With spring come the street sweepers, we hope

Bunny on street signs

Classic Queensborough in springtime: blue skies, high water on the Black River by the historic Thompson mill – and happy little Easter bunnies added to our made-in-Queensborough street signs by the beautification committee!

Peter's sap bucket

An old-fashioned (though brand-new) sap bucket for one of the small maple-syrup operations in the Queensborough neighbourhood.

There are so many things to love about the arrival of spring in pretty little Queensborough. The goldfinches and woodpeckers that appear at your bird feeders. The peepers who will soon be singing their little hearts out in every watery place (including a marshy area kitty-corner from the Manse.) The roaring high water of the Black River, and the colourful kayakers who come with it. The sight of buckets on the maple trees, signifying that someone’s making maple syrup. The brightly coloured Easter bunnies that our village’s beautification committee has placed on all the street signs.

On the other hand, there is the sand.

Let me explain. Our municipal snowplowing guy is absolutely outstanding when it comes to keeping the streets in our village and the surrounding roads safe to travel in wintertime. On snowy and icy days, he’s out there plowing and sanding at all hours of the day and night, and I know I speak for everyone when I say his efforts are very, very much appreciated.

But come springtime, we get the downside of all that sand that kept us from slip-sliding away in December, January and February. As the snow melts, what’s left behind are big piles of sand on the sides of the streets, the sidewalks – and the fronts of our yards. Every year the municipality sends around sidewalk sweepers and street sweepers (machines, I mean, not people with brooms). That’s all well and good for cleaning the streets and sidewalks (though not so much if they send them before the snow even melts, which has been known to happen). But it doesn’t help us property-owners with all the sand piled up streetside in our front yards.

Jos shovelling sand

How much sand is there? you ask. This photo (taken from a video by my friend and neighbour Marykay York-Pronk) gives you a pretty good idea. That’s her husband, Jos, chair of the beautification committee and the craftsman who made our Queensborough street signs, shovelling this past Sunday in front of their building at the heart of the village. (Photo courtesy of Marykay York-Pronk)

The good news is that this year some forward-thinking people in the community have been in communication with the municipal works department, and have wrested from the works folks an agreement that, if we’ll get the sand from our lawns onto the street, the sweepers will take it away. There’s also been some newfound communication that has resulted in us getting a heads-up as to when the sweepers will arrive, rather than it being an unannounced surprise as has generally been the case in the past. For all this good co-ordination work, I’d like to say to my friend and neighbour Anne Barry: please stand up and take a bow! We all thank you.

So if you’ve happened to drive through Queensborough over the past few days and noticed long rows of piled sand in front of several properties – well, now you know what it was all about. I did my bit today, having received notice from Anne this morning that the arrival of the sweeping machines was imminent. What? You’d like to see the fruits of my labours? Oh, I’m so glad you asked! I’m quite proud of them.

Here’s one “before” photo, showing the sand in front of the historic Kincaid house adjacent to the Manse:

Kincaid house before

And here’s the “after” shot, with the sand raked up and ready to be carted off.

Kincaid House after

And here’s a picture of what I achieved in front of the Manse itself:

Manse after raking

I have to tell you that my cleanup was accomplished thanks to good old-fashioned Queensborough neighbourliness. Research done right here in our hamlet (take a bow, Lud Kapusta) has determined that the absolute best tool for raking winter sand off the front of your lawn is this gizmo:

Best rake for sand

The best sand rake of all time, even though I believe it’s technically called a thatching/dandelion rake. Also: the boots of my friend and neighbour Ed, as he holds it up for the photo.

That photo shows Lud’s own sand rake, which I went to inspect a few days ago in the interest of knowing what I was looking for when I went shopping for one of my own. The problem, Raymond and I found out after visits to every single hardware and farm-supply store and lumber yard in the Madoc-Tweed area, is that such rakes are not easy to come by. Even online searches have proved fruitless.

So when I learned this morning that the sweepers were coming and that I’d better get my cleanup done today, I first panicked, and then did what anyone in Queensborough would do: I called my neighbours. Lud and Elaine Kapusta kindly lent me their rake for the morning, and then, when they needed it back to get their own sand cleaned up, I was able to borrow another one from Joanie Harrison. Thank you, folks!

