One family’s story told, and local history comes alive

The Kincaid Chronicles

Today I want to tell you about a family-history project that has an extremely close connection to the Queensborough area, and that I consider not only an example but an inspiration.

It is the work of Keith Kincaid, now of of Toronto, though he grew up in Aurora, Ont., and before that the area of Unionville, Ont. “Hold on!” you’re doubtless saying to yourself. “What does a chap from Aurora and Unionville and Toronto have to do with the history of the Queensborough area?” Well, I’ll tell you – and if you’re from the Queensborough-Hazzards Corners-Madoc area yourself, you might have already guessed, thanks to Keith’s last name. For about as long as there has been settlement in our area, you see, there has been the name Kincaid.

That is because one Patrick Kincaid, Keith’s great-great grandfather, chose back in 1843 to leave a hardscrabble existence in Donegal, Ireland (his own ancestors having moved there from their native Scotland) and settled first in Hungerford Township (south of what is now the village of Tweed) and then permanently near Hazzards Corners, in Madoc Township. Which is just down the road from Queensborough.

In putting together the story of his family in a book called The Kincaid Chronicles: Beyond the Back Fence, Keith has used his training and experience as a journalist – the culmination of his impressive career in that field was his long service as president of The Canadian Press – to dig up the full story. And what a story! Why, there’s even a murder mystery! But I’ll get to that in a minute.

I won’t even attempt to retell the full story of Patrick Kincaid and his two brothers, all of whom came to this country in the late 1830s and early 1840s. For that, you need to get a copy of Keith’s great book; and if you’re interested in doing so, let me know and I’ll be happy to put you in touch with him. (Keith and I met through Meanwhile, at the Manse and through our shared interest in local history. My treasured copy of The Kincaid Chronicles was a gift when he attended Historic Queensborough Day last September.)

The short version of the story is that Patrick Kincaid, a widower with eight children, arrived in Hungerford Township in 1843 by way of the Atlantic Ocean, Quebec City, the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and Belleville. He sold his Hungerford Township farm in 1850 and bought land in Madoc Township, at a well-known sharp bend in what is now Queensborough Road, the road west of our hamlet that runs to Hazzards Corners. The brick farmhouse that the family eventually built still stands and is still lived in; when I was a kid growing up in the Manse here in Queensborough, it was the home of farmers Gordon and Earl Sager. “The Sager Brothers,” my dad always used to call them. Good people.

Archie and the Shoe Wars, The Kincaid Chronicles

Archie and the Shoe Wars, just one of the may colourful chapters in Keith Kincaid’s book. It sheds a wonderful (and often humorous) light on early life and times – including retailing times – in the village of Madoc.

Keith does a fantastic job of telling the story of Patrick (who remarried and had two more children) and his descendants, some of whom stayed in the Madoc area even as others spread out to new adventures in other parts of Ontario. Along the way we learn about the family’s connection to historic Hazzards Corners Church (where services [which Keith often attends] are still held once every summer and once every Dec. 23); about the gold and mineral rush that struck central Hastings County in the second half of the 19th century, raising pretty much every farmer’s hopes that great riches would be discovered underneath his land; about the rough-around-the-edges life in early Madoc, which was “town” for everybody in the area in those days (and still pretty much is) – ordinances against public brawling and whatnot; about what the branches of the family (including those of Keith’s own immediate forebears) who moved away ended up doing; about some interesting and even famous members of the extended family, including a world-renowned entomologist, a would-be inventor, and John Weir Foote, winner of the Victoria Cross for bravery at the Dieppe Raid, where he was a chaplain; about colourful Archie Kincaid, retailer extraordinaire in Madoc; and about descendants through the years, who included Kel Kincaid, co-owner of Kincaid Bros. IGA in Madoc when I was a kid, and Kate Kincaid (a member of the family by marriage), who was the much-loved operator of the cafeteria when I was a student at Centre Hastings Secondary School back in the day. (She fed us well, and that cafeteria’s French fries were the best!)

