No one else can take your place.

Denise distributes the dimes

Making the message real: Denise Gray, a hardworking community activist in the fight to save Madoc Township Public School, hands out a dime to each of the school-board trustees at a recent meeting – to help them remember how little playground space will be available to local schoolchildren if MTPS is closed.

Many people around here have complained about the dizzyingly fast process set up by the local public school board to decide on the fate of several schools, including the one that serves Queensborough and matters most to us: Madoc Township Public School. People have argued persuasively that it’s senseless and unjust to have a public consultation and review process beginning only five months before the board’s final decision is to be made. Likewise, families with children at MTPS, and really the community as a whole, are appalled that the aforementioned final decision is to be made in mid-June, only days before the end of the school year. If that decision goes against the continued life of Madoc Township Public School, forcing its students to be bused into the village of Madoc starting in September, we will have just a few days to say goodbye to a place that has been immeasurably important in the life of our local community. “Cruel” comes to mind as the most appropriate adjective for this process. It’s cruel to the kids to uproot them so suddenly; and it’s cruel to the community to tear its heart out with so little time and thought given to more constructive possibilities.

That all said – and that all being 100-per-cent true – in some ways it’s starting to feel like the process has been a long-drawn-out one. There was a flurry of meetings at the outset, in January, February and March and even into April; but now, according to the schedule prepared by the school board, it’s a bit of a waiting game. Only two more meetings on the subject are scheduled: one on Tuesday, May 23, when a committee of board trustees prepares a final recommendation for the full board to vote on; and the one at which the vote on that recommendation takes place, on Monday, June 19. At neither of those meetings is the public allowed to speak; that ship has sailed. But – and this is a very big but, and the point of this post:

These are public meetings.

This means that you can attend them.

And I’m going to tell you why it’s critical that you do attend them.

Both of the special sessions at which the public was invited to speak on the school-consolidation proposal were well-attended. (For those who are just joining us from Mars, that proposal is:

  • to close Madoc Township Public School this June;
  • to send its students to Madoc Public School, a building in town that is not in nearly as good physical shape as MTPS, and that has an extreme shortage of playground space;
  • and to move all kids in Grades 7 and 8 from both schools’ catchment areas over to the high school in Madoc, Centre Hastings Secondary.)

But attendance at every other meeting that has taken place as part of the process has not been nearly as robust. Part of the reason is doubtless that people don’t necessarily want to sit through a meeting at which they can’t say anything, especially when the topic under discussion is one that means a lot to them and they really want to be able to speak about. Another reason is probably that the small group of people who have been attending and keeping an eye on the process has done a good job of getting the news out to the community, consulting with the community, and working to ensure community concerns are brought forward in any way possible. It is possible that this group is in some ways a victim of its own hard work and dedication: these people are doing such a good job of representing the community as a whole that the community as a whole feels it can stay home.

Well, that may have been true earlier in the process; but it’s not true now. On Tuesday, May 23, and Monday, June 19, you need to show up.

Both meetings take place at the school board’s headquarters, which is at 156 Ann St., Belleville. The time of the meetings has not yet been announced (though the June 19 one will probably be at 7 p.m.); I will keep you posted, or stay tuned to the Save Madoc Township Public School Facebook page.

Sign in front of the board office

I strongly suspect that it was activists working to save Madoc Township Public School who planted “Our Local Schools Matter” signs on the front lawn of the public school board’s Belleville headquarters ahead of a meeting on the school’s future held late last month. Good one!

The most recent demonstration of the impressive work of the volunteers supporting Madoc Township Public School came at a meeting at school-board headquarters in Belleville on Wednesday, April 26. It was a meeting of the trustees who sit on the board’s student enrolment/school capacity committee, and it was the public’s last chance to make presentations on the closure/consolidation proposal. (That same committee is the one that, on May 23, will be formulating the final recommendation that goes to the full 10-trustee board for a vote June 19.) Anyone who wanted to speak had to register five business days ahead of time; there was nothing impromptu about the exercise.

As I sat there and listened to the presentations, I was so proud of the hard work, research, passion and dedication of the speakers. I was impressed and heartened by the fact that the trustees who sit on the committee appeared to be paying very close attention to the points that were being made, with many of them taking notes throughout. This suggests that the decision is not a done deal, and that there is still quite a bit of hope that the trustees will vote against the recommendation made by the administrators who work for them.

But I can tell you this: that ray of hope will be a whole lot wider and brighter if the community shows up in strength on May 23 and June 19.

Let me return to the presentations made at that April 26 meeting. You can read a news report on it here (and see, in the accompanying photo, me furiously taking notes). But I’d like to share a few points from my notes on what was said, to give you a sense of the good work that’s being done by these volunteers to further our children’s education and well-being, and to nurture the growth and health of our rural community by saving our school:

  • Board administrators have offered no proof that the changes will give local children any access to enriched programs – one of the supposed reasons for the change.
  • The board’s own projections show enrolment at Madoc Township Public School (alone among the three local schools) growing, rather than declining.
  • If students in Grades 7 and 8 from Madoc Township and area were allowed to attend MTPS (as was recommended by the very citizens’ committee the board struck to review its administration’s plan), the school would be at or near capacity. (This recommendation was, it was pointed out, ignored by the board’s administration in preparing its final report to the trustees.)
  • Closing a school with relatively low renewal (renovation) needs – like MTPS – and moving students to a school where much more work needs to be done (Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary) would be a gamble by the board. The hoped-for outcome would be more money overall from the provincial government to repair decaying school facilities; but there is no guarantee that this money will come. In the meantime, a school in good condition (MTPS)  is lost forever.
  • The lack of any dates or timeliness in the final report by the board’s administrators is problematic. Let me explain: the administration’s final report on what is to happen to our local schools varies from its initial one in that it throws out a vague plan to “make a business case” to the provincial government for money to build a new kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school for all local students. MTPS would still be closed this June, and students in Grades 7 and 8 would still go to the high school in September, so nothing would change from Plan A; but the board would ask the government for money for a new school, and if the government said no, it would consolidate MPS and CHSS as a K-to-12 school in the CHSS building. There is no timeline attached to this recommendation; there is no sense that the funding request has any chance of being approved. As one of the presenters on April 26 said: “Is this smart?” And she added: “How can so many uncertainties get our board to a sustainable state?” Another presenter said: “A lack of timelines implies a lack of accountability.”
  • The high school in Madoc is lacking in the kinds of programs and courses that students in 2017 want to take, which means many of them seize the option offered by the local Roman Catholic school board and catch the school bus to attend high school in Belleville. This causes enrolment issues at CHSS – issues that the public board seems to be trying to resolve by closing an excellent rural elementary school. Why not, asked this speaker, address the real issue by adding useful and innovative courses at the high school, like business? Or agriculture? “Bring these subjects and opportunities to the high school and students will go there,” she told the board. I would file this under “thinking creatively when confronted with a problem.”
  • There are notable inaccuracies in the report prepared for the trustees by the board’s administration about the condition of Madoc Township Public School. Improvements and repairs that have recently been done were not included, and the report suggested that a lot more money needs to be spent on the school than is actually the case. One speaker put it well: “The heavy lifting (on renovations) is done at Madoc Township Public School. It is fiscally irresponsible to close it now.” He also called the inaccurate reporting of the school’s condition “pernicious.”
  • (Which reminds me of a question that keeps popping into my head: How many of the trustees who will decide the future of Madoc Township Public School have visited it? I sure hope that by the time they cast their votes on June 19, all 10 of them will have.)
  • Madoc Township Public School green space poster

