Queensborough, our real-life Christmas village

Christmas Queensborough signI believe I’ve said it before, but it’s Christmastime again and by gum it’s still true: Queensborough is kind of the perfect little Christmas village.

Do you remember those miniature villages that people used to set up in their homes at Christmastime, tiny snow-covered (fake snow, but you know what I mean) houses and shops and churches, with little lights inside so the windows would be glowing warmly? (Think Hogsmeade in wintertime.) They looked like this:

Christmas village

(I have the vaguest of vague memories from my childhood here in Queensborough that Bobbie Sager Ramsay used to set up one such lovely little village in the windows of her general store every year. People who would know: am I right about that?)

Actually, given the vast number of pictures that just turned up on Google Images when I searched “miniature Christmas villages,” I am pretty sure lots of people still set these miniature villages up in their homes. Which is wonderful news, because I have always loved them, and I think the Manse is going to have to have one sooner rather than later. Here’s another nice one:

Miniature Christmas village

Anyway, what I was going to say is that whenever I drive into Queensbrough in wintertime, it reminds me of one of those quaint miniature villages – only full-size. With the graceful spire of the historic white board-and-batten former Anglican Church in the background, the picturesque waterfall of the Black River at the old grist mill – the water is still flowing now, but soon it will be frozen – and the beautifully decorated and lit-up homes, our tiny hamlet in a valley is kind of a Christmas village incarnate.

I am working on taking some photos of the beautiful Christmas lights that people have put up around Queensborough this year to share with you. (I downloaded a night-photography app on my iPhone, but I am still trying to figure it out. A photographic genius I am most decidedly not, as any reader of Meanwhile, at the Manse will have long since figured out.) But in the meantime, and as a little introduction to the idea of how pretty and Christmassy our village is at this time of year, I took the photo that’s at the top of this post – about a week ago, before we had the snow that now lies on the ground. You’ve seen that sign before in my posts (and you see it every day if you are lucky enough to live in Queensborough), but I just thought it was so nice that the Queensborough Beautification Committee had dressed up the entrance signs with seasonal decorations for Christmas.

All you have to do is drive over the modest hill that you see in the background of my photo, and you come down into the valley where our perfect Christmas village lies. Do that drive after dark, when the seasonal lights are on – preferably after a fresh snowfall – and you will see a magical little place. A full-size miniature Christmas village, so to speak.

A friendly face from the past: Kel Kincaid of the Madoc IGA

Kel Kincaid in the Toronto Star

Longtime readers might remember that I’ve been known to reminisce about Kincaid Bros. IGA in Madoc. Back when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and ’70s at the Manse here in the hamlet of Queensborough, Madoc was “town” – the big place. And Kincaid Bros. was a great big shiny modern supermarket compared to Queensborough’s two old-fashioned general stores – Bobbie’s and McMurray’s – where we bought most of our groceries, our gasoline, and lots of other stuff, ranging from penny candy to rubber boots.

Because my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, taught for many years at Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc, she did do a fair bit of shopping at Kincaid Bros. At the end of a long day of teaching, that’s where she’d stop in for wieners and beans or hamburger and the other essentials (remember the tasteless tomatoes from Mexico, the only tomatoes you could get in those days when it wasn’t August, that came three to a pack in a green cardboard base covered with Saran Wrap?) that she needed to make supper when she got back home to the Manse. (Because, you know, despite the fact that she taught full-time and had four small kids to deal with, of course it was her job to make dinner. Always. Those were the days, my friend.)

These days, when I go into the wondrous Hidden Goldmine Bakery in Madoc, which is housed in the building where Kincaid Bros. IGA was, I am stunned to think that the same relatively modest space housed what we thought of as a big supermarket – complete with aisles and a meat counter and a produce counter and checkout counters with a bunch of cashiers. But hey, everything was smaller and more modest back then. And I am not at all sure that that was a bad thing.

Anyway: the face of Kincaid Bros. in my memory (and, I think, in the memory of many other people) was Kel (short for Kelvin) Kincaid, who always seemed to be front and centre in the store with a friendly smile and a helpful presence. In a post here, I lamented the fact that the painted plywood figure of a grandfatherly grocer who looked a lot like Kel Kincaid was no longer adorning the side of the building where Hidden Goldmine now is. (After putting that post up, I received the reassuring news that, while “Kel” is no longer up there on the side of the building, he is safely in storage.)

