Give me more of that old-time entertainment

Queensborough Orange Lodge

The former Orange Lodge is one of the oldest buildings in Queensborough. It’s not exactly in the greatest repair at the moment, but wouldn’t it be something if it could be restored to one of its past uses: as an arts centre for residents of the area?

One of the most striking and historic buildings in Queensborough is the tall old wooden barn of a place that for many, many years served as the Loyal Orange Lodge – the L.O.L., as the fading green paint atop of the building’s facade still says. It stands unused except for storage, and has definitely seen better days. An unfortunate renovation some years back made a bit of a mess of the original front doorways. But it’s loaded with history, and, as a column in one of the local papers reminded me rather indirectly the other day, was an important spot for entertainment in our little village back in the days when entertainment was hard to come by.

Queensborough L.O.L. showing windows

The unusual windows in the building, 16 panes of wavy old glass over 16.

As you can read in the walking-tour guide to the hamlet’s history produced by the Queensborough Community Centre, the Orange Hall (as everyone calls it) is one of the earliest buildings in Queensborough, erected in 1862. It served not only as the lodge for local members of the ultra-Protestant Orange order until the 1980s (yes, you read that correctly), but as the first place of worship in the village. Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians (though presumably not the Roman Catholics) all gathered there for Sunday services and Sunday School before their own churches were built, starting with St. Peter’s Anglican in 1871.

I have also been told, though have not been able to confirm this, that it served as a hospital during the deadly Spanish Flu epidemic that swept North America in 1918.

Back in the days of my childhood here in Queensborough, the Orange Hall was the local polling place; I believe I remember my parents going there to vote in the federal election that brought Pierre Trudeau to power in 1968, and also (dimly) them going to the hall to vote in a referendum on whether Elzevir Township (where Queensborough is located) should stay “dry” (that is, no selling of alcohol permitted) or go “wet.” (I assume this vote was brought on by a restaurateur, possibly the owner of a German place called Mother’s that opened back in the early 1970s, wanting to get a liquor licence. And I’m not sure how the vote went, to be honest.)

But the other thing the Orange Hall was used for back in the day was entertainment: dances and musical performances and travelling shows, including medicine shows. Those were the days before television and even radio, when people worked long hours and had to make their own fun; that is doubtless why every town and village had super-competitive hockey and baseball teams. Christmas pageants and church socials and card parties and quilting bees were where people gathered for a bit of respite from work and the often-hard realities of day-to-day life. The Orange Hall, which I have been inside once since Raymond and I bought the Manse, still has the stage from which performers would have entertained people of the village with songs, readings, plays and declamations on the virtues of some quack medicine or other.

The stage in the old Orange Hall

The stairs lead up to the stage at the front of the old Orange Hall, which is now used for storage.

The newspaper piece that got me thinking about all this was the Heritage Herald in the Tweed News, a column produced weekly by the tireless Evan Morton, curator of the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre. Evan was writing about an old photo that had been donated to the centre, showing a group of young men in uniform at what seems to be a First World War recruiting event at the Hungerford Township Hall in the village of Tweed. Also in the photo is a poster advertising a coming appearance at the hall by a Tom Marks. Being the diligent historian that he is, Evan had looked into this and reported that Tom Marks was a member of a vaudeville troupe that was once hugely popular in Canada and the U.S., the Marks Brothers, known as “The Canadian Kings of Repertoire.”

The Marks Bros.

A poster for “The Canadian Kings of Repertoire,” the Marks Brothers of Perth, Ont. You can find this and more photos related to this once-famous vaudeville troupe at this excellent Flickr page.

The brothers – Joseph, Thomas, Robert, Alex, Ernest, John and  McIntyre – “left the farm and took to the boards and the footlights throughout the latter part of the 19th century and into the 1920s. The brothers from Christie Lake, near Perth in Eastern Ontario, played to an estimated eight million Canadians, as well as to sizeable audiences in the United States. Their road shows, largely melodramas and comedy, kept audiences crying, booing, laughing and cheering until movies sounded the death knell for touring repertory companies,” according to a blurb about a book about them, which you can find more about here.