    Randy Gray with his scale model showing the playground space at Madoc Township Public School (that would be the great big green area) and at Madoc Public School (the tiny dime in the middle).

    And then there is the playground situation: Madoc Township Public School with its more than five acres of green space; Madoc Public School with a fraction of that. How small a fraction? Well, at the April 26 meeting, (grand)parent activist Randy Gray once again brought the show-and-tell display he’d first unveiled at one of the big public meetings: a large piece of green Bristol board representing the space for kids to run and play at MTPS, in the centre of which is a dime, representing the space that kids in junior kindergarten to Grade 3 at MTPS have to play in. And he had a story about visiting that small MPS space with his little grandson, Liam, an avid athlete like his granddad – his Pop – before him. Here’s what Liam had to say when he took a look at the tiny Madoc Public School playground: “Pop, where are we going to play soccer?” And here’s his Pop’s followup question, directed at the school trustees: “What’s the right answer to that?” (As Randy was making his presentation, his wife, Denise, was handing out symbolic dimes to the trustees, to help them keep in mind this playground/greenspace disparity. Brilliant!)

  • Finally, there was an impressive and moving presentation by two members of Madoc Township council. Councillor Randy Rowe asked the trustees why the board would not, rather than close high-performing and greenspace-rich MTPS, make it a model for other schools. That’s a really good question. And Councillor Carrie Smith summoned up her usual quiet eloquence in making a passionate plea for her community, emphasizing again and again that the board administration’s proposal would result in the closure of the only school in that community. A few excerpts:
    • “Closure of a school leaves people with a diminished sense of community and a fear for the municipality’s future … The constant rural restructuring and never-ending school closures are going to alter rural life in Ontario. We are making these decisions on the backs of our rural communities, but what is the impact to our rural residents’ lives? For our rural communities to thrive, students must be supported by high-quality education.”

    • “The urban migration of the younger generation is putting a burden on our rural communities … The government encourages immigration as a way to fill this void. How does a rural municipality encourage the settlement of these individuals without a school to offer?”

    • “We cannot all live in urban areas. Rural Ontario must maintain a working-age population, and we must find a way to attract immigrants to our municipalities, retain our youth or attract new working-age persons. We cannot attract business without these residents. We cannot attract new people or retain people without the basic requirement of a school.”

    • “Should it not be imperative for the board to encourage physical activity, especially at a time that children are experiencing health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles? So many people have stood up during this process and clearly articulated the importance of the playground at Madoc Township Public School. This area is used by our residents as a common green space – a community hub, if you will – after regular school hours. Once we lose this area, it is gone forever for our community.”

    • “Nothing in this proposal as recommended by the board is what is in the best interest of the youth, residents and the community. And I can only recommend that the trustees seriously consider the option that would see the return of Grade 7 and Grade 8 to the Township School.”

    • “The rate of return on the investment in public education in rural Ontario is worth the risk if we give it a chance.”

There’s no way I could say it better.

So here’s the deal, people of the Madoc Township/Queensborough/Tudor and Cashel Township community: it’s important that we show up and show solidarity in this thing. The closing of Madoc Township Public School is not a done deal; the hard work of a small group of dedicated people has seen to that. Please support that work, and your school, and by extension your community’s future, by appearing in quiet solidarity at the meetings on May 23 and June 19. It is a lot harder for an elected official to speak and vote for a school closure if he or she is facing a roomful of people whose families and community will be hurt by that decision. In a near-empty room, it’s a lot easier.

Let’s pack that room.

Please try to book that shift off work; maybe you can switch with a co-worker. Call up the babysitter, or your mother or father-in-law, or a friend, to look after the kids for a few hours. Tear yourself away from whatever TV show you like to watch; you can always PVR it.

We get one shot at this, people. One shot.

A long time ago, a band called Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded a song encouraging people to show up and protest governmental injustice and wrong-headedness in Chicago. The message of the song was essentially this: Just show up. It makes all the difference. “Won’t you please come to Chicago for the help that we can bring?,” they harmonized beautifully. “We can change the world … Won’t you please come to Chicago, show your face? … No one else can take your place.” Hey, what the heck; let’s have a listen:

On Tuesday, May 23, and Monday, June 19, no one else can take your place in that boardroom at 156 Ann St, Belleville. Our community’s school and future are at stake. Please come.

A hibernating bumblebee, and an extraordinary school

Breakfast at MTPS 1

Breakfast is served! Every Tuesday, community volunteers Suzanne and John Paul Copeland, whose children were fortunate enough to attend Madoc Township Public School, give back to the school by cooking a hot breakfast that all students can enjoy.

The bell rang. The front door opened. Children started streaming in. One little girl came up and, before doing anything else, hugged Raymond around the knees, which was as high as she reached. The look on Raymond’s face was priceless – ever so slightly startled, but mainly delighted and touched. This little girl didn’t know us, and we didn’t know her. But she knew that because we were among the teachers and school volunteers waiting to say good morning to her and the other kids, we were her friends.

“I went to Wolfe Island!” a tiny boy, again unknown to us until that moment, shouted up in great excitement. Looking down, I smiled to notice from his mismatched socks that he had clearly been in charge of his own wardrobe that morning. Soon we knew quite a bit more about his adventures over the long Easter weekend that had just ended: “I saw a bumblebee! It had been hibernating! And it woke up! And then it went into my dad’s car! And it hibernated there!”

This was such a momentous happening that the boy felt compelled to share the story with us, and with anyone else within range, several times. He told it a couple of times before he’d got his coat off, and a few times more after that. It was a great story each time. It was a story about discovering a little piece of the magic of the natural world.

