We wined, cheesed and Black Fly Shuffled – and we’re not done yet

Square dancing at the Orange Hall by Jamie

Old-time square dancing at the Orange Hall in Queensborough! After half a century, it came back. The Black Fly Shuffle, a couple of Saturdays ago, was truly a historic night in our little hamlet. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Hello, everyone, from almost the far side of all the social activities that have been happening in Queensborough this spring. If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard from me in a while, the answer is simple: I’m pooped!

Kayakers 2018 by Lloyd Holmes 5

The kayakers doing their thing over the dam on the Black River in Queensborough in April. Freshly barbecued hamburgers and homemade pie awaited when they got out of the water. (Photo by Lloyd Holmes)

Way back in early April, I gave you a rundown of everything that was lined up for our tiny hamlet in the coming weeks. (Man, early April now seems like centuries ago.) First there was the annual visit of the intrepid kayakers ending their spring-runoff run down the Black River with hamburgers, hot dogs, homemade pie and a very warm welcome in Queensborough. I’d told you in that early-April post that the event probably wouldn’t happen because of low water conditions; but it did come off in the end, and was a great weekend, as you can read here. In that same post, I also told you about the successful Ham Supper that we held for approximately the 4,728th time (okay, I exaggerate a bit, but it’s probably been close to a century) at Queensborough’s St. Andrew’s United Church. And I telegraphed the annual Pancake Breakfast at the Queensborough Community Centre, which once again packed them in. (Sadly, I had to be in Toronto that weekend so don’t have photos of it.)

So what happened next?

Well, first it was the Wine, Cheese and Chat About Queensborough event at the Queensborough Community Centre on Saturday, May 12. It was the first time the Queensborough Community Centre Committee had tried anything like this, and it went even better than we’d hoped. Everyone circulated through the tables labelled for the four themes established for Queensborough by community members at a similar event five or six years ago: Develop, Beautify, Heritage and Enjoy. As we enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine (or a cup of coffee), the ideas flowed. All was helped along immensely by Karen Fischer of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, who has worked closely with Queensborough in recent years to develop a vision for our community and to try to make it a reality – and who took these photos of us at work:

Heritage Table at Wine, Cheese and Chat

The Heritage table at the Wine, Cheese and Chat, with Elaine Kapusta as facilitator. (Photo by Karen Fischer)

The Enjoy table (the fun one!) at the Wine, Cheese and Chat, with Raymond Brassard as facilitator. (Photo by Karen Fischer)

Beautify table at Wine, Cheese and Chat

The Beautify table at the Wine, Cheese and Chat, with Shane Cox as facilitator. (Photo by Karen Fischer)

Develop table at Wine, Cheese and Chat

The Develop table at Wine, Cheese and Chat, with me as facilitator. (Photo by Karen Fischer)

The community members who gathered came up with some fantastic ideas for our hamlet, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Special Christmas activities, including seasonal lighting of the falls on the Black River.
  • A co-op neighbourhood store.
  • A farmers’ market featuring locally grown and raised foods.
  • A bandshell for community entertainment events.
  • A Queensborough archives.
  • Historical street signs for DeClair and Rockies roads.
  • More plaques for historic buildings.
  • A street dance.
  • More play areas for kids.
  • Bread-making classes. (Along the lines of our recent master class in pie-making, a monster hit.)
  • Restoration of Queensborough’s baseball diamond so that we could host softball tournaments featuring teams from all the local hamlets.

Is that not a great list? Next week the QCC Committee will be following up and talking about next steps, which ideas to proceed with, and so on. If you’re interesting in joining the committee and taking part in those discussions and plans for the future, you are welcome! We’re meeting at the community centre (the village’s former one-room schoolhouse), 1853 Queensborough Rd., at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 11.

* * *

So there was all that. And then there was – drum roll, please – the Black Fly Shuffle!

Orange Hall: It was worth the wait

Half a century – it was worth the wait! This is the sign put up at the Orange Hall – the former Loyal Orange Lodge Branch 437 – by Jamie Grant (a talented graphic designer) to welcome Queensborough back inside one of its most important buildings for the Black Fly Shuffle.

Dancing at the Shuffle, by Jamie

Dancing to the country tunes of the Country Travellers in the freshly painted and gussied-up Orange Hall. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

It was the first community event held in Queensborough’s historic former Orange Hall for close on half a century. And what an evening it was!

The hall, looking terrific (and funky), even in its mid-renovation state, was filled with people of all ages enjoying old-time square dancing and also “round dancing” (by which I mean regular dancing; I’d never heard that term prior to the Shuffle, and perhaps you haven’t either, but now you know. You’re welcome) to two bands, Doug Pack and the Country Travellers and John Sedgwick (my brother!) and the ToneKats.

Country Travellers

The Country Travellers perform traditional country music, much to the delight of the crowd and the dancers at the Black Fly Shuffle. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

The ToneKats at the Shuffle, by Jamie

The Kingston-based ToneKats, featuring my brother John (at right on stage, playing bass), livened things up with songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Buddy Holly, Elvis, and Bryan Adams among many others. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

It was just fantastic to watch the square dancers – both the veterans, who were amazing, and the rookies, who did their best to learn the moves – in action. And I don’t think it’s just sisterly pride when I say that my little brother’s band was terrific. Also, this being Queensborough, of course there was great food involved: halfway through the evening, at 10 p.m., there was the traditional (for old-time Queensborough dances) break of 15 or 20 minutes when everyone was able to load up their plates with sandwiches, cheese, cookies and other goodies that had been brought by all who came to the dance. It was delicious, and it was just the fuel we all needed for another round of energetic dancing, putting to the test the floor joists in the 146-year-old hall.

Stephanie at the ticket booth

Stephanie Sims, one of the volunteers with the Queensborough Community Centre Committee, was on ticket-selling duty in the old ticket booth at the Orange Hall. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

We Stand for King and Constitution

“We Stand for King and Constitution”: this is the Loyal Orange Lodge flag that was in the Orange Hall when Jamie and Tory bought it. (I believe the king in question is a young Edward VII, after whom the Edwardian Age is named.) It was on display at the Black Fly Shuffle, and lots of visitors found it fascinating. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Perhaps the best part of the evening was the stories.

“We had our wedding dance here,” one person told me.

“I met my husband at a dance in this hall,” said another; she and her husband recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.

A third told me that a community bridal shower had been held for her in the hall prior to her wedding, which was 60 years ago this past fall.

Others spoke fondly about attending – or performing at – dances in the old Orange Hall back in the day, and reminisced about some of the shenanigans that were known to take place outside, in the darkness of a spring or summer evening. Hot times in little midcentury Queensborough!

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Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, who have brought Queensborough’s Orange Hall back to life. (Photo by Gary Pattison)

I cannot say enough about the husband-and-wife team of Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, who took a huge chance in buying the Orange Hall a year or so ago, have done an immense amount of work on cleaning it out and cleaning it up, have built a full stage and added a ton of whimsical touches, have lots more plans ahead – and basically threw open the doors and welcomed a whole community inside their building at the Black Fly Shuffle.