To all of which, I can only say: Who knew?

But also, intrigued by the fact that one of the brothers was to appear in wee Tweed around the time of the Great War, I got to wondering: might the Marks Brothers ever have performed at Queensborough’s Orange Hall? It seems at least possible, given this information provided on this page by a former curator of the Perth Museum:

“They delighted audiences in many remote towns and villages, most of them starved for entertainment, with their flamboyant performances and lavish scenery.”

Would Queensborough have been one of those “remote villages starved for entertainment” that the Marks lads visited? I’d love to know.

But anyway, the photo that Evan featured, and his findings about the Marks Brothers of Perth, Ont., got me thinking about those long-ago days when shows would come to the Orange Hall. And I’d like to share with you a delightful reminiscence of them that is included in the late Jean Holmes’s wonderful history of Queensborough and Elzevir Township, a book called Times to Remember in Elzevir Township. This story comes from the late Ed Alexander, whom I remember from my childhood days here. Thinking back on his youth, Ed told Jean and her history-gathering assistants

about the travelling plays that came to the Orange Hall. The fee was 35¢ to see the show. When he was young, if he did not have enough money to pay his admission, he walked around the block on the wooden sidewalks, with a long stick with chewing gum stuck on the end. He would put the stick between the boards and collect enough coins to pay his admission. The shows were usually medicine shows. The owners were trying to con the public into buying their medicine. It was usually described as a “cure-all.” It was a type of tonic, basically useless. 

And then it gets to the part I just love, referring to a part of those shows that apparently was especially popular with the men who worked in the small mines – gold, silver, marble, iron, lime, pyrite, copper, lead and actinolite – that once dotted this part of central Hastings County:

Along with the sales pitch, there would be songs and skits, and prizes for the most popular female. Sometimes, Mabel Chase, from the Chase Boarding-house in Actinolite, won. All the miners would come to buy the medicine and they voted for Mabel.

Ah, Mabel. Mabel, Mabel, Mabel. What I wouldn’t give to travel back in time to see her beaming and blushing with pride as she was chosen “most popular female” – once again – by the miners and others gathered for the medicine show in the Queensborough Orange Lodge.

Times to remember indeed!

A baby bittern: not something you see every day

Baby bittern on the road

What’s that long-necked creature crossing the road? Well, Raymond and I are pretty sure it was a baby bittern.

When travelling between our new(ish) home in Queensborough and our old home (now up for sale) in Montreal, Raymond and I, being sensible folk, like to avoid Highway 401 as much as possible. Clever Raymond has discovered a route that takes us along Highway 7 between Queensborough Road and Perth, Lanark/Leeds and Grenville County Road 1 between Perth and the village of Toledo (I love that name), and Leeds and Grenville Road 29 between Toledo and Brockville. Sadly, the rest of the trip is still the 401, but those smaller, scenic roads are lovely to drive on, especially at this time of year.

It was while we were on Leeds and Grenville Road 1 the other day, somewhere between Toledo and the almost-not-there hamlet of Mott’s Mills, that we had to brake hard for a creature trying to cross the road. No, this time (for a change) it wasn’t a turtle; it was a baby bird of some sort. We got a little closer and Raymond said, “I think it’s a baby bittern!” And I had to agree.

Now, Raymond and I consider ourselves quite expert at bitterns. (Don’t worry, I’m being facetious here). After all, not only have we spotted an adult one by the side of Queensborough Road (I wrote about that here), but throughout this past spring we listened to the deep gurgly-type song of one who inhabits a marshy area just down the road from the Manse.

Okay, so maybe that’s not quite enough knowledge to be sure that the baby we spotted out on that country road was a bittern. But it held its long neck and head high, just like an adult bittern does; really it was just like an adult bittern in miniature.