St. Andrew's donation 1

Presenting a donation from the members of St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, to support the excellent Food for Learning program at Madoc Township Public School: from left, accepting the donation on behalf of the school, are students Isaac Shanks, Braden Shaffer and Curtis Gunter; in the rear is French-toast chef extraordinaire John Paul Copeland (and, hidden behind Isaac, Suzanne Copeland); beside Curtis is principal Leanne Pond; and then there’s me, looking as terrible as I generally do in photos. But all in a good cause! (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Raymond and I were at Madoc Township Public School that morning a couple of weeks ago to present a donation from the members of our church, St. Andrew’s United in Queensborough, to the Food for Learning program at the school. Principal Leanne Pond, her staff and the parents and others who volunteer at the school have made it their mission to see that breakfast, lunch and snacks are available for every child who wants to partake. As Food for Learning volunteer Suzanne Copeland (whom I’ll tell you more about in a second) put it in a message to me: “Eliminating/reducing hunger keeps the focus on the learning agenda. With the thoughtful way (Food for Learning) is set up at MPTS, there is no stigma attached to grabbing a bite to eat. Great things are happening at MTPS!”

I’d wanted to visit the school to present the donation on a Tuesday, because that is a special day in the Food for Learning work at Madoc Township Public School. Every Tuesday, Suzanne Copeland and her husband, John Paul, volunteer their time to prepare a hot breakfast that’s waiting for the kids as they arrive. It was Suzanne who first made our church congregation aware of the program and the need, and I wanted to see the kids enjoying the fruits of the Copelands’ culinary labours. We weren’t disappointed: as we entered the tiny and somewhat makeshift kitchen where Suzanne and John Paul were working, the delightful smell of French toast and maple syrup greeted us. By the time the kids started pouring through the door, a long table in the hallway had been set up with plates and utensils and the hot French toast and a big bowl of fresh strawberries, and Suzanne and John Paul were right there to serve it up and pour the syrup. Some kids lined up right away; others went to their classrooms, where we saw their teachers waiting to welcome them, deposited their coats and knapsacks, and hurried back to join the line. As far as Raymond and I could see, almost every kid came for French toast, or strawberries, or both. And John Paul and Suzanne dished it up with friendliness and lots of smiles, making frequent dashes back into the kitchen to replenish supplies.

The atmosphere was so warm and welcoming – not only for us, the visitors, but for every kid who came through that door. Madoc Township is a small school, and everyone knows everyone else. No one slips through the cracks, ever. If there’s a problem, a worry, a meltdown, a fear, it will be noticed by a teacher, a fellow student, the principal, the office administrator, a parent volunteer, a custodian – in all likelihood, by every single one of them. The children evidently know that when they are inside the school’s walls, they are among friends – people who are there to help them be their best. Raymond and I felt honoured beyond description that we were – simply by being there – seen as being among that group of friends, helpers and mentors by the kids who spoke to us, hugged us, told us their story of a hibernating bumblebee, and lined up for that amazing breakfast.

I had tears in my eyes as I watched the morning unfold and saw how happy, loved, safe and looked-after those kids are – and as I thought of the world of possibilities that lay before them thanks to the excellent education and the support they are getting in that small rural school. Perhaps our young bumblebee enthusiast with the mismatched socks will grow up to be a renowned naturalist or conservationist. Perhaps the wee girl who trustingly gave Raymond a hug will herself become a teacher, or a doctor, or a psychologist – someone who looks after the well-being of others.

The school day was beginning, and it was time for us to leave. Our departure was slowed a bit by the sound of the national anthem coming over the loudspeakers. “Raymond!” I whispered urgently as he kept walking. “Stop! You’ve got to stop for O Canada!” (Can’t set a bad example for the kids.) So we stood at attention in the hallway, along with Leanne Pond and a few kids with whom she’d been walking and talking as she made her way back to the office. And I was delighted to hear the national anthem played in both French and English.

As we collected our coats at the office, two students were there doing the morning announcements over the loudspeaker system. I was so impressed with a) how well they read them, and b) how much was going on at the school. We heard about a book fair, a Learn with Lego event, and all kinds of other activities for that day and the days ahead.

Just before I walked out the front door, I stopped to take a photo of the portrait of Florence McCoy, MTPS’s founding principal, that hangs in the entryway:

Florence McCoy

Florence McCoy photo info

Mrs. McCoy was both a force of nature and my first principal, the person who, when I was a tiny, scared kid first walking through the doors of Madoc Township Public School, oversaw a school where every child was warmly welcomed, and known, and helped and encouraged in whatever way he or she needed help and encouragement.

“Some things never change,” I thought to myself. At least at Madoc Township Public School.

Madoc Township's former schools

This charming painting that hangs at Madoc Township Public School shows all the one-room schools that it replaced, and that are thus part of its heritage. Burris School (third from the top on right) stood where MTPS is now.

I also thought about how saddened and disappointed Mrs. McCoy would be if she knew that officials with the local public school board had targeted Madoc Township Public School for closure. How this beautiful little rural school that she had worked so hard to get off the ground back in the early 1960s – a central, modern school replacing all the one-room schoolhouses that were scattered around Madoc Township and surrounding areas, including Queensborough – might close its doors forever in just a little over two months. Of how the children from our community would never again get that warm, special Madoc Township Public School welcome at the start of their day.

Madoc Public School playground

The tiny play area for students in kindergarten to Grade 3 at Madoc Public School, which is where students from Madoc Township Public School will be bused if the plan of the public school board’s administration is passed by the trustees on the board. MPS is a good school; I can say that from personal experience, having attended Grades 7 and 8 there long ago, and visited it and spoken to students in more recent times. But I think we can all agree that this small playground with the chain-link fence around it is not outdoor learning at its best.

I thought too about the devastating loss of what is perhaps Madoc Township Public School’s most important asset: the five-acres-plus playground/green space that surrounds it, where children can run and play and have fun and learn about the natural world to their hearts’ content. I thought about our little bumblebee enthusiast. In the town school where the education officials plan to move the MTPS students, the playground for the kids his age is a tiny space containing an even tinier bit of grass, surrounded by a high chain-link fence. There isn’t going to be much opportunity for the little guy with the mismatched socks to discover bumblebees or caterpillars or grasshoppers or blue jays or jack-in-the-pulpits or trilliums or toads in that play space. That is a terrible loss. Inexcusable, I would argue.

http://www.hpedsb.on.ca/ec/directorsOffice/arc/documents/RequestforDelegationStudentEnrolment_SchoolCapacityCommittee2.pdf

One section of the huge play area/outdoor space at Madoc Township Public School. A bit of a contrast with what students can expect if they are bused into the town school next year. (Photo by Denise Gray)

Raymond and I had come in separate cars; after our visit, he headed home to the Manse, and I headed to work. As my car rounded the bend in Hazzards Road just past the school, I had to brake sharply as a collection of rather gigantic wild turkeys made their way across the road and over a fence. Their size, their colours, their dopiness (getting over the fence was quite the challenge for them) were amazing and delightful. This is the kind of thing – a little piece of the magic of the natural world – that kids at Madoc Township Public School get to experience all the time.