So you might imagine how tickled I was today to receive in the old inbox the image that’s at the top of this post. It came from Keith Kincaid – fellow journalist, and chronicler of the Kincaids of central Hastings County, as I wrote here; and thank you, Keith! – and it shows a page from no less than the mighty Toronto Star in 1972 (back when the Toronto Star was really mighty) in which none other than Kel Kincaid of “Kincaid IGA, Madoc, Ont.” is “Mr. IGA.”

And I only have this to say: it takes me back to happier times and makes me feel better about the world in general to see Kel Kincaid’s smiling face and bow tie once more. (And to see those tasteless Mexican tomatoes on sale, 3 for 99¢!) For all those who, like me, remember Kincaid Bros. IGA – I hope it has the same happy effect on you.

Quintessential Queensborough, on display for you

At Bobbie's store

One of the most classic Queensborough pictures of all time, in my view: local folks sitting on the benches at Bobbie Sager Ramsay‘s general store. That’s Bernice Cassidy, Bobbie’s younger sister, in the coat at the right-hand end of the bench. And there are (as there always were) some kids eyeing the potato chips and candy displays. It’s nighttime; in the days of my childhood in Queensborough, Bobbie’s and McMurray’s stores stayed open quite late several nights a week. The stores were the focal point of our community. You can see this picture, and many others that will bring back memories, at Historic Queensborough Day.

Well! It has been a busy, busy Saturday, preparing for tomorrow’s Historic Queensborough Day here in our pretty little hamlet. The weather is forecast to be fine, the village is looking splendid (thanks to hard work by property-owners and volunteers), and the legwork has been done. If you’ve decided to join us for the event, I am thrilled; and if you’re still hesitating, well, please consider this post my encouragement for you to do so. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

All the details of the event are in my post here (and there’s still more information in posts here and here and here and here), but long story short:

  • Our weekly service at historic St. Andrew’s United Church (built in 1890) is at 11 a.m.
  • A barbecue of excellent hamburgers and hot dogs, with homemade and locally baked sweets and treats for dessert, starts at 12 noon and runs till 4 p.m. outside the Queensborough Community Centre (the village’s former one-room schoolhouse, built in 1901).
  • A little ceremony, complete with dignitaries (Politicians! You know you love them! Plus special guests), paying tribute to projects by the Queensborough Beautification Committee and the Queensborough Community Centre Committee – new street signs, a historical sign, beautiful floral displays, and general sprucing up – takes place at 1 p.m. “downtown” by the river.
  • Two stunning local gardens, at 1861 Queensborough Rd. and 2225 Queensborough Rd., will be open to visitors from 1 to 4 p.m.
  • There are displays of fantastic (believe me, I’ve seen them; and more on that shortly) historical material at the Queensborough Community Centre, from 1 to 4 p.m.
  • And throughout the afternoon you are invited to stroll, drive, cycle or take a horse-and-wagon trip through town, your copy of our Historic Queensborough brochure/guidebook in hand ($3 each, with all proceeds to help the work of the Queenborough Community Centre Committee), and learn about the history of our splendid little north-of-7 corner of the world.

Tonight as I write this final pre-event post, what I am particularly excited about is the collection of historical material that you’ll find on display at the Community Centre. Raymond and I went up there this morning to join other volunteers in the scheduled setup session, only to discover that a lot of the setup work had already been done through long hours over the course of the previous week by indefatigable QCC volunteers Elaine and Lud Kapusta. Here is Elaine today, looking (justifiably) a little bit tired but (extremely justifiably) happy at the results of all that work:

Elaine, just before Historic Queensborough Day

The tireless Elaine Kapusta, at the close of an exhausting week of preparing displays for Historic Queensborough Day.

The display is incredible. If I hadn’t had to be so busy doing setup work today, I could have spent hours and hours going through it all. There are photos and documents about the schools, the churches, the women’s groups (Women’s Institute, Ladies’ Aid, United Church Women, etc.), the general stores, business and industry, the families of Queensborough – and it’s all just fascinating. Trust me: you will be immersed the moment you walk through the door.

Here are a few photos that I hope will whet your appetite:

Ladies' Aid meeting

The minutes of a meeting of the Queensborough Ladies’ Aid held Feb. 22, 1945, at Jennie Moore’s farm (1376 Queensborough Rd., which was the home of Leslie and Jean Holmes and their family when I was a kid in Queensborough a couple of decades later) – and, serendipitously, a photo of the participants in that very meeting. Can you name them? Stop by and share what you know!

