The Group of Seven painter, and his link to Queensborough

A.Y. Jackson, one of Canada’s foremost landscape painters and a leading member of the Group of Seven – the group that changed the face of Canadian art.

The message was a bolt out of the blue: “Stop the press! Get ready for fantastic news. A donor is letting us display their A.Y. JACKSON painting of Queensborough for Historic Queensborough Day.”

I was stunned.

“Good God!” I responded. “Did you even know this painting existed?”

“Nope!” was the response.

Sometimes, people, amazing things just fall out of the sky. This was one of those times.

The message exchange was between me and my friend Elaine Kapusta. We’re two of the large group of volunteers working to put together Queensborough’s second Historic Queensborough Day, following up on the huge success of our first such event in 2014. This year’s edition takes place on Sunday, Sept. 10, and you can read a lot more about it in my post from last week, which is here. But let’s get right back to the amazing surprise of a painting of Queensborough by A.Y. Jackson, and the fact that it will be on display on Sept. 10.

As many of you will know, A.Y. Jackson is one of the most famous and highly regarded painters in Canadian history. He was a member of the Group of Seven, painters who basically changed Canadian art – and the way we look at the Canadian landscape – forever. Think Lawren Harris‘s paintings from north of Lake Superior and his mountainscapes (one of which sold at auction last year for $11.2 million, a Canadian record). Think Tom Thomson‘s scenes of ragged and hardy pine trees, notably his seminal work The Jack Pine. (Thomson was not a member of the Group of Seven, but was closely associated with them.) And yes, think A.Y. Jackson’s scenes of rural Quebec…

jacksonbaiesainttpaul

Baie-Saint-Paul by A.Y. Jackson

jacksonwebhouseatbaitstpaul-1

House at Baie-Saint-Paul by A.Y. Jackson

…and of the Canadian wilderness, particularly in Ontario’s near north:

jackson-a-y-red-maple_large

The Red Maple, A.Y. Jackson

AY-Jackson-Frozen-Lake-Early-Spring-Algonquin-Park-1914

Frozen Lake, Early Spring, Algonquin Park by A.Y. Jackson

“A.Y. Jackson was a leading member of the Group of Seven and helped to remake the visual image of Canada,” says the Canadian Encyclopedia in its entry about him here.

The painters in the Group of Seven “spoke with a new voice – the voice of Canada,” says a fascinating National Film Board of Canada documentary about Jackson from 1941, which you can watch here. “A foundation member of the group, and foremost among those who spoke in this new way, is Alexander Young Jackson. Born in Montreal in 1882, he is today the leading Canadian landscape painter. He has travelled from the whaleback rocks of Georgian Bay to Baffinland and up to the Arctic. He has sketched in Halifax, and in the fishing villages of the Gaspé along the Gulf of St. Lawrence where houses cling to the steep cliffs. In doing so, he has produced his own essence of Canada – vast, rhythmic, vigorous.”

A.Y. Jackson working in rural Quebec

This picture of A.Y. Jackson sketching in rural Quebec comes from a National Film Board of Canada documentary featuring him and his work, called Canadian Landscape. You can watch it, and see Jackson sketching in the Canadian wilderness, here.

And now think about this: on Historic Queensborough Day, you will have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to view a painting of Queensborough by A.Y. Jackson!

I can hardly find the words to express how excited I am about this. Nor can I find sufficient words of thanks to the person (who wishes to remain anonymous) who has offered to make this one-day loan of such an important work of art.

Queensborough has long been known as a favourite destination, and subject, for artists. I wrote here about the days when students at the Schneider School of Fine Arts in the nearby Elzeviir Township hamlet of Actinolite would regularly pile into our little village, plunk themselves and their easels down at various street corners, and work on sketches of homes, sheds, barns and landscapes. When I close my eyes and think back to those days of my childhood, I can still remember the interesting and rather exotic scent of their oil paints that would waft up when you timidly looked over their shoulders to see their works in progress.

But to think that a member of the world-famous Group of Seven visited, and painted, here in Queensborough!

Goldie Holmes's Queensborough quilt

Goldie Holmes’s Queensborough Quilt.

The painting will be on display at the Queensborough Community Centre, which is headquarters for Historic Queensborough Day. Also at the centre – itself an important historic building in our hamlet, since it was our one-room schoolhouse from the time it was built in 1900 until the mid-1960s – will be a raft of displays of photos, documents and artifacts on many aspects of Queensborough’s history. Another highlight will be the display of Queensborough Quilt Lady Goldie Holmes‘s famous quilt featuring homes and buildings in the village. It too will be on show at the community centre (1853 Queensborough Rd.), thanks to a one-day-only loan from the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre where it usually resides.

But a painting of Queensborough by A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven – holy smokes! Surely you need no further inducement to come join us on Sunday, Sept. 10. Though in case you do, let me remind you that the day will also include:

  • Horse-drawn wagon tours of the village
  • A visit from Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald (a onetime Queensborough property-owner)
  • A presentation on the latest available research on Queensborough’s Indigenous history
  • A vintage and classic car show
  • A peek into some of the hamlet’s most interesting buildings
  • The opportunity to have your family’s portrait taken at the historic Kincaid house, and share for our records your connections to Queensborough
  • A visit to the amazing grounds and gardens at St. Mary of Egypt Refuge
  • Sunday worship in historic St. Andrew’s United Church
  • And food! There’ll be an all-day barbecue at the Queensborough Community Centre, and goodies and sweets also for sale there.

All this and a Group of Seven painting of our lovely little village: what more could you ask for?

Big news: the return of Historic Queensborough Day!