I am 100-per-cent sure that Florence McCoy would echo me (and in fact probably is echoing me, from behind her sturdy principal’s desk up there in heaven) as I ask: Why would this amazing school, this place where children are so supported, fed, cared for, loved, and exposed every day to a vast green space where they can enjoy healthy outdoor activity and learn about the magic of the natural world – why would this outstanding school be closed?

The committee of school and community representatives that the board itself set up to study the school-closure proposal recommended against closing Madoc Township Public School. The committee urged instead that kids from Madoc Township and area who are in Grades 7 and 8 be returned to MTPS, rather than (as is currently the case) being bused into town to attend playground-challenged Madoc Public School. If that were to happen, it would return MTPS to its original mission – back when Florence McCoy was running the show – of educating the local children until they were ready for high school. It would also mean that the MTPS building would be full, and fully used.

And it would also mean that another generation, and hopefully many generations to come, of kids from our beautiful rural area would receive the warm welcome, strong support and excellent education that Madoc Township Public School offers.

If you think that’s a good idea, please call, email or write the 10 elected trustees who will make the final decision on MTPS. You can find their contact information here. The trustees next meet on Tuesday, May 23, to prepare a final recommendation on the fate of our local schools. That recommendation will be voted on, and the final decision made, at a meeting on Monday, June 19. I sure wish that before that day the trustees would pay a visit to MTPS, like Raymond and I did. Perhaps they should be invited to do so.

Time is short. The stakes are high. And our school is unique and precious – as Florence McCoy would be the first to tell you.

Or you could just ask the boy with the bumblebee story.

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.

Will our local school matter when our elected trustees vote?

Cooper Road sign 2“Our Local Schools Matter,” proclaim the signs that have sprung up throughout the Madoc Township area, including all over Queensborough.

While the signs are being distributed throughout the province – because rural schools all over Ontario are being threatened with closure in a steamroller disaster that, so far, the provincial government has declined to stop or even slow – in our area they are an expression of people’s deep concern about the future of our local school: Madoc Township Public School.

That would be the school with a tremendous local heritage, a top rating for student achievement, an outdoor play and exploration area of more than five acres, a reputation for individual attention to students, a pastoral rural setting – and a place firmly fixed in the hearts of all local community members, many of whom attended it, sent their children there, and now watch proudly as their grandchildren grow to be accomplished, kind and well-rounded young people inside its classrooms.

If all that doesn’t add up to a recipe for shutting down a school, I don’t know what does.

(I assume you detected the extreme sarcasm in my voice just now.)

But, yes, shutting down Madoc Township Public School continues to be what the bureaucrats who work for the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board are recommending.

Their recommendation – presented at a meeting last week, which I’ll tell you about presently – comes despite a public consultation process that saw the board officials’ own chosen review committee reject the plan and come up with not one but two alternatives. I can tell you right now that if you asked anyone – anyone – in our area whether he or she feels the alternate proposals would be better for our communities, and most importantly for our children, than the original one from the board staff, you would get an answer in the affirmative.

For those who haven’t been following my posts on this critical local issue for the past months (you can see them all if you click on “Madoc Township Public School” in the categories list on the right side of this blog’s home page), I’ll try to sum up quickly the series of recommendations.

Here is what the board employees initially proposed back in November:

  • Close rural Madoc Township Public, currently a kindergarten-to-Grade 6 school, in June 2017.
  • Bus MTPS students into the village of Madoc and put them in Madoc Public School (which is an aging building with extremely limited playground space).
  • Move students in Grades 7 and 8 from both schools’ catchment areas – students in those grades currently attend Madoc Public – into the local high school, Centre Hastings Secondary in Madoc, thus turning CHSS into a Grade-7-to-12 school.

Here are the two alternate proposals that the school, parent and community representatives on the board’s clunkily named “accommodation review committee” recommended instead, having given the matter a lot of study and spent a lot of time listening to the community:

  • Return Madoc Township-area students in Grades 7 and 8 to MTPS, thus filling the school and allowing the community’s children to be educated in their community – and in an outstanding rural school. Consolidate Madoc Public School and CHSS.
  • Build a brand-new kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school serving all area students. While it’s still in the planning and construction stages (probably three years or so), leave the three schools alone.

And here, verbatim, is the final recommendation presented by the board’s employees last week:

  • Effective September 2017, consolidate Madoc Township Public and Madoc Public School at the Madoc Public School site;
  • Effective September 2017, relocate Grade 7 and 8 students from Madoc Public School to Centre Hastings Secondary School, creating a Grade 7-12 school;
  • Centre Hastings Secondary School and Madoc Public School be consolidated pending
    submission of a business case to the Ministry of Education and approval of funding to build a new K-12 school located in the Madoc area and with consultation with the municipality regarding location options and plans to enhance greenspace for the K-12 school;
  • Should a business case for a new K-12 school not be approved by the Ministry of Education, Madoc Public School be consolidated with Centre Hastings Secondary School as K-12 school, pending Ministry of Education approval for an addition and/or renovations at Centre Hastings Secondary School and then demolish Madoc Public School to create green space for the K-12 school; and
  • Continue to explore opportunities for community partnerships for the consolidated school that are aligned with the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan priorities.

As you can see, nothing has changed from the board’s administration when it comes to immediate actions. The recommendation remains this: close MTPS and move the middle-school kids into the high school, as of this coming September.

The new stuff is vaguer than vague. Leaving aside the “continue to explore opportunities for community partnerships” final point, which absent specifics means exactly nothing, we have a plan to, at some unspecified future date, consolidate all kids at the high school; then at some unspecified future date ask the provincial government for money to build a new kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school; then, if the government says no to that, just leave the kids at the high school and tear down the old Madoc Public School to create some more green space. (Which would still be a small fraction of the green space at Madoc Township Public School. But too bad – MTPS has to go. Because – well, just because.)

The recommendation was presented last Wednesday at a meeting of the school board’s student enrolment/school capacity committee, and I was one of the concerned MTPS supporters who attended to observe.

