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.

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?

A Queensborough miscellany, complete with porcupine

Roscoe, Liz and me at the Manse

Raymond and I had some visitors to the Manse one recent hot summery September Sunday afternoon: nonagenarian Roscoe Keene and his daughter Elizabeth Turcotte. (That’s me to the left of Roscoe.) While they both live in the area of Elginburg, Ont., Roscoe grew up in Madoc Township and has many family ties in this area. He also has a very special tie to the Manse, and there’s a reason why this part of the house was chosen for a photo to commemorate the visit. Read on for more…

Time for a another roundup of the news from Queensborough, people. I believe I’ve mentioned before that there’s never a dull moment in our little hamlet; here’s a sampling of what’s been happening over the past week or so, just to prove my point. And yes, read to the end and you will be rewarded with a porcupine.

Turkey Supper 2017

We had a full house and a lot of happy diners at the St. Andrew’s United Church Turkey Supper last Wednesday. Everyone was in a good mood, and the food and conversation were great. Another huge success in a long history of feeding people well at St. Andrew’s!

First: thank you so much to all who came out for the famous annual Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church! We had a fantastic turnout of people from near and far, and everyone was so nice and so complimentary about the fine meal. Best of all, since all the volunteer cooks and pie-bakers had been asked to cook and bake a bit more than usual, our food supply held up well and – unlike last year, when the unexpectedly huge crowd meant we ran out by the end – there was lots left after the doors closed, which meant that the hard-working cooks, servers, ticket-sellers and dishwashers could sit down together and enjoy a great feast. This event, which has been going on for longer than I’ve been on this planet (which is a not inconsiderable time), is an important one for St. Andrew’s: important because it gives us a chance to open our doors to the wider community and share one of our church’s great gifts, which is our ability to feed people really, really well; and also important because the money raised will help support the work of our little church both here and in the wider world. A good time was had by all, and it was for a very good cause.

Next item: A great visit and some sharing of memories at the Manse. Take another look at the photo at the top of this post. It shows Roscoe Keene and his daughter Elizabeth Turcotte (with yours truly), when Roscoe and Liz dropped in for a long-planned visit a week ago Sunday. We’re standing in front of the northeast corner of the Manse – which, as it happens, is just about the same place where Roscoe posed for a photo with his family on the day he and the former Joan Murray were married at the Manse, 72 years earlier. I told you the story of that wedding in this post, and here is one of the photos I used in it, showing the dashingly handsome and very happy groom with his new bride and his family:

Keene wedding

Joan (second from left) and Roscoe Keene in front of the northeast corner of the Manse on the day they were married here: June 9, 1945. With them are (from left) Roscoe’s sister Winnifred Ketcheson; Bessie Keene, Roscoe and Winnifred’s mother; and Cora Patterson – who, as the wife of The Rev. W.W. Patterson, who had just performed the wedding ceremony, lived in the house where Raymond and I do now. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson, Winnifred’s son and Roscoe’s nephew)

Item #3 is what I like to think of as a little Canada Post miracle. The other day this package arrived at the Manse:

Mailed to the Manse

What it contained was the latest issue of Municipal World magazine, which includes a story by my friend Liz Huff of Seeley’s Bay, Ont. Liz and I met when we were both speakers at events called Teeny Tiny Summits, organized by small municipalities and the Ontario Ministry of  Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for people who live in teeny tiny places (like Queensborough and Seeley’s Bay) to share ideas on maintaining their communities as great places to live, attracting people to them, and ensuring that residents get the services they need. Liz’s story is about those events and how they’re helping rural Ontario, and she was kind enough to make mention in it of me and my work here at Meanwhile, at the Manse.

But nice as it was to get the magazine with Liz’s story in it, I have to confess that the real thrill was that the package made it to us at all! After all, Queensborough hasn’t had a post office for almost 50 years; and “The Manse” isn’t exactly the kind of “911 address” that Canada Post usually insists on for delivery. (I wrote here about how a letter I’d sent a while back to a rural route address – something that worked just fine for mail delivery for decades – was sent right back to me by the post office.)

