Partridge nostalgia: Where did all the happy people go?

Partridges on the bus

“So I’m on the ro-woah-oh-oh-oad, travellin’ free and easy… ” Admit it, people: that psychedelically painted school bus and the family inside it bring back some happy TV memories.

Hello, dear readers, from the far side of a worst-case head and chest cold that rendered me unfit for most human activity, including even sitting down to share Manse stories with you, for the better part of two weeks. Happily, the wheezles and sneezles (to quote A.A. Milne, from his sweet poem about wee Christopher Robin coming down with a cold) are finally fading. And as I sit in my comfortable rocking chair here at the Manse, awaiting tonight’s showing on CBS Television of a 50th-anniversary tribute to one of the great TV shows of my childhood in this very house, The Carol Burnett Show, I feel compelled – particularly given a recent sad event – to pay tribute in this post to another of those memorable TV shows from my 1970s youth.

That would, of course, be The Partridge Family; and the abovementioned sad event is, of course, the death a couple of weeks ago of its co-star, onetime teen idol David Cassidy.

I must tell you that I was never one of the hundreds of thousands of teenage girls rendered hysterical by the mere sight of David Cassidy. I thought he was cute enough, what with that great 1970s shag haircut and so on, but all in all he wasn’t my type. But I did love the TV sitcom featuring the Partridges and their adventures, musical and otherwise. Didn’t everybody?

Partridge Family performing

The Partridge Family in action (well, if you can call a lot of lip-synching and fake-instrument-playing “action”) , fronted by then-heartthrob David Cassidy.

(Okay, those of you who thought it was a dumb show with a bunch of lip-synching kids pretending to be musicians – just pipe down.)

Last weekend, seizing upon the fact that a) being sick is the classic excuse to bundle up in a blanket and watch favourite old movies and TV shows; and b) Raymond was away visiting family in New England for U.S. Thanksgiving, and thus wasn’t around to mock my selection from the dusty DVD shelf, I decided to honour that youthful love of The Partridge Family, and pay my own quiet tribute to David Cassidy (and his hair), by rewatching some episodes. While I do in fact own the entire Partridge canon on DVD, and while I got through probably close to 20 episodes, I’m afraid I didn’t make much of a dent. It’s amazing how many episodes per year were produced in those old sitcom days! But I saw most of the first season, which was probably the best; certainly it was the one that made so many of us fall in love with the Partridges and stay loyal through the four seasons (1970 to 1974) that it aired on ABC.

While I’m afraid my Partridge marathon didn’t kindle any long-forgotten romantic feelings for big-brother Keith (David Cassidy), it did a bang-up job of being comfort TV: the kind of shows that, though they may be goofy and corny and old, just make you feel better (especially if you’re sick) because they remind you of happy long-ago days. I was struck by several things as I went through episode after episode:

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  • Shirley’s jaunty early-1970s above-the-knee flippy-skirted dresses. For a mother of five kids, she showed a lot of leg – and more power to her. It’s a great midcentury look! It’s really hard to find an image online to show what I’m talking about, but here’s one that might give you an idea:
Shirley and family

Shirley in one of her many well-above-the-knee outfits. Love it!

  • For some odd reason (surely not budget-scrimping?), the shots featuring the audience bobbing their heads and applauding the Partridges’ performances, ostensibly in many different places across the U.S., is the very same one in almost every episode! Also, it’s the most middle-aged audience you’re ever likely to find for a supposed “rock” band. Here, take a look:
Partridge audience

Call me crazy, but I do not think this looks like your typical audience for a “rock” show. Also: the same audience shows up in many, many episodes!

There they sit along long tables bearing red tablecloths (in a room that looks suspiciously like a dingy hockey arena repurposed to try to resemble a fourth-rate Las Vegas nightclub), sipping highballs, smoking ciggies, and nodding and smiling as the red-velvet-and ruffle-costumed gang onstage bops out I Woke Up in Love This Morning.

  • The amazing shag haircuts: Shirley’s is almost as funky as Keith’s:David Cassidy and Shirley JonesAnd speaking of haircuts: the toupée (it has to be a toupée – no real hair moves like that) worn by Reuben Kincaid (Dave Madden) should have been given co-star billing:
    Dave Madden as Reuben Kincaid

    Dave Madden’s hair was oddly … mobile.

prtdg

Somehow it doesn’t ever seem to faze anyone in the six-member Partridge brood that dad has just recently kicked the bucket.

  • Dad? What dad? In the intro to the pilot episode, Shirley’s voiceover explains that she had been suddenly widowed six months previously, and thus was forced to work in a bank to support her five kids. (Which is what prompts the five kids to decide that forming a band is a better way to support the family.) That is the first, last and only time that Mr. Partridge is ever mentioned. These kids never utter a peep about missing dear departed dad. Reuben the manager, in fact, harried and neurotic though he is, seems to fill the dad role enough to keep the kids happy. Apparently it made sense to us at the time; in retrospect, almost 50 years later? Not so much.
  • A lot of future stars showed up, some of them probably for the first time on network TV, on The Partridge Family. In a couple of nights of viewing I spotted Farrah Fawcett, Harry Morgan, Jaclyn Smith (bit of a Charlie’s Angels theme here), Pat Harrington and Richard Pryor – and there were probably others whom I missed. There were a lot of “Hey, isn’t that … ?” moments. Here, for instance, is a very young Farrah Fawcett being talked into helping out with yet another of Danny Partridge’s hare-brained schemes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNbtVZ_V-_Y

  • Easily the best part of the show is the relationship between Reuben Kincaid, the always-harried manager, and pint-sized Danny (Danny Bonaduce, and if you think for one second that as a kid growing up in Queensborough, Ont., I had any idea how to pronounce “Bonaduce,” you’ve got another think coming). Danny, smarter than his years and a master of comic timing, is brilliant at pushing Reuben’s buttons, and the repartee and chemistry between the two is hilarious:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06xtl8hSXq8

But you know the main impression I came away with after all that Partridgeness? That this was a happy show about a happy family.

