Our school, our community, our future: have your say tomorrow

Madoc Township Public School 1

Our terrific rural school, Madoc Township Public School. Please let’s not let this be its final year of educating students from our community!

I am deeply indebted to another writer for most of the words that appear in today’s post. They are important words.

They are about the future of the local public school that serves us here in Queensborough: Madoc Township Public School. And they are by extension also about the future of our rural community as a whole.

Because really, is there anything much more important to a rural community than a school for that community’s children? A good school is one of the key factors attracting families to any area. We live in a time when several things – sky-high hydro rates, far-from-universal access to high-speed internet, and a shortage of other important services – are working against development, growth and prosperity in rural Ontario. Now, I am not one of those who despairs about that situation; I actually think we live in a time of great promise for our rural way of life. After the big migration from the country to the urban areas of this province that took place over the past 40 years or so, people are beginning to recognize that there is a very great deal to be said for living where there is space, and beauty, and fresh air, and neighbours you know who help you out when you need it. Central Hastings County, where Queensborough is located, is attracting more and more smart and creative people who appreciate our way of life – and those people include some families with young children. But we could use a lot more of those young families. And closing our local school – as the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board, admittedly facing some big financial challenges, is proposing to do (as you can read here) – is not, in my humble opinion, the way to go about it.

Madoc Township Public School 3

Our community school’s simple and excellent motto (devised in the years I attended it): “Friendship and Learning.” Well said.

In a recent post I let you know about a very important event that is happening tomorrow evening – Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. It’s the first public meeting in the process the school board has set up to consider and decide on its proposal to close Madoc Township Public School and bus its students from our community (Madoc Township, Elzevir Township [that’s where Queensborough is] and Tudor and Cashel Township) to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc. Madoc Public is a great little school, don’t get me wrong; many years ago, when I was growing up here at the Manse, I attended Grades 7 and 8 there, after doing Grades 1 through 6 at Madoc Township Public School. But the “town” school is already quite full, it has extremely limited playground space (whereas the playground at Madoc Township is magnificently huge), and it is located right next to the regional high school, which for some parents means concerns about their young children being exposed to “the big kids” and their sometimes worrisome activities, like smoking and whatnot, earlier than they would really like.

The meeting takes place in the gym of that high school (Centre Hastings Secondary), 129 Elgin St., Madoc, beginning at 6:30 p.m. As bad luck would have it, there is a freezing-rain warning in effect for Tuesday evening here in eastern Ontario. But people, please try to come if you can. It is so important to show the powers that be how much we care about our school, how important it is to our lives, our families and our community. I will be there, and I sure hope you will too.

But on to those words from another writer that I mentioned. Here is a letter that my friend Grant Ketcheson of Madoc Township sent this past week to the new chair of the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board (and copied to our local trustee on the board, Bonnie Danes, a former teacher at Madoc Township Public School). Grant’s family, the Ketchesons, is one of the oldest in Hastings County, and he himself is a walking repository of local history – and by that I don’t mean just dates and names, but living history: knowledge and stories about how things were done in rural areas once upon a time, and how things changed over the years, and how that all turned out and is still turning out. He well remembers the establishment of Madoc Township Public School, and knows as much as anyone does about its importance to our community.

Here (with Grant’s kind permission) is his letter. He says it better than I ever could.

Ms. Lucille Kyle
Chair
Hastings Prince Edward District School Board

Dear Ms. Kyle,

It was disturbing to hear the report that Madoc Township School was one of the schools recommended for closure by Hastings Prince Edward District School Board officials. While we realize that Madoc Township, like many areas, has experienced a drop in enrolment, the truly disturbing aspect of this report is that nowhere do we hear mention of “benefit to the students.” One can almost read between the lines another theme i.e. “What have students got to do with this? We have a business to run.”

