The stories that we tell

Madoc Ontario c. 1960 (from postcard)

A postcard showing off the main street of Madoc in about 1960 (a very good year), generously shared by fellow central Hastings County storyteller Russell Prowse.

One of the absolute best things about being the creator, curator and general dogsbody here at Meanwhile, at the Manse is that quite often readers share their stories with me. This brings two large benefits. One, the stories are invariably enlightening and/or entertaining – whether they be about local (i.e. Queensborough-area) history, or about their own family history, or old-home-renovation success or horror stories, or memories from the mid-20th-century era when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, or – well, whatever. And the second big benefit is that these stories provide me with interesting new material to in turn share with the readership as a whole, and thus to build up the amount of shared knowledge and anecdotes that one can find right here at Manse Central. And of course, stories that come in and are shared tend to prompt even more memories and stories. It’s a productive and happy little process.

Pigden Motor Sales sign at Bush Furniture

The old Pigden Motor Sales sign that made a brief reappearance during renovations to the exterior of the building’s current occupant, Bush Furniture.

Today I want to share a story that is not my own, but that is very close to home. It comes from reader Russell Prowse, who posted a comment a little while back on a post I did about the brief reappearance (due to some renovations at Bush Furniture in Madoc) of a long-ago sign from when the building housed Pigden’s Garage. Since some readers probably won’t have seen the comment, here’s what it said:

“I have a postcard of Madoc from about 1958 or 1959 which is a photo of Highway 62 in the centre of town, facing north. Directly opposite Kincaid Brothers’ Red & White Super Market and immediately south of the Madoc 5c & 10c store, beside the Cafe Moira, is a large sign over the western sidewalk that reads “Ford, Monarch, Falcon”. [Note from Katherine: I believe this would have been Brett’s Garage.] I imagine it identified only the office for the dealership. I can’t imagine there was any kind of showroom in that small storefront for any vehicles sporting those three venerable badges. I wish I could give further clarification, but I was a very young kid at the time, and my family of cottagers were just beginning our long relationship with Madoc’s main street. I’d love to send you a copy of the postcard if you’d be interested. Thanks for your great efforts in providing such happy memories. More power to you.”

Now if that isn’t the kind of comment to gladden a blog writer’s heart, I don’t know what is!

Of course I responded to Russell’s comment on the blog. But I also sent him a private email – when people post comments, I am able to see their email address, though other readers are not – thanking him for his kind words and issuing a hearty invitation to send along that vintage picture postcard of main-street Madoc. Which he did!

Now, it turned out that it was a picture that had crossed my path before, and that I’d written about after discovering it framed and hanging in the Madoc used-book store The Bookworm; that post is here. But my photo of it at the time of that post, back in 2014, was basically a picture of a picture, reflections in the glass and weird angle and all. Thanks to Russell scanning the postcard, you can see the real thing at the top of this post, and it is a lovely trip back in time for anyone who remembers Madoc in the middle of the last century.

But really, even better than the picture was Russell’s own story of his connection with Madoc and how he came to have that postcard. And so this evening I’m going to let him tell the story. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy:

My connection with Madoc is due to my family’s yearly summer visits to Steenburg Lake, north of Madoc, near the hamlets of Gilmour and St. Ola.

Our Mom would drive us up from Toronto on the last day of school and we’d return on Labour Day. We were so lucky. We have been going there for sixty years now, starting when I was about five, and we still own our cottage. The postcard (probably purchased at the Rexall) just slightly pre-dates my strongest memories of the street: I don’t remember Cafe Moira, but I certainly remember the Madoc five and dime for its bags of plastic toy soldiers and beach paraphernalia. I remember Stickwood’s, where we could buy Bell brand (as in Belleville) flannel shirts. I would look at the records at Pigden’s, and buy my comics at Johnston’s Rexall. But across the street, in Rupert’s, the other drug store, where the really, really nice white-haired man worked, I would gaze, week after week, with deep longing at an outstanding collection of harmonicas on sale. Harmonicas! Eventually I bought my first Hohner Chromatic there with, I suspect, a little financial help from him (the Chromatic’s the one with the little push button at the side, like Stevie Wonder plays, and it isn’t cheap), and the white-haired man tossed in his friendly encouragement as a bonus. I wish I could remember his name. I’ll never forget his kindness.

