Art and Queensborough: a brilliant combination

As I write this, Queensborough is very quiet. From the front porch of the Manse I can hear nothing save the water of the Black River running over the dam at the centre of the village, some crickets, and the occasional barking of a small dog, sometimes answered by a slightly bigger bark from a slightly bigger dog. Not a soul, walking, biking or driving, has crossed my field of vision for quite some time. But one week ago today – wow, was that ever a different story! If you click Play on the video at the top of this post (shot by Raymond, the best husband ever), you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about. You should definitely press Play. Though I’ll warn you that the video was shot very early in the day last Saturday – just before the multitudes arrived in Queensborough.

Art in Q: enjoying the Orange Garden by Jamie Grant

Visitors to Art in Queensborough/Queensborough in Art enjoy the glorious weather and the Orange Garden. In the background is the lovingly restored Orange Hall, where the art exhibit was held. Photo by Jamie Grant

Art in Q: streets lined with cars

The streets of Queensborough were plugged with vehicles a week ago, as people from all over Ontario visited to see the hamlet that has attracted so many artists over the years.

On a glorious sunshiny summer day, Queensborough was absolutely packed with people. They strolled through the village, stopped to take photos, pointed out buildings and views to each other, consulted their Queensborough walking-tour guides, and just generally looked like they were having a wonderful time. Which – given that added to the mix was a stunning show of Queensborough-themed art (including a painting by A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven) and some great food to enjoy – they were. Our first-ever Art in Queensborough/Queensborough in Art event was a success beyond our wildest hopes. It was a spectacular day for Queensborough.

Art in Q: crowds at the show

The Orange Hall was filled all day long with people taking in the more than 100 artworks on display.

It was a lot of work to put together, though, which is the main reason it’s taken me a few days to get around to composing this report for you. I was exhausted! The handful of volunteers who make up the Queensborough Community Centre committee, supplemented with a small number of invaluable outside helpers, really outdid themselves putting the show together and ensuring the day went off well. In about the 14th straight hour of the arduous process of hanging and arranging and otherwise displaying the more than 100 artworks in the show at the historic Orange Hall, one of the key helpers commented wryly, “I think we might have bitten off more than we can chew.” At which we all chuckled – and then doubled down again to get the job done in time for the huge influx of visitors on Saturday.

Art in Q: A.Y. Jackson

The painting of Queensborough by A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven – which is owned by an area resident who has requested anonymity – got pride of place (not surprisingly) at the show: front and centre at the Orange Hall/Queensborough Arts Centre. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

To the hundreds of people (we estimate at least 600) who came from near and far to enjoy the show and the day: thank you so much! Your appreciation for the art, and for Queensborough, made all the work worthwhile. A huge number of attendees were first-time visitors to our hamlet, and it was thrilling to see how much they enjoyed discovering it. “It’s beautiful!” “It’s magical!” I heard that over and over again, all day long.

Art in Q: barbecue at the QCC

Visitors were able to enjoy a barbecue at the historic Queensborough Community Centre (our village’s former one-room schoolhouse) and church-basement sandwiches served at the Orange Hall. Stephanie Flieler and Tyler Walker were among the hard-working barbecue crew.

To those who worked so hard to make the show a success – the QCC volunteers; the owners of the Orange Hall, Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, who have done an amazing job of restoring the historic building and beautifying the grounds attached to it; to Judith Almond Best, who spent an entire day meticulously making labels for each of the artworks; and most especially to Tonny Braden, a former Queensborough (now Madoc) resident without whose endless hours of hard work and expertise about art and art shows we never could have pulled this off – what can I say but: a job well done, gang. Just brace yourselves, because almost every visitor I spoke to said something along the lines of, “You have to do this again!”

But now, because images can tell this story so much better than words, I want to show you what this glorious Queensborough day looked like. Some of the photos are mine, and some are from others who attended or otherwise took part in the show. Enjoy!

Art in Q: the auction etc. by Jamie Grant

Just a few of the glorious paintings on display. At top left is a particularly meaningful one for us Queensborough folk. It’s by artist Barbara Whelan, and shows the auction that took place when McMurray’s General Store closed. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: Robin and Clara by Jamie Grant

Our strolling troubadours for the day, Robin and Clara. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: Robert Tokley painting

One of my favourites from the show: Maple Syrup Time at Ramsay’s Sugar Shack, by Robert Tokley, a brilliant artist with deep Queensborough roots. The late Harold Ramsay is the figure depicted in the door of the sugar shack. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: Goldie Holmes quilt

Folk artist Goldie Holmes’s famous Queensborough quilt (which I’ve written about before, notably here) greeted visitors at the entrance to the show. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: talk with Audrey Ross

One of the events of the day was yours truly (at left) interviewing well-regarded Tweed artist Audrey Ross about the time she spent learning her craft in Queensborough (thanks to the nearby Schneider School of Fine Arts) and her life in art. Audrey, who is 91 and proud to tell you so, is a great painter and a wonderful storyteller! (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: Queensborough