I will wager that the mandarins in the Belleville office moving their educational chess pieces around have never visited the school communities that they are about to destroy. Yes, in rural areas, these are not just schools, they are school communities! I would also wager that these same mandarins have never driven on Baldwin or Elgin Streets in Madoc at bus time. It is a scene of chaos. Now they are planning to add to this with more buses! Perhaps when you are disrupting a whole community, it is easier to be like military drone pilots who don’t have to go anywhere near the damage they create.

In an era when we are becoming increasingly alarmed at the level of inactivity and obesity in our children, it makes little sense to close an educational facility like Madoc Township School with a spacious 5.5-acre playground that includes a ¼-mile running track. Apparently we are now preparing to lose this unique location and move students to Madoc Public School with a fenced-in area not large enough to be enjoyed by all students at the same time. Certainly, the wire fence makes a great place on which to lean while exercising thumbs on a wireless device! What the experts from the board office fail to realize is that once we lose large playground areas, we can never get them back.

My wife, a teacher for more than 35 years, has been on yard duty in more than a half-dozen school yards. She can attest to the difference in behaviour when children have plenty of room to run, play and just be kids. Madoc Township School is one of the very few in existence that has the luxury of lots of playground space.

It would seem to make more sense to reverse the decision, made some years ago, that took grade 7-8 students out of the school and sent them in to Madoc. Certainly the school is in excellent shape as it has had a new roof and all new windows in the last two years. Of course, we were not thinking of any realignment of schools when that money was spent, were we?

It would behoove administrators and decision makers to visit schools such as Madoc Township School before they destroy them, just to see what kind of facility they have. We personally know young couples who have moved to this area to live in a rural setting and to have their children attend a school in such a unique setting. Not to mention the fact that recent EQAO ratings rate this little school highest in Hastings County.

It might be a good idea for board members to have a look at the value a the target before they let the drones destroy it!

Sincerely,
Grant Ketcheson

cc. Bonnie Danes

Before I sign off, I thought I’d show you a little video I took today of the amazing playground area that Grant and I have mentioned. By my count, it has two soccer pitches, a baseball diamond, lots of playground equipment – and tons of space for other activities, like track and field and those great playground games I remember from my youth. (Red Rover, anyone? For a healthy childhood, it beats Snapchat any day.) Here’s a look at that wide open space:

Readers: I hope to see you tomorrow (Tuesday) evening for that meeting at CHSS. Let’s show we care about our community school and that we want to see it – and our community – survive and thrive.

Queensborough as seen by an artist

Queensborough by Bob Hudson

The bridge over the Black River in Queensborough as seen through an artists’s eye – that of Bob Hudson. This gouache is called Queensborough, 1980. Copyright, and used by permission of, Bob. Isn’t it beautiful?

Remember my post last night, featuring one of my own typically inexpert photos of the pretty scene in downtown Queensborough that features the bridge over the Black River (and my friend Graham’s collection of colourful Adirondack chairs)? If you don’t, check it out here; and after you do, I hope you will marvel at how a real artist has brought that same scene to beautiful life.

The picture at the top of this post is by artist Bob Hudson, and it is a gouache done way back in 1980, when Bob and his family lived in nearby Madoc. As luck (or fate, or whatever you want to call it) would have it, he posted it on Facebook a few days ago – and as you can imagine, I was thrilled to see it. I inquired of Bob whether it would be all right to feature his beautiful painting here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and he very kindly gave me permission. Thank you, Bob!

I’m sure a fair number of my readers, especially those with ties to the Queensborough-Madoc area, will know Bob, or at least know of him. He and his family moved to Madoc (from the Toronto area) in the early 1970s, and he was well-known as a fine artist and potter. His family and ours (when I was a kid growing up at the Manse in Queensborough) knew each other a bit, and it is so nice to reconnect after all this time – especially over a picture of Queensborough! Bob now lives (and paints) in Toronto, but the very fact that he posted this great picture suggests to me that he has fond memories of his time in this area.

