Oldest gas station? Probably not. Great family history? Yes!

Pigden Motor Sales era ends

An excellent, though poignant, writeup about the Pigden family’s long tradition of car sales that appeared in the Belleville-based Community Press when the tradition ended in 1999 with the closure of the family’s large dealership in the north end of the village of Madoc. It was a tradition that began with Charlie Pigden’s Imperial gas station – the larger photo in the news story – in the hamlet of Eldorado – the very same gas station that piqued my interest, and that of many readers, a little while ago.

Who knew that a blog post about a no-longer-operational gas station would attract so much interest? I sure didn’t.

But my post early last month asking you readers to share what you know about a building in the hamlet of Eldorado – about 7½ miles west of the Manse here in Queensborough – that bears the prominent sign “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” certainly brought in the responses. Some came in the form of comments on my post, some in emails, and some in face-to-face conversations. This defunct gas station struck a nerve!

Canada's Oldest Gas Station

The sign on the building on the east side of Highway 62 in the hamlet of Eldorado is large, and intriguing. “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station”? Really?

Now, I think one reason for this is the prominent location of the building and its sign. If you’re heading south toward Madoc and then Belleville and Highway 401 from “points north” (as we used to say) – that is, the cottage country of northern Hastings County/Algonquin Park/Haliburton County – you’ll doubtless be travelling on busy Highway 62. And that building and sign are right beside the highway, so everyone who’s passed by for the past many years has seen the sign – and probably wondered about its claim.

But it’s become clear to me that another reason for the huge response I got is the importance of one family to the history – social history, economic history and every other kind of history – of our local area. The family who started this gas station is, as many of you knew, the Pigdens.

In my first post about the mysterious sign, I asked readers to turn the tables and tell me a story about that garage, rather than me telling them a story. Well, I got stories. And more stories. So many stories, in fact, that I think it’s going to take two blog posts (at least) to share with you what I’ve learned – and that’s not even counting the followup post I did a couple of weeks after the initial one.

Wow!

As I told you in that second post on the gas station and its intriguing sign, it was Charlie Pigden and his wife Keitha who opened the business back in (or about) 1920. Now, thanks to Charlie and Keitha’s granddaughter, Dianne (Pigden) Brick, I am able to show you a nice photo of them, along with the text of the obituary for Charlie that appeared (probably in the North Hastings Review) when he died in late 1967:

Charlie and Keitha Pigden

Charlie Pigden death notice

Dianne generously lent me a bulging file folder on Pigden family history, which I have gone through with great interest and from which I have learned a lot.

The folder included sections on the Pigdens and the garage from several books: Gerry Boyce’s Eldorado: Ontario’s First Gold Rush (I’m happy to say that my own copy of this book by Hastings County’s pre-eminent historian will be arriving in the mail any day now); ‘Way Back When…, a history of Madoc and Madoc Township by my 1970s Centre Hastings Secondary School contemporaries Ardith McKinnon (now Ardith Racey, and she’s still a great writer – check out this piece from the Globe and Mail) and Garnet Pigden, published in 1975 (I am a proud owner of a copy, a treasure found at a bargain price at a Madoc yard sale a few years back); Roses in December, a memoir by the late Reta (Woods) Pitts (the mother of Gayle Ketcheson, my Grade 1 teacher at Madoc Township Public School, and of course I own that book too); and even a book on the history of Watrous, Sask.– and I’ll get to its amazing contents in a minute.

Yes, the tiny hamlet of Eldorado was the site of Ontario’s first gold mine, as a plaque there attests. The 19th-century gold rush briefly turned the Madoc-Eldorado area into a boom town. (Photo from ontarioplaques.com)

As I mentioned in my second post on the “oldest gas station,” Gerry Boyce’s book tells us that for building materials when he erected the garage, Charlie Pigden used material from buildings that had been at a copper mine in Eldorado. Now, in case you didn’t know, in the 19th century Eldorado and this entire area of central Hastings County, including Queensborough, were awash, so to speak, in small mining operations. In fact, Eldorado was the site of Ontario’s first gold mine, something that is documented in a book called Quest for Gold by the late Isabella Shaw, a Queensborough native who lived in the Eldorado area all her adult life. Interestingly, Isabella’s book (I call her by her first name because, I am very proud to say, she was my friend) has a slightly different version of the story; this was pointed out to me by reader Tamara, a new resident of the hamlet of Cooper who is avidly studying the history of our area. Tamara emailed me:

In regards to the gas station, [Isabella’s] book reads, “On March 21st, 1920, Charles Pigden started a garage business in Eldorado … He first rented the Fitzgerald blacksmith shop and commenced doing garage work in the back of the shop. The following year he built the large Pigden Garage on the east side of the Hastings Road using materials from an old abandoned hotel in Eldorado.” … Note it says ‘hotel’ versus ‘mine.’ At any rate, if this was the case he wouldn’t have been able to start selling gas until 1921 or ’22. It goes on to say that he started selling cars in 1925, and that was “in addition to selling Imperial Oil products, such as gas and oil.” He also apparently sold tractors, and farm machinery, which included milking machines and radios.

Here is the information on the Pigden operation in Eldorado from ‘Way Back When…:

Mr. Pigden sold Willies Overland cars and in 1928 he sold the impressive total of 100 of these vehicles. He also sold Imperial Gas and Oil, which is still being sold at Pigden’s in 1975. [Note from Katherine: by 1975, when the book was published, Pigden’s Garage and car dealership had been located at its new home on Russell (or is that Russel?) Street in Madoc for 25 years.] In 1934, he started selling Dodge, Desoto and Dodge Trucks. That year he sold two air-flow Desoto cars  and the Chrysler Corp. at that time was offering a free trip to the World’s Fair in the United States [this seems to have been the “World of Progress” World’s Fair in Chicago, of which you can see some great film footage here] to any dealer who sold one Desoto car. Mr. Pigden and a friend obtained free trips as a result of good salesmanship. One of these cars sold in 1934 is still in operation in Madoc Village. [Alas, probably no more.] It is owned by a mechanic at Pigden’s garage, Wilfred Thompson,  and is renowned for its prize-wining antique car status.

