The internet came, and then it went away again

Queensborough, we have an internet problem. Again.

But then, if you live in the Queensborough area, I’m pretty sure you know that. Why? Because not long ago I asked you, and you answered. Boy, did you answer.

Some good news about this internet problem, however, is that I have put my journalistic skills to use, made some inquiries, and now have a suggested plan of action. It does require something from you, my dear Queensborough reader, but only this: that you pick up your phone and call our local internet provider. Yes, you know the one:

Xplornet logo

For the benefit of non-Queensborough readers, let me provide some background on all this. And then I’ll share what I’ve learned about what can be done.

Longtime readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse may recall my many posts on the topic of slow to non-existent internet from the early years Raymond and I spent here in Queensborough. Between our purchase of the Manse in January 2012 and a magical day in March 2015 (more on that in just a bit), our internet situation was absolutely dire. The signal was impossibly slow; streaming services such as Netflix were out of the question; and the incredibly lame service that we had was still costing us $100 a month. (You can read some of my posts on the topic here and here and here.) Many were the evenings when the frustration of the endless hours it took to do a simple internet thing like putting up a blog post for you all to read had me practically in tears.

But then on March 19, 2015, the internet came to the Manse! Xplornet Communications, the company tasked with providing high-speed internet to rural Eastern Ontario, had just erected a tower on DeClair Road a bit east of Queensborough. On that magical Thursday in March, a technician came to the Manse to install a setup allowing us to connect to the tower. As you can read in my excited post about it here, and an even more exuberant followup a month later, we suddenly had endless and gloriously fast internet, for about the same price we’d been paying for the previous ghastly setup. We could watch Netflix! Raymond could watch his beloved Boston Red Sox games, streamed in high definition! I could do blog posts quickly and without tears! It was wonderful!

And it wasn’t just us: suddenly all of Queensborough (with exception of one household that had too many trees between it and the DeClair Road tower) had access to lightning-fast internet. Basically, it changed our lives – forever, we thought.

Alas, “forever” turned out to be about three years.

Since this past spring, internet in Queensborough has once again been terrible. Not so much in the daytime, mind you; but in the evening, when everyone’s home and online – Facebook, Netflix, Raymond watching his Red Sox via the Major League Baseball streaming app – it slows to a crawl at best and a complete freeze a great deal of the time. Here, let me show you with a little video of the action – actually inaction, due to the internet freeze – during a Red Sox-Tampa Bay Rays game the other night. The only “action” you’ll see until the freeze finally lets up is the ever-circling “loading” wheel – appropriately named (not by me) “the spinning wheel of death”:

These freezes happen dozens of times during every game. Lately, Raymond’s just given up trying to watch most evenings. And while that’s causing him so much grief, I’m usually trying to compose emails or blog posts or some such, and experiencing exactly the same thing – freeze after freeze, and more of the spinning wheel of death. The situation is every bit as frustrating as it was pre-2015. And we’re paying more than $100 a month for this?

About 10 days ago, I decided I’d had enough. It was time for action.

Step 1 was to get confirmation of how bad, and how widespread, the problem is. I already knew from a couple of conversations I’d had with neighbours that we are not the only household experiencing suddenly terrible internet. I felt quite certain that all of Queensborough was having the same problem – doubtless because more families have moved to the area in recent times, and because they (and everybody else) are using the internet more than ever. My educated guess was that the DeClair Road tower could no longer meet internet demand from Queensborough. But I needed some ammunition for Step 2, and so I sent out a message via social media outlining our no-internet-in-the-evenings situation and asking my fellow Queensborough-area residents to tell me if the same thing was happening to them. Which they did.

Facebook post on slow internet

The Facebook post in which I asked residents of our area whether they are experiencing the same internet problems as we are here at the Manse. The replies came thick and fast, and confirmed that we have a Queensborough-wide problem.

“I have the exact same experience and complaint, Katherine,” wrote one person.

“We had tons of issues in the last year with the internet service,” wrote another.

“Same issue,” said several others.

“I almost curse them all the time now,” wrote someone who happens to be a devout Christian. Wow!