And hey: if anyone can tell me where I can pick up one of those rakes, I would be very much obliged.

Because, you know – I’ll have to do it again next year. Hey, you live in Queensborough, it’s part of the deal.

I’m good with that.

Spring is here to cheer the soul

Welcome to spring, dear readers! Despite the mild winter we’ve had here in Queensborough and many other parts of North America, I think I speak for pretty much all of us when I say that it’s good to experience the sights and sounds of the change of season.

One of the greatest things about spring is that it’s so colourful. After months of the world outside our doors being largely white and brown and grey, it is delightful to see various shades of green emerging – like this bulb poking up hopefully from a spot in the Manse’s tulip and daffodil garden:

A bulb coming up

And the deep orange and black of a woolly bear caterpillar:

Woolly bear caterpillar

And the light-blue buckets that have been hung to collect sap for maple syrup on Queensborough Road:

Sap buckets, Queensborough Road

That’s a sight that gladdens my heart, because it was this same stretch of maples that my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, used to tap for syrup back in the days of my childhood here at the Manse. (I wrote about those happy maple-syrup memories here.)

But there are some brighter signs-of-spring colours too, like the cheerful mix in the spring/Easter display at the headquarters of the Pronk Canada machine shop in “downtown” Queensborough, in the historic building that (in my childhood days) housed Bobbie Sager Ramsay’s general store:

Easter display at Pronk Canada

Meanwhile my friend Graham has done his own annual welcome-to-spring ritual by bringing out his colourful collection of Adirondack (or Muskoka, if you prefer) chairs for a perfect riverside view:

Graham's colourful chairs

But before I get to the most colourful spring event of all in Queensborough, let’s get all multimedia here and switch to audio. Another way you know it’s spring is the chatter and song of the birds, the blue jays and chickadees and mourning doves and juncos and who knows who else who were in full voice the other morning at the Manse:

And now the most colourful part of spring in Queensborough, and it happened just this past weekend. It’s when intrepid kakayers taking part in MACKFest (the Marmora and Area Canoe and Kayak Festival) brave the high, cold waters and challenging rapids of the Black River – just for the fun of it. (I have to tell you that spending several hours in freezing-cold water and scary rapids in a little kayak is not my idea of fun, but these brave souls just love it.) Their run ends with many of them going right over the dam on the river that’s at the heart of Queensborough, something we spectators love to see. And they are rewarded for their efforts on the beautiful lawn of Elaine and Lud Kapusta’s historic home with a warm fire and barbecued hamburgers and hot coffee and lots and lots of pie served up by volunteers with the Queensborough Community Centre Committee. This year there were fewer kayakers than in past seasons, probably due to the MACKFest organizers having changed the date of the event (because of uncertain water conditions) at rather short notice. But it’s always a sight to see, and thanks to three photos by Queensborough photographer Dave deLang you can get a taste of it:

Kayakers above the dam by Dave deLang

A collection of kayakers in the still waters above the dam that is the finish line for their run. (Photo by Dave deLang)

Kayaker about to go over by Dave deLang

The moment of truth: a kayaker far braver than I could ever be prepares to go over the dam. (Photo by Dave deLang)

Kayakers going over the dam by Dave deLang

This is what we wait for all year! You have to see it to believe it. (Photo by Dave deLang)

I don’t know about all of you, but I’ve found this past winter to be a rather trying one. The sights and sounds of spring in Queensborough, though, are guaranteed to make a person feel better about just about everything.

Remembering Dad, who is the reason we are at the Manse


This photo of Dad was taken not long before he died, for a newspaper article about the stone fence that he was building up at the family farm at Gelert in Haliburton County. It captures his kindliness and his open spirit, and I will be forever grateful to reporter/photographer Lance Crossley for taking it.

Today has been a hard one, because it comes with the burden of sad memory. It was 10 years ago this day – Dec. 11, 2004 – that my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, died. My mind has kept flashing back to that terrible December day of his sudden death, to how the shock and grief instantly overwhelmed the lives of my mum, Lorna, and my sister and brothers and me.

us six at the Manse

My family – Dad, Mum and us kids, from left me, Melanie, John and Ken – in the Manse years.