"Doomed to trouble"

Mr. J.H. Squires, proprietor in the very early 20th century of the flour (grist) mill around which Queensborough grew up in the 19th century, wrote multiple letters a day to suppliers, customers, and so on. A book containing copies of his letters has been preserved and makes for fascinating reading. In this one, he complains to the people at the Ogilvie Flour Mills, Montreal, that he is “doomed to trouble” on the rolled-oats front. The sacks of rolled oats, which must have been shipped from the Ogilvie people, “look as though they had been dropped into water” before being loaded onto the railway car bound for the Queensborough station, he reports. “They are yellowish green caked hard. Please cancel my other order for the 5 sacks due to come out in (railway) Car on 20th of Sept. These 2 sacks are not worth much only for feed & then not much more than one dollar a bag.” Poor Mr. Squires!

Checking out the displays

Hard-working Queensborough Community Centre Committee volunteers (from left, Barb Ramsay, Betty Sexsmith and Wendy Gordon) finally took a break from their labours late this afternoon to examine the displays, and reminisce. In which exercise I happily joined them.

Bill from Bobbie's

Of all the great historical documents I saw today, this one clutches at my heart the most. It is a detailed bill from Bobbie Sager Ramsay’s general store, dated Oct. 31, 1969. In Bobbie’s handwriting! How many of those same bills came home with the groceries in paper sacks here at the Manse. And how wonderful to see one once again!

I think you get the picture. Whether you grew up in Queensborough and later moved away; or have lived here all your life; or have distant family connections with Queensborough; or whether you are just interested in local history and a small community that has a great story to tell and is still telling it – you are most welcome, and I think you’ll enjoy yourself mightily. See you there!

Nobody here but us dogs, cats and people

Oliver

Here is Oliver, one of my favourites among Queensborough’s dogs and cats.

You won’t be surprised to know that when I was growing up in Queensborough many years ago, everybody knew everybody else. That is especially not surprising because Queensborough is so small. (Today it is smaller still, and by and large everybody still knows everybody else – though I think maybe a little less so than in the old days, something I attribute to the fact that our two general stores are no longer with us. It’s harder to get to know people who live in the area but work and buy their groceries and stuff in some larger centre. Whereas when everyone congregated at the general stores back in the days of in my childhood – for groceries, gas and most especially gossip – you really got to know everybody.)

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, not only did we all know each other, we also tended to know each other’s pets – their names, their habits, their personalities. “Oh, there’s (Allan Ramsay‘s big old dog) Jim – well, he’ll be heading back to the store (Bobbie’s store; Bobbie and Allan were eventually married, and that great story is here) for a nap.” (Napping was one of Jim’s favourite things, right over the heat register in the store. I can still hear Bobbie’s voice telling him forcefully, when she thought he should be napping rather than chatting with her customers, “Go lay down!”) Anyway, like that. And such pet knowledge really is the stuff of a small-town (actually small-hamlet) childhood, isn’t it?

Even today, though, in this rather less sociable world we live in (thanks to TV and the internet), Raymond and I aren’t doing too badly when it comes to picking up the names of the local dogs and cats. I haven’t yet learned the name of this friendly dog who came by for a visit and a nap in the shade of our mailbox one day…

My new doggy friend

… but I do know Princess, and Abby, and Rainman, and Oliver, and Fozzie, and Lin-Lin, and Roady, and Chester, and Leroy, and Mother, and Smokey. And sooner or later I’ll figure out the name of that skinny orange cat I keep seeing, the one who hangs out with his lookalike, Roady.

I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of living in a place where the local dogs and cats are, like the local people, your friends and neighbours.

Eldorado, then and now

Eldorado, early 20th century

“Downtown” Eldorado, looking south, probably somewhere between 90 and 100 years ago. The rather basic (to put it mildly) road running through it is what is today Highway 62. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson)

Eldorado, January 2014

The same scene, more or less, photographed by me, January 2014. I love the fact that the former general store (at least, I assume that’s what it was) with the great verandah is still there.

Everybody loves then-and-now photos, right? Or is that just me? Well, anyway, since it’s my blog I’m going to say that everybody does. And I’m happy to say that, thanks – once again – to one of my wonderful readers, I have what I think is a cool set of then-and-now photos for you today, both featuring “downtown” Eldorado, a village in Madoc Township that is maybe seven miles from Queensborough (via Cedar School and Rimington Roads and Highway 62).

Eldorado’s main claim to fame is that it was the site of Ontario’s first gold rush, and that gold rush is of course what gave it its name. (El Dorado having been, as my handy online dictionary puts it, “an imaginary place of great wealth and opportunity; sought in South America by 16th-century explorers.”) Writer Isabella Shaw, who lives near Eldorado, has written a history of the area with a focus on the gold-rush years, called Quest for Gold. Eldorado was also the location of one of the two United churches in the Queensborough-Eldorado Pastoral Charge, of which my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was minister between 1967 and 1975; you can read about the pastoral charge here.)