Armed with confirmation that the problem is Queensborough-wide, I moved on to Step 2, which was to call Xplornet. Two hours on the phone later, I had a much-reduced internet bill and quite a bit of information. Which I now want to share with my fellow slow-internet sufferers.

The first department I got was customer service. I explained to the pleasant woman who took my call (after about 45 minutes on hold) about how all of Queensborough was experiencing the same internet problems, that the tower that services us must be beyond its capacity, and that we’re all pretty darn frustrated. She told me that:

  • Additional panels can be put onto a tower to resolve the problem of overload (though she stressed that this technical end of things was not her area of expertise).
  • All calls about such problems are logged and actively monitored by Xplornet, and if there is a sudden influx of calls of complaint from one particular area, there’s more likely to be action to resolve the problem. Which is why, Queensborough people, you should call! The number (which you can find on your bill) is 1-866-841-6001.

Anyway, back to my call. The last thing the customer-service rep did was: cut my monthly internet bill by $30! The reduction is good for the next six months, and if service hasn’t improved at the end of that time, it will be renewed.

And when I politely but persistently reminded her that I’d already paid more than $100 a month for several months’ worth of terrible service, she also gave me a rebate of one month’s charge. The next bill arrived a few days later, and because of all the reductions, I ended up with something even better than a zero balance: a credit of about $25.

So: did I mention that you should make that call? That number again is 1-866-841-6001. (But make sure you have a cup of coffee and something to read in hand, to get you through the wait time to speak to an agent.)

So then my helpful customer-service rep transferred me over to Xplornet’s technical department, where I had a long and enlightening chat with a member of the technical team. Once again I told my whole story, including the fact that all of Queensborough is experiencing the same problem.

He told me that towers, including the DeClair Road one, are being upgraded with what’s called an overlay, to add capacity. He noted – and I know this is true – that these upgrades can’t be done at the drop of a hat; there are licensing issues involved that take time. But he did confirm that the work “is under way.” When I asked when it would be completed, he said Xplornet does not give out end dates for such projects, but said he suspects it’ll be mid to late September at the latest – if only because the company doesn’t want its workers up on the towers when bad weather comes.

When I told him about the customer-service rep’s advice to urge people to call about the problem, he agreed that a bunch of calls from our area might well get the timeline for the tower work bumped up. So people! Call! 1-866-841-6001. And please tell them, as I did, that the problem you’re experiencing is shared by everyone in our area. This definitely adds oomph to the complaint, and avoids an agent trying to solve a (probably nonexistent) problem with your own personal setup.

Oh, and a bit more information I got: for those of you who get your internet via Xplornet satellite rather than from the DeClair Road tower, but are experiencing the same problem with painfully slow loading times: it’s again because of capacity issues. Demand on the satellite signal is growing very quickly, just like demand on the towers. I suggest you too call to let the company know about the problem, and inquire what can be done about reducing your bill until the signal comes up to snuff.

Internet announcement

The posting on Hastings-Lennox and Addington MP Mike Bossio’s website about the plan to bring the internet via fibre-optic cable to our area. The announcement was made at the Signal Brewery in Corbyville (once the site of the famous Corby Distillery), and on hand were (from left) Signal owner Richard Courneyea, Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis, Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of innovation, science and economic development, Jill Raycroft of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, MP Mike Bossio, and Xplornet chief executive officer Allison Lenehan.

FibreRoute

The network of fibre-optic cables that will bring super-duper internet to our area within a couple of years – or at least, that’s the promise. (Photo via lennox-addington.on.ca; click to enlarge)

Now, in the slightly longer term there is some good news for us all. Last month, our MP, Mike Bossio (a schoolmate of mine in Madoc back in the days when I was growing up in this area), announced a partnership between the federal government and Xplornet to improve high-speed internet in Eastern Ontario using an existing network of fibre-optic cables. You can read about it here, and you’ll see on the map, as well as in the news story, that our entire area – the Municipality of Tweed, of which Queensborough is a part, and neighbouring Madoc Township, which is Queensborough-adjacent – are included. This is fantastic!

