War and remembrance, and a long-ago wedding at the Manse

rocky

Newlyweds Joan and Roscoe Keene in front of the Manse (and their decked-out wheels), on June 9, 1945 – just a month after VE Day brought an end to the Second World War in Europe. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson, whose late father, Allen, is the young chap at left throwing the confetti)

A while back, my Madoc Township friend Grant Ketcheson sent me a couple of photos from June 1945. They feature a happy occasion: a wedding that took place right here at the Manse in Queensborough.

Now, before I tell you the rest of the story, let me explain that back in those days, it was fairly common for couples to be married at the minister’s home rather than in a church; I wrote about another such wedding, which took place in October 1939, here. And in this post I told you the story of probably the most famous wedding in Queensborough’s history, that of village storekeeper and unofficial mayor Roberta (Bobbie) Sager and her longtime beau, Allan Ramsay, in the mid-1970s. The wedding was top-secret, and man was the rest of Queensborough surprised when they learned about it the next day. It happened right here in the Manse living room where I’m typing these words; and it is one of the great boasts of my life that I can say I was present on that historic occasion when my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, declared Bobbie and Allan man and wife.

But back to the June 1945 wedding of Joan Murray and Roscoe Keene – the happy couple you can see having confetti tossed at them in the photo at the top of this post, and eventually Grant’s aunt and uncle.

Grant sent me that photo, as well as the one you’ll see just below, because he knew I am interested in a) local history and b) photos showing the Manse (the house I grew up in, and to which I returned a few years back) in earlier times. To which I say publicly (as I told him privately at the time): Thank you so much, Grant!

Here’s the second photo:

Keene wedding

The wedding party is all smiles in this photo taken at the northeast corner of the Manse: from left, Winnifred (Keene) Ketcheson, sister of the groom; bride Joan (Lomax Murray) Keene; dashing groom Roscoe Keene (Winnifred’s brother); Bessie Keene (mother of Roscoe and Winnifred); and Cora Patterson, wife of The Rev. W.W. Patterson, who had just performed the marriage at the Manse. You can read more about Cora and W.W. Patterson and their time at the Manse here and here and here. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson, Winnifred’s son)

I’ll dispense fairly quickly with the house details that Raymond and I spotted with interest in examining these two photos. And then I’ll turn to my main focus for this post: war and remembrance. Because, as we all know, this coming Friday is Remembrance Day.

So yes, house details: it is fascinating to see what our Manse looked like a little over 71 years ago. Probably the first thing I noticed was the lovely maple tree on the front lawn behind Joan and Roscoe in the first picture; that tree was an important part of my childhood in this Manse. Here’s a photo from about 1968 of my two little brothers, John and Ken, playing in the shade of that same tree:

John and Ken 2

My brothers Ken (left) and John, sometime in the mid to late 1960s, playing in the shade of the old maple tree that you can see behind the newlyweds in the photo atop this post.

The tree was, most unfortunately, cut down some years before Raymond and I bought the Manse; as I told you here, we have honoured its memory and striven to bring shade back to our front lawn by planting a new maple in its place.

We were also interested to see that in 1945 the rounded door to nowhere off a second-storey room (my father’s study during my childhood here), as well as the “official” front door (which no one ever used) that shows up in both of Grant’s photos, were painted quite a dark colour as opposed to white, which they are today. There are also the old windows, two panes over two, that I hope to replicate as part of our renovation/restoration project. And finally in that first photo, I am struck by how well one can see, in the top left corner, the house far to the rear of the Manse on the property next door. Trees that have grown up since then would make that house invisible in a photo taken from the same angle today.

In the second photo, the main change we noticed was the railing along the porch of the Kincaid house in the right of the picture, immediately to the north of the Manse. Raymond and I added that empty historic house to our Queensborough holdings a year and a half ago, and arranged to have a new porch built to replace the crumbled old one:

New porch being built at the Kincaid House

But we didn’t think about a railing. So that old photo is food for thought, and possible future action.

However: architectural details are surely not what you will find most interesting about these photos. What makes them compelling is the story behind them, which I will tell with Grant’s help.