It was a lovely, lovely night. A night to remember.

Here are some words that kind of say it all, posted by Tory on the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page the day after the Shuffle:

Tory's words after the Shuffle

And here’s a terrific video that Jamie made of the big night. The woman who gives the camera (with Jamie behind it) a huge smile at about 1:47 is, of course, Tory:

* * *

Okay, well – have you caught your breath yet from all that activity? (And I haven’t even mentioned the 128th anniversary celebration at St. Andrew’s United Church, which happened this past Sunday, and was absolutely wonderful.) Now: guess what’s next!

It’s happening this coming Sunday, June 10, and it’s the second annual Music Night at St. Andrew’s, an evening when you get to sit back and enjoy great music by local performers for an hour and a half, followed by a social time over coffee, tea and lemonade with friends and neighbours – and all in aid (thanks to a freewill offering) of sending two Queensborough kids to camp. Yesterday I did the camp registration for those kids, brothers aged 9 and 11 who are fairly new arrivals in our hamlet and have already made friends with pretty much everyone in town. They are smart, friendly, polite and full of beans. I’m certain they will love their week at Camp Quin-Mo-Lac in early July – and I thank you in advance for helping make it happen by coming out to Music Night! (And if you can’t come but would still like to support the cause, let me know.)

Music at the Church 2018

I think I can safely say, as I have many times before, that Queensborough is a happening place. To see all those people come together a couple of weekends ago for an old-fashioned community dance – that was really something. As is seeing all the people who come and enjoy events like our Pancake Breakfast, church suppers, the kayakers’ weekend, and so on. And then to know in advance (thanks to the success of last year) that so many people will come out and support Music Night to send two local kids to camp this summer…

Really, you know, Queensborough is not just a happening community; it’s a caring community.

And we know how to kick up our heels and have a good time.

I cannot imagine a better place in all the world to be.

Hey, Queensborough: Let’s talk about Queensborough!

Which direction for Queensborough?

What direction for Queensborough? Please come and have your say, and enjoy some wine and cheese, this coming Saturday (May 12, 2018) at the Queensborough Community Centre.

You know, I love the fact that people from all over the world – and I mean all over the world; in the past couple of days alone, we’re talking Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, the U.K., the Philippines, Australia, France, Ireland and Russia, in addition to Canada and the U.S. – check into and read Meanwhile, at the Manse. People out there in the wider world: Thank you! I love you! But my most important audience will always be the people who live right here in our North of 7 neck of the woods, because – well, because you are my people. And because we are doing things together. Good things.

This post is aimed at that local audience. It’s about an interesting experiment we’re undertaking this coming Saturday (May 12) for the people who live in and care about Queensborough and the Greater Queensborough Area.

(What is the GQA, you ask? Well, I define it by the roads that lead into or are close to our hamlet. If you live anywhere on Bosley, Barry, DeClair, Rockies, Hunt Club or Queensborough roads – as well as the smaller roads that lead off them, like Hass, Carson, Hart’s and Cromwell; and then there’s Cooper Road and surrounding offshoots – then feel free to consider yourself a citizen of the Greater Queensborough Area.)

The event, organized by the Queensborough Community Centre committee, of which Raymond and I are proud members, is called Wine, Cheese and Chat About Queensborough. Here’s the deal: you show up at the Queensborough Community Centre (our hamlet’s historic and well-preserved former one-room school, at 1853 Queensborough Rd.) at 4 p.m. Saturday; you are warmly welcomed and offered a glass of red or white wine (donated by volunteers with the committee) – or, if you prefer, a cup of coffee or tea – plus some first-rate local cheese from the Ivanhoe Cheese Factory; and after half an hour or so, when everyone’s met everyone and we’re all feeling comfortable, we’ll sit down and talk among ourselves about our little community.

The background is this:

Six years ago, a whole bunch of people from the Greater Queensborough Area gathered in the same place (though without the wine and cheese, more’s the pity) and tossed around ideas for what they’d like to see happen in Queensborough: their vision for the community, if you like. The event was, like this coming Saturday’s, organized by the Queensborough Community Centre Committee; and, like this coming Saturday’s will be, it was brilliantly helped along (I can’t bear the bureaucratic word “facilitated”) by Karen Fischer, an agriculture and rural economic development advisor (in the old days they called them “ag reps”) for our region with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Karen has been a staunch – and I mean staunch – friend to Queensborough over the years. She has attended so many meetings, responded to so many emails, offered up so many ideas: I think – in fact I know – that she likes us here in Queensborough! She really likes us! And so I know she’ll do a great job once again this coming Saturday, helping us corral and organize our ideas and maybe turn them into one or more plans of action.

The upshot of that gathering six years ago was a vision statement and four goals for our community. This vision statement says:

The Queensborough Community vision is to maintain a quality rural lifestyle through building community pride and preserving its heritage, and supporting and developing a vibrant commercial, residential, recreational and cultural setting.

And the four goals we set were:

  • Develop community pride
  • Preserve our heritage
  • Develop economically
  • Enjoy.

But now, prodded by Karen and ourselves, we’re wondering: do the vision and the goals need to be updated? A lot of people – including, wonderfully, a lot of young families – have moved into our community since 2012. What do these new Queensborough residents – you new Queensborough residents – need, want, expect and hope for from our community? And how can we all work together to make this happen?

Those are the questions we’ll be asking, and hopefully answering, this coming Saturday.

And here’s what I have to say about all this: you should come!

Because there’s so much we can talk about!

Like, for instance (to throw out some of my own pet beefs/ideas/projects):

  • Why in the HECK can’t we get trash and recycling pickup in Queensborough? Having to emit ridiculous amounts of fossil-fuel pollution into the environment as we drive all the way to the Tweed dump at Stoco is just ridiculous, especially when the trash and recycling pickup trucks from neighbouring Madoc Township drive right through our hamlet on the way from pickup in the Cooper area to their next stop on Queensborough Road to the west. Can we not persuade our municipal council to help us find a way to piggyback onto that service?
  • Would games nights at the Queensborough Community Centre be a good idea? Back in the day (that would be my long-ago childhood here in Queensborough), crowds of people would show up every week for euchre parties at the QCC, and everyone had a whale of a time. Some local hamlets – notably Actinolite, which along with Queensborough is the only other population centre (if you count “population” as being 50 or so people) in Elzevir Township, now part of the Municipality of Tweed – still have euchre parties, and they are still popular. Meanwhile, local libraries hold games afternoons at which people young and old gather to enjoy playing all kinds of board games. I’ve already spoken with one fairly new Queensborough resident who would love to attend regular games nights; should we try it?

But what else? What do we need in Queensborough? I’m voting for a store, but you all knew that, given my many posts on the topic and my nostalgia for the general stores that once upon a time were pretty much the heart of our community. What else? More in the way of kids’ playgrounds and activities? More heritage stuff? (Don’t even get me started on my cunning but still secret plan to turn a historic but decrepit and neglected building into the official Queensborough archives … )

What are your ideas for our community?