HQD Orange Lodge

The former Orange Lodge, one of Queensborough’s oldest structures and one that has lots of fascinating stories to tell, will be among the buildings open for a peek during Historic Queensborough Day. The historic building has just been purchased by a couple who have very exciting plans for its future. This is wonderful news for Queensborough!

One fine September Sunday three years ago, the biggest and most successful event in recent Queensborough history took place: the first-ever Historic Queensborough Day. One of the comments heard over and over from the hundreds of people who showed up that day was: “You have to do it again!”

Well, folks, I am very glad to report that we are doing it again.

Please mark Sunday, Sept. 10, on your calendar and plan to be in Queensborough that day to learn about and celebrate Queensborough’s history, enjoy a great meal, and meet a whole bunch of old friends and new. Historic Queensborough Day 2017 is going to be bigger and better than ever!

A large group of hard-working volunteers – members of the Queensborough Community Centre Committee plus lots of other interested residents – has been working for some time on the logistics of the day. We’re very much still in the fine-tuning phase, but at this point we have a full lineup of of events, and that’s what I want to share with you right now.

HQD QCC with Buddy Table

The Queensborough Community Centre (the village’s former one-room schoolhouse) will house a raft of displays on Historic Queensborough Day. Outside, barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers will be served, and homemade sweets will also be for sale. Diners will be welcome to sit at the newly installed “buddy table” (at left in photo), a giant picnic table installed by members of the community in memory of indefatigable Queensborough supporter the late John Barry.

The focus of the day, as in 2014, will be the Queensborough Community Centre, where there will be all kinds of displays about Queensborough’s history: the schools, the businesses (stores, hotels, blacksmith’s shops, etc.), military history, the churches, the cheese factories (did you know that wee Queensborough had two cheese factories?), the mines that once dotted the area around us, the railway that had a station here, women’s groups (including, of course, the Women’s Institute), the Orange Lodge (which was as much a community centre as the home of a fraternal organization), the families and genealogies, the “nursing home” (essentially an early hospital), and more. But the highlight will certainly be one of the most famous things ever to come out of Queensborough: a folk-art quilt featuring images of the buildings of the village, made by hand in the middle of the last century by Queensborough’s Quilt Lady, Goldie Holmes. You can real all about Goldie, her fame and her quilts here and here; and here is a photo of the quilt you will be able to see in person on Sept. 10:

The famous “Queensborough quilt” by the late Goldie Holmes that is usually displayed at the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre but for one day only – Historic Queensborough Day – will be back in Queensborough. Can you identify the buildings on it? (Hint: one of them is featured in the photo at the top of this post; another one is the Manse!)

What else is on for the day? Well, I’m glad you asked. A lot!

In no particular order, events include:

HQD The Kincaid House

The Kincaid House, one of the oldest (and most photographed/painted) in the village. This will be the spot to get a family photo taken and at the same time share with our eager history-recorders your family’s history in, and connections to, Queensborough.

  • A presentation, including a documentary video, on the latest available research on the Indigenous peoples who once moved through and camped in the Queensborough area.
  • The ever-popular horse and wagon tours of the village’s historic sites and buildings; here’s a photo of yours truly (the one waving) doing the tour-guide routine on Historic Queensborough Day 2014 as volunteers Bruce and Barb Gordon lead their team, Don and Barney, through the village:
Historic Queensborough Day

Photo by Ruth Steele

  • A visit from none other than Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald – or at least, a most remarkable facsimile. Sir John A. and his wife, Lady Agnes Macdonald, will be on hand to greet visitors and talk about their connection to Queensborough (hint: it has to do with a property deal that didn’t end up all that well), and the great man will make a brief speech to the assembled crowd at 1 p.m. Now how about that?
  • And a new event that I’m pretty sure will be very popular: open doors and a chance to peek into some of Queensborough’s most significant buildings. It’s not a fancy house tour; you’ll get a look inside, but you won’t tromp through every room. And some of these buildings are very much in the “before” stage of the before-and-after restoration process. But it’s a rare chance to get a glimpse of these buildings’ past, present and possibilities, as I like to say. One stop on the open-doors tour is the former Orange Hall, featured at the top of this post and a critical part of Queensborough’s history; we’ll have information about its past, and perhaps some ideas for its future from its enthusiastic brand-new owners, Jamie and Tory. Another is the Kincaid House. Other stops include:
HQD former Anglican Church

The beautiful former St. Peter’s Anglican Church (Queensborough’s first church), now a private residence.

HQD The Thompson House

The outstanding Thompson House, built in 1845.

HQD The Thompson Mill

The grist (flour and feed) mill and sawmill on the Black River that the village of Queensborough grew up around. Queensborough’s first post office was inside the mill, and vestiges of it remain.

HQD Ice Locker at McMurray's Store

The ice locker at the former McMurray’s General Store (and before that, Diamond Hotel). Here ice that was cut from the frozen Black River in wintertime was stored through the year to keep food cool and fresh.

HQD Billy Wilson's Blacksmith Shop

The former shop of blacksmith Billy Wilson, the only one of several blacksmith’s shops that once served Queensborough that is still standing.

HQD Daisy Cottage

The lovely (and in the process of being lovingly restored) Daisy Cottage, the home of Evelyn Lynn when I was a kid growing up at the Manse.

And of course there will be food! The barbecues at the Queensborough Community Centre will be fired up in the morning to serve peameal bacon on a bun for those who’d like to grab breakfast; a little later the volunteer chefs will switch over to hamburgers and hot dogs. You’ll also be able to buy hot and cold drinks and homemade goodies. Hey, it wouldn’t be Queensborough if there weren’t good food!