But one of the most important things you can do when a loved one dies, both for yourself and to honour that loved one, is to keep front of mind all the good memories you have of your times together. And that’s mainly what I was thinking about as I drove home to the Manse in little Queensborough tonight after work, welcoming the quiet of the car and the darkness around me to just think about Dad. And especially to think about all the good times our family had right here at the Manse, where we moved when he was a young man and a newly ordained United Church minister and, as I’ve said before, all the world was young. Tonight as I drove past the row of old maple trees out on Queensborough Road west of the village, I was thinking about all the early-spring evenings back in those days of the 1960s and early ’70s when Dad would bring his half-ton truck and a truckload of kids – his own and a bunch of others from the neighbourhood (there’s a photo in this post that should give you an image of that) – to gather sap from those trees, which he tapped every spring to make maple syrup.

shovelling snow

That’s me (in the orange coat), my younger brother Ken, my dad, and Finnigan the dog shovelling snow at the Manse back in the early 1970s.

If it weren’t for Dad, I wouldn’t be on this earth, of course; but more specifically, if it weren’t for Dad having been posted here when he became a minister, I would not have grown up in Queensborough – and I would not have returned here, to this same village and this same house, as an adult, many years later.

Things happen for a reason, don’t they?

I think mainly what I’d like to say tonight is how much I have appreciated, in the almost three years since Raymond and I bought the Manse, the memories that people in the area have been kind enough to share with me about my dad. So often those memories are of him pitching in and helping out in this rural farming community. Pitching in, helping out, and working very, very hard are what Dad was all about, as I wrote in this piece about him. I’ve heard about the time he helped out one farmer, laid up and unable to work, by cleaning all the manure out of the barn. About how he was in the thick of the mess and gore, doing what had to be done, after a horrible fire destroyed a barn and the livestock in it. About him up on the roof of a maple-syrup boiling-house in his “minister clothes,” doing repairs. About him trying to find a way to make sure the long-haired hippie kids at the Rock Acres Peace Festival were doing all right. About him teaching a very nice young couple of back-to-the-land city folk the old-fashioned art of cutting hay with a scythe.

I hear stories like that all the time. My dad is remembered fondly around here by those who knew him. Those stories are a gift, appreciated more than people probably know even as they share them with me.

And Dad’s life was in turn a gift to those around him. His kindness and faith and good humour, his intellectual curiosity and rigorous honesty, his hard work and ever-present willingness to help, made him a friend to many, and a model to more. I am so very proud of him.

And happy, this night, to be in the place where once upon a time, when all the world was young, he brought his young family to live and grow. The Manse was a happy, happy place in those times. I hope it brings Dad joy to know that it still is.

To everything, even these trees, there is a season. But I am sad.

Felled trees on Queensborough Road

It broke my heart to see these felled trees on Queensborough Road this week. Nothing lives forever, of course – but that doesn’t mean one can’t be sad to see the trees go. For me, there is a bit of a personal connection to them: my dad used to tap them to make maple syrup in the spring.

Residents of Queensborough who have had occasion to drive to “town” (Madoc) this past week will have doubtless seen that several large and venerable maple trees on the stretch of Queensborough Road just west of Cedar School Road have been cut down. I confess that when I spotted the first ones taken out, as I was coming home from work at the beginning of the week, I was so surprised that it almost didn’t register. When I saw crews at work starting to do more the next morning – and, that afternoon, the stumps that were the end result – it sank in: those trees, to which I have more than a bit of a personal attachment, were gone.

That personal attachment is twofold:

First, in my childhood – and for many long years before that, something I know from talking to local residents, or former residents, who are even older than I am – the branches of those trees formed the north side of a glorious living canopy over the road. When one drove toward or away from Queensborough anytime from mid-spring through late fall, one passed under this beautiful arch of foliage from the maple trees on both sides of the road, and it was just a lovely, lovely thing. Everyone who ever saw it remembers it – and regrets the fact that, sometime in the late 1970s or so, the trees on the south side were cut down for a planned road-widening that I don’t believe ever happened. (Though if I’m wrong on that, please correct me.)

