Please help me get to the bottom of the cold-storage business

The cold storage

Okay, people: what can you tell me about the past life of this Madoc building?

This rather nondescript, and I believe currently unused, building on Russell Street (or is that Russel Street?) in Madoc is a small mystery for me, and I am hoping that you readers will help me figure it out. Tonight, in other words, it’s you and not I who must jump into the roadster, grab Bess and George, and make like Nancy Drew.

Every time I drive by this building a vague thought along the lines of “cold-storage place” comes into my mind. That’s because this building was, back in the days of my childhood at the Manse in Queensborough (just a 12-minute drive from Madoc, which is generally “town” for us), a cold-storage place. Or at least, I think it was. In my memory this building is associated with large blocks of ice and large pieces of meat – like, half-cows and the like. So what’s the story on that?

Was it a butcher shop? I don’t think so. Was it a place that simply sold meat by the large quantity? I do remember that back in those days it was quite common for people to buy a quarter or a half of a beef cow – and maybe pigs too? – that would be cut and ground up into the usual forms for serving – roasts, steaks, hamburger, soup bones, etc. – by the butcher or seller, and these pieces, wrapped in dark-pink paper and carefully labelled, would be stored in “the deep freeze” (as we called freezers back then, especially chest freezers).

Okay, so if people stored these large quantities of meat in “the deep freeze,” why was there a need for this cold-storage place? Is it possible that, in those long-ago days when maybe not everyone had a deep freeze, people rented freezer, or at least cold-storage, space in places like this?

If my vague memory is at all right, I kind of like the fact that this building still has one of those buy-your-ice-here boxes out front. (Though I imagine it is empty, given that the building itself seems to be.) A nod to its former use.

I was also intrigued, as I took some photos of it this afternoon on my drive home from work, by the fine old wooden doors you can see off to the left side in the photo at top. Here’s a closer look:

Old doors and apparatus at the cold storage

Those are great old wide wooden doors – three panels’ worth each!

And have a look at the old wood-and-metal apparatus that comes out of the wall immediately above them. I’ve got no idea what it is, but I wonder if it’s something to do with hooking up large slabs of meat (like, half – or whole – cows) and hauling them in to the cold storage.

Am I close? Am I way off base? People, please share what you know!

The missing Madoc candy canes: a Christmas mystery

I have a flashback-in-time Christmas treat for you tonight, folks. With a dollop of mystery added, just to liven things up. Grab your Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat and/or your Nancy Drew roadster, and let’s get this thing solved!

Okay, here’s the story: thanks to my Queensborough friend Sally, who drew to my attention the clip that’s at the top of this post, I can share with you a fun feature from good old CHEX-TV (eternally Channel 12) in Peterborough. CHEX is apparently looking back at Christmas-themed news stories from its archives, and the other day aired the one here, set in Madoc (that would be “town,” if you live in Queensborough). It’s from 1990, and while I find the story quite charming, I am utterly alarmed to hear 1990 described as “all those years ago.” Yikes! As I said to Sally: Wasn’t that just yesterday?!?

Anyway, as you’ll see if you watch the video, it’s about a clever idea that the folks at the Centre Hastings Retraining Centre, a workshop for developmentally disabled people, came up with when a work contract dried up. The idea was to make oversize decorative candy canes – and these beautiful candy canes caught on in Madoc (and beyond) like wildfire. The merchants’ association of the time decided that they would be the theme for the town for the Christmas season, and as you can see from the images, they made Madoc look very pretty indeed.

(I have to say I also very much appreciated the images from “all those years ago” of Madoc when more of the downtown businesses that I remember from my childhood in the area were still operating. The biggest treat was to see Stickwood’s dry-goods store once again. Thank goodness for photo and video archives!)

Anyway, here’s the mystery, amateur sleuths: where are those candy canes now, all these years later? As Sally said in her message to me: “How amazing it would be to get those candy canes as a feature of Madoc once again!” To which I heartily concur, and I find it difficult to imagine anyone saying no to the idea.

So now, to find them. Are you ready, local sleuths? Go!

I may have more copies of this book than anyone alive.

Donna Parker in HollywoodDo you still have the books you loved in your childhood? I think the world is probably divided into two kinds of people: those whose response to that question is “Of course I do! I’ll always keep them!” and those who’d say “Why on earth would I?”

Given my many reports (like here and here and here, for instance) on the size of the book collection that Raymond and I have amassed between us, you can probably guess what my answer is. My childhood books are among my dearest treasures.