The so-called “situations” that they got themselves into, and that were the plot point for each episode, were so minor in the overall scheme of human existence: Laurie has to wear braces. The family dog chases a skunk into the bus, with predictable results. Danny makes a disastrous decision that he should add a comedy routine to the act. Keith has girl trouble. (Again, and again, and again.) Shirley’s dad has a mid-life crisis and tries to join the act. Every single time, the issues are easily worked out, generally thanks to Shirley’s kind, loving, common-sense mom-ness. Watching the show again after more than half a lifetime was a throwback to the days when we thought our own homes and families resembled those happy sitcom families on TV, right down to the gold-coloured shag carpet on the stairs and the avocado-green dishware and appliances in the kitchen. And you know what? Maybe, if we were lucky, they did.

And that nostalgic and slightly melancholy thought leads me to a Partridge Family song! Which in turn will allows me to introduce the highlight of this blog post: Katherine’s favourite Partridge Family hits!

The song in question – which, as it happens, has made it to my Top 13 Partridge Favourites – is called Only a Moment Ago. Like most of the early Partridge songs (not so much in the later seasons), it’s written by crack songwriters (in this case, Terry Cashman and Tommy West, but the stable also included names like Tony Romeo, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Wes Farrell, Mike Appel, Carole Bayer Sager and Neil Sedaka). I kind of think its lyrics sum up how watching those ancient episodes from a happier time made me feel, in light of the death of the lead singer who had (as fellow performer Jackie Ward says in this fantastic video about the people who really sang the Partridges’ songs) a “great twinkle in his voice”: “Why has the music stopped? Where did all the happy people go? I know they were there … only a moment ago.” Let’s have a listen, shall we?

Okay, melancholic moment over. Now I’m going to take you on a tour of some great upbeat hits from the Partridge Family. But first, I want to steer you to this excellent post on a blog called Comfort TV (great name!) that I found while doing my Partridge research. It’s another writer (David Hofstede) listing his favourite Partridge Family songs, with a helpful intro to each. Hofstede’s list doesn’t match mine, but it gave me lots of inspiration and is full of useful and cheery information. Please check it out!

Okay – are you ready? On to some of the best high-end bubblegum pop music you will ever hear: Katherine’s favourite Partridge Family songs. Enjoy! (And stay tuned for the David Cassidy bonus at the end):

Okay, so remember how I promised you a bonus? Just look at what I dug up by sheer accident: David Cassidy and Glen Campbell (and don’t even get me started on how great Glen Campbell was, though I touched on it here) duetting on a medley of Everly Brothers songs, presumably on Campbell’s terrific 1969-to-1972 TV variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. People: why has the music stopped? And where did all those happy TV people go?

Here, my rural friends, is a mystery for you to solve

Cooper Road - Madoc, ON

See the diamond-shaped opening not far below the roofline of this barn (which happens to be on Cooper Road not far from Queensborough)? What do you suppose it was put there for? Would you believe that apparently nobody knows for sure? And so we have a mystery for you to solve. (Photo courtesy of Greg Polan)

I’ve said it before and doubtless I will say it again: readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse come up with the most interesting things. This time, it’s a mystery that needs solving.

I’d like to say I’m putting on my Nancy Drew headscarf yet again, but actually I don’t think Nancy could solve this one. Not the Hardy Boys either. They’re all a little too urban for this one. This particular mystery has to do with an unusual design element in some 19th-century Hastings County barns, and why it might have been put there. The detectives we need are people knowledgeable about farming history and traditions in our part of the world. Detectives: I know who you are. And I want to hear from you!

As does reader Greg Polan, who got me going on this fascinating line of inquiry.

It began with a post I did earlier this year about the beautiful old barns that dot the landscape in the Queensborough area. A few months after it appeared, Greg posted a comment:

“Also very interesting are the diamond cross barn cutouts found on some barns in Hastings County. Are now enigmatic in terms of original purpose and meaning … seemingly forgotten over time.”

Well! The words “enigmatic” and “seemingly forgotten over time” are enough to grab my attention. Intrigued, I asked Greg to elaborate, and he steered me to a scholarly article on the barn mystery that was published back in 1981 by Thomas F. McIlwraith of the University of Toronto, who is now emeritus professor in U of T’s Department of Geography and Planning. I’ll tell you more about the interesting contents of that article in just a bit.