People, we need you. It’ll be a fun and fulsome exchange of ideas. Do you have kids? Bring them along! We’ll have juice boxes and lots of people with lots of kid experience to help entertain them while you’re engaged in visionary discussions.

Here’s the official poster for the event that went out to the community via Canada Post. If you live in the GQA, I hope and expect you’ve seen it. If you’re further afield but are a friend of Queensborough, and would like to join in the discussion, you are so welcome.

Queensborough wine, cheese and chat

Your community really does need you. Even if you’re one of the quiet households on Barry, Bosley, Queensborough, DeClair, Rockies, etc. roads who keep to yourselves – this is a fantastic chance to come out to a friendly gathering, meet some neighbours, and participate in a great discussion for a future that will affect all of us.

As I finish this post lateish into the evening, the peepers are singing their hearts out in “downtown” Queensborough. Their music is making its way into the Manse through the screened doors and windows. This lovely spring that has finally arrived has brought new life everywhere, and our hamlet is looking so beautiful. As I weeded the flower garden for the first time of the season today, I waved to so many cars and trucks passing by, and everyone waved back.

We live in a wonderful place; we are so fortunate. Especially when it comes to our friends and neighbours.

So: let’s channel all of that good stuff about living in this lovely, quiet place, look to the future – and make that future a good one for us, and for the generations that follow us, in the GQA.

Oh, and P.S.: Whether you can come on Saturday or not, please visit the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page or click here and respond to a quick and easy survey we’ve posted there (with much help from our friend Karen Fischer); your answers (and by the way, the survey is completely anonymous) will be SO helpful as we chart our community’s course.

Dull moments are few and far between in Queensborough

Kayakers 2018 by Lloyd Holmes 6

What an amazing image! Lloyd Holmes of Marmora (though originally of Cooper) took some incredible photos as kayakers from all over Ontario, Quebec and beyond descended on Queensborough for the Marmora Area Canoe and Kayak Festival last month. It was just one of the many special events that have been going on, with more to come. Photo courtesy of Lloyd Holmes

Oh my goodness, people, I am just breathless trying to keep up my reportage on all that’s been going on in Queensborough, and all that’s about to go on. If you’ve been wondering why you haven’t heard from me in a while, it’s simply this: there is too much happening, and thus never a spare moment! Which is a pretty great thing to say about a hamlet as tiny as ours, but still: one gets dizzy after a while.

So tonight, in the few spare moments I have managed to find, I want to quickly give you the scoop on the two big upcoming events in our hamlet that you absolutely have to know about  – and attend, if you possibly can. And then I’ll give you a glimpse of what we’ve been up to lately.

QCC pancake breakfast

The men of Queensborough, hard at work serving up a delicious pancake breakfast. They’ll be doing it again this Sunday.

Let’s get right to it. This Sunday (May 6, 2018), you owe it to yourself to come to our hugely popular Pancake Breakfast. The all-male volunteer crew from the Queensborough Community Centre (with substantial help from quite a few female volunteers) will serve you up a splendid breakfast of pancakes with fresh Queensborough-made maple syrup, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, coffee and juice. It’s just the best, not only for the food but for the chance to catch up with the news from neighbours and from former Queensborough folks who come back for this event each year. Here’s the poster. Be there. The super-reasonable cost is $10 for adults and $5 for kids six to 12 years old; kids under six eat free. Wow!

Pancake Breakfast

Okay, next: The Black Fly Shuffle. Folks, I’ve previewed this already, but I really can’t begin to tell you how great this event is going to be. In a single evening we are going to:

  • See my musician brother John Sedgwick on stage with his excellent Kingston band, the ToneKats, in the community where he, like me, grew up;

AND… (drum roll please)

  • Have an old-time square dance! Complete with caller! People, are you ready to allemande left and allemande right and do-si-do and dip and dive once more? I am sure that you are. And if you don’t know those old-time square-dance moves, not to worry: we have some veterans of Queensborough square dancing who will show you how it’s done.

Black Fly Shuffle Flyer 2

We hope the blackflies after whom the dance is named won’t bother us too much as we whoop it up (in a family-friendly, alcohol-free way) in Queensborough. If you can imagine a better time than this, my friends, then you have a heck of a lot more imagination than I do.

Jamie and Tory at LOL by Gary Pattison

Jamie Grant and Tory Byers are having more fun than anything with the old Orange Hall. (Photo by Gary Pattison)

If you’re interested in attending – and who wouldn’t be? – you should nab your ticket(s) now, because they really will go quickly. (Remember our recent Master Class in Pie-Making, when we had to turn people away because it was so popular? Don’t let that be you when it comes to the Black Fly Shuffle!) It’s going to be an absolute hoot. The poster tells you everything you need to know about where to get tickets.

And: I would be very remiss if I didn’t give a huge shoutout to Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, who became the owners of the Orange Hall not very long ago and since then have done so much to return it to its old place as community centre, arts centre, dance hall and so on. In just a few months, Jamie and Tory have made a huge difference in Queensborough, and we are so appreciative!

Okay, now that I’ve got your social calendar filled for this coming Sunday and also for Saturday, May 26, my work here is pretty much done. But before I sign off and return to still more planning and publicity work for Queensborough events, let me share a few visuals of what we’ve been up to recently.

First comes the Ham Supper, an annual tradition at St. Andrew’s United Church. As always happens, I was too busy setting and clearing tables, pouring tea and generally being a gofer during the supper rush to get photos of people enjoying the great food, but I did get this one that I rather like of the cleanup crew:

Ham Supper 2018 cleanup

As I said when I posted this photo on the St. Andrew’s United Facebook page: If you think the food-serving operation at our church suppers is impressive, you should see what it’s like in the kitchen afterward! The busy and well-organized volunteers wash, dry and put away a mountain of dishes, and any leftover food is packed up and donated to a program that feeds hungry high-schoolers in nearby Madoc. We had another successful event thanks to all who showed up, and to all who helped. And we had a lot of fun!

Of course there was lots of pie:

Pies at the 2018 Ham Supper

A Queensborough Supper wouldn’t be a Queensborough Supper without a LOT of pie.

The other big event that’s happened recently is the one I telegraphed to you at the very top of this post: the annual visit by kayakers from all over the place during the Marmora Area Canoe and Kayak Festival, which was April 21 and 22. The weather was gorgeous, the water was high, and lots of spectators turned out to watch the fun as the kayakers jumped the dam over the Black River in “downtown” Queensborough.

One spectator kind of stood out:

Goose at the kayakers

A Canada Goose kept close watch on the proceedings for much of the day Saturday.

Here are spectators and kayakers enjoying the sunshine on the lawn of the historic home of Lud and Elaine Kapusta, where burgers were barbecued for all by volunteers with the Queensborough Community Centre:

The Kapusta lawn during MACKFest 2018

Things get colourful as the kayakers gather at the takeout spot below the dam:

Kayakers at the bottom, MACKFest 2018

Still wearing their wetsuits, the adventurers line up for burgers and hot dogs:

On the porch, MACKFest 2018

It’s a big job keeping up with the demand for burgers, as Chef Don discovered:

Don at the barbecue, MACKFest 2018

Of course, this being Queensborough, there was homemade pie for dessert:

MACKFest 2018 pies

But enough of my middling photos. Let’s turn it back over to the pro. Here are more of Lloyd Holmes’s amazing shots of the fun. Thank you so much for sharing them, Lloyd!

