In Queensborough, there’s always something going on

Turkey Supper poster 2017

Here’s the big news in Queensborough for the coming week: it’s time once again for the famous annual Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church. Please join us!

Today here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, we’re bringing you some bits and bobs of Queensborough news: a little of this and a little of that, and all of it good.

One reason for keeping things brief in this latest instalment is that it is too hot for anything right at the moment. This business of 32-degree temperatures at the end of September is seriously crazy. And when you live in a 130-year-old Manse that doesn’t have air conditioning, even hunkering over the keyboard of a laptop makes a person hot. So let’s keep it brief, shall we?

First things first: you need to know that this coming Wednesday, Sept. 27, is when the famous annual Turkey Supper takes place at St. Andrew’s United Church here in Queensborough. Now, I fully realize that high-summer temperatures in September may not put you in mind of a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but look at it this way: it’s too hot to cook! So let us do it for you! It’s always a splendid meal, topped off by our famouser-than-famous homemade pies. And all proceeds go to the work of our historic little church.

Pies at the church supper

Homemade pie is a very important part of the Turkey Supper!

If you joined us for the Turkey Supper last September, especially if you showed up close to closing time, you will know that something that had never before happened, in all the decades (six at least) of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper, did happen: we ran out of food. We were the victim of our own success! Never before had we had so many people attend our event. Only a very few people went away unfed, and they were mostly the hardworking men and women of the church who’d been cooking and serving all afternoon and evening, who took it in good humour – but still, this was unprecedented and unfortunate. It’s not going to happen again! This year people who formerly roasted one turkey are instead roasting two. (One of these is my husband, Raymond.) People who formerly peeled 10 pounds of potatoes are instead peeling 20 pounds. (One of these is me.) People who formerly made two pies are making three, or four. (That would be many sainted women from Queensborough and area.) So we are ready for the crowds!

And we hope you’ll come. It’s a lovely, old-fashioned church-social evening of great food and friendly conversation with people you’ve known forever and people you’ve only just met.

Okay, next on the list: a beautiful pop-up garden!

New garden in Queensborough

A beautiful (and unusual) garden that suddenly appeared a few days ago in front of the historic home of our new neighbours, the Alinards. What a lovely addition to the streetscape!

Speaking of St. Andrew’s United Church, I was walking up there from the Manse for the worship service this past Sunday, and I suddenly noticed that a beautiful new garden had appeared in front of a historic home along the way. Where for some years nothing but a patch of ever-larger weeds has stood, the young family who are the brand-new owners of the house (which was for many years the home of Goldie Holmes, Queensborough’s famous Quilt Lady) have created a gorgeous little fall-themed oasis. In it are ‘mums, a piece of driftwood (perhaps representing the family’s former home on the west coast), some vintage items, pumpkins of different colours and sizes, and pretty shrubs and rocks. How absolutely lovely! Bit by bit, almost every little corner of Queensborough is getting spruced up.

Halloween party 2016

What a great community Halloween party we had last year! The historic Queensborough Community Centre (formerly our village’s one-room school) had kids (and whole families) dressed up as everything from angels to superheroes, and enjoying games (like bobbing for apples), contests and dancing – not to mention treats! This year there are quite a few more kids in Queensborough, so Raymond and I are hoping for lots of trick-or-treaters at our door come Oct. 31.

And finally, speaking of that young family (whose wee son, Noah, is my new pal): there are so many kids in Queensborough all of a sudden! In the 5½ years since Raymond and I bought the Manse, our hamlet has gone from almost zero pre-school and school-age children to, at my last informal count, at least 10, with half a dozen more who don’t live here full-time but are frequent visitors (to grandparents’ homes or whatever). These kids hang around together, play games together, climb trees, build forts, and bring sparkling life to Queensborough.

Can you guess where this is going? Think: what’s the next big event in the lives of North American kids? You’ve got it: Halloween! When I was a kid growing up in Queensborough, it was the perfect place for Halloween. There were just enough houses to visit that your pillowcase (or in the case of us Sedgwick kids, your plastic pumpkin) would be filled with treats. And the place was small enough that everyone knew everyone else, which meant that the handing out of treats was always preceded by the householders having to guess which of the local kids were the masked trick-or-treaters at their door. There was no anonymous trick-or-treating in those days! And an added bonus was that the treats were often homemade: chocolate or maple fudge, or popcorn balls. Nothing better, if you ask me.