Barbecue on Historic Queensborough Day 2014

The barbecue on Historic Queensborough Day 2014: sunshine, good food, and Queensborough memories to share.

Those of us who have been working hard to organize Historic Queensborough Day 2017 are feeling pretty excited about it all. The turnout at our first event, in 2014, exceeded all expectations, and we’re hoping for even greater things this time around. If you have any questions about the day, or have artifacts, photos, historical documents etc. that you’d like to contribute to our displays (we’ll take good care of them and get them back to you!), please contact either Elaine Kapusta (613-473-1458, elainekapusta@hotmail.com) or me (613-473-2110, sedgwick.katherine@gmail.com).

Queensborough looks forward to welcoming you on Sunday, Sept. 10!

Welcomed home from afar by bunnies and bats

Home from Scotland

The Saltire (Scotland’s national flag, showing the cross of St. Andrew) flew outside the Manse for a day as we celebrated our return home from a wonderful trip.

Hello, people! It’s been a long time since my last post. There’s a reason for that: I took a vacation! Raymond and I tore ourselves away from beautiful Queensborough for a few weeks and made a long-hoped-for visit to Scotland. It was absolutely marvellous, and at the risk of being one of those people who bores you to death with their travel photos, I’m going to share a few before I tell you my welcome-home-to Queensborough story. Here’s how we spent much of July:

Champagne cocktails, Grand Central Hotel

A good start to the adventure: champagne cocktails as we look out onto the main hall at Glasgow’s Central Station.

Eilean Donan

Eilean Donan, pretty much your classic Scottish castle – one of lots of castles we visited.

Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn

The statue of Robert the Bruce at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn, where he famously defeated the English in 1314. Of course we had to visit, especially since we live close to the Hastings County hamlet named for it.

Raymond and Greyfriars Bobby

Raymond with the statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh. We were both touched by the story of the wee terrier who stood guard over his master’s grave for 14 years, until his own death.

Portree, Skye

The harbour of Portree, Isle of Skye.

Stairway inside the broch at Dun Carloway

The stairway inside a 2,000-year old broch (high-walled fortification) at Dun Carloway on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides.

Gardens, Balmoral

In the gardens at Balmoral Castle, where the Queen stays every August.

Raymond at the wheel of the Discovery

Raymond at the wheel of the Discovery, the ship used by Capt. Robert Scott (“Scott of the Antarctic”) on his 1901 expedition to Antarctica. The ship spent two years trapped in the ice there, but eventually made it home and is now moored in Dundee, where it was built.

Sheep in Barra

Sharing the single-lane roads with sheep on Barra, Outer Hebrides.

Drawing room, Royal Yacht Britannia

The state drawing room aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, permanently docked in Leith, Edinburgh’s port. Love the midcentury furniture!

Isle of Harris, on the way to Lewis

The stunningly beautiful Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides.

William Wallace monument

The gothic monument to William Wallace, better known (thanks to Mel Gibson) as Braveheart.

Breakfast menu, Ardhasaig House

Breakfast menu at the charming Ardhasaig House Hotel, Isle of Harris.

Raymond and the printing press

Raymond the journalist revisits his professional roots thanks to an 1860 printing press at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Cuillin, Skye

The Cuillin peaks, Isle of Skye.

Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street

Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street on a very wet day indeed. We both bought raincoats.

Drummond Castle Gardens

Drummond Castle Gardens, Muthill, Perthshire.

The Lewis Chessmen, National Museum of Scotland

The Lewis Chessmen, carved in the 12th century and discovered in the 19th on a beach in Uig, Isle of Lewis. Their amazing story is told here.

Oban, Scotland

The pretty town of Oban, from which we set sail on a five-hour ferry ride to the Outer Hebrides.

As you can see, we had a pretty great time, learned a lot of Scottish history, and saw some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. It was a wonderful trip.

And now, as promised, here’s my story about what happened when we got home to the Manse.

We pulled into the driveway just under 24 hours after we’d got up that morning in Edinburgh. Exhausted but hungry, we were sitting down to a plate of spaghetti topped with Raymond’s Famous homemade spaghetti sauce (always on hand in the freezer) when I happened to look out a front window.

“Look! A bunny!” I called out in delight. A wee brown bunny with storybook white cottontail had hoped into the front yard for a nibble on our grass.

A second later, it was joined by another one.

And then another one.

And then another one!

Four little bunnies! They only stayed a minute, then hopped away in a southerly direction. We’ve never before seen bunny visitors on our lawn. It felt like they’d come just to say welcome back to Queensborough.

(Though I did learn the next day that it’s a banner year for bunnies – I believe Eastern Cottontail is the proper name – in Ontario. Well, so much the better!)

A little later, as we were putting away dinner’s residue and outside darkness was beginning to fall (along with our eyelids), I glanced out the kitchen window. To my astonishment, I saw a bird that I am fairly sure was a bat zoom in the jerky way that bats do over the south section of the Manse yard. And then there was another. And another. Wow!

When I was growing up in this house, bats were part of every summer evening. As my siblings and I and the neighbourhood kids played softball or tag or hide and seek in the Manse’s front yard, there would always be bats swooping overhead. Aside from the scary (false) stories that some of the big kids would tell about them getting caught in your hair, we never gave them any mind. But ever since Raymond and I bought the Manse, I’ve been struck by the utter absence of the bats. Of course, it’s not just in Queensborough; thanks largely to something called white nose syndrome, brown bats are considered an at-risk species in Ontario. Which is bad news not just for the bats, but for humans who live in places (like Queensborough) where summertime means mosquitoes. Did you know that a single brown bat can eat up to a thousand mosquitoes an hour? (More amazing facts on bats here.)