There were several works in the show by Donald Fraser, a renowned artist and art teacher who chose to make Queensborough his home and found the landscape of the area a great inspiration. This piece, titled simply Queensborough, was my favourite. I am pretty sure the scene it depicts (painted in the early 1960s) is the barn of the late John Thompson. It no longer stands but I remember it well from my childhood here. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: Queensborough School

This painting depicting Queensborough’s one-room schoolhouse and the former St. Henry’s Roman Catholic Church (now a private home) is by Debra Tate-Sears, a well-known artist who comes from Tweed. It was kindly lent for the show by the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: Bob at work

Tweed artist Bob Pennycook, who produces gorgeous canvases, was one of the artists who got out their easels and did some painting during the day.

Art in Q: Mrs. Holmes's Washing by Jamie Grant

Another of my favourites from the show: Mrs. Holmes’s Washing by the great Poul Thrane. The artist is well-advanced in years but, I am delighted to report, was able to attend the show. “Mrs. Holmes” was the late Jessie Holmes, who lived at the eastern end of Queensborough. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: Winter Day at the Rockies, Poul Thrane

Another lovely Poul Thrane canvas. This one is called Winter Day at the Rockies. The Rockies is a “suburb” of Queensborough, a few miles east and north. This painting truly captures that area. (Photo by Diane Sherman)

Art in Q: LOL deck by Jamie Grant

Visitors enjoying the Orange Hall deck (note the orange umbrellas on the picnic tables!) and the Orange Garden. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: Jamie artwork and Ruth

Artwork by James (Jamie) Cipparone of Queensborough, and the amazing woman who was doubtless (at age 99) the oldest visitor, Ruth Holmes of Cooper. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: Jamie artwork and Ruth

Elaine Kapusta (left), a driving force behind all that the Queensborough Community Centre Committee does (including Art in Queensborough), with Audrey Ross, who brought wit, sparkle and great art to the show. (Photo by Diane Sherman)

Art in Q: Festival Elephant

Festival Elephant, an intricate and gorgeous piece of fabric art and handiwork by Queensborough’s Judith Almond Best. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: at the general store

Visitors to the art show enjoyed strolling through the village and meeting its residents. Here, Jos Pronk and Marykay York-Pronk welcome some of them at the site of their home and business (Pronk Canada Queensborough Machine Shop). This great building in “downtown” Queensborough was for many years Bobbie Sager Ramsay’s general store.

Art in Q: Old Anderson Home

Old Anderson Home by Donald Fraser. I love the painting (showing a home on Rockies Road), but I also love how one of the Orange Hall’s amazing original 16-over-16-pane windows shows up in reflection in this photo. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

Art in Q: Alex at work

Artist Alex Bulzan, who divides his time between Toronto and Queensborough, at work on a plein-air painting on the bank of the Black River.

Art in Q: Poul Thrane etc. by Jamie Grant

There was so much to see. The show was truly dazzling. (Photo by Jamie Grant)

A field of dreams – and tractors, plows, farm talk and food

Skies over the plowing-match site

A sunbeam shines down through the fluffy clouds on the ever-growing tent city at the site of the Hastings County Plowing Match and Farm Show at Cornervue Farms on Queensborough Road.

Remember how a few months ago I told you that the agricultural event of the year was coming to Queensborough? And explained that the agricultural event in question was the Hastings County Plowing Match and Farm Show? Well, guess what, people? The Plowing Match is upon us! And here in Queensborough and environs, we are braced for a huge influx of people and lots of excitement. Why, it’s almost certainly the biggest thing to hit our corner of the world since the Rock Acres Peace Festival way back in 1971!

Hastings County Plowing Match 2016

More than 20,000 people – 20,000! – are expected for the Plowing Match, which takes place this coming Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 24 and 25, at the McKinnon family’s Cornervue Farms, 2431 Queensborough Rd., just west of Queensborough proper. (And just northeast of Hazzards Corners, which in turn is due north of Madoc. Consider yourself oriented.)

I’m pretty sure I speak for everyone in Queensborough when I say we’ve been watching with great interest over the past few days as tents and signs started going up, tractors and other farm machinery arrived at the site, and the first of what will doubtless be many portapotties was installed:

Plowing-match site 2

The first of the tents (and the first of the portapotties) set up toward the western edge of the large plowing-match site on Queensborough Road late last week. (Photo courtesy of Marykay York-Pronk)

Plowing-match poster from 1966The Hastings County Plowing Match in its current incarnation has been going on since 1989 – although similar events were held well before that, as you can tell from the photo at right, a picture of a picture that appeared in a Plowing Match special edition published by the folks behind one of our local weekly papers, the Central Hastings/Trent Hills News. It shows the event’s publicity chairman, Jim Haggerty, with a poster advertising a plowing match in central Hastings County back in 1966.

