This spring it’s a social whirl in Queensborough

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

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

Kayakers going over the dam, Queensborough

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

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

Welcome kayakers

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

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

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

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

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

QCC pancake breakfast

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

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

LOL by Jamie

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

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

Jamie and Tory at LOL by Gary Pattison

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

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

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

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

The ToneKats

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

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

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

Packed church for music night

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

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

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

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

Pigden Motor Sales era ends

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

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

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

Canada's Oldest Gas Station

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

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

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

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

Wow!

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

Charlie and Keitha Pigden

Charlie Pigden death notice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garage certificate

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

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

Memories of Country Life by Gurney Barker

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

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

Honee Orange

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

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

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

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

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

Pigden ruler
Pigden pencil

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

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

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

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

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

Cora and Peter Fargey

Cora and Peter Fargey, Saskatchewan homesteaders.

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

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

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

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

The answer seems to be: almost certainly not.

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

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

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

First Esso gas station

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pericles quote

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

Does a blue dot mean these trees are in danger?

Blue dot on the tree of life

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

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

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

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

Tree cut by Hydro One, Queensborough Road

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

Second tree cut by Hydro One, Queensborough Road

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

H marks the spot

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

Orange Hs on Bosley Road trees

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

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

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

Why?

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

The tree of life this winter morning

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

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

Tree of Life July 2014

Late-summer sun on the Tree of Life

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

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

What does that mean?

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

A blue dot on the Kincaid House tree

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

Stately tree at the Kincaid House

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

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

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

The torch has been passed, and the pies have been made

Betty shows how it's done

Betty Sexmith demonstrates the fine art of pie-making as fellow teacher Barb Ramsay (to Betty’s right) and eager students look on. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

“So,” you’re probably saying to yourself, “I wonder how that pie-making class in Queensborough last weekend went.” Well, people, I am here to tell you: It was absolutely fantastic. And I have the pie to prove it.

You might recall that in telling you about the Queensborough Community Centre‘s first-ever Master Class in Pie-Making (in a post that is here), I mentioned that I was a card-carrying member of the large segment of the population that cannot produce a homemade pie. I thus planned to be in the front row as Queensborough pie-makers extraordinaire Barb Ramsay, Ann Brooks and Betty Sexsmith shared the secrets of perfect pie crust. And on the sunny, springlike Saturday afternoon on which our Master Class was held, there indeed I was: watching every move Barb, Ann and Betty made, asking questions, taking notes and snapping photos.

Get your aprons on!

Students, don your aprons! There was a lot of happy bustle as the historic former schoolroom filled up and eager students got ready for their lesson. On the tables were laid out everything they needed: recipes, mixing bowl, ingredients, etc.

And I was far from alone. As predicted by me and many others, all available spots in our Master Class were filled very quickly. More than one would-be student had to be turned away, though with the news that we’ll probably hold the pie-making class again. After all, success should be repeated!

So along with 26 other students and some onlookers and helpers, I watched Ann, Betty and Barb as they made their trademark flaky and delicious pie crust: Betty and Barb by hand, using a pastry blender, and Ann using her high-powered KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook.

Blending the pastry

Betty Sexsmith demonstrates the use of a pastry blender.

Betty and Ann demonstrated lard pastry, while Barb made hers using vegetable shortening (suitable for vegetarians and vegans). I don’t know that any of the three have acted as teachers before, but they did a brilliant job, clearly explaining the various steps as they went along, and reassuring us that whatever might go wrong – for instance, a bottom shell that doesn’t quite stretch to the edge of the pie plate – can easily be remedied – in this case, with a bit of patching.

Barb's rolling-pin technique

Barb Ramsay demonstrates the fancy way to get the dough into the pie plate: rolling it around your rolling pin, and then unrolling it into the plate. Impressive!

They showed us the two techniques for getting the pie dough into the pie plate. Betty and Ann folded it in half, lifted it and placed the fold in the centre of the plate, then gently unfolded it. Barb, meanwhile, showed the very impressive rolling-pin technique, in which you roll the dough around your rolling pin and then unroll it into the pie plate. Wow! (I was too scared to try it.)

They showed us how to cut slashes and make the top of the pie look fancy, and different ways of pinching the edges together – with a fork, or by fluting them with your fingers.

And then it was our turn!