I am so happy to be able to show you this picture. And it makes me think – and not for the first time – how wonderful it would be if we could put together even some of the many artistic works that have been done in, and inspired by, our historic and pretty hamlet over the years. Here is a post that I did quite some time ago that tells about the Schneider School of Fine Arts that was located in the nearby Elzevir Township hamlet of Actinolite back when I was a kid, and from which groups of artists would regularly come on excursions to set up their easels and paint scenes of Queensborough. Oh, to be able to find even a few of those paintings and sketches now!

But you know, now that I reflect on it: maybe the serendipity of Bob posting that picture and giving me permission to share it when I found it, and thus giving me occasion to ruminate (as I now am) about somehow finding and showing Queensborough-themed art – maybe this is a start! Could we make it happen?

I feel a Queensborough Art Day coming on…

Questions on the road to town

Great house in ActinoliteOne thing journalists do constantly is ask questions about what they see and hear. They can’t help themselves, you know; and those questions are what lead to interesting stories that other people will want to know about. This morning on a leisurely drive to Tweed – one of the two villages (the other being Madoc) that constitute “town” for us folks here in Queensborough – I found myself in full journalist mode, asking myself questions about a number of things that I saw. They are questions to which I do not yet have answers; but I am hoping that you readers will be able to provide some. Here they are:

Question 1: What’s the story on that great house?

Every time I drive through the hamlet of Actinolite, which lies between Queensborough and Tweed and is in fact the only community in Elzevir Township aside from Queensborough, I admire the magnificent and unusual stone house that you see pictured at the top of this post. It’s perched in a great spot on a hill overlooking the hamlet, and it’s really an extraordinary-looking – and obviously historic – place. I’d love to know the story behind who built it, what that golden-coloured stone is and where it came from, and who has lived there over the years.

Question 2: Was this house (or this site) once the Green Acres restaurant and campground?

Green Acres?

From way back in my long-ago youth here at the Manse, I remember a commercial operation that was called Green Acres on the west side of Highway 37 on the way to Tweed. (I imagine it was named after the television show that was hugely popular at that time, but I could be wrong. Remember Arnold Ziffel, the pig?) I could not recall what exactly Green Acres was, but was enlightened thanks to a mention of it in Evan Morton’s Heritage Herald column in the Tweed News a few weeks ago. A Tweed resident had brought in to the marvellous Tweed and Area Heritage Centre, of which Evan is the tireless curator, a 1958 copy of the Tweed News that he’d found in the attic of his house, and Evan shared some of the tidbits from it in his column. One item was:

Toronto man has acquired “Green Acres” … Norman De Piedro of Toronto, brother-in-law of James Mayo, of Jimmy’s Drive-In Restaurant, Actinolite, has purchased the Green Acres restaurant and cabins on No. 37 Highway, just south of Actinolite … The DePiedros expect to have the premises open for business within a week.

Now, my question (aside from: Jimmy’s Drive-In? Never heard of it) is this: every time I pass by the house in my photo, or at least the site that this house is on, I get the feeling that it was Green Acres. Was it? Oh, and hey – does anybody have any photos of Green Acres (or, for that matter, Jimmy’s Drive-In) when it was in operation?

Question 3: Was this ministry that ministry?

Ministry of Northern Mines and Development

All the time I was growing up in Queensborough, there was an office of the Ontario Ministry of Lands and Forests – the name was later changed to the decidedly less poetic “Ministry of Natural Resources” – somewhere in the vicinity of Tweed. I was never at that office, and in truth have never been sure of where exactly it was, but I know that the operation was a fairly big employer in the area at that time. These days there is an office of the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, which I know only because of this sign that I pass when travelling to and from Tweed. One of these days I’ll take the time to drive in and see what’s doing at that office, but in the meantime, my question is this: is the setup now occupied by the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines the same one that used to be the Lands and Forests?

And finally, Question 4: Why doesn’t somebody buy and reopen this former antiques and collectibles emporium?

Bridgewater Trading Corp.

