An evening by old-fashioned lamplight

Kerosene lamp

It was nice to have an old-fashioned kerosene lamp lit at the Manse once again.

Well, there was some excitement in our neck of the woods tonight, let me tell you! Just after I walked in the front door of the Manse, home from work, the electric lights flickered and went out. And, unlike the past few times they’ve flickered and gone out, they failed to come back on again after a few seconds. Or a few minutes.

One’s first reaction is that a power outage is not what one needs after a long day of work and with supper to be cooked – on the electric stove. And of course there’s the fact that the temperature outside is supposed to go down to minus 20 or so overnight. Those are mighty chilly conditions in which to have no heat coming out of one’s electric-powered oil furnace.

One’s next reaction is that it is really time to get a wood stove installed, to ward off just such chill. And also a generator, which sensible people around here have and which Raymond and I have long talked about but so far failed to take action on.

But after you get over those inevitable thoughts, and while your husband is going about the house lighting candles and so on, things start to look a little brighter, not just literally but figuratively too. The best part was when Raymond brought out and lit one of the pair of kerosene lamps that we’ve had for ages and had never before used. (That’s what you see in the photo atop this post.) They are just like the pair that my family had when I was growing up in this old house, brought in from the back porch and lit whenever there was a power outage such as we had this evening. That was a nice thing to be reminded of.

And the light from the candles and the kerosene lamp was, while not terribly bright, very warm-feeling and nice. As was the quiet conversation Raymond and I had as we sat in our easy chairs on either side of the small table where the lamp burned – a conversation uninterrupted by any reference to any screen (laptop, iPad, phone or television) of any sort. It was downright old-fashioned! And I could suddenly see how nights like that would be very cozy and appealing when it’s a long, cold winter night. Conversation, or reading by lamplight, maybe doing some writing (by hand!): those are simpler and quieter pursuits than most of us enjoy on most of our evenings, and I do believe there is something to be said for those simple, quiet pursuits.

Then again, there was the fact that we couldn’t make supper, and there was the concern that it might get pretty cold in the house by morning.

red dial phone

Thank goodness for our vintage dial phone: it works even during a power outage!

We are spoiled, though; there was really nothing to worry about. The Hydro One app on my phone informed us that the outage – which I understand plunged the villages of Madoc and Marmora into darkness, along with Queensborough – was expected to be fixed no later than 9:15 p.m.; a phone call on our old rotary phone (and thank goodness for it, because the modern phones didn’t work without power and the iPhones were losing power and couldn’t be charged) provided the reassuring news that the village of Tweed still had power, and in Tweed there are restaurants; we had a nearly full tank of gas in the car; and so we were off to town and supper in surroundings that provided both heat and light.

As we were driving home, we saw the lights come on at the homes along Queensborough Road. The Manse was lit up and warm when we pulled in.

And here’s the best part (aside from the kerosene lamps being brought out and used): we had a phone message – on our old rotary phone – from a neighbour, wanting to make sure we were okay and offering to bring up a portable generator to power some heaters if need be.

What with that kind and neighbourly offer, and a long-ago memory of an evening by lamplight rekindled, I would say that this was a very successful power outage indeed.

16 thoughts on “An evening by old-fashioned lamplight

  1. This is a distinctly unromantic memory of using kerosene (or, as we called them, coal oil) lamps at our cottage at Turtle Lake, Saskatchewan, which had no electricity in the 1960s — my brother and I watching gleefully as mosquitoes flew over the glass chimney and sizzled to death in the blast of hot air!

  2. I’m such a sucker for anything from the past, and of bygone eras. The kerosene lamp certainly invokes a few images of another time. I couldn’t help but think that the manse had probably seen a few kerosene lamps in its early days, especially since it was built in the 1880’s(?) and electricity came years after that. (when DID electricity come to Q’Boro anyways?).

    Fun Fact: kerosene was a Canadian invention…Abraham Gesner from Halifax, 1840’s.

    • Very good on the date of the Manse, Mark! It was built in 1888. And I’m sure you’re right that kerosene lamps got a lot of use in this house in those early days. And hey – that’s most interesting about a Canadian, and a Nova Scotian, having invented kerosene – I did not know that! As for your question about when electricity came to Queensborough, it is an excellent one. I must try to get the answer to that!

  3. I can’t attest to when electricity came to the Hamlet but electricity was installed in the former Manse of the Church of England in 1953 according to the archives on 28 King St.

    • Wow – that’s pretty late, isn’t it? I recently learned that electricity arrived shortly before the Second World War at the very rural area in Haliburton County where my father grew up. How interesting that it was a fair bit later than that coming to Queensborough. Also – how great that you folks have those records!

  4. Apparently Ottawa got it in 1885. Kingston in 1888. I’m sure it was very local in nature in those days. So….1953 for the manse ?? That means a protracted period of Kerosene action at the old manse !!

  5. No no ….that’s the thing…you’re not that old ! That’s why its remarkable. The Manse sat there in the literal and figurative dark for 7 decades after other parts of the province had power. Come to think of it, your internet problems pale in comparison ! Ha Ha.

    • Interesting comparison, Mark! (The late-arriving hydro and the late-arriving internet, I mean.) But see Barbara’s followup comment (and Barbara is someone who would know); it seems that electricity arrived in Queensborough earlier than previously thought – though of course not all homeowners would necessarily have taken advantage of it right away.

  6. Katherine I am thinking electricity came to Queensborough about 75 years ago. I can remember our Store was one of the first to get it and I was not very old. We moved down to the big brick house in 1946, so I know it was a while before that.

    • Barbara, I love the fact that I can always rely on you to steer us all right. That dating would make sense, given my aunt’s (my dad’s sister) recollection of hydro coming to the Sedgwick family farm in Haliburton County – a rural area like Queensborough – around the time of the start of the war. It could very well be, of course, that many homeowners didn’t take advantage of its availability for a few years, or even many years, after that. It’s very possible (especially given our experience the other night) that they liked their evenings to be spent by kerosene lamplight!

  7. I remembered I forgot to tell you and I am sure you can well imagine (realizing from all my comments that I seem to never throw anything out) that I have one of our original bedroom electric lamps sitting in my back room in the basement. It is a round green glass base with the old almost like a cloth covered cord and the original plug. Of course the shade is no longer there. Next time we are down I will try and remember to bring it, along with some other stuff that I have come across, to show you.

    • Oh man, I remember those old (slightly scary, in retrospect) cloth-covered cords, Barb! I love the fact that you keep stuff, as Raymond and I do. Doesn’t it make life so much more interesting on occasions when (like this one) people are discussing things from the past, and you happen to have on hand just the artifact in question?

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