Making pie at my tableMaking pie at Table 2Making pie at Table 1

Me making pie crust

Here’s me blending up my pie crust, nervous as all get out. Longtime readers might recognize the turquoise apron (complete with vintage-style rick-rack) that I was wearing; it was made for me by my friend Margaret Squibb, who is a baker extraordinaire. Margaret bakes all the amazing pies served at the Montreal restaurant Tuck Shop, where her son, Theo Lerikos, is owner and chef. Thanks, Margaret! (Photo by Jill Cameron)

As we nervously measured out our flour and began our blending, the three experts and some helpers roamed from table to table, watching, offering advice, answering questions and calming our anxieties.

Ann helps James

James Cipparone of Queensborough celebrated his 11th birthday Saturday by taking part in the Master Class. He chose to make his pastry using Ann
Brooks’s KitchenAid mixer, and she talked him through the whole process.

Ann advises the pie-makers

Ann Brooks visits a table of pie-makers to calm nerves and answer questions.

Frankly, I don’t know what I would have done without Betty’s frequent visits to our table to check on us. When is the pastry sufficiently blended? I didn’t know, but she guided me through it. Have I rolled it out properly? Sure I had, she encouragingly told me. How do you cut those fancy slashes again? Betty kindly showed me once more.

And by the end, I had a pie!

My pie

And so did everybody else!

Happy pie-makers

(Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

All we had to do was take them home and bake them. Which of course I did, and here’s my finished product:

Finished pie

I cannot tell you how proud I am of having produced this raspberry pie. As Raymond (my husband) will confirm, it was delicious – and the pastry was nigh on perfect.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos of the day to give you a sense of what a great afternoon we all had:

Elaine starts us off

As the afternoon kicked off, Elaine Kapusta of the Queensborough Community Centre committee explains to the students how we came up with idea of the Master Class in Pie-Making. Looking on are our teachers: from left, Barb Ramsay, Betty Sexsmith and Ann Brooks.

We are ready to make pie

This roomful of people is ready to make pie!

Betty and Teresa

The class was billed as a passing of the torch, as veteran pie-makers taught younger folks (okay, not all of us were younger) the art of pie-making. This was beautifully exemplified by the participation of Teresa Laton, granddaughter of teacher Betty Sexsmith. (Photo by Jill Cameron)

QCC members at pie class

Our pie class was organized by members of the Queensborough Community Centre committee, some of whom are (right to left) Elaine Kapusta, Ann Brooks, Joan Harrison Sims, Betty Sexsmith, Barb Ramsay, Stephanie Sims and yours truly. (Photo by Jill Cameron)

And here’s the good news: most of the people who attended this first class – which focused on the fine art of the pie crust – are already signed up for a followup session on making pie filling using fresh fruit. Success breeds success! Also, as I said, there will probably be another session on pie pastry for those who couldn’t be squeezed into this first class and those whose interest may be aroused by the positive publicity our class got. (We had two reporters there to document the day.)

Ann and James with James's pie

James Cipparone with his pie whisperer, Ann Brooks, and his finished product, lattice-topped and all. Pretty nice to go home on your 11th birthday and have a pie like that for your family to enjoy!

People, I think we are on to something. The fact that it’s something delicious just makes it that much better.

Canada’s oldest gas station? We’re getting closer to the story

Canada's oldest gas station by cjaremk

Today as I sought out more information about “Canada’s oldest gas station” in the local hamlet of Eldorado, I found this nice photo on the photo-sharing site Flickr. The photographer is cjaremk, and you can check out his/her/their other great photos here.

Thank you so much to all of you who responded to my recent post seeking information on a building in our neck of the woods that proclaims itself “Canada’s oldest gas station.” I haven’t – yet, at least – got the proof I’m seeking that this claim is true, but I sure know a lot more about that gas station, and the history of Eldorado, the hamlet where it’s located, than I used to. I feel confident that the full story behind the oldest-in-Canada claim will come out before much longer.

From several readers I learned that the gas station – which I should say right here is no longer operational as a gas station – was built and opened by Charlie and Keitha Pigden. (My thanks to Charlie and Keitha’s granddaughter, Dianne Brick, for being the first to share that information.) Precisely what year the Pigden garage and gas station began operating I do not yet know, though it seems to have been in or about 1920. But thanks to another reader, Gurney Barker, I do know that for building materials, Charlie Pigden used reclaimed stuff from a former copper mine in the Eldorado area. Gurney helpfully sent me the appropriate section from the book Eldorado: Ontario’s First Gold Rush by my friend Gerry Boyce, Hastings County historian extraordinaire. (Raymond and I have a lot of Gerry’s books of local history, but unfortunately not that one. Yet.) Here’s the passage in question:

“The mines remained a fact of life for Eldorado’s people. When Charlie Pigden arrived soon after World War I, his family first lived in what had been the mine’s first boarding house; his children played in and around the shaft and pits. Pigden dismantled the old copper mine buildings and used the materials to build an Imperial Oil garage. He provided economical power packs (motors on car frames) for miners who continued to work the Richardson and other sites.” [Note from Katherine: The Richardson mine was the site of the gold rush for which Gerry’s book is named.]