To complement that, let me show you a real treasure that Dianne Brick loaned me: Charlie Pigden’s certificate from the Ontario Department of Labour in 1951 to ply the car-repair trade:

Garage certificate

It’s fragile and yellowed, but what a treasure! A certificate from the Ontario government attesting that Charlie Pigden’s garage was authorized to carry our motor-vehicle repairs. My thanks to Dianne (Pigden) Brick for trusting me with this wonderful artifact.

And speaking of treasures, let me share with you some recollections of Charlie Pigden’s garage that Gurney Barker, who grew up near Eldorado in the early-middle part of the 20th century, includes in his Memories of Country Life 1939-1957. Gurney very generously sent me a copy of his memoirs a while back, and they are an amazing glimpse into rural life in this area during that period. I promise this excerpt will take you straight back to a simpler time :

Memories of Country Life by Gurney Barker

Gurney Barker’s memoir is full of tales about growing up “north of 7,” and it’s a wonderful read. I am so thrilled that he sent me a copy.

When I was in public school, Charlie Pigden sold Chrysler cars and Ferguson tractors from [his garage]. In the 1940s his gasoline was dispensed from  one of those old double glass pumps right out in front of the garage and next to the road. When you drove up, the attendant used a hand lever to pump the glass full. The gasoline was then fed by gravity into your car’s fuel tank. Graduations on the glass indicated how much fuel (in gallons) you had received. Pigden’s was also the place where we had our radio “A” batteries recharged. Those were lead-acid wet cells, sometimes special two-volt assembles, but more often just car batteries. When the radio faded out and if the tube filaments were no longer glowing, you took the battery down to the garage and left it there. After a couple of days you could pick it up fully charged. I think the price for the service was around 75 cents.

Honee Orange

Honee Orange, sold at Pigden’s Garage back in the day, was made by the Pure Spring company of Ottawa.

Like so many of those places, there was always a soft drink dispenser out in front of Pigden’s garage. It was a horizontal chilled-water tank about the size and shape of a small modern chest freezer. You put your nickel into a slot, opened the lid and slid your selection along some metal rails and through a one-way gate. Bottled Orange Crush, Honee Orange and Cream Soda were popular choices. I almost never selected Coca-Cola because it was available only in those famous little 10-ounce green-tinted bottles. All other brands including Pepsi came in 12-ounce bottles and at the same price

Wow. As someone who remembers those same freezer-chest-type soft-drink dispensers (in the general stores of my Queensborough childhood), all I can say is: Take me back there. Right now.

Reader Lisa, who herself writes a blog on genealogy and history, found and sent this – census information from 1921 that lists Charles Pigden as a “garage man.” Yes, I (and Lisa) know it’s kind of hard to read. Click on the photo to get an enlarged version, and then click again (on the lower right of your screen) on “View full size,” and then you still may have to zoom in a bit; but the info about Charlie, Keitha and family is in the third section down:

Here are a couple of artifacts from the Pigden garage that were also included in the package that Dianne lent me. Remember when businesses gave our rulers?

Pigden ruler
Pigden pencil

The information about the Pigden garage and car dealership that is contained in Reta Pitts’s Roses in December: Memories of a Life of Change focuses on the later years when the business had moved to Madoc. And it’s led to a question I have for you. Mrs. Pitts writes:

In 1949, the more than 10,000 square foot Russell Street building was erected with the full Chrysler line (Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, Valiant). Business was booming and by this time Charlie had a large staff, including salesmen. Madoc boasted five car dealers by the time and, although competitors, they were first and foremost good friends.”

That, people, is seriously good small-town stuff. Now here’s my problem (and question): I can name four of those five car dealers – or at least I think I can. Pigden’s was the Chrysler dealership; Derry’s was General Motors; Brett’s was Ford; Armstrong’s was – help! And who was the fifth?

Now: one last stop on this journey through the past before we move on to the question of whether that Eldorado building really is (or was) “Canada’s oldest gas station.” And that stop is the small town of Watrous, Sask., which you can learn more about on the town’s website here.

In the package of family history that Dianne Brick loaned to me, there are pages photocopied from a book on that prairie town’s history. Charlie Pigden gets a mention in a section devoted to the memories of Watrous resident Cora Fargey, aged 92 at the time of the book’s publication. Cora and her husband, Peter, left their native Ontario in about 1910 to homestead in Saskatchewan. They may well have been from this area; Cora recalls that she and her small son (Peter had gone on ahead) boarded the train for the West in Ivanhoe, a hamlet a bit south of Madoc. “Little did I know what lay ahead of me,” she says, with some understatement.

Cora and Peter Fargey

Cora and Peter Fargey, Saskatchewan homesteaders.

Charlie Pigden is mentioned very briefly; Cora recalls him being in Watrous to help her husband dig the well for the family home. (Those were the days when, I gather, it was quite common for folks from this part of the world to travel west for short or longer periods, seeking jobs and opportunities. My own paternal grandfather, J.B. Sedgwick, did the same thing in the early 20th century before returning to his native Haliburton County.) But I was knocked sideways by other parts of Cora’s story, namely the hardships she and her family endured. The endless, lonely prairie with no roads, only tracks filled with gopher and badger holes. Mosquitoes so thick that you had to have a “smudge” (smoke, not the best for one’s pulmonary health) going indoors at all times to try to keep them away. Frequent prairie fires. And this:

The first winter, we lived in just one room, which was heated with a cookstove. We slept three in a bed to keep warm. The bedclothes would often freeze to the wall. We had no storm doors or windows the first year. It was cold!

People, from now on, whenever I am tempted to think that I have some hardship in my life, I’m going to call to mind Cora, Peter, their young son, and the bedclothes frozen to the wall. And I will realize that I have nothing to complain about.

Okay, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Or at least, the moment that you may possibly have been waiting for. Could the building that once housed Pigden’s Garage in tiny Eldorado really have been “Canada’s oldest gas station”?

