Queensborough to Bannockburn to the Bancroft ER: helping hands

Raymond and Katherine in Eliza's masks

Happy Easter from the Manse! This is Raymond and me celebrating our wedding anniversary this Easter Sunday and modelling the rather cute face masks that our friend Eliza was kind enough to make for us. Love in the time of Covid

Happy Easter/Passover/long weekend, everyone! Today I’d like to tell you a story about kindness and neighbourliness in a time of trouble, which of course would be now. I hope it’ll brighten your spirits if this day has you feeling lonely or sad because of the need to stay away from friends and loved ones. As you might guess, my story is Queensborough-themed (with a fair bit of Bannockburn thrown in – stay with me and you’ll learn what that means, if you don’t already know). In my opinion, that makes it all the better.

My story starts with a social-media post by my friend Eliza Deary, a stonemason, local-history enthusiast and mom (among quite a few other accomplishments). I met Eliza a few years ago during the battle to save our local elementary school, a fight that was ultimately successful thanks in large part to committed parents and community members like her. It was Eliza who told me the story of how she had moved her family to our area (where she originally comes from) because a smart teacher had suggested that the small size and one-on-one attention to students’ needs at Madoc Township Public School might benefit Eliza’s son Isaac, who was struggling a bit in a large city school. Isaac’s story had an amazing ending; with the support he received at our wonderful little school, he zoomed up to his grade level in all subjects in a matter of months. You can read the whole story here.

Anyway: the battle for Madoc Township Public School won, we move on to the spring of 2020 and the coronavirus crisis that we’re all living through.

A couple of weeks ago, as the seriousness of the threat from the virus became more and more evident, and medical advice shifted from “You don’t need to wear a mask – save them for the health workers” to “Oops – maybe everyone should wear a mask when out in public,” I found myself wishing I had a source for masks for Raymond and me. Pharmacies were long since sold out, of course. Instructions for sewing masks were making the rounds of the internet, but I’m afraid that, despite the best efforts of my home-ec teachers at Centre Hastings Secondary School in the 1970s and my 4-H Club leaders here in Queensborough in the same era, I have zero sewing skills plus what naturally goes with that, zero sewing equipment.

Then I saw a Facebook post from Eliza about masks she and her kids had sewed, and a followup comment from someone saying there were probably people in the community who would be happy to pay her to make masks for them.


I messaged Eliza, and four masks – two size medium for me and two size large for Raymond – were ready for pickup from Eliza’s mailbox the very next day. I should note that Eliza’s mailbox, like Eliza’s home, is in the Madoc Township hamlet of Bannockburn – hence my reference at the top of this post. The trip to Bannockburn from Queensborough is a pleasant five-mile drive north up Barry Road to another hamlet, Cooper, and then west along Bannockburn Road four more miles to where it intersects with Highway 62 in “downtown” Bannockburn. Eliza only wanted to charge me $5 per mask, but it was worth at least double that to me and that’s what I paid her – by online transfer, of course, since that’s how we roll in these Covid times.

A couple of days later, I got a message from a Queensborough friend, Jessica, who is a nurse:

Hi Katherine. I’m reaching out to you today to ask if you know anyone in our community that sews. I’m working in Bancroft hospital in the ER. As you can imagine we are nervous … If you could in any way ask some community members or church members or friends or family who are willing to sew head covers – headbands with buttons to hook earloop masks on – or even masks of any kind, the staff at Bancroft would be endlessly grateful. I felt you would be the person to reach out to as you have a connection to so many people! Thanks for considering this and thank you for all your work you do for our community.

Well! You can imagine who came immediately to mind. Within a couple of minutes of getting Jessica’s message I’d not only forwarded it on to Eliza, but received an enthusiastic response from her:

I will happily help out front-line staff. I have plenty of fabric, a couple of machines and helpers, so I could easily sew quite a bit. What I have less of is buttons and elastic or other material to make ties with – ribbons, laces and the like … I am happy to help any way I can.