The only down side is that this new and improved service won’t be up and running until 2020. And yes, I know we’re already more than halfway through 2018, but a year and a half is a long time to deal with frozen-screen baseball games. Just ask Raymond.

So until then? Call Xplornet. Be polite but persistent. We had great internet for one brief shining moment. (Okay, it lasted three glorious years). We need to get it back!

A historic day at Madoc Township Public School

The grads

The history-making Madoc Township Public School Grade 8 graduation class of 2018: from left, Riley Gunter, Lauren Harvey, Grace Madill, Bailey Perry and Autumn Stevenson. Behind them are their proud teachers; at far left is their proud principal, Leanne Pond. Good job, everyone!

Five bright, smiling young people made history today at Madoc Township Public School. And I am delighted to say that Raymond and I were there for the occasion.

The event: Grade 8 graduation. Which in and of itself doesn’t sound all that historic. I mean, there are Grade 8 graduations happening at schools all over North America, even at the moment that I type this.

But this Grade 8 graduation was special.

Graduation cake

The beautiful cake that was served to grads, families, friends and community members, along with other yummy refreshments, in the school library following the ceremony.

It was the first time there had been a Grade 8 graduation at Madoc Township Public school in – wait for it – half a century!

And it happened because, and only because, a year and a half ago the community of Madoc Township and surrounding rural areas (including Queensborough) took a stand against the planned closure of MTPS. The community joined forces, organized, spoke up, made its case – and, in a move that came as a huge but very happy surprise, won. The trustees who make up the public school board voted unanimously not only to keep our only school open, but to bring back, after 50 years, Grades 7 and 8. (You can read that whole saga, from beginning to end, if you click on “Madoc Township Public School” in the Categories section on the right-hand side of the home page of Meanwhile, at the Manse. But the story of the thrilling and surprising happy ending is here.)

Before and after this afternoon’s ceremony, Raymond and I spent some time looking at photos and displays about the history of Madoc Township Public School that are on the walls outside the school gym. This panel explains why the students in Grades 7 and 8 were moved from the school in the first place:

Queensboro/Millbridge

I remember that change very well; as a “Queensboro” student who began Grade 1 at MTPS in September 1966… Oh, wait. Let me interrupt that sentence to show you the evidence, also from the historic display:My Grade 1 class

Now then – where was I? Okay, right: as a student at MTPS who started in 1966, I remember it being a Grade 1 to Grade 8 school initially, but then the changeover being made when the kids from the Millbridge area in Tudor and Cashel Township to the north of us joined our classes, and kindergarten was added, and “the big kids” in Grades 7 and 8 began to be bused to Madoc Public School a few miles south of us. The fact that this allowed us (because I was one of those bused to MPS once I too became a “big kid”) to take classes in home ec (strictly for the girls) and shop (strictly for the boys; this is unthinkable 50 years later, and that’s a good thing) at the local high school, which is right beside Madoc Public School, was considered a big deal in those days. Today? Not so much. I suspect home ec is long dead, and students who want to learn auto mechanics and woodworking can do that once they get to high school. (Back then a lot of kids left school at ago 16 to work, because that was something you could actually do at the time. And so they probably wanted to get their shop skills as early in life as possible.)

But I digress. Let’s go back to today’s happy occasion!

Because it was such a historic event, the school very kindly invited the community to come and take part. Here is the invitation that went out on its Facebook page:Graduation invitation

When I read in the invitation that the students had chosen the theme “Fairy Tale Land” for the event – we learned this afternoon that the full name was “Fairy Tale Land/Happily Ever After” – I just thought, “Well. How perfect is that?” Because the story of our school not only still being open in June 2018, a year after it was slated to close, and graduating its first Grade 8s in half a century – well, if you can think of a more perfect storybook ending, you’ve got more imagination than I do.