My second reason for being attached to those trees is that in my childhood here at the Manse, my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick – who was a farmer, woodlot manager, maple-syrup-maker, etc., as well as being a United Church minister – tapped those maples every spring. And my siblings and I, and many other Queensborough kids, would accompany him in his old truck on springtime evenings to collect the sap from the buckets hanging from them (scrambling over the historic split-rail fences to do so). And we would be rewarded with maple taffy on snow – made from the syrup being boiled down on the wood stove in the Manse’s kitchen – at the end of our evening’s work. Those are among the very happiest memories of my entire life. (I wrote about Dad and those maple-syrup days here.)

tree stump

Was this tree dead? I’m no expert so I can’t say. Certainly those old trees didn’t look all that great. But I’m still sad.

But this is not (contrary to what you might be expecting) going to be a rant over big old trees being cut down. Since Raymond and I bought the Manse, we have often remarked (sadly) on how those old trees along Queensborough Road were not looking all that healthy. Mind you, neither of us is an arborist, and for all we knew they were healthier than they looked. But they didn’t look all that good.

I figured that as (unofficial) head of the Queensborough news bureau, I had a bit of an obligation to find out what exactly was going on with the felled trees. So last night I called up Bob Sager, the reeve of Madoc Township (that’s where the trees are – or at least, were), son of the late Allan and Isabella Sager (whose long-ago wedding right here at the Manse I wrote about here), and someone who (as he confirmed to me) remembers as well as anyone that canopy of trees from long ago. Mr. Sager said that the trees in question were indeed in bad shape: dead, or soon to be. The township wants to repave the road, he said, and did not want to risk having trees fall on the roadway. And he also had some good news: that the younger, healthy trees along the stretch will be left in place.

So there’ll still be maples along Queensborough Road. And they’ll get bigger, and someday (one hopes) they will be as large and beautiful as the newly cut ones were. Though unless there is a project to replant maples on the south side of the road, I guess we will never replace the canopy that so many of us remember so fondly.

Or… wait a minute… Maybe there could be such a project?

I may have to call up the reeve again. Is anybody else in?

The crokinole party.

Raymond tries our crokinole

In preparation for the next Eldorado crokinole party,  today I hauled out our own crokinole board – a lovely vintage one that Raymond had bought at a local auction – and attempted to explain the rules of the game to him. Here he is trying it out.

Last Friday night I finally made it to the monthly community crokinole party held at the Madoc Township Recreation Centre (and firehall, and council chamber, etc.) near the hamlet of Eldorado. My friend Isabella Shaw, who I believe is the main organizer of this event, had invited Raymond and me several times, and each time we’d had a conflict with something or other. So even though Raymond was in transit between Montreal and Queensborough last Friday and I’d have to attend alone, I was determined to make it.

Isabella’s family was friends with my own back when my siblings and I were growing up here at the Manse. My dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, used to make maple syrup with Isabella’s husband, Cyril, who has been a very well-known local producer for many years. (I wrote about Cyril and Isabella and maple syrup days here.) She is one of the many people around here who have been incredibly welcoming as I return to this place that long ago was, and now is again, my home. And she was especially eager to bring us into the community crokinole event after I posted here about Raymond not knowing (until very recently) what crokinole is. (If you don’t know either, check out that post and read on here. And for still more, check out the amazing site Mr. Crokinole.)

crokinole board

Even though Raymond and I are novices at crokinole, I’m delighted to have this beautiful vintage board. It’s made by the Bentley Sporting Goods Company of Niagara Falls, Ont. – which, according to the Mr. Crokinole site, manufactured the boards between 1946 and 1958 – and was purchased (we still have the labels on the box!) from none other than the T. Eaton Company.

So off I went to Eldorado (it’s only a little more than five miles from Queensborough) last Friday night, despite being pretty tired from a long week at work. And what a time I had! Mainly I came away struck by two things: 1) what a terrible crokinole player I am; and 2) how very nice people were.

