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.

Building Highway 7

Highway 7 under construction in 1932

It looks a lot different from the nicely paved Highway 7 we know today, doesn’t it? This is the well-known east-west highway under construction in 1932. Keith Millard, who graciously supplied the photo, says it was probably taken near Flinton Road, which is just east of where the buses now stop at Actinolite. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

My new cross-country pal Keith Millard – who discovered Meanwhile, at the Manse while researching the history of his family, the Kleinsteubers, who established the German Settlement in Elzevir Township in the mid-19th century – recently sent me a couple of very cool photos that I thought you folks would be interested in. They show Highway 7 in the Actinolite area when it was under construction, in 1932. These days one takes Highway 7 – part of the Central Ontario Route of the Trans-Canada Highway – so much for granted; it’s smooth and wide and nicely paved (especially after last year’s construction work on it; Raymond and I thought it was very thoughtful of the construction folks to redo Highway 7 just as we started using it regularly to travel between Montreal and the Manse in Queensborough), and it’s just there. And useful. But once upon a time it wasn’t there, and it had to be built. And what a project that must have been! Given that Keith’s photos are from 1932, in the Great Depression, I had guessed that the construction was a job-creation project, and that turns out to be correct. According to an excellent history of the highway here, the section between Peterborough and Perth was built in the ’30s to provide work (and thus income) to many labourers in those terrible times.

We know that these photos were taken in Elzevir Township because they come via two chaps named Art Robinson and Peter Forbes, who are seen in the picture I’m about to show you and who, Keith tells me, had homes in Elzevir’s German Settlement. Here’s another shot of the highway construction showing the two men:

Another view of Highway 7 under construction, this one showing Peter Forbes and Art Robinson, who lived in that part of Elzevir Township. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

Another view of Highway 7 when it was under construction, this one showing Peter Forbes and Art Robinson, who lived in that part of Elzevir Township. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

Really, it is quite something to be taken back in time by great old photos like these. And to be reminded of what a huge undertaking it must have been to blast through the rock of the Canadian Shield and build a stretch of road that nowadays we zoom over without thinking about it. Thanks for the history lesson, Keith!

Hastings County never fails to surprise

I am aching to have that ceramic-topped kitchen table from Revival Store – a new discovery in the north end of Hastings County. Please don't get to it before I do!

I am aching to have this enamel-topped kitchen table from Revival Store – a new discovery in the north end of Hastings County. Please don’t get to it before I do!

I have spies and accomplices, you know. Some of them have known me most of my life, and some of them have met me (in the flesh, at least) only weeks ago. Thanks to my ramblings here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, they’ve got me figured out, and they understand (and often share) my enthusiasms for Queensborough, Hastings County, local history, mid-20th-century furniture, the 1960s, turquoise, aprons, the hymns of Charles Wesley, etc. etc. etc. And they share their knowledge and findings.

Who wouldn't want a starburst clock? Didn't everybody's grandparents have one of them in their wood-panelled "rump room"? (Photo from Revival Store)

Who wouldn’t want a starburst clock? Didn’t everybody’s grandparents have one of them in their wood-panelled “rump room“? (Photo from Revival Store)

Here’s the latest, and it’s a good one: a tip from my friend Brenda, who lives in Madoc, about a shop she discovered thanks to a craft show in Corbyville (just north of Belleville) last weekend. It’s called Revival Store, it’s on Detlor Road off Highway 62 just south of Bancroft (“an easy day trip for you and Raymond from the Manse,” as Brenda says), and what a place!

Like another of my recent Hastings County discoveries, the wonderful shop called Chickadelic in the village of Stirling, Revival Store specializes in reinventing and renewing vintage items; the philosophy is waste not, want not, and find good stuff. And thanks to this philosophy, if you’re the customer, you’re very likely to find awesome things thanks to people who have retrieved and repurposed vintage goods.

If you check out Revival Store here (which I urge you to do), you’ll probably be asking yourself the same question I had when Brenda’s email arrived: who knew there was such cool stuff going on in the remote nooks and crannies of northern Hastings County?

But wait a minute: why be so surprised? Raymond and I have been poking around Hastings County for a year and a half now, and are well aware that we have only scratched the surface. (Which is about all you can do with the soil in much of this Canadian Shield country.) It is a place that the world at large has not yet discovered.

Just some of us. The lucky ones.

Will this be the year that the renovation gets started?

Is that not a handsome Manse? The house looking its best, May 2012.

Is that not a handsome Manse? The house looking its best, May 2012.

Welcome to Meanwhile, at the Manse’s first anniversary!