Jessica was thrilled. “Oh my goodness – this is incredible!” she wrote. She sent a mask pattern that had been approved by the hospital, offered up buttons and other materials, and Eliza and her household got to work:

Jack cutting the fabric

Eliza’s partner, Jack Schwarz, cutting the fabric for the masks. Photo courtesy of Eliza Deary

Jack and Eliza sewing

Eliza and Jack hard at work. Photo courtesy of Eliza Deary

Sewing in the round elastic

Wrestling the elastic into where it should be. Photo courtesy of Eliza Deary


Ironing the mask fabric. Photo courtesy of Eliza Deary

Pinning the pleats

The pleats that allow the mask to be expanded, neatly pinned for sewing. Photo courtesy of Eliza Deary

Meanwhile, I wrote a post on the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page about this neighbours-helping-neighbours project, asking if anyone could donate the elastic and wire that Eliza needed to make the preferred kind of masks. The response was swift, and big. My phone rang, the post got shared around to hundreds of people, and very shortly I had offers of both elastic and craft wire.

The elastic came from my Cooper friend Jean Finlayson, a hugely talented painter and fabric artist. She had two GIGANTIC spools of elastic she was happy to donate to the cause. Raymond and I took another drive up Barry Road and collected it, along with a catnip-filled cat toy that Jean had made for our rather large collection of Manse cats. Here’s me and Jean as I pick up the elastic and toy from her front porch:

Jean and me with elastic and cat toy

And here’s a closeup of the toy plus the newest addition to the Manse-cat family, Mama Cass, enjoying it:

Jean's cat toy front

Our new catnip cat toy – an original from Studio Finlayson of Cooper!

Mama Cass with cat toy from Jean

Mama Cass, the newest addition to our cat family, loves the new toy.

Then I got a message from Caroline, someone whom I’ve not yet met, a newish arrival to Queensborough:

I saw your message about gathering supplies for masks. I don’t have elastic but do have a spool or two of 24 gauge craft wire in my jewelry making supplies. I’m happy to part with it, if it can be of use.

And shortly thereafter, the wire appeared in my mailbox …

Wire from Caroline

… and Raymond and I were taking another drive up Barry Road to Bannockburn. This time not only were we delivering the wire for the masks but also picking up two more masks that Eliza had kindly made for another newish Queensborough resident who’d contacted me to ask where she might be able to get some.

Eliza and her home crew have so far made close to 50 masks for the Bancroft ER staff, and they’re still working. They’re getting headbands done too. She could use more volunteers to help with the sewing, and if that might be you, please leave a message here or email me (sedgwick.katherine@gmail.com).

Meanwhile, Jessica has sent me these wonderful photos of herself and her colleagues wearing Eliza’s masks:

Bancroft medical staff with Eliza's masks

Workers at the Bancroft hospital wearing the masks made by Eliza. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyon

Eliza's masks at Bancroft hospital

That’s Jessica on the right, with a happy grin as she models one of Eliza’s masks at work in the Bancroft hospital’s emergency room. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyon

And this simple note:

Everyone says thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts!

I cannot tell you how happy these photos make me. Jessica and her colleagues are out there on the front lines of an unprecedented health crisis. They work long hours dealing with potentially terrifying situations, and then they go home to their families, praying they’re still healthy. As I carry on my own job from the safety of the Manse in Queensborough, I am thankful for what Jessica and so many others are doing for all of us.

And I am so thankful for people like Eliza, Jean, Caroline and all the others who’ve spearheaded and supported this mask project to support Jessica and her colleagues. This is kindness in action – and rural life at its best.

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!

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.

Great community journalism: the North Hastings Review, 1971

North Hastings Review

The North Hastings Review issue of June 16, 1971. I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed reading a newspaper as much as I enjoyed reading this one.

A wondrous thing arrived in the mailbox here at the Manse the other day. It was a copy of a now-defunct weekly newspaper: the North Hastings Review, issue of June 16, 1971. Its arrival was easily the best thing that’s happened to me so far in 2015.

You’re thinking I’m addled, aren’t you? You’re wondering: How on earth could a 44-year-old copy of a tiny and long-gone newspaper be such a thrill to that Manse woman?

Well, I will tell you. But first let me tell you how this treasure – which I must emphasize is only on loan – came my way. Its sender was Ken Broad, who has been known to read and comment on my posts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and who, while he now lives elsewhere, is a native of the Queensborough area, having grown up on a farm just a bit west of here in Madoc Township. (Ken notably sent me a photo of his ticket to the 1971 Rock Acres Peace Festival, an incredible artifact of Queensborough’s version of Woodstock. More on that anon, as it happens, but if you’d like to see that photo, it’s here.)