So: wow! Thank you, Canada Post, for recognizing Queensborough, even though it isn’t officially a post-office place (and in fact is confusingly torn between two other post-office places, as you can read here). Perhaps the Manse has become a destination!

And now the item that I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: Yes, it’s the porcupine. Raymond spotted it this morning on Queensborough Road just west of the village. When he stopped the car and hopped out to get some footage, Porky waddled from the eastbound lane over to the side of the road, continuing his westward journey while accompanying himself with a little hum. (Actually those sounds are probably him expressing concern about Raymond’s presence.) We’ve seen too many of these remarkable creatures dead in the middle of the road, struck by vehicles and left for the turkey vultures to pick over. What a nice change to come across one alive and well, and saying hello to boot!

Queensborough will never have a better friend than Johnny Barry

Johnny mowing along Bosley Road, September 2013

This is how I will always think of Johnny: on his second-best ride-on mower, giving his own time, labour and lawn-mower-gas money to keep the public spaces of Queensborough – in this case the grass alongside Bosley Road, a little south of the Manse – looking their best.


Sheriff Johnny 1

A couple of years ago, some of Johnny’s Queensborough friends decided they should make “official” what everybody knew anyway: that he was our village’s sheriff, always on patrol to make sure everything was as it should be. (Photo courtesy of Johnny’s wife, Anne Barry)

“You need somebody to cut that grass!” the man behind the wheel of the pickup truck shouted out through his open window one spring morning in the first year Raymond and I owned the Manse. We had travelled from our then-home in Montreal to spend the weekend in Queensborough, and I was doing an inspection of the grounds to see what needed doing.

“I sure do!” I responded as I approached the truck idling in front of the Manse. (This even though the question of who was going to cut the grass had not once occurred to me until that moment. It wasn’t going to be us, because a) we weren’t at the Manse very often in those days, and grass grows quickly; and b) we didn’t have a lawn mower.)

Sheriff Johnny 2

Johnny’s sheriff’s badge on the back of his hat. (Photo courtesy of Anne Barry)

“Could you do it? I’m Katherine, by the way.”

And he was Johnny. And Johnny totally knew who I was, even though I don’t think we’d ever met until that early-spring morning. When I was a kid growing up in Queensborough at the Manse, I knew the Barrys, Johnny’s family; but I believe in those years he was off working in other places. Johnny knew who I was because he was Queensborough’s unofficial sheriff, keeping an eye on everything that was going on and making sure that things were going on as they should be going on. And the fact that the daughter of a former minister here had bought the former United Church Manse and was spending the occasional weekend in it would most certainly not have been something Johnny didn’t know all about.

That day five years ago began our friendship with Johnny, who not only cut our grass for those five years but helped us out in a hundred different ways.

When we needed someone to make a gravel driveway, he rustled up Charlie Murphy, who did a superlative job. When we needed someone to repair an elderly whipper-snipper weed-whacker, he directed us to Frank Brooks, who specializes in such repairs. When I asked him how I could get rid of an ancient clothesline wheel that was permanently stuck into a tree in the back yard, he disappeared it for me. When we needed a new porch on the neighbouring Kincaid House that we bought a couple of years ago, he and his good friend and ours, Chuck Steele, built one for us. When underbrush on the Manse property needed clearing, he cleared it. And so on and so on and so on.

Johnny supervising the driveway project

Johnny in his dark-blue Ford 150 keeping an eye on the creation of our new driveway at the Manse – which he had organized.

But even though we were, and are, grateful for all this work he did for us and all the helpful advice he gave us, it’s more for his friendship and his example that I treasure his memory.