As we entered the gym, we were immediately struck by how the students had decorated the stage in keeping with the fairy tale/storybook theme:

Stage is set for the grads

And then the simple but delightful ceremony began, with the grads proceeding in, to much applause from their proud parents, community members and fellow students; speeches from principal Leanne Pond, teachers, and school-board superintendent Cathy Portt, who hit the nail on the head when she called Madoc Township Public School “an enchanted place”; the presentation of the graduation certificates and an impressive array of awards to the students; a performance by the MTPS choir; and a truly inspiring speech by two of the grads, Lauren Harvey and Grace Madill.

In keeping with the storybook theme, I liked this artwork posted on the rear wall of the gym, featuring the handprints of each of the grads. Just as MTPS received a “happily ever after” vote of confidence a year ago, these five young people were today sent out into the world of high school and beyond with a gymful of pride, overflowing hearts, and confident hopes that they too will have happily ever afters.

Welcome to our Happily Ever After

Now, you may be wondering: why were there only five graduates? The answer is simple. When the school trustees made their surprise but fantastic decision almost exactly a year ago to keep MTPS open and add Grades 7 and 8, students from our area who were slated to be in Grade 8 in the 2017-18 academic year were finishing up their Grade 7 year at Madoc Public School – just like Grade 7s had been doing for the past half-century. Not at all suprisingly, many of those students, having already made the move and the adjustment to the “town” school – having made new friends, been on teams, and been fully involved in school life there – chose to carry on into Grade 8 at MPS. Only a small number opted to return to Madoc Township Public School for Grade 8. Both decisions were completely understandable, but I can’t help saying “Bravo!” to those who came back. The place those five young people cemented in the history of MTPS this afternoon is their excellent reward.

Meanwhile, I learned today that the Grade 7 class at MTPS this year is an extremely respectable size: 17 students! So next year’s Grade 8 graduation (which I hope I can attend as well, because some of my young Queensborough friends will be graduating) will be a much bigger affair.

But I kind of think the small size of today’s graduating class is perfect. It was an intimate affair, and it means there’s a lot of pride and history for each of those five young people to share and remember for their whole lives.

So here’s to you, Riley…

Riley

and Lauren…

Lauren

and Grace…

Grace

and Bailey…

Bailey

and Autumn…

Autumn

You made history today!

The congratulations and good wishes of our whole rural community surround you and go with you as you move on to the next stage of your life and education. We are so proud of you – and of our wonderful community school.

Hey, Queensborough: Let’s talk about Queensborough!

Which direction for Queensborough?

What direction for Queensborough? Please come and have your say, and enjoy some wine and cheese, this coming Saturday (May 12, 2018) at the Queensborough Community Centre.

You know, I love the fact that people from all over the world – and I mean all over the world; in the past couple of days alone, we’re talking Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, the U.K., the Philippines, Australia, France, Ireland and Russia, in addition to Canada and the U.S. – check into and read Meanwhile, at the Manse. People out there in the wider world: Thank you! I love you! But my most important audience will always be the people who live right here in our North of 7 neck of the woods, because – well, because you are my people. And because we are doing things together. Good things.

This post is aimed at that local audience. It’s about an interesting experiment we’re undertaking this coming Saturday (May 12) for the people who live in and care about Queensborough and the Greater Queensborough Area.

(What is the GQA, you ask? Well, I define it by the roads that lead into or are close to our hamlet. If you live anywhere on Bosley, Barry, DeClair, Rockies, Hunt Club or Queensborough roads – as well as the smaller roads that lead off them, like Hass, Carson, Hart’s and Cromwell; and then there’s Cooper Road and surrounding offshoots – then feel free to consider yourself a citizen of the Greater Queensborough Area.)

The event, organized by the Queensborough Community Centre committee, of which Raymond and I are proud members, is called Wine, Cheese and Chat About Queensborough. Here’s the deal: you show up at the Queensborough Community Centre (our hamlet’s historic and well-preserved former one-room school, at 1853 Queensborough Rd.) at 4 p.m. Saturday; you are warmly welcomed and offered a glass of red or white wine (donated by volunteers with the committee) – or, if you prefer, a cup of coffee or tea – plus some first-rate local cheese from the Ivanhoe Cheese Factory; and after half an hour or so, when everyone’s met everyone and we’re all feeling comfortable, we’ll sit down and talk among ourselves about our little community.