Anyway, I am pretty sure that the reason Ken had held on to this particular copy of the North Hastings Review – which was published in nearby (to Queensborough, I mean) Madoc, and later became the Madoc Review before it became nothing at all (sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I believe) – was that there was a story about him right there on the front page. He had just sold his fuel-delivery business to Tom Fox of Campbellford – a familiar name in this area – and there is a story about the change in ownership, and a photo of the two men, right there at top left of Page 1.

In a brief note he sent along with the paper, Ken said that his father (a remarkable person whom many people called “The Major” due to his distinguished service in both the First and Second World Wars – but that’s a whole other story, and a great one) used to call the North Hastings Review “the 7-7-7 paper: 7 days to print, 7 cents to buy and 7 seconds to read.” Oh lord – as the former editor of another small-town newspaper, the Port Hope (Ont.) Evening Guide, I am very familiar with readers’ joking comments about how one could throw our modest little daily paper up in the air and read it on the way down. But you know what? Behind the joking, people loved and (more to the point) needed that paper, that daily report on what was going on in their own community. And I am totally certain that The Major and all the other readers of the North Hastings Review also very much appreciated its community reporting, even while they made gentle jokes at its expense.

Anyway, I must tell you that, as I told Ken in my email of thanks to him, it took me a lot longer than seven seconds to read that paper. With the exception of the small print in some of the classified ads, I read every single word. And all of it was an utter joy.

Why? Two reasons.

North Hastings Review front page

This is a front page with a lot of local news. And so many of the names are familiar!

One: this was the local news from what I consider my time. On June 16, 1971, I was about to turn 11 years old. My family had been living at the Manse in Queensborough for seven years, and we would live there for four more. We were deeply embedded in the Queensborough-Madoc-Eldorado-Cooper area, and because my father was the local United Church minister, we had contacts and friendships with many, many families in that area. The people who are mentioned in the pages of this issue of the North Hastings Review are people I knew (and in some cases still know) – everyone from teachers and fellow students at Madoc Township Public School (where I would have just been finishing Grade 6 in June 1971) and Madoc Public School (where the following September I would start Grade 7), to players on the local minor-sports teams whose games are reported, to the ministers of the local churches cited in the long column of notices for church services, to the mother and father of the bride in a delightful report on a wedding that my father had conducted.

North Hastings Review church ads

Some of the church ads (people actually went to church in 1971!) in the North Hastings Review.

And two: This newspaper is great journalism. And no, I am not trying to be funny. The North Hastings Review is chock-full of local news, and providing local news is what local newspapers are supposed to do. When you’d finished reading it, you really knew what was going on in the local area – from who had dined with whom the previous Sunday in Cooper and who had visited whom in Bannockburn; to who was the winning pitcher (as it happens, the late Lorna Matthews, a wonderful person who was the church pianist at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough for many years) when the Cooper women’s softball team defeated the “Madoc Ladies” 24 to 7; to who gave a demonstration on refinishing furniture at a meeting of the senior citizens’ club; to where local school groups had gone for their end-of-year excursions (Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons and the Shrine Circus in Peterborough; the reports, which appeared on the front page, were written by some of the students themselves, and I can only imagine how proud their parents must have been); to what was on sale that week at George West’s Men’s Wear.

North Hastings Review Rock Acres story

The major story of the week: the latest news on the Rock Acres Peace Festival, which had been planned for the Quinlan farm near Queensborough – or “Queensboro,” as the Review spelled it.

You got the big stories – an in-depth report on what at that point looked like the defeat of the plans to hold the aforementioned Rock Acres Peace Festival on the Quinlan farm outside of Queensborough; in fact, the Quinlan family later won the legal battle against the local authorities, the festival went ahead, and you can read all about that here and here and here and here.

North Hastings Review community news

Everything you might have needed to know that week about what was going on in the hamlets of Bannockburn and Gilmour. Good stuff!

And you got the small ones: the aforementioned who-visited-whom listings for the local hamlets, like Bannockburn, Cooper and Gilmour. You got full reports on the doings of three municipal councils; the police news; the meeting of Unit 3 of St. Andrew’s United Church Women; a birth notice (on the front page); and the new officers of the Kiwanis Club. And all of it, I have to tell you, is well-written and well-edited. I think I spotted maybe two typos in the whole affair; that is very impressive, and significantly better than any newspaper (or news website) can boast these days. (Kudos to its publisher, Maurice Goulah, and its editor, Carol Foley, for that.)