One book in that childhood collection is a bit of a ’60s oddity. It is Donna Parker in Hollywood, the book you see in the photo at the top of this post. (Although, as I’ll explain, the Donna Parker in Hollywood in that photo is not the Donna Parker in Hollywood that has been with me since my childhood days.) It was one in a relatively short series of books about Donna Parker, a perky American teenage girl who had adventures. (In this she was entirely like all the other perky American teenage girls and young women in the many literary series that were so popular back in the 1950s and ’60s – heroines like Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames and Vicki Barr. You won’t be surprised to know that I loved all those books too.)

I acquired Donna Parker in Hollywood when I was maybe eight or nine years old, growing up in the Manse where I now live once again. And I am almost certain that it was a purchase I made from the fairly limited book selection at McMurray’s General Store in Queensborough. I expect what attracted me to it was the pink cover and the image of that perky American teenager apparently doing something exotic: you know, tropical flower in hair, swimming pool in the background, tropical fruit in the foreground and – most exotic of all – she is eating with chopsticks! (People, that is not something one did in Queensborough, Ont., when I was growing up there.) Truth be told, I still find that cover pretty appealing, although now it’s for the sheer retro-ness of it.

I forgot the plot of Donna Parker in Hollywood many decades ago, except for the general drift that Donna was lucky enough to be able to travel from her home (wherever that was; the Midwest maybe?) to exotic and exciting Hollywood. Where she of course had adventures. But though the details are long gone from my memory, the book itself remains firmly in my possession – and it is all the more precious because it came from long-closed McMurray’s General Store in Queensborough.

The first time I saw another copy of it for sale, at one of the antiques warehouses that Raymond and I love to visit, I was awfully tempted to buy it. Of course I told myself that was dumb, since I already had a copy. But something in the back of my mind kept whispering, “Backup copy!” So: did I resist the temptation?

Of course not. And besides, it was only five bucks or so.

I think my third copy came about because, at the time I found it in an antiques barn, I couldn’t quite remember whether I’d purchased the first backup copy or not. And since this latest one was only about three bucks, I figured what the heck. But I felt kind of sheepish when I got home and realized that I now had three copies in total.

And then a couple of weeks ago, at an auction, I failed to resist the temptation to buy several boxes of books (because that was how they were being sold – a whole box of 20 or so books at a time) for just a few bucks per box. And what did I discover at the bottom of one of those boxes when I’d brought them all home?

You guessed it. Donna Parker in Hollywood. Copy #4. That’s the one you see in the photo.

Hey: is Donna following me around?

Some children’s classics, unearthed

Spin and Marty etc.

My latest vintage kids-series finds. But who, pray tell, is Polly French?

Thanks to reader Ruth, I have managed to get my hands on a copy of the Hardy Boys classic The House on the Cliff. (Ruth tipped me off that there was a copy for sale at a Madoc shop that Raymond and I love, Country Treasures. There are always some good vintage finds in there.)

Why did I want The House on the Cliff? Because another reader, Sash, had mentioned that it was a (sorry, can’t resist) cliffhanger that had been a particular favourite of his when he used to check out mystery books for kids from the Madoc Public Library in his Madoc youth. I read a fair number of Hardy Boys books myself once upon a time, but can’t for the life of me recall anything about The House on the Cliff, so I think it’s time I looked into it. I trust Sash’s recommendation.

But of course, bibliophiles that we are, Raymond and I did not manage to get out of Country Treasures with just The House on the Cliff. No, we succeeded in digging up books from three other series written for early teens way back in the day. Raymond’s find was Spin and Marty, which I have to admit I had never heard of. Apparently Spin and Marty were two lads who lived – and doubtless had many adventures – on a ranch, and Raymond used to read the books (which ended up as a Disney TV series) back in his youth. “Hadn’t thought of Spin and Marty in decades,” he announced. All the more reason why getting one of the books for $6 (less the 10-per-cent discount that’s in effect on the antiques at Country Treasures till the end of February) seemed like an exceptionally good idea.

As for me, I found one from a series I loved as a kid, the Vicki Barr books – about a young woman who becomes a stewardess (as they called the job in those days), and had all manner of adventures in that line of work.

And finally, I found Polly French Takes Charge, which intrigued me because it looks like yet another series – and I know nothing about it. I’m kind of guessing, from the cover and inside-cover illustrations, that it takes place in a high school. Could Polly French be a plucky young starting-out teacher, just as Vicki Barr was a plucky young starting-out air hostess and Cherry Ames a plucky young starting-out nurse? And Nancy Drew a plucky young amateur sleuth?