The background is this:

Six years ago, a whole bunch of people from the Greater Queensborough Area gathered in the same place (though without the wine and cheese, more’s the pity) and tossed around ideas for what they’d like to see happen in Queensborough: their vision for the community, if you like. The event was, like this coming Saturday’s, organized by the Queensborough Community Centre Committee; and, like this coming Saturday’s will be, it was brilliantly helped along (I can’t bear the bureaucratic word “facilitated”) by Karen Fischer, an agriculture and rural economic development advisor (in the old days they called them “ag reps”) for our region with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Karen has been a staunch – and I mean staunch – friend to Queensborough over the years. She has attended so many meetings, responded to so many emails, offered up so many ideas: I think – in fact I know – that she likes us here in Queensborough! She really likes us! And so I know she’ll do a great job once again this coming Saturday, helping us corral and organize our ideas and maybe turn them into one or more plans of action.

The upshot of that gathering six years ago was a vision statement and four goals for our community. This vision statement says:

The Queensborough Community vision is to maintain a quality rural lifestyle through building community pride and preserving its heritage, and supporting and developing a vibrant commercial, residential, recreational and cultural setting.

And the four goals we set were:

  • Develop community pride
  • Preserve our heritage
  • Develop economically
  • Enjoy.

But now, prodded by Karen and ourselves, we’re wondering: do the vision and the goals need to be updated? A lot of people – including, wonderfully, a lot of young families – have moved into our community since 2012. What do these new Queensborough residents – you new Queensborough residents – need, want, expect and hope for from our community? And how can we all work together to make this happen?

Those are the questions we’ll be asking, and hopefully answering, this coming Saturday.

And here’s what I have to say about all this: you should come!

Because there’s so much we can talk about!

Like, for instance (to throw out some of my own pet beefs/ideas/projects):

  • Why in the HECK can’t we get trash and recycling pickup in Queensborough? Having to emit ridiculous amounts of fossil-fuel pollution into the environment as we drive all the way to the Tweed dump at Stoco is just ridiculous, especially when the trash and recycling pickup trucks from neighbouring Madoc Township drive right through our hamlet on the way from pickup in the Cooper area to their next stop on Queensborough Road to the west. Can we not persuade our municipal council to help us find a way to piggyback onto that service?
  • Would games nights at the Queensborough Community Centre be a good idea? Back in the day (that would be my long-ago childhood here in Queensborough), crowds of people would show up every week for euchre parties at the QCC, and everyone had a whale of a time. Some local hamlets – notably Actinolite, which along with Queensborough is the only other population centre (if you count “population” as being 50 or so people) in Elzevir Township, now part of the Municipality of Tweed – still have euchre parties, and they are still popular. Meanwhile, local libraries hold games afternoons at which people young and old gather to enjoy playing all kinds of board games. I’ve already spoken with one fairly new Queensborough resident who would love to attend regular games nights; should we try it?

But what else? What do we need in Queensborough? I’m voting for a store, but you all knew that, given my many posts on the topic and my nostalgia for the general stores that once upon a time were pretty much the heart of our community. What else? More in the way of kids’ playgrounds and activities? More heritage stuff? (Don’t even get me started on my cunning but still secret plan to turn a historic but decrepit and neglected building into the official Queensborough archives … )

What are your ideas for our community?

People, we need you. It’ll be a fun and fulsome exchange of ideas. Do you have kids? Bring them along! We’ll have juice boxes and lots of people with lots of kid experience to help entertain them while you’re engaged in visionary discussions.

Here’s the official poster for the event that went out to the community via Canada Post. If you live in the GQA, I hope and expect you’ve seen it. If you’re further afield but are a friend of Queensborough, and would like to join in the discussion, you are so welcome.

Queensborough wine, cheese and chat

Your community really does need you. Even if you’re one of the quiet households on Barry, Bosley, Queensborough, DeClair, Rockies, etc. roads who keep to yourselves – this is a fantastic chance to come out to a friendly gathering, meet some neighbours, and participate in a great discussion for a future that will affect all of us.