Johnny’s family, friends and community said goodbye to him this past weekend. After an up-and-down battle with cancer, Johnny died on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

“Queensborough will never have a better friend,” I said in my headline for this post. And that is true. It is also true that Queensborough will never be the same.

Johnny liked a tidy village, and that was that. It made him happy when people kept their properties, lawns and gardens looking neat – and it made him grumpy when they didn’t. Those sentiments extended to public property, and Johnny could regularly be seen on one of his two trusty riding mowers cutting the grass alongside of all the roads in the village, down by the river, and in other public places. Keeping Queensborough looking good.

Johnny and others spreading topsoil

Johnny (in purple T-shirt) and other volunteers – Tom Sims in the back of Johnny’s truck, and Ed and Jen Couperus – spreading donated topsoil on a problem corner in Queensborough. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)


Johnny weedwhacking

Johnny weedwhacking near one of the entrances to Queensborough. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)


Johnny's truck loaded with cleared brush

Johnny’s truck loaded with cleared-out brush. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)


Johnny and Chuck 2, August 2016

A Queensborough moment: Johnny (right) and his good friend and fellow fan of grass-mowing, Chuck Steele, take a break from their labours and chew the fat one day late last summer.

Property-owners who don’t even live here and who let their properties deteriorate drove him crazy. After a while he could only take so much, and then he’d be on his riding mower again, cutting their grass too and then clearing out brush or whatever needed to be done. Doubtless he never received a word of thanks (or a dime) from the negligent property-owners, but those of us who live here loved him for it.

Johnny watering the flowers

This is classic Johnny Barry, volunteering his time and labour to water the flower baskets in Queensborough every single day. Johnny wanted Queensborough to look tidy and beautiful, and he worked tirelessly to make that happen. If you go to the Facebook page of the Queensborough Beautification Committee (the volunteer group that puts up the flower baskets every year), you can watch the video of Johnny in action from which this screen shot was taken. “Tomorrow morning I’m going to be up by Ralph Underhill’s cutting brush,” Johnny tells Jos Pronk as Jos shoots the video. That’s Johnny: always another project in mind to make Queensborough look better. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)

In recent years Queensborough has been adorned from spring to early fall with hanging baskets of flowers throughout the village. Johnny and Anne did an enormous amount of work to make sure those flowers were kept looking good. Like clockwork every early evening last summer, Johnny and Anne would go around the village watering the flowers. Johnny had done it himself the previous year, but last year he was already battling the effects of the cancer that had struck, and the treatment, and the aftermath. But as Johnny often said to me: “You’ve got to keep going.”

Hanging basket, Queensborough, June 2016

One of the beautiful hanging baskets that Johnny and Anne watered every day last summer.

And keep going he did, pretty much until he died. Only 10 days before that happened, he was out and about in Queensborough, raking up winter sand along the roadsides so that the municipal crews would cart it off. I had a good chat with him and Anne that morning, in which I got a tiny bit of a well-deserved (though good-humoured) lecture from him for being tardy in raking up last fall’s leaves from the Manse yard. Later that day he stopped by when doing his rounds in his pickup, telling me that when I did rake up the leaves, to leave them in piles and he’d come and take them away. He knew, and I knew, that he was very ill. “No way!” I said. “You can’t do that!” He assured me that he could and he would.

I raked up the last of those leaves this past Saturday afternoon, after returning home from Johnny’s funeral. Both it and the visitation the previous day were packed with friends; Johnny was a friend to everyone. I was happy, though not surprised, that as people spoke to Anne and to Amanda and Maryanne, Anne and Johnny’s beautiful daughters, there was a great deal of laughter mixed in with the tears. There isn’t a soul who knew him who doesn’t have a funny memory about something Johnny said or did. He was a good-humoured person to the core. He said what he thought and he didn’t hold back, and sometimes what came out (like when he was talking about people who let their properties get messy) could take you aback – but it was the plain-spoken truth, and underneath it were his good-heartedness, good intentions, and sense of humour. Johnny had an absolute heart of gold, and everyone knew it. He loved a good laugh, and I know he would be happy that his friends were laughing even as they mourned his death.