Greg also sent some more information of his own:

“This symbol is also found on barns in New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New York, and Ohio, to name a few U.S. states. Sometimes as singles, or in twos or threes. Likely a cultural transference element from early European settlers that some associate with a German influence (speculative). Characteristic of the earliest of barns in Ontario early- to mid-19th century until about 1900. Original meaning and purpose seemingly forgotten in our time but must have been more common than we realize now.”

And then he told me this:

“There are a couple of good examples along Cooper Road if you look for them.”

Wow – that’s close to home! Cooper Road is just a few miles west of Queensborough.

And then Greg was kind enough to email me some photos he’s taken of the diamond cutouts on barns in this area. The one at the top of this page is one of the Cooper Road barns he refers to; here are some more of his photos:

Sidney Township - Hastings (2) - April 2017

A barn in southwestern Hastings County’s Sidney Township that has three of the mysterious diamond cutouts. (Photo courtesy of Greg Polan)

Hastings County barn 2

Another Hastings County barn with the diamond cutouts. (Photo courtesy of Greg Polan)

Vermilyea Road - Sidney Twp - Hastings County - Nov 2017

A barn on Vermilyea Road, Sidney Township. (Photo courtesy of Greg Polan)

County Road 35 West of Campbellford - Nov 2017

A barn on Northumberland County Road 35 west of Campbellford. (Photo courtesy of Greg Polan)

Hastings County barn 1

It looks like the diamond cutouts have been filled in and painted on this Hastings County barn (Photo courtesy of Greg Polan)

Let me tell you a little bit about Greg – or actually, I’ll let him tell you a bit about himself – and then I’ll share some of the various theories that Thomas F. McIlwraith puts forward as to why these curious shapes were added to some 19th-century barns. I asked Greg if he had a connection to this area, and he sure does – one that goes way back:

“My connection to Hastings [County] goes back several generations as my mom was a Burris (as in “Burris School”) and my great-grandfather was Jackson Burris, who owned the 200 acres now bordered by Highway 62, Public School Road, Hazzards Road, and Cooper Road. [Note from Katherine: this is the site of our much-loved, and recently saved from closure, Madoc Township Public School!] I grew up in Belleville and now reside in Acton, Ont. I still have family in the Hastings area and I visit the area as often as I can.”

Pioneer America

Pioneer America, the journal in which the scholarly article on diamond crosses appeared.

Okay, let’s move on to Prof. McIlwraith’s 1981 article in the journal Pioneer America. It’s entitled The Diamond Cross: An Enigmatic Sign in the Rural Ontario Landscape. You can read the article in its entirety if you click here and register (it’s easy and free) for an account with JSTOR, which is an online repository of scholarly articles. But since I’ve already done that, I’ll try to bring you what I think are the highlights. I’ll start, however, by quoting most of Prof. McIlwraith’s first paragraph:

High up in the gabled ends of hundreds of century-old barns throughout Ontario appear, one or more at a time, small diamond-shaped openings with triangles on the corners, sawn through the board siding. The diamond cross first registered with me during fieldwork in Simcoe County, Ont., in September 1971. Since then, it has been an enduring blossom in my rural Ontario landscape, long defying interpretation, yet offering a path to deeper awareness of the cultural landscape of the province.

And then he provides these observations and reflections based on his extensive research:

  • The barns with the crosses were built between 1858 and 1904.
  • More than half of all the diamond crosses are single ones, but they also show up in pairs and “less commonly in groups of three, four and very occasionally five.”
  • Southern Ontario – the Grand River area and “an arc extending from the Lake Huron shore south of Goderich eastward through to the Kingston area” – is “the heartland” for the phenomenon, but the diamond crosses also appear in several U.S. states, as Greg noted – though not, interestingly, in New England.
  • Theories about a functional use for the diamond-cross cutouts include:
    • Allowing access for pigeons. (Unlikely, Prof. McIlwraith notes, since farmers consider pigeons pests.)
    • Allowing access for swallows and owls, more acceptable barn birds – but Prof. McIlwraith says there is no evidence that this is the reason for them.
    • Allowing light and ventilation – though Prof. McIlwraith says that the diamond crosses “are not really very useful for either purpose,” mainly because they are so small.

Overall, on the theory that the diamond crosses were installed to be useful in some way, Prof. McIlwraith concludes: “As far as admitting birds, air, or light is concerned, the chance of functional explanation for the design seems to be virtually nil.”

He then looks into non-functional (i.e. decorative or symbolic) explanations, and tells us that the “diamond cross is a design of great antiquity,” citing examples from a Chinese bowl from the fifth millennium B.C. and artifacts from Africa where it is believed to be a fertility symbol. But what’s the link (if any) between that symbolism and Ontario barns? That’s the mystery. The professor notes that plain diamonds are easy to cut into planks, and thus many barns have diamond shapes (as well as, occasionally, stars or squares). But “it takes an extra effort to extend the diagonals, punch out the side triangles, and notch the other triangles top and bottom. This effort makes the ordinary diamonds distinctive, creating a shape not generally encountered. It simply is not reasonable to suggest that so many farmers cut these openings in their barns to apply a nonfunctional embellishment without some common external influence.”

But what was that “external influence”? A now-forgotten decorative or even spiritual tradition brought to the New World from the Old by early settlers?