One thing I want to stress before I tell you about what took place during that brief (half an hour or so) meeting is that the trustees who sat around the table that day are not the people who wrote this recommendation. The 10 elected trustees are the board, and they make the decisions on behalf of us, the citizens who elected them and whom they represent. But the people who prepare almost all the reports and recommendations on which the elected trustees vote are the staff who work for the board. They are public servants whose salaries are paid by you and me; but they are not “the board.” These staffers have recommended that our school be closed. But it is the 10 trustees – ordinary people like you and me, elected by you and me to represent you and me and, most importantly, our schoolchildren – who will decide whether to accept or reject that recommendation.

Student enrolment/school capacity meeting

The top end of the table at the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board’s student enrolment/school capacity meeting last Wednesday. Central Hastings trustee Bonnie Danes is in foreground at left; southeast Hastings trustee Justin Bray is sixth from right on the other side of the table, while Belleville/Thurlow trustee Mary Hall is fourth from right. Director of education Mandy Savery-Whiteway, the board’s top administrator, is at the head of the table at left.

The trustees didn’t say a lot at last Wednesday’s meeting; they were told by administration that the purpose of the meeting was to receive the staffers’ recommendation. (As a longtime observer of school boards, I can tell you that it is quite common for administration to tell trustees what they can and can’t do. In some ways this is understandable; the administrators are professionals who are paid well to understand and implement the rules of the Ontario education system in all its arcane minutiae. They are smart and good at what they do; they wouldn’t be in those well-paid positions if they weren’t. It’s only natural that trustees – who are doubtless also smart, but in general are not trained education bureaucrats – tend to look to their staff for guidance on most matters.)

But what was said was encouraging. Our local trustees, Bonnie Danes (who represents central Hastings County) and Justin Bray (who represents southeast Hastings), were outstanding.

Bonnie Danes

Central Hastings public-school trustee Bonnie Danes, who is doing a great job standing up for Madoc Township Public School.

Bonnie Danes asked about enrolment projections for our three local schools that the board’s top administrator, director of education Mandy Savery-Whiteway, had tossed out in her oral introduction to her staff’s final recommendation. “Are these numbers in the report?” asked Mrs. Danes. (Despite the final recommendation being fairly brief, the report in which it was included contained more than 150 pages of related information.) After a fair bit of preamble about how these were new numbers that staff is just now working on, that it’s all “in process this spring,” Ms. Savery-Whiteway said that no, they were not in the report.

But if they’re the numbers on which the administrators are basing their final recommendation, shouldn’t they be something more concrete than “in process”? (That’s me talking.)

Mrs. Danes’s next question: Are they somewhere where we can see them?

Long answer short: Eventually they will be.

Hmmm. (That’s me again.)

Justin Bray

Justin Bray, trustee for southeast Hastings, who asked some pointed questions about the lack of specifics (notably dates) in the board administration’s recommendation last week.

Justin Bray asked about the lack of any date on the new-school part of the final recommendation. He made the excellent point that there will be a provincial election next year, and that its outcome can and probably will have a huge outcome on funding for things like hoped-for new schools.

Bonnie Danes joined in on this lack of any date in the recommendation, noting that the recommendation by the accommodation review committee for a new school was that it be ready for the 2021-22 school year. “There is no way we could be assured that would happen,” was what Ms. Savery-Whiteway told her, having already talked about how long it can take to get a response to an application to the government for new-school funding, and how one can’t be sure that the request will even be considered.

The director of education also said something in response to Mrs. Danes’s question that caught my attention, and that I added to my notes with several question marks beside it.

“We want to go after those consolidation dollars,” she said. “We want to be strategic.” What does that mean?

Well, one possible interpretation (courtesy of the lobby group Ontario Alliance Against School Closures) is this: under provincial funding rules, school boards have a better chance of getting money from the provincial government (under its School Consolidation Capital Allocation program, for example) if the buildings still open after schools have been consolidated are in bad physical condition. In this scenario, it makes sense (in a crazy sort of way) to close schools that are in relatively good shape (like Madoc Township Public School), plunk the kids into an inferior building (hello, Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary) and then plead for cash because those schools are deteriorating.

Do you feel like you’ve wandered into the Twilight Zone? Yeah, me too. I would like to think this is not what the director of education was referring to when she talked about being strategic and going after “consolidation dollars” – and I am sure she wouldn’t frame the way the program (and the strategy) works in the same blunt terms as the anti-school-closing group does. But still, it makes one wonder. And question. Which is a good thing.

Anyway. I was encouraged by a trustee from outside our area, Mary Hall (who represents Belleville/Thurlow) questioning the school maintenance costs contained in the administrators’ report. Mrs. Hall is one of the seven board trustees who came to the second and final public meeting held last month on the local school plan, and it was clear from her comments last week, even though they were brief, that she had paid attention to the concerns expressed at that meeting about inaccuracies and inconsistencies in information prepared by board administrators.

As the meeting moved to its swift close, Bonnie Danes managed to get in one final, powerful statement.

She pointed out that if students in Grades 7 and 8 from Madoc Township and environs were returned to MTPS (which was what it was built for in the first place, and which the board-established accommodation review committee has recommended), the school would be at or near capacity. Enrolment problem solved, just like that.

She also expressed concern about a proposal that would close the one and only school in a rural municipality (Madoc Township) and the impact the closure would have on the community.

“I have grave concerns about closing the only school in a municipality and piggybacking onto another municipality (Madoc) for a new build (the K-to-12 school) that may or may not happen,” she said. “In the meantime, Madoc Township Public School is lost.

“And that’s problematic.”

Well said, Trustee Danes! I hope you and Trustee Bray can and will influence at least four other board members to vote against this recommendation which is, to quote you: problematic.

Readers, take note: Here’s what happens next in this process.

On Wednesday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m., at the board’s headquarters at 156 Ann St. in Belleville, the student enrolment/school capacity committee will hear delegations from the public about the administrators’ final proposal. If you want to have your say, you have to register as a delegation at least five business days in advance of the meeting – so to be safe, before the close of business on Wednesday, April 19. That is this coming Wednesday. The registration form is on the board’s website; here is a direct link. Even if you don’t want to speak, you may attend; the meeting is public.

On Tuesday, May 23, the same committee meets again to prepare a recommendation to the full board (all 10 trustees). This too is a public meeting. As far as I can tell from the school-board website, a time has not yet been set for the meeting. It will probably take place at board headquarters in Belleville. I will keep you posted.

And then the final vote by the trustees is to take place Monday, June 19. If you don’t want to see Madoc Township Public School, our outstanding rural school, closed, please call, write and email all the trustees, preferably many times, between now and then. Their contact information is here. All that’s needed is six of the 10 to vote against this flawed recommendation and the devastating impact it will have on our community.