I hope you will be relieved to know that we shooed it off the road. Actually it shooed itself; as I gently approached to try to take its picture, it decided it would be much better off in the undergrowth. And of course it was, at least when it came to its safety. It was puzzling why the mother was nowhere to be seen, and I hope no harm had come to her.

Baby bittern off the road

The baby bittern gives me one last look before heading off into the bush.

Anyway, because our baby bittern didn’t really want to have its photo taken, it’s pretty far off in my pictures. But please take a look and tell me if you agree with our latest bird-identification effort.

What do you think: did we need twin red trucks?

another red Ford Ranger

Had we snapped up this baby (“AS IS,” proclaimed the for-sale sign in the windshield), we could have had two bright-red Ford Rangers at the Manse. I am happy to report that we do not.

Something caught Raymond’s eye when we were driving back home to Montreal from the Manse in Queensborough on a recent weekend: a bright-red Ford Ranger, looking to be of about the same vintage as his (and differing only in that it had an extended cab), with a big “For Sale” sign on it. It was in a lot off Highway 7 just a bit outside of Perth. Really, said Raymond – only partially in jest, I have come to realize – what could be better than one red truck if not two red trucks? He joked that we could each have one for running up and down the roads (to Madoc and Tweed and notably the dump) at the Manse. It was just a joke, though – or so I hoped.

Red Ford Ranger #1 at the Manse

Here is Red Truck #1 at the Manse. Did we really need another one?

But I started to wonder when, as we were heading back to Queensborough from Montreal a week or so ago, he suddenly veered off the highway and into the lot where the truck was; he had decided we should examine it more closely. “Yikes,” thought I: “Can he possibly be serious? Two red trucks?” Fortunately for all concerned (and their bank accounts), we rapidly determined that the newly discovered extended-cab red Ford Ranger was in pretty tough shape.

“As is,” said the for-sale sign in the red truck’s windshield. There was lots of rust and whatnot on the body. It was a project, as they say, and lord knows that with the Manse to renovate Raymond and I have more than enough “project” on our hands. So we got back into the car and drove on westward to the Manse. (Though we did take note of the phone number to call about the truck. Just in case, you understand.)

The upshot of the story is that we do not have two red trucks, and thank goodness for that. On our return trip to Montreal we were both interested (and quite possibly, in Raymond’s case, a little chagrined) to note that the extended-cab bright-red Ford Ranger was gone. Sold, apparently.

Clearly someone else had taken on what could have been our project. I have to say I am pleased about that. Raymond? Umm…conflicted.

Building Highway 7

Highway 7 under construction in 1932

It looks a lot different from the nicely paved Highway 7 we know today, doesn’t it? This is the well-known east-west highway under construction in 1932. Keith Millard, who graciously supplied the photo, says it was probably taken near Flinton Road, which is just east of where the buses now stop at Actinolite. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

My new cross-country pal Keith Millard – who discovered Meanwhile, at the Manse while researching the history of his family, the Kleinsteubers, who established the German Settlement in Elzevir Township in the mid-19th century – recently sent me a couple of very cool photos that I thought you folks would be interested in. They show Highway 7 in the Actinolite area when it was under construction, in 1932. These days one takes Highway 7 – part of the Central Ontario Route of the Trans-Canada Highway – so much for granted; it’s smooth and wide and nicely paved (especially after last year’s construction work on it; Raymond and I thought it was very thoughtful of the construction folks to redo Highway 7 just as we started using it regularly to travel between Montreal and the Manse in Queensborough), and it’s just there. And useful. But once upon a time it wasn’t there, and it had to be built. And what a project that must have been! Given that Keith’s photos are from 1932, in the Great Depression, I had guessed that the construction was a job-creation project, and that turns out to be correct. According to an excellent history of the highway here, the section between Peterborough and Perth was built in the ’30s to provide work (and thus income) to many labourers in those terrible times.