Kayakers 2018 by Lloyd Holmes 7

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Holmes

Kayakers 2018 by Lloyd Holmes 8

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Holmes

Kayakers 2018 by Lloyd Holmes 2

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Holmes

Kayakers 2018 by Lloyd Holmes 5

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Holmes

Kayakers 2018 by Lloyd Holmes 4

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Holmes

Kayakers 2018 by Lloyd Holmes 1

Photo courtesy of Lloyd Holmes

And with that, I believe I’ve made my case that we know how to have fun in Queensborough. See you at the Pancake Breakfast and the Black Fly Shuffle!

The spring that won’t seem to come, and the kayakers who will

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Well, I have some good news and some bad news, my friends.

Let’s start with the bad news, and get it out of the way. According to Environment Canada, we’re in for a wallop of winter this coming weekend, and never mind that it’s mid-April and it’s supposed to be spring, for gosh sakes. “Significant freezing rain,” they’re saying. “The potential to be a major ice storm.” I believe I do not speak only for me when I say: This is entirely unacceptable.

But the good news is: the intrepid kayakers who brighten Queensborough every spring with their colourful craft and their derring-do (now that’s a word I’ve probably never used before) as they pilot their tiny craft over the dam on the Black River in our hamlet – are coming!

(Never seen the kayakers? Have a look at the wonderful photos at the top of this post, taken by Lloyd Holmes of Marmora. Lloyd caught up with a group that was testing the water [so to speak] a couple of weekends ago, and generously shared the resultant photos. Thanks so much, Lloyd!)

kayakers in snow

The kayakers who come to Queensborough each spring are nothing if not intrepid. One year they came in a snowfall. (Photo courtesy of Elaine Kapusta)

But they’re not coming this weekend, even though that was the plan as recently as an hour or so before I started writing this post.

Bowing at last to the forecast, the organizers of the Marmora Area Canoe and Kayak Festival have announced that they will scuttle a recently devised plan to hold the event this coming weekend, and instead go ahead no matter what (“barring a cataclysmic weather event,” they say) on Saturday, April 21, and Sunday, April 22.

If you read my post last week, you’ll know that at that point things weren’t looking good for MACKFest this year. Because of low water levels and bad weather generally, the plan to hold the event last weekend (April 7 and 8) was cancelled, and a tentative rain date (which is an odd phrase to use when you’re talking about low water levels) of April 21 and 22 had been set. But then there was an announcement that it would be this coming weekend.

And then an ice storm showed up.

Man, it’s not easy being a MACKFest organizer.

It’s also not easy being the committee of volunteers that welcomes the kayakers each year at the riverside home of Lud and Elaine Kapusta, keeps the bonfire burning, and serves up barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs, homemade soup, coffee and tea and of course homemade Queensborough pie to them and to the crowd of spectators. Those volunteers work very hard, often in extremely chilly conditions, and I have to say I’m just as happy for everyone that we won’t have to be out there in the freezing drizzle this coming weekend. Though if we had to be, you know we would. Queensborough people are nothing if not hardy.

Welcome kayakers

A warm welcome always greets the kayakers at the lovely riverside home of Lud and Elaine Kapusta. They can warm themselves by a bonfire while indulging in barbecued burgers and hot dogs, hot soup, and of course homemade pie.

So my news flash this evening is that MACKFest will be the weekend of April 21 and 22, and that the warm Queensborough welcome will be there for everyone, kayakers and spectators alike. Meanwhile, this weekend you should stay home, stay warm, and send out whatever good vibes you can summon that spring will finally, finally come.

This spring it’s a social whirl in Queensborough

A social whirl indeed! This video shows Elaine and Betty of the Queeensborough Community Centre Committee reminding themselves of some square-dancing moves at a recent planning meeting for the Black Fly Shuffle in Queensborough. Why are they doing this, you ask? Because we are going to be square dancing next month – and you’ll be wanting to join us!

People, there is so much happening in Queensborough in the next three months that I’m having trouble keeping track of it all. And I have an advantage over many of you, in that I’m involved in planning most of these events. So if I can hardly keep track, gracious, you must be all at sixes and sevens in planning your Queensborough social calendar. Which is why this blog post is here: to fill you in on all the social events of the season. Get out those planning agendas and let’s go.

Kayakers going over the dam, Queensborough

Unfortunately we probably won’t be seeing this amazing sight in Queensborough this spring, but there are a lot of other events happening. (Photo by Charlene McKeown)

My first bit of news is that one of the highlights of early spring in Queensborough probably won’t be happening this year. The annual Marmora Area Canoe and Kayak Festival, which had been scheduled for this coming weekend (Saturday, April 7, and Sunday, April 8) has been postponed and may well be cancelled altogether because of low water levels in the local rivers that the daring paddlers go down – including the Black River, which is where the most popular run of the festival concludes in “downtown” Queensborough. This means that we won’t be able to enjoy the colourful spectacle of kayakers going over the dam, and the social time and good food that happen as volunteers with the Queensborough Community Centre Committee barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs and serve up slices of homemade Queensborough pie to chilly participants and interested spectators. There is a tentative new date of Saturday, April 21, and Sunday, April 22, but that’s only if there’s enough rainfall to increase water levels sufficiently.

Welcome kayakers

We probably won’t be able to welcome the paddlers and kayakers this year; low-water conditions (seriously?) mean their annual voyage down the Black River to Queensborough won’t happen.

(Now, if you’re like me, you’re scratching your head and wondering, “How the heck can water levels be low when we got so much snow this past winter?” I sure wish I had the answer to that question. It makes no sense to me.)

But on to all the great events that are happening! Here they are, in chronological order:

Wednesday, April 25: It’s the annual, ever-popular Ham Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough. You know about this one, people; I’ve written many times before (like here, for instance) about our fantastic old-fashioned church suppers (ham in the spring and turkey in the fall) at St. Andrew’s, so you know the drill. It’s a great meal, complete with our famous homemade pie; it’s a chance to socialize with old friends and meet new ones; it’s a delightful rural tradition; and it’s all in aid of a good cause: the ongoing work of St. Andrew’s in the Queensborough community and beyond. Here’s a poster with everything you need to know:

Ham Supper poster 2018Sunday, May 6: Speaking of annual and ever-popular events: it’s the Pancake Breakfast at the Queensborough Community Centre. People come from near and far to enjoy pancakes with fresh local maple syrup, sausages, bacon, eggs, toast and of course good conversation. The food is made and served up by the men of the community, and they do a great job. The place is always packed, and the breakfast and conviviality are second to none. The essentials: 8 a.m. to noon, 1853 Queensborough Rd. For more information, like and follow the QCC’s Facebook page (Queensborough Community Centre) or call chief organizer Ann at 613-473-4550.