The answer seems to be: almost certainly not.

I am obligated to some readers who did this research for me. Here’s this from Tamara:

“My hunch told me that the sign must be hyperbole, so that led me to check the Imperial Oil company website and I’m afraid to say, it doesn’t seem like Eldorado makes the cut: http://www.imperialoil.ca/en-ca/company/about/history/our-history.

And this from my friend Gary, who I think discovered the same website as Tamara did. He found and sent this photo showing supposedly the world’s first gas station, considerably earlier than 1920 and a long way west of Eldorado:

First Esso gas station

However, Gary also hopefully suggests that maybe the Eldorado operation was the oldest surviving gas station – that is, when it was still surviving, which it no longer is: “Perhaps all the others from the 1920s or earlier might be gone, or replaced. Who knows?!”

Who knows, indeed? People, I am still open to new information and any light you can shed on this question.

But in the meantime, I’m gearing up to share with you a next-generation chapter of Pigden history. You see, the garage operation in Eldorado and Madoc was quite a thing, and is still fondly remembered by many; but Charlie and Keitha’s son Gordon went in a whole different direction in his own Eldorado-and-then-Madoc business – and that’s a whole other story, (Remember how I told you it would take at least two posts for me to tell you the whole thing?)

I’m going to whet your appetite with this great story from Grant Ketcheson – husband of my first-grade teacher Gayle, and son-in-law of Reta Pitts – which links the Charlie Pigden story to the generation that followed Charlie, and especially the interesting pursuits of Gordon:

In early November 1946, my parents decided to go to the Royal Winter Fair [in Toronto] and take [Grant’s sister] Betty and me. [Youngest sister] Bev was just a baby, so she stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Ketcheson. As it was a looong way to Toronto in a 1935 Dodge, we were leaving early, long before daylight. A problem arose when the windshield wipers did not work. Dad phoned Harold Pigden and we drove to Pigden’s Garage in Eldorado. Harold, the middle son, could fix anything that looked even slightly mechanical. He bragged that he could weld anything except the crack of dawn or a broken heart! But I digress. Harold promptly fixed the windshield wiper and one of my lasting memories is of my dad telling us when he got back into the car, “Harold says that Gordon got his TV working last night and he got a signal from the States.” Also, my parents told me about hearing Gordon’s clandestine radio broadcast, from the “shores of beautiful Mud Lake.” Mike Quinn, who worked at Blue’s Hotel, told me he used to call Gord whenever the government communications guys checked in for the night, planning the next day to check on this illegal radio station that they had heard about. Mike said he would call Pigden’s Garage and by the time they went there the next day, there was no radio station to be found!

Is that good or what? “He could weld anything except the crack of dawn or a broken heart!” A local rogue radio station dodging the G-men! (Okay, the Canadian version of G-men.) Again: wow!

Obviously there is more of this story to be told. In the immediate future I need to use this space to fill you in on fantastic events that are coming soon to Queensborough: a real, honest-to-God old-fashioned square dance at the Orange Hall; the Ham Supper and a second annual Music Night at St. Andrew’s United Church; the kayakers coming for their annual plunge over the Black River dam; and a social evening to talk about new directions for our community.

But you can be sure I will share the story of Gordon Pigden and his amazing life and work before too much longer. And for that, of course, I again owe my thanks to all the readers who have shared stories about Gord, and especially to the Pigden family.

On the front of that folder full of family history that Dianne (Pigden) Brick lent to me, she had affixed a clipped-out quote:

Pericles quote

Thanks to the memories and research that Dianne and so many others have shared with me, I think – at least I hope – that I’ve been able to show how true that is: how the legacy of one family – and by extension, of all families – is woven into our lives, and has become part of who and what we are. Including selling Desotos, drinking Honee Orange, surviving bedclothes frozen to the wall, and broadcasting “from the shores of beautiful Mud Lake.”

This time it’s your turn to tell ME a story.

Lounge: Gas and Food

The vintage sign suggests comfort: a place to stop, get warm and get both your vehicle and yourself refuelled. Unfortunately, these days it’s an empty promise because the food, fuel, groceries and ice cream still proclaimed on signs at “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” in the hamlet of Eldorado are no longer available, the operation having closed down an undetermined number of years ago.

My friends, I’ve told you a lot of stories over a thousand-odd posts since Meanwhile, at the Manse began in January 2012. This time, I want you to tell me a story.

Here’s what has prompted my request.

A couple of weekends ago, I was driving south down Highway 62 toward Madoc, having returned some borrowed books about old-home restoration to a friend in the hamlet of Bannockburn.

As I zipped through the next hamlet south of Bannockburn, which is Eldorado – a tiny but historic place, being the site of Ontario’s first gold mine and all, and as close as rural Madoc Township gets to having a township seat – something that I’d vaguely noticed many times before suddenly stopped me in my tire tracks. As I reversed up the highway so as to get a closer look and some photos, I said to myself, “Self, what on Earth is the deal with that ‘Canada’s Oldest Gas Station’ sign?” Here, take a look at what I mean:

Canada's Oldest Gas Station

Canada’s Oldest Gas Station? In Eldorado? Really? I need to know the story behind this.

People, why would tiny North-of-7 Eldorado be the home of Canada’s oldest gas station?

Or at least, what maybe once was Canada’s oldest gas station. Since this gas station is no longer a gas station, perhaps another one still in operation somewhere else across the length and breadth of our vast nation has usurped its claim.

“Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” still has gas pumps, but they’ve clearly not been used for some time:

Gas tanks at Canada's Oldest Gas Station

The gas pumps at the onetime gas station are definitely not the pay-with-your-card type that you see most of the time these days. It looks like Canada’s Oldest Gas Station was a full-serve operation.

And it still has signage proclaiming all the things that one could once have purchased there when stopping for gas, including “Great Food,” “Ice Cream,” “Takeout” and “Groceries”:

Groceries and ice cream at Canada's Oldest Gas Station

But clearly none of this is any longer on offer to the travelling public. This place that must once have been the hot spot of Eldorado looks long-shuttered, sadly.