We know that these photos were taken in Elzevir Township because they come via two chaps named Art Robinson and Peter Forbes, who are seen in the picture I’m about to show you and who, Keith tells me, had homes in Elzevir’s German Settlement. Here’s another shot of the highway construction showing the two men:

Another view of Highway 7 under construction, this one showing Peter Forbes and Art Robinson, who lived in that part of Elzevir Township. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

Another view of Highway 7 when it was under construction, this one showing Peter Forbes and Art Robinson, who lived in that part of Elzevir Township. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

Really, it is quite something to be taken back in time by great old photos like these. And to be reminded of what a huge undertaking it must have been to blast through the rock of the Canadian Shield and build a stretch of road that nowadays we zoom over without thinking about it. Thanks for the history lesson, Keith!

The old split-rail fences, and a machine that can do them harm

split-rail fence damaged by bush-clearing machine

This is how the split-rail fence looked after the bush-mashing machine had passed through on Queensborough Road. I do not have a good feeling about this.

So there’s this machine that some rural-Ontario municipalities have started to use to clear brush along the roadsides. I don’t know what it’s called. Bushwhacker? Bush-hog? But here’s what I do know: it makes a mess of things.

I think I first heard about the destruction this machine causes to rural roadsides thanks to a letter to the editor of the Tweed News a few months ago. A local resident had been out walking, or maybe driving, along a pretty rural road, and was horrified to see the destruction to the trees – limbs ripped off, parts of trunks stripped away – caused by this brush-clearing machine. His letter was great, though (as often happens in small local newspapers) was, as I recall, followed up by a response from someone (a township worker? the mother of a township worker?) defending the practice. (The same thing happens when people write in complaining about how long it takes to get the power turned back on after a hydro outage. My gracious but the hydro workers – or maybe it’s their mums and/or dads – get riled up about that! It is rather entertaining to read. Though less so, I imagine, if you’ve suffered an extended power outage. Or are employed by Hydro One.)

Anyway, not long after we read that letter last spring Raymond and I were driving back to Montreal from the Manse in Queensborough and, along a very pretty stretch of township road between Perth and Brockville, saw evidence of the same kind of machine having been used. What a mess! Utter destruction on both sides of the road, and for what? This was not a narrow little road threatened by overgrowth; it is quite wide, and the brush would never have got in any driver’s way. Yikes!

Then we kind of forgot about it – until this past weekend. We were driving in to the Manse on Friday night via Madoc, and at one point along Queensborough Road between Hazzard’s Corners and Queensborough, Raymond pointed out that the grass had been cut along the sides of the road. I thought to myself, “Well, at least they didn’t use that godawful machine that makes a mess of the trees.” Ah, but it was dark, and I couldn’t see the trees. The next morning we drove in the opposite direction along that same stretch of road – again, a wide road that is in no way threatened by overgrowth from the sides – and I was taken aback to see the destruction.

split-rail fence along Queensborough Road, Hastings County

This photo that I took in spring 2012 shows the split-rail fences along Queensborough Road at their best. They are a lovely and historic part of the local landscape. And worth preserving!

Hey, I know that trees, and especially shrubs and bushes, are resilient, and will bounce back after having limbs ripped off and so on. What really worries me are the lovely old split-rail fences that line that road – as they have for probably a hundred and fifty years – and that, as far as I could see, did not escape unscathed from this bushwhacking machine. Those fences are an integral piece of the local landscape. They are part of our collective history. And they are beautiful.

So please, township officials and politicians, and the people who operate this machine: please, please, please be mindful of the old fences.

Where’s my Hasenpfeffer?

A menu built around Hasenpfeffer, thanks to the renowned James Beard. Hungry?

A menu built around Hasenpfeffer, thanks to the renowned James Beard. Hungry?

I was starting this post a while back when I was interrupted (though not rudely) by a sudden pronouncement from Raymond that made me switch gears. It was after I had been speculating on the springtime blackfly situation in Queensborough in posts here and here, and thought I was finished with the topic. But then Raymond suddenly announced that he is allergic to blackflies, a potentially problematic situation that I decided merited a post of its own. It’s here.