North Hastings Review Letters to the Editor

A letter to the editor from Grant Ketcheson, comparing the farming life in Scotland to that in the Madoc area. Good stuff!

But there’s more! There’s a letter to the editor from a young whippersnapper farmer from the Hazzard’s Corners area named Grant Ketcheson (still a great friend to this day), who was visiting Scotland on an agricultural scholarship and sent a lively report on farming practices (and weather) there as compared to the Madoc area. There’s the report on that wedding conducted by my father, complete with the extraordinarily detailed description of the wedding dress that those reports always had: “The bride was lovely in a full length taffeta gown highlighted with a dainty lace trim around the scoop neckline, down the full-length sleeves and around the full skirt. The bodice and sleeves also featured rose appliques and her long full train with matching lace trim was attached at the waist with a large bow. The three-tiered bouffant veil was gathered to a circle of dainty white orange blossoms and seed pearls, leaving the centre open for flocks of curls. She carried a cascade bouquet of yellow daisies.” (And if you want to know what the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom wore at the reception, you’ll just have to get you hands on your own copy of the paper.) There’s a column by Bill Smiley, who was omnipresent in small Canadian weekly newspapers back in those days. It was delightful to see the late Mr. Smiley’s byline again after all these years.

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And there are the ads for businesses that bring back such good memories: George West’s, as I mentioned; Wilson’s (which only recently closed down after many years in business; I wrote about that here); Johnston’s Pharmacy (still going after all these years; that too is reported on in this post); the long-gone and much-missed Plaza cinema in Marmora (I saw my very first movie there!); and (ta-da!) the Cash & Carry! Which was having a sale that week on wood panelling. I’d almost be willing to bet my bottom dollar that the wood panelling that got put up in the Manse kitchen during my family’s tenure here – about which we were so excited at the time, because wood panelling was so fashionable; and which Raymond and I are now very keen to get rid of, because, let’s face it, it’s awful – might have come from that very sale at the Cash & Carry down there on St. Lawrence Street East in downtown Madoc.

It is community journalism at its very best.

I know that Ken Broad knew I would appreciate having a chance to go through that paper, but I bet he didn’t guess just how much I’d appreciate it. Such wonderful, wonderful memories, all thanks to a terrific community newspaper. And a person who had the excellent good sense to preserve it – and the kindness to share it.

What is “North of 7”?

Highway 7

This photo of Highway 7, which I took this very afternoon, gives you a sense, I think, of what a geographical divide it is between “the fat south/with inches of soil on/earth’s round belly,” as the poet Al Purdy put it, and the “lakeland rockland hill country” of the Canadian Shield, as Purdy also said. Note the rock through which the highway had to be blasted.

If you’re a regular, or even occasional, reader of Meanwhile, at the Manse, you’ve probably noticed me using the phrase “north of 7” with some regularity. If you live in or are from the Queensborough area or quite a wide swath around it, you will be instantly familiar with the phrase and know what it means.

But I always keep in mind that it probably doesn’t mean a thing to readers from elsewhere, and so every time I use it I try to get in some kind of an ever-so-brief explanation – often something as simple as noting that “7” refers to Ontario Highway 7.

So I thought it might be useful, both for readers and perhaps especially for me, to try to give a once-and-for-all explanation so that every time I say “north of 7” in future posts I can just link back to this one (for those who are puzzled and want more information) and so that I won’t have to explain it every time.

Okay, so what is “north of 7”?

Well, to begin with – and the main reason why I use the term so often – it’s where Queensborough is, and thus by extension where the Manse is. Living here makes Raymond and me by definition north-of-7 people.

And yes, “7” is Highway 7, or, if you want to get all formal about it, “The King’s Highway 7” – though why ownership hasn’t been transferred to the current female monarch, who has, after all, been ruling for sixty-two years, is kind of beyond me. I have many times linked to the Highway 7 section of the very interesting website The King’s Highway (thekingshighway.ca) that is put together by Cameron Bevers, who has a vast interest in the geography and history of Ontario’s highways. If you’ve never gone to those links I urge you to check them out: go here to get not only some quick facts about Highway 7, but also an excellent recounting of its history, and here to see some great historical photos of it.