Murder mystery, The Kincaid ChroniclesOh yes, and there’s that murder mystery I mentioned. It was quite the cause célèbre in Ottawa, back in the summer of 1959, when Joan Kincaid de Marcy, a beautiful young wife, model and owner of modelling agencies, was found dead in her home. Her husband, a dashing Frenchman, was something of a suspect, but there were other intriguing characters in her complicated story too. (Not to mention some dubious police work.) Eventually Joan’s death was found to be accidental, but as Keith’s excellent retelling notes, not everyone believes that.

At any rate, the whole project is a tribute to how much historical treasure can be unearthed (never mind those never-realized mineral riches underneath the old Hastings County farms) by one person’s interest, persistence and hard work at researching, interviewing, sleuthing, and travelling to the scenes of past chapters in the story.

If you’re interested in the history of Kincaid family and/or the history of our part of Hastings County, I highly recommend The Kincaid Chronicles to you!

KIncaid Chronicles back cover

Hey, 2014 was a great year!

Historic Queensborough Day

This photo shows my happiest memory of 2015: Historic Queensborough Day. (You can see that I’m happy by the smile on my face as I wave to my neighbour Ruth.) I was the designated tour guide for horse-and-wagon rides looking at the historic highlights of Queensborough. Bruce and Barb Gordon and horses Don and Barney did a terrific job of getting us all around. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Steele)

As this evening we bid farewell to 2014, I was trying to think of what photo would best sum up the year that’s been here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. Suddenly I thought of one that our friend and neighbour Ruth was kind enough to send me a while back, and voilà: here it is.

It’s a photo of Historic Queensborough Day, a celebration of past history and present community – and beautiful gardens to boot – in our little village. And as you’ll know if you joined us that day, or read my post about it here (or saw the videos of the day done by Terry Pigden of Centre Hastings TV and posted here), it was an absolutely smashing success. The weather was perfect, the crowds turned out, everyone was in a happy mood, the hordes got well fed at the community barbecue, and an absolutely terrific time was had by all. While we might not repeat the event in 2015 (we think we need a year to recover from all the excitement!), it is very possible that there will be a followup Historic Queensborough Day in 2016. To which you are all invited, of course.

Ruth snapped this photo from her front porch as a wagonload of visitors took advantage of the horse-and-wagon rides offered by Bruce and Barb Gordon. (As it happens, Bruce grew up in the very home that Ruth and her husband Chuck now live in and took the picture from!) Those wagon rides were really popular, though I felt sorry for Bruce and Barb, and maybe horses Don and Barney too, having to listen to yours truly give the historic-Queensborough-tour spiel over and over and over. (That’s me waving at Ruth, by the way.)

Anyway, as I look back on this year – which of course has had its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows and happy surprises and unexpected worries, just like any year – that sunny day in September is what I remember best. Our lovely little Queensborough was full of life and good humour that day, and I think there was a general sense that with all of us working together, things can only get better here in our little community.

So on that hopeful and happy Queensborough note, may I wish you all, from Raymond and me here at the Manse: Happy New Year!

A Queensborough link to Canada’s first prime minister

Sir John A. MacdonaldAs some readers will doubtless know, preparations are being made to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the most famous Father of Confederation and Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. He was born on Jan. 11, 1815, in Glasgow; emigrated to Kingston in Upper Canada with his family five years later; became a lawyer in that city; and went on to great political success and a permanent place in history by being one of driving forces behind the creation of our country in 1867 and prime minister for a total of 19 years.

I was reminded of the upcoming anniversary and attendant celebrations (see this link to some special events in Kingston and elsewhere) thanks to an excellent article by my friend Roseann Trudeau in this week’s issue of the Tweed News. Roseann’s article also reminded me that I should write here at Meanwhile, at the Manse about Sir John A.’s Queensborough connection. Yes, you heard (or at least read) that right: the Queensborough connection to Canada’s first prime minister. You see, Sir John A. was once a property-owner in Queensborough! So there.

I first learned of the Sir John A. connection from Times to Remember in Elzevir Township, the invaluable history of our area written back in 1984 by the late Jean Holmes, the longtime clerk of Elzevir and a woman I remember fondly from my childhood days here. Here’s what Jean’s book says:

Billa Flint

Billa Flint: Elzevir Township politician, entrepreneur, temperance man and all-round interesting character.

