booklets once again!

The “good news” by Luke had been sent by my family at Christmas 1972, and is, as you’ve seen from the photo at the top of this post, inscribed by my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, on behalf of the whole family. The copy of Mark’s gospel was sent at Christmas 1974, the final Christmas that my family lived here. And this one is inscribed in the hand of my late father:

Mark's gospel, inscribed by Dad

I expect you can now understand how much this gift – having once again those booklets sent out by my family all those Christmases ago – meant to me.

So this being Christmas Eve and all, and in the spirit of the original reason for those booklets being sent out to friends, neighbours and parishioners, I’d like to give you “the original Christmas Story,” as my mum put it, as it is written in Good News by a Man Named Luke. I’ve also included the rather cool modern (that is, 1970s modern) line drawings that are included in the little book, one showing people going to be enrolled (as the King James Version has it; here they are “registering themselves for the census”), and the other, quite delightful, showing the shepherds gazing up in wonder at the angels. If you too experience that sense of wonder and joy this Christmas, then the Christmas wish that my parents sent out from the Manse all those years ago will have been fulfilled.

The Original Christmas Story

At that time Emperor Augustus sent out an order for all the citizens of the Empire to register themselves for the census. When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own town.

Going to Bethlehem to be enrolled, from Good News by a Man Named Luke

Joseph went from the town of Nazareth, in Galilee, to Judea, to the town named Bethlehem, where King David was born. Joseph went there because he himself was a descendant of David. He went to register himself with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger – there was no room for them to stay in the inn.

There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, but the angel said to them: “Don’t be afraid! For I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very night in David’s town your Saviour was born – Christ the Lord! This is what will prove it to you: you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great army of heaven’s angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven!
And peace on earth to men with whom he is pleased!”

The shepherds and the angels, Good News by a Man Named Luke

When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, that the Lord has told us.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and saw the baby lying in the manger. When the shepherds saw him they told them what the angel had said about this child. All who heard it were filled with wonder at what the shepherds told them. Mary remembered all these things, and thought deeply about them. The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.