But why does being “north of 7” constitute a state of being that is so different from, say, “south of 7” (or, for that matter, “north of the 401,” or “north of Highway 2“)?

Well, I’m no expert in this stuff, but here’s my take on it. People, if you have information to add, or a different perspective on this locally important subject, please share your knowledge in the comments section!

Basically, in Hastings County, Highway 7 (which runs east-west) is the unofficial yet remarkably accurate demarcation between the rich (agriculturally speaking) lands to the south, down to Lake Ontario, and the Canadian Shield. North of 7 is where the soil thins out dramatically, where rocks and lakes and evergreen trees take over from wide-open fields and big, flourishing farms. Yes, there are pockets of reasonable soil and some nice farms north of 7; but they are relatively few and far between. For the most part, north of 7 is a different kind of country altogether.

It is the country that poet Al Purdy so memorably described in his poem The Country North of Belleville. (You can read all about that poem, and read the poem itself, in my post here). Except when Purdy was talking about “bush land scrub land … lakeland rockland and hill country” he really was describing “the country north of 7” more than “the country north of Belleville.” (I think the latter title just sounded better to him, and it is very possible that more of his potential readers would have twigged to “Belleville” in the title than to “7.”)

“This is the country of our defeat,” Purdy says, taking on the identity of one or all of the would-be farmers who tried to make a go of it in the land north of 7 after it was opened up in the 19th century. It is, he says,

… where Sisyphus rolls a big stone
year after year up the ancient hills
picknicking glaciers have left strewn
with centuries’ rubble
                backbreaking days
                in the sun and rain
when realization seeps slow in the mind
without grandeur or self-deception in
                noble struggle of being a fool…

As it happens, there is a just-published book on the very subject of Hastings County north of 7 being “the country of defeat” for early pioneers. It is called The Trail of Broken Hearts (you can read all about it here), and it is by Paul Kirby, a writer and publisher who has done an enormous amount to explore and share the history of Hastings County. The Trail of Broken Hearts of the book’s title is the Old Hastings Road, which I wrote about at length here and which is the perfect symbol for the tough times that people of past generations have dealt with in the land now known as “north of 7.”

Not that there was a Highway 7 in pioneer times, of course. As I wrote here, the local section of the highway was built during the Great Depression as an employment project. Here is a wonderful photo of that time, which I have thanks to Keith Millard, a descendent of an early family here in Elzevir Township, the Kleinsteubers:

Highway 7 under construction, 1932

Highway 7 (in the Actinolite area, a bit southeast of Queensborough) when it was under construction in 1932. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

What is interesting is that when it came to constructing that roadway, the powers that be, whether consciously or unconsciously, did lay it out in a path that demarcated two different ways of living.

But I think it’s fair to say that “north of 7” isn’t just a geographical thing; it’s also a state of mind. Longtime residents have told me they remember the days when if you lived north of 7 – say in Queensborough, or Cooper, or Eldorado, or Bannockburn, or Millbridge, or Gilmour, or maybe way up north in Coe Hill or Ormsby or Bancroft (where the writer of the excellent blog Living North of 7 [livingnorthof7.com] is based) – some people from south of 7 would look down their noses at you. You might be considered the Canadian version of a hillbilly, in other words. And l think there is no doubt that over the years, some hillbilly types have chosen to live in these relatively remote and undisturbed parts. But so have people who just want to get away from it all; if you want to be left alone, this traditionally has been a pretty good place to do it.

I don’t know whether any misguided people south of 7 still look down their noses at those of us who choose to live north of 7. But I do know that times are changing, and areas that were once seen as remote and forbidding are becoming ever-more-sought-after by people – and I’m not talking hillbillies here – who want to live, even if only part of the time, in a place that is quiet and beautiful and unspoiled. Like this:

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So yeah, I think “quiet, beautiful and unspoiled” pretty much sums up north of 7. And I know I am far from the only person who is very proud indeed to call “north of 7” by another term. That would be: home.

Those Tannery girls played some darn good softball

Tannery Road

Tannery Road and Hart’s Road – which I believe would be considered the epicentre of the community once known (in local sports circles, at least) as “The Tannery.”

Last night I posted what I think is kind of a haunting picture of an old abandoned house on Tannery Road, which is between Madoc and Hazzard’s Corners. And thanks to some interesting information provided by readers in the comments (here), I now find that house more haunting than ever, though still beautiful in its decrepitude.