If so, call me crazy, but – I think it rather likely that Polly will be having some adventures!

The Madoc Public Library: a wonderland for a small-town kid

Madoc Library

The Madoc Public Library – one of the happiest places of my childhood.

In last night’s post I said I felt like Nancy Drew (for possibly having – with some major help, I hasten to add – solved a mystery about the Manse’s original ground-floor layout), but how can one think about Nancy Drew without also thinking of the Hardy Boys?

The House on the CliffThat’s just what reader Sash did. In a comment on that post, he brought back a flood of memories. “And speaking of Nancy Drew,” he said, “that takes me back to my childhood visits to the Madoc Public Library, where I loved borrowing mystery books. One of my childhood favourites was The House on the Cliff, with the Hardy Boys.”

Oh man. Suddenly in my mind’s eye I was standing before a floor-to-ceiling shelf of books in the young-adult section of the Madoc Public Library. It was perhaps 1969, and I was going through all the series written for kids my age: Nancy Drew, of course, but also the Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames (the nurse) and Vicki Barr (the stewardess). The Madoc Library was the wonderful place where all these books resided, and what a thrill it was to take home an armload every week! Sash, thank you for reminding me of that.

Since Raymond and I have moved to the Manse I’ve been in the Madoc Library a couple of times, but both times on flying visits to take advantage of the photocopier service, getting some documents copied in a mad rush (which is the way I do most things in life). I was in the building long enough to recognize that it was much changed from the Madoc Library of my youth at the Manse, but I hadn’t thought too much about it. Today, thanks to Sash’s comment, I made a bit of a pilgrimage to have a look round the place and see if there are any traces of the library I remember.

The bad news is: there aren’t. The building has been extensively renovated and enlarged, and I couldn’t even figure out where in the present layout that much-loved children’s section had been – or where the desk was where kindly librarian Mrs. Duffin sat, making sure the kids weren’t checking out any unseemly books from the adult section.

But the good news is: it’s a wonderful library! Bright and airy and comfortable, with a long row of computers for people to use, paintings on the walls, an archives (which I didn’t enter, but that will be a most enjoyable project for some rainy Saturday), and a cozy sitting area with easy chairs and even a fireplace.

It is a place for a small town like Madoc to be truly (and justifiably) proud of.

And while I confess I didn’t specifically check it out, I am willing to bet that somewhere on the shelves still lurks a copy of The House on the Cliff.

Tonight I feel like Nancy Drew.

This is me tonight, people! Do you recognize the Nancy Drew image? I must tell you that it’s a special (and rather cool) one: it’s a quilt! This photo comes from the blog Pieced Brain, which seems to be all about quilting and crafts. As I have confessed before, crafts give me hives, so I can’t pretend to understand it. But this homey version of Nancy feels just right for tonight as a mystery gets solved (I think) at the Manse. (Photo from

Ah, the readers have done it again! Today a comment came from Christina (who, like me, grew up in the Queensborough area, and who has deep roots here) that contained a most interesting idea. Christina has been doing some research in response to my recent post wondering about the origins of the ground-floor room at the Manse that is now the bathroom. (The issue being that in 1888, when the Manse was built, there were no indoor bathrooms. So what was that room originally used for?)

Christina did a simple and smart thing: she phoned her dad, who lives not far from here – he is the reeve of neighbouring Madoc Township – and whose grandparents (whom I remember from youngest childhood) lived in a house across the way from the Manse. And she asked him if he remembered the interior layout of the Manse’s first floor before the days of indoor plumbing.

And what Christina’s dad told her has struck a chord with me. He told her that as far as he can recall, the room that is now (and was in the 1960s, when I was a kid growing up in this house) the bathroom was, previously, the minister’s study.

That makes perfect sense to me. The bathroom is just inside the front door and directly off the kitchen, where back in the days of my childhood (and doubtless for all the years before that of the Manse’s existence), there was a wood stove that heated the house and served as its focal point. If that room had been the minister’s study, it would always have been warm, which would have been comfortable not only for him (it would always have been a “he” in those days) but also for any parishioners who came to see him. Meanwhile, those others who dwelt in the Manse (the minister’s wife and children) would have been able to hustle those visiting parishioners directly into the study once they were inside the front door, close the study door behind them, and resume regular life. And maybe the visitors wouldn’t even have had time to notice if there was a bit of dirt on the kitchen floor or dust on a shelf somewhere!