Here’s more, this time from Gurney himself, who grew up in Eldorado:

“I remember the old boarding house. But also when I was in public school during the late 1940s, a local gent by the name of Bob Blakely owned a portable homemade sawing machine which was built on an old car frame and running gear. The engine was from a 1928 Chevrolet car (my dad said). Blakely towed it around with a team of horses from farm to farm each fall sawing firewood from the trees which the farmers had cut months before. I understood that this was one of the so-called “power packs” which Charlie Pigden built.”

And here’s more from Gurney, this time on Charlie and Keitha’s remarkable son Gordon Pigden (and I should note that Gurney was not my only correspondent who pointed out Gord Pigden’s accomplishments):

“Charlie’s son Gordon was an electronic legend around there when I was young, with his clandestine radio transmitter, etc. What really impressed my brother and myself was that he hand built the very first television set anywhere in that country at a time when the closest TV station was in Syracuse, N.Y. He displayed it in the window of his Madoc shop and it always seemed to attract a cluster of curious watchers on Saturday evenings. Gordon was in part the inspiration which led my brother and me to become electrical engineers.”

Wow!

I’ve made mention of Gord Pigden before, in the context of the cable television station he established in Madoc and that filmed footage of many, many important (and not-so-important) events in this area’s history – work that is carried on today by that Gord’s son, Terry, and daughter-in-law, Eileen. And I’ve mentioned my memories of Gord’s store in Madoc that Gurney refers to, selling and repairing TVs, stereos and records; I used to love looking through those racks of records (Quadrophenia! Planet Waves!) in my early teen years in Queensborough, and I am certain that the stereo we had at the Manse back then – one of those great big wooden ones with the turntable inside – came from Pigden’s. But I hadn’t realized quite what a trailblazer Gord was. Reader Mark Godfrey noted that Gord was “also a pioneer and innovator in the field of radar during the war.” Let me say it again: Wow! Who knew there’d be so many stories dug up just by asking about an old gas-station sign.

But speaking of that gas station, let’s get back to it.

Readers also shared the information that Jerry Morrison bought the gas station when the Pigdens sold it and moved their operation into Madoc. I remember the large Pigden garage and car dealership on Russell Street in Madoc from my childhood; a while back we got to see again, for the first time in many years, what the front of that operation looked like, when it was briefly uncovered during renovations by the building’s current owner, Bush Furniture. Here’s my photo:

Pigden Motor Sales sign at Bush Furniture

Two or three other owners followed Jerry Morrison, readers told me. At one point (not long before it closed down, according to one reader) it was operating under the name Eldorado Emporium and Gas Bar, and the owners were seeking to shore the business up by adding a Liquor Control Board of Ontario outlet and the post office for the hamlet. Here’s an article about that (helpfully sent by a reader!) by Diane Sherman in the Community Press weekly newspaper in October 2008 (click here to read the full story):

Community Press story on Eldorado gas bar

I wasn’t around this area back then, but I’m guessing that the owners’ efforts were rejected by the LCBO and /or Canada Post, which may have led to the business closing down not too long after the story appeared. And that’s really sad, because the closure ended almost 90 years of the building being a bustling hot spot in Eldorado. This recollection from the 1940s from Gurney Barker paints the picture really well:

“I recall Charlie Pigden’s garage and my dad filling his Model A Ford from those old fashioned ‘sight glass’ gas pumps out front. From an early age I understood that Charlie built the building using lumber from an old gold mine. I remember Wilfred Thomson who worked there as a mechanic. I recall getting our radio wet cell batteries charged at Charlie’s place. Charlie also sold Ferguson tractors from the premises. When I was in high school the Morrisons ran a small restaurant in the old Pigden building building adjacent to their body shop. It was called the Squat and Gobble, and an overhead sign proclaimed it as such. I also remember the weatherbeaten gold-rush-era boarding house which stood across the street, and I remember the old Conlin hotel which stood at the junction of Highway 62 and the Rimington Road. Both were torn down in the 1940s. My parents patronized the two general stores in the village: Strebe’s (later Anglin’s) store and grist mill, which both burned down in the 1940s, and Mrs. Arkell’s store, which still stands and is featured in at least two ‘ghost town’ books. And my dad ran the old Fox blacksmith shop for a while in the late late 1940s.”

