The secret ingredient in the Manse’s long-ago lunchbags

Tomorrow's school lunch

Tomorrow’s school lunch (and breakfast, truth be told): Yogourt with granola (from Saveurs et Gourmandises, North Hatley, Que. – the fantastic food shop of Raymond’s daughter Justine) mixed in, check. Leftover vegetarian lasagna, check. Cutlery, check. Chocolate-chip cookie (from the Hidden Goldmine Bakery), check. (Andy Warhol-inspired kitchen-utensil holders in the background, check.) But where is the carefully folded Kleenex?

Hands up: How many of you out there have made school lunches until you thought you couldn’t stand to see another lunchbag, section another orange, or add one more layer of jelly to peanut butter? Oh, there I go dating myself again: peanut butter isn’t allowed in schools any more, is it? It’s a crazy world.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about school lunches because I’ve just finished making my own. Because, you know, when you’re a teacher, and you’re packing up a lunch for work the next day, it becomes once again – as it was in your long-ago student childhood at Madoc Township Public School – a school lunch.

What I was thinking about as I put together my lunch in the Manse’s tiny pantry kitchen (as opposed to the large kitchen kitchen, where the kitchen table is and, sadly, the old Findlay wood-burning stove of my childhood in this house is not) was that I would have been doing exactly same thing in exactly the same place 40 and more years ago.

Because my mother, Lorna, was impossibly overburdened back in those days – what with dealing with four young children, filling the demanding role (social and otherwise) of the minister’s wife, and holding down a full-time job as a high-school teacher – we kids were quite sensibly pressed into household-chores duty to help out. I believe we took turns at washing and drying the dishes and making the school lunches, but somehow in my mind I always see myself, and none of the others, in charge of those lunches. Perhaps it was my household-chores area of expertise, though I never much liked doing it.

Laura Secord puddings

An important part of the school lunch, once upon a time: Laura Secord puddings. Apparently they are no longer produced.

What made me smile as I was remembering all that was how my mother had the routine of making lunches down to a science. There, laid out on the ironing board (conveniently located just outside the pantry door) would be four paper lunchbags and/or metal lunchboxes, four sandwiches (peanut butter or pimiento-flavoured cream cheese or an evil [I subsequently decided] mixture of chopped ham and sweet relish, or macaroni-and-cheese loaf, or Kraft sandwich spread) wrapped in waxed paper (I never did get very good at the art of folding waxed paper so that it would stay closed around the sandwiches, but those were waxed-paper days); four desserts (some Oreos or Coffee Break cookies – remember Coffee Break cookies? What ever happened to them? – or a Laura Secord pudding with spoon – hey, what ever happened to Laura Secord puddings?); and four pieces of fruit, like an apple or a banana or that orange cut into sections. And finally, always, always: a folded Kleenex. My mum insisted that a Kleenex be packed with each lunch. Because you just never know when you’re going to need a Kleenex.

And you know, that was rather a sensible thing on my mum’s part. Those Kleenexes probably came in handy lots of times, like when you’d come into the warm classroom from recess on a cold winter day and your nose would start to drip. And there was the solution, right there in your lunchbag.

Which suddenly makes me realize – I’ve forgotten to pack something in tomorrow’s lunch!

An old-fashioned weather gauge – and cute to boot

Boy-and-girl weather forecasters

Here’s your question for this evening: what was this little weather-forecasting (or weather-announcing) tchotchke, once so common in everybody’s homes, called?

Okay, first of all I want to say how thrilled I am at all the helpful information you folks sent my way in response to my query in last Friday’s post about the old cold-storage lockers in Madoc. Why, I went in a span of 24 hours from having only the vaguest of childhood memories and some guesses about the onetime use of that old building, to knowing who started the business, who ran it after that, what kinds of operations were carried out there, and what kinds of delicacies – from whole and half cows and pigs, to game from the hunting camp, to huckleberries – were stored there. And a reliable report that one can still – or at least could, as of very recent summers – buy large blocks of ice at the building. People, you are the best when it comes to solving local-history mysteries! (If you’d like to read all the helpful answers that came in as comments, click here.)

So now here’s your reward: another little mystery.

This one definitely has the whiff of history about it, in that it’s about an object that used to be ever so common in ordinary households but that is rarely spotted now. Is it local? Well, I think these items were pretty widespread all over North America and probably beyond; but because the example that I found for my photo was taken in a kitchen right here in Queensborough, I think it’s local enough for Meanwhile, at the Manse.