Growing up at the Manse: Dad (Wendell), Mum (Lorna) and left to right me, Melanie, John and Ken.

Growing up at the Manse: Dad (Wendell), Mum (Lorna) and, from left, me, Melanie, John and Ken, circa 1967.

I began this blog a year ago today, the day that my husband, Raymond, and I became the owners of the former United Church manse in tiny Queensborough, Ont., north of Highway 7 and on the edge of the Canadian Shield. It is the house in which I spent what I consider the formative years of my life – from age 4 to age 15 – because my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was the minister of the United Church of Canada‘s Queensborough Pastoral Charge and the job came with, well, a manse to live and raise your young family in. You can read my very first post, explaining the whole thing, here.

And if you read the “About” post at the top of this page, you’ll see that Raymond and I had great visions of getting the interior renovation/restoration that the Manse needs under way. One year later, what have we accomplished? Not so much.

Will this be the year?

Raymond with our new clothesline, put in by our friend and neighbour Ed.

Raymond with our new clothesline, put in by our friend and neighbour Ed Couperus.

Mind you, it’s not like we haven’t done any property improvements since January 2012. We have done something that we are very proud of, planted two trees – an elm and a maple. (And in the process removed the huge sad stump that was all that remained of the great big maple that shaded our front yard when I was a kid at the Manse.) We have had the rotted old clothesline post replaced and now have a brand new clothesline.

Newly painted red oil tank and new (to us) red truck.

Newly painted red oil tank (in the background) and matching new (to us) red truck.

We have done a lot of grounds cleanup, with help from our friend and neighbour John Barry. We’ve had the eavestroughs repaired, and installed ice guards on the roof. We have done a little bit of gardening. We have cleaned out the garage. We have pulled up old (dating from my childhood) carpeting. We have painted the oil tank bright red. And we have done battle with the ladybugs (indoors) and the wasps (outdoors and, sometimes, indoors – and Raymond is very allergic).

But we’ve also done a lot of just enjoying our quiet place in Queensborough, sitting out on the front porch in the nice weather and taking in the view and the birdsong. We’ve identified birds. We’ve cooked meals, both for ourselves and for a few visitors. We’ve taken lots of drives along the quiet country roads throughout the area, exploring places both familiar (to me, at least) and new. We’ve met lots of great people, and learned a lot about the history of – and current events in – our little neck of the woods.

We’ve been soaking it all in.

The other day Raymond and I were discussing what might be at the root of our not having got started on the renovation. (Aside, that is, from not having a spare couple of hundred thousand dollars.) The thing seems to be that everything is connected to everything else. For instance: the house needs electrical work: outlets are few, three-prong outlets even fewer, and there are some wonky switches. But it doesn’t make any sense to have an electrician go into the walls until we’ve made a decision on the insulation and the plaster. The insulation is: sawdust. Vintage (very), and funky, and environmentally friendly, and not inefficient. But is it really sufficient? It will have settled since it was installed when the house was built in 1888. Do we top it up with something? Do we remove and replace it? And if we remove and replace it, can we do that without trashing the original plaster walls, which I do not want to do? But are the original plaster walls in good enough shape to keep? Some are; some (now covered with wallpaper or panelling) may not be. But even if they’re not in good shape, should we replaster them or replace them with drywall? And – what was that about the electrical work again?

You see what I mean? It feels like it has to be a whole-house project, one thing at a time, and – very importantly – everything done in the right order. You can’t be going back and replacing insulation after you’ve got final interior wall finishes in place. Or, well, you can, but it’s stupid and it’s costly.

You know what it is? Intimidating.

It’s so much easier to just sit in the sunshine on the front porch watching Queensborough go by…

A lifetime’s worth of stuff, scattered and gone

The crowd of buyers, potential buyers, and curious onlookers gathered at the Melbourne place on Hart’s Road on a bright but chilly day last Saturday.

A week ago today, Raymond and I were at an auction at the property of the Melbourne family, near Hazzards Corners. There was a lot of stuff to sell off, and last week’s event, selling household goods, was only the first of two sale days. Since we were in Montreal today we missed Round 2, selling the equipment, the property and the house itself.

A few days ago I wrote about one thing we bought at the auction, a 1979 painting of a section of the Melbourne property by my long-ago Sunday School teacher Vera Burnside. As I said in that post, the painting means a lot to me both because I knew Vera and because I knew the Melbournes. (And also, of course, because it’s a really nice painting.)