“My uncle’s wedding, June 9, 1945,” he begins. “He married a war widow, Joan Lomax-Murray.

“Her first husband, Alec Murray, was a Barnardo boy who grew up at Hazzard’s.”

Now, I’ll stop the narrative here to explain for younger readers (or readers from other countries) who may not catch the reference: “Barnardo” children, named for Thomas John Barnardo, were children from the United Kingdom who, because they were orphans or came from impoverished families, were “rescued” and sent to Canada, where they were raised by Canadian families, usually rural ones. Here’s how Library and Archives Canada explains it, in the introduction to a large amount of information about “Home Children”:

Between 1869 and the late 1930s, over 100,000 juvenile migrants were sent to Canada from the British Isles during the child emigration movement. Motivated by social and economic forces, churches and philanthropic organizations sent orphaned, abandoned and pauper children to Canada. Many believed that these children would have a better chance for a healthy, moral life in rural Canada, where families welcomed them as a source of cheap farm labour and domestic help.

Thomas John Barnardo began the movement, first opening a school in London for these kids who came from dreadful circumstances, and later arranging for them to travel to Canada. Doubtless his intentions were good, but many of these children, torn from home and everything they knew, were placed in unsympathetic families who used them as a source of free labour. Here is a story from the Winnipeg Free Press that gives a sense of what some of them endured. That said, there can be no doubt that other “Barnardo boys” found good and welcoming homes in Canada. It seems Alec Murray was one of these; the fact that, after his death, his English widow went to the trouble to come and visit his Canadian “family” tells you that he must have spoken fondly of that family and his experience in this country. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s let Grant continue to tell the story.

As he told me in a phone conversation this evening, Alec Murray – known locally, like other Barnardo boys, as “an English lad” – became very much a part of the Madoc and Madoc Township community, and particularly the community around the tiny Madoc Township community of Hazzards Corners. He worked on farms in the area, and was very active in the historic landmark church that marks those corners.

As an adult, when war came to the Commonwealth and the world, Alec Murray returned to England, to serve and, it seems, to revisit his roots in the area of Manchester, England. While there, he met and fell in love with a young woman from that same area – and they married. Here is photo of that wedding at Swinton, England:

alec-and-joan-murrays-wedding

(Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson)

When you see the bright smiles on the faces of Alec and his new bride, the former Joan Lomax, it’s heartbreaking to know that Alec did not survive the war. Private Alec Murray “of Madoc, Ontario” was killed at Ortona, Italy, in December 1942. Grant continues:

“His widow came to Canada to visit with Alec’s Canadian family, and [eventually] married my mother’s brother, Roscoe Keene. It is a long and touching love story that I hope to put on paper someday.

“My mother [who, readers, you will recall from the second photo in this post was there at the wedding at the Manse] always said that there should have been a stone in the cemetery for Alec Murray as he had become a ‘Hazzards boy,’ always active in the church. When my Aunt Joan died, Uncle Roscoe had the stone inscribed with their names [his and Joan’s] and “Farewell My English Rose” added after Aunt Joan’s name.

“At the bottom of the stone, he had this added: ‘In loving memory of Sgt. Alec Murray C4552, Killed in Italy 09/12/43. He gave his all for us.’

Here is a picture of that gravestone:

keene-gravestone

(Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson)

I don’t know about you, readers, but as Remembrance Day 2016 approaches, my eyes fill with tears when I read, “He gave his all for us.”

Perhaps especially so because the inscription was done at the behest of Roscoe Keene, the now-nonagenarian second husband and widower of Joan, who died in 1999. The same Roscoe Keene who is the dashing young man you see in those photos taken on his wedding day – June 9, 1945 – here at our Manse in Queensborough, and who now lives near Kingston, Ont., enjoying a well-deserved retirement after many years as a marine engineer. What a class act Mr. Keene is, to have had an inscription honouring Alec Murray added to the tombstone for himself and his late wife in the historic cemetery at Hazzards Corners Church.