For years I’ve been hoping for a bat sighting at the Manse. Unless my eyes deceived me, we got it on the very evening we returned from three astounding weeks away.

The bunnies and the bats are a long way from the castles, lochs and mountains of beautiful Scotland. But there couldn’t have been a better welcome-home gift.

Now it’s on us – to celebrate our school, and to work for it

Thanking the trustees

Some of the people who have worked so hard to save Madoc Township Public School (at left, from left, Margaret Heard, Wendy Spence and Amy Beaton) offer handshakes and heartfelt thanks to school-board trustees (in foreground is Dwayne Inch; behind him is Jim Patterson, and half-hidden while shaking Amy’s hand is Mary Hall) this evening for their unanimous support of keeping MTPS open and returning to it students in Grades 7 and 8.

Call it a victory for rural education. Call it the best-case scenario for the children of Madoc, Elzevir and Tudor and Cashel townships. Call it a huge shot in the arm for our local economy and way of life. Call it whatever you like. We have something to celebrate.

This evening, the trustees who make up the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board voted unanimously to keep Madoc Township Public School open, and to expand it by bringing back students in Grades 7 and 8 as of this coming September. Here’s the video of the vote that put paid to the whole thing:

Big crowd at the school-board meeting

The boardroom was filled to capacity for this evening’s final votes by the school board on the future of quite a few schools in Hastings and Prince Edward counties. Many supporters of Madoc Township Public School were among the crowd.

After a campaign that lasted more than six months – beginning in November 2016, when administrators with the board announced their recommendation to close MTPS and bus its students to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc as of this September – our community emerged stronger than when the whole thing started. Madoc Township’s only school will not only be able to carry on its long tradition of excellence in education, but students from our rural area will be able to attend it through Grade 8 rather than (as has been the case for about 45 years) be bused into “town.”

This is an astounding outcome, and one that even the most optimistic among us campaigners for MTPS barely dared think about, let alone hope for, during these past six months.

(If anyone reading this is unaware of the whole saga, which I freely admit I’ve covered in perhaps more detail than anyone wanted, just click on the “Madoc Township Public School” category on the right side of this blog’s home page. It’s all there – every step of the way.)

Thanks to Trustee Danes from MTPS supporters

Centre Hastings Trustee Bonnie Danes (left) was all smiles after this evening’s board meeting, as supporters of Madoc Township Public School, including recent MTPS grad Brooklyn Gylyktiuk (right foreground) and her mum, Wendy Spence, thanked her for her tireless work.

Every single one of the trustees on the board gets my huge thanks – and I hope yours too – for this vote of confidence in our school and our community. But I’d really like to single out Centre Hastings Trustee Bonnie Danes, who I think I’m safe in saying spearheaded the work behind the scenes at the board level in pushing for MTPS’s continued existence. I am sure that Southeast Hastings Trustee Justin Bray worked really hard on this one too. Trustees Danes and Bray: thank you so much!

As for the core of volunteers who have championed the cause of our local school on behalf of the community as a whole – who attended what seems like endless meetings, and put hundreds of hours into researching, planning, lobbying, networking, worrying (hey, I have to be honest) and strategizing – really, there are no words. Here they are, and it is one of the greatest honours of my life that they asked me to be in the photo with them:

The MTPS crew

Some of the core group of Madoc Township Public School supporters and activists who made it happen: from left, honorary member Brooklyn Gylyktiuk (an MTPS grad), plus some of the main crew: Wendy Spence, Margaret Heard, Randy Gray, Denise Gray, Holly Kormann, Amy Beaton – and, I feel shy to say and very honoured because they asked me to be in the photo, me.

So what happens next?

Well, we know that MTPS will be open for business this coming September, welcoming students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8. That is just amazing. And wonderful. And I think we should have a party! Maybe now; maybe in September. Whenever: a time for kids, parents and the community at large to gather on the five-plus acres at Madoc Township Public School for an afternoon or evening of kids running and jumping and exploring and playing soccer or softball or tag or hide and seek, parents taking photos and refereeing and chatting and enjoying the outdoors, and community members sharing their memories (old or new) of happy times at MTPS. With hot dogs and lemonade and conversation and smiles and tears of joy. Wouldn’t that be fun?

But in the longer term (and by that I mean only the very slightly longer term, i.e. starting pretty much now), I think it behooves all of us – parents, community members and MTPS students and supporters – to step up and show our ongoing support. I’m speaking only for myself here, but maybe I’m not alone in having realized that until six months ago, I took Madoc Township Public School for granted. It was there, it was a great school and a great asset to our community, and I assumed it would continue to be all of that.

And then we almost lost it. As Joni Mitchell says: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” Now, I think we did know what we had; but maybe we weren’t doing everything we could to ensure our community would continue to have it.

In the note of thanks that I sent to the 10 trustees last week after they passed their first (though not final) vote in favour of keeping MTPS open, I wrote this:

The confidence the trustees have shown in our school inspires me to do everything I can to ensure the community in turn does everything it can to support MTPS. Ways we can help that come to mind immediately are fundraising for playground, library and other school equipment and resources; assistance in establishing after-school care to help working parents; and support for outdoor-education programs that take full advantage of our school’s unparalleled green space. But I’m sure there are many other ways we can continue and expand our support.

I really mean that, and I hope others in the community will feel the same. If we want to continue to have this splendid school in our community, we can’t take it for granted; we have to work for it! And the more we do to help and improve our school, the greater its success will be – and the more assured will be its continued existence.