Here (for the uninitiated) is what you do at a crokinole party – at least, if it’s a crokinole party in Eldorado. You sit down at one of the tables for four that have been set up, and the person across from you is your partner. You and he or she play with either the black wooden discs or the light-coloured ones. Your mission is to get as many of your team’s discs as possible in high-score positions (close to the centre) even as you knock off the other team’s discs. If they have discs on the board, you have to try to shoot them off. If they don’t, you can try to get your disc into the hole in the centre of the board; at Eldorado they call that a “button,” and it’s worth 20 points. After several rounds the game is over and you add up your scores, and the winning team moves clockwise to the next table, while the losing team stays put but one of the two members moves to a chair to the right or left – so you never play twice with the same partner.

That last rule was a fortunate one for my partners, because I was, not to put too fine a point on it, awful. I started off the evening with a couple of “buttons,” which was most encouraging. But it was all downhill from there; my skills were, I think I can accurately say, rather far below even the beginner level. And they seemed to get worse as the evening went on! (Though I attribute that to the fact that I really was tired from the work week even before the games began.)

But – and I hope it’s all right if I say this, and partners that night, I apologize! – for me the evening really wasn’t about crokinole. It was about being welcomed in to a community event, experiencing something new, meeting some old friends and acquaintances from my childhood here (and trying to remember their names!) and also meeting a bunch of new people. It was about sharing news of local happenings and people, and answering kind questions people had about the Manse project and my family and my late father. Much of this friendly conversation went on during the crokinole games, and since I’m not the world’s greatest multi-tasker, I found myself concentrating more on the conversation than on trying to make good plays. (I was concentrating so hard that, unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of the event. Next time!)

But speaking of good plays: many of the people I played with were extraordinary crokinolers! (Is that a word?) Able to hit two or three of their opponents’ discs with a single shot, strategically using the posts, or pins, that encircle the centre of the board to make brilliant ricochets. To be honest, I would rather have sat back and watched these great players do their thing (and maybe learned something from them) than been trying to make my own pitiful moves.

You might think that these excellent players would have been irked at being stuck with a partner, or even a tablemate, as bad as I was. But you’d be utterly wrong. Every single person was so encouraging and nice. On the rare occasions when I actually managed to knock off an opponent’s disc, they’d cheer me on like it was a totally great play. (It was not, you can be sure.) Isabella had assured me that the event was not about how good a player you are, but about fun and fellowship. And that was exactly what it was.

It was lovely.

And there were prizes at the end! You handed in your scorecard (thank goodness, because I would be embarrassed if I had to show it to you) and the people with the highest scores and – get this! – the lowest scores got to choose a prize. Which means I (holder of the lowest score, naturally) came away a winner! How nice is that? (I got a block of one of the excellent local cheddar cheeses, Ivanhoe. Yum!)

After the games were ended and the card tables folded up and put away, out came the lunch. (Everyone is asked to bring a contribution for it.) There were sandwiches – yes, the delicious church-basement kind that I wrote about here – and wonderful sweets, many of them homemade, and pickles and – of course – cheese. And coffee and tea to wash it down. And we sat around and chatted and I answered more kind questions about my family, and met some more old friends and new people, and was struck all over again at how nice everyone was and what a pleasant and easygoing evening it had been.

I left amid urgings all round (and a promise on my part) to return, with Raymond next time. (The next crokinole party is Friday, April 25, and you are all welcome to come!)

As I walked out of the Eldorado hall into the darkness and quiet of a cold, clear night in the country, I thought about how much evenings like this matter in rural areas. When you live in the country, possibly not even within sight of your nearest neighbour, community events are, I think, more important than they are in the city. A lit-up building full of people, a warm welcome, stories to share and games to play, and a nice lunch at the end of it all – if that’s not a great way to brighten up a cold, dark night, then I don’t know what is.




The best pancake breakfast of all – tomorrow in Queensborough

Raymond and I had our own private pancake breakfast at the Manse one recent morning, with syrup made by Cyril and Isabella Shaw of Eldorado. Delicious! But at tomorrow's community pancake breakfast in Queensborough, you'll have lots of good company as well as good eats.

Raymond and I had our own private pancake breakfast at the Manse one recent morning, with syrup made by Cyril and Isabella Shaw of Eldorado. Delicious! But at tomorrow’s community pancake breakfast in Queensborough, you’ll have lots of good company as well as good eats.