“Yes, Alec Murray is remembered at Hazzard’s Cemetery!” says Grant. “Now, I think my uncle is a classy guy, and I have told him so. I think that whole story would make a great Nov. 11 story.”

And indeed it does. A story of love, loss, sacrifice, strength and reslience.

Let us not forget.

Everyone loves a good apple. But what kind is it?

First apple from our tree

The first apple I picked from the apple tree that Raymond and I acquired when we bought the property next door to the Manse. This photo of it proved ever so popular on social media. Now comes the important question: what kind of apple is it?

The goldenrod is yellow,
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
with fruit are bending down.

Did you learn that little poem in your school days? I certainly did, sometime early in my elementary-school career at Madoc Township Public School, when I was growing up right here at the Manse. It was one of the poems we students were required to memorize and recite out loud, back in the time when such things actually happened in elementary schools. Longtime readers might recall a post I did some time ago about my younger brother John and his youthful recitation of this poem, hampered by a missing baby tooth or two: “The goldenwod is wullow…”

Anyway: despite the terrible drought that has gripped Eastern Ontario this summer, the trees in apple orchards really are bending down with fruit this September. Or actually – I can’t speak for the orchards, because I don’t know of any cultivated apple orchards around Queensborough. But the apple trees in people’s yards, and at the edges of farm fields and fence lines, and along the roadsides, are most certainly bending down with a bumper crop of fruit. Maybe drought is good for apple crops? Hard to imagine, but there sure are a lot of apples.

Apples on the tree

The branches of our very own apple tree are laden with fruit.

Including, I am pleased to say, on the apple tree that graces the property next to the Manse – a property that Raymond and I bought about a year ago. It’s from that tree that the apple you can see me holding in the photo at the top of this post was picked about five seconds before the photo was taken. I posted the photo on Instagram and Facebook a couple of days ago, with a few words to the effect that it was the first time I’d ever picked an apple from our own tree, and that it tasted really good. (Which it did. Super-crisp and perfectly sweet-tart.)

Gracious, the number of likes and comments that came in! From old friends and new, from all over Canada and the U.S. Perhaps it’s the season: late summer turning to fall, when apples are at their best and people are thinking about them. Perhaps it was a reminder for some of the childhood treat of picking and eating a just-ripe apple from your family’s tree, or that of a neighbour. Whatever the reason, I was inspired to carry on with the apple-tree theme for today’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse.

One of the nicest responses I had to posting the photo on social media was a reminiscence shared in person yesterday morning at church (St. Andrew’s United in Queensborough). A neighbour and friend said to me: “That apple tree – I remember walking under it on the way to school.” The tree stands on the edge of the property, alongside Queensborough Road and the narrow sidewalk along which generations of children once walked every day to and from classes at Queensborough’s one-room schoolhouse, which stands maybe a hundred yards west of the tree.

Queensborough Community Centre

The old one-room schoolhouse in Queensborough, now the Queensborough Community Centre.

I will always regret missing – by just one year – the chance to attend that one-room schoolhouse; it was closed the summer before six-year-old me was to start school, which is why I ended up at much bigger and fancier (for those days) Madoc Township P.S. But regrets aside, I love the image of schoolchildren decades ago stopping to pick apples from the very tree that Raymond and I can now call ours.

The apple tree coming home from school

A view of the apple tree as a kid would see it walking home at the end of an early-fall schoolday. I would think those easy-to-reach apples would be pretty tempting.

And I love the idea that our apple tree is an old one. Because – well, you folks know me. I’m a sucker for history, and for stuff that’s been around a long time. Like the Manse. And the apple tree. And the house on the property next door, the property where the apple tree grows:

Kincaid House by Dave deLang

The house on the property next to the Manse, commonly called the Kincaid House after the family that lived there for many, many years. This beautiful picture is by Queensborough photographer Dave deLang.

At the moment we use the house for storage, primarily of our large (to put it mildly) book collection. But someday, someday… a bookshop, maybe?