Madoc Township Public School, June 12, 2017

This is our school – and I am so proud of it!

One area that I feel strongly about is support for the school library. When I was a kid attending that brand-new school back in the 1960s and ’70s, it had a wonderful library – lots of books, comfy chairs, a welcoming ambience; it made you want to just curl up and read and read and read. Among my happiest memories of MTPS days are exploring all the books on the shelves, learning how they were categorized and shelved, and taking advantage of the newfangled (hey, it was the ’60s) audio-visual equipment. When I returned to MTPS for its fantastic 50th-anniversary celebration in 2011 (even before Raymond and I had bought the Manse and I resumed my childhood Queensborough connection), I was a little sad to see that the beautiful library space had been chopped up and turned largely into a computer lab, with a much-reduced library parked in a former classroom. If someone asked me tomorrow to head up a fundraising campaign to support and improve that library and the experience it offers the kids of MTPS, I would accept in a heartbeat. And this from someone (me) who is seriously lacking in free time – but aren’t we all? Hey, what can you do to support our school? Please think about it.

Our community has just received a priceless gift: our school, saved and supported. Let’s pay it forward by doing everything we can to make Madoc Township Public School even better, and in the process ensure a brilliant future for it, our kids and the rural place we are so proud to call home.

A thrilling new chapter in the life of Madoc Township Public School

MTPS front entrance, June 12, 2017Today, a new chapter was written in the 56-year (and counting) history of Madoc Township Public School. It is an amazing, positive, slightly surprising and utterly wonderful new chapter.

Today, the 10 trustees who make up the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board unanimously stood up in support of the continued and expanded life of Madoc Township Public School – the rural school that serves all of Madoc Township and environs, including Queensborough. Meeting as the board’s student enrolment/school capacity committee, the trustees rejected a plan by the board’s administrators to close MTPS and send its students to Madoc Public School and to ship all Grades 7 and 8 students from both schools’ catchment areas to Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc. And not only did the trustees vote to keep MTPS open; they voted to reverse a change made way back in the early 1970s and bring Grades 7 and 8 back to it! (From Madoc Public School, where they have been bused for the past 40-plus years.) This means that MTPS will once again – as it did when it was established with so much hope for the future back in 1961 – be educating all elementary-school-age students from our rural area. It means that MTPS will be almost at capacity as of this coming September – and very probably full to capacity and then some in a few short years, as the news spreads that this outstanding small school is a going concern and is in it for the long run.

Today the trustees demonstrated faith in our excellent local school, and in the promise and possibilities of rural education and rural communities. I know I speak for hundreds and hundreds of local kids, parents and community members when I say that we cannot thank them enough. Trustees Bonnie Danes (Centre Hastings), Justin Bray (Southeast Hastings), Dave Patterson (Belleville/Thurlow), Mary Hall (Belleville/Thurlow), Jim Williams (Sidney and Frankford in Quinte West), Lucille Kyle (North Hastings), Mike Brant (Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory), Jennifer Cobb (North Prince Edward County), Tom Biniaris (Trenton and Canadian Forces Base Trenton) and Dwayne Inch (South Prince Edward County) have demonstrated courage and leadership in the provincewide battle against an urban-focused provincial government that (despite its claims to the contrary) has made it extraordinarily difficult for rural schools to survive and for rural school boards to make that happen.

Trustees, Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board

The trustees who made the difference: from left, Tom Biniaris, Dwayne Inch, Justin Bray, Bonnie Danes, Mike Brant, director of education (not a trustee) Mandy Savery-Whiteway, Jennifer Cobb, Lucille Kyle, Dave Patterson, Mary Hall and Jim Williams.

There is one more step before we can all breathe a huge and final sigh of relief. One week from today (Monday, June 19, 7 p.m., at board headquarters at 156 Ann St. in Belleville), the same 10 trustees will meet again, this time not in the form of a committee of the board but as the full board. There they will be asked to vote again on the recommendations they approved today. You have to think that a unanimous (and, judging by the comments the trustees made and the tone of their voices as they cast their votes, determined and enthusiastic) decision in committee will be held up at the board meeting. But as we say and understand in rural Ontario: don’t count your chicks before they’re hatched. I hope as many of you as possible will join me in attending that final meeting next week, and once again showing your support for Madoc Township Public School.

Facebook Live, school-board meeting

To watch and hear all the comments by school-board trustees on today’s votes, please go to the Save Madoc Township Public School Facebook page, where you can watch the Facebook Live post that MTPS supporter Denise Gray posted.

Meanwhile, thank you to the large number of community members who turned out for today’s meeting! And thanks especially to Denise Gray – one of the tireless MTPS supporters who have attended every meeting, repeatedly lobbied trustees and board administrators, and generally kept the issue alive when some thought it was a done deal and a dead duck – for shooting live video of the discussions and vote so that you can see them. Go to the Save Madoc Township Public School Facebook page here to see that live footage.