As I finish this post lateish into the evening, the peepers are singing their hearts out in “downtown” Queensborough. Their music is making its way into the Manse through the screened doors and windows. This lovely spring that has finally arrived has brought new life everywhere, and our hamlet is looking so beautiful. As I weeded the flower garden for the first time of the season today, I waved to so many cars and trucks passing by, and everyone waved back.

We live in a wonderful place; we are so fortunate. Especially when it comes to our friends and neighbours.

So: let’s channel all of that good stuff about living in this lovely, quiet place, look to the future – and make that future a good one for us, and for the generations that follow us, in the GQA.

Oh, and P.S.: Whether you can come on Saturday or not, please visit the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page or click here and respond to a quick and easy survey we’ve posted there (with much help from our friend Karen Fischer); your answers (and by the way, the survey is completely anonymous) will be SO helpful as we chart our community’s course.

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?

A Queensborough miscellany, complete with porcupine

Roscoe, Liz and me at the Manse

Raymond and I had some visitors to the Manse one recent hot summery September Sunday afternoon: nonagenarian Roscoe Keene and his daughter Elizabeth Turcotte. (That’s me to the left of Roscoe.) While they both live in the area of Elginburg, Ont., Roscoe grew up in Madoc Township and has many family ties in this area. He also has a very special tie to the Manse, and there’s a reason why this part of the house was chosen for a photo to commemorate the visit. Read on for more…

Time for a another roundup of the news from Queensborough, people. I believe I’ve mentioned before that there’s never a dull moment in our little hamlet; here’s a sampling of what’s been happening over the past week or so, just to prove my point. And yes, read to the end and you will be rewarded with a porcupine.

Turkey Supper 2017

We had a full house and a lot of happy diners at the St. Andrew’s United Church Turkey Supper last Wednesday. Everyone was in a good mood, and the food and conversation were great. Another huge success in a long history of feeding people well at St. Andrew’s!

First: thank you so much to all who came out for the famous annual Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church! We had a fantastic turnout of people from near and far, and everyone was so nice and so complimentary about the fine meal. Best of all, since all the volunteer cooks and pie-bakers had been asked to cook and bake a bit more than usual, our food supply held up well and – unlike last year, when the unexpectedly huge crowd meant we ran out by the end – there was lots left after the doors closed, which meant that the hard-working cooks, servers, ticket-sellers and dishwashers could sit down together and enjoy a great feast. This event, which has been going on for longer than I’ve been on this planet (which is a not inconsiderable time), is an important one for St. Andrew’s: important because it gives us a chance to open our doors to the wider community and share one of our church’s great gifts, which is our ability to feed people really, really well; and also important because the money raised will help support the work of our little church both here and in the wider world. A good time was had by all, and it was for a very good cause.

Next item: A great visit and some sharing of memories at the Manse. Take another look at the photo at the top of this post. It shows Roscoe Keene and his daughter Elizabeth Turcotte (with yours truly), when Roscoe and Liz dropped in for a long-planned visit a week ago Sunday. We’re standing in front of the northeast corner of the Manse – which, as it happens, is just about the same place where Roscoe posed for a photo with his family on the day he and the former Joan Murray were married at the Manse, 72 years earlier. I told you the story of that wedding in this post, and here is one of the photos I used in it, showing the dashingly handsome and very happy groom with his new bride and his family:

Keene wedding

Joan (second from left) and Roscoe Keene in front of the northeast corner of the Manse on the day they were married here: June 9, 1945. With them are (from left) Roscoe’s sister Winnifred Ketcheson; Bessie Keene, Roscoe and Winnifred’s mother; and Cora Patterson – who, as the wife of The Rev. W.W. Patterson, who had just performed the wedding ceremony, lived in the house where Raymond and I do now. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson, Winnifred’s son and Roscoe’s nephew)

Item #3 is what I like to think of as a little Canada Post miracle. The other day this package arrived at the Manse:

Mailed to the Manse

What it contained was the latest issue of Municipal World magazine, which includes a story by my friend Liz Huff of Seeley’s Bay, Ont. Liz and I met when we were both speakers at events called Teeny Tiny Summits, organized by small municipalities and the Ontario Ministry of  Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for people who live in teeny tiny places (like Queensborough and Seeley’s Bay) to share ideas on maintaining their communities as great places to live, attracting people to them, and ensuring that residents get the services they need. Liz’s story is about those events and how they’re helping rural Ontario, and she was kind enough to make mention in it of me and my work here at Meanwhile, at the Manse.