I still remember the first time Raymond and I drove past the Bridgewater Trading Corp., right after we started visiting this area and were considering buying the Manse. It was a sunny day. I saw the sign and the fairly expansive setup of buildings from afar, and my heart leapt: an antiques emporium! Raymond and I love those places, and visit them whenever we can – often when we’re on holiday down in New England. (They have great antiques barns there, from which have come many of our treasures – see posts here and here and here, for instance – including a made-in-Canada vintage wooden toboggan.) What a thrill to find one in Tweed!

But alas, it was not to be. The Bridgewater Trading Corp. was closed (I don’t know when) and was for sale. And four or so years later, it’s still closed, and still for sale. That makes me sad every time I go by it, and it made me sad again today. I just know how much fun Raymond and I could have looking through the vintage wares (including the junk, of course) that a multi-vendor facility like that would have.

So final question: Future Tweed antiques-emporium operator, are you out there?

Raymond’s kind of Elzevir

Rue Elzevir 1

This is the 18th-century building on rue Elzevir in Paris where there’s an apartment for sale for a mere €1,295,00 (about $1.8 million Canadian). It’s a little different from our Elzevir, but I’m pretty sure Raymond would love it.

Queensborough, our home for this past year (and also my childhood home) is located in the township of Elzevir, as I’ve mentioned many times before. (And if you want to read some speculation on why this rocky part of Hastings County ended up with that unusual name, you can go here.) Today when I was looking through one of the latest entries on a Paris-based blog that I really like, called Messy Nessy Chic, I was intrigued to come up with another Elzevir reference: a street in Paris where there’s a pretty nice old house – or actually, apartment – for sale.

Messy Nessy Chic is the brainchild of a woman named Vanessa (Nessy for short) who, as far as I can gather, is an anglophone living in, and loving, Paris. She writes about lots of cool things having to do with that most wonderful of cities, and with France; but she also likes, and posts about, many other interesting things, like a temporary hotel in an airplane, and tiny houses, and unusual places, and vintage trailers, and things she found on the internet.

Anyway, today she did a post (it’s here) in which she gives ordinary non-rich people like you and me (and her) a glimpse into how the other half lives in Paris: she showed 10 amazing places that are being offered for sale through the Christie’s website. And one of them is on rue Elzevir! Which, despite having visited Paris several times, I had never heard of before. It is, I have now learned, in the Third Arrondissement, in the Marais, and it’s close to the Musée Picasso and the Musée Carnavalet, both of which I have visited more than once. Without realizing how close I was to Elzevir!

You can see the full listing for the rue Elzevir apartment here; and here’s just one of the photos, showing a bedroom with a classic Parisian view out of gorgeous French windows (and also, not incidentally, a pretty amazing vintage dresser, but I don’t suppose it‘s for sale):

Rue Elzevir 2

A bedroom on the rue Elzevir. I love that dresser! But even without it, I’d love to wake up here.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, France is one of the places Raymond and I love most in the world; we went there on our honeymoon, in fact. Raymond has often said, dreamily and wistfully, how much he’d love to have a pied-à-terre in Paris. Just a little one, mind you…

So what do you think, people? Should we snap up this one on the rue Elzevir, so we can have a foot in two Elzevirs?

Ah, a person can dream…

A-hunting they have gone

Hunting flyer

This is how you know that deer-hunting season is almost upon us. Or at least, this is how I know. The hunters are well aware without having to be reminded by the Canadian Tire flyer!

Remember that old nursery rhyme from your childhood, A-Hunting We Will Go? Well, a-hunting is exactly what a large proportion of the male population (and a few members of the female population too) in our neck of the woods are currently engaged in. Which is why you won’t see all that many men around for the next couple of weeks; they’re in hunting camps in various corners of the back of beyond, shivering in the cold, tracking deer, and generally enjoying the camaraderie and having a whale of a time. It’s not my idea of a good time; in fact it’s pretty much the extreme opposite of my idea of a good time. But it’s a highlight of the year for many people, and I am pretty sure that the camaraderie part is much more the reason for that than the actual hunting part.