I think John and Evelyn Melbourne moved to the Victorian house on Hart’s Road in the middle to late 1960s. At any rate, it seems to me that when my dad made Mr. Melbourne’s acquaintance, they were recently arrived from “away,” i.e. somewhere other than the Queensborough-Hazzard’s area. I never knew where that “away” was, but I think, based on the material that I saw at the auction, it must have been Quebec, and I think perhaps Mr. Melbourne – who I gather had served in the Second World War, and was a captain in the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps – had thereafter stayed on in the military, perhaps until his retirement and perhaps stationed until then in Quebec.

I believe my father, the local United Church of Canada minister, got to know Mr. Melbourne not through church channels – I don’t recall the Melbournes as churchgoers – but through a shared love of working outdoors and the machinery that helped one to do that. Mr. Melbourne had quite the assortment of large and small machinery, and Dad ended up buying a (very old) front-end loader from him that was parked in the back yard of the Manse for most of the years we lived there in the 1960s and 1970s. The two hit it off, and I remember our family having dinner at the Melbournes’ home and them dining with us at the Manse. (The main thing that sticks in my memory, and that of my next-oldest sibling, Melanie, about their home is the exotic cats that they had; I think they were Siamese, doubtless the first we kids had ever encountered.) Despite Mr. Melbourne’s willingness to, like Dad, get dirty working outdoors, they always struck me as a couple of some elegance.

A small part of the material set out for auction on the lawn of the Melbourne home.

And that impression was borne out in seeing the furniture and other household goods that were amassed on the home’s front porch and lawns at last Saturday’s action. There were great old pieces of furniture: lovely wooden glassed-in bookcases (sold at too high a price for our budget, unfortunately) and elaborate antique sideboards. There was a full set of bedroom furniture from the historic (and sadly no-longer-extant) Gibbard Furniture factory in Napanee, Ont. (It billed itself as “Canada’s oldest, est. 1835” and you can read its history here; and here, on the amazing blog My Abandonment Issues, which has utterly stunning photos of abandoned buildings, you can see a lot of great photos of the interior of the old factory.) There were odd and interesting things apparently collected in distant corners of the globe, probably during Mr. Melbourne’s postings with the military.

There were dozens and dozens of trucks like this at the auction.

The most recent occupant of the house had been the Melbournes’ son, and he, or someone in his household, had been an avid collector of model vehicles, mostly trucks with a Canadian Tire logo on them, but there were others as well. There were dozens and dozens and dozens of these model cars and trucks, to the point where the auctioneer was selling them three and four at a time to try to get rid of them faster. While I couldn’t care much less about model Canadian Tire trucks, it made me sad to think that they had meant a lot to someone. That person had evidently put great care into putting together, and every now and then lovingly adding to, an extensive collection. I’m sure he (or, less probably, she) had thought the collection was very valuable indeed because of how personally invested he was in it – not to mention how much money had been spent on buying these pieces in the first place. And now these little trucks and cars that had never been out of their boxes were being quickly sold at three for $7. Not a lot of money to buy something that had been another person’s pride and joy.

And really I felt much the same about the auction as a whole. The Melbourne family had collected a lot of stuff – too much stuff, probably. Some was very good-quality and some not so much, but it was their stuff, and collectively it told stories about them and their lives. Now the collection was being broken up, scattered among many dozens of different buyers. Evidence of a family’s life together, disassembled, piece by piece.

My “box of rocks,” a treasure purchased for only $1 at the auction.

We bought a few of those pieces ourselves, in addition to the painting. We were very happy to acquire a 1970s reprinting of The Historical Atlas of Hastings and Prince Edward Counties. Raymond was taken with a bound-with-a clasp 19th-century photo album (in which, unhelpfully, no one is identified). We bought a cedar chest in which to store blankets at the Manse. And for $1 (there were no other takers) I bought something that gave the friendly and funny auctioneer, Boyd Sullivan, much merriment: as he put it, a box of rocks.

One of the envelopes containing a tiny sample from my newly acquired box of rocks.

It was a cardboard box containing several dozen small brown envelopes issued by the “Ontario Department of Mines,” each one containing a small sample of one of the many rocks and minerals to be found in the province, many with names that most of us have never heard of. (Sphalerite, anyone?) I bought it because, as I’ve noted before, central and northern Hastings County’s place on the Canadian Shield means it is a gold mine (sorry) for interesting and obscure minerals; and also because Mr. Melbourne doubtless knew and was interested in this, and that’s why he would have ordered this sampler box from the Department of Mines (now the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines). Whether the little envelopes came empty and you were challenged to find samples of as many of the rocks and minerals as you could, or whether the small samples were already in the envelopes to help you identify pieces you might find yourself, I don’t know; I suspect the latter, though I like to think of Mr. Melbourne meticulously seeking out and collecting samples to fill out the collection.