So now, back to Hasenpfeffer. Where were we?

James Beard's Menus for EntertainingYou might recall from previous posts, like this one, that I have a great fondness for vintage cookbooks. I picked up yet another one at the Gore Street Flea Market in Perth, Ont., as we were driving to the Manse from Montreal recently. It was James Beard’s Menus For Entertaining, a tome from 1965 (the golden midcentury era!) in which Beard, the famous cook and bon vivant, gives menus and recipes for all kinds of luncheons (don’t you just love that word “luncheon”? I think we should all use it more often. Eleanor Roosevelt was always talking about attending or giving luncheons, and what’s good enough for Eleanor – one of my all-time heroes – is most certainly good enough for me) and dinners and breakfasts and late-night meals for guests.

I was happily leafing through it one recent day at the Manse, by turns made hungry by the recipes and reduced to chuckles at the rather old-fashioned tone of it all (not to mention the funky washed-out colour photos of the food, the place settings, and sometimes the rotund Mr. Beard himself clearly enjoying himself amongst all that fine nosh). And suddenly I came upon a menu that pulled me up short. It was built around none other than – Hasenpfeffer.

Hasenpfeffer! Surely that word will transport you, as it did me, straight back to childhood mornings in front of the black-and-white television (in my case, at the Manse), watching Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes episodes. Hasenpfeffer featured in an episode called Shish-KaBugs, in which Bugs’s arch-enemy, Yosemite Sam, is unaccountably working as a cook for some king or other (who has a weird semi-Australian accent) and the king announces that he is tired of the same old same old and wants HASENPFEFFER!!!!

And do you know what Hasenpfeffer is?

It is hare stew. And that of course is how Yosemite Sam finds himself yet again pursuing Bugs Bunny, for dinner purposes. Needless to say, the pursuit is unsuccessful. As always.

I guess it had never really crossed my mind – growing up in a household (the Manse) where even lamb was considered exotic (too exotic for the likes of us) – that in the real world there really was such a thing as Hasenpfeffer, and that real people would actually eat it. But there it was, in black and white (on a perfect-for-the-era harvest-gold background), in James Beard’s book. The Hasenpfeffer menu also includes Cream of Pea Soup, Potato Dumplings, Champagne Kraut and Linzer Torte. If you ask me it all sounds delicious – except for the Hasenpfeffer.

Anyway, for those of you all set to run out and get yourself a hare or two and cook it up in a stew, I am helpfully providing the recipe. You can thank me later.

If your mouth is just watering for hare stew, has James Beard got a recipe for you!

If your mouth is just watering for hare stew, has James Beard got a recipe for you!

And to make your life better still, here is a fun edited version of Shisk-KaBugs. Go on – relive those memories! All together now: “WHERE’S MY HASENPFEFFER?!?!?”

Readers send amazing things, or: Saturday Night in Actinolite

I don’t know what I’d do without the people who read, or at least stumble on, this blog and, via their comments, share knowledge, links and just plain cool stuff. Today alone thanks to commenters I have:

  • Listened to a CBC Radio show about the “prizes” that used to come in cereal boxes (prompted by my post about towels that used to come in boxes of Duz detergent). Can you believe that Quaker Oats once put deeds for one square inch of land in Yukon, setting of the wildly popular (at the time) radio program Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, into their bags of puffed rice and puffed wheat? (Apparently it turned into quite a situation when people tried to claim their property.) You can hear the whole program here, and learn more about that Yukon land situation here.
  • Learned that the rustic wood chairs and tables that were in the old Log Cabin restaurant at Actinolite, Ont., which is just down the road from Queensborough – and by the way those same (or same kind of) chairs and tables are even now used at the Gateway restaurant in Tweed, as I wrote in my post yesterday about the Greyhound buses stopping at the Log Cabin – were made right in Tweed at Rashotte Lumber in the mid-1960s. Very intriguing, and I must look into this further.
  • And the icing on the cake, a link from reader Pat Shannon who saw last night’s post about the buses stopping at the Log Cabin and who sent a link to a priceless YouTube video by the band Cousins of the Moose performing their song Saturday Night in Actinolite. If you haven’t already clicked on the link at the top of this post, do it now! It’s a cute and catchy song about an impecunious young man travelling from Toronto to Nepean, Ont., to see his sweetie and having to take the bus because he is, well, impecunious and can’t afford the train or a car. We hear all about the trip along Highway 7 that I’ve written about so many times, and many of those little towns that I love – Kaladar, Perth, Marmora and most especially Actinolite – make an appearance.