But back to the apples. One question I got as a result of my apple-photo post on social media was what kind of apples they are. Wealthy was one suggestion, and I have to say I had never heard of that variety before. (I have since learned a bit more, thanks to various websites including this one from Maine, which says that the Wealthy “is considered to be a standout among pie apples.” Sadly, as my friends know, pie-making is not my forte.) Another suggestion was Northern Spy. My own first guess was McIntosh, since those are common around here, but my friend who remembered the tree from her Queensborough school days was doubtful about that. As this site (from an apple-growing outfit a bit southwest of Toronto) indicates, all three varieties are to be found in Ontario.

But if you’ve ever looked through the criteria for discerning apple varieties (as Raymond did, when I posed the question to him of what our apples might be), you’ll find that the variables are many, and coming up with the right answer is pretty darn hard. So, readers, it’s your turn.

Does anyone familiar with our Queensborough apple tree know what kind it is? Or are there any apple experts out there who can identify it from my photo?

And hey, if you need a taste in order to come up with the answer: stop by and pick one yourself! You just have to reach over the fence – like many a schoolkid before you.

Meet the new bike – same (almost) as the old bike

us six at the Manse

I’ve showed you this photo before; I love it because it’s the only picture I have of my whole family (my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick; my mum, Lorna; and, from left, me, Melanie, John and Ken) from the days when I was growing up at the Manse in Queensborough in the 1960s. However, I’m showing it to you today because it is ALSO the only known photo of my very first bike. It’s the sweet little blue CCM that you can see parked on the Manse’s front porch behind us. Dad always made me park it on the porch to keep it out of the sun that might fade its paint – and I haven’t forgotten the lesson. (Photo probably by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

People, I have got myself a bike! It’s something I’ve been wanting pretty much since Raymond and I bought the Manse four years ago – a way to get around Queensborough (and a little beyond) when I want to go quicker than on foot but without burning fossil fuels.

My dream, much scoffed at by people who are more serious cyclists than I am (which is pretty much the entire world), was an old-fashioned bike with no gears to work, no cables running from handlebars to wheels, and brakes that you’d apply by cycling backwards. Also: a bike with a comfortable seat and that allowed you to sit up straight rather than hunkering down over the handlebars.

A bike, in short, very like my first one. Which was the best gift ever from my parents, The Rev. Wendell and Lorna Sedgwick, when I was perhaps eight years old and growing up right here at the Manse in Queensborough.

I remember that bike well. It was a little CCM, just the right size for a small girl of eight or so, and it was a lovely light blue, with a white seat and handlebars and fenders. I didn’t yet know how to ride a bike when I received it, but I remember my dad patiently holding me steady and upright as I wobbled a few times around the Manse’s front yard – and how then, suddenly, magically (as always happens when people figure out bike-riding), I got the hang of it and took off to ride on my own around the block that is “downtown” Queensborough. And from there, I could go anywhere on my bike! The best was riding up to the top of the hill at the western edge of our village, past the former one-room school and the former St. Henry’s Roman Catholic church, and just whizzing down it at what felt like the speed of sound, whistling down the wind. (When I came back to Queensborough many years later, I was startled at how un-steep that hill, so challenging and fun in my childhood, turned out to be; but I have decided that it must have been levelled down a bit in the interim. Either that or it’s yet one more case of things being so much larger and more impressive when seen through a kid’s eyes.)

Anyway: my dream of having a bike in my Manse adulthood that’s like the bike I had in my Manse childhood has come true! And here it is:

Me with my new bike

Same house, same porch, and a delightfully similar bike! Me smiling about my new wheels as Raymond and our friend Lauraine look on from the porch. (Photo by Paul Woods)

I gasped when I saw this bike in the bike section of the Target store in Biddeford, Maine, during the recent seacoast vacation that Raymond and I took. It was perfect! Retro styling, no gears, brake by pedalling backwards, a comfortable seat – and it was turquoise! (Which is a very resonant colour for me here at the Manse, as longtime readers will know from posts like this and this and this.)