So I’d like anyone who knows about this to tell me the story of what it once was. And mainly I’d like to know whether it’s true that this place in tiny Eldorado is (or was) Canada’s Oldest Gas Station, and how that came to be.

And here’s another thing I’d like to know, about myself and, perhaps, all of you: I’d like to know how many times in our days, our weeks and our lives we pass by interesting and/or odd things – such as a sign in Eldorado proclaiming “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” – and pay them little or no mind. How many stories, how many pieces of our collective and community history, do we miss learning about and passing on to future generations because we – like me, every time I drove south through Eldorado except this one last time – don’t stop to wonder about, and maybe look into, what’s right before our eyes?

Lesson learned for me. Now, Eldorado, Bannockburn and Madoc Township people: please tell me the story of Canada’s Oldest Gas Station!

Getting to the other side should not be this risky

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone! If you happened to be travelling this holiday weekend, I hope you made it there and back again safely, and in between enjoyed a happy time over good food with family and/or friends.

But speaking of getting there and back again safely, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to point out a dangerous spot on the route that I and many of my fellow Queensborough-area residents drive every single day, often more than once a day. In doing so, I’m hoping to raise some awareness and give the people who might be able to do something about the situation – which includes me and my fellow Queensborough-area residents – a bit of a push to do just that: do something about it.

The dangerous spot in question is the intersection of busy Highway 7 – part of the southern Ontario route of the Trans-Canada Highway – and Cooper Road, which runs north from 7 to the hamlets of Cooper and – when you turn east off it at Hazzard’s Corners – to Queensborough. (On the south side of 7, Cooper Road becomes Wellington Street in the village of Madoc.) For us residents of Queensborough and Cooper and surrounding rural areas, “town” – the place where you buy your groceries, do you banking, etc. – is generally Madoc, which lies directly across that busy intersection. We also use the intersection to get from home to points further south via Highway 62, which runs into Madoc; I take that route to Belleville every weekday to get to work, and many others do the same.

The problem is that there is no traffic control at the intersection aside from a stop sign with a flashing red light above it on the north and south sides – in other words, nothing to stop or slow down the fast-moving traffic on Highway 7 to allow us north- or southbounders through.

Heading south into Madoc, or north on the way home, it’s rare that we don’t have to wait for one or more cars or transport trucks to pass on Highway 7 so that we can safely cross. Everybody’s used to that.

But there are many times in the year – notably during the summer months, when Highway 7 is crammed with vacationers pulling camper vans heading both east and west, and also on holiday weekends like this one just ended – when the traffic comes in a steady, speedy stream. You have to be so patient and so careful, constantly looking in both directions, for a space between vehicles that’s sufficient for you to zip across. On really busy days the wait can be five minutes or more. To get an idea of what we’re up against, click on my video at the top of this post: I took it early this afternoon. I didn’t wait for the Highway 7 traffic to get crazy – just pulled over to the side of Cooper Road and filmed the first minute’s worth of traffic that came by. What you see is utterly typical of the highway under summer and holiday-weekend conditions.

The danger, of course, is that people, being people, get impatient waiting to get across. They may be late, or in a hurry to get somewhere, or just have a very low tolerance for waiting. Impatience and frustration can lead to risk-taking: darting through the fast-moving east-west traffic when there isn’t enough between-car space to make it across safely. I’ve seen the aftermath of one very nasty accident at that intersection, and I have no doubt that there have been quite a few more.

Wellington Street and Highway 7

The sign on the south side of the busy intersection: Highway 7 and Wellington Street in the village of Madoc. On the north side, Wellington Street becomes Cooper Road, Hastings County Road 12.

I’ve been thinking about this problem for some time, doubtless because, as mentioned, I use that intersection at least twice every weekday and several times on weekends too. But I got prompted to write this post because of a story a Queensborough neighbour told me a couple of weeks ago. His wife had been driving east on Highway 7, signalled and stopped to turn left (north) onto Cooper Road toward Queensborough, and was struck by a tractor-trailer. Mercifully the truck driver saw his error in time to swerve a bit and hit primarily the passenger side (she was driving alone) rather than crashing straight into the back of the car. She did not suffer any major injuries, though her car of course did; and my lord, what an absolutely terrifying experience. You see, in addition to there being no lights to control Highway 7 traffic at the intersection, there are also no turn lanes for the many vehicles that turn north off it toward Queensborough or Cooper, or south into Madoc. Yikes.

In contrast, just a short way west on 7, at another busy intersection – in this case, where Highway 7 meets Highway 62 – a set of traffic lights controls things and keeps everybody safe. Yes, impatient people, you do have to wait for the light to change from green to red – but isn’t that 45 seconds or so a heck of a lot better than waiting indefinitely for a gap in traffic at an uncontrolled intersection, and maybe taking a big risk when that gap doesn’t come soon enough for your liking? Here’s another video from today to show you how everything’s under control there, even on a super-busy traffic day:

I haven’t looked into this situation enough to know why there are lights at one busy Madoc intersection and not at another; perhaps the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (which I assume makes the decisions on traffic lights on provincial highways) gives priority to an intersection of two highways – in this case, 7 and 62 – over a one-highway/one county road – Highway 7 and Hastings County Road 12 (Cooper Road) – intersection.

But shouldn’t safety come before ministry priorities?

Highway 7 is pretty much the dividing line between two municipalities: Madoc Township to the north and Centre Hastings (which includes the village of Madoc) to the south. Not long ago I asked a member of Centre Hastings council about this situation; the council member told me that the transportation ministry is the body that has to take action. The advice I got was to gather people’s voices and ask the ministry to do something. Which I suppose is what I’m doing here, although I think it would be appropriate for the councils of Centre Hastings and Madoc Township to weigh in with the ministry as well. Horrible highway accidents are not in anyone’s best interest; safe roads are good news for everyone.