Tonight I want to tell you the other thing I know about Tannery Road: that once upon a time (and not all that long ago, in the overall scheme of things), it was quite famous for its sports teams. Particularly its girls’ softball teams.

Now, this is something that I only rediscovered thanks to the Madoc/Madoc Township history book Way Back When…, a gold mine of local information, long out of print and very hard to find, which I chanced upon a while back at a yard sale in Madoc. (And instantly pounced on, of course.) In the chapter entitled Community Life, there is a comprehensive section about local sports. And there I discovered a sub-sub-section entitled “The History of Tannery Baseball,” by Earl Sexsmith. It brought back memories that would otherwise have been buried forever: memories of how, when I was a kid growing up at the Manse here in Queensborough, the words “The Tannery” (in reference to a sports team) would (whether people would admit it or not) strike fear into the hearts of sports teams from other local hamlets, like Cooper or Eldorado or, yes, Queensborough. Because “The Tannery” were very good, and very, very determined to win.

(People, if I’ve got any of this wrong, please feel free to correct me. These memories are from many decades ago, after all. But sometimes something buried deep down can be very true. And that frisson I get [as a Queensborough girl] when I think of “The Tannery” doesn’t come from nowhere.)

Earl Sexsmith’s report in Way Back When… tells us about how “the first of the many Tannery ball teams” (a boys’ team) was organized in 1948: “The boys and I went to see Mr. Tom Walsh about putting up a backstop and making a playing field on his place just above the fair grounds.” (Tannery Road is not far from the grounds where the Madoc Fair is held every September.)

“The boys would play against their fathers which made a great evening of fun. Not to be left out, the girls started playing too. A few exhibition games were played with Cooper, Eldorado and Queensborough. These areas boasted great experience, and our boys took some awful beatings, but the boys were never discouraged. As they made mistakes, they were learning … With the schedule drawn up we started to play. We were beaten badly every game but the team never quit. At home games, the area was packed with spectators.”

You might guess where this is going. The Tannery teams kept at it, and got better and better – and started to win. (And meantime, a girls’ team was organized and started playing exhibition games. But back to the boys.)

“The first set of playoffs, they met Queensborough whom they eliminated in the first round. At the same time, Eldorado had eliminated Cooper. This matched the Tannery against Eldorado for the trophy.

“Each team had won their home games and the series was deadlocked at two and two. It was decided that the fifth game would be taken to Tweed and played under the lights. One of the biggest crowds ever at the Tweed Ball Park saw the Tannery come up with a convincing 8-3 win.

“As a final climax, the boys were brought back to Madoc for a celebration. For these young boys this triumph was as great as the Yankees winning the World Series.”

Of that I have no doubt. But I think Mr. Sexsmith should have said (because I am certain it was true) that the triumph was felt not just by the boys, but by their families and the whole Tannery community. (Even though the Tannery is not, and as far as I know never really was, a community per se, i.e. had no stores or community centre; it was just a few homes and farms along and near Tannery Road.) Because those were the days when little communities like Queensborough and Cooper and Eldorado – and the Tannery – invested enormous amounts of pride in, and support for, their local amateur sports teams. Here is a photo I took a couple of summers ago of Queensborough’s old ball diamond, which hasn’t been used in many a year but still evokes memories for some of us:

Queensborough ball diamond

The days when diamonds like that were busy and popular places were the days of rural life at its best, if you ask me. Anyway, back to our story.

Mr. Sexsmith recounts that the Tannery boys’ teams had many more victories and championships, but then interest and activity in softball faded throughout the area for some years. Ah, but then: “The game of ball came alive again when a bush league was formed consisting of Cooper, Eldorado, Bannockburn, Queensborough and Tannery, in the middle of the sixties.” People, we have come to the era of my childhood in Queensborough, and thus the source of my Tannery memories! And that is when the Tannery girls’ softball teams became a force to be reckoned with.

At first, Mr. Sexmith tells us, the girls lost a lot, just as the newly formed Tannery boys’ team from two decades earlier had: “The first year… we never won a game and many a time were humiliated by the score. The girls were young, 14 and 15 years of age, playing against much older and more experienced women.”

But then a separate local league for women’s softball was formed, and the story began to change.