Because, you know: Our local schools matter!

I can tell that the voters – you know, the ones who pay the freight for school boards and so on – think so too. Here’s a gallery showing all the “Local schools matter” signs that I’ve spotted in Queensborough and adjacent Madoc Township in recent days. Yes, the photos all look very much the same; but I can assure you that they are all of different signs in different places.

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One hopes that if the message is repeated often enough, everyone will get it – and most especially, at least six of our elected public school trustees. Because they hold the fate of our school in their hands.

The Queensborough boys at Vimy

Letters to William Wilkinson's mother

Local historian Brock Kerby put together this page showing William James Wilkinson, a young farmer from Queensborough who was killed 100 years ago today at Vimy Ridge, and two letters to his mother – one from a fellow soldier, the other from his commanding officer – upon his death, subsequently published in the local Tweed News.

One hundred years ago today, thousands of young Canadian men poured out of trenches and tunnels and onto the battlefield at Vimy Ridge in Northern France. It was “the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together as one formation,” as you can read on a fine summary of the battle and its importance on a Veterans Affairs Canada page here. The Canadians’ victory at Vimy, taking a strategically important point when previous Allied attempts had failed, has become legendary, and is widely seen as a key event in our nation’s history.

Today, on the 100th anniversary, ceremonies to commemorate the Battle of Vimy Ridge are taking place across Canada and, most notably, at Vimy itself. Here is a lovely piece about this morning’s ceremony there by The Globe and Mail’s Roy MacGregor; you can watch the whole event here.

Vimy Ridge memorial

The stunning and very moving memorial to Canada’s First World War dead at Vimy Ridge, France. If you have never visited it (as I have been fortunate enough to do), I urge you to try to do so. You will never forget the experience. Someday I would like to go back and find the names of William Wilkinson, Winfred Glover and other Queensborough boys on it. (Photo from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

On a considerably smaller scale, though equally important in a local way, there was a ceremony this afternoon in nearby Madoc, where a new plaque commemorating the battle and the men from this area who fought in it, was unveiled. One of the prime movers behind the project was Brock Kerby, a young man from the Ivanhoe area with a keen interest in local history. As I’ve written before, Brock is doing a wonderful job of preserving and sharing Madoc-area history through his Facebook page Madoc and Area Local History.

Brock contacted me a week ago to share some Queensborough connections to the Battle of Vimy Ridge. In turn, I want to share them with you, and to thank Brock for his research and his generosity with his time and with the findings of that research.

William James Wilkinson photo in oval frame

William James Wilkinson. The badge on his peaked cap is that of the 24th Battalion, the Victoria Rifles, which fought in many of the major battles in the First World War. (Photo tracked down by Brock Kerby from the Canadian Virtual War Memorial)

It is thanks to Brock that I now know something about William “Willie” Wilkinson of Queensborough, who was one of those who went over the top at Vimy 100 years ago today, and who was killed on that same day. “He was shot and instantly killed in the great attack in which our Battalion took part on the 9th last,” his commanding officer wrote in the letter to his mother that you can see at the top of this post. “I cannot tell you at present where he is buried but you will at least know that his grave is that of a hero amongst heroes and that he had a part in the greatest victory the Canadians have yet achieved.”

Willie Wilkinson, a farm boy from Queensborough, was 24 years old.

His enlistment papers (which Brock also found and shared) say that his faith was Anglican, so he would not have worshipped at Queensborough’s St. Andrew’s United Church (buillt as a Presbyterian church three years before Willie’s birth in 1893). However, his name, along with those of others from Queensborough who served in the Great War, is listed on a commemorative scroll that hangs at St. Andrew’s, the only one of Queensborough’s original four churches that is still in operation. After our Palm Sunday service there this morning, I had a closer look at that scroll …

They Heard the Call

and found Willie’s name, seventh from the top:

Names on They Heard the Call

Seeing the whole list of names made me think of two things: one, the name at the very top, that of Winfred (Fred) Glover, about whom I’ve written before; and two, another photo Brock had found on William Wilkinson’s page on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial. Here it is, along with the caption that comes with it on the website:

Queensborough boys

How I would love to know the names of the other young Queensborough men in this photo! I am hoping my readers might be able to offer some clues.

One or more of them might be Dyers; the four Dyer brothers from Queensborough all enlisted. Here they are, in another photo Brock found and sent me:

Dyer boys from Queensborough

Brock discovered that Bruce Dyer, listed on his papers as a cheese maker from Queensborough, was wounded at Vimy. Bruce served in the 38th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and is included here in a project by an Ottawa military historian to provide a biography of every soldier who served in that battalion. Brock has found Bruce’s medical records from the war and the papers showing his discharge because of his wounds. Here’s one page from the medical file:

Bruce Dyer Medical Case Sheet

And here’s a page from the discharge file. Nice to see that Bruce’s character and conduct are listed as “Very Good”!

Bruce Dyer discharge

Most of the images above come from a document that Brock has put together about Queensborough connections to Vimy and was kind enough to send me a few days ago. WordPress (the platform on which this blog is produced) won’t allow me to post it so you can see all of the pages, but if you’d like to know more, please email me (sedgwick.katherine@gmail.com) or message Brock on his Facebook page, and either of us can email it to you directly.

Brock Kerby – who’s about the same age as these young Queensborough men were when they served in the Great War – deserves huge thanks and congratulations for all the work he does to preserve our local history. Today especially, I want to thank him for his work on reminding us of the Queensborough boys who, as Willie Wilkinson’s commanding officer so aptly put it, “had a part in the greatest victory the Canadians have yet achieved.” One hundred years later, as Canada and the world remember Vimy Ridge, we here in Queensborough remember our boys with pride.

With spring come the street sweepers, we hope

Bunny on street signs

Classic Queensborough in springtime: blue skies, high water on the Black River by the historic Thompson mill – and happy little Easter bunnies added to our made-in-Queensborough street signs by the beautification committee!

Peter's sap bucket

An old-fashioned (though brand-new) sap bucket for one of the small maple-syrup operations in the Queensborough neighbourhood.

There are so many things to love about the arrival of spring in pretty little Queensborough. The goldfinches and woodpeckers that appear at your bird feeders. The peepers who will soon be singing their little hearts out in every watery place (including a marshy area kitty-corner from the Manse.) The roaring high water of the Black River, and the colourful kayakers who come with it. The sight of buckets on the maple trees, signifying that someone’s making maple syrup. The brightly coloured Easter bunnies that our village’s beautification committee has placed on all the street signs.