If you do, you’ll see some great stuff, like when:

  • Utter silence greets the request for a mover and seconder for the board administration’s motion to close Madoc Township Public School.
  • Centre Hastings’s trustee, Bonnie Danes, presents the alternative motion, which is to keep MTPS open and bring its Grade 7 and 8 students back.
  • Trustee Dave Patterson speaks about what this alternative plan will mean: “What it is is about building a total school community, with Grades 7s and 8s as leaders, as models for the younger children. And giving them also maximized opportunity to engage in sports, and activities, and utilize the advantages of their communities that they live in and come from.” (Applause from us in the gallery.)
  • Trustee Jim Williams recounts a visit that he and Trustee Mike Brant made to MTPS, being escorted on a tour of the school by two of the senior students. “Had a wonderful tour! And while we were there, we were very, very impressed with the green space … There was a lot of green space! There was a track; there was a bit of a toboggan hill; there was a shelter area and lots of grass – and so we were really impressed, especially when we compared that with what we saw in town. The in-town school had very little in the way of anything green – and so there was a thumbs-up for the Township School.”
  • Trustee Tom Biniaris says that his own daughter in Grade 7 attends a Grade 7-to-12 school and it has been a good experience for her, “but from listening to the comments from Madoc Township – it changed my mind.”
  • The trustees vote, in order: Jim Williams: “Yes.” Mary Hall: “Ay.” Dave Patterson: “Yea.” Lucille Kyle: “I support this.” Jennifer Cobb (committee chair): “I support this as well.” Mike Brant: “Yea.” Bonnie Danes (surely the prime architect behind what happened this afternoon): “Definitely yes!” Justin Bray (also doubtless a big influence on today’s vote): “Yes.” Dwayne Inch: “Yes.” Mike Biniaris: “Yea.”

And with that, it’s unanimous. More applause. And tissues.

Even before the vote was done, as it became clear that the outcome would be in our school’s favour, the tears started to flow. I was weeping. The people in front of me were weeping. The people beside me and behind me were weeping. So many people had worked so hard for that moment, and the odds were so against us. But in the end the trustees recognized the merits of the arguments, and most especially the merits of MTPS’s continued existence. We could not quite believe that it was happening, and we were so, so grateful that it was. How could we not weep with joy? Our school, and our community, had just been given a massive vote of confidence.

The future feels very bright indeed.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering (as well you should be, you readers being smart and inquisitive and all that) where this leaves Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary. Based on what happened at today’s committee meeting, those schools are at status quo.

What may happen down the line is this: a newly built state-of-the-art school housing all students, from kindergarten to Grade 12, from all three of the local schools. But the motion on that front that was approved by the trustees today (moved by Trustee Bonnie Danes, seconded by Trustee Justin Bray, and approved unanimously) was that nothing will happen to the existing schools until the provincial government approves funding for that new school. The approved motion also said that if the provincial government does not approve funding for that K-to-12 school for all area students, Madoc Public School and CHSS would be consolidated as a K-to-12 school – if the provincial government approves an addition and/or renovations at CHSS, and if the government provides funding for demolition of the old Madoc Public School building and creation of green space in its stead, and if there are approved plans for separated learning spaces for the elementary and secondary students at CHSS.

For now, and for September 2017: status quo. And in the meantime: how about we all take a deep breath and think about what’s really best for the kids of our community, and how best to make that happen?

As I drove home to Queensborough from the board meeting, I was still kind of in shock, though the best kind of shock. My glasses were all splotchy with tear stains. I decided I should swing by Madoc Township Public School for a quiet visit (it was after the school day had ended) and a few photos. The one at the top of this post is one of them. Here are a few more:

Madoc Township Public School, June 12, 2017

The Canadian flag waving proudly in the wind this afternoon at what was the original main entrance to Madoc Township Public School. How wonderful that, as Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, MTPS can celebrate (and look to the future) along with it!


50th anniversary tree at MTPS

A maple tree planted in front of MTPS on its 50th anniversary, in 2011, “to honour the classes of the 1960s.” Hey, that’s me! And many others. All of whom will be thrilled to see our school continue and maybe even enlarged.


My June art-class tree, Madoc Township Public School

This might or might not be the same tree that a tired and mildly exasperated early-grades teacher took my class outside to sketch (in lieu of doing inside lessons that we were all bored with) one bright June day somewhere around 1967 or ’68 at Madoc Township Public School. On a bright June day half a century (yikes!) later, when our brilliant rural school had just got a great boost, I thought I’d take a picture of it. (Not draw a sketch, which I couldn’t do back then and still can’t.)


Florence McCoy, 1st Principal

I never tire of looking at the plaque that was proudly placed on the front wall of Madoc Township Public School when it was opened in 1961, and especially the plaque above it paying tribute to Florence McCoy, its first principal. As I’ve written many times before, Florence McCoy was an astounding educator, the kindest of people, and the best principal ever. As I walked by that plaque yet again today, I thought: “Florence would be SO proud of what her flock has done to save this school.” Good on you and your lasting influence, Mrs. McCoy!

Just as I was leaving, a teacher who was working late came out of the building and gave me a friendly greeting. “Did you hear what happened at today’s school-board meeting?” I asked. Oh yes, the teacher had; all the teachers had. “It goes to show the power of community,” the teacher told me.

Yes it does. Yes it does.

Monday, June 12: a rural school, a critical vote, and the future

Madoc Township Public SchoolTomorrow (Monday, June 12, 2017, which may be today depending on when you read this) is a critical day in the life of Madoc Township Public School. It is the day when the student enrolment/school capacity committee of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board meets (at 2 p.m., at board headquarters at 156 Ann St., Belleville) to formulate a recommendation on the future of the only school in rural Madoc Township and environs (including Queensborough). One week later, on Monday, June 19, that recommendation will go to a meeting of the full board (7 p.m., also at board headquarters) for a vote – and the future of MTPS will be decided. If the recommendation approved tomorrow is for the school to be closed, and the final vote supports that recommendation, there is no going back. Madoc Township Public School, an educational gem with an important local heritage in a perfect outdoor setting with a tradition of great teaching, high standards and individual care for all its children – will be gone.

I hope you agree with me that this would be a tragedy for our area. I also hope that, despite the hugely inconvenient time of the meeting in the middle of the workday, you will come to show support for MTPS.