Neither Prof. McIlwraith nor, as far as I know, anyone else has the answer to that question. The good professor concludes his study eloquently:

The diamond cross seems to be as old as Ontario settlement, although it was widespread only about the middle of the 19th century. There are secrets yet to be discovered regarding its diffusion and acceptance; they could tell us a good deal about the mixture of social backgrounds in Ontario, and the degree of local mobility. Today, rural residents talk knowledgeably about rail fences and stone piles, but the diamond cross has left barely a trace in the consciousness or study of life in rural Ontario. The modesty of the diamond cross is so very characteristic of the unostentatious nature of the old Ontario landscape. Its decline is a matter of forgetting rather than of rejection, an expression of the progressive adjustment of immigrants from the Old World to living in the New.

The notion of a rural tradition that has now been utterly forgotten fascinates me – and makes me hope that maybe it’s not forgotten after all; that maybe someone out there can shed some light on why there are diamond crosses in the barns of Hastings County and elsewhere.

I’ll let Greg Polan have the last word, and remind you, dear reader, of your mission to help solve this mystery:

“I’m just fascinated about how something that was once relatively common in old rural Ontario (and as it turns out in many U.S. states as well) has simply been forgotten about. I would be very curious if your readers can share some insight into their purpose and meaning.”

Okay, folks: the ball is in your court!

A late-fall cornucopia from out Queensborough way

LOL Halloween 1

I just can’t even begin to tell you how great Halloween was this year in Queensborough – first and foremost because of the amazing multimedia “spooktacular” mounted by the new owners of the historic Orange Hall, Jamie Grant (performing here) and his wife Tory Byers. On behalf of all the trick-or-treaters and their parents: huge thanks, Jamie and Tory!

The short and chilly days of November are most definitely upon us. The sun sets before 5 p.m., there is snow in the forecast for this week, and we’re in the sombre time leading up to Remembrance Day. Soon enough we’ll all be feeling a little cheerier because of the Christmas lights and ornaments that will appear; but right at the moment, it’s perhaps the gloomiest time of the year. Which means it’s time for me to bring you some cheery late-fall news from Queensborough!

First up: My report on Halloween – the second annual Family Halloween Party at the Queensborough Community Centre (held Saturday, Oct. 28) and then the big night itself.  Regular readers will probably recall that I gave you a heads-up about all this (not to mention an invitation) in my most recent post. Well, I am happy to report that Halloween in Queensborough was a huge success!

Raymond and I were unable to attend the Saturday-night party due to a longstanding commitment in Toronto that evening. Fortunately, however, some of the 60-plus people of all ages who attended and had a bang-up time shared their photos with me. I’ll in turn share some of them with you; you can find more on the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page. Here goes:

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And then there was Halloween itself! Here at the Manse we had the largest number of trick-or-treaters since our arrival in Queensborough, which was very exciting. As usual we had the Manse looking pretty Halloweenish, thanks largely to Raymond’s pumpkin-carving skills. Here it is before night fell; note scary monster (Raymond wearing his anti-blackfly hood) lurking in the doorway!

Manse Halloween 2017

And here’s the Manse after dark:

Manse after dark Halloween 2017

But of course the highlight of Halloween 2017 in Queensborough – as predicted in my last post – was the amazing multimedia show put on for trick-or-treaters at the former Orange Lodge. New owners Jamie Grant and Tory Byers absolutely outdid themselves with many hours of work to put together a Halloween extravaganza in the historic building. Here are a few images:

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And then there was the onstage entertainment, courtesy of a well-disguised Jamie Grant. Amazing!

Okay, so that’s Halloween wrapped up. Can’t wait for next year!

Now on to the latest proof that deer-hunting season is something that people who’ve lived in the city for many years (such as Raymond and myself) really need to get their heads around. I’ve written before (that post is here) about making the rookie error, not long after we bought the Manse, of inviting some friends for dinner in early November. Doh! That’s hunting season, Katherine – when men from North of 7 are not available for dinner parties, because they’re back at the hunting camp with their buddies. Another year, I did a hunting-season post (it’s here) featuring some fantastic you-are-there (“there” being the hunt camp) info from a book produced by my Madoc Township friend Grant Ketcheson.

But despite my growing understanding that much of ordinary male life screeches to a halt around here during deer-hunting season, I was still taken aback by something that happened today.

It began with an appliance that broke down this past weekend. (Is it my imagination, or do appliances always break down on the weekend, when repair people are not available?) In mid-wash cycle, when the tub was full of water and soaking wet clothes, our venerable washing machine (it came with the Manse) decided it would no longer drain. We hauled the clothes out and took them and the rest of the laundry to the local laundromat, but in the meantime our washer looks like this:

Broken washing machine

A tub full of grey water that won’t go away – just what you want in a washing machine…

So last night I looked up the phone number for the local appliance-repair outfit that has served us well in the past, and also (being in full honey-do-list mode) the number for the local company that empties septic tanks, which is another fall thing that needs doing around the Manse. When Raymond found the sheet of paper with those numbers neatly written out on the dining-room table this morning, he of course (being a good husband) recognized his mission. The result, relayed to me by text mid-morning as I drearily walked the picket line on the strike by Ontario college faculty that please will end soon, was this:

  • Automatic message at the appliance-repair place: “Closed for the week of Nov. 6.”
  • Friendly message from the woman who answered the phone at the septic-tank place: “Not this week. The boys are all hunting!”