On the other hand, there is the sand.

Let me explain. Our municipal snowplowing guy is absolutely outstanding when it comes to keeping the streets in our village and the surrounding roads safe to travel in wintertime. On snowy and icy days, he’s out there plowing and sanding at all hours of the day and night, and I know I speak for everyone when I say his efforts are very, very much appreciated.

But come springtime, we get the downside of all that sand that kept us from slip-sliding away in December, January and February. As the snow melts, what’s left behind are big piles of sand on the sides of the streets, the sidewalks – and the fronts of our yards. Every year the municipality sends around sidewalk sweepers and street sweepers (machines, I mean, not people with brooms). That’s all well and good for cleaning the streets and sidewalks (though not so much if they send them before the snow even melts, which has been known to happen). But it doesn’t help us property-owners with all the sand piled up streetside in our front yards.

Jos shovelling sand

How much sand is there? you ask. This photo (taken from a video by my friend and neighbour Marykay York-Pronk) gives you a pretty good idea. That’s her husband, Jos, chair of the beautification committee and the craftsman who made our Queensborough street signs, shovelling this past Sunday in front of their building at the heart of the village. (Photo courtesy of Marykay York-Pronk)

The good news is that this year some forward-thinking people in the community have been in communication with the municipal works department, and have wrested from the works folks an agreement that, if we’ll get the sand from our lawns onto the street, the sweepers will take it away. There’s also been some newfound communication that has resulted in us getting a heads-up as to when the sweepers will arrive, rather than it being an unannounced surprise as has generally been the case in the past. For all this good co-ordination work, I’d like to say to my friend and neighbour Anne Barry: please stand up and take a bow! We all thank you.

So if you’ve happened to drive through Queensborough over the past few days and noticed long rows of piled sand in front of several properties – well, now you know what it was all about. I did my bit today, having received notice from Anne this morning that the arrival of the sweeping machines was imminent. What? You’d like to see the fruits of my labours? Oh, I’m so glad you asked! I’m quite proud of them.

Here’s one “before” photo, showing the sand in front of the historic Kincaid house adjacent to the Manse:

Kincaid house before

And here’s the “after” shot, with the sand raked up and ready to be carted off.

Kincaid House after

And here’s a picture of what I achieved in front of the Manse itself:

Manse after raking

I have to tell you that my cleanup was accomplished thanks to good old-fashioned Queensborough neighbourliness. Research done right here in our hamlet (take a bow, Lud Kapusta) has determined that the absolute best tool for raking winter sand off the front of your lawn is this gizmo:

Best rake for sand

The best sand rake of all time, even though I believe it’s technically called a thatching/dandelion rake. Also: the boots of my friend and neighbour Ed, as he holds it up for the photo.

That photo shows Lud’s own sand rake, which I went to inspect a few days ago in the interest of knowing what I was looking for when I went shopping for one of my own. The problem, Raymond and I found out after visits to every single hardware and farm-supply store and lumber yard in the Madoc-Tweed area, is that such rakes are not easy to come by. Even online searches have proved fruitless.

So when I learned this morning that the sweepers were coming and that I’d better get my cleanup done today, I first panicked, and then did what anyone in Queensborough would do: I called my neighbours. Lud and Elaine Kapusta kindly lent me their rake for the morning, and then, when they needed it back to get their own sand cleaned up, I was able to borrow another one from Joanie Harrison. Thank you, folks!

And hey: if anyone can tell me where I can pick up one of those rakes, I would be very much obliged.

Because, you know – I’ll have to do it again next year. Hey, you live in Queensborough, it’s part of the deal.

I’m good with that.

The community speaks up

Madoc Township Public School green space poster

See that tiny dime taped to the middle of the big sheet of green bristol board? That represents the amount of space that children at Madoc Public School have to play compared to those at Madoc Township Public School; the latter students have all that green. Community member Randy Gray came up with this brilliant and powerful representation of what MTPS kids will be facing if their school is closed and they’re moved to the town school.

If you’ve been closely following the story of how our excellent and beloved local elementary school is being threatened with closure, you probably have a good sense of how things went at the public meeting held to discuss the issue last Wednesday. Perhaps you were one of the people who packed the gym at Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc to listen and/or speak out. If you weren’t, you may well have heard the report that was on one local radio news outlet; and you can expect to see stories about the meeting in the local weekly newspapers when they arrive in the mailbox a little later this week.

But the best way to learn about what happened at the meeting is to go to (and join, if you haven’t already) the Save Madoc Township Public School Facebook group. There you’ll find (thanks to the volunteers who undertook this project) a Facebook Live streaming of the full meeting, as well as individual videos of the individual speakers. Talk about great coverage!

Because you can see it all in real time, I don’t think I need to go into a lot of detail about what was said at the meeting. I would, however, like to highlight for you a few things that were highlights for me as I sat and took it all in.

First I’d like to offer sincere thanks to the seven trustees from the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board who came out to the meeting. These elected officials have to attend a lot of meetings, and they give up many afternoons and evenings and travel many miles to do so. It’s very much appreciated that they came to CHSS on Wednesday, some travelling from as far away as Tyendinaga and the Bancroft area. One other trustee sent her regrets because she had to attend a similar meeting that night in her own part of Prince Edward County. So that leaves only two of the total 10 trustees who make up the board – and who hold the fate of Madoc Township Public School and the two schools in the village of Madoc in their hands – as a no-show. That’s impressive! And like I said, very much appreciated. So thank you to chair Lucille Kyle and trustees Bonnie Danes, Justin Bray, Mike Brant, Dave Patterson, Mary Hall and Jim Williams.

The main thrust of all the presentations given by members of the public was the two alternative recommendations that have been forward by community volunteers to counter the plan put forward by board administrators. These recommendations are widely seen as preferable to the administrators’ plan. Let’s quickly review, for those who may need a refresher:

The board administration has recommended closing Madoc Township Public School at the end of the current school year, sending all its students to Madoc Public School in the village, and sending the students in Grades 7 and 8 from both elementary schools’ areas to a renovated section of the high school.

The alternative proposals are:

  1. Keep Madoc Township Public School open and bring back its Grade 7 and 8 students. The school went up to Grade 8 when it was built in 1961, but in the early 1970s students in the two higher grades were moved to Madoc Public School. There’s no compelling reason for them to be there, and bringing them back to MTPS will mean our beautiful country school will be fully used. No empty space to maintain, in other words. This recommendation calls for the consolidation of Madoc Public School and CHSS.
  2. Build a new school to house all students, from kindergarten through Grade 12, and to replace all three existing schools. Because this would take time, this would give the existing schools a reprieve of two or three years – at the end of which there would be a state-of-the-art, fully accessible and environmentally friendly facility.

