Spring is here to cheer the soul

Welcome to spring, dear readers! Despite the mild winter we’ve had here in Queensborough and many other parts of North America, I think I speak for pretty much all of us when I say that it’s good to experience the sights and sounds of the change of season.

One of the greatest things about spring is that it’s so colourful. After months of the world outside our doors being largely white and brown and grey, it is delightful to see various shades of green emerging – like this bulb poking up hopefully from a spot in the Manse’s tulip and daffodil garden:

A bulb coming up

And the deep orange and black of a woolly bear caterpillar:

Woolly bear caterpillar

And the light-blue buckets that have been hung to collect sap for maple syrup on Queensborough Road:

Sap buckets, Queensborough Road

That’s a sight that gladdens my heart, because it was this same stretch of maples that my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, used to tap for syrup back in the days of my childhood here at the Manse. (I wrote about those happy maple-syrup memories here.)

But there are some brighter signs-of-spring colours too, like the cheerful mix in the spring/Easter display at the headquarters of the Pronk Canada machine shop in “downtown” Queensborough, in the historic building that (in my childhood days) housed Bobbie Sager Ramsay’s general store:

Easter display at Pronk Canada

Meanwhile my friend Graham has done his own annual welcome-to-spring ritual by bringing out his colourful collection of Adirondack (or Muskoka, if you prefer) chairs for a perfect riverside view:

Graham's colourful chairs

But before I get to the most colourful spring event of all in Queensborough, let’s get all multimedia here and switch to audio. Another way you know it’s spring is the chatter and song of the birds, the blue jays and chickadees and mourning doves and juncos and who knows who else who were in full voice the other morning at the Manse:

And now the most colourful part of spring in Queensborough, and it happened just this past weekend. It’s when intrepid kakayers taking part in MACKFest (the Marmora and Area Canoe and Kayak Festival) brave the high, cold waters and challenging rapids of the Black River – just for the fun of it. (I have to tell you that spending several hours in freezing-cold water and scary rapids in a little kayak is not my idea of fun, but these brave souls just love it.) Their run ends with many of them going right over the dam on the river that’s at the heart of Queensborough, something we spectators love to see. And they are rewarded for their efforts on the beautiful lawn of Elaine and Lud Kapusta’s historic home with a warm fire and barbecued hamburgers and hot coffee and lots and lots of pie served up by volunteers with the Queensborough Community Centre Committee. This year there were fewer kayakers than in past seasons, probably due to the MACKFest organizers having changed the date of the event (because of uncertain water conditions) at rather short notice. But it’s always a sight to see, and thanks to three photos by Queensborough photographer Dave deLang you can get a taste of it:

Kayakers above the dam by Dave deLang

A collection of kayakers in the still waters above the dam that is the finish line for their run. (Photo by Dave deLang)

Kayaker about to go over by Dave deLang

The moment of truth: a kayaker far braver than I could ever be prepares to go over the dam. (Photo by Dave deLang)

Kayakers going over the dam by Dave deLang

This is what we wait for all year! You have to see it to believe it. (Photo by Dave deLang)

I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve found this past winter to be a rather trying one. The sights and sounds of spring in Queensborough, though, are guaranteed to make a person feel better about just about everything.

A spot of vintage colour

Fluffo canI had one thought, and one thought only, when I spotted the item you see above in a giant antiques flea-market place recently. It was this:

“How did they get into my grandmother’s kitchen?”

I hadn’t seen a tin like that for close to four decades – maybe longer. But it was instantly familiar, because my maternal grandmother, Reta Keay, always had one on the counter in her kitchen. Colourfully painted exterior; plastic lid with a clever design that made it easy to grab and lift off. (This was long, long before those clever and ergonomically friendly Oxo Good Grips kitchen tools had been invented.)

But what was in that tin in my grandmother’s kitchen? I realized when I saw this one, all these years later, that I didn’t have a clue.

So I examined the tin in the antiques flea market a little more closely. On the side I discovered, sideways in small print, the very familiar name of the maker of the product that was once inside:

Fluffo can Procter and Gamble

And the mystery was completely solved when I turned the tin over and had a look at the bottom:

Fluffo can bottom

Fluffo! Do you remember Fluffo? It was a brand of shortening that was in wide use for whatever shortening is used for – can you tell I’m not a baker? – for, I gather, much, or maybe all, of the last century. Here’s none other than 60 Minutes newsman Mike Wallace (with some help from Mrs. Thelma Styra, Indiana State Fair Baking Champion) extolling its virtues back in 1955:

However, my (admittedly brief) search for Fluffo information online suggests that it is no longer with us.