It is a Schwinn Cruiser, and while it looks (in my opinion) like a million bucks, the price was stunningly low. People, this gorgeous bike cost only $139! Now, granted, that’s $139 U.S., which at the current horrible exchange rate is about $3,500 Canadian – no, no, I’m kidding. The exchange rate is horrible, but still, I got this great-looking bike for considerably less than $200 Cdn. You can’t beat that with a stick.

I had to laugh at myself as I wobbled around the Manse’s front yard a few times when I first got on it – just like the first time I got on that little CCM back in about 1968. (And don’t think I wasn’t missing my dad being there to keep me upright.) It had, I realized, been a long time since I’d been on a bike. But I got the hang of it once again, and have zipped around the block a few times since. I need to get a basket so that I can cart stuff – like a dozen farm-fresh eggs from Debbie the Queensborough egg lady, or bulletins to be delivered for the Sunday service at St. Andrew’s United Church – while I’m riding around on my retro turquoise two-wheeled wonder. But aside from that, I’m thrilled about my bike and the possibilities.

Now I just have to work up the nerve to climb up that hill on the western edge of the village – and whip down it once again, after all these years. I hope the wind still whistles.

The door in the dump

The door in the dump

I was startled to find, lying atop a pile of construction debris at the dump, a door that looked remarkably like the doors in the Manse. A sad end for a fine old thing.

“These don’t go in the recycling,” the helpful attendant at the dump told me, holding up two wire hangers from the dry cleaners that I had tossed into the blue bin along with the tin cans, aluminum foil and hard plastics.

“You have to take them to the bin for metal back there,” he said (not unkindly), gesturing with his head to the large section at the Municipality of Tweed dumpsite where you take your bagged garbage and also large items such as furniture and construction materials, which go into big dumpsters.

I sighed a little bit, because it was a wet, overcast, muddy day, I was sick with a bad cough, and I really just wanted to get this dump excursion over with. Now I had to make a stop at the metals bin along with my recycling and garbage-bag stops.

But in the end I was kind of glad he’d sent me there. Well, glad – and sad.

Because in the construction-materials dumpster that was close to the metals dumpster, I spotted the nice old wooden door that you can see in my photo. It caught my eye because it is very similar to the old wooden doors still in use here at the Manse, and that I imagine date from the time when the house was built in 1888.

Bathroom door at the Manse

The door of the bathroom at the Manse (formerly the minister’s study, we have it on good authority). As you can see, it’s a lot like the one I spotted in the dump.

I am pretty sure the one at the dump was bigger than our doors, so even if I could have retrieved it – I couldn’t; it was too far down and out of my reach, plus I would have had no way of transporting it in my little Toyota – it probably wouldn’t have been helpful in eventual Manse renovations. And also it had obviously been modified, the way the front door of the Manse had been sometime after the years when I lived here as a child:

Inside front door

The front door of the Manse as it is today – modified and very much in need of repainting and general touchup, but still solid.

Front door back in the day

This c. 1971 photo of me and my family at the Manse (from left, my sister, Melanie, being a cutup as usual; me standing; my Mum with a cat whose name I’ve long forgotten; and my brothers Ken and John with Finnigan the not-very-bright dog) allows you to see (in the background at right) that the front door of the Manse was in its original state then, with no window in it.

As with our front door, the top panels of the one at the dump had been cut out to make a window. And also, it was very battered and worn – just like our doors are.

But it was not so battered and worn that, after some stripping of old paint and touching up, it wouldn’t have looked quite splendid installed in a house of its period. And that’s why it made me sad to see it lying there in the dumpster. A good solid wooden door that had been made – probably locally – well over a century ago, featuring some nice detail, and that had served its intended purpose well for many, many years – now just tossed, to be forgotten and replaced with something that I’d be willing to bet won’t be nearly as nice or as sturdy, and won’t have been made by local craftspeople.

Well – let me just say that if you ever go dumpster diving at the Tweed dump, I don’t think you’ll be finding any of the Manse’s doors.

A fashion trend for sheds, once upon a time. Featuring: pink.