Hastings County

As you can see, there’s a lot more of Hastings County north of Highway 7 – the yellow line running east-west through Marmora and Madoc – than there is south of it. Not too much of that land is good for farming, however – with some happy exceptions.

While I tend to think of 1989 as yesterday, it was in fact a while back – 27 years, to be exact. And in all that time, people, the Plowing Match has never until now been held North of 7! (That’s Highway 7, for those uninitiated with the phrase, which I explain in detail here.) This might seem odd, given that there’s a lot more square miles of Hastings County north of 7 than there are south of it. But Highway 7 is the east-west dividing line between fertile farmland and rolling hills and fields (to the south) and the thin and rocky soil atop the Canadian Shield (to the north). North of 7 country is where pioneers’ dreams were dashed, when they tried and utterly failed to establish farms on soil that just wasn’t good enough. The whole story of the Old Hastings Road a bit north of Queensborough is about that.

However – and this is very important: that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of good soil, and very successful farms, north of 7. The McKinnon operation just west of Queensborough is one excellent example. Angus McKinnon – my contemporary and former schoolmate at Madoc Township Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary School, back in the years when I was growing up in Queensborough – now operates the farm with his father, Don, a very active nonagenarian. As Angus said in an interview published in that Plowing Match publication I referred to earlier, Don “has been here all his life, and his father and his father.” The McKinnon family settled the farm back in the 19th century, and has operated it successfully in all the generations since.

We’re all so happy for the McKinnons’ operation to be in the agricultural spotlight in this way. And so excited about the week ahead!

So what goes on at a plowing match, anyway? Well, let’s have a gander at the schedule:

Plowing Match schedule

So there’s plowing, of course: competitions in many different classes in which, to quote the event’s website, participants “are judged or scored in five different areas, including the opening split, the crown and the finish. And covering any green matter is mandatory in all classes, whether it is plowing in grain stubble or sod.” (I confess I really do not know what any of this means, but I hope that after watching some live plowing this week I will.) The classes include tractors, horses, antique tractors, walking plows, young people, and Queen of the Furrow (more on that shortly) – as well as one for local politicians, and even one for the media. (Do reporters and heavy farm equipment mix? I guess we’ll find out!) And all of that’s a big deal.

Vintage tractor at the Plowing Match

A great old Allis-Chalmers, one of the many antique tractors that will be on display at the show.

But there’s also the farm-show part, which at least as big a deal. As the publicity materials say: “300 exhibitors of agricultural technology and services, woodlot info and demos, crafts, family program, antiques, Queen of the Furrow and entertainment.” Not bad! (Okay, what’s Queen of the Furrow? Not a beauty contest, organizers stress. It’s a competition to be named a young ambassador for Hastings County agriculture – and yes, you do have to demonstrate plowing skills, as well as public-speaking skills and whatnot. I do find it a bit retro that the title is “queen” of the furrow. Surely young men could be agriculture ambassadors too?)

The number of tents and displays set up – I got an advance look when I was out at the site this morning – is astounding. It seems like anything you could ever want to look at in the way of farm equipment will be there, all shiny and new for you to admire.There was a steady stream of big trucks like this bringing in equipment this morning:

Incoming equipment

I leafed through the ads in that Plowing Match publication to get a sense of other equipment and services that would be on display, and here’s just some of what I found: milking systems for tie stall, parlour and robotics (Greek to me, but dairy farmers will understand); generators; custom manure spreading; chainsaws; fuels; seeds; farm insurance; trailers; wood stoves; bush hogs; roofing; farm sheds; feed suppliers – and on and on and on.

But if farm equipment and services aren’t your thing, there’s always the Family Tent, with a variety of speakers and events. Its schedule was just published today on the farm show’s Facebook page, and here it is:

Family Tent Schedule

Freddy Vette, a hugely popular musician and DJ on good old CJBQ radio out of Belleville, should be a big draw. Fashion shows featuring ordinary humans from the local area as models are always fun. The Hidden Goldmine Bakery in Madoc is insanely great (as I’ve written before), and it will be interesting to hear from its proprietors, Cheryl and Brad Freeman. And I am delighted that Queensborough’s own Elaine Kapusta has been invited to speak about “Historic Queensboro” (love the vintage spelling)!

Queensborough stuff for sale

Queensborough caps, mugs and cutting boards will be for sale at the Queensborough Community Centre tent.

Hey, speaking of Elaine and “Historic Queensboro” – the organization that Elaine will be representing, and that Raymond and I are also volunteers with, will have a tent at the farm show. Please stop by the Queensborough Community Centre tent to say hello, learn more about Queensborough, and maybe buy one of our nifty items for sale: Queensborough walking/driving-tour booklets, and caps, mugs and locally made cutting boards all featuring the Queensborough logo. What a great memento of the farm show – and in buying them you’ll be contributing to the work that the QCC does in promoting our little hamlet, preserving its heritage, and providing community programs and events.