As those of you of a certain age will doubtless know, the purpose of this miniature chalet, once found on kitchen and dining-room and living-room shelves everywhere, was to tell you something about the weather. First there is the little wee thermometer that gives you your indoor temperature, of course. But much more interesting (if you ask me) is the little woman in the dirndl, who was way out in front on the fine evening when I took the photo – and the little man, equally rustically dressed (I assume they’re supposed to be Swiss or some such), who is nowhere to be found in the photo but who is hiding in the house.

“When does he come out?” I asked my hosts. “When it rains, of course!” they told me.

“Seriously?” was all I could sputter by way of response.

“Works every time,” they told me.

Okay, people: how does it work? As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one word for this, and that word is: magic.

But also: what were these cute little weather thingies called? And are they a quaint form of barometer? Are they a Swiss-style forecasting tool?

Most of all: how does that little man know when to come out?

One family’s story told, and local history comes alive

The Kincaid Chronicles

Today I want to tell you about a family-history project that has an extremely close connection to the Queensborough area, and that I consider not only an example but an inspiration.

It is the work of Keith Kincaid, now of of Toronto, though he grew up in Aurora, Ont., and before that the area of Unionville, Ont. “Hold on!” you’re doubtless saying to yourself. “What does a chap from Aurora and Unionville and Toronto have to do with the history of the Queensborough area?” Well, I’ll tell you – and if you’re from the Queensborough-Hazzards Corners-Madoc area yourself, you might have already guessed, thanks to Keith’s last name. For about as long as there has been settlement in our area, you see, there has been the name Kincaid.

That is because one Patrick Kincaid, Keith’s great-great grandfather, chose back in 1843 to leave a hardscrabble existence in Donegal, Ireland (his own ancestors having moved there from their native Scotland) and settled first in Hungerford Township (south of what is now the village of Tweed) and then permanently near Hazzards Corners, in Madoc Township. Which is just down the road from Queensborough.

In putting together the story of his family in a book called The Kincaid Chronicles: Beyond the Back Fence, Keith has used his training and experience as a journalist – the culmination of his impressive career in that field was his long service as president of The Canadian Press – to dig up the full story. And what a story! Why, there’s even a murder mystery! But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I won’t even attempt to retell the full story of Patrick Kincaid and his two brothers, all of whom came to this country in the late 1830s and early 1840s. For that, you need to get a copy of Keith’s great book; and if you’re interested in doing so, let me know and I’ll be happy to put you in touch with him. (Keith and I met through Meanwhile, at the Manse and through our shared interest in local history. My treasured copy of The Kincaid Chronicles was a gift when he attended Historic Queensborough Day last September.)

The short version of the story is that Patrick Kincaid, a widower with eight children, arrived in Hungerford Township in 1843 by way of the Atlantic Ocean, Quebec City, the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Belleville. He sold his Hungerford Township farm in 1850 and bought land in Madoc Township, at a well-known sharp bend in what is now Queensborough Road, the road west of our hamlet that runs to Hazzards Corners. The brick farmhouse that the family eventually built still stands and is still lived in; when I was a kid growing up in the Manse here in Queensborough, it was the home of farmers Gordon and Earl Sager. “The Sager Brothers,” my dad always used to call them. Good people.

Archie and the Shoe Wars, The Kincaid Chronicles

Archie and the Shoe Wars, just one of the may colourful chapters in Keith Kincaid’s book. It sheds a wonderful (and often humorous) light on early life and times – including retailing times – in the village of Madoc.

Keith does a fantastic job of telling the story of Patrick (who remarried and had two more children) and his descendants, some of whom stayed in the Madoc area even as others spread out to new adventures in other parts of Ontario. Along the way we learn about the family’s connection to historic Hazzards Corners Church (where services [which Keith often attends] are still held once every summer and once every Dec. 23); about the gold and mineral rush that struck central Hastings County in the second half of the 19th century, raising pretty much every farmer’s hopes that great riches would be discovered underneath his land; about the rough-around-the-edges life in early Madoc, which was “town” for everybody in the area in those days (and still pretty much is) – ordinances against public brawling and whatnot; about what the branches of the family (including those of Keith’s own immediate forebears) who moved away ended up doing; about some interesting and even famous members of the extended family, including a world-renowned entomologist, a would-be inventor, and John Weir Foote, winner of the Victoria Cross for bravery at the Dieppe Raid, where he was a chaplain; about colourful Archie Kincaid, retailer extraordinaire in Madoc; and about descendants through the years, who included Kel Kincaid, co-owner of Kincaid Bros. IGA in Madoc when I was a kid, and Kate Kincaid (a member of the family by marriage), who was the much-loved operator of the cafeteria when I was a student at Centre Hastings Secondary School back in the day. (She fed us well, and that cafeteria’s French fries were the best!)