I spent some time this evening poking around the transportation ministry’s website, and you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I could find no obvious link for “I want to report a dangerous intersection where your ministry should install traffic lights.” I suspect that the best way to start on this one is to contact our elected representative at Queen’s Park. Members of Provincial Parliament have staff and contacts and know-how about government affairs that we ordinary people do not; plus what they’re paid to do is represent us on matters that concern us. Our MPP is Todd Smith, and he’s a friendly guy who was right here in Queensborough just recently, for our wildly successful Historic Queensborough Day. If you agree that this intersection needs a look and some action by the ministry, you can ask Todd to speak on our behalf by calling his constituency office in Belleville (613-962-1144; toll-free 1-877-536-6248), emailing him at todd.smithco@pc.ola.org, or writing to him at P.O. Box 575, Belleville, Ont., K8N 5B2.

Sir John A. speaks, Historic Queensborough Day

See that chap in the blue polo shirt standing behind Sir John A. Macdonald (I am not making this up) on Historic Queensborough Day last month? That’s Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith, and he’s the guy to contact if you agree with me that the Highway 7 intersection that many of us use every day could be made safer by the provincial transportation ministry.

And while you’re at it, why not contact some or all of the members of Centre Hastings council (click here for contact info) and Madoc Township council (members here, though contact information is a little skimpy; the township office’s number is 613-473-2677, and you can contact the township clerk by email at clerk@madoc.ca) to ask them to make the case to both Todd Smith and the transportation ministry?

Elmer the Safety ElephantAs we saw with the successful battle to save Madoc Township Public School, it is possible to make rural voices, issues and concerns heard. But that won’t happen unless we take it upon ourselves to speak up.

And hey, let’s hark back for a moment to my midcentury Queensborough childhood and ask: what would Elmer the Safety Elephant do?

The mighty moose, felled

moose

“Where still the mighty moose wanders at will” went the words of a song many of us learned in school. This photo is how I like to think of moose – not what they look like when they have been hunted down and killed. (Photo from the website of the Canadian Wildlife Federation)

So there I was, standing at the ATM in the front lobby of the Toronto-Dominion Bank in Madoc, beside a window that looks out onto the village’s main intersection. Vehicles coming from all directions meet, stop, and give each other priority at this busy four corners. Cars pausing at the four-way stop while travelling north may bear people heading home from jobs in Belleville. Vehicles travelling east and west may be taking people to and from those edges of town, or further afield to Tweed (to the east) or Marmora (to the west). Or they may be bound all the way to Ottawa or Toronto or beyond.

As for those coming through from the north, down Highway 62 from Bancroft or places much more northerly than that: often they are huge trucks carrying logs cut from the woodlands up there, travelling to the mills in the south where they will be turned into lumber and/or paper products. Those trucks always remind me that not very far away from us here in the Queensborough area are vast swathes of Canada’s natural resources. In the summertime, meanwhile, you see cars and trucks pulling boat trailers, or with kayaks or bikes on the roof racks – cottagers and adventurers returning to the city from vacations on the lakes and rivers of the near north.

At this time of year, though, you see something else. You see the hunters returning with their trophies.

That is what caught my eye when I glanced out the window for a split-second while waiting for the ATM transaction to finish. There was a big pickup truck pulling a big trailer – nothing unusual so far. Then I saw something huge, pointy and broad. It registered: antlers, probably more than a yard across. And what was that massive rounded mound sticking so far above the side of the trailer? It was the size of my entire upper body. It was, of course, the muzzle of a moose. A gigantic moose. As the truck turned the corner to carry on southward, I could see the moose’s long legs tied together, also sticking up into the air.

My first reaction was shock at the sheer size of the beast. I’ve had few experiences with moose; there was a smallish one crossing the highway once in front of a car I was in (mercifully not travelling very fast); and after that, maybe a couple of stuffed ones in natural-history museums. But even that limited experience told me that the dead one I’d just seen was not your average moose. This was truly the “mighty moose” of that old Canadian folk song we learned in school. In the song, of course, the mighty moose, used as a symbol of the essence of Canada’s wildlands, “wanders at will.” Not this moose. Not any more. Never again.

My sadness about that is the more lasting reaction I’m having to the surprise sighting of the moose though the bank window. The sadness is sticking to me, so much so that I find myself writing about it quite a few days after the fact of spotting the moose’s carcass.

Hunting ad in the local paper

Ads like this in the local paper used to catch me by surprise. Not any more.

We live in an area where hunting season is huge. I have been away from the city long enough now that I am no longer surprised, or even taken aback, when our weekly newspapers have full-front-page ads for guns and other hunting gear come October and November. Or when the parking lots of local restaurants are a sea of trucks and trailers hauling rugged ATVs – groups of hunters stopping for a meal before heading into the bush. I have finally learned not to expect men to be available for social events or anything else in the weeks when deer hunting is open. I understand, and have written about, the camaraderie of the hunting camp. I totally get that hunting is extremely important for this area’s economy. I get it that it takes skill, endurance and hard work to be a good hunter, and that many, probably most, hunters have a deep respect for the animals that are their quarry. I know that they love the woodlands and the wilds that are so important to Canada, and that a lot of them work to protect those wild places.

All those things I know in my head.

But in my heart is this: a sadness that will not go away over the sight of that moose, that magnificent beast, killed and trussed up and being hauled south. And for what? Food? Maybe; maybe. A set of antlers on a wall? Probably. Is that really worth the death of such a magnificent – yes, mighty – creature, a symbol of our country?

Like I said, I get the hunting thing, that there are reasons for hunting to be allowed, that it’s important to many people (many of whom are my friends), for many reasons. All of that.

But I have a very hard time believing that anyone or anything in this world is better off because of the killing of that mighty moose. I mourn for him. And I think I always will.

The stories that we tell

Madoc Ontario c. 1960 (from postcard)

A postcard showing off the main street of Madoc in about 1960 (a very good year), generously shared by fellow central Hastings County storyteller Russell Prowse.