Three United Churches banner

The main focus for Raymond and me at the Plowing Match will be helping out at the food tent that volunteers from three local United churches – ours (St. Andrew’s in Queensborough), Bethesda in White Lake and St. John’s in Tweed – will be operating. About 25 of us were out at the Plowing Match site this morning getting things set up. I have a few photos of this very pleasant few hours:

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As is always the case, many hands made light work, and there was a lot of laughter along the way. We’re going to be working awfully hard on Wednesday and Thursday to feed those long lineups of hungry farm-show visitors, but we know the experience will also be a whole of fun.

So listen: your mission for this week is to come visit the Plowing Match! Enjoy the plowing, the equipment displays, the special events, and the food. (Ours will be the tent at the northwest corner of the site – and did I mention there’ll be homemade pie?) Enjoy the company of lots of good farm folk and their urban neighbours out for a day in the country. And most of all, enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the McKinnon Farm and Queensborough – which is, as we say around here, a little bit of heaven north of 7.

Showered with gifts (I): Aunt Hazel’s jewelry holder

Aunt Hazel's slipper in its new home

This lovely little 1950s (I think) jewelry holder came to me this past fall, a gift from my Queensborough friend Elaine. It had belonged to her Aunt Hazel, who was a teacher and force of nature. I love it!

Last night I wrote about how the topics I choose for posts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse often come as a result of gifts from readers – gifts of ideas, or of photographs, or of actual things. Since we are coming up on (as of Jan. 6, which is Epiphany, or the day after Twelfth Night, or the day before Orthodox Christmas, depending on how you approach it) the end of the Christmas season, a time for gifts, I thought that in the next few posts I’d share with you some of the lovely and interesting things that have come my way recently in the form of gifts from readers who thought – or in some cases, just knew, thanks to reading about my tastes in mid-20th-century vintage stuff – that I’d like them.

The first such object is a delightful little thing – at least, in my view. I must tell you that in the view of the person who gave it to me, my Queensborough friend Elaine, it’s ugly, and she never liked it, and she was awfully glad to give it a new home with someone else – someone who did like it.

woman at dressing table

The dressing-table. Should we bring these back?

And what is it? Well, as far as either Elaine or I can make out, it’s a jewelry holder for your bedroom dresser – or dressing-table, as perhaps it would have been called back in the era when this little artifact was made. Remember when your grandmother had a little chair or stool in front of her dressing-table, so she could sit down and observe herself in the mirror as she applied face powder (yikes!) and lipstick and jewelry? Wow, talk about a lost era… though a charming one, I think.

Anyway: the first reason Elaine thought I would like the little china slipper was because its exterior is turquoise, more or less, and by now the whole world knows (since I’ve written about it so often) that I love turquoise. But also: it’s from the midcentury era into which also fits the early period of my childhood growing up at the Manse here in Queensborough – so there’s that connection too. There is also the fact that it is just plain funky – a jewelry holder in the shape of a ballet slipper. (At least, that’s what Elaine and I think it is supposed to be.) And finally, there’s the fact that its original owner was Elaine’s Aunt Hazel, who was Hazel Thompson (Elaine’s father’s sister), a teacher and a force of nature. And that’s really the best part of all. Here’s part of an email Elaine sent me about her Aunt Hazel:

Aunt Hazel started teaching at English School, SS#8 Madoc (readers: SS in references to schools from back in the day stands for “school section”) from 1927 to 1930. Her (annual) salary was $800, later $1,000. Then she went to Codrington where from 1930 to 1932 she taught at Holland School. She taught from 1932 to 1967 in Belleville. Most of her time there was at King George School.

Aunt Hazel was a strong-willed, independent woman who liked kids. She disciplined us (that would be Elaine and her sister and brothers, in Queensborough) as if we were her kids. She did not suffer fools quietly but loved a good time. She travelled the world and liked to take us on little trips.

Her journal has excellent descriptions of farm life, hydro coming down Queensborough Road, World War I, Cedar School, church parties, etc. etc. Please feel free to borrow it anytime. 

She never married but was engaged once when she was young. 

I could talk for a very long time about Aunt Hazel.

Now, I have two things to add to this: one, I realized as I copied and pasted parts of Elaine’s email that I had not taken her up on her offer to look through her Aunt Hazel’s diary, which I must do; and two, that this evening when I spoke by phone to my mum, Lorna Sedgwick – who lived here at the Manse back in the middle of the 20th century not just as my mum but as the minister’s (my dad‘s) wife and as a bit of a trailblazer because she was a full-time teacher as well as a minister’s wife and mother of four little kids – and mentioned Elaine’s Aunt Hazel, she happily recognized the name and recalled what a terrific person Hazel Thompson was. “She was a person you respected!” she said, enthusiastically.

So all of this is why I love my little ballet-slipper jewelry holder.