Here is a video that makes me laugh. Our neighbour Chuck had an old shed on his property that he wanted to get rid of. It turned out that the shed, though small, was amazingly heavy, and it became problematic as to how it was going to get taken away. Of course Johnny had a plan. It involved a big truck owned by Smokey’s Towing of Queensborough (Smokey’s owner, Chris Moak, being a dear friend of Johnny); and it was quite the production, involving several neighbours who came to watch (me) and to help (others). As I filmed it, I thought, “This is classic ‘How we roll in Queensborough.’ ” Here’s the triumphant moment when they finally got the shed to load onto the big truck:

And here is what happened next! The shed was so heavy that the loaded-down big truck got stuck in the soft earth of Chuck’s yard. But – Johnny to the rescue! He and his hard-working Ford pickup pulled the whole shebang, and off went the shed for good.

Moving the shed 8

Big truck stuck? No problem! Johnny’s Ford pickup to the rescue, Johnny (of course) behind the wheel and directing the operation.

Anyway, back to me raking up the leaves from my yard. As you can imagine, my mind was filled with thoughts and memories of Johnny as I was doing it. Every time I do any property-maintenance work at the Manse, I think of Johnny, because I know he would approve. I am pretty sure he was happy that Raymond and I did a lot of cleanup around the Manse right after we bought it, turning a place that had been a tad neglected into a pretty attractive sight (if I do say so myself). That approval showed itself in his never-failing willingness to help us get the work done, whether that meant finding workers for a project, carting off rotting logs in his truck – or offering, just the other day, to pick up my piles of leaves. Basically, when it comes to doing work around the property, we ask ourselves: “WWJD”? (What would Johnny do?) And then we do it.

I mentioned Anne and Johnny’s daughters, but I haven’t yet mentioned Amanda and Maryanne’s children, Max, Owen and Will. Johnny was so proud of those little boys – as well he should have been. They are handsome and smart and well-spoken and friendly – a tribute to their parents and grandparents. Owen read one of the scripture passages at the funeral, and though he is only in Grade 2, he read it astoundingly well. His Poppy would have been bursting with pride. In fact, from somewhere high above us, I’m sure he was.

Here is one final video, shot by my friend Elaine in 2012, the first year we owned the Manse, on a day when Raymond and I weren’t here to see the action that we’d commissioned at our Queensborough house. Elaine was filming the stump grinder whom she’d found to come in and remove the remains of a big lovely maple tree that adorned the front yard of the Manse when I was a kid here but that had been cut down several years before. The stump-grinding is quite interesting to see, but what’s the best is when Johnny comes riding into the picture on his mower and gives a huge wave:

That’s our Johnny. The absolute best.

All of us in Queensborough will miss his hard work, his leadership, his example, and his sense of humour as he offered commentary on the passing scene from his favourite chair on the front porch of the lovely home that was one of many he built.

But his legacy will live on. Those same qualities – his hard work, leadership, example and sense of humour – will, I believe, continue to inspire us all to ask ourselves, “What would Johnny do?” and then do it. And in the process keep Queensborough looking as beautiful and as tidy as it does now – as Johnny would want.

If a little bit of Johnny stays with all of us in Queensborough – as I’m sure it will – then we’re good to go.

Thanks, Johnny.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Queensborough!

Valentines in Queensborough, 2017Thought I’d share with you nice people the delightful Valentine’s Day-themed touch that the volunteers with the Queensborough Beautification Committee have added to our made-in-Queensborough street signs.

Really, Queensborough is just the best. Isn’t it?

Bosley Road valentine

New neighbours: the ruffed-grouse family next door

Grouses in the trees

“Look! The trees are full of big birds!” That was the excitement here at the Manse this past late Saturday afternoon. We think they are ruffed grouses. Wow!