One of the absolute best things about being the creator, curator and general dogsbody here at Meanwhile, at the Manse is that quite often readers share their stories with me. This brings two large benefits. One, the stories are invariably enlightening and/or entertaining – whether they be about local (i.e. Queensborough-area) history, or about their own family history, or old-home-renovation success or horror stories, or memories from the mid-20th-century era when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, or – well, whatever. And the second big benefit is that these stories provide me with interesting new material to in turn share with the readership as a whole, and thus to build up the amount of shared knowledge and anecdotes that one can find right here at Manse Central. And of course, stories that come in and are shared tend to prompt even more memories and stories. It’s a productive and happy little process.

Pigden Motor Sales sign at Bush Furniture

The old Pigden Motor Sales sign that made a brief reappearance during renovations to the exterior of the building’s current occupant, Bush Furniture.

Today I want to share a story that is not my own, but that is very close to home. It comes from reader Russell Prowse, who posted a comment a little while back on a post I did about the brief reappearance (due to some renovations at Bush Furniture in Madoc) of a long-ago sign from when the building housed Pigden’s Garage. Since some readers probably won’t have seen the comment, here’s what it said:

“I have a postcard of Madoc from about 1958 or 1959 which is a photo of Highway 62 in the centre of town, facing north. Directly opposite Kincaid Brothers’ Red & White Super Market and immediately south of the Madoc 5c & 10c store, beside the Cafe Moira, is a large sign over the western sidewalk that reads “Ford, Monarch, Falcon”. [Note from Katherine: I believe this would have been Brett’s Garage.] I imagine it identified only the office for the dealership. I can’t imagine there was any kind of showroom in that small storefront for any vehicles sporting those three venerable badges. I wish I could give further clarification, but I was a very young kid at the time, and my family of cottagers were just beginning our long relationship with Madoc’s main street. I’d love to send you a copy of the postcard if you’d be interested. Thanks for your great efforts in providing such happy memories. More power to you.”

Now if that isn’t the kind of comment to gladden a blog writer’s heart, I don’t know what is!

Of course I responded to Russell’s comment on the blog. But I also sent him a private email – when people post comments, I am able to see their email address, though other readers are not – thanking him for his kind words and issuing a hearty invitation to send along that vintage picture postcard of main-street Madoc. Which he did!

Now, it turned out that it was a picture that had crossed my path before, and that I’d written about after discovering it framed and hanging in the Madoc used-book store The Bookworm; that post is here. But my photo of it at the time of that post, back in 2014, was basically a picture of a picture, reflections in the glass and weird angle and all. Thanks to Russell scanning the postcard, you can see the real thing at the top of this post, and it is a lovely trip back in time for anyone who remembers Madoc in the middle of the last century.

But really, even better than the picture was Russell’s own story of his connection with Madoc and how he came to have that postcard. And so this evening I’m going to let him tell the story. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy:

My connection with Madoc is due to my family’s yearly summer visits to Steenburg Lake, north of Madoc, near the hamlets of Gilmour and St. Ola.

Our Mom would drive us up from Toronto on the last day of school and we’d return on Labour Day. We were so lucky. We have been going there for sixty years now, starting when I was about five, and we still own our cottage. The postcard (probably purchased at the Rexall) just slightly pre-dates my strongest memories of the street: I don’t remember Cafe Moira, but I certainly remember the Madoc five and dime for its bags of plastic toy soldiers and beach paraphernalia. I remember Stickwood’s, where we could buy Bell brand (as in Belleville) flannel shirts. I would look at the records at Pigden’s, and buy my comics at Johnston’s Rexall. But across the street, in Rupert’s, the other drug store, where the really, really nice white-haired man worked, I would gaze, week after week, with deep longing at an outstanding collection of harmonicas on sale. Harmonicas! Eventually I bought my first Hohner Chromatic there with, I suspect, a little financial help from him (the Chromatic’s the one with the little push button at the side, like Stevie Wonder plays, and it isn’t cheap), and the white-haired man tossed in his friendly encouragement as a bonus. I wish I could remember his name. I’ll never forget his kindness.

Our shopping day was Thursday, I think, and that meant lunches at Richard’s Restaurant, SW corner of 62 and 7, which we called Johnny’s because we believed that was the name of the man who ran it. I’ll have a turkey sandwich – all white meat, please – on white with fries and a chocolate shake, and excuse me but I have to get up and put a another dime in the jukebox for another play of “Surf City“. That would be the third play, actually, but nobody seemed to mind. I bloody loved that place!

sunset on Steenburg Lake

This is our part of the world: sunset over Steenburg Lake, a little over a half-hour’s drive north of Queensborough. (Photo from the “Scenes from the Lake” gallery at the website of the Steenburg Lake Community Association)

My Dad was the type of guy who went out of his way to get to know people, and that included Kel Kincaid. They were a lot alike, kind of boisterous and sometimes a little too in your face for some. But my Mom and Dad got to know everybody who worked at the Red & White and later the IGA and when we finally got a phone at the cottage they began the habit of calling ahead to the store’s butcher and ordering the week’s BBQ. They swore by “Madoc Meat”. At Steenburg (at the time, still known as Bass) Lake, about half the population of cottagers would make the trek north to Bancroft for supplies. But we always drove the couple of extra miles south to Madoc because we felt it was maybe a bit gentler, a bit friendlier. And for Mom and Dad, that lasted to end of their days. After Kel died and his daughter and son-in-law took over, the friendship continued and in fact they held a bit of a party for my parents’ 50th anniversary – a wonderful and sweet gesture.

I have always felt as though the town was mine too, even though I would only engage with it for a few months a year. I have mourned the losses over the years of the buildings on that street, and the fading of the town. It troubles me. Because I love it.