But on to a tiny bit more about it (as opposed to Aunt Hazel). Here is a closeup of the top:

Carlton Ware slipper top

And here is the underside …

Carlton Ware slipper bottom

… which reveals it to be a piece of Carlton Ware. Now, until this evening when I started to write this post I knew nothing about Carlton Ware. But in the intervening hour or so, I have discovered the site Carlton Ware World, which seems to tell you, or link you to, everything you might ever want to know about Carlton Ware. Which was, the site tells us, “pottery (that) was first made c1890 by Wiltshaw & Robinson in the town of Stoke in the County of Staffordshire in an area known as The Potteries. Its wide-ranging, high quality output is well represented on the Internet, emphasizing its importance.” (Whatever that means.)

I also discovered in poking about the site that this little slipper from Aunt Hazel is probably a piece of what was called Twin Tone Carlton Ware (from its “Contemporary Ware” range, introduced in 1956, close to the high point – 1959-60, I’d say – of midcentury style): in Twin Tone pieces, Carlton Ware World tells us, “the inside was painted in one colour and the outside in a contrasting colour.”

That would be my turquoise and pink ballet-slipper jewelry holder, would it not?

I love that little thing thanks to my newfound knowledge about Carlton Ware, and to its being a pretty piece of midcentury English Carlton Ware. ( And “Handpainted,” as the stamp on the bottom points out.)

But I love it way, way more because it belonged to Elaine’s Aunt Hazel – and thus has all those connections to both Queensborough and to a strong, independent woman who seized life and travelled a lot and didn’t suffer fools quietly but loved a good time. My kind of person.

Thank you, Elaine!

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!

Thank you for listening!

Tweed library event

I was shocked, but very happily so, with the turnout for my talk tonight (that’s me at the right, just before starting to speak) in the Friends of the Tweed Library‘s Writers Series. Thank you so much for coming! (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

I promised all the nice people who came out to hear me speak at the Tweed Library this evening that my 682nd post here at Meanwhile, at the Manse would go up before the night was over. What I didn’t tell them was that it would feature them! But it does, because it’s my way of thanking them for coming out.

I was so honoured (and humbled) to see all the chairs filled for my contribution to the Friends of the Tweed Library‘s Writers Series. It was fun to speak about the adventures of Raymond and me here at the Manse, the renovation challenges that lie ahead, my memories of my happy childhood here at the Manse, and most especially all the wonderful stories that have come out of the contributions you readers have made here. Many old friends (and even some family) were there tonight, and I met lots of new people too – several of whom had great Queensborough lore to share. It was a delightful evening.

I thank the Friends for inviting me to speak, Queensborough’s Elaine Kapusta for her lovely introduction, the Friends’ Pauline Weber for her kind words at the end, library CEO Cathy Anderson for helping us get organized, the refreshments detail for the church basement-style egg-salad sandwiches – and most especially all of you who made the trek to come and listen. You folks are the best!

It was the kind of event that reinforces a thousandfold my feeling that returning to the Manse is – after marrying Raymond, of course – the best thing I’ve ever done.

Happy colours for a happy little boy

Henry's high chair

If ever there was to be a high chair at the Manse, this had to be the one. Don’t those happy colours take you straight back to the early 1970s? And as it happens, we have the perfect happy boy to sit in it.

Welcome to 2014, everyone! I hope this new year will bring you good things and happy surprises.

One excellent thing that came our way in 2013 was the birth of Raymond’s first grandchild, Henry. He is a good boy! And in an hour or so he will be arriving for a New Year’s Day visit, which is very exciting. And so I thought I should show you the perfect vintage high chair that we recently acquired for the occasions when Henry dines with us at the Manse.

The high chair came from my good friend Elaine, who is well aware of my love for all things from the great midcentury era of my childhood at the Manse. She’d been in the attic of her gorgeous Queensborough home to bring down a more modern high chair for a visit by her own newest grandchild – his name is Lucas, and he is beautiful – and came upon one that had belonged to her sister when her niece was a tot in the 1970s. Talk about a period piece! Aren’t those colours something? Does it get any better than an avocado-green tray on an orange-and-yellow high chair? (You can read more about the love affair with avocado green that went on in my youth here.)

It was very kind of Elaine to offer it to us to add to our collection of midcentury vintage stuff at the Manse. And I just can’t wait to see Henry in it. Those colours may look jarringly bright to the ever-so-sophisticated eye of us 2014 folks, but you have to admit they are happy colours, pure and simple. And Henry is a very happy boy.

So on that note, here’s to a happy, brightly coloured year!

“Somebody saved me.”

I am pretty sure that yo too would feel you had been saved if this was the view from your front porch in the morning. And for our Queensborough friends Elaine and Lud, it is. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

I am pretty sure that you too would feel you had been saved if this was the view from your front porch in the morning. And for our Queensborough friends Elaine and Lud, it is. The pretty board-and-batten church across the way is the old Anglican Church, long closed. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

“Somebody saved me:” I will never forget that phrase. Here’s the context in which Raymond and I heard it:

Elaine and Lud's beautiful historic house, featured as a post in the brilliant Ancestral Roofs blog done by our friend Lindi Pierce. More about how thrilled I was to discover Lindi'a blog here.