That, Gurney, is seriously good stuff. (Wouldn’t it be terrific if Eldorado still had all that activity going on?) Thank you to you, to Dianne Brick, and to all the other readers who have been kind enough to share what they know about “Canada’s oldest gas station.”

But, my friends, the full story remains to be told. As my friends Gary and Lillian Pattison – who operate the marvellous Old Hastings Mercantile gift shop in tiny Ormsby, up Coe Hill way, and so pass (and wonder about) the sign proclaiming the Eldorado building’s history whenever they travel south on Highway 62 – said in an email of appreciation for all the information that has come out so far: “ I don’t think I’ve seen yet in the replies why this was considered the oldest gas station. We’ve wondered about that forever!

So, people, let’s carry on with this inquiry. We know that Charlie and Keitha Pigden opened the gas bar in the early 1920s – according to this photo captured from Google Street View in 2013 (though the photo is probably older than that) and kindly sent to me by the Pattisons, in 1920 precisely:

Eldorado 1

We know that Charlie Pigden repurposed materials from an old copper mine to build it. That’s all good stuff.

But what do we know about the claim to it being “Canada’s oldest gas station?” There the mystery remains. Diane Sherman’s 2008 news story says the owner at that time claimed that “the couple’s gas bar is the oldest gas station in Canada – ‘until otherwise proven.’ ”

Hmmm… What’s the story, people? Was Charlie Pigden’s gas bar really the first in Canada? If so – how come? Where were service-station entrepreneurs in, say, Toronto, or Montreal, or Halifax, or Winnipeg, when Charlie and Keitha were getting those gas pumps into operation?

But let me leave you with this final word from Gurney Barker, which pretty much sums up how I feel about the great response I’ve had to my query:

“Who knew that a mention of this little backwater hamlet would arouse so much interest?”

Gurney, I’m going to take mild exception to your characterization of Eldorado as a “backwater” (though, since you grew up there, you’re allowed to say it), but yes: who knew? Please keep that information coming, people!

Your ticket to learn the secrets of Queensborough pie perfection

Pie FlyerYou heard about it here first, people: early next month, you get your chance to learn how to make pies as great as the ones you enjoy whenever you come to Queensborough for church suppers and the like. As I reported back in January, the volunteers at the Queensborough Community Centre committee are organizing the first – and, we hope, far from the last – Master Pie-Making Course. And now, as I promised in that earlier report, I have all the details for you, plus – as you’ll see at the top of this post – your registration form for this fantastic event.

Potluck Supper poster 2018The first thing I have to tell you is this: act fast! Spaces in the class are limited and, judging by the enthusiastic response I received to that first post both here and on social media, they will fill up very quickly. If you want to learn from the best of the best, follow these instructions:

  1. Click on the photo at the top of this post showing the registration form.
  2. Go to the bottom right of the next screen you’ll see. Click on “View full size.”
  3. Drag the image to the desktop of your computer.
  4. Print it out, fill in your information, and mail it off as soon as you can – or better yet, come to the potluck supper this coming Sunday (Feb. 18, 2018) at the Queensborough Community Centre and drop it off ahead of time. (Hey, how about this: we’re having a Queensborough Trivia competition at the potluck supper – how much fun is that? People, we in Queensborough know how to have a good time.) Also: if you have trouble downloading the form, you can also find it, readily downloadable, at the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page.

And hey – how about the amazingly low registration fee for this class? Only $10 to learn life-changing pie-making skills from the pros: Betty Sexsmith, Ann Brooks and Barb Ramsay. Plus the QCC supplies all your ingredients! (That would be flour, lard or shortening, pie filling, etc.) You’re not likely to find a better deal than that.

Now, you do have to supply some stuff yourself, as noted on the information sheet. Presumably you all know what a rolling pin is, but we decided to use a photo of a pastry blender because there are probably some potential pie-makers who have never used one. Wondering about the dry-measure measuring cups? As the lovely Mrs. Meraw taught me in home-economics class at Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc way back in the days when I was growing up in Queensborough, you must use dry-measure cups for ingredients like flour, sugar and so on – not the measuring cups you use for liquids like milk, oil, etc. Here’s a visual to help the measuring-cup-challenged, with Raymond, my husband and in-house chef extraordinaire, doing the modelling. Dry-measure cups look like this:

Raymond with dry-measure cups

And liquid-measure cups look like this:

Raymond with the liquid-measure cups

There! A baking-utensils lesson from me, of all people. All credit to Mrs. Meraw for this knowledge. She was an excellent (and very patient) home-ec teacher.