It’s going to be a busy meeting. (The agenda is here.) The elected trustees who sit on the committee are also to prepare final recommendations for two other school areas that have, like the three schools in our part of central Hastings County, been involved in so-called “accommodation reviews” for the past six months or so. For those who’ve spent those past six months on Mars, those accommodation reviews are a process to close and consolidate schools that are suffering from declining student enrolment. In our area, the three schools affected are rural Madoc Township Public School and two schools in the village of Madoc, Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary School. (You can read about every step in this six-month process by clicking on the “Madoc Township Public School” category on the right side of the screen on this blog’s home page.)

As is common in these situations, the staff who work for the elected officials (trustees) who make up the board have already prepared their final recommendations, and these are the first thing that will go before the trustees. To no one’s surprise, the board staff’s recommendations are unchanged from what they came up with in the last go-round, which was largely unchanged from all the previous go-rounds. Here they are, verbatim, though if you want to be sure, you can find them on the agenda for the meeting here:

Recommendation #1
Moved:
Seconded:
That the Student Enrolment/School Capacity Committee recommend that the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board approve the consolidation of Madoc Township Public School and Madoc Public School at Madoc Public School effective September 2017, as contained in Report No. B-2, dated June 12, 2017.

Recommendation #2
Moved:
Seconded:
That the Student Enrolment/School Capacity Committee recommend that the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board approve the relocation of Grade 7 and 8 students from Madoc Public School to Centre Hastings Secondary School effective September, 2017 creating a Grade 7 – 12 school, as contained in Report No. B-2, dated June 12, 2017.

Recommendation #3
Moved:
Seconded:
That the Student Enrolment/School Capacity Committee recommend that the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board approve the consolidation of Centre Hastings Secondary School and Madoc Public School 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 as contained in Report No. B-2, dated June 12, 2017.

I have to tell you that I don’t like these pre-prepared recommendations being set up to look like all that’s needed is a mover and seconder for them to sail through. You can see how hard the board’s administration is pushing for its own recommendations, as opposed to any differing ones that the trustees might come up with through their discussions, to be approved.

That said: it is the job of the trustees – the job we elected them to do, and that they are paid (an admittedly modest stipend) to do – to represent the best interests of the communities they serve, and especially the children of those communities. One has to have faith that on Monday, June 12, they will do their job, challenge this prepared set of recommendations, and come up with something better. What do I mean by “better”? I mean a recommendation that will actually serve the best interests of this community and its children. Because that is the one thing that the administration’s recommendations most assuredly do not do.

Here’s what I would say at tomorrow’s meeting if I were one of the trustees:

“The set of recommendations presented by board staff is unacceptable. I will vote against it, and I strongly urge my fellow trustees to do the same.

“It fails to take into account the hard work and final recommendations of the committee set up by this board – the accommodation review committee – to examine the best course of action for the schools in Centre Hastings. In case any of my fellow trustees need reminding: after considerable study, research and discussions with all affected parties, that committee recommended a) that Madoc Township Public School remain open and be expanded to allow students in Grades 7 and 8 from its catchment area to do their Grades 7 and 8 studies there, thus bringing the school to capacity; or b) that the board of education seek Ontario Ministry of Education funding to build a new kindergarten-to-Grade 12 school on a new site, to house students from all three existing schools, for the 2021-22 school year.

“It fails to take into account the tremendously damaging impact that closure of a rural community’s only school would have on that community.

Madoc Township's former schools

A section of the painting that hangs at Madoc Township Public School showing all the one-room schools that it replaced, and that are part of its heritage. Are we really ready to say goodbye to that heritage?

“It fails to take into account the important heritage of this school, the fact that generations of local residents have been educated there and that MTPS and all the community schools that preceded it and formed the foundation for it have played a critically important role in the life and history of Madoc Township and surrounding areas.

“It fails to take into account the promise for future growth and development in Madoc Township and Centre Hastings that an influx of people from Toronto and other urban centres is having in the area. People are leaving the city because of high housing prices and other issues, and are moving to more rural areas. The imminent extension of Highway 407 to just south of Peterborough, making a commute to work in the Toronto area much more feasible, will only increase that migration of young families to this area. School space will be needed.

“It fails to take into account the fact that Madoc Township Public School in in the best physical condition, by far, of the the three local schools. Moving children from a building in good condition to buildings in considerably poorer condition (Madoc Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary) makes no sense – unless it is a cynical strategy to get government money by pleading poor school conditions. How is that good policy for our children?

“It fails to take into account the recent order by Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter that public and Roman Catholic school boards work together to try to resolve school space and enrolment issues. The ministerial document in question says specifically: ‘Prior to commencing with student accommodation changes through closures, it is our government’s strong preference that school board fully explore joint accommodation arrangements with coterminous boards, particularly to maintain a school presence in a rural or isolated community.’ There has been no evidence whatsoever that the administrators of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board have held talks with their counterparts on the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board on sharing facilities, programs, etc.

“It fails to take into account the problem of lack of program choices for students at Centre Hastings Secondary School. Rather than closing the best, and best-performing, school in the area, this board should be looking at adding the programs that will attract student to CHSS, and keep them there.

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

One section of the five-acre-plus play area/outdoor space at Madoc Township Public School. (Photo by Denise Gray)

“Incomprehensibly, it fails to take into account the outstanding green space/playground area at Madoc Township Public School. Why would we deprive the community’s students – and students from other board schools – of the opportunity to run and play and explore and lean about nature in this outstanding space?