But nice as it was to get the magazine with Liz’s story in it, I have to confess that the real thrill was that the package made it to us at all! After all, Queensborough hasn’t had a post office for almost 50 years; and “The Manse” isn’t exactly the kind of “911 address” that Canada Post usually insists on for delivery. (I wrote here about how a letter I’d sent a while back to a rural route address – something that worked just fine for mail delivery for decades – was sent right back to me by the post office.)

So: wow! Thank you, Canada Post, for recognizing Queensborough, even though it isn’t officially a post-office place (and in fact is confusingly torn between two other post-office places, as you can read here). Perhaps the Manse has become a destination!

And now the item that I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: Yes, it’s the porcupine. Raymond spotted it this morning on Queensborough Road just west of the village. When he stopped the car and hopped out to get some footage, Porky waddled from the eastbound lane over to the side of the road, continuing his westward journey while accompanying himself with a little hum. (Actually those sounds are probably him expressing concern about Raymond’s presence.) We’ve seen too many of these remarkable creatures dead in the middle of the road, struck by vehicles and left for the turkey vultures to pick over. What a nice change to come across one alive and well, and saying hello to boot!

Now it’s on us – to celebrate our school, and to work for it

Thanking the trustees

Some of the people who have worked so hard to save Madoc Township Public School (at left, from left, Margaret Heard, Wendy Spence and Amy Beaton) offer handshakes and heartfelt thanks to school-board trustees (in foreground is Dwayne Inch; behind him is Jim Patterson, and half-hidden while shaking Amy’s hand is Mary Hall) this evening for their unanimous support of keeping MTPS open and returning to it students in Grades 7 and 8.

Call it a victory for rural education. Call it the best-case scenario for the children of Madoc, Elzevir and Tudor and Cashel townships. Call it a huge shot in the arm for our local economy and way of life. Call it whatever you like. We have something to celebrate.

This evening, the trustees who make up the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board voted unanimously to keep Madoc Township Public School open, and to expand it by bringing back students in Grades 7 and 8 as of this coming September. Here’s the video of the vote that put paid to the whole thing:

Big crowd at the school-board meeting

The boardroom was filled to capacity for this evening’s final votes by the school board on the future of quite a few schools in Hastings and Prince Edward counties. Many supporters of Madoc Township Public School were among the crowd.

After a campaign that lasted more than six months – beginning in November 2016, when administrators with the board announced their recommendation to close MTPS and bus its students to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc as of this September – our community emerged stronger than when the whole thing started. Madoc Township’s only school will not only be able to carry on its long tradition of excellence in education, but students from our rural area will be able to attend it through Grade 8 rather than (as has been the case for about 45 years) be bused into “town.”

This is an astounding outcome, and one that even the most optimistic among us campaigners for MTPS barely dared think about, let alone hope for, during these past six months.

(If anyone reading this is unaware of the whole saga, which I freely admit I’ve covered in perhaps more detail than anyone wanted, just click on the “Madoc Township Public School” category on the right side of this blog’s home page. It’s all there – every step of the way.)

Thanks to Trustee Danes from MTPS supporters

Centre Hastings Trustee Bonnie Danes (left) was all smiles after this evening’s board meeting, as supporters of Madoc Township Public School, including recent MTPS grad Brooklyn Gylyktiuk (right foreground) and her mum, Wendy Spence, thanked her for her tireless work.

Every single one of the trustees on the board gets my huge thanks – and I hope yours too – for this vote of confidence in our school and our community. But I’d really like to single out Centre Hastings Trustee Bonnie Danes, who I think I’m safe in saying spearheaded the work behind the scenes at the board level in pushing for MTPS’s continued existence. I am sure that Southeast Hastings Trustee Justin Bray worked really hard on this one too. Trustees Danes and Bray: thank you so much!