“Sir John A. Macdonald owned eleven lots in Queensborough between 1868 and 1870, and some again in 1886. It is reasonable to assume that he would have known the Hon. Billa Flint very well, even though Flint was a Liberal and Macdonald a Conservative. [Note from Katherine: Billa Flint (for whom the village of Flinton is named) was a prominent and wealthy Elzevir Township entrepreneur and politician; he was the local member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada before Confederation, and a senator after Confederation. The suggestion that Times to Remember seems to be making is that since Flint moved in those Ottawa circles, he might well have suggested to Sir John A. that he make an investment in property his neck of the woods, i.e. Queensborough. Flint was also, by the way, a vehement temperance man, which means that he and Sir John, the latter well-known for enjoying his drink, might have had some interesting conversations. Anyway, back to Times to Remember:] For some unknown reason, Macdonald purchased lots in Queensborough. Later he sold (or lost) all of them to the Merchants’ Bank for the large sum of $6,600.”

Isn’t that just a most intriguing tidbit? Though I will confess I wasn’t sure whether to actually believe it, and indeed I infused some doubt about the veracity of this tale when I made mention of it in the text of the booklet about Queensborough’s history that I helped put together for the Queensborough Community Centre Committee. (The booklet is a fundraiser for the committee’s work, and if you’d like a copy, it can be yours for a mere $3 [plus postage]. Just let me know.)

However, prior to our committee’s wildly successful Historic Queensborough Day last September (which you can read about here; that was a wonderful day!), I saw the proof of the matter. It came in the form of a copy of a legal document that seems to be the turning over of the property to the Merchants’ Bank by Sir John A. and his wife, Agnes, who apparently was co-owner. It is dated Feb. 1, 1870, and all the details are there, including mention of “Lots Numbered Eighteen and Nineteen in the First Range and Forty and Forty One in the Second Range of the Village Plot of Queensboro“:

Sir John deed Page 1

And it is signed by both Sir John (who is listed at the start as “The Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald, of the City of Kingston, in the County of Frontenac and Province of Ontario, Knight Commander of the Bath“) and Agnes (“Dame Susan Agnes Macdonald, his wife”):

Sir John deed Page 5

Now, legal documents tend to give me hives because, as a journalist and editor, my life’s mission is to see that information is conveyed in language that anyone can understand, whereas legal documents tend to be written in language that no one can understand. So I wasn’t really sure exactly what this document between the Macdonalds and the Merchants’ Bank is, but since it cites the same amount that Jean Holmes mentions, $6,600, it seems like it is the turnover of the property for default of payment that she refers to. That is confirmed in a note I have from the person who is owed enormous thanks for finding (back in the 1970s) and making a photocopy of this precious document, local lawyer and Queensborough property-owner André Philpot. As André explained in sharing the document with the Queensborough Community Centre Committee: “The copies aren’t perfect but they do show that for whatever reason Sir John bought land in (Queensborough), mortgaged it to ‘The Merchants’ Bank’ and seems to have signed it off to them – presumably because he couldn’t keep up the payments … Sir John was a better nation builder than investor and it looks like this may just have been a speculation that didn’t work out.”

Anyway, since we’ll all be hearing a fair bit about Sir John in the next while because of the bicentennial of his birth, I thought it timely and important to share his Queensborough connection. Really, doesn’t our little hamlet and its history just never cease to amaze you?

Should we do it again next year?

St. Andrew's on Historic Queensborough Day

It was terrific to see the good turnout of local folks and visitors from afar at historic St. Andrew’s United Church at the start of  Historic Queensborough Day.

I thought it might be fitting to end my string of Historic Queensborough Day-themed posts with some thoughts about repeating the event in future years. Now, I should stress that this idea didn’t come from me; it was something that numerous people suggested during the celebrations here in our little village last Sunday. “I’d come again, and bring other people,” was something I heard more than once. And: “I know someone who would love to come to this.” And so on.