Anyway, the photo at the very top of the post shows Eldorado perhaps a little less than a century ago, with several townsfolk (all of whom look to be male) out for the photo-taking occasion. Note the Bell telephone sign outside what I assume was the general store; I imagine it would have been the only phone in town at the time. (Which makes me wonder whether one of the two general stores in Queensborough in my childhood, Bobbie’s and McMurray’s, might have once housed the only phone in Queensborough. Since the post office was at McMurray’s [until it, along with many rural post offices, was closed], I would put my money on that one if I were a betting woman.)

My source for the vintage photo tells me, “The aproned guy is the blacksmith” and that “The blacksmith shop was to the right, on John Street.”

What a remarkable look back in time!

But what I find most remarkable about the old photo is the road that you can see in it, running south in the direction of Madoc. That rutted, muddy and winding route, my friends, is the precursor of what we now know as beautifully smooth and straight Highway 62 (or, as older folks sometimes call it, “62 Highway”). And that’s one reason why I wanted to take a “now” photo. Let’s just say it makes a person realize that we don’t have much to complain about when it comes to the state of our roads.

Do you remember Green Stamps?

green stamps

Pasting stamps into this buy-hundreds-of-dollars'-worth-of-groceries-and-get-a-free-knife card got me to thinking about the Green Stamps we collected in my 1960s childhood at the Manse.

Pasting stamps into this buy-hundreds-of-dollars’-worth-of-groceries-and-get-a-free-knife card got me to thinking about the Green Stamps we collected in my 1960s childhood at the Manse.

The Foodland supermarket in Madoc (the town nearest the Manse in Queensborough) is encouraging people to shop there by giving customers stamps (one stamp per $10 spent, I believe) that you can paste on a card and, if you get enough, exchange for kitchen knives. Raymond and I don’t need kitchen knives particularly, but then again you can never have too many; and since we were spending the money on groceries anyway we figured we might as well take the stamps. While I was sticking them onto the card one recent day (still a long way from a free knife, as I discovered), I thought – for the first time in many a decade – of the green stamps people used to collect and exchange for – well, stuff. Mostly household stuff, but there were other things too (toys?), I think.

I have a vivid memory of my mum having those stamp books at the Manse, and how they bulged when they were full of pasted-in stamps. What I do not remember was where they came from. I can’t think that Bobbie’s or McMurray’s general stores – independent operations, obviously – gave them out, and I don’t recall it being the Kincaid Bros. IGA in Madoc either.

When I looked up green stamps just now, I learned that in the U.S. they were S&H (for the Sperry & Hutchison Company) Green Stamps, and I have to say the images looked familiar. Our friend Wikipedia has this to say:

S&H Green Stamps (also called Green Shield Stamps) were trading stamps popular in the United States from the 1930s until the late 1980s. They were distributed as part of a rewards program operated by the Sperry & Hutchinson company (S&H), founded in 1896 by Thomas Sperry and Shelley Byron Hutchinson. During the 1960s, the rewards catalog printed by the company was the largest publication in the United States and the company issued three times as many stamps as the U.S. Postal Service. Customers would receive stamps at the checkout counter of supermarkets, department stores, and gasoline stations among other retailers, which could be redeemed for products in the catalog. 

But that’s the U.S., right? What about Canada? Well, I also discovered that Loblaws stores had a green-stamps program of their own, called Lucky Green Stamps. Here’s what it says on the Loblaws site:

Lucky Green Stamps1959 – Loblaws enters the trading stamp wars with its own “Lucky Green Stamps.” Featured on its saver books is Miss Lucky Green, a bright-eyed, pony tailed little girl. With wand in hand, she points the way to the “Magic World of Gifts” that awaits Loblaws shoppers. The Loblaws Lucky Green Stamp Gift Catalogue, with hundreds of household items to choose from, becomes a mainstay in many homes.

Trouble is, in Queensborough we were a long, long way from a Loblaws supermarket, so our Green Stamps couldn’t have come from there.

Anybody got any ideas?