The newly acquired oak chest of drawers.

We paid the most for a small oak chest of drawers, an interesting piece because it looks as if it would have been placed alongside a partners desk – one of those huge old desks built for two people to sit and work facing each other. It is longish and narrow, and there is a set of shallow drawers on each end. It’s quite a lovely piece of furniture, but I was also attracted to it for sentimental and nostalgic reasons, having to do with having known the Melbournes so long ago.

Before it went up for sale I had (like many others at the auction) had a quick look through its drawers. Along with some vintage 1960s and 1970s stationery and greeting cards and – this was very cool – a brown envelope mailed to Mrs. Melbourne at a Quebec address, containing typewritten and Gestetnered French lessons tied in to a CBC Radio educational program, I found two little boxes that utterly charmed me.

Right away you know that these boxes are from Birks, but what’s inside is not jewelry.

The boxes were the instantly recognizable shade of blue and had the instantly recognizable logo of the Birks jewelry company. Inside were not jewels, however; the boxes contained beautifully engraved calling cards. Calling cards! Not mundane business cards like we use today, and most certainly not the pieces of plastic one uses to make cheap international cellphone calls. No, these are the cards that one left, back in the day, in a pretty porcelain dish or other receptacle set out for the purpose inside the front door of a gracious home when one came to pay a call on its inhabitants.

There was a smaller box for the cards of “Captain John Sidney Melbourne” and a slightly larger one for “Mrs. John Sidney Melbourne.” Something that I found poignant was that the boxes were still full and, in the case of Mrs. Melbourne’s cards, still bound with the little ribbon that had been around them when they were delivered to her. I could imagine the couple ordering the cards before leaving Quebec – perhaps from the flagship Birks store in downtown Montreal just a few blocks from where Raymond and I work – thinking that they would need them when they called on their new neighbours in the area where they had bought their fine Victorian home in Hastings County. And then finding out that rural Hastings County in the later 1960s maybe wasn’t so much a calling-card sort of place. But then again, was anywhere in the later 1960s a calling-card sort of place?

Those cards speak of another time, another life. A life whose accoutrements have now all been scattered.

But you can’t auction off memories, can you?

A water situation. Any ideas?

What the rich mineral base in the bedrock and the soil of Hastings County – a great thing in theory – is doing to our nice clean bathtub at the Manse in practice. Help!

The excellent and authoritative Heritage Atlas of Hastings County (I am the proud owner of a copy, a gift from Raymond; you can order your own copy here) says this:

“Hastings County abounds in minerals, especially in the northern parts above Highway 7. Bancroft is known as the mineral capital of Canada for the numbers of different minerals found in the area as a result of the collision and shifting of tectonic plates over billions of years.” (Longtime readers might recall my post about how Queensborough is right on the edge of the Canadian Shield that protrudes down from the north into Hastings County.)

The atlas goes on to list some of the minerals that have been mined in various parts of the county over the years: corundum, feldspar, fluorite, gold (“The first discovery of gold in Ontario was made in 1866 on the Richardson farm near Madoc. The find sparked a gold rush to the Madoc area and miners looking for gold combed much of the surrounding area. Gold was also found at Eldorado and Deloro”), granite, graphite, iron, marble, sand and gravel, sodalite, talc and uranium. There are also minerals that, while they exist elsewhere on the planet, were first discovered in Hastings County, among them Hastingsite (it “was discovered in Dungannon Township…, resembles glass and varies in colour from black to dark green. Although it was first named in Hastings County, it also occurs in Yukon Territory, New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Utah, Washington, Montana, India, Japan, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Ireland, France, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Ghana”) and Madocite (“shows up as minute metallic grains visible only in polished sections and was named after Madoc. It is also found in France, Kirgizia and Sweden.”)

Which leads to one pressing question: where the heck is Kirgizia?

Anyway, all of this is pretty interesting stuff, and the atlas tells you a lot more – including where the various mines for these minerals were, and in some cases still are.

However, since really it’s all about me, I have to tell you that the minerals under the ground north of Highway 7 in Hastings County are wreaking havoc with the appearance of my bathtub.