You know hunting season is approaching when the flyers for Canadian Tire and similar stores feature spreads like the one in the photo atop this post. Guns, ammunition, camouflage and bright orange jackets and caps – all the stuff a person needs to go hang out in the bush and try to nab some game. On the weekend before the season starts – which would be this weekend just past – the streets of the local towns, Madoc and Tweed, are practically jammed with heavy pickup trucks hauling trailers bearing one or more all-terrain vehicles; those ATVs are what the intrepid hunters use to get to their particular corner of the back of beyond. (When I was talking to my mum the other day about the hunting-camp tradition in the Queensborough area, she cast her mind back to the days when our family lived here in the Manse and recalled how the air would be filled with the sound of tractors rumbling out of town as groups of men headed for the hunt camp. Tractors and wagons are indeed how people used to cross the rugged terrain to get to their camps, but the invention of ATVs has made it moderately easier.)

Also bustling in town on the weekend before the season starts are the grocery stores, where the designated camp cooks are loading up on supplies, and the Beer Store and the LCBO. Hunting can be thirsty work! (As can camaraderie.)

Now, humour me for a moment while I show you this YouTube video for kids featuring the above-mentioned nursery rhyme. Don’t bother watching more than 30 seconds or so of it; I wouldn’t. But I wanted you to see a bit of it because of the funny contrast between the cartoon hunters and the pastoral landscape in which they’re hunting, and the real thing here in the wilds of Hastings County. Okay, here we go for half a minute or so:

Now I want to show you some photos of what the hunting experience really looks like when you’re in the rocky wilderness of the Canadian Shield:

Camp at the Hayrake photos 1

Scenes featuring the local group that for many years has hunted at “The Camp at the Hayrake,” as a book about their adventures (by my friend Grant Ketcheson) is called. What do you think – does it look like fun?

Kind of a stark difference, isn’t it? The area where those photos were taken is an amazingly lonely, barren and forbidding section of central Hastings County immediately north of Elzevir Township, where Queensborough is located. It is called Grimsthorpe Township, and if you think that’s an ominous-sounding name, well – the place lives up to it. Grimsthorpe Township pretty much defines Canadian wilderness. There are no settlements and no permanent inhabitants (as far as I know – aside from the wildlife, notably the mosquitoes and blackflies, that is). When the hardy 19th-century surveyors who helped open up the Ontario backwoods to settlement and farming tried to survey Grimsthorpe, they gave up, deafeated by the terrain and the bugs. It is, as my friend Grant Ketcheson aptly puts it in his book The Camp at the Hayrake, The Land God Gave to Cain.

Which of course makes it perfect for a hunting camp!

And that is what the Camp at the Hayrake is; and in his book (which is available here) Grant lovingly tells the history of that camp, which he and his group have been going to every late fall for many decades. The book is a delightful collection of history, humour, reminiscences, light-hearted poems, photos – and sketches of the leading characters (and they are characters) by Lloyd Holmes. Even as someone who will never ever go hunting, I enjoyed the book thoroughly. (Of course, it helps that I know, or remember, many of the main players in it.)

Here is one more set of photos from The Camp at the Hayrake that I think gives a sense once again of the ruggedness of hunting-camp life, but also that camaraderie that I’ve been speaking about:

Camp at the Hayrake photos 2

From The Camp at the Hayrake, by Grant Ketcheson

I thought I’d leave you with one of Grant’s entertaining poems from the book, which nicely captures the adventure, the fun and the bonding that this group of hunters, and many others like them in our part of the world, experience as they go back to their cherished pieces of wilderness year after year. Take it away, Grant!

The Heroes of the Hayrake

The heroes of the hayrake are known throughout the land
As men whose woodland skills are nothing short of grand.
These gallant guys in Grimsthorpe are mighty men and tall,
They shoot a buck of twelve points or they don’t shoot at all.

They never shave the whiskers from off their thorny hide
They just pound them in with a hammer and bite them off inside.
They eat their meals a’running as through the woods they go.
The weather bothers not these men, rain or sleet or snow.