What absolutely wonderful memories! I think Russell has told the story of many, many families who have come from the city to spend summers enjoying the quiet lakes of central and northern Hastings CountyMoira Lake, Stoco Lake, Crowe Lake, Weslemkoon Lake and so on – and also enjoying their occasional visits to “town” for turkey sandwiches, shopping at the five and dime, and maybe the latest hits on the jukebox. As for sadness about Madoc not being as busy as it once was, I told Russell in my email reply that I too am sad for what is gone, but optimistic about the future thanks to the local-food movement that is starting to take effect in our area; the number of arts companies and arts projects (the arts being the lifeblood of interesting, healthy communities); and to the inevitable spinoff effects of the enormous popularity of our immediate geographical neighbour to the south, Prince Edward County. (Then again, do we really want the rest of the world to discover the secret of our own beautiful and semi-hidden part of the world? Maybe not.)

Anyway, the stories are just great.

As I was starting to think about writing this post, I found there was a long-ago and almost-forgotten song lyric running around in my head – something about “the stories that we tell.” As you can see, I used it for my title, but even at the time I wrote that title I couldn’t remember the song that the line came from. A bit of searching and some memory work finally turned it up, and I thought sharing it might be a nice way to end this post – what with Russell having got the music theme going with his recollection of playing Jan and Dean on the jukebox at Richard’s Restaurant in Madoc all those years ago. The song was written by John Sebastian, but the version I know (from the album called A1A) is by the one and only Jimmy Buffett. What he says at the end of this live performance pretty much goes for me tonight – to Russell and to all readers who share their memories: “Thank you for the stories; thank you for the fun!”

From the icy Northwest Passage to farm life in Ivanhoe

Gauen Cemetery historic-site sign

The newly erected historical-site sign along Highway 62 in the farm country just north of the central Hastings County hamlet of Ivanhoe. What’s it all about? Something very cool. Read on!

People, have you ever put the phrase “Northwest Passage” and “Ivanhoe” together in the same thought or sentence? My guess is that the answer is no, regardless of whether the word “Ivanhoe” conjures up for you the name of a novel by Sir Walter Scott or a hamlet in central Hastings County. So you may be surprised to learn that there is a very direct connection between the two, and I’m talking Ivanhoe the hamlet now – a place perhaps best-known as the home of the Ivanhoe Cheese Factory, one of the last of the dozens, if not hundreds, of cheese factories that once dotted Hastings County back when it was a full-on dairy-farming, cheese-producing place.

Now, readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse who happen to live in the QueensboroughMadoc-Tweed-Ivanhoe area will probably know what I’m about to get into here, because this very interesting story has been well-covered in our weekly newspapers recently. But since most of you live considerably outside the borders of Hastings County, I thought I’d share this very cool bit of local history. I mean, it doesn’t get much more Canadian-history than the Franklin Expedition’s search for the Northwest Passage, does it?

As most of us who can remember a bit of our Canadian history know, Sir John Franklin was head of a British expedition that in 1845 set off to try to find a way through the Northwest Passage, the elusive Arctic route that would have made 19th-century transportation between Asia and Europe phenomenally easier than it otherwise was (what with that long and pesky trip around South America and the Straits of Magellan and all that). Franklin’s ships, the gorgeously named Erebus and Terror, got stuck in the ice, and all 129 men aboard died.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have always found the story of the Franklin Expedition and the Northwest Passage to be quite haunting. To imagine those poor men slowly dying of cold and starvation (and let’s not even get into the cannibalism angle that their desperation drove them to) in that vast frozen emptiness, all in the great cause of discovery and exploration – it gives me shivers, and has ever since I was a kid growing up here at the Manse in Queensborough, when I first learned the story in history classes at Madoc Township Public School.

The famous – and also haunting – song called Northwest Passage by Canadian folk-music legend Stan Rogers probably also has something to do with that frisson that I feel. I’ll get to that song in a bit, though I’m sure many of you are familiar with it and it’s already running around in your head.

Anyway, as you probably remember, the fate of the Franklin Expedition was not known right away, which is hardly surprising; at a time when any form of communication was slow even when it was’t scarce, there certainly would have been no way for the men on the stranded expedition to let the world know of their plight. And so rescue missions were sent out. And that’s where the Ivanhoe connection to the story comes in. I will let the plaque at the site marked by the sign on Highway 62 tell the story (and if you’re having trouble reading it, just click on the photo for an enlargement):

Gauen Cemetery plaque

Now isn’t that something? A chap who served as a carpenter’s mate on a ship sent to find signs of the Franklin Expedition, and that mapped the Northwest Passage – a huge accomplishment – became an immigrant to Canada, a farmer at Ivanhoe, and one of the founders of the Ivanhoe Cheese Company. And he and his wife are buried on their farm, a place that is still being farmed all these years later.

And now, thanks to the work of the Madoc Lions Club, Gay Lea Foods (owner of Ivanhoe Cheese) and the Municipality of Centre Hastings, their graves have a historical marker and a plaque explaining the significance. You can watch the ceremony at which the tiny historic cemetery was dedicated this past September, in a video filmed by my friends at CHTV cable TV Madoc, here.

I think this is all very, very cool.

Here are some more of my photos of the site, in case you are not able to visit it yourself:

Gauen Cemetery

The small fenced-off cemetery where Henry Gauen and his wife, Mary, are buried. It’s right on a farm that is still very much in operation, and were it not for the sign pointing it out, most people driving by would certainly miss this interesting historic spot.

Henry Gauen

Henry Gauen himself, who became an important person in early central Hastings agricultural and business life. This photo is part of the plaque at the Gauen cemetery.

Franklin mission photo at Gauen cemetery

A painting about the Franklin Expedition and subsequent search, also from the plaque at the Gauen Cemetery. It shows a scene a long, long way from Ivanhoe.

Grave markers at Gauen Cemetery

The graves of Henry and Mary Gauen. Note how on Henry’s is marked “McClure Arctic Expedition,” Robert McClure having been the commander of the ship Investigator on which Henry sailed as part of a mission to find the Franklin Expedition. This is not something you find on many Hastings County grave markers!

I just think this is an amazing piece of local history, and I also think it’s wonderful that this tiny cemetery – where Henry Gauen, carpenter’s mate on a long and desperately dangerous mission to find the Franklin Expedition, lies buried – has been preserved and, now, suitably marked and honoured.