I suppose, given the orangey-red colour, it’s all about iron in the water. The colour shows up with startling intensity on the white porcelain of the otherwise pristine tub, the result solely of small and inevitable drips from the tap. The first time we returned to the Manse after a stay in which I’d scrubbed the bathroom down to within an inch of its (and my) life, I was horrified to find the stain. Then I remembered how my mum used to complain about the “hard” water from the Manse’s well, and how that water would cause trouble (mineral buildup and so on) with steam irons. That said, what I do not remember are stains on the sinks and tub. That seems to be something new.

The dug well that served the Manse back when I was growing up there is no longer in use, replaced by a deeper drilled well that provides potable water. (The water from the old well was not safe to drink, as I’ve recounted here, and we had to carry our drinking water from a pump that was up the road at the old schoolhouse. As I type those words, I realize that they make me sound like I must be 150 years old at least to have lived in such a primitive situation. While tonight, after a long and hard week at work, I feel rather close to 150, I assure you I’m not quite there yet.)

Is it possible that the water in the old well was, while “hard” with minerals, not quite as iron-filled as the water from the newer, deeper well? So that it at least didn’t stain things?

We are assured by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, or whoever it is that does the testing, that the water from our well, whatever colour it may be, is safe to drink.

But do those of you who may live in rural areas (and perhaps particularly in mineral-rich Hastings County) have any suggestions for dealing with this staining situation? Are filters or water softeners a good idea? Is there a way for me to keep my bathtub white?

Your suggestions are very welcome indeed.

On the edge of the Canadian Shield

I am quoting here. Someone much more learned than me wrote this, and more, here:

This is what the Canadian Shield looks like. For 8 million square kilometres.

“The Canadian Shield is a large geographic area in eastern and central Canada composed of bare rock dating to the Precambrian era (between 4.5 billion and 540 million years ago). It is also called the Precambrian Shield, or Laurentian Shield. In total it covers approximately 8 million square kilometres. The Canadian Shield is made up of some of the planet’s oldest rock, largely granite and gneiss. The shield is mostly thin soil lying on top of bedrock, with many bare outcrops and thousands of lakes. This was caused during the last ice age, when glaciers covered the area and scraped the rock clean as they moved.”

Full credit to the folks at Worsley School in Northern Alberta for that well-written and helpful definition of what may very well be the defining piece of Canada’s geography. (Worsley sounds like a good school to go to!)

But back to Queensborough.

To get to Queensborough from points south (as people used to say), you go north from Highway 401 at Belleville, taking either Highway 37, which goes through the village of Tweed, or Highway 62, which takes you through the village of Madoc. From Tweed you go northwest a bit; from Madoc northeast a bit. And voilà: you’re in Queensborough.

Belleville is an attractive small city on Lake Ontario’s beautiful Bay of Quinte. When you drive north from it, whether on 62 or 37, you go through pastoral green rolling countryside: prosperous-looking farms with big, well-maintained barns and silos, fertile fields, nice farmhouses; and some very neat and tidy suburban-type bungalows with large, well-cared-for yards. Oh yes, and cheese factories, attesting to the milky production of the local dairy farms.

That same landscape continues more or less to Tweed and Madoc. But then as you continue a bit further north, you hit Highway 7 (or “Number Seven Highway,” as people used to say) – the TransCanada. And all along the TransCanada, at least in this neck of the woods, are the sheer faces where the rock was blasted through to make the highway possible. You are on the edge of the Shield.

The road to Queensborough from Madoc, which I have probably been over about fifty thousand times in my life, crosses over Number Seven Highway and continues north for a bit, to Hazzards Corners. Along that Madoc-to-Hazzards section of what is now called Cooper Road, there is again rolling, pleasant farmland. At Hazzards you turn right on Queensborough Road (the roads all have names now; they never used to) and before long it takes a sharp 90-degree left turn. As you follow that turn, chances are good that you’ll see Harold Harris out on his tractor, plowing or harvesting his fields. The Harris farm and (on the other side of the road) the McKinnon farm have practically the last bits of good farmland before you hit the Shield.

But a little bit on, there are two last farms, one run by Angus McKinnon (who was my schoolmate, and is the son of Don and Madeleine, whose farm is across from Harold and Pauline Harris’s) and his wife and family, and one whose owners I do not know, but when we lived there was owned by Allan and Ella Thompson.

And then it’s the Shield.

As the Worsley folks say: “thin soil lying on top of bedrock, with many bare outcrops and thousands of lakes.” Rocks poking up through that thin soil everywhere. Lots of trees. Lots of lakes. Not much else.

But it’s a landscape that defines so much of Canada. Think of Tom Thomson’s paintings. “Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver.” Algonquin Park. Hardscrabble farmland; immense beauty. Frontier.

Queensborough is on the very edge of the Canadian Shield.