“In 1969, a league was formed of Madoc, Cooper and Tannery. Many hard-fought games were played through the season, when the Tannery girls, who were thought of as the underdogs, came out as the league champions.

“The playoffs then began with the Tannery girls facing the Cooper ladies. When Tannery was down two games to none, the remainder of the series was shifted to Madoc and played under the lights. (Apparently you always knew when things were getting dramatic, because the games were moved to a larger centre and played “under the lights.”) The Tannery girls made a great comeback, tying the series at two each and setting the stage for that big fifth game.

“During the fifth and final game, in the bottom of the seventh inning, with two out, a home run was hit and it was the winning run for the Tannery girls.”

(People, they make movies out of this kind of thing!)

Success bred success. “With the start of the seventies, and a title of ‘CHAMPIONS’ to defend, the Tannery girls decided to go into a higher league which included Stirling, Marmora, Frankford, and Madoc-Cooper Combines.” Stirling, Marmora, etc., were big places compared to Tannery Road, let me tell you.

Anyway, we learn that at the end of the regular season, the Tannery girls stood in second place. In the quarter-finals of the playoffs, Tannery beat Stirling and Madoc-Cooper beat Frankford; the Tannery girls then met Cooper-Madoc in the semi-finals. They eliminated their old rivals in three straight games.

“This put Tannery into the finals with Marmora who had been taking it fairly easy as they had a bye for the quarter- and semifinals … The series was the best four out of seven; the games were hard-fought battles.

And now, the thrilling climax:

 “It was a cold Saturday night, the last Saturday in September, that finally saw the last game of the season. The Tannery girls had done it again; they became champions and once again walked off the field bearing the trophy proudly. Along with this trophy, they took great pride in knowing that they had won this trophy by eliminating three teams and in ten straight wins, not to be beaten during the entire playoffs.”

Did I mention that they make movies about this kind of thing?

Tannery girls team

A photo of “The Tannery Girls Team” (it doesn’t say whether it’s the winning ’69 team or the winning ’70 team) from the book Way Back When… I remember Eileen Brooks (“manager”) as a great athlete and coach. And her kids (some of whom are in this photo) were great athletes too.

Mr. Sexmith tells us how, after that never-to-be-forgotten season, softball died down in the Tannery. The young men and women were growing up and moving on to careers;  and though he doesn’t say this, I think it is possible that the big late-midcentury migration of people from rural areas like Tannery Road to towns and cities had begun, and there might well not have been enough young people around to make up successor teams.

But they were good times while they lasted, were they not? Times when every little community had its own softball team – maybe even both a men’s and a women’s team – and when crowds would turn out to cheer for every game, despite the mosquitoes and the lack of lights. (Unless, of course, the team was in a thrilling playoff match and the game got moved “under the lights.”)

Do you miss those days? I sure do.

A little history for a rainy day

Grey skies over the Manse early this morning – which meant it would have been a great day for staying inside and doing some historical research on Queensborough.

Grey skies over the Manse early this morning – which meant it would have been a great day for staying inside and doing some historical research on Queensborough.

As you can see from my photo, it was an overcast (with gusts to drizzly) morning at the Manse today. And with more rain in the forecast, it would have been a perfect day to curl up in front of our cranberry-red electric fireplace with my treasured copy of the history book Times to Remember in Elzevir Township and do some research for a project I have volunteered to help with: the creation of a flyer outlining a walking tour that will give visitors to Queensborough information about its history and some of its buildings.

Instead, more than a little regretful that our week’s vacation at the Manse had come to an end, Raymond and I loaded up the car and headed back to Montreal, work, and non-Manse life. (But at least there were two cats at the end of the road! As I have mentioned before, the one thing the Manse is sorely in need of – aside from a large renovation, that is – is cats.)

Anyway, back to the historical research and the flyer, a project that I am quite excited about. So many people come through our pretty little hamlet – whether by car, bicycle, kayak, motorcycle, ATV or snowmobile – and stop and admire it, but at the moment there is no source of printed information for them to get answers to questions they surely have, like: How old is this place? Why do I see so many church steeples? What are those two big rambling buildings in the centre of town? (They are the former general stores, one of them also a former tavern and hostelry.) What’s the story on the old wooden building practically overhanging the river and waterfall? (It was a grist mill, and there used to be a very busy sawmill right beside it, both once owned by the man considered to be the founder of Queensborough.) Am I the first person to be struck by what great material there is around here for paintings and photographs? (Far from it. Queensborough has long been an inspiration for artists.)