So there you go: another reminder that if you want a guy to fix your washing machine or drain your septic tank, hunting season is not the time to ask. Sooner or later I will figure this out.

Finally, a very happy piece of news: There was a huge and joyous gathering at the Queensborough Community Centre this past Sunday as Ken and Betty Sexsmith celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Ken and Betty have been pillars of the Queensborough community their entire lives, and it was just lovely to see their four children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and hundreds of friends and members of their extended family out to wish them well. Here’s my photo of Ken and Betty that afternoon – looking pretty great, I have to say:

Ken and Betty Sexsmith 65th anniversary

Betty told me that Sunday (Nov. 5) was in fact the actual anniversary of their marriage in 1952. “There was a terrible snowstorm that day – an early one,” she recalled.

Well, 65 years later, there is again snow coming soon. As we all brace for the the harsh days of the winter that will soon be here, I think a Queensborough love story of 65 years – and counting – is just what we need to warm us up.

This year, Queensborough is Halloween Central

The Grim Reaper

Boo! The Grim Reaper welcomes you to Ghost Crossing. He’s just one of many Halloween-themed decorations to be found around Queensborough as we gear up for the big night.

You know, before Raymond and I moved to Queensborough (or in my case, moved back to Queensborough), I found Halloween a large annoyance. Our house in Montreal was not in an area where we could expect little kids in costume to knock at the door in search of treats; instead, Halloween seemed to be all about adults who (in my view) should have known better showing up for work on the weekday closest to Oct. 31 in silly getups. “Since when did Halloween become a thing for adults?” I used to grumble, curmudgeon cap firmly jammed onto my head. In retrospect I realize that I was unfavourably comparing Adult Halloween In The Big City to the sweet Kid Halloween In Queensborough of my midcentury childhood.

And really, no Halloween could compete with Kid Halloween in Queensborough in about 1968. Or wait – maybe it could! In fact, I think this Halloween – that would be Halloween 2017 – in Queensborough will very possibly be the best ever!

Which is why I’m writing what should be next week’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse a few days early: so you have time to rearrange your schedule so as to be in Halloween Central – Queensborough – this Halloween.

First: this coming Saturday (Oct. 28) will be the second annual Queensborough Halloween Family Party at the Queensborough Community Centre:

Halloween flyer 2017

As regular readers may recall, I attended and wrote about our first such Halloween Party venture last year (that post is here): it was an old-fashioned, apple-bobbing, musical-chairs, fun-and-games-and-treats event, and everyone (including me) had a splendid time. When we put the flyer for this year’s event up on the Queensborough Community Centre Facebook page, it immediately got a ton of likes and shares, which suggests to me there’s going to be a good turnout on Saturday. That turnout should include you!

Next: the big night itself!

Manse Halloween candy

Halloween candy ready to be put into treat bags and given out here at the Manse. Do you think Raymond and I are ready?

As I’ve written before, Queensborough is kind of the perfect place for Halloween. The village is just big enough that 1) kids should get enough candy to make them happy and give them a suitable sugar fix, without having to trudge up and down many suburban streets, or be driven to a larger nearby town; and 2) we pretty much all know each other here, so we can greet the little trick-or-treaters by name and they (and their parents) know and trust the folks who are doling out the candy. Plus it’s such a pretty little village, and with the dried fallen leaves blowing about in the wind on a bright moonlit night, it has just the right feel for a friendly Halloween experience.

As you can see from my photo at the top of this post, people are getting into the Halloween spirit with decorations outside their homes. Here are a few more bits of evidence:

Grinchy pumpkin

A rather grinchy-looking Pumpkin-Head.


Pretty pumpkin display, top o' town

A pretty pumpkin display at the top of the village.


Spooky motorcycle

Ghost rider?


Spooky stuff on King Street

There’s some spooky stuff going on in this front yard.


Pretty pumpkins at Goldie's house

A welcoming doorway.


Skeleton in chains

I wouldn’t want to run into this chap in a dark alley…


Halloween bear

The delightful chainsaw-carved bear that adorns the front of the house of our friends Ed and Jen now has a special seasonal touch.

But this year is going to be something special! Why? Because the new owners of the historic Orange Hall, just around the corner from the Manse, are promising a Halloween spook-tacular in their newly renovated interior space.

The LOL

The former home of the Loyal Orange Lodge Branch 437 is one of the oldest and most important buildings in Queensborough. Over the years it has been used as a concert and entertainment venue, for church services (before any of Queensborough’s four churches were built), as a polling place in elections, and for many a wedding dance, in addition to its official lodge service. It had been unused and left to decay for some years, but brand-new owners Jamie and Tory have been doing big renovations and repairs and have already turned it into a spectacular space. On Halloween, that “spectacular” becomes – spook-tacular!

I promised I wouldn’t give out the details ahead of time, but I happen to know that Jamie and Tory, who are artistic, inventive and whimsical (as you can tell from the Happy Orange symbol that Jamie has made the emblem of the building, and that adorns the west side of it), will have that old hall decked out in stunning Halloween style. Visitors to it on our recent Historic Queensborough Day were blown away by the work the couple have done; the hall’s Halloween getup is going to be just as much of a blast, for parents as well as kids.

All in all, people, here’s the thing about Halloween in Queensborough: you don’t want to miss it!