Now, a couple of other things to note:

  • The spaces for this session really will fill up quickly. We don’t want people to be disappointed, so if it turns out that the class is full by the time your registration arrives, don’t despair! We can and will do it again.
  • After lengthy deliberations, the planning committee decided that this first Master Class will be strictly about the magic of making good pastry. We thought that adding instructions for turning fresh or frozen fruit (or savoury ingedients, such as the makings of chicken pot pie) into pie filling would be too much for one session. As a result, the pies that students will take home to bake will contain canned filling. But! If there’s interest and demand, we’ll hold another class on making yummy fillings for your perfect pie crust.

Okay, there you go. Round up your materials – borrow them if you don’t have them, or stop by your friendly local Home Hardware store or equivalent to buy some of your own, because lord knows you’ll be making pies after this pie-making class. Send in your registration. And come to beautiful Queensborough on Saturday, March 3, for this extraordinary culinary experience.

The organizers think of this as a passing of the pastry-blender-shaped torch, from the veteran pie-makers of Queensborough to the next generation.

I want to be there to catch that torch. You do too.

Postscript: Thank you so much to all of you who responded to last week’s post, sending me some answers to my questions about “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” in Eldorado. I promise I’ll get back to that topic, and share the information you sent, very soon. But right at the moment, pie-class registration is urgent!

This time it’s your turn to tell ME a story.

Lounge: Gas and Food

The vintage sign suggests comfort: a place to stop, get warm and get both your vehicle and yourself refuelled. Unfortunately, these days it’s an empty promise because the food, fuel, groceries and ice cream still proclaimed on signs at “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” in the hamlet of Eldorado are no longer available, the operation having closed down an undetermined number of years ago.

My friends, I’ve told you a lot of stories over a thousand-odd posts since Meanwhile, at the Manse began in January 2012. This time, I want you to tell me a story.

Here’s what has prompted my request.

A couple of weekends ago, I was driving south down Highway 62 toward Madoc, having returned some borrowed books about old-home restoration to a friend in the hamlet of Bannockburn.

As I zipped through the next hamlet south of Bannockburn, which is Eldorado – a tiny but historic place, being the site of Ontario’s first gold mine and all, and as close as rural Madoc Township gets to having a township seat – something that I’d vaguely noticed many times before suddenly stopped me in my tire tracks. As I reversed up the highway so as to get a closer look and some photos, I said to myself, “Self, what on Earth is the deal with that ‘Canada’s Oldest Gas Station’ sign?” Here, take a look at what I mean:

Canada's Oldest Gas Station

Canada’s Oldest Gas Station? In Eldorado? Really? I need to know the story behind this.

People, why would tiny North-of-7 Eldorado be the home of Canada’s oldest gas station?

Or at least, what maybe once was Canada’s oldest gas station. Since this gas station is no longer a gas station, perhaps another one still in operation somewhere else across the length and breadth of our vast nation has usurped its claim.

“Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” still has gas pumps, but they’ve clearly not been used for some time:

Gas tanks at Canada's Oldest Gas Station

The gas pumps at the onetime gas station are definitely not the pay-with-your-card type that you see most of the time these days. It looks like Canada’s Oldest Gas Station was a full-serve operation.

And it still has signage proclaiming all the things that one could once have purchased there when stopping for gas, including “Great Food,” “Ice Cream,” “Takeout” and “Groceries”:

Groceries and ice cream at Canada's Oldest Gas Station

But clearly none of this is any longer on offer to the travelling public. This place that must once have been the hot spot of Eldorado looks long-shuttered, sadly.

So I’d like anyone who knows about this to tell me the story of what it once was. And mainly I’d like to know whether it’s true that this place in tiny Eldorado is (or was) Canada’s Oldest Gas Station, and how that came to be.

And here’s another thing I’d like to know, about myself and, perhaps, all of you: I’d like to know how many times in our days, our weeks and our lives we pass by interesting and/or odd things – such as a sign in Eldorado proclaiming “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” – and pay them little or no mind. How many stories, how many pieces of our collective and community history, do we miss learning about and passing on to future generations because we – like me, every time I drove south through Eldorado except this one last time – don’t stop to wonder about, and maybe look into, what’s right before our eyes?

Lesson learned for me. Now, Eldorado, Bannockburn and Madoc Township people: please tell me the story of Canada’s Oldest Gas Station!