Murder mystery, The Kincaid ChroniclesOh yes, and there’s that murder mystery I mentioned. It was quite the cause célèbre in Ottawa, back in the summer of 1959, when Joan Kincaid de Marcy, a beautiful young wife, model and owner of modelling agencies, was found dead in her home. Her husband, a dashing Frenchman, was something of a suspect, but there were other intriguing characters in her complicated story too. (Not to mention some dubious police work.) Eventually Joan’s death was found to be accidental, but as Keith’s excellent retelling notes, not everyone believes that.

At any rate, the whole project is a tribute to how much historical treasure can be unearthed (never mind those never-realized mineral riches underneath the old Hastings County farms) by one person’s interest, persistence and hard work at researching, interviewing, sleuthing, and travelling to the scenes of past chapters in the story.

If you’re interested in the history of Kincaid family and/or the history of our part of Hastings County, I highly recommend The Kincaid Chronicles to you!

KIncaid Chronicles back cover

Please help me get to the bottom of the cold-storage business

The cold storage

Okay, people: what can you tell me about the past life of this Madoc building?

This rather nondescript, and I believe currently unused, building on Russell Street (or is that Russel Street?) in Madoc is a small mystery for me, and I am hoping that you readers will help me figure it out. Tonight, in other words, it’s you and not I who must jump into the roadster, grab Bess and George, and make like Nancy Drew.

Every time I drive by this building a vague thought along the lines of “cold-storage place” comes into my mind. That’s because this building was, back in the days of my childhood at the Manse in Queensborough (just a 12-minute drive from Madoc, which is generally “town” for us), a cold-storage place. Or at least, I think it was. In my memory this building is associated with large blocks of ice and large pieces of meat – like, half-cows and the like. So what’s the story on that?

Was it a butcher shop? I don’t think so. Was it a place that simply sold meat by the large quantity? I do remember that back in those days it was quite common for people to buy a quarter or a half of a beef cow – and maybe pigs too? – that would be cut and ground up into the usual forms for serving – roasts, steaks, hamburger, soup bones, etc. – by the butcher or seller, and these pieces, wrapped in dark-pink paper and carefully labelled, would be stored in “the deep freeze” (as we called freezers back then, especially chest freezers).

Okay, so if people stored these large quantities of meat in “the deep freeze,” why was there a need for this cold-storage place? Is it possible that, in those long-ago days when maybe not everyone had a deep freeze, people rented freezer, or at least cold-storage, space in places like this?

If my vague memory is at all right, I kind of like the fact that this building still has one of those buy-your-ice-here boxes out front. (Though I imagine it is empty, given that the building itself seems to be.) A nod to its former use.

I was also intrigued, as I took some photos of it this afternoon on my drive home from work, by the fine old wooden doors you can see off to the left side in the photo at top. Here’s a closer look:

Old doors and apparatus at the cold storage

Those are great old wide wooden doors – three panels’ worth each!

And have a look at the old wood-and-metal apparatus that comes out of the wall immediately above them. I’ve got no idea what it is, but I wonder if it’s something to do with hooking up large slabs of meat (like, half – or whole – cows) and hauling them in to the cold storage.

Am I close? Am I way off base? People, please share what you know!

Queensborough as seen by an artist

Queensborough by Bob Hudson

The bridge over the Black River in Queensborough as seen through an artists’s eye – that of Bob Hudson. This gouache is called Queensborough, 1980. Copyright, and used by permission of, Bob. Isn’t it beautiful?

Remember my post last night, featuring one of my own typically inexpert photos of the pretty scene in downtown Queensborough that features the bridge over the Black River (and my friend Graham’s collection of colourful Adirondack chairs)? If you don’t, check it out here; and after you do, I hope you will marvel at how a real artist has brought that same scene to beautiful life.

The picture at the top of this post is by artist Bob Hudson, and it is a gouache done way back in 1980, when Bob and his family lived in nearby Madoc. As luck (or fate, or whatever you want to call it) would have it, he posted it on Facebook a few days ago – and as you can imagine, I was thrilled to see it. I inquired of Bob whether it would be all right to feature his beautiful painting here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and he very kindly gave me permission. Thank you, Bob!

I’m sure a fair number of my readers, especially those with ties to the Queensborough-Madoc area, will know Bob, or at least know of him. He and his family moved to Madoc (from the Toronto area) in the early 1970s, and he was well-known as a fine artist and potter. His family and ours (when I was a kid growing up at the Manse in Queensborough) knew each other a bit, and it is so nice to reconnect after all this time – especially over a picture of Queensborough! Bob now lives (and paints) in Toronto, but the very fact that he posted this great picture suggests to me that he has fond memories of his time in this area.