What can I say but – thank you, readers! Please keep sharing those cool things that you know.

The bus stops – where?

Contrary to what one might expect, there is in our experience almost always a bus stopped at the modest Log Cabin restaurant outside Actinolite. We pass it on the final stage out our journey to Queensborough from Montreal. (Photo by Vlastula via Flickr)

Contrary to what one might expect in kind of the middle of nowhere, there is in our experience almost always a bus stopped at the modest Log Cabin restaurant outside Actinolite. We pass it on the final stage on our journey to the Manse in Queensborough from Montreal. (Photo by Vlastula via Flickr)

When Raymond and I are beetling along good old Highway 7 (the Trans-Canada) on our way to the Manse from Montreal late on a Friday night, through hot spots like Sharbot Lake and Maberly and Kaladar, we have a standing question/joke: when we get to the outskirts of Actinolite (the tiniest place of them all, and very close to our final destination, Queensborough), will there or won’t there be a Greyhound bus at the Log Cabin?

The Log Cabin, you see, has been a stop on the Highway 7 bus route for – well, I want to say time immemorial, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. But for a long time. And it’s not just a stop to let passengers on and off; the Log Cabin is a restaurant, so it’s a rest stop, allowing bathroom breaks and telephone breaks (not that people need that much anymore, thanks to cellphones) and snack breaks and cigarette breaks. And it is amazing how many times – like, 9 times out of 10 – when we drive by, there is indeed a bus stopped at the Log Cabin, with passengers milling about outside taking their smoke breaks or whatever.

One wonders: how can there be that many buses going east and west along Highway 7 (between Ottawa and Peterborough and then on to Toronto) that there’s almost always a bus stopped at the little old Log Cabin? Mind you, on our drive on 7 from Perth to Queensborough Road (just a bit west of the Log Cabin) we do tend to see at least a couple of moving buses per trip. But still: how can there be a stopped one at Actinolite almost all the time? It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe.

I got thinking about the Log Cabin (and more on it a little bit later) and bus stops on Highway 7 because of something I found last night when I was looking online (in vain) for a photo of our bread man back in the Manse days, Bill Willemsen, and his bread truck – the subject of yesterday’s post.

One thing I did find was this article from the Ottawa Citizen way back in March 1980:

Windmill

Now that is good stuff, is it not? The big old bus company (Voyageur in those days, before Greyhound took it over) forced to back down in the face of being told by its customers, drivers and everybody else that Bill Willemsen ran a very fine operation and the buses should keep on stopping there.

The Windmill is, sadly, long gone, and Bill himself died some years ago. But one thing that puzzles me about this article is that it suggests that the Windmill was the main rest stop for the buses in that region – a place for passengers “to stretch their legs and get a bite to eat on the long trip to points west.” So where does that leave the Log Cabin at Actinolite, just a few miles east? There’s no way there would have been two rest stops so close to each other. But for untold years – way back to when I was a kid at the Manse, and long before then – the Log Cabin had been where the buses stopped.

See? Even way back in the day the bus stopped the the Log Cabin restaurant, here as it originally appeared. This photo supplied by the wonderful Tweed and Area Heritage Centre (I've written about it here and here) appeared in the fall 2011 issue of Country Roads magazine.

See? Even way back in the day the bus stopped the the Log Cabin restaurant, here as it originally appeared. This photo, supplied by the wonderful Tweed and Area Heritage Centre (I