The Queensborough Community Centre, where tomorrow's Pancake Breakfast takes place.

The Queensborough Community Centre, where tomorrow’s Pancake Breakfast takes place.

If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Queensborough tomorrow morning (that would be Sunday, May 5), or even if you’re a little farther away and are in the mood for a nice drive in the country, you owe it to yourself to head to the Queensborough Community Centre (the historic former one-room schoolhouse) for the annual Queensborough Pancake Breakfast. It runs from 8 a.m. to noon, and you are guaranteed a great meal and a convivial time.

Pancake breakfasts are very popular in springtime in Hastings County and other rural-Ontario counties. It makes sense, of course: spring is maple-syrup season, and a pancake breakfast is a wonderful way to enjoy the best of this year’s run.

The crowds line up for an excellent pancake breakfast served up by the Madoc Township firefighters in Eldorado.

The crowds line up for an excellent pancake breakfast served up by the Madoc Township firefighters in Eldorado.

On our most recent visit to the Manse, Raymond and I enjoyed another pancake breakfast that is also an annual event and enormously popular. It is put on by the Madoc Township firefighters and held at the township hall/ firehall in Eldorado. What a turnout! They served hundreds and hundreds of people. As you can see in the photo, we all lined up to heap our plates with pancakes, sausages, bacon, fried eggs, home fries and toast, all very ably and efficiently cooked up by the apron-clad firefighters (and some helpers).

I believe it was the following weekend that another such effort was to take place in Ivanhoe, hosted by the Centre Hastings Fire Department. And lots of churches and other community organizations in the area also hold pancake breakfasts.

But I have a secret for you. As one stalwart member of St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough told me a couple of weeks ago when discussing the upcoming Queensborough event: “Everybody says ours is the best.”

You heard it here first.

Maple-syrup time at the Manse

This year’s maple syrup season is very rapidly drawing to a close – and perhaps has ended already (it’s hard to know these rural matters when one is in downtown Montreal), though the sudden return to winter that Ontario and Quebec experienced over the last couple of days may have kept the sap running and good for syrup a little while longer. Anyway, I didn’t want to let another syrup season pass without paying tribute to one of the very fondest memories I have of my childhood at the Manse in Queensborough: my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, making syrup there.

Dad, as longtime readers (and those who knew him) will know, grew up a farmer in Haliburton County (country of great beauty and poor farmland, but that’s another story). His father used to make maple syrup in the spring, tapping the maple trees in a lovely, healthy sugarbush that stands on one part of the large family farm (much of which is woodland). So it was something Dad was thoroughly familiar with but had to leave off during his years in Toronto at university and divinity school and then during his first years serving his first pastoral charge, which was in Queensborough and area.

But one early-spring day not all that far into our family’s 11 years in Queensborough, a man knocked on the door. “I understand you know how to make syrup,” he said to my dad.

The man was Cyril Shaw, a well-known syrup producer in the Eldorado area; Eldorado is about eight miles from Queensborough, and its United Church would later become part of the same pastoral charge, but it wasn’t at the time. Cyril explained that (for whatever reason; the details are long lost to my memory) he was without an assistant, and at sap-boiling time when you have an operation on the scale he did, you need an assistant because you are boiling pretty much around the clock. So Cyril himself had been working around the clock for several days, and he was well beyond the exhaustion point. He wondered if Dad would by any chance be able to help out.

Well, that was probably the best thing Dad had heard in a long time. He enjoyed making syrup, and he loved to work. Work – hard physical work – defined his life; it was what he was, as I wrote in a Lives Lived piece for the Globe and Mail after he died in 2004. So Dad spent much of that syrup season gladly helping at Cyril’s operation, and I think perhaps in at least one subsequent year.

Cyril Shaw at work at the boiling-house. I took this just last weekend, and had a wonderful time catching up and reminiscing with Cyril and his wife, Isabella. my father spent many happy hours working with Cyril.

Cyril Shaw at work at the boiling-house. I took this picture just last weekend, when I had a wonderful time catching up and reminiscing with Cyril and his wife, Isabella. My father spent many happy hours working with Cyril.