I am so happy to be able to show you this picture. And it makes me think – and not for the first time – how wonderful it would be if we could put together even some of the many artistic works that have been done in, and inspired by, our historic and pretty hamlet over the years. Here is a post that I did quite some time ago that tells about the Schneider School of Fine Arts that was located in the nearby Elzevir Township hamlet of Actinolite back when I was a kid, and from which groups of artists would regularly come on excursions to set up their easels and paint scenes of Queensborough. Oh, to be able to find even a few of those paintings and sketches now!

But you know, now that I reflect on it: maybe the serendipity of Bob posting that picture and giving me permission to share it when I found it, and thus giving me occasion to ruminate (as I now am) about somehow finding and showing Queensborough-themed art – maybe this is a start! Could we make it happen?

I feel a Queensborough Art Day coming on…

A colourful sign of spring, down by the riverside

Bright chairs beside the Black RiverOkay, so maybe this evening it doesn’t feel that much like spring, what with the damp and the grey and the wind, and a 50-per-cent chance of snow in the forecast for tomorrow afternoon. But then again, an awful lot of snow has melted in recent days (revealing an awful lot of mud), and really one can’t help but feel that the prospects for the bulbs one planted last fall actually coming up out of the ground are not that bad.

And here’s another sign of spring, at least here in Queensborough: Graham’s colourful lawn chairs!

Do you see them there, on the far bank of the Black River, in my photo taken from the heart of downtown Queensborough? Our friend Graham has got quite a few Adirondack chairs in a rainbow of colours, pink and white and yellow and green and so on. (I suspect the ones you can see here are not the full extent of the collection.) Here’s a closeup for you:Closeup of the riverside chairs

Graham of course uses the chairs to sit in and admire the view of the far side of the river on pleasant days, and in that respect they are useful to him and his guests. But what I – and, I am sure, many other Queensborough residents – appreciate about his setup is not so much the usefulness of the chairs as the nice splash of colour they bring to the landscape.

The fact that the chairs are now out is a surefire made-in-Queensborough sign that the good weather cannot be far away.

Sprucing up a historic old place

White Lake Pioneer Cemetery

If you have to be buried somewhere – and we pretty much all do – the tree-filled White Lake Pioneer Cemetery, built on a hill, is a nice-looking place for it, don’t you think?

In the interest of being first on the scene with the local news – remember I am a journalist; and hey, it was me who brought you the story of the mysterious arty signs in Madoc and what they were all about, before the official news media got to it – I thought that tonight I’d tell you about some work being done at a very historic spot. And, since the local weekly papers don’t show up in newsboxes and mailboxes until tomorrow or Thursday, I think I’ve got a scoop!

Mind you, I will confess that I haven’t had time to find out the “who” or the “why” behind this story, though I can surmise them. Also, I expect one or more of my readers might be able to supply that missing information. No, I’m just documenting yet another interesting thing I’ve spotted in my daily travels through central Hastings County – and I’ve got the “what” and the “where” covered.

What it is is some kind of cleanup/tree-thinning work at the White Lake Pioneer Cemetery, which is where some of the earliest residents of that tiny hamlet just a bit south of Madoc off Highway 62 are buried. You can read an interesting article here, from a couple of years ago, about the history of the cemetery – it has headstones dating back as far as 1847 – and one local family’s good work at keeping it in good shape. (There are some great photos too.) And here you can see closeup photos of its headstones. Recognize any names?

Trees cut at White Lake Pioneer Cemetery

This photo shows the simple sign at the White Lake Pioneer Cemetery and some of the downed trees after the work bee that took place there late last week.

I think the tall, tall trees in this old cemetery are what make it so visually arresting, but I imagine that such trees need to be thinned now and again, and as far as I can tell that was what was going on during a work bee I spotted the other morning on my daily drive to my job in Belleville. I don’t yet know (this is the “who” part) whether the work was being done by volunteers or by the Centre Hastings works department. But as far as I can tell, this project has not hurt the place aesthetically; there are still lots of great tall trees there, and as of my commute home this afternoon the downed logs had been removed.

I imagine the pioneer families of Huntingdon Township (which is what the area was before it merged with the village of Madoc to become Centre Hastings) – the people who had braved a perilous ocean crossing to come to this rough country and start a new life, who had chopped down so many trees with their axes to clear land and create places for modest homes and barns, and who chose that pretty little hill as the place to bury their departed loved ones – would be pleased to know that so many years hence, people would still be taking care that all was shipshape.

And I bet they would have been awfully envious about the chainsaws.