The world is full of scary things these days. Innocent people killed at a worship service, right here in our own country. Chaos and ominous, discriminatory edicts from the centre of power in the nation immediately to the south of us, the most powerful in the world. I don’t know about you, but I feel like we’ve entered a dark time. Which means it’s up to all of us to light up our own little corner of the world in any way we can, but especially with kindness and support for others – both the neighbours and family members we know, and the strangers from afar who are trying to make a go of it for themselves and their families in a new place. Enough light shone in enough corners can change the world, you know.

Here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, I try to shed a little light by telling you stories of life in Queensborough and environs that I hope you’ll find interesting, entertaining, maybe sometimes even touching. In tiny out-of-the-way Queensborough, neighbours always help neighbours. Also: it’s the place where it feels like, as a neighbour and friend of ours once said, “The world could end and you wouldn’t know it.” That, I think, makes it a good setting for stories that might brighten things up for us all once in a while.

Today I want to tell you about a simple yet rather astonishing thing that has twice brightened up the day for Raymond and me here at the Manse recently.

The first occurrence was a sunny morning a few days ago. Raymond was upstairs; I was down. I heard him calling me to come up, with some urgency. Up I zipped, and joined him at the north-facing window of our bedroom, which looks out on the adjacent property where the historic Kincaid house sits. “Look! Look!” he urged me. And there, to my astonishment, I saw a whole whack of big birds collecting beside the Kincaid house porch. They weren’t wild turkeys, a large bird that one sees fairly often, generally in groups, around here. They weren’t turkey vultures, another large and striking (in a rather ominous way) bird. They had ruffy things on the top of their heads. “I think they’re ruffed grouses!” I exclaimed. Like I knew what I was talking about, which I didn’t. But we are pretty sure they were ruffed grouses – and people, how often have you had a big collection of ruffed grouses show up outside your bedroom window? I was only sorry I didn’t have my phone to hand to get a photo.

They didn’t stay long; they flew up and over the top of the old barn/shed attached to the Kincaid house, and were gone. But we were delighted once again, as we have been so many times since we bought the Manse, at a wildlife sighting. It’s so different from living in the big city.

This past Saturday, some out-of-town friends arrived for a weekend visit. As we were catching up on what’s going on in their lives and ours, we mentioned with delight the recent visit of our ruffed-grouse clan. A couple of hours later, as afternoon turned to evening and the four of us were sitting at the dining-room table enjoying some delightful before-dinner snacks that Raymond had whipped up, I happened to glance out a north-facing window to the trees that hang over the Kincaid house.

“Look! The trees are full of big birds!” I shouted. Everyone turned to look, and I dashed outside with my phone to try to get some pictures before darkness had fully set in. And there they were again: six or seven very large birds, ruffed crests atop their heads, bobbing about in the trees. They seemed as happy as all get out, carrying on a conversation in what I thought were oddly tiny voices for such large birds. If you watch this little video and turn up the volume, you can listen in:

So it seems a grouse clan may have taken up residence in our neighbourhood. And I think that is a happy and interesting thing. Just the bright spot that a person needs in their corner for some cheer in these trying times.

Good neighbours

Ruth and Chuck on moving day

Ruth and Chuck on their final morning this past weekend at their lovely, historic home on King Street in Queensborough, across the way from the Manse.

This past weekend, Raymond and I said goodbye (for now) to Chuck and Ruth Steele, who have been our neighbours and friends since we bought the Manse five years ago. Chuck and Ruth have sold their home around the corner from us – it’s one of the prettiest and most historic houses in Queensborough – and are moving to not-too-far-away Belleville.

We’ll miss them. A lot.

In January 2012, when we were new to the Manse and I was back in Queensborough for the first time since my childhood here, I only knew a few people in the village and environs – people who’d been here when I was a kid and my dad was the minister back in the 1960s and ’70s. Among the very first of the “new” people Raymond and I met (though in reality we were the new people) were Chuck and Ruth, who introduced themselves, warmly welcomed us, and quickly became the best across-the-way neighbours anyone could hope for.