QCC pancake breakfast

The men of our community do the heavy lifting at the hugely popular Pancake Breakfast – though the women do lots in the background!

Wine, Cheese and ChatSaturday, May 12: This one is the direct opposite of the previous tried-and-true favourites. It’s something brand new! Wine, Cheese and Chat is a chance for Queensborough and area residents to gather and talk about what we’d like to see happen in our community, and how we can make those things happen. (All the while enjoying wine and cheese, of course.) When you think about it, the people who live in our tiny hamlet and immediate area have achieved an amazing number of things in the past half-dozen or so years: beautification projects, a walking-tour booklet, an increasingly popular Summer Drop-In program for kids, plaques in front of historic buildings, new made-in-Queensborough street signs and a new welcome sign, family events including barbecues, corn roasts, skating parties, potluck suppers, Christmas parties and Halloween parties, a sold-out master class in pie-making, and two extraordinarily successful Historic Queensborough Days. Wow! So: what’s next? What does our community need in the way of services, or events, or attractions, or businesses? Bring your ideas, big and small, and join in friendly discussion and planning with the other people who are fortunate enough to call this beautiful little place home. It’s at the Queensborough Community Centre (1453 Queensborough Rd.), starting at 4 p.m.

LOL by Jamie

One of the many gorgeous images of the Queensborough Orange Hall that its new owner, Jamie Grant (a graphic designer by profession) has made and shared. The hall is going to host a humdinger of an event on Saturday, May 26.

Saturday, May 26: Oh man, this is a good one! A few years back, the Queensborough Community Centre Committee hosted springtime dances, called – appropriately for what happens in Queensborough in springtime – the Black Fly Shuffle. They were always filled to capacity and then some. But for one reason or another, the annual dance is one Queensborough event that fell by the wayside. Well, people, the Black Fly Shuffle is back – in spades!

Jamie and Tory at LOL by Gary Pattison

Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, new owners of the Historic former Orange Hall, are turning it into a great arts space that can be used for community events, such as the Black Fly Shuffle next month. (Photo courtesy of Gary Pattison)

First: It’s going to be held at the former Orange Lodge, one of the oldest and most important buildings in Queensborough’s history. The hall has served over the years as church and Sunday School (before any of Queensborough’s four churches were built), entertainment venue, dance hall, voting place, and maybe even hospital during the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, in addition to being home to the Loyal Orange Lodge Branch 437. Every longtime Queensborough resident (or former Queensborough resident) over a certain age can remember going to dances there, and judging by the tales, there were some lively times – and also some wild and woolly ones. (Let’s just say that some of the attendees may have brought along liquid sustenance in brown paper bags.) Now, our Black Fly Shuffle is going to be family friendly – no alcohol served – but that’s not going to stop it being lively! And I’ll get to that in a second. First I want to say that Queensborough is so fortunate that husband-and-wife team Jamie Grant and Tory Byers have bought the Orange Hall, which had been long unused and was falling into deep disrepair, and are not only restoring it but happily opening it up to the community for special events. Last Halloween, for instance, Jamie and Tory put on a spooktacular multimedia musical extravaganza for local kids (and their parents) at the hall. Thanks to them, we’re going to have our first Orange Hall dance in Queensborough for nigh on half a century.

Next: We’re going to do old-fashioned square dancing. Square dancing, people! Remember flouncy gingham skirts and do-si-do and allemande left and allemande right and swing your partner and all that stuff? Okay, I admit my own memory of this phenomenon – which I viewed through a little kid’s eyes when I was growing up here in Queensborough – is a bit hazy, but judging by the near-ecstatic reaction we’ve had from local folks who fondly recall the days of square dances, this is going to be quite the thing – and a night to remember. We have a caller from the Canadian Olde Tyme Square Dance Callers’ Association, music by the local band The Country Travellers, who know the deal when it comes to square dancing, and some square-dance veterans who are happy to help us rookies learn the steps. And speaking of learning the steps, here’s another video from our recent planning meeting in which Elaine Kapusta and Betty Sexsmith, both of whom were part of the square-dance era in Queensborough, explain the moves to fellow QCC volunteers Joan and Stephanie Sims (while other QCC volunteers, including my husband, Raymond, watch, learn and smile):

But: that’s only Part 1 of the Black Fly Shuffle! The first half of the evening will end with a lunch served at 10 p.m., just the way it used to be back in the day. The food – sandwiches (the church-basement type that I’m so fond of), cheese, pickles, coffee and tea – will be provided by the attendees; it’s basically a “Ladies Please Bring Lunch” (read about that old tradition here) event, but with the understanding that anyone in the family – not just the “ladies” – can (and should) put together those yummy egg-salad or salmon sandwiches, or slice up that extra-old local cheddar. And then after lunch, it’s Part 2 of the dance, this time with a band playing more recent music that should appeal to both the younger set (though we hope they’ll be square-dancing in Part 1 like these kids) and the older crowd too. And I am thrilled to report that the band will be The ToneKats from Kingston, whose bassist and lead singer is none other than my brother, John Sedgwick. Who is delighted at the prospect of performing at the Orange Hall around the corner from the Manse where he, like me, grew up. The ToneKats’ repertoire is very dance-friendly: CCR, Tom Petty, Blue Rodeo, Elvis, Foo Fighters, the Hip. People, we are going to be rocking (as well as square dancing) at the LOL in Queensborough that night!

The ToneKats

The ToneKats, the band from Kingston, Ont., that will be rocking the LOL in the second half of the Black Fly Shuffle on Saturday, May 26. That’s my little brother John on the right, playing bass. (Photo from The ToneKats’ Facebook page)

Details such as where and how to buy tickets for the Black Fly Shuffle – there will be a limited number based on the hall’s capacity, and we expect them to go very quickly – will be posted on the QCC Facebook page (and here at Meanwhile, at the Manse) as soon as they’re available. Stay tuned, and get ready for a night to remember.

And finally: on Sunday, June 10, St. Andrew’s United Church will hold its second annual Music Night to raise money to send two Queensborough kids to Camp Quin-Mo-Lac this summer. Regular readers may recall that our first such effort, last May, was a huge success, with the church packed, some great musical entertainment, and the money to send two kids to camp easily raised. We’re looking forward to a similar success this year, and we’ll feature a fresh array of local musical talent. The music will start at 7 p.m. and will last for exactly an hour and a half, and then there’ll be a time of fellowship (complete with excellent snacks) in the church hall afterward.

Packed church for music night

The sanctuary at St. Andrew’s United was overflowing for our first Music Night last year. We have high hopes that the same will be true this June 10, as we bring you some great local musical entertainment to raise money to send two children to Camp Quin-Mo-Lac.

So I think you’re getting the picture here. And I should add that I’ve only included the confirmed events; there are a couple of other exciting possibilities in the pipeline that I’ll share with you if details are firmed up.