The artist’s return

Artist Nicole Amyot at work

Ottawa artist Nicole Amyot at work at the junction of King Street and Queensborough Road this past Saturday – a perfect fall day for plein air painting.

So there I was this past Saturday, starting out on a walk to various parts of Queensborough to fulfill a couple of errands. It was a pleasantly warm fall day, perfect for a stroll to take some photos of the Halloween decorations that have been installed at homes throughout the village; that was one of my errands, as it happens. (As I have mentioned before, Queensborough is kind of a magical place for Halloween, and I think this year is going to be one of the best yet. Details on that soon. But I digress.)

Anyway, as I made my way south from the Manse on Bosley Road, an unusual sound caught my attention: a piece of classical music being played in the open air. It was coming from the east, from the far end of wee King Street, and as I swivelled my head in that direction I saw a vehicle parked there, back hatch open and some orange cones around it. The music seemed to be coming from it:

Artist at work from afar

“What can be going on at the end of King Street?” I wondered as I saw the vehicle parked near the former Anglican Church, classical music coming from it.

“Well that’s something a little different,” said I to myself, curiosity aroused. But I need to complete my brief Bosley Road mission before checking it out.

Happily, the vehicle was still there as I returned to the intersection and headed east on King Street. As I approached, it slowly dawned on me what I was seeing:

Artist at work closer up

Beside the parked van an easel had been set up, and an artist was at work. It was something I hadn’t seen since my long-ago childhood in Queensborough.

It was an artist at work, painting a Queensborough scene!

People, this is something that was a lovely part of my long-ago childhood here in Queensborough, but that I hadn’t seen in all the years since. My heart leapt with joy.

For those who don’t know the story of Queensborough’s close connection with (mostly) amateur artists back in the middle of the last century (when all the world was young), I refer you to a post I did on that topic here. The brief version is that in the 1960s and ’70s, artists Mary and Roman Schneider – both refugees from war-torn Eastern Europe – ran the Schneider School of Fine Arts in the hamlet of Actinolite, which along with Queensborough constitutes the sum total of clusters of settlement (and, once upon a time, commerce and industry) in Elzevir Township. Art students from all over Ontario and beyond would come to the Scheider school for a few days at a time, sleeping in rustic cabins and visiting scenic spots to set up their easels and sketch and paint. Pretty, historic little Queensborough was, needless to say, a favourite destination, and when I close my eyes I can still picture my eight-year-old self peering over the shoulder of one of the artists as he or she worked, and catch the distinctive scent of the oil paint. To me it is a magical memory.

And this past Saturday, that magical memory came to life!

Artist at work close up

Nicole Amyot at work on her painting of the dam on the Black River and the historic mill that is the heart of Queensborough.

Of course I stopped and spoke to the artist, who was Nicole Amyot of Ottawa. (The driver of the van, her good-humoured and patient chauffeur who waited and listened to the music as she worked, was her husband, Ron.) Nicole was working as quickly as she could, and didn’t stop working as she chatted, but was patient and friendly as she answered my questions. It turned out that she was revisiting her own past, just as her presence allowed me to revisit mine.

She had first come to Queensborough, she told me, about 40 years ago as a student at – you guessed it – the Schneider School of Fine Arts. Throughout the years since she has continued as a painter, though she modestly but firmly told me that she does not consider herself a professional artist. Remembering the scenes she had painted all those years ago, she and her husband had made a weekend excursion back here, lodging overnight in nearby Tweed and stopping at two or three places for her to paint those scenes once again.

Nicole Amyot's Queensborough work in progress

Work in progress: Nicole Amyot’s not-yet-complete picture (in acrylics) of the mill and dam in “downtown” Queensborough.

The painting that Nicole was working on was a scene that is pretty much the heart of Queensborough: the Black River running over the dam that once upon a time provided the water power needed for the sawmill and grist mill that still stand alongside it. (The mill too is in her painting.) It was a joy to once again watch a talented artist skillfully and quickly reproduce a pretty Queensborough scene on canvas, to see her artistic judgement at work as she considered what and what not to include, and how best to represent what her eyes were seeing.

I didn’t want to bother Nicole or slow down her work, so I made my stop brief. As a trained journalist, however, I of course collected her phone number so I could make contact again if need be.

Because hey: there might just be a wall space in the Manse where her pretty painting – which on that pleasant fall day magically brought together my present and my past – needs to be hung…

“Lovely as a tree.”

Manse looking southwest 16 Oct 2017

Here at the Manse, we are so fortunate to be surrounded by a variety of trees, both on our own and our immediate neighbours’ properties.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree…

You all know that one, I’m sure – or at least some version of the first two lines. It came into my head this evening as I was downloading photos of the trees here at the Manse. The autumn foliage in the Queensborough area has in general been less than spectacular this year – probably due to the cool, wet summer and then the sudden burst of extreme heat just around the time the leaves had started to turn – but in the closing days of the foliage season some trees are looking pretty great. And one of these, I am happy to report, is the maple tree that Raymond and I proudly planted a few months after we bought the Manse 5½ years ago.

It’s funny to go back and look at the photos of that planting day in November 2012, to see how scrawny our maple was then – even though we’d taken the advice of my brother, John, and bought the biggest and fastest-growing one we could afford because, you know, none of us is getting any younger and it would be nice to see it turn into a tree of some size in our lifetimes. Here’s the view of our tree from the front porch of the Manse that grey late-fall day:

The maple on the day it was planted

Day 1 of our newly planted maple tree. It didn’t look like much then!