I have so many good memories of them over the past five years!

Jen and Dustin loading the truck

In typical Queensborough fashion, several neighbours showed up this past Saturday morning to help Chuck and Ruth with their move. Here, Dustin Whalen loads boxes into the truck while Jen Couperus stacks them at the rear.

We treasure all of our good neighbours in Queensborough, and I could tell you stories about the kind, funny and interesting things that pretty much every one of them has done since we’ve been at the Manse. But since Ruth and Chuck are the ones who have recently moved, today’s post is going to be about the kind, funny and interesting ways in which they have been our wonderful neighbours. But just before I get to that list, I want to emphasize that even though Chuck and Ruth have moved, they are not going to be strangers to Raymond and me. They’re now our friends, and a bit more distance between us doesn’t change that.

Okay, some stories to show you what good neighbours they have been. Let’s start with one that is highly embarrassing to me.

When the Hastings County Plowing Match was held at the Queensborough farm of Angus and Don McKinnon this past summer, and St. Andrew’s United Church of Queensborough (along with its two partner churches) had a food booth there, church members and friends were asked to make pies to sell. (Pie is a big deal in Queensborough, and people are good at making it, as you can see in this post.)

People, I do not make pie. It’s not because I don’t want to; it’s because I can’t. Every time in my life that I’ve tried to make pie crust – admittedly, you could count those tries on the finger of one hand and have several fingers left over – it’s been a disaster. But I tried. I tried a lemon meringue pie. I didn’t get fancy; I used the lemon-meringue-pie mix that comes in a box. There are instructions on that box. What could go wrong?

It was a disaster.

I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I sure as heck knew I wasn’t going to take that pie to the booth at the plowing match.

“Ask Ruth if she’ll make a pie!” cheerfully suggested Ed, another of our wonderful neighbours. Brilliant!

I was shy about doing it, but I was desperate. I went over to Ruth and humbly explained my predicament.

And she made two gorgeous lemon meringue pies. Look! Here’s the evidence – my sorry-looking excuse for a pie on the left, and Ruth’s miraculous creation on the right.

Ruth's pie vs. my pie

And speaking of lemon meringue pie – I have another little Chuck and Ruth story in which it plays a role.

“Queensborough: the place where you go out for a community meeting, come home and open the barbecue to make supper, and find two pieces of homemade lemon meringue pie there. To whomever we owe thanks for this wonderful surprise dessert: thank you!”

That was my post on Facebook one day last August. I was dead beat from a long day followed by that evening meeting. But to open the barbecue on the front porch and find two pieces of homemade lemon-meringue pie there – wow!

lemon-pie-in-the-barbecue

The surprise lemon-meringue pie in the barbecue.

Of course the pie had suffered a tiny bit from being there under the barbecue lid for perhaps a couple of hours. But man, was it delicious! Raymond and I gobbled it up after whatever it was that we barbecued that night. (I can’t remember the main course, but I sure remember that pie.) And of course you can guess to whom we owed the kind gesture of the surprise pie. Chuck had brought over two pieces of Ruth’s latest fabulous baking project, discovered we weren’t at home, and left it for us in a place he was pretty sure we’d find it.

There were so many other kind gestures over these past five years: Chuck bringing over his snowblower to clear out our socked-in driveway after a snowstorm; invitations for get-togethers at which there was so much of Ruth’s amazing cooking that we left barely able to move; Chuck bringing over his pickup one spring morning to boost the killed-by-winter battery of Raymond’s truck:

Chuck helping Raymond boost the truck

Chuck setting up the booster cables between his truck and Raymond’s to get the latter going again after a long, cold winter being parked in the Manse garage.