It could also answer questions that people would never think of, such as: Did Sir John A. Macdonald (Canada’s first prime minister) once own several pieces of land in Queensborough? (Why, yes! Yes he did. Glad you asked.)

A related project that I also think is a splendid idea, and for which I have also volunteered to help with the text, is a marker at the centre of town, down by the picturesque Black River, outlining a little bit of Queensborough’s history. That way all those who stop to admire (and often photograph) the village will get some sense of the past and present of what they are seeing. The need for something like this was reinforced in my mind this past week, when Raymond and I did some touring around rural Hastings County. There are many interesting-looking little hamlets and villages (though none, in my very biased opinion, as pretty as Queensborough), but by and large there is nothing in them to tell the visitor a single thing about them. What’s the story on Thomasburg? Moira? Millbridge? Gilmour? Sulphide? Cooper? Stoco? Bannockburn? You go through them and you’d never know, and I think that’s too bad.

So I hope we will get these projects off the ground. And if I can just get some rainy-day time at the Manse to do my part, well – I will be very glad to do so.

A magazine that celebrates Hastings County

I’m sure my earlier posts have conveyed my enthusiasm about the interesting things that are going on in Hastings County, and the interesting people who live and do cool things there. What I find so intriguing about the area is that it’s pretty much (so far) undiscovered by the world at large. Those of us who know it know that we’re on to a good thing, and it’s rather pleasant that our numbers are still relatively few. It means, for instance, that historic villages retain many traces of their history, undisturbed by development and “progress.” Mind you, it also means that the tourism industry – which could mean a great deal to an area that is not immensely prosperous – is not well-established. But it’ll come; it’ll come. There aren’t many undiscovered places left, especially in south-central-eastern Ontario, and especially given that booming-with-tourism Prince Edward County is right on our southern doorstep, sooner rather than later many more people will know about the charms of Hastings County.

One operation that is doing an amazing job about spreading the word, to county residents and visitors alike, is Country Roads magazine (countryroadshastings.ca). This snazzy semi-glossy quarterly publication has well-written longish articles and great photos celebrating the history, interesting places, and creative people of Hastings County. It is run by Nancy and John Hopkins out of the lively arts-oriented village of Stirling (recently named Canada’s Hockeyville for 2012!), and they are doing a bang-up job. The quality of the writing and editing is very high, and the subjects chosen for articles are invariably interesting. Each issue tells you stuff that, even if you are a longtime resident of Hastings County, you probably didn’t know before.

What I especially like about Country Roads is that it takes you into corners of the county that you may very well never have visited. As I’ve written before, the southern part of Hastings – Highway 7 (the Trans-Canada) and below – have rich, fertile farmland and are more populous. North of Seven (as people say), however, the geography changes to the thin soil on the Canadian Shield, and it’s hardscrabble all the way north to the town of Bancroft and beyond. If you travel that way on Highway 62, it’s very possible you will meet no other vehicle than southbound logging trucks all the way between Bannockburn and L’Amable. (Don’t the places have great names? As poet Al Purdy would say: “Say the names. Say the names.”) But off to the east and west of Highway 62 are little places, some of them barely holding on to even being places, that once were something, and may even now be something – or will be soon. Country Roads goes to those places.

The most recent issue, for example, features a great article by my friend Lindi Pierce about the general stores past and present of rural Hastings County, with a special focus on one called the Old Hastings Mercantile and Gallery in Ormsby, a hamlet (population: 20) I’d never even heard of, even though it’s not that far north of Queensborough. It’s run by a young couple, Lillian Oakley and Garry Pattison, with a dream. Their vision, Lindi quotes them as saying, is “to keep the romance of the general store alive.”

“We do it out of love…to make memories,” she records Lillian saying. “I give the kids penny candy. I want them to grow up remembering the old country store; I want to be the little old lady behind the counter in the store they tell their kids about.”

Just as Lillian and Garry are doing their bit to bring fresh life to rural Hastings County with their funky general store, so Nancy and John Hopkins are attracting interest in a beautiful undiscovered area with their wonderful magazine. Cool stuff in unexpected places: that’s Hastings County.