Now, I know the days of handing out homemade fudge on Halloween are gone. But I think we’re ready to go back to something not altogether dissimilar from the Queensborough Halloweens of my childhood: everybody knowing everybody; people who answer the door delighting in the cuteness and cleverness of the costumes worn by the kids, whom they know by name; a happy and friendly community atmosphere pervading the whole event. Possibly preceded by a community Halloween party a few nights earlier, as we had to great success last year.

All of which makes me realize: not only is there never a dull moment in Queensborough; there’s also always something to look forward to. We live in a happy little place!

War and remembrance, and a long-ago wedding at the Manse

rocky

Newlyweds Joan and Roscoe Keene in front of the Manse (and their decked-out wheels), on June 9, 1945 – just a month after VE Day brought an end to the Second World War in Europe. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson, whose late father, Allen, is the young chap at left throwing the confetti)

A while back, my Madoc Township friend Grant Ketcheson sent me a couple of photos from June 1945. They feature a happy occasion: a wedding that took place right here at the Manse in Queensborough.

Now, before I tell you the rest of the story, let me explain that back in those days, it was fairly common for couples to be married at the minister’s home rather than in a church; I wrote about another such wedding, which took place in October 1939, here. And in this post I told you the story of probably the most famous wedding in Queensborough’s history, that of village storekeeper and unofficial mayor Roberta (Bobbie) Sager and her longtime beau, Allan Ramsay, in the mid-1970s. The wedding was top-secret, and man was the rest of Queensborough surprised when they learned about it the next day. It happened right here in the Manse living room where I’m typing these words; and it is one of the great boasts of my life that I can say I was present on that historic occasion when my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, declared Bobbie and Allan man and wife.

But back to the June 1945 wedding of Joan Murray and Roscoe Keene – the happy couple you can see having confetti tossed at them in the photo at the top of this post, and eventually Grant’s aunt and uncle.

Grant sent me that photo, as well as the one you’ll see just below, because he knew I am interested in a) local history and b) photos showing the Manse (the house I grew up in, and to which I returned a few years back) in earlier times. To which I say publicly (as I told him privately at the time): Thank you so much, Grant!

Here’s the second photo:

Keene wedding

The wedding party is all smiles in this photo taken at the northeast corner of the Manse: from left, Winnifred (Keene) Ketcheson, sister of the groom; bride Joan (Lomax Murray) Keene; dashing groom Roscoe Keene (Winnifred’s brother); Bessie Keene (mother of Roscoe and Winnifred); and Cora Patterson, wife of The Rev. W.W. Patterson, who had just performed the marriage at the Manse. You can read more about Cora and W.W. Patterson and their time at the Manse here and here and here. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson, Winnifred’s son)

I’ll dispense fairly quickly with the house details that Raymond and I spotted with interest in examining these two photos. And then I’ll turn to my main focus for this post: war and remembrance. Because, as we all know, this coming Friday is Remembrance Day.

So yes, house details: it is fascinating to see what our Manse looked like a little over 71 years ago. Probably the first thing I noticed was the lovely maple tree on the front lawn behind Joan and Roscoe in the first picture; that tree was an important part of my childhood in this Manse. Here’s a photo from about 1968 of my two little brothers, John and Ken, playing in the shade of that same tree:

John and Ken 2

My brothers Ken (left) and John, sometime in the mid to late 1960s, playing in the shade of the old maple tree that you can see behind the newlyweds in the photo atop this post.

The tree was, most unfortunately, cut down some years before Raymond and I bought the Manse; as I told you here, we have honoured its memory and striven to bring shade back to our front lawn by planting a new maple in its place.

We were also interested to see that in 1945 the rounded door to nowhere off a second-storey room (my father’s study during my childhood here), as well as the “official” front door (which no one ever used) that shows up in both of Grant’s photos, were painted quite a dark colour as opposed to white, which they are today. There are also the old windows, two panes over two, that I hope to replicate as part of our renovation/restoration project. And finally in that first photo, I am struck by how well one can see, in the top left corner, the house far to the rear of the Manse on the property next door. Trees that have grown up since then would make that house invisible in a photo taken from the same angle today.