And:

  • The helpful advice from Chuck on things like weed-whackers and truck trailers and such.
  • The kind gestures to others in the community, like the homemade cookies Ruth always had on hand for neighbourhood kids.
  • Their contributions to the community, through their volunteer work with the Queensborough Beautification Committee and just making their own home and grounds look so nice that they were a model to others in the village:
Ruth's beautiful garden

Ruth’s beautiful garden, a pleasure for us to look at all summer long from the front of the Manse.

Avocado-green phone

I adore my avocado-green phone, which I have Chuck to thank for.

Also: Chuck spotting something for sale online that he knew I needed, and letting me know about it right away. It was, of course – of course! – an avocado-green dial phone; I mean, who doesn’t need an avocado-green dial phone to remind them of their midcentury youth? Thanks to Chuck, we are now the proud owners of that phone, which isn’t hooked up yet but I am thinking might make a fine addition to a retro-style avocado-green bathroom here at the Manse…

(Which reminds me of another way, this one kind of inadvertent, in which Chuck and Ruth were an inspiration: their Queensborough home still has its c.-1970 avocado-green bathroom! Sadly, I don’t have a photo of it.)

Then there was the time Raymond’s two-year-old grandson, Henry, and his parents visited us here in Queensborough and, just as they were leaving for the long drive back to Quebec’s Eastern Townships, Ruth appeared with a new toy truck to keep Henry occupied and amused on his ride home. He was delighted!

Henry, Justine and Pepere on the swings

Henry, his Pépère (grandfather) Raymond and mum Justine on the swings at the Queensborough Community Centre. Henry’s visit was capped by a gift from Ruth.

Maybe the best thing of all, though, was just knowing that Ruth and Chuck were there. They kept an eye on our place when we weren’t around, which was always a comfort. More importantly, their presence in their lovely home, the lights shining in their kitchen and in their spacious enclosed front porch in the evenings, gave us a feeling of – well, neighbourliness. Queensborough is a small place amid a lot of wide open lonely space where you can sometimes hear the wolves and coyotes howling on a cold and dark winter night. When you look out the window on one of those nights, you like to see the lights of your neighbours from within their snug homes. It makes you feel snug and safe too.

When we popped over to Ruth and Chuck’s for a quick night-before-the-move visit last Friday, Raymond and I were fortunate enough to meet the new owners of their home, Steve and Dana and their two little girls. We really look forward to having them as our new neighbours when they arrive in a very few days.

But since Saturday, Ruth and Chuck’s home (as I continue to think of it) has been dark at night, for the first time in our five years at the Manse. It is dark tonight. No Ruth puttering in the kitchen; no Chuck tinkering in the garage or sharing funny things on Facebook at his computer. It makes me sad and a little lonely when I look out the window of the Manse.

I have one last Ruth and Chuck story to tell you. A few months ago, Raymond and I left for a brief trip somewhere or other and, a couple of hours into it, realized that we weren’t sure if either of us had turned off the coffee pot before we left. What a couple of dopes! I called Ruth and, with more than a little embarrassment, asked if they would mind walking over and checking it for us. (We had given them a key to the Manse long before, just in case.) Of course they didn’t mind a bit, checked things out, and called to assure us that the coffee maker had been turned off and all was well.

Burned coffee pot

What happens when you lose your neighbours.

Okay, that’s Part 1 of the story.

Here’s Part 2: This past weekend, after saying goodbye to Ruth and Chuck, we had to be in Toronto overnight. They were finishing the loading of the moving truck when we left. When we came home the next day, they were gone. Our neighbours’ house was dark and silent.

And at the Manse? We’d left the coffee pot on.

I think it was a sign that we need our neighbours.

Chuck and Ruth, thank you for everything. I’ll leave you and the readers with one last photo of your Queensborough home while you were here, a summer day when a splendid rainbow shone over it and our village. May the rainbow always shine over you!

rainbow-over-chuck-and-ruths-house