Our shopping day was Thursday, I think, and that meant lunches at Richard’s Restaurant, SW corner of 62 and 7, which we called Johnny’s because we believed that was the name of the man who ran it. I’ll have a turkey sandwich – all white meat, please – on white with fries and a chocolate shake, and excuse me but I have to get up and put a another dime in the jukebox for another play of “Surf City“. That would be the third play, actually, but nobody seemed to mind. I bloody loved that place!

sunset on Steenburg Lake

This is our part of the world: sunset over Steenburg Lake, a little over a half-hour’s drive north of Queensborough. (Photo from the “Scenes from the Lake” gallery at the website of the Steenburg Lake Community Association)

My Dad was the type of guy who went out of his way to get to know people, and that included Kel Kincaid. They were a lot alike, kind of boisterous and sometimes a little too in your face for some. But my Mom and Dad got to know everybody who worked at the Red & White and later the IGA and when we finally got a phone at the cottage they began the habit of calling ahead to the store’s butcher and ordering the week’s BBQ. They swore by “Madoc Meat”. At Steenburg (at the time, still known as Bass) Lake, about half the population of cottagers would make the trek north to Bancroft for supplies. But we always drove the couple of extra miles south to Madoc because we felt it was maybe a bit gentler, a bit friendlier. And for Mom and Dad, that lasted to end of their days. After Kel died and his daughter and son-in-law took over, the friendship continued and in fact they held a bit of a party for my parents’ 50th anniversary – a wonderful and sweet gesture.

I have always felt as though the town was mine too, even though I would only engage with it for a few months a year. I have mourned the losses over the years of the buildings on that street, and the fading of the town. It troubles me. Because I love it.

What absolutely wonderful memories! I think Russell has told the story of many, many families who have come from the city to spend summers enjoying the quiet lakes of central and northern Hastings CountyMoira Lake, Stoco Lake, Crowe Lake, Weslemkoon Lake and so on – and also enjoying their occasional visits to “town” for turkey sandwiches, shopping at the five and dime, and maybe the latest hits on the jukebox. As for sadness about Madoc not being as busy as it once was, I told Russell in my email reply that I too am sad for what is gone, but optimistic about the future thanks to the local-food movement that is starting to take effect in our area; the number of arts companies and arts projects (the arts being the lifeblood of interesting, healthy communities); and to the inevitable spinoff effects of the enormous popularity of our immediate geographical neighbour to the south, Prince Edward County. (Then again, do we really want the rest of the world to discover the secret of our own beautiful and semi-hidden part of the world? Maybe not.)

Anyway, the stories are just great.

As I was starting to think about writing this post, I found there was a long-ago and almost-forgotten song lyric running around in my head – something about “the stories that we tell.” As you can see, I used it for my title, but even at the time I wrote that title I couldn’t remember the song that the line came from. A bit of searching and some memory work finally turned it up, and I thought sharing it might be a nice way to end this post – what with Russell having got the music theme going with his recollection of playing Jan and Dean on the jukebox at Richard’s Restaurant in Madoc all those years ago. The song was written by John Sebastian, but the version I know (from the album called A1A) is by the one and only Jimmy Buffett. What he says at the end of this live performance pretty much goes for me tonight – to Russell and to all readers who share their memories: “Thank you for the stories; thank you for the fun!”

6 thoughts on “The stories that we tell

  1. Katherine, As you probably know, “the really, really nice white-haired man”‘ in Rupert’s drug store was Harold Brintnell, who worked there for many years, and who died last year at age 96. His hobby was genealogy, and his impressive history of the Jarvis family (his grandmother’s family) was presented to Madoc Public Library.

  2. Hi Katherine: This is just amazing. Thank you for posting this, and a big “thank you” to Russell for sharing his memories. I can envisage all of what he has said, so vividly as though I am re-tracing his steps. His comments reminded me of how special it was on a Friday night to go shopping downtown. Thanks again to both of you.

    • Sash, I join you in thanking Russell for painting such a detailed and delightful word picture of Madoc about 50 years ago. Indeed, a Friday night shopping in “town” back in those days – what could be more exciting? Especially if there was a milkshake at Richard’s Restaurant or the Madoc Dairy added in to the mix – man, that was living!

      • Hi Katherine, you are so right, and I did most of the things that Russell mentioned when he came to town. And your mentioning the Madoc Dairy reminded me of a bit of trivia: I was there the night they opened the Dairy Dip (soft ice cream shop). Isn’t that exciting?? LOL I know the dairy is now bigger than it was in the 60s, but it was a big deal when they opened the smaller part at the front. Imagine — no more wishing for a soft cone from Belleville’s Dairy Queen or Fountain Park. I remember the lineup went from the dairy to the highway, so the ice cream venture was very well received. And the milkshakes and sodas were excellent at Richard’s, and also at the restaurant (pre-Mary Jane) beside the Red & White.

      • Now you are taking my back to my childhood days, Sash, just as Russell’s story took you back to yours. Milkshakes! Soft ice cream! They were such a big deal for us kids back then – and I think for our parents too. Ah, simpler times. I think it’s so great that the Madoc Dairy is still going strong after all the years; owners John and Heather Burnside do a wonderful job. (And sell great Christmas trees come November and December – we always get ours there.)

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