One of the major arguments for keeping MTPS open, cited by speaker after speaker, was the extensive playground and outdoor spaces that it offers students. The school is surrounded by more than five acres of land where children can run, play and learn about the natural world around them. How many schools can boast that?

The space at MTPS was dramatically illustrated by a simple but powerful visual aid brought to the meeting by community member Randy Gray. It was a big piece of green bristol board representing the green space at MTPS. In the centre was a taped a dime – representing the tiny play space at Madoc Public School. Randy had ensured the dimensions were accurate (“Hey, I know how to carry the one,” he joked to me after the meeting as I took his photo. “I went to Madoc Township Public School!”), and it was very, very impressive.

http://www.hpedsb.on.ca/ec/directorsOffice/arc/documents/RequestforDelegationStudentEnrolment_SchoolCapacityCommittee2.pdf

This photo gives you some idea of the vast size of the grounds at Madoc Township Public School. It’s taken from close to the far end of the open fields and playgrounds to the rear of the school, looking toward the school building. The track and everything you see in front of you is where kids can run and play. Photo by Denise Gray

What else was talked about ?

  • Inaccuracies in the information presented to the public and the trustees about renovation needs (and costs) at the three schools. Major work (a roof, new windows) that has already been done and paid for at MTPS was still showing as a future need and a future expense, and thus a negative in considering the building’s future.
  • The crowded-to-the-point-of-dangerous situation in the areas where buses load and unload students at Madoc Public School. Randy Rowe, a school-bus driver and member of Madoc Township council, told the crowd:

    The Madoc schools are already over-congested with parents picking up and dropping off students. Vehicles parked in front of MPS are daily backing out into live lanes of traffic while children and parents are zig-zagging through them to get to their cars. Adding 120 more students [from MTPS] and their families will contribute to an already unsafe situation.

  • Other issues raised by Rowe:
    • Because of the lack of space for bus loading zones at the two schools, three buses in the afternoon have to park in the smoking area outside the high school. Any students riding these buses, he said

      have to pass through the smoking area and then sit until departure time overlooking this daily influence and inhaling cigarette fumes.

    • Adding 120 students to the buses travelling to MPS and CHSS will cause overcrowded buses:

      I know from my experience that an overcrowded bus creates dynamic situations. As we max out the seating capacities on buses it creates quarrelling, fighting and conflicts and becomes unsafe, since the only adult on the bus, the driver, is responsible for so many children.

  • Bruce Buttar, the area representative of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, spoke about how the departure of young people and families, when there are no services such as schools for them, is hurting rural Ontario. The OFA and its partners are working hard to reverse this trend and revitalize rural areas, he said – “but we need a solid school system.” Buttar added that in rural areas, schools are community hubs as well as places for kids to learn; when they are closed, they’re closed for the entire community. He urged the trustees and the board administrators to dare to think differently, to support rural schools and rural life. Hear, hear!
  • One of the most impressive speeches was a brief one from Leslie Chapman, a woman whose family had, back in the 19th century, given the land on which Madoc Township Public School now sits as a place for its predecessor, the small Burris School (SS#9, Madoc Township). She implored the trustees to think about “the rich, rich heritage this school has.” Bravo!
  • Amy Beaton, the parent of a student at MTPS, noted that the board’s decision on our schools is scheduled for June 19, when there are only eight school days left. Eight days, she suggested with emotion evident in her voice, is not nearly enough for the students to say goodbye to their school community. Spending those final days as their much-loved place is being filled with moving boxes and being shut down  “is not a very memorable last few days at school,” she said. And what about honouring the legacy of MTPS? Former students, she noted, would surely want to come, some from afar, and take part in that; how could it be properly done in eight days?
  • Carrie Smith, a Madoc Township councillor, spoke very eloquently and made so many good points. I urge you to watch the video, but here’s an excerpt:

    The closing of our only school will affect who chooses to move into our township, as [the local school is] often a deciding factor for many families. I strongly feel that this will be a deterrent to families … We are becoming a disjointed society with little to tie us to our roots. Madoc Township Public School has provided such a strong sense of community for so many years – and I just can’t help but think it’s the time that we spent together outside in the amazing green space just being kids for a moment longer in time. Our lives are ever-increasingly becoming more and more hectic, and this school is a way for parents to hold on to a rural way of life.”

    Full house at CHSS

    A full house in the gym at CHSS listens a Madoc Township Councillor Carrie Smith (centre, standing, wearing white) makes a plea for our rural school and rural way of life.

  • And there was more:
    • A letter from Tom Deline, the mayor of Centre Hastings (which encompasses the village of Madoc) to say that a big parcel of fully serviced land within the community is readily available as a location for a new kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school.
    • Madoc parent Kari Kramp pointing out that the estimated cost for a new school is less than half the estimated cost of repairs needed at CHSS over the next 20 years: $21 million vs. $48 million. “There are better ways to spend $27 million,” she astutely observed.
    • Concerns about asbestos in all three existing school buildings, and whether it would be a risk if renovations to make space for the Grades 7 and 8 students are done at CHSS.
    • Concerns about whether there will be the necessary facilities and programs at the high school for students with autism and other special needs.
    • A strong plea for keeping a school where children can take advantage of all the benefits of unstructured outdoor play with other kids – which leads to social development, healthy relationships and leadership skills. “What are the benefits of reducing kids’ green space?” was the question asked to the school-board representatives. No answer was offered.

Both the senior administrators and some of the trustees have said that the decision on our local schools is not a done deal – that other options can be considered. The next step in that consideration process is a meeting of the board’s student enrolment/school capacity meeting on Monday, April 10 (3:30 p.m. at the board office, 156 Ann St., Belleville; open to the public). It is then that the trustees will receive the final report and recommendation from the senior administrators, though that report is to be posted on the board’s website a few days before the meeting.

On Wednesday, April 26, also at the board headquarters in Belleville, that same committee will hear delegations from the public about the final proposal. Anyone who wants to say something to the trustees will have to register as a delegation at least five business days in advance of the meeting. The registration form is on the board’s website; here is a direct link.

On Tuesday, May 23, the committee meets again to prepare a recommendation to the full board (the 10 trustees). Again, the meeting is public.

And the final vote by those trustees is to take place Monday, June 19.

I’ll be there. Judging by the impressive turnout last Wednesday, and the impassioned pleas to the trustees to do what’s best for our kids and our community, I expect a lot of you will be too.