While the volunteers who helped out that day, some of whom (like me) are perhaps still recovering from all the excitement and hard work, probably feel a bit wary about promising a repeat event quite so soon after the first one, there certainly have been some good ideas tossed out for a second Historic Queensborough Day. Are you interested? Well then, I’ll tell you:

  • First off, as Anne Barry of the Queensborough Beautification Committee noted during Sunday’s ceremonies – which included recognition of the great work that her committee has been doing – there are plans in the works for more signage (probably with landscaping/flowers attached) and other projects at entrances to the village. So that would be a lovely thing to recognize.
  • Some of the visitors Sunday said they’d like to be able to tour a few of the historic homes in the area. I know that house tours can be extremely popular – the famous and longstanding one in Port Hope, Ont., being a good example – so that might well be something to think about. (Mind you, the Manse is unlikely to be one of the tour stops, unless this so-called renovation that Raymond and I are supposedly undertaking suddenly gets moved into high gear.) One excellent suggestion I received today was that the tour include “the old stores, churches, mill and maybe a few houses.” Now wouldn’t that be great?
  • As I mentioned in an earlier post, the hosts at the two splendid gardens that were part of this year’s event both said they wished it had been held earlier in the summer, when gardens are in full bloom. Maybe an earlier event with more gardens?
  • As I’ve also written before, Queensborough and its views and buildings have a long history of being subjects for painters, photographers and other artists. In addition, we are (and have been through the years) blessed with an abundance of talented people who do outstanding wood carving, photography, painting, quilt-making, and so on. Some sort of focus on Queensborough and the visual arts, past and present, could be both interesting and beautiful – and good publicity for local artists and artisans.
  • And what about music? One reader suggested a concert in the park (presumably the pretty park area down by the Black RIver), and wouldn’t that be nice?
  • We’d have to have the horse-and-wagon rides again. People loved them – and thanks once again to Bruce and Barb Gordon for providing them. I also found myself reminiscing during the day about pony rides that used to be a prime attraction for kids like me once upon a time (when I was growing up here) at strawberry socials at St. Andrew’s United Church. And that got me thinking that pony rides and/or other events just for kids would be a fun thing to offer.

We’ve also had a few suggestions for making things more fun for everyone at future events:

  • Having a special “sneak preview” of the historical displays the evening before the event for the volunteers, including the owners of the gardens, who will be working hard on the day itself. Maybe a wine and cheese reception would be nice.
  • Ensuring there’s a guest book at the various events, where visitors can leave not only their names and where they come from but also their contact information if they’d like to know more about Queensborough or hear about future events.
  • Have name tags for people who are longtime residents, or descendants of longtime or early residents, so that other visitors will know them and can ask questions and share stories and knowledge.
Lineup for burgers

The lineup for barbecued burgers and hot dogs was really, really long, but people were patient and chatted happily about Queensborough as they waited. This photo, by the way, is one of a bunch of very nice ones of Historic Queensborough Day taken by photographer Dave deLang; you can find more on the queensborough.ca website by clicking on Home and then Event Calendar – or just click here. And thanks, Dave!

  • And possibly most importantly of all: buy more food to barbecue! Raymond had to run into Madoc not once but twice on Sunday to replenish supplies, even though the planning committee had bought what we thought was lots and lots of food. It sure is a good problem to have, to end up with way more people in attendance (and chowing down on burgers) than had been expected.

So what do you think, people? Should we do it again? Would you come if we did? Would you (gulp) volunteer to help out? Please post your comments and thoughts!

Tonight I have a postscript: As I write this, I am feeling very badly because Raymond and I have inadvertently missed another local social event, a roast-beef dinner being held by the Cooper-Rimington Women’s Institute in the nearby hamlet of Cooper. We had heard about the event last weekend, had had every intention of attending to enjoy a delicious meal and to support the Cooper community – and managed, in the past few busy days, to forget about it until it was too late. I’ve already had glowing reports from some Queensborough folks who did attend, and I just wanted to say to Cooper readers: our apologies, and please let me know about the next event. I promise to publicize it here, and to be on hand myself to enjoy it!