As for the core of volunteers who have championed the cause of our local school on behalf of the community as a whole – who attended what seems like endless meetings, and put hundreds of hours into researching, planning, lobbying, networking, worrying (hey, I have to be honest) and strategizing – really, there are no words. Here they are, and it is one of the greatest honours of my life that they asked me to be in the photo with them:

The MTPS crew

Some of the core group of Madoc Township Public School supporters and activists who made it happen: from left, honorary member Brooklyn Gylyktiuk (an MTPS grad), plus some of the main crew: Wendy Spence, Margaret Heard, Randy Gray, Denise Gray, Holly Kormann, Amy Beaton – and, I feel shy to say and very honoured because they asked me to be in the photo, me.

So what happens next?

Well, we know that MTPS will be open for business this coming September, welcoming students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8. That is just amazing. And wonderful. And I think we should have a party! Maybe now; maybe in September. Whenever: a time for kids, parents and the community at large to gather on the five-plus acres at Madoc Township Public School for an afternoon or evening of kids running and jumping and exploring and playing soccer or softball or tag or hide and seek, parents taking photos and refereeing and chatting and enjoying the outdoors, and community members sharing their memories (old or new) of happy times at MTPS. With hot dogs and lemonade and conversation and smiles and tears of joy. Wouldn’t that be fun?

But in the longer term (and by that I mean only the very slightly longer term, i.e. starting pretty much now), I think it behooves all of us – parents, community members and MTPS students and supporters – to step up and show our ongoing support. I’m speaking only for myself here, but maybe I’m not alone in having realized that until six months ago, I took Madoc Township Public School for granted. It was there, it was a great school and a great asset to our community, and I assumed it would continue to be all of that.

And then we almost lost it. As Joni Mitchell says: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” Now, I think we did know what we had; but maybe we weren’t doing everything we could to ensure our community would continue to have it.

In the note of thanks that I sent to the 10 trustees last week after they passed their first (though not final) vote in favour of keeping MTPS open, I wrote this:

The confidence the trustees have shown in our school inspires me to do everything I can to ensure the community in turn does everything it can to support MTPS. Ways we can help that come to mind immediately are fundraising for playground, library and other school equipment and resources; assistance in establishing after-school care to help working parents; and support for outdoor-education programs that take full advantage of our school’s unparalleled green space. But I’m sure there are many other ways we can continue and expand our support.

I really mean that, and I hope others in the community will feel the same. If we want to continue to have this splendid school in our community, we can’t take it for granted; we have to work for it! And the more we do to help and improve our school, the greater its success will be – and the more assured will be its continued existence.

Madoc Township Public School, June 12, 2017

This is our school – and I am so proud of it!

One area that I feel strongly about is support for the school library. When I was a kid attending that brand-new school back in the 1960s and ’70s, it had a wonderful library – lots of books, comfy chairs, a welcoming ambience; it made you want to just curl up and read and read and read. Among my happiest memories of MTPS days are exploring all the books on the shelves, learning how they were categorized and shelved, and taking advantage of the newfangled (hey, it was the ’60s) audio-visual equipment. When I returned to MTPS for its fantastic 50th-anniversary celebration in 2011 (even before Raymond and I had bought the Manse and I resumed my childhood Queensborough connection), I was a little sad to see that the beautiful library space had been chopped up and turned largely into a computer lab, with a much-reduced library parked in a former classroom. If someone asked me tomorrow to head up a fundraising campaign to support and improve that library and the experience it offers the kids of MTPS, I would accept in a heartbeat. And this from someone (me) who is seriously lacking in free time – but aren’t we all? Hey, what can you do to support our school? Please think about it.

Our community has just received a priceless gift: our school, saved and supported. Let’s pay it forward by doing everything we can to make Madoc Township Public School even better, and in the process ensure a brilliant future for it, our kids and the rural place we are so proud to call home.