Last weekend, Raymond and I had the great pleasure of a visit with Cyril and his wife Isabella (who was born and raised in Queensborough; her grandparents were our across-the-street neighbours), at Cyril’s longtime boiling operation. They sold the business to friend and neighbour Don McEwen just last year, but Cyril is still helping out, and I was eager to go back and see the Shaws and the operation, a place of fond childhood memory. Our family and the Shaws spent lots of time together in those days; my brother John played with the Shaws’ son Scott on the Eldorado Expos softball team that Cyril coached (and Isabella effectively co-coached), and their kids and us Sedgwick kids always had fun when we would get together at one family’s house or the other. It was terrific to see Cyril and Isabella again and reminisce (they pointed out one corner of the boiling house where, they laughed, Dad had climbed up to repair the roof in full ministerial gear, clerical collar and all), and we made plans for another visit soon. (For one thing, I want to get copies – signed by the author, of course – of the two books Isabella has written, one about the history of agriculture in the area, and the other about the 19th-century discovery of gold and subsequent [brief] gold rush in Eldorado – which of course gave the place its name.)

This is part of the stretch of Queensborough Road lined by maples (unfortunately only on one side now) that my father used to tap to make maple syrup back in the 1960s and 1970s. Those trees are showing their age now.

This is part of the stretch of Queensborough Road lined by maples (unfortunately only on one side now) that my father used to tap to make maple syrup back in the 1960s and 1970s. Those trees are showing their age now.

Newly made syrup being strained, so that what's called "sugar sand" is taken out. If you don't do that, the syrup will be cloudy.

Newly made syrup being strained, so that what’s called “sugar sand” is taken out. If you don’t do that, the syrup will be cloudy.

Anyway, not very long after Dad got back into maple-syrup making thanks to Cyril Shaw’s unexpected appearance at the front door of the Manse, he began tapping trees and making syrup on his own. He started out by – with the landowners’ permission, of course – tapping the long row of maples that at that time lined both sides of Queensborough Road along a stretch of half or three-quarters of a mile between Queensborough and Hazzard’s Corners. (Tragically, some years ago the decision was made to cut down the maples along one side of that beautiful stretch, so that the leaves no longer formed, as they once had, a beautiful canopy above you as you drive along it.) And he boiled the sap down on the wood stove in the Manse kitchen, which meant that our kitchen became a maple-syrup operation: pots of the sweet-smelling sap-turning-into-syrup on top of the stove; big containers of sap waiting for boiling just out the door in the back porch; other containers (old milk cans) with big felt strainers clothespinned to their tops in the middle of the floor, where the syrup would be poured for straining when done. This was not the sparkling, spotless suburban kitchen that perhaps comes to mind when one thinks of what a minister’s home might have looked like in the mid-1960s. (My mother, who came from a sparkling home in a central suburb of Toronto, probably felt like she’d been kidnapped and hied away to Mars.)

Dad later expanded the operation considerably, tapping still more trees in a sugarbush down the road south of the Manse, and setting up a bare-bones but workable outdoor evaporator/boiling arrangement on a cement pad in the back yard. He was of course a small-scale syrup producer – nothing like Cyril and Isabella’s operation – but he sold a fair bit of syrup to people in the community; I can remember as a little kid delivering an order of a big gallon tin to a home down the road from us, and how the handle on the heavy container dug into my little hand. And of course it meant that we always had maple syrup of our own, though the best stuff – the early syrup, which is always the lightest – was reserved for customers, and we ended up with the dark, heavy (but still delicious) syrup that you get at the end of the season.

The main thing I remember from all of this – aside from the wonderful round-the-clock smell of sweet maple sap boiling and turning into syrup in our kitchen, a smell that came back to me with a delightful thwack when Raymond and I visited the Shaw-McEwen boiling house last weekend – is going out to collect sap in early-spring evenings. Dad would load two huge metal containers into the back of his old green truck, and we kids (and the dog, Finnigan) would accompany him for sap-collecting. And not just we four (Melanie, John, Ken and me); many other kids from the neighbourhood often joined us, the Baumhours and the Parkses and the Lalondes and so on. The lucky ones would get to ride in the back of the truck (with Finnigan), and when we got to the maple stand we were all expected to take big plastic pails and collect the sap by emptying into them the contents of the metal sap buckets that were hung below the taps on the trees.