Visitors bring the most interesting things

The Preacher and the Bear

What does this old record have to do with Queensborough? Read on…

I am tickled this evening to report that I came away from Historic Queensborough Day with not only great memories, but also gifts! Some from people who, until that day, had been strangers. Now that’s what I call a bonus!

When Raymond and I finally got a chance to put our feet up at the end of the day Sunday – he after barbecuing hamburgers all afternoon and me after serving as tour guide – we had collected between us an interesting newspaper article, a book of rich family history, and some very cool stuff from reader (and Queensborough native, though he now lives in Kingston, Ont.) Ellis DeClair. All of it has made for fun reading.

Article on Rockies school

The newspaper article was given to me during the day by a visitor whose identity I managed to completely forget during the subsequent general whirl of events, for which I offer humble apologies. It is an instalment of the excellent local-history column in the weekly Tweed News by Evan Morton, the curator of the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre. Now, I have been reading Evan’s columns faithfully since Raymond first gave me a subscription to the Tweed News (he always knows the way to my heart) not long after we bought the Manse, but this was from 2009, which was before that time. It’s a report based on the logbook kept through the years for the one-room schoolhouse called Pineview School that was a going concern between 1899 and 1947 in the area northeast of Queensborough that is called the Rockies.

When you drive back to the Rockies now you find it hard to believe that it was once such a bustling little community, with a church as well as a school. I mean, people do still live there, but the homes are very few and far between along a road that kind of seems to go on forever before it comes to a complete dead end rather far from anywhere. But a community it once was, and this report tells the story of the schoolteachers, the students who ended up serving in the wars overseas, how the logbook had to be kept to meet the standards of the government’s education inspectors, and even what years the building was painted. (In 1939, “the upper walls and ceiling were made yellow and the lower walls deep gray.”) Fascinating!.

Next was a book called Beyond the Back Fence: The Kincaid Chronicles, written – and given to us – by Keith Kincaid. Now, Keith has a journalistic connection as well as a Queensborough connection with Raymond and me; for many years he was the chief executive officer of the Canadian Press, which is an extremely key role in the Canadian journalism world. He is now retired, which gives him time to do things like research and write about family history. And as it happens, the Kincaid family has very deep roots in the Hazzard’s Corners/Madoc/Queensborough area, having come here from County Donegal, Ireland, in the 1840s, in search of a better life.

Beyond the Back Fence

I have not yet had time to read the book (it’s been a busy few days), but Raymond has, and he reports that it’s extremely well-written (as of course you would expect from a journalist!) and interesting. Among other things he learned from it: back in the 19th century, Queensborough had two doctors and a fancy tailor shop selling made-to-order clothes.

It was a huge pleasure to meet Keith at Historic Queensborough Day, after he’d driven all the way from Lake Huron by way of Toronto to be here. And I am very much looking forward to reading the chronicles of the Kincaids making their way as farmers in this beautiful but hardscrabble region – which is perfectly evoked by the photo on the cover of his book.

And last but certainly not least: Ellis DeClair had a delightful collection of papers that he passed on to Raymond for me.

One was clearly a result of my recent post about the CKWS-TV (Kingston) dance-party show called Uptight, which I remembered from when I was growing up here at the Manse back in the 1960s and ’70s. Ellis had dug up an interesting article (I am pretty sure from the Kingston Whig-Standard) that contained an extensive interview with Bryan Olney, who was the popular host of the predecessor to Uptight on CKWS (good old Channel 11) , called Teenage Dance Party. Olney’s reminscenses about the show, the music, and working on Kingston TV were just great.

Ration book

Next there was something I’d never seen before: copies of pages from a food-ration booklet from the time of the Second World War. And the booklet was issued in the name of none other than Ellis DeClair of RR1 Queensboro, aged just 2 years old. This is a fine addition to the growing trove of historical documents about life in Queensborough through all kinds of times, including the war years.