Anyway, wherever they came from, I know that my mum did redeem them. I’m not really sure what items in the Manse came to us as a result of Green Stamps – with one exception. The one thing I am pretty sure of was a set of melamine dishes – turquoise! – that were perfect for a large (four kids) rambunctious young family. (I don’t think it is possible to break melamine dishes, though you can burn them. Don’t ask me how I know.) Where that set ended up I’ve no idea (the dump would be my best guess, more’s the pity), but the happy news is that Raymond and I have a replacement for it:

melamine dishes

We found this set – the right colour and everything! – at some antiques-and-collectibles warehouse or other a few years ago. A little expensive, but I knew I’d be kicking myself if I passed it by. So the turquoise melamine dishes sit at the Manse, unused to date, but I’m sure their time will come.

Do you suppose the original owner got them with Green Stamps? I’d like to think so.

Of Actinolite bears, and picking up pop bottles

You never know what you'll find on the internet: tonight I discovered this vintage postcard featuring Actinolite's Buster and Bandy. It's for sale by a U.S. collector here. (Photo from delcampe.com)

You never know what you’ll find on the internet: tonight I discovered this vintage postcard featuring Actinolite’s Buster and Bandy. It’s for sale by a U.S. collector here, but the sale ends tomorrow (March 19) and the price isn’t cheap. (Photo from delcampe.com)

This is either Buster or Bandy, the two bears that in the 1960s were the star attraction at the service station and restaurant on Highway 7 near Actinolite that was called Price's, or the Log Cabin. People loved to stop in and watch those poor caged bears. They were, as I recall, famous for being fond of Coca-Cola, and would drink it out of the bottle. Note the classic vintage "Supertest" sign in the background. (Photo almost certainly by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

Buster (or maybe Bandy) in the 1960s, behind bars at Price’s Log Cabin service station and restaurant on Highway 7. (Photo by J.A.S. Keay)

Longtime readers might remember my post from last July featuring Buster and Bandy, the caged Coke-drinking bears who were the star attraction back in the 1960s at Price’s Log Cabin Restaurant at Actinolite, just a few miles southeast of Queensborough on the Trans-Canada Highway. I also posted a couple of photos that my grandfather, the late J.A.S. Keay, had taken of the bears. Subsequently, another central Hastings County-based blog that I follow, Provost Family Cookbook & Archives, picked up one of those photos and asked readers if they remembered good old Buster and Bandy. (You can see the post here. And for a very entertaining music video that features Actinolite prominently and includes mention of the bears – though their names are incorrectly given as Mandy, Bandy and Moe – check out this post.)

The comments that came in to the Provost post were very entertaining; clearly people have very fond memories of the Actinolite bears. But one comment that was posted very recently was so great that I’m just going to quote it. Not only does Eugene have some good Buster and Bandy recollections, but he brought back another happy childhood memory. (Plus his signoff is classic.)

Yes i remember the bears. I was just a young boy. I’m 60 now. I grew up near Cloyne and we used to stop on our trips to Tweed. I remember giving them a pop. A pop wasn’t something us kids got regularly. 5 cents a bottle? I forget as i didn’t buy it. I just drank it. But we used to pick up empty bottles for a penny each. A dollar was a lot of money for a kid. 100 pop bottles. That was a lot of walking along the road. Polluters paid me haha. And i sold frogs. Now you can hardly use them for fishing. Times sure have changed in 60 yrs. i even thought in the future we would have a box that you ask a question and it would give you the answer. I’m typing on one of those. No flying cars yet though.

Vintage soft-drink ("pop," if you must) bottles, all found last weekend in Stratford: Hires root beer, Pure Spring ginger ale, and Wilson's ginger ale. Where are they now? But at least the bottles will live on in some nook at the Manse.

Now we collect them for their vintage look (Raymond and I found these in an antique mall in Stratford, Ont., last summer) but back when I was a kid, empty pop bottles meant cash for buying candy, and that was good stuff.

Good stuff, Eugene! I’m sure GM will be introducing the flying cars any day now. Meanwhile, thank you for reminding us all about the days of collecting pop bottles by the roadside. It’s hard to believe now, in these eco-conscious times we live in, but people used to toss soft-drink bottles out of car windows willy-nilly. We kids would get together and go for a walk along the roads outside of Queensborough and gather ’em up. I think by then the refund was up from a penny to 2¢ for a small bottle and 5¢ for a big one, but I could be wrong about that. As Eugene says, we kids benefitted from the polluters’ thoughtless ways. How exciting it was to take our collection of empty Coke, Pepsi, Crush, Pure Spring, Wilson’s, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper and Canada Dry bottles to Bobbie’s or McMurray’s general store and turn them into cash that could buy a pile of penny candy!

Ah, yes. Coke-drinking bears and bottle-collecting kids. And general stores.

Life was good.