Elaine and Lud’s beautiful historic house, featured as a post in the terrific Ancestral Roofs blog done by our friend Lindi Pierce. More about how exciting it was to discover Lindi’s blog here.

Our Queensborough friend Elaine Kapusta was talking to us about the days when she and her husband, Lud, were living in the big city (Toronto, New York, Ottawa) and working at important, stressful jobs, but commuting when they could to their beautiful historic house in Queensborough. It is probably the nicest house in the whole village, and it is Elaine’s family home, the house where she grew up. (Kind of like me and the Manse. We are starting a club, you know, we people who bought the Queensborough house we grew up in.)

Only people who live in the big stressful city but are fortunate enough to have a house in somewhere tiny and quiet like Queensborough can fully appreciate how wonderful it is to get to that place of retreat after a week of city life and work. To be suddenly surrounded by near-silence, and space, and (if it is a clear night) a sky full of stars – well, it does one’s heart, and one’s soul, a world of good.

That was what Elaine was talking about. She said that in those days she would stand out on her front porch looking out at Queensborough and think: “Somebody saved me.”

That is how I feel when we get to the Manse at the end of the drive from Montreal. At first the quiet is almost startling. And then you hear the few sounds there are: a dog barking; once every few hours a car driving by; and best of all, the water of the Black River tumbling over the dam in front of Elaine and Lud’s place. Beautiful.

Every time I lok at the home page of Jo-Ann's lovely blog and see all those gorgeous tomatoes, I get hungry!

Every time I look at the home page of Jo-Ann’s lovely blog and see all those gorgeous tomatoes, I get hungry! Here is her post today, celebrating the quiet of the country.

I was reminded of this by a post today on the blog of my new friend Jo-Ann Blondin. Jo-Ann and her husband also divide their time between the big city and the Queensborough area. Her excellent blog, called 9 Cup Challenge, is primarily about healthy eating, with a huge emphasis on vegetables and fruit; as a vegetable lover, I am a large fan. (Check out the guacamole recipe here.) But sometimes she writes about their life in the country, and today’s post – which includes a video in which you can hear the sound of the ice in the river cracking, and the sound of the Canada Geese overhead, and most especially the precious sound of silence – is just lovely. Go read it!

P.S. If you do, there’s a bonus toward the end. I don’t want to give away any secrets, but let’s just say that Mickey, the dog with ears that look remarkably like those of a familiar Disney character, is pretty darn cute…

A year’s worth of adventures in Queensborough, at the Manse

Raymond and me at the January 2012 community skating party at the millpond in Queensborough in January 2012, a few days before we became the official owners of the Manse. A lot has happened since then!(Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

Raymond and me at the community skating party at the millpond in Queensborough in January 2012, a few days before we became the official owners of the Manse. A lot has happened since then! (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

This is the last day of the year. Not the calendar year, obviously, but the year that has gone by since Raymond and I bought the Manse – the house I grew up in – in Queensborough, Ont. Tonight’s post will be No. 314 – one for every day of the past year (minus Sundays, my day of rest; but including Feb. 29, since 2012 was a leap year). That’s a lot of writing! Though since it’s about a subject very close to my heart, it hasn’t seemed like work. As I often tell people, this blog practically writes itself.

Anyway, year-end being often a time for reflection and looking back, I thought I’d take a trip back through the past 12 months and a few of the adventures Raymond and I have had as we’ve adjusted to the idea that we own this historic house – that needs a lot of work – in tiny, pretty Queensborough.

(We are, by the way, still adjusting.)

Okay, here we go, month by month:

January 2012

January 2012: We visited our new acquisition on a cold, grey winter day. We took measurements of rooms, and wondered: what on earth have we got ourselves into?

February 2012

February 2012: Thanks to some demolition work by my brother John, the turquoise colour on the kitchen’s original plaster walls – the colour that I remember from my childhood – is revealed, for the first time in about 40 years.

March 2012

March 2012: As the weather turned nicer, Raymond and I started taking drives along  the rural roads in the area. And soaking up the fact that old, evocative things like split-rail fences were still to be found as part of the landscape of central Hastings County.

April 2012

April 2012: On a gorgeous spring day, we finished raking all the leaves and debris from the Manse’s expansive lawn. And it looked beautiful in the afternoon spring sunshine. And we were very proud of ourselves.

May 2012

May 2012: Raymond buys his long-dreamed-of red pickup truck, especially for service at the Manse. Now all he needs is a beagle named Kip to ride shotgun.

June 2012

June 2012: We attended our first Hastings County auction, near Stoco, featuring the amazing and popular local auctioneer Boyd Sullivan (here holding up – well, a china chicken). We took in several more auctions as the year went on, and can’t wait until auction season starts again in spring 2013.