What is still with us, however, is my brightly coloured Fluffo tin – because of course I had to buy it. (And at something like $7, it wasn’t much of a reach.) I like the fact that it can be used for storing pretty much anything – which is what I imagine my grandmother and many housewives like her did with their colourful Fluffo tins once the Fluffo was gone. It is the dimmest of dim memories, but I kind of think my grandmother kept her homemade cookies in that Fluffo tin, after lining it with waxed paper. (Waxed paper! Remember getting your sandwiches wrapped in that?)

I found some images online of similar Fluffo tins for sale at places like Etsy. Here is a link to someone selling a pair of them, one of which is just like mine. And here’s a little gallery of some of the others:

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I couldn’t agree more with the Etsy seller’s description of their “colourful retro outline graphics in a fun funky pattern,” and his suggestion that they are “perfect to add a spot of vintage colour” to your kitchen.

That’s exactly what my newly acquired vintage Fluffo canister is doing right now at the Manse: adding a spot of vintage colour. Well, that – and bringing me happy memories of my grandmother’s long-ago kitchen.

Rural cathedrals: the beautiful old barns of Hastings County

"Local Barn in Black and White," Dave deLang

“Local Barn in Black and White” is what Queensborough-area photographer Dave deLang – whose amazing work I’ve praised before, notably here and here and here – calls this gorgeous photo. The barn in question is near the corner of Declair and Rockies roads northeast of Queensborough. You can see more of Dave’s work, and contact him about it, through his posts on Flickr, which are here. (Photo courtesy of Dave deLang)

“Nobody builds barns anymore,” the chap at the rustic antiques place between Madoc and Belleville said to Raymond and me.

I can’t remember how we’d got onto the topic of barns – this conversation took place quite a few months ago – but I do recall how startled I was by his statement. The man went on to explain what he meant, and I realized I had noticed the phenomenon he was talking about without really noticing it, if you know what I mean. That phenomenon being: these days farmers who need new structures for storing crops or equipment, or the other things that barns are used for, are installing the semi-circular fabric structures – are they maybe called “coveralls”? – that now dot the rural landscape. Here’s an example:

Modern barn, Highway 62

And here’s another:

Modern barn, Ridge Road

I’d seen these structures without realizing that they are the modern-day equivalent of – and actually, I guess, replacement for – the beautiful 19th-century wooden barns that one can still find throughout Hastings County, and especially in our North-of-7 area. The photo by our friend Dave deLang that’s at the top of this post (and that Dave very kindly gave me permission to use) is easily the most beautiful example I have to show you, but here are a few others in photos by yours truly:

Tokley barn

The Tokley barn, Declair Road, Queensborough.

Cassidy barn

The Cassidy barn, Queensborough Road east of Queensborough.

Shaw barn

The Shaw barn, Keller’s Bridge Road north of Eldorado.

Queensborough Road barn

Another Queensborough Road barn, east of Queensbororough.

With the exception of my sojourn of a little over 15 years in Montreal, barns have been a part of the landscape of my life since childhood. Now that Raymond and I have moved permanently from Montreal to Queensborough, barns are once again something I see every day, passing by them on my way to and from town, and work, and so on. You see them without seeing them, most of the time; but every now and then – like when the antiques guy made that stark announcement – you realize what an important part of our history and landscape they really are.

It takes a lot of work to build a big wooden barn. We’ve all heard of old-time barn-raisings, when all the neighbours in a rural area would get together to get the job done in one or two sweat-soaked days, the men and boys working in teams to get that huge building up and the women and girls working in teams to produce the giant joints of roasted meat and gallons of mashed potatoes and endless pies needed to fuel that hard manual labour. Whether that’s how the barns that I see every day were built, or whether it was more commonly done by just the family members and a smaller group of helpers over a longer building period, I don’t know – and I’d love to learn more about that, if any of my readers have some knowledge or even experience on that front.

McKinnon barn

The McKinnon barn (Queensborough Road west of Queensborough) under a glorious late-afternoon sky.

What I do know is that we should not take these huge and wonderful buildings, these monuments to the agricultural life and to the people who lived and worked it in the earlier days of this region, for granted. I am happy to say that many of the old barns in the Queensborough area are well-kept-up and still used. Some others have started to crumble, and they can be magnificent even as they fall into ruin.

Either way, they are a lot more interesting to look at than their modern-day equivalents.