Pink and grey barn

An ordinary-looking barn, right? But what I find not so ordinary about it is the colour scheme: grey with pink trim. It was kind of a thing in our rural area, back in the day – and now that I am living in that area once again, I can’t help but wonder: why pink?

Memory can be a fickle thing, they say. There are so many things that we think we remember that may in fact be quite wrong. (Here is a very interesting article from The New Yorker on the subject.) Have you ever got together with family members or old friends and, in reminiscing about the things that happened in the old days, discovered that various people in the group had quite different versions of some of those events? Or that they’ll all remember something vividly and you – who apparently were there as well – have no recollection of it at all?

I say all that by way of introduction because I’m about to tell you my very first memory of Queensborough, from when I had just turned four years old. But is it a real memory? I think so, but…

Maybe you’ll laugh when you hear what it is: a grey shed with pink trim, with a pink swing set in front of it.

The shed and swing set were at a house right near the Manse, and in my memory my family – Dad, Mum, me, my younger sister, Melanie, and my baby brother, John – drove by that house as we made our way to our new home (the Manse) in Dad’s 1956 Chev for the very first time, in July 1964. Dad, newly ordained a United Church of Canada minister, was about to take up duties as minister of the Queensborough Pastoral Charge.

I remember it so vividly because of the swing set; I was convinced that it meant that the house’s yard was a public playground, like the one where I had played on the swings so often near my maternal grandparents’ home in the Leaside neighbourhood of Toronto. That is where we had been living before moving to Queensborough, while my father finished his studies in divinity school at the University of Toronto‘s Emmanuel College.

The day we arrived in Queensborough we had probably driven all the way from Toronto, or possibly from the Sedgwick family farm up in Haliburton County; either way, it was a long car ride for a four-year-old, and you can imagine how appealing a swing set looked at the end of it. And a pink swing set at that! Perfect for a little girl!

It was all my parents could do to keep me from dashing the 50 yards or so over there and jumping onto the swings at the house of people we didn’t even know. (We very soon found out they were the Gordon family, and their daughter, Connie, became a good childhood friend of mine.) Presumably Mum and Dad put me to work instead, carrying some things from the car into the big brick house that was to be our home for the next 11 years. (And that is now home again, after my husband, Raymond, and I bought it three years ago.)

The Gordons’ house is now the home of our neighbours and friends Chuck and Ruth, and the pink swing set is long gone. The shed/garage is still there, but it is no longer covered in grey insulbrick with pink trim. But, people, that shed colour-scheme trend that dates from sometime around the middle of the last century still shows up in this area, and every time I see it, I am reminded of that first sunny July day in Queensborough, so very long ago.

Every weekday on my drive to and from work I pass not one but two such buildings. One is the small barn that you can see in the photo atop this post: the other is a garage between the hamlet of White Lake and the hamlet of Ivanhoe, along Highway 62:

Pink and grey garage

I finally stopped and got photos of them both yesterday. Because – well, who knows how long there’ll still be traces of that interesting midcentury colour scheme for barns, sheds and garages?

I mean, I get the grey insulbrick. Grey is a pretty traditional colour for garages and sheds, right? But what, people, what on earth is, or was, with the pink trim? I mean, I love it – but why would the men (inevitably men) who built and/or covered those barns and sheds in siding, and painted the trim, have chosen pink? It seems like such an odd thing to have happened over and over and over again. I’m thinking there must have been some sort of marketing campaign or something: “Pink is the perfect colour to set off your brand-new grey insulbrick siding!”

I have trouble imagining the farmers of central Hastings County going for such a marketing push. But how else to explain it? People, do you have any ideas?

This funny little colour thing is a happy circumstance for me – because it reminds me of a sunny day long ago, when all the world was young, and there was a shed with pink trim with a pink swing set in front of it. But I sure am curious to know how all those pink-trimmed sheds came about.

The front-yard hockey rink, long, long ago

Larry, John and Ken on the rink

The place: the Manse’s front yard. The time: winter (obviously) 1971 or ’72. The hockey players: (from left) Larry Parks of the Boston Bruins, John Sedgwick of the Montreal Canadiens, and Ken Sedgwick of no fixed team and, like a real hockey player, missing a few front teeth.