And finally, something that really made me smile. Ellis must be a careful reader, because he had picked up a reference I made in posts way back in late 2012 and early 2013. The reference in question was to a phrase that the late Bobbie (Sager) Ramsay, longtime Queensborough storekeeper and our unofficial mayor, used to use to describe my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, and her husband, Allan Ramsay. As I reported in those posts (here and here), Allan used to work with Dad when heavy equipment and trucking were needed for Dad’s woodlot operations and so on; Dad, as I explained here, not only was a full-time minister but did a lot of other getting-your-hands-dirty hard work besides. I can still hear Bobbie laugh as she called the two of them “the preacher and the bear.”

I always thought that phrase was just something Bobbie had made up. But thanks to Ellis, I now know its origins: it’s the title of a (very silly) song about a preacher who goes out hunting and gets chased up a tree by a bear. The song was wildly popular when it was first recorded by one Arthur Collins way back in 1905, in the days of phonograph cylinders, and remained known and performed right up to the days of Jerry Reed and even Andy Griffith in the middle part of the 20th century. (It was probably one of those later performances that had stuck in Bobbie’s mind.)

Ellis found and printed out the story of the song’s origins and the life of Arthur Collins (who, unfortunately, was known for a style of minstrel-type singing that, we readily see in retrospect, was appallingly racist, but was very popular in the early 20th century). He even included a photo he had found of an old recording of it by Collins. (Apparently Mr. Collins, knowing a good thing when he saw it, recorded it many, many, many times.)

The end of Historic Queensborough Day

How the day ended for Raymond and me!

Anyway: I thought it was really something that, at the end of an event celebrating Queensborough’s history that turned out so well and seemed to make so many people happy, I ended up with extra gifts of reading that gave me insights into things I’d never known before. They were yet another reason for a toast as Raymond and I celebrated the day with some bubbly on the front porch of the Manse.

And they are further proof (as if any were needed) that people with Queensborough connections are just the best kind of people!

A happy and historic day, preserved for you to enjoy

Whether or not you were able to join us this past Sunday at Historic Queensborough Day, you can – thanks to modern technology and Terry Pigden of CHTV cable TV in Madoc – view some of its highlights on the videos at the top and bottom of this post. In Part A of Terry’s two-part video (the one at the top) there’s way, way too much (for my liking) of me serving as tour guide – but there’s also great footage of the riverside ceremony recognizing the work of community volunteers. In Part B you can go on a tour of one of the two lovely gardens that were on display, and also get a sense of all the bustle and activity as people eagerly examined the historical displays at the Queensborough Community Centre.

This whole area owes a great deal to Terry Pigden and his very able assistant, his wife, Eileen. They attend so many local events and film them – which means not only that people who couldn’t be there can still enjoy the events, but also that these occasions are preserved for posterity. Already in recent months Terry and Eileen had been to Queensborough twice, to film the kayakers on the Black River in the early spring and the anniversary service at St. Andrew’s United Church in late June. And there they were again Sunday, hard at work as always. By this afternoon, Terry’s videos were already edited and posted on YouTube. That is an enormous amount of work, and shows such commitment and dedication to the community. Thank you so much for all you do, Terry and Eileen!

And with that – let’s take a stroll down the garden path. Here’s Part 2 of the Historic Queensborough Day video:

What a great day for Queensborough!

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Friends, I won’t write much this evening because it’s been a long, if wonderful, day, and I’m more than a little tired – but I cannot let Historic Queensborough Day come to an end without saying thank you.

Thank you to all of you who came from near and far to visit our little hamlet, meet old friends and make new ones, and soak in the beauty and history of this place.

Thank you to the members of the Queensborough Beautification Committee and the Queensborough Community Centre Committee, who have worked so hard to make Queensborough look as good as it does these days.

And thank you so much to all the volunteers who flipped burgers, staffed the history displays, answered questions, baked and served treats, and just generally served as ambassadors for our village.

The crowds were amazing. The weather was perfect. A great time was had by all.

Raymond and I are so proud and happy to live in this wonderful place, and to have such amazing friends and neighbours all around. And I suspect I speak for everyone in Queensborough when I say that we are thrilled that so many people came to visit and enjoy themselves here today.

Happy Historic Queensborough Day, everyone!