It was sap buckets like this that Dad and my siblings and I – often with help from neighbourhood kids – would collect from back in the old days. I took this photo along Rimington Road near Eldorado last weekend. Nice to see that someone is still doing things the old-fashioned way!

It was sap buckets like this that Dad and my siblings and I – often with help from neighbourhood kids – would collect from back in the old days. I took this photo along Rimington Road near Eldorado last weekend. Nice to see that someone is still doing things the old-fashioned way!

The modern way of collecting sap: this is pipeline running through the sugar bush and down to the boiling house at the O'Hara Sugar Maples operation on Hart's Road between Queensborough and Madoc.

The modern way of collecting sap: this is pipeline running through the sugar bush and down to the boiling house at the O’Hara Sugar Maples operation on Hart’s Road between Queensborough and Madoc.

(That, by the way, is the old-fashioned way. Nowadays syrup operations of any size at all use pipeline running between the taps on the trees, with pumps here and there to make sure the running sap moves in the right direction – toward the collector bins and/or boiling house. Cyril told me last weekend that he was the first producer in Hastings County to use pipeline, in 1970. I was interested to see, as we drove to Eldorado last weekend, that there were still some trees by the side of Rimington Road with old-fashioned [though clearly quite new; they were almost shiny] buckets on them. It was just like my dad’s low-tech operation back in the day.)

When we’d arrive back at the Manse in the falling darkness, the sap all collected and ready to be boiled, Dad would often reward the gang of kids by making taffy on snow. Have you ever had that? It’s made by pouring boiling-down sap that is just at the point of becoming syrup – and is hot hot hot – onto cold packed snow. The almost-syrup hardens instantly and forms delicious, sweet taffy. In my mind’s eye I can still picture the Manse kitchen full of Sedgwick and Baumhour and Lalonde and Parks kids enjoying the taffy created as a hot stream of golden, sweet-smelling liquid was poured onto the snow packed into our plastic turquoise (!) dishpan.

The kitchen where lots of maple syrup was made: to the right is the wall where our old Findlay wood stove stood, and that's where my father boiled down the sap in his early syrup-making years at the Manse. (Apologies for the mess; I really must take some fresh photos of the Manse kitchen! This was taken on one of the first days Raymond and I were there after buying the house.)

The kitchen where lots of maple syrup was made: to the right is the wall where our old Findlay wood stove stood, and that’s where my father boiled down the sap. (Apologies for the mess; I really must take some fresh photos of the Manse kitchen! This was taken on one of the first days Raymond and I were there after buying the house.)

(That Manse kitchen is one memory-filled place. Next weekend Raymond and I will be back in Queensborough, and now that I’ve written all this about the maple-syrup days and taken myself right back in time, I think I need to just spend a few minutes in that kitchen with my eyes closed, conjuring up those happy memories of what used to go on there every year at this time of year oh so long ago – and also that wonderful warm maple smell. Perhaps, if I am lucky, my time-travel exercise will be followed by a breakfast of Raymond’s Famous Pancakes and Hastings County maple syrup.)

I wish I had some photos of those sap-gathering and maple-syrup-making days at the Manse back in the 1960s and early 1970s, but I don’t think anybody ever had time to take any, unfortunately. It’s for that reason that I am so grateful that George Farrell, a filmmaker who lives in the tiny hamlet of Gelert near the Sedgwick farm in Haliburton County, made the video called Drawn From Wood that appears at the top of this post. When Dad had retired from the ministry and he and my mum were back living on the farm, Dad went back to making syrup in the old sugar bush, and George took it upon himself to make a film and interview Dad about it. It is wonderful to be able to see my dad in action (you also catch glimpses of my sister, Melanie, and my Aunt Marion, Dad’s sister), doing things the really old-fashioned way, horse-drawn sleigh and all.

I hope you enjoy it. As you can imagine, it brings back a lot of good maple-syrup memories.