Manse study with bookshelves

The current Manse study, upstairs. Probably my favourite room in this old house.

Yes, I have a good feeling about this study idea.

Which is not to say that I think our current bathroom should be returned to being a study; I thoroughly love the upstairs room that was my father‘s study when I was a kid, and that is now, in our day, still a study, a cozy room stuffed with books. The current bathroom will in all likelihood be turned into some combination of mud room/powder room/laundry room.

But I get huge satisfaction out of feeling that I might now have the solution to The Mystery of the Manse Bathroom. And I thank Christina (and her dad) for making me feel like Nancy Drew!

The mystery of the Queensborough quilts

This is the famous "Queensborough quilt" by Goldie Holmes that is proudly displayed at the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre. But it seems it is not the only "Queensborough quilt." So where is the other one?

This is the famous “Queensborough quilt” by Goldie Holmes that is proudly displayed at the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre. (The Manse is featured in the panel at far right in the second row.) But it seems it is not the only “Queensborough quilt.” So: where is the other one?

The mystery of the Queensborough quilts: does it sound like an installation in the Nancy Drew series? (Some readers thought a post from last fall, “The mystery of the old steps,” did.) Anyway, this is not about Nancy Drew. It’s about one of the great figures in mid- and late-20th-century Queensborough history, Goldie Holmes.

I’m pretty sure almost everyone who lives in the Queensborough area knows who I mean by Goldie Holmes, but for those from elsewhere: Goldie was our village’s famous “Quilt Lady.” Her quilts showing local buildings and scenes were folk art par excellence, and were recognized as such by artists, galleries and collectors. Her work was well-enough known that Goldie was the subject of a CBC-TV program back in the 1980s, when host Sylvia Tyson interviewed her about her life and work. You can read all about it, and find a link to the CBC show, in my post here, from last December.

In addition to all that, Goldie and her husband, Art, were my family’s kitty-corner neighbours in Queensborough. And they were very, very nice people.

Okay, so what’s the mystery? Well, I’ll tell you.

The Manse as folk art: a detail from Goldie's quilt.

The Manse as folk art (complete with garage): a detail from Goldie’s quilt.

That first December post I did about Goldie was followed by a second one, titled “Goldie’s famous Queensborough quilt, and its narrow escape.” It recounted how Goldie’s most well-known work, a quilt featuring prominent houses and other buildings in Queensborough, had at one point been destined for the home of a collector in the United States but, through a happy twist of fate and the kindness of strangers, ended up instead at the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre, just a few miles from Queensborough. There it is on display so that local residents and visitors can admire and appreciate Goldie’s work. (You can read the whole story here.) I particularly love that quilt because two of the buildings featured on it are St. Andrew’s United Church and – the Manse!

But wait! Wait just a minute! Mystery alert!

A photo of Goldie Holmes in front of her "Queensborough quilt" that appears in the book Times to Remember in Elzevir Township. Look closely and you'll see that this is not the same quilt as the one that's at the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre.

A photo of Goldie Holmes in front of her “Queensborough quilt” that appears in the book Times to Remember in Elzevir Township. Look closely and you’ll see that this is not the same quilt as the one that’s at the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre.

It seems the quilt now on display at the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre is not Goldie’s only “Queensborough quilt.” How did I stumble on this conclusion? It was thanks to a photo I came across while flipping through the local history book Times to Remember in Elzevir Township the other day. There was Goldie in front of her Queensborough quilt, and I stopped flipping to admire it – only to realize that it’s not the same quilt as the one on display at the heritage centre.

Look at the bottom row of panels in the black and white photo: on the left is Bobbie (Sager) Ramsay‘s general store, and on the right is McMurray’s. From this I think I am safe in guessing that this was the first Queensborough quilt, because the two stores were probably the most important buildings in the village. (Though it seems strange – mysterious, even – that St. Andrew’s United Church, which at the time Goldie made these quilts was the last church in the village still open, and was very much a hub of the community – should only have put in an appearance on a follow-up quilt.)

So here are the questions I am left with:

  • How many Queensborough quilts were there? Obviously at least two; were there more?
  • What order did Goldie do them in?
  • And the most important question of all: where is that other quilt? Is it preserved? Is it safe? Is it (perish the thought) lost?

I think I’d better do what Nancy would do: get into my roadster with Raymond (sitting in for Bess and George) and zip off to Queensborough to try to get some answers.