“Finally, and most importantly, it fails to take into account what is best for the children. Throughout this process, board staff have repeatedly cited “Policy 15.” This board policy says that the board’s first commitment is to “student achievement and well-being.” The well-being of the students who attend Madoc Township Public School now, and who would attend it in the future if it remained open, will in no way whatsoever be aided or improved by closing the school. In essence, this recommendation runs counter to the board’s own policy.

“This recommendation fails on every level. It must be defeated. Instead, through vision and creativity and working with all community partners, we can come up with a much better plan for all children in the central Hastings County area. In the meantime, following the recommendation of the accommodation review committee, Madoc Township Public School should remain open as a kindergarten to Grade 8 school.”

That’s what I’d say if I were a trustee. But of course, I’m not. I hope one or more of the people who are trustees will show their courage and their care for the children and the community they serve, and say something similar. And I hope the rest of the board will listen.

If you care about the future of Madoc Township Public School, please join the conversation at the Facebook group Save Madoc Township Public School. One wonderful thread you’ll find there is a series of posts about why people love our school. You’ll also find some examples of messages people have been sending to the trustees to encourage them to vote against the proposal to close MTPS. Even if you’re reading this a few minutes before Monday’s meeting starts, it’s not too late for you to do the same thing! You can find phone numbers and email addresses for all the trustees here.

We all care about our school, our community and our kids, don’t we? Let’s not give up on them – ever. Even if the vote on Monday, June 12, goes against Madoc Township Public School, there will be another week-long period to lobby trustees before the final vote.

Let’s please do everything – everything – we can to save our school.

Bless This House

Here are the Praise Friends singing Bless This House. From left, they are Janet Ellenberger, Patsy Mitchell, Sandra Brett, Ann Colebourne, Katherine Fleming and Heather Ferguson. Their accompanist is Claudia Scott.

It’s been highlight upon highlight at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough. On Sunday, May 28, we had a rousingly successful, jam-packed Music Night to raise money to send kids to summer camp. (And you can read all about that here.) We followed it up this past Sunday (June 4) with another jam-packed event, a service celebrating 127 years of worship in our pretty rural church.

Good things are happening at St. Andrew’s!

The highlight of our anniversary service was the special music provided by a group of six women who call themselves Praise Friends. The stated mission of the six good friends – who come from small towns and villages throughout south, central and northern Hastings County – is simple: “To praise God through song.” They’ve performed at church services, special events, fundraisers and variety nights, and we were so pleased to have them bring their gift of music to St. Andrew’s. (Mind you, we had a bit of pull: one of the Praise Friends is Katherine Fleming of Madoc, our church’s pianist.)

The group – who are, in addition to Katherine Fleming, Sandra Brett of Stirling, Ann Colebourne of Foxboro, Janet Ellenberger of Coe Hill, Heather Ferguson of Stirling and Patsy Mitchell of Foxboro, with accompanist Claudia Scott of Belleville – performed several lovely pieces before and during our worship service to a very appreciative congregation. Among the highlights for me were a terrific arrangement of one of my favourite hymns, Be Thou My Vision, as well as an extremely moving piece (new to me) called You Are Mine, by the American liturgical music composer David Haas; you can hear a version of it here.

But the song that had very special meaning for me – the one that’s in the video atop this post – was Bless This House. When I was a kid growing up here in the Manse in Queensborough, that song was well-known and frequently sung. In doing a bit of research on it just now, I learned that Bless This House was published in 1927 and made particularly popular through recordings by the likes of Vera Lynn, Perry Como (mid-1950s) and Doris Day (1962) – setting it up for popularity and widespread recognition (and humming) in my 1960s childhood. So as Praise Friends did their beautiful rendition at St. Andrew’s, I recognized quite a few of the words. It is a song asking for God’s blessing on a building – and it works equally well whether the building is a family home, a house of worship, or another place where people gather. I can remember it being sung by school choirs at Madoc Township Public School, asking for a blessing on our school; that was in the days when one was allowed to do things such as invoke a higher being in a school situation.

Here are the words:

Bless this house, O Lord, we pray;
Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out.

Bless the roof and chimneys tall;
Let thy peace lie over all.
Bless this door, that it may prove
Ever open to joy and love.

Bless these windows shining bright,
Letting in God’s heavenly light.
Bless the hearth ablazing there
With smoke ascending like a prayer.

Bless now all who dwell within;
Keep them pure and free from sin.
Bless us all that we may be
Fit, O Lord, to dwell with Thee.

Bless us all that one day we
May dwell, O Lord, with Thee.

“Bless these windows shining bright, letting in God’s heavenly light”: the historic stained-glass windows at St. Andrew’s United Church.

As the members of Praise Friends harmonized so beautifully on “Bless these windows shining bright,” and the outdoor light shone in on us through the simple but lovely red, blue, green and gold stained glass at St. Andrew’s, I thought: “What a perfect musical piece for a historic little church’s anniversary.”

So many blessings have come to the faithful members of St. Andrew’s for 127 years and more; and those faithful servants have in turn, through their care and good works, brought so many blessings to the Queensborough and area community, and to places in need in the wider world. Our fundraiser to send kids to camp is just the most recent in a long, long line – a 127-year-plus line – of community outreach projects.

Our service was followed by a time of food and fellowship in the church hall. Those of us who faithfully attend services at St. Andrew’s every Sunday were joined by members of our partner churches – St. John’s United in Tweed and Bethesda United in the hamlet of White Lake – as well as many old friends and current and former members of our church. Our recently renovated (hey, we’re busy!) church hall was filled to overflowing with people enjoying a fine lunch and sharing stories and news. It was a day full of joy.

Our house was blessed.