And here’s the same view (a little zoomed in on the tree) from this bright fall afternoon:

Autumn Blaze maple with the Tree of Life in background

Our beautiful maple tree (with the equally beautiful Tree of Life behind it to the right, across the street).

As you can see, our maple tree has grown and flourished. And the fact that it’s a variety called Autumn Blaze means that it looks spectacular come September and October – more so, I think, this year than in any of its autumns past.

So yes, poems may be lovely – but can they ever be as beautiful as a tree? That’s the question American poet Joyce Kilmer (“Joyce” in his case being a male name) asked (and answered in the negative) in his poem published in 1913 and memorized by countless schoolchildren since.

In reading here about the history of the poem – which is simply called Trees – I learned that Kilmer was inspired by the view from the window of his writing room in his family’s home in rural New Jersey. His son, Kenton, recalled many years later that their “well-wooded lawn” contained “trees of many kinds, from mature trees to thin saplings: oaks, maples, black and white birches, and I do not know what else.” Kenton Kilmer also said: “Dad never meant his poem to apply to one particular tree, or to the trees of any special region. Just any trees or all trees that might be rained on or snowed on, and that would be suitable nesting places for robins. I guess they’d have to have upward-reaching branches, too, for the line about ‘lifting leafy arms to pray.’ Rule out weeping willows.”

That description of the Kilmers’ “well-wooded lawn” reminded me of what Raymond and I are fortunate enough to enjoy here at the Manse. As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, which I also took this afternoon, not only do we have our maple but also the elm tree that we planted post-Manse purchase (it’s in the right foreground of the photo; it’s lost almost all its leaves now, but has also grown and flourished beautifully in the five years since it was planted), as well as huge yet-to-be-identified (by me, at least) evergreens at the rear of the property (actually in our neighbour-to-the-west Julie’s yard, but we can enjoy their beauty too) and a beautiful birch (behind Raymond’s red truck) and quite a few colourful deciduous trees on the property of our neighbours to the south, Brian and Sylvia.

And on the right of my photo you can just catch a glimpse of the branches of the two huge evergreen trees that fill out the northeastern section of the Manse property, and that tower over the house. Here’s a summertime photo I took of them when I wrote a few years ago about my (probably needless) worry about their proximity to the Manse:

Very large trees very close to the Manse

The two huge spruce trees – Norway spruce, I believe – that tower over the northeast corner of the Manse.

These two trees – which I once identified as red spruce, but which I believe are actually Norway spruce – are making their presence felt in a very different way than our Autumn Blaze maple this season. Like every other coniferous tree in our area this year, they have produced cones like it was nobody’s business. (Rather like the apple trees – another kind we’re lucky enough to have on our property – were drooping with their bumper apple crop last year.) The spruce trees are absolutely loaded with cones, as you can see in this photo:

Lots of cones on those trees

And better still in this closeup:

Cones closeup

And you can probably figure out what this means for us down below:

Cones on the ground

Yes indeed: a lot of cone-picking. This is how our lawn looks after two clean sweeps of the cones have already been made this season. And there are still hundreds left to fall!

But despite our trees sometimes being work – as in picking up many lawn bags’ worth of cones, not to mention fallen leaves – I have to say I am always appreciative of their beauty, and of how much they contribute to our lives and landscape. Like Joyce Kilmer, I love living in the midst of a “well-wooded lawn.” Would I swap poems for trees? Let’s just say I’m happy I don’t have to. Here’s Joyce Kilmer’s sweet little poem in full.

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

– Joyce Kilmer

Getting to the other side should not be this risky

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone! If you happened to be travelling this holiday weekend, I hope you made it there and back again safely, and in between enjoyed a happy time over good food with family and/or friends.

But speaking of getting there and back again safely, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to point out a dangerous spot on the route that I and many of my fellow Queensborough-area residents drive every single day, often more than once a day. In doing so, I’m hoping to raise some awareness and give the people who might be able to do something about the situation – which includes me and my fellow Queensborough-area residents – a bit of a push to do just that: do something about it.

The dangerous spot in question is the intersection of busy Highway 7 – part of the southern Ontario route of the Trans-Canada Highway – and Cooper Road, which runs north from 7 to the hamlets of Cooper and – when you turn east off it at Hazzard’s Corners – to Queensborough. (On the south side of 7, Cooper Road becomes Wellington Street in the village of Madoc.) For us residents of Queensborough and Cooper and surrounding rural areas, “town” – the place where you buy your groceries, do you banking, etc. – is generally Madoc, which lies directly across that busy intersection. We also use the intersection to get from home to points further south via Highway 62, which runs into Madoc; I take that route to Belleville every weekday to get to work, and many others do the same.

The problem is that there is no traffic control at the intersection aside from a stop sign with a flashing red light above it on the north and south sides – in other words, nothing to stop or slow down the fast-moving traffic on Highway 7 to allow us north- or southbounders through.

Heading south into Madoc, or north on the way home, it’s rare that we don’t have to wait for one or more cars or transport trucks to pass on Highway 7 so that we can safely cross. Everybody’s used to that.