In the second photo, the main change we noticed was the railing along the porch of the Kincaid house in the right of the picture, immediately to the north of the Manse. Raymond and I added that empty historic house to our Queensborough holdings a year and a half ago, and arranged to have a new porch built to replace the crumbled old one:

New porch being built at the Kincaid House

But we didn’t think about a railing. So that old photo is food for thought, and possible future action.

However: architectural details are surely not what you will find most interesting about these photos. What makes them compelling is the story behind them, which I will tell with Grant’s help.

“My uncle’s wedding, June 9, 1945,” he begins. “He married a war widow, Joan Lomax-Murray.

“Her first husband, Alec Murray, was a Barnardo boy who grew up at Hazzard’s.”

Now, I’ll stop the narrative here to explain for younger readers (or readers from other countries) who may not catch the reference: “Barnardo” children, named for Thomas John Barnardo, were children from the United Kingdom who, because they were orphans or came from impoverished families, were “rescued” and sent to Canada, where they were raised by Canadian families, usually rural ones. Here’s how Library and Archives Canada explains it, in the introduction to a large amount of information about “Home Children”:

Between 1869 and the late 1930s, over 100,000 juvenile migrants were sent to Canada from the British Isles during the child emigration movement. Motivated by social and economic forces, churches and philanthropic organizations sent orphaned, abandoned and pauper children to Canada. Many believed that these children would have a better chance for a healthy, moral life in rural Canada, where families welcomed them as a source of cheap farm labour and domestic help.

Thomas John Barnardo began the movement, first opening a school in London for these kids who came from dreadful circumstances, and later arranging for them to travel to Canada. Doubtless his intentions were good, but many of these children, torn from home and everything they knew, were placed in unsympathetic families who used them as a source of free labour. Here is a story from the Winnipeg Free Press that gives a sense of what some of them endured. That said, there can be no doubt that other “Barnardo boys” found good and welcoming homes in Canada. It seems Alec Murray was one of these; the fact that, after his death, his English widow went to the trouble to come and visit his Canadian “family” tells you that he must have spoken fondly of that family and his experience in this country. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s let Grant continue to tell the story.

As he told me in a phone conversation this evening, Alec Murray – known locally, like other Barnardo boys, as “an English lad” – became very much a part of the Madoc and Madoc Township community, and particularly the community around the tiny Madoc Township community of Hazzards Corners. He worked on farms in the area, and was very active in the historic landmark church that marks those corners.

As an adult, when war came to the Commonwealth and the world, Alec Murray returned to England, to serve and, it seems, to revisit his roots in the area of Manchester, England. While there, he met and fell in love with a young woman from that same area – and they married. Here is a photo of that wedding at Swinton, England:

alec-and-joan-murrays-wedding

(Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson)

When you see the bright smiles on the faces of Alec and his new bride, the former Joan Lomax, it’s heartbreaking to know that Alec did not survive the war. Private Alec Murray “of Madoc, Ontario” was killed at Ortona, Italy, in December 1942. Grant continues:

“His widow came to Canada to visit with Alec’s Canadian family, and [eventually] married my mother’s brother, Roscoe Keene. It is a long and touching love story that I hope to put on paper someday.

“My mother [who, readers, you will recall from the second photo in this post was there at the wedding at the Manse] always said that there should have been a stone in the cemetery for Alec Murray as he had become a ‘Hazzards boy,’ always active in the church. When my Aunt Joan died, Uncle Roscoe had the stone inscribed with their names [his and Joan’s] and “Farewell My English Rose” added after Aunt Joan’s name.

“At the bottom of the stone, he had this added: ‘In loving memory of Sgt. Alec Murray C4552, Killed in Italy 09/12/43. He gave his all for us.’

Here is a picture of that gravestone:

keene-gravestone

(Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson)

I don’t know about you, readers, but as Remembrance Day 2016 approaches, my eyes fill with tears when I read, “He gave his all for us.”