People, I am no weather forecaster, but I’m going to venture this: I think we may have finally broken the back of this brutal winter. Yes, I know the windchill is supposed to be down at some ridiculous double-digit-below-zero number – again – overnight tonight; but have you noticed how in the daytime for the past couple of days, the air has felt a tad less bitter? That there has seemed to be a tiny bit of warmth in the sun when it shines? And that the sun has, in fact, been shining a fair bit recently? I do believe we will come out of this thing yet. And that there will be spring, and that the bulbs I planted late last fall on the south lawn of the Manse will come up.

But before winter gets away from us, I want to share a happy winter memory from long ago at this same Manse. The photo that you see at the top of this post was taken on the makeshift ice rink that my family had in the front yard for several winters in the years when I was growing up here. And the young hockey players are none other than my brothers John (centre) and Ken (right) and their great friend (and all-round excellent guy) Larry Parks, whose family lived at the other end of Queensborough. (Which is all of about 300 yards away from the Manse.)

Isn’t it a great photo?

Don’t you love the low-tech hockey uniforms and equipment, the less-than-fancy skates, the missing front teeth in Ken’s big smile, and the chipped, uneven ice under those skates? Does it bring back memories of the days when a makeshift rink in the front yard was all kids needed for endless hours of fun?

The photo (which comes to me courtesy of grown-up John) does all that for me, and in addition provides still more useful evidence of how our corner of Queensborough looked back then – which I’m guessing would be about 1971 or ’72. Maybe you won’t be surprised to hear that this corner of Queensborough doesn’t look very much different even now, 40-some years later.

Which cheers me almost as much as does this delightful photo of three boys having fun on our front-yard rink, in simpler times. Good old times.

Canada Fitness Awards: “great thing” or “kid’s nightmare”?

Canada Fitness Awards Award of ExcellenceI laughed out loud when my brother John recently texted me this photo, which brought back a lot of 1970s memories – few of them good. Do you recognize it? It is, of course (as those of us of a certain age and Canadianness will inevitably know) an Award of Excellence badge, the highest award for fitness in the Canada Fitness Awards that that damned 60-year-old Swede brought to all our classrooms. Including those at Madoc Township Public School, the excellent rural elementary school that John and I and our siblings attended when we were kids growing up here at the Manse in Queensborough.

I refer of course to the (in)famous study from 1972 that found that the average 60-year-old Swede was in at least as good shape as the average 30-year-old Canadian, and that inspired the Participaction program – only in the 1970s could anyone have come up with a name like “Participaction” – and the Canada Fitness Awards.

Here, by the way, is the Participaction television ad featuring that infernal Swede:

Anyway, the goal of the Canada Fitness Awards was apparently to get us lard-bottomed young Canadians off our lardy bottoms and doing flexed arm hangs and standing long jumps and 50-yard dashes and the like. All for the sake of a measly badge – bronze, silver, gold or the specially shaped Award of Excellence – to wear on your jacket. If you were lucky enough (i.e. fit enough) to win anything at all, that is.

I think most of us remember those days with distaste verging on horror. Oh sure, there were the athletic kids for whom it was nothing, who barely broke a sweat as they earned Awards of Excellence; but for a lot of other kids, including people like me who always preferred reading in the library to any kind of sport, it was a gruesome experience.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, the awards program was discontinued in 1992, “in part because it discouraged those it was intended to motivate.” Gee, it only took them 20 years to figure that out!

In a rather fun looking-back post here at the blog Glenn’s Take (subtitle: “Positive Advice for Daily, Healthy Living”) headlined What Happened to the Canada Fitness Test?, Glenn (I assume it’s he) notes that there was an episode of the CBC-TV comedy series Corner Gas in which a character declared that ““The Canada Fitness Program was the last great thing this country ever did.”

Well! That’s some crazy stuff. And: I beg to differ. And: I bet I’m not alone.

Fellow Canada Fitness Awards victims, are you with me?