All in all, I think I’m safe in saying that when it comes to good things going on, the hamlet of Queensborough (population approximately 75, though we go up to a mighty 300 or so when the Greater Queensborough Area is – as it should be – included) punches way, way above its weight. And also: knows how to have a good time!

Oldest gas station? Probably not. Great family history? Yes!

Pigden Motor Sales era ends

An excellent, though poignant, writeup about the Pigden family’s long tradition of car sales that appeared in the Belleville-based Community Press when the tradition ended in 1999 with the closure of the family’s large dealership in the north end of the village of Madoc. It was a tradition that began with Charlie Pigden’s Imperial gas station – the larger photo in the news story – in the hamlet of Eldorado – the very same gas station that piqued my interest, and that of many readers, a little while ago.

Who knew that a blog post about a no-longer-operational gas station would attract so much interest? I sure didn’t.

But my post early last month asking you readers to share what you know about a building in the hamlet of Eldorado – about 7½ miles west of the Manse here in Queensborough – that bears the prominent sign “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” certainly brought in the responses. Some came in the form of comments on my post, some in emails, and some in face-to-face conversations. This defunct gas station struck a nerve!

Canada's Oldest Gas Station

The sign on the building on the east side of Highway 62 in the hamlet of Eldorado is large, and intriguing. “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station”? Really?

Now, I think one reason for this is the prominent location of the building and its sign. If you’re heading south toward Madoc and then Belleville and Highway 401 from “points north” (as we used to say) – that is, the cottage country of northern Hastings County/Algonquin Park/Haliburton County – you’ll doubtless be travelling on busy Highway 62. And that building and sign are right beside the highway, so everyone who’s passed by for the past many years has seen the sign – and probably wondered about its claim.

But it’s become clear to me that another reason for the huge response I got is the importance of one family to the history – social history, economic history and every other kind of history – of our local area. The family who started this gas station is, as many of you knew, the Pigdens.

In my first post about the mysterious sign, I asked readers to turn the tables and tell me a story about that garage, rather than me telling them a story. Well, I got stories. And more stories. So many stories, in fact, that I think it’s going to take two blog posts (at least) to share with you what I’ve learned – and that’s not even counting the followup post I did a couple of weeks after the initial one.

Wow!

As I told you in that second post on the gas station and its intriguing sign, it was Charlie Pigden and his wife Keitha who opened the business back in (or about) 1920. Now, thanks to Charlie and Keitha’s granddaughter, Dianne (Pigden) Brick, I am able to show you a nice photo of them, along with the text of the obituary for Charlie that appeared (probably in the North Hastings Review) when he died in late 1967:

Charlie and Keitha Pigden

Charlie Pigden death notice

Dianne generously lent me a bulging file folder on Pigden family history, which I have gone through with great interest and from which I have learned a lot.

The folder included sections on the Pigdens and the garage from several books: Gerry Boyce’s Eldorado: Ontario’s First Gold Rush (I’m happy to say that my own copy of this book by Hastings County’s pre-eminent historian will be arriving in the mail any day now); ‘Way Back When…, a history of Madoc and Madoc Township by my 1970s Centre Hastings Secondary School contemporaries Ardith McKinnon (now Ardith Racey, and she’s still a great writer – check out this piece from the Globe and Mail) and Garnet Pigden, published in 1975 (I am a proud owner of a copy, a treasure found at a bargain price at a Madoc yard sale a few years back); Roses in December, a memoir by the late Reta (Woods) Pitts (the mother of Gayle Ketcheson, my Grade 1 teacher at Madoc Township Public School, and of course I own that book too); and even a book on the history of Watrous, Sask.– and I’ll get to its amazing contents in a minute.

Yes, the tiny hamlet of Eldorado was the site of Ontario’s first gold mine, as a plaque there attests. The 19th-century gold rush briefly turned the Madoc-Eldorado area into a boom town. (Photo from ontarioplaques.com)

As I mentioned in my second post on the “oldest gas station,” Gerry Boyce’s book tells us that for building materials when he erected the garage, Charlie Pigden used material from buildings that had been at a copper mine in Eldorado. Now, in case you didn’t know, in the 19th century Eldorado and this entire area of central Hastings County, including Queensborough, were awash, so to speak, in small mining operations. In fact, Eldorado was the site of Ontario’s first gold mine, something that is documented in a book called Quest for Gold by the late Isabella Shaw, a Queensborough native who lived in the Eldorado area all her adult life. Interestingly, Isabella’s book (I call her by her first name because, I am very proud to say, she was my friend) has a slightly different version of the story; this was pointed out to me by reader Tamara, a new resident of the hamlet of Cooper who is avidly studying the history of our area. Tamara emailed me:

In regards to the gas station, [Isabella’s] book reads, “On March 21st, 1920, Charles Pigden started a garage business in Eldorado … He first rented the Fitzgerald blacksmith shop and commenced doing garage work in the back of the shop. The following year he built the large Pigden Garage on the east side of the Hastings Road using materials from an old abandoned hotel in Eldorado.” … Note it says ‘hotel’ versus ‘mine.’ At any rate, if this was the case he wouldn’t have been able to start selling gas until 1921 or ’22. It goes on to say that he started selling cars in 1925, and that was “in addition to selling Imperial Oil products, such as gas and oil.” He also apparently sold tractors, and farm machinery, which included milking machines and radios.

Here is the information on the Pigden operation in Eldorado from ‘Way Back When…:

Mr. Pigden sold Willies Overland cars and in 1928 he sold the impressive total of 100 of these vehicles. He also sold Imperial Gas and Oil, which is still being sold at Pigden’s in 1975. [Note from Katherine: by 1975, when the book was published, Pigden’s Garage and car dealership had been located at its new home on Russell (or is that Russel?) Street in Madoc for 25 years.] In 1934, he started selling Dodge, Desoto and Dodge Trucks. That year he sold two air-flow Desoto cars  and the Chrysler Corp. at that time was offering a free trip to the World’s Fair in the United States [this seems to have been the “World of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago, of which you can see some great film footage here] to any dealer who sold one Desoto car. Mr. Pigden and a friend obtained free trips as a result of good salesmanship. One of these cars sold in 1934 is still in operation in Madoc Village. [Alas, probably no more.] It is owned by a mechanic at Pigden’s garage, Wilfred Thompson,  and is renowned for its prize-wining antique car status.

To complement that, let me show you a real treasure that Dianne Brick loaned me: Charlie Pigden’s certificate from the Ontario Department of Labour in 1951 to ply the car-repair trade:

Garage certificate

It’s fragile and yellowed, but what a treasure! A certificate from the Ontario government attesting that Charlie Pigden’s garage was authorized to carry our motor-vehicle repairs. My thanks to Dianne (Pigden) Brick for trusting me with this wonderful artifact.

And speaking of treasures, let me share with you some recollections of Charlie Pigden’s garage that Gurney Barker, who grew up near Eldorado in the early-middle part of the 20th century, includes in his Memories of Country Life 1939-1957. Gurney very generously sent me a copy of his memoirs a while back, and they are an amazing glimpse into rural life in this area during that period. I promise this excerpt will take you straight back to a simpler time :

Memories of Country Life by Gurney Barker

Gurney Barker’s memoir is full of tales about growing up “north of 7,” and it’s a wonderful read. I am so thrilled that he sent me a copy.

When I was in public school, Charlie Pigden sold Chrysler cars and Ferguson tractors from [his garage]. In the 1940s his gasoline was dispensed from  one of those old double glass pumps right out in front of the garage and next to the road. When you drove up, the attendant used a hand lever to pump the glass full. The gasoline was then fed by gravity into your car’s fuel tank. Graduations on the glass indicated how much fuel (in gallons) you had received. Pigden’s was also the place where we had our radio “A” batteries recharged. Those were lead-acid wet cells, sometimes special two-volt assembles, but more often just car batteries. When the radio faded out and if the tube filaments were no longer glowing, you took the battery down to the garage and left it there. After a couple of days you could pick it up fully charged. I think the price for the service was around 75 cents.

Honee Orange

Honee Orange, sold at Pigden’s Garage back in the day, was made by the Pure Spring company of Ottawa.

Like so many of those places, there was always a soft drink dispenser out in front of Pigden’s garage. It was a horizontal chilled-water tank about the size and shape of a small modern chest freezer. You put your nickel into a slot, opened the lid and slid your selection along some metal rails and through a one-way gate. Bottled Orange Crush, Honee Orange and Cream Soda were popular choices. I almost never selected Coca-Cola because it was available only in those famous little 10-ounce green-tinted bottles. All other brands including Pepsi came in 12-ounce bottles and at the same price

Wow. As someone who remembers those same freezer-chest-type soft-drink dispensers (in the general stores of my Queensborough childhood), all I can say is: Take me back there. Right now.

Reader Lisa, who herself writes a blog on genealogy and history, found and sent this – census information from 1921 that lists Charles Pigden as a “garage man.” Yes, I (and Lisa) know it’s kind of hard to read. Click on the photo to get an enlarged version, and then click again (on the lower right of your screen) on “View full size,” and then you still may have to zoom in a bit; but the info about Charlie, Keitha and family is in the third section down:

Here are a couple of artifacts from the Pigden garage that were also included in the package that Dianne lent me. Remember when businesses gave our rulers?

Pigden ruler
Pigden pencil

The information about the Pigden garage and car dealership that is contained in Reta Pitts’s Roses in December: Memories of a Life of Change focuses on the later years when the business had moved to Madoc. And it’s led to a question I have for you. Mrs. Pitts writes:

In 1949, the more than 10,000 square foot Russell Street building was erected with the full Chrysler line (Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, Valiant). Business was booming and by this time Charlie had a large staff, including salesmen. Madoc boasted five car dealers by the time and, although competitors, they were first and foremost good friends.”

That, people, is seriously good small-town stuff. Now here’s my problem (and question): I can name four of those five car dealers – or at least I think I can. Pigden’s was the Chrysler dealership; Derry’s was General Motors; Brett’s was Ford; Armstrong’s was – help! And who was the fifth?

Now: one last stop on this journey through the past before we move on to the question of whether that Eldorado building really is (or was) “Canada’s oldest gas station.” And that stop is the small town of Watrous, Sask., which you can learn more about on the town’s website here.

In the package of family history that Dianne Brick loaned to me, there are pages photocopied from a book on that prairie town’s history. Charlie Pigden gets a mention in a section devoted to the memories of Watrous resident Cora Fargey, aged 92 at the time of the book’s publication. Cora and her husband, Peter, left their native Ontario in about 1910 to homestead in Saskatchewan. They may well have been from this area; Cora recalls that she and her small son (Peter had gone on ahead) boarded the train for the West in Ivanhoe, a hamlet a bit south of Madoc. “Little did I know what lay ahead of me,” she says, with some understatement.

Cora and Peter Fargey

Cora and Peter Fargey, Saskatchewan homesteaders.

Charlie Pigden is mentioned very briefly; Cora recalls him being in Watrous to help her husband dig the well for the family home. (Those were the days when, I gather, it was quite common for folks from this part of the world to travel west for short or longer periods, seeking jobs and opportunities. My own paternal grandfather, J.B. Sedgwick, did the same thing in the early 20th century before returning to his native Haliburton County.) But I was knocked sideways by other parts of Cora’s story, namely the hardships she and her family endured. The endless, lonely prairie with no roads, only tracks filled with gopher and badger holes. Mosquitoes so thick that you had to have a “smudge” (smoke, not the best for one’s pulmonary health) going indoors at all times to try to keep them away. Frequent prairie fires. And this:

The first winter, we lived in just one room, which was heated with a cookstove. We slept three in a bed to keep warm. The bedclothes would often freeze to the wall. We had no storm doors or windows the first year. It was cold!

People, from now on, whenever I am tempted to think that I have some hardship in my life, I’m going to call to mind Cora, Peter, their young son, and the bedclothes frozen to the wall. And I will realize that I have nothing to complain about.

Okay, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Or at least, the moment that you may possibly have been waiting for. Could the building that once housed Pigden’s Garage in tiny Eldorado really have been “Canada’s oldest gas station”?

The answer seems to be: almost certainly not.

I am obligated to some readers who did this research for me. Here’s this from Tamara:

“My hunch told me that the sign must be hyperbole, so that led me to check the Imperial Oil company website and I’m afraid to say, it doesn’t seem like Eldorado makes the cut: http://www.imperialoil.ca/en-ca/company/about/history/our-history.

And this from my friend Gary, who I think discovered the same website as Tamara did. He found and sent this photo showing supposedly the world’s first gas station, considerably earlier than 1920 and a long way west of Eldorado:

First Esso gas station

However, Gary also hopefully suggests that maybe the Eldorado operation was the oldest surviving gas station – that is, when it was still surviving, which it no longer is: “Perhaps all the others from the 1920s or earlier might be gone, or replaced. Who knows?!”

Who knows, indeed? People, I am still open to new information and any light you can shed on this question.

But in the meantime, I’m gearing up to share with you a next-generation chapter of Pigden history. You see, the garage operation in Eldorado and Madoc was quite a thing, and is still fondly remembered by many; but Charlie and Keitha’s son Gordon went in a whole different direction in his own Eldorado-and-then-Madoc business – and that’s a whole other story, (Remember how I told you it would take at least two posts for me to tell you the whole thing?)

I’m going to whet your appetite with this great story from Grant Ketcheson – husband of my first-grade teacher Gayle, and son-in-law of Reta Pitts – which links the Charlie Pigden story to the generation that followed Charlie, and especially the interesting pursuits of Gordon:

In early November 1946, my parents decided to go to the Royal Winter Fair [in Toronto] and take [Grant’s sister] Betty and me. [Youngest sister] Bev was just a baby, so she stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Ketcheson. As it was a looong way to Toronto in a 1935 Dodge, we were leaving early, long before daylight. A problem arose when the windshield wipers did not work. Dad phoned Harold Pigden and we drove to Pigden’s Garage in Eldorado. Harold, the middle son, could fix anything that looked even slightly mechanical. He bragged that he could weld anything except the crack of dawn or a broken heart! But I digress. Harold promptly fixed the windshield wiper and one of my lasting memories is of my dad telling us when he got back into the car, “Harold says that Gordon got his TV working last night and he got a signal from the States.” Also, my parents told me about hearing Gordon’s clandestine radio broadcast, from the “shores of beautiful Mud Lake.” Mike Quinn, who worked at Blue’s Hotel, told me he used to call Gord whenever the government communications guys checked in for the night, planning the next day to check on this illegal radio station that they had heard about. Mike said he would call Pigden’s Garage and by the time they went there the next day, there was no radio station to be found!

Is that good or what? “He could weld anything except the crack of dawn or a broken heart!” A local rogue radio station dodging the G-men! (Okay, the Canadian version of G-men.) Again: wow!

Obviously there is more of this story to be told. In the immediate future I need to use this space to fill you in on fantastic events that are coming soon to Queensborough: a real, honest-to-God old-fashioned square dance at the Orange Hall; the Ham Supper and a second annual Music Night at St. Andrew’s United Church; the kayakers coming for their annual plunge over the Black River dam; and a social evening to talk about new directions for our community.

But you can be sure I will share the story of Gordon Pigden and his amazing life and work before too much longer. And for that, of course, I again owe my thanks to all the readers who have shared stories about Gord, and especially to the Pigden family.

On the front of that folder full of family history that Dianne (Pigden) Brick lent to me, she had affixed a clipped-out quote:

Pericles quote

Thanks to the memories and research that Dianne and so many others have shared with me, I think – at least I hope – that I’ve been able to show how true that is: how the legacy of one family – and by extension, of all families – is woven into our lives, and has become part of who and what we are. Including selling Desotos, drinking Honee Orange, surviving bedclothes frozen to the wall, and broadcasting “from the shores of beautiful Mud Lake.”

Does a blue dot mean these trees are in danger?

Blue dot on the tree of life

The spray-painted blue dot that I discovered this morning on the beautiful red pine across the road from the Manse. What does it mean?

A blue dot is innocuous enough, right? Well, people, I hope so. But this morning I got a start that got me wondering. Let me explain – and in the process ask you if you know what that blue dot means.

Over the last couple of weeks, crews with Hydro One – provider of electricity throughout rural Ontario – have been out and about in the Queensborough area, cutting down tree branches and, in some cases, whole trees. I have to assume this is because there is concern that these trees and branches are too close to hydro wires and pose a risk to both safety and electrical delivery if high winds, or the weight of snow or ice, cause them to fall onto the lines.

I don’t think it’s any skin off anyone’s back to see a few branches cut and cleared – and indeed, the crews have been dutiful about taking away the brush piles they create. But I find it sad when whole trees are completely, or almost completely, taken down. Here’s the remains of one recent casualty on Queensborough Road a little west of our hamlet:

Tree cut by Hydro One, Queensborough Road

And here’s an even sadder spectacle, a little further west on the same road:

Second tree cut by Hydro One, Queensborough Road

Here’s how you know it was Hydro that cut the tree – an orange H spray-painted onto the trunk before the cutting begins:

H marks the spot

Here are some small trees just south of the Manse on Bosley Road that, as of this morning, were still standing, but maybe not for long thanks to those orange Hs:

Orange Hs on Bosley Road trees

Or maybe in this case, as in most others I’ve seen, these trees will just lose some of their branches. At any rate, I assume this is work that needs to be done, but as I said, the loss of whole trees makes me sad.

Which leads me back to the scare I got this morning.

I looked out the front window of the Manse onto a sunny and almost springlike morning, and there were two Hydro One vehicles – a pickup truck and a tractor-y affair with a cherry picker on it – heading slowly south past the house. I figured they were headed down the road to do some cutting at the spot I showed you just now in my photo. But when they stopped at the end of our driveway, and stayed stopped for several minutes, I started to worry.

Why?

Because the Tree of Life – a red pine that is easily one of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen – is located immediately across the road from our driveway:

The tree of life this winter morning

The Tree of Life (as Raymond and I call it) on this bright late-winter morning.

Surely, I thought with horror, it couldn’t be a target for the cut-down crew! There’d been no orange Hs painted on it; you can be sure I would have reacted before this if there had been. Not that the tree stands on my property, you understand; it’s at the corner of the expansive yard of our neighbours Steve and Dana and their family. But because it’s front and centre in our field of vision from the Manse, and because it is so, so beautiful, it looms large in our lives. I wrote a whole post about it here, in our early days at the Manse (when I hadn’t yet figured out what kind of tree it is); and here are two more photos of it, showing how glorious it is in the morning of an early-summer day or the late-afternoon sun of late summer:

Tree of Life July 2014

Late-summer sun on the Tree of Life

Alarmed that this beautiful tree might be at risk, I hastily changed from my bathrobe to my clothes and prepared to grab coat, jump into boots and head out the door if necessary to speak to the crew. Mercifully, at just that point they started up again, turned the corner onto King Street and drove out of sight. What a relief!

But once they’d gone, I took a closer look at the Tree of Life and saw, for the first time, that while it doesn’t bear any orange Hs, its trunk does have a blue dot spray-painted on it.

What does that mean?

I ask this not just out of concern for the Tree of Life, but because a little while ago I noticed that an identical blue dot had been spray-painted onto a tree we do own. It’s a tall, happy tree (whose species I am embarrassed to admit I do not yet know) that stands in front of the historic Kincaid House next to the Manse; Raymond and I bought that house a few years ago. Here’s a photo that shows the blue dot:

A blue dot on the Kincaid House tree

And here’s one that shows how tall and stately our tree is:

Stately tree at the Kincaid House

So what’s this all about? I assume that it’s Hydro One crews who have sprayed the blue dot, since they’re busy spraying those orange Hs all over the place. But a translation would certainly be helpful. Is it shorthand for “Owner of tree, we’re coming for your tree”? Or for “You’ll be hearing from us about the need to cut some branches”? I am mystified, especially since the blue dot’s been there on the Kincaid House tree for a while, and we’ve had nary a communication from Hydro One. If there’s cutting to be done, will Hydro One do it, or will we be expected to arrange it ourselves? And do I get a chance to appeal any tree- or branch-cutting determination that has been made by Hydro One?

Since Raymond and I bought the Manse a little more than six years ago, and moved from Montreal to Queensborough full-time 4½ years ago, I’ve learned – or re-learned – quite a bit about living in rural Ontario. I’ve learned about “911 numbers,” and bitterns, and the usefulness of long underwear on cold early-spring days. I’ve been reminded of a lesson learned in my childhood about the importance of keeping the mailbox shovelled out in winter. I’ve even made some progress on my tree-identification skills. And I’ve learned how to make pie crust!

But one piece of rural wisdom that I have not yet picked up is what a blue dot spray-painted on my tree, and on the beautiful tree of my neighbours, might mean. Can anyone help me out?