Perhaps especially so because the inscription was done at the behest of Roscoe Keene, the now-nonagenarian second husband and widower of Joan, who died in 1999. The same Roscoe Keene who is the dashing young man you see in those photos taken on his wedding day – June 9, 1945 – here at our Manse in Queensborough, and who now lives near Kingston, Ont., enjoying a well-deserved retirement after many years as a marine engineer. What a class act Mr. Keene is, to have had an inscription honouring Alec Murray added to the tombstone for himself and his late wife in the historic cemetery at Hazzards Corners Church.

“Yes, Alec Murray is remembered at Hazzard’s Cemetery!” says Grant. “Now, I think my uncle is a classy guy, and I have told him so. I think that whole story would make a great Nov. 11 story.”

And indeed it does. A story of love, loss, sacrifice, strength and reslience.

Let us not forget.

Simple pleasures: an old-fashioned Halloween party

Halloween conga at QCC

An old-fashioned conga line was the final dance at the community Halloween party at the Queensborough Community Centre Saturday night. Historic surroundings (it’s the village’s well-preserved former one-room schoolhouse), lots of treats, families in costume, music: it was a recipe for a great time.

Boo! And happy Halloween to you all. May your plastic pumpkin be filled with oodles of treats, and the inside of your plastic mask not get too slippery and uncomfortable as it fills up with condensation from your excited breathing as you race door to door.

Oh, wait: I’m channelling some long-ago Halloween memories from my Queensborough childhood – the days when kids wore plastic masks that were doubtless highly flammable, when our identity had to be guessed by each householder before treats could be doled out to our plastic pumpkins, and when those treats were, as often as not, homemade maple and chocolate fudge and sticky-sweet popcorn balls. Those were the days!

But speaking of old-fashioned Halloweens, I thought I’d tell you about an event we had in our little village this past Saturday night that really reminded me of them. It was a community Halloween party/dance organized by the Queensborough Community Centre committee, and yours truly was there to take it all in, help out, and get some photos.

Welcome to the QCC Halloween party

Thanks to Halloween aficonado Tom Sims of Queensborough, we had a huge and spooky welcomer to all who came to the party.

This was the first Halloween event the QCC folks had organized in many years, and no one knew how many people were likely to show up. In the end the turnout was pretty decent, though we had room for more. But really, I thought to myself as I watched the kids dancing and racing around on the dance floor, taking part in the games (more on that in a sec) and generally having a rip-roaring good time, what do numbers matter? Those of us who were there – especially those under the age of 15 or so – had a ball, and that’s all that matters. And if word gets around about what a good Halloween party Queensborough throws, who knows? We may have lots more participants next year.

At any rate, it was a delightful old-fashioned event.

The community centre (Queensborough’s historic former one-room school) was decorated to the hilt:

Mummy in the window

How much is that mummy in the window?

Ghost in the doorway

I believe this is the ghost of Miss Havisham in the doorway!

There was, as is Queensborough tradition, tons of food – evilly delicious snack foods, but also treats like homemade cookies and brownies. And all of it was placed around an ominous-looking table centrepiece wearing Professor Trelawney spectacles:

Treats on the table

There were games and contests, like the one where you had to guess the number of seeds that had come out of the pumpkin:

Pumpkin prize

And there was bobbing for apples! That’s a game I’ve heard about all my life, but had never actually seen in action before. Here’s what it looked like:

Bobbing for apples

A superhero keeps a watchful eye on two urchins bobbing for apples.

A bobbing for apples win

We have a winner!

And there was musical chairs, one of the simplest games of all time, which proved to be wildly popular with the kids:

Musical chairs

Racing for a seat when the music stopped. What a kerfuffle!

There were treat bags for everyone, and costume prizes…

Treat bags and costume prizes

And of course there were judges to award the prizes! Here’s one of them (note the alleged visual impairment of the judge), complete with pet skunk on his shoulder:

Judge Ed with his pet skunk

And here are both of our suitably dark-robed judges doing – of course – the Monster Mash:

And speaking of dancing, there was lots of that. The Macarena was a particularly big hit. How do they remember all the moves?

And how often do a wee kitty-cat and a wee Supergirl get to do the Macarena with Catwoman?

I’m going to close with one last video, showing pretty much everybody – Captain America, Wonder Woman, the Scarecrow, the Incredible Hulk, a beautiful angel and many more whooping it up on the dance floor. It was a happy evening, reminiscent of simpler times.

The world needs more of this.