July 2012

July 2012: A zen moment at the Manse on a hot summer day, looking out from the shade of the side lawn to the intersection of two of Queensborough’s busiest streets – “busy” by Queensborough standards, of course.

August 2012

August 2012: The annual summer service at beautiful and historic Hazzard’s Corners Church, where my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was once the minister. We were all joining in as the featured performers sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Perfect.

September 2012

September 2012: On Labour Day Monday, the last day of summer before the school year began – and a scorcher as the great drought of 2012 continued – Raymond and I paid a visit to my beloved Madoc Township Public School, where I attended Grades 1 through 6 from 1966 to 1971. The bell rang for recess just as we were leaving.

October 2012

October 2012: A new painting on the walls of the Manse – a landscape showing the Hazzard’s Corners area by Vera Burnside, a wonderful teacher, Sunday School teacher, artist and friend whom I remember so fondly. I bought the painting at – of course – a local auction.

November 2012

November 2012: The last of the late-fall sunshine shining (after a storm) on the trees and the Black River at the heart of Queensborough.

December 2012

December 2012: Raymond’s Christmas tree made of books in the Manse study.

January 2013: One of the most fun of the many links and interesting tidbits that readers have sent over the year: a song celebrating (sort of) Highway 7, the Trans Canada Highway, as it runs through the little villages in Queensborough’s neck of the woods – like Actinolite, which is only 10 minutes away. You readers find, and know, and send, the most amazing things.

And I hope you will continue to, as Meanwhile, at the Manse heads into Year 2. Tell Raymond and me more about renovating a Victorian brick house; tell us more about historic linoleum and plaster; tell us definitively how to get all those layers of wallpaper off the walls; tell us how to grow a garden. Tell us your Queensborough stories, your Hastings County stories, your North of Seven stories.

It’s really all about telling stories, isn’t it?

No more drinking at the Quinte Hotel

The sad ruins of the landmark Quinte Hotel in downtown Belleville, Ont. (Photo from the Belleville Intelligencer)

The sad ruins of the landmark Quinte Hotel in downtown Belleville, Ont. (Photo from the Belleville Intelligencer)

Hello people, and welcome to 2013! My apologies for being so absent lately. It has been a combination of weariness/illness (the aftermath of The Dreaded Christmas Flu), and being on the road with no reliable internet access. But tonight I am feeling better than I have in quite a while, energized and (thanks largely to a great note I got today from my friend and indefatigable Queensborough-booster Elaine) all revved up about what this year is going to bring for Queensborough, and for Raymond and me and our life at the Manse. It is going to be a good year!

But first, some news from Hastings County that won’t be news to those of you who live there or keep tabs on it, but will perhaps be to others. It’s rather sad news, because it involves the end of not one but two historic buildings that have a certain place in the Canadian literary canon, thanks to poet Al Purdy. These places are none other than the Quinte Hotel – or should I say, the Quinte Hotels. One is – or rather, was – in Trenton, a small city in the southwestern corner of Hastings County (and for some unknown reason sometimes more associated with neighbouring Northumberland County); the other, currently in ruins and semi-demolished, is in Belleville, the Hastings County seat about 45 minutes due south of Queensborough. Both experienced devastating fires over the course of the past couple of months – first the Trenton Quinte (which in recent years has been a strip joint called the Sherwood Forest Inn; details on that fire here and here) and then, just before Christmas, the historic landmark building that was the Quinte Hotel (or, in more recent times, the “Hotel Quinte”) in the heart of Belleville; you can read about that one here and here and here.

If you know anything at all about Al Purdy you probably know At the Quinte Hotel, one of his most famous poems. “I am drinking/I am drinking beer with yellow flowers/in underground sunlight/and you can see that I am a sensitive man/And I notice that the bartender is a sensitive man too…” Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip did a video based on it and here it is (though I recommend fast-forwarding through the first couple of minutes and getting straight to the voice of Al reading the poem):

It kind of gets all gauzy in retrospect now, but if you grew up in rural Ontario in the middle part of the 20th century, you will probably have a good idea of what places like the Quinte Hotel were like in the days Al was drinking in them. In a small town or city, “the hotel” was a synonym for “the bar,” or better yet, to use a classic Canadian phrase, “the beer parlour.” These were generally three- or four-storey brick buildings that once had been real hotels, with respectable rooms for rent, and restaurants with fine meals served as well as bar service. But once there was no longer much call for hotel rooms or fine dining in Ontario’s small towns and cities, the proprietors of these establishments had to make ends meet any way they could, and that tended to be turning the ground floor into a large bar serving primarily draft beer (generally purchased in sets of two glasses, salt shaker on the side) primarily (especially in the unenlightened days before the late 1970s/early 1980s, when women were finally allowed in, for better or for worse) to men. (There would in the olden days be a separate room for “ladies and escorts” that was never particularly populated.) The food served in these beer parlours was mostly from giant jars of pickled eggs and preserved sausages on the counter; there would be a cigarette machine doling out Mark Tens and whatnot in exchange for a whole bunch of quarters in the corner of the room; and on Friday and Saturday nights, as likely as not, there would be live entertainment in the form of a band that might be half-decent and, then again, might not. The room would be always a haze of cigarette smoke, fights would be common, and if you happened to be there past closing time (when the lights went up, a ghastly – though eminently predictable – event immortalized in Leonard Cohen’s Closing Time) it was always entertaining to watch and listen as people outside the locked door tried to wheedle their way in for one last late-night drink.

Gee, I sound like I know what I’m talking about, don’t I?

Well, let me assure you that my experiences in old-fashioned Ontario beer parlours have nothing whatsoever to do with my growing-up-in-Queensborough years. They came when I was older and much less wise. But suffice to say that while I never darkened the door of the Quinte Hotel in Trenton or the Quinte Hotel in Belleville, I am perfectly aware of what those places were like. And since Al Purdy was very fond of beer, and of shooting the breeze, I am equally sure that many of his afternoons and maybe evenings were spent drinking beer at the Quinte Hotel, in whichever town he happened to be in.

It turns out it was the Quinte Hotel in Trenton he was referring to in his famous poem, though I’d be shocked if he hadn’t enjoyed the hospitality of the Belleville establishment as well. I remember that place (the Belleville one) in the 1960s and 1970s, when my family would visit Belleville (usually because my dad, the minister, was making pastoral calls on parishioners who were in the hospital there) because of the oval rotating red and white and blue sign proclaiming “Quinte Hotel” that was something of a landmark in the downtown (though damned if I can find a photo of it on Google – anybody?).

Anyway, these are fond memories, stinky tobacco-hazy beer parlours and all. But here is some news you need! The Al Purdy A-Frame Trust people, the good folks working to restore the humble A-frame house that Al and his hardy wife, Eurithe, built by hand in Prince Edward County and that was a home away from home for generations of Canadian writers, are holding a celebration and fundraising night this coming Feb. 6 (that’s a Wednesday) in Toronto. Details here, and you can order tickets here. Gord Downie will be there, as will Margaret Atwood, Gordon Pinsent and many others. Awesome things – like, say, books from Al’s own library – will be up for auction. And all for a good cause: remembering and celebrating and carrying on the legacy of your friend and mine, Al Purdy.

A sometime drinker at the Quinte Hotel.

Will those wasps EVER be gone? (She asks, waspishly)

Bad wasp. Bad, bad wasp. Go away, wasp. Go away and DO NOT COME BACK!

Raymond and I have just had yet another splendid weekend of discovery in Queensborough and area, and as always I have stories to tell and pictures to share of new things we saw and did. But as often happens on a Monday when we drive home to Montreal and work, I’m tired after a long day and can’t do justice to all that wonderful stuff, so will do a quick post on the only rough spot of the weekend.

I was out at midday Saturday for a meeting with our friends and fellow Queensborough residents/enthusiasts Dave deLang and Elaine Kapusta to talk strategy and research for a Queensborough website. When I returned to the Manse in time for a planned errand-running excursion with Raymond, the look on his face as he greeted me was very serious and anxious, and the first words out of his mouth were, “I’ve got some bad news.” My heart leapt into my throat: Has someone been in a terrible accident? Has someone died?

Well, no: but the wasps were back.

Truly dedicated readers will know that we’ve been battling the wasps since they first made their appearance early last spring. We’ve had the exterior of the house sprayed twice. We’ve had to; Raymond is extremely allergic to wasp stings, and hospitals are uncomfortably far away from the Manse when it comes to emergencies. I’ve written about it here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here, and gracious but I’m getting tired of the subject (and the problem).

The most recent spraying was only three weeks ago, and we had high hopes that the issue had been laid to rest. Imagine, then, how Raymond must have felt when, while I was out at my website meeting Saturday, he walked into an upstairs bedroom only to find it full of very alive and buzzy wasps. You won’t be surprised to hear that he did not hang around that particular quadrant.

I think the story has a happy ending. We got the people who had sprayed before on the phone, they sent a very nice guy named Frank around first thing this morning, and Frank went into the room in question and gave those wasps what for (translation: some powerful spray that meant nobody should go back in there for four hours minimum). He also located the place where they were coming in and plugged it up. And as we were leaving to drive back to Montreal and work, he was commencing yet another spraying of the exterior.

Everybody knows this has been a bad summer for wasps, because of the heat and the drought. But really, this has been a tiresome thing for us. Tonight I looked up the definition of “waspish” in my Merriam-Webster, and it describes rather well how I’m feeling about the situation: “resembling a wasp in behaviour; snappish, petulant.”

When it comes to wasps at the Manse, that’s me: snappish and petulant. Go away, wasps!