So hey, in the spirit of things, let’s listen to a group of young men from the University of Waterloo perform that haunting song by Stan Rogers about the Northwest Passage. And while you listen, think of Henry Gauen, who went from sailor and Arctic explorer to Ivanhoe farmer and cheesemaker. I’m sure he would agree with me when I say it seems like a safe and happy ending to an adventurous life. Tracing one warm line, so to speak:

Bonnie Hart, that is one heck of a 1960s music scrapbook!

John, Paul and George

I believe you know who these gentlemen are. It’s the yellowed, scotch-taped pages on which I found these photos that I want to tell you about. Remember scrapbooks?

“What should I write about for my Thanksgiving-weekend instalment of Mondays at the Manse?” was the question on my mind last Friday afternoon as I drove home to Queensborough after a long week at work. I was admiring the beautiful fall foliage as the northward-on-Highway-62 miles sped by when the answer came to me out of my radio, courtesy of an old Beatles song – I think it was Please Please Me. Freddy Vette, the hugely popular host of the afternoon/early evening show of 1950s and ’60s hits on good old CJBQ radio, was devoting the whole program to the music of John Lennon. Why? Because Friday would have been John Lennon’s 75th birthday. Wow.

(If you’re in the mood for a lot of John Lennon music, Freddy has posted the whole show on his blog. Click here for a listen.)

Anyway, those great old songs – many of which, I should add, date from the years when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse – got me thinking about something I’ve been wanting to share with Meanwhile, at the Manse readers. It is a treasure that came in the form of a gift from Raymond on my birthday this past July, and it was one of the best gifts ever. And appropriately enough, it came from a little antiques and collectibles shop in the hamlet of Ivanhoe, through which I zoomed on Friday on my way home as Freddy played Stand By Me and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Norwegian Wood and so on.

It was a scrapbook, people! Remember scrapbooks? Yes, I know that “scrapbooking” is kind of a thing once again, but I confess that as a grammar nerd I am put off by the fake verb alone. So whatever people (and I believe it is grownups, not teenage girls) are putting in scrapbooks in 2015 – well, you’re on your own, folks. Not my thing.

Bonnie Hart's scrapbook

But this was a real scrapbook, a 29¢ product from the venerable Canadian company Hilroy, one in which a teenage girl of the 1960s – perhaps growing up somewhere in the Ivanhoe area, i.e. right here in Hastings County – had taped and pasted and otherwise preserved photos and news clippings and bubble-gum cards featuring primarily the Beatles but also a treasure trove of other 1960s bands and performers, including some rather weird and obscure Canadian ones. To flip through this scrapbook’s fragile, yellowed pages is to enter a lost world; it is an utterly delightful exercise in nostalgia.

Bonnie Hart

But before I show you some of those pages, a question: does anyone know who Bonnie Hart might be? I ask because Bonnie Hart was the maker and keeper of this scrapbook. I know this thanks to her signature on the front cover – along with the handwritten notation (though that might have been added later, perhaps by an antiques dealer) “67 Beatle Cards.” I imagine it’s eminently possible that teenage Bonnie Hart now has, these several decades later, a different last name because of marriage, but I would be tickled to death if any reader might be able to steer me to her. I’d like to say thanks for putting together such a fantastic scrapbook, and to assure her that it has found its way to a good home here at the Manse.

Anyway, I’m sure you’d like to see some of the pictures that Bonnie collected, and enjoy your own little trip through some musical nostalgia. So let’s go, starting with black-and-white Beatles bubble-gum cards:

Black-and-white Beatles cards

Wacky Beatle card

The Beatles as you’ve rarely seen them!

Paul and Ringo

Now we move into colour bubble-gum Beatles cards. Groovy!

Beatles cards in colour

And now we start to move on from the Beatles to some other classic bands. I’m feeling Glad All Over!

The Beatles and the Dave Clark Five

Ah yes, the competition – the Stones. And one of my own personal favourites, The Monkees!

The Rolling Stones and the Monkees

Peter Tork of The Monkees

I think Peter was Bonnie’s favourite Monkee. Me, I’m a Micky girl.

All right. Shall we move into the heady days of life in the canyons of Los Angeles with the Mamas and the Papas and friends?

John and Michelle Phillips

It looks like Bonnie was keen on The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s Zal Yanofsky, very probably because he was Canadian:

Zal Yanofsky

And now we start to get photos of bands that are (to put it mildly) not quite as much household names as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Monkees, the Mamas and the Papas and the Lovin’ Spoonful. The Fiends, anyone?

The Fiends

How about the Wee Beasties? Evidently a Toronto band; don’t you just love that the chaps’ outfits are by another venerable Canadian company, Tip Top Tailors?

The Wee Beasties

Okay, here’s The Trackers, apparently out of Rochester, N.Y.:

The Trackers

The Trackers

And The Westbury Union. Anybody know anything about them? Great outfits, guys!

The Westbury Union

I think we are now seriously into Canadian, and more specifically Toronto, bands. Ah, the Yorkville scene

The Last Words

Little Caesar and the Consuls

The Quiet Jungle

And here, people, is the absolute best. Have you ever heard of Marshmallow Soup Group? Well, neither had I. But after this photo from Bonnie’s scrapbook. you’re unlikely to forget them. After all, their slogan seems to have been “M.S.G. until eternity” …

Marshmallow Soup Group

Really, you could not make this stuff up. And I don’t just mean the weirdness of Marshamallow Soup Group. I mean the great days preserved in Bonnie Hart’s scrapbook: when Yorkville was a musical scene; when the Mamas and the Papas were living the Summer of Love in California in 1967; when the Monkees were starring in a goofy TV show and producing great pop songs; when the Dave Clark Five were hitting it out of the park with catchy, memorable stuff.

And when John Lennon was a young Beatle. Happy birthday, John, wherever you are.

And to Bonnie Hart (and Raymond): thank you so much for the memories!