When they shoot a giant buck, one with a mighty rack,
They go right on a’hunting with it slung across their back.
Meals are taken on the run, they never stop to sleep,
And when they’re done with deer they pile partridge in a heap.

So if you meet a Hayrake Man in that northern land,
Say you’re pleased to meet him, go shake him by the hand.
Then you can tell a story your children sure will keep
Of how you knew the giants from the hayrake by the creek.

– Grant Ketcheson

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that I know many of the giants, past and present, from the Camp at the Hayrake. And you know what else I’m glad about? That it’s them, not me, who have to spend two weeks in the freezing wilderness stalking those deer.

The next big thing: our very own all-candidates night

All-candidates sign at the schoolWell! Now that the big annual St. Andrew’s United Church Turkey Supper has come and gone and we’ve all been well fed once again, it’s time to turn to the next major event coming Queensborough‘s way. That would, of course, be the all-candidates night this coming Monday, Oct. 6.

For those readers who live outside Ontario, let me explain that 2014 is a municipal-election year in this province – we have them every four years – and the election is taking place Monday, Oct. 27. (Here is a useful primer on Ontario municipal government and elections, courtesy of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.)

Now, as a journalist who spent many years covering municipal politics in Ontario, I can tell you with assurance that oftentimes municipal elections don’t attract much interest. For whatever reason, this year is different – or at least it is in our part of Eastern Ontario. For the past many months – since way before you’d expect people to be even thinking about this stuff – I’ve overheard and been involved in conversations with ordinary people about who might run for office and what issues need to be tackled. This extraordinary level of interest isn’t just being shown here in the GTA (Greater Tweed Area) of which Queensborough is a part; it’s also happening in Centre Hastings (a fancy name for the village of Madoc and the township to the south of it, Huntingdon), in Belleville (where there are seven candidates for mayor alone) – why, even in sleepy little Madoc Township right next to us here in Queensborough, all kinds of people have stepped up to challenge the incumbents.

Although our mayor, Jo-Anne Albert, has been acclaimed because no one challenged her, the race here in the Municipality of Tweed is not short of entrants. And that’s where the all-candidates night comes in.

Election signs

Even our quiet little hamlet is awash in campaign signs, as you can see here at the main intersection in “downtown” Queensborough.

From 7 to 9 p.m. this coming Monday, the candidates are invited to come to the Queensborough Community Centre (our historic former one-room schoolhouse), say their piece, and more to the point answer the questions that we local residents have for them as we try to reach a decision on whom to cast our votes for.

I am tickled that this has been organized in Queensborough (no thanks to me, by the way, though you can be sure I’ll be in the audience). It’s one of only two all-candidates nights to have been set up throughout this whole sprawling municipality, which includes the village of Tweed (where the other all-candidates night is taking place even as I write this) and the townships of Elzevir (that’s us here in Queensborough), Grimsthorpe and Hungerford (where other hamlets, including Stoco, Marlbank and Thomasburg are located). I think it is outstanding that little Queensborough should show such interest in municipal matters.

As well it should! Because here in our little hamlet, we often feel estranged from the politicians and the decisions they make way off there in “urban” Tweed. We wonder whether we’re getting the attention we deserve from those politicians (hey, we pay taxes too!), or whether they take us into consideration when making decisions. (Why, for instance, couldn’t the politicians work out a cost- and service-sharing arrangement with next-door Madoc Township so that the Madoc Township truck that picks up curbside garbage and recyclables – and that drives right through Queensborough on its route – could pick up ours too? Instead, if we have trash and recycling to get rid of [and who doesn’t?] we have to drive 15 miles to the Stoco dump on the far side of Tweed, burning up precious fossil fuels [not to mention precious time] in doing so. That’s kooky!)

Anyway. I expect there’ll be a good turnout and some lively discussion, and I am wholeheartedly looking forward to it. I hope to see lots of fellow voters there!

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.