But there are many times in the year – notably during the summer months, when Highway 7 is crammed with vacationers pulling camper vans heading both east and west, and also on holiday weekends like this one just ended – when the traffic comes in a steady, speedy stream. You have to be so patient and so careful, constantly looking in both directions, for a space between vehicles that’s sufficient for you to zip across. On really busy days the wait can be five minutes or more. To get an idea of what we’re up against, click on my video at the top of this post: I took it early this afternoon. I didn’t wait for the Highway 7 traffic to get crazy – just pulled over to the side of Cooper Road and filmed the first minute’s worth of traffic that came by. What you see is utterly typical of the highway under summer and holiday-weekend conditions.

The danger, of course, is that people, being people, get impatient waiting to get across. They may be late, or in a hurry to get somewhere, or just have a very low tolerance for waiting. Impatience and frustration can lead to risk-taking: darting through the fast-moving east-west traffic when there isn’t enough between-car space to make it across safely. I’ve seen the aftermath of one very nasty accident at that intersection, and I have no doubt that there have been quite a few more.

Wellington Street and Highway 7

The sign on the south side of the busy intersection: Highway 7 and Wellington Street in the village of Madoc. On the north side, Wellington Street becomes Cooper Road, Hastings County Road 12.

I’ve been thinking about this problem for some time, doubtless because, as mentioned, I use that intersection at least twice every weekday and several times on weekends too. But I got prompted to write this post because of a story a Queensborough neighbour told me a couple of weeks ago. His wife had been driving east on Highway 7, signalled and stopped to turn left (north) onto Cooper Road toward Queensborough, and was struck by a tractor-trailer. Mercifully the truck driver saw his error in time to swerve a bit and hit primarily the passenger side (she was driving alone) rather than crashing straight into the back of the car. She did not suffer any major injuries, though her car of course did; and my lord, what an absolutely terrifying experience. You see, in addition to there being no lights to control Highway 7 traffic at the intersection, there are also no turn lanes for the many vehicles that turn north off it toward Queensborough or Cooper, or south into Madoc. Yikes.

In contrast, just a short way west on 7, at another busy intersection – in this case, where Highway 7 meets Highway 62 – a set of traffic lights controls things and keeps everybody safe. Yes, impatient people, you do have to wait for the light to change from green to red – but isn’t that 45 seconds or so a heck of a lot better than waiting indefinitely for a gap in traffic at an uncontrolled intersection, and maybe taking a big risk when that gap doesn’t come soon enough for your liking? Here’s another video from today to show you how everything’s under control there, even on a super-busy traffic day:

I haven’t looked into this situation enough to know why there are lights at one busy Madoc intersection and not at another; perhaps the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (which I assume makes the decisions on traffic lights on provincial highways) gives priority to an intersection of two highways – in this case, 7 and 62 – over a one-highway/one county road – Highway 7 and Hastings County Road 12 (Cooper Road) – intersection.

But shouldn’t safety come before ministry priorities?

Highway 7 is pretty much the dividing line between two municipalities: Madoc Township to the north and Centre Hastings (which includes the village of Madoc) to the south. Not long ago I asked a member of Centre Hastings council about this situation; the council member told me that the transportation ministry is the body that has to take action. The advice I got was to gather people’s voices and ask the ministry to do something. Which I suppose is what I’m doing here, although I think it would be appropriate for the councils of Centre Hastings and Madoc Township to weigh in with the ministry as well. Horrible highway accidents are not in anyone’s best interest; safe roads are good news for everyone.

I spent some time this evening poking around the transportation ministry’s website, and you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I could find no obvious link for “I want to report a dangerous intersection where your ministry should install traffic lights.” I suspect that the best way to start on this one is to contact our elected representative at Queen’s Park. Members of Provincial Parliament have staff and contacts and know-how about government affairs that we ordinary people do not; plus what they’re paid to do is represent us on matters that concern us. Our MPP is Todd Smith, and he’s a friendly guy who was right here in Queensborough just recently, for our wildly successful Historic Queensborough Day. If you agree that this intersection needs a look and some action by the ministry, you can ask Todd to speak on our behalf by calling his constituency office in Belleville (613-962-1144; toll-free 1-877-536-6248), emailing him at todd.smithco@pc.ola.org, or writing to him at P.O. Box 575, Belleville, Ont., K8N 5B2.

Sir John A. speaks, Historic Queensborough Day

See that chap in the blue polo shirt standing behind Sir John A. Macdonald (I am not making this up) on Historic Queensborough Day last month? That’s Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith, and he’s the guy to contact if you agree with me that the Highway 7 intersection that many of us use every day could be made safer by the provincial transportation ministry.

And while you’re at it, why not contact some or all of the members of Centre Hastings council (click here for contact info) and Madoc Township council (members here, though contact information is a little skimpy; the township office’s number is 613-473-2677, and you can contact the township clerk by email at clerk@madoc.ca) to ask them to make the case to both Todd Smith and the transportation ministry?

Elmer the Safety ElephantAs we saw with the successful battle to save Madoc Township Public School, it is possible to make rural voices, issues and concerns heard. But that won’t happen unless we take it upon ourselves to speak up.

And hey, let’s hark back for a moment to my midcentury Queensborough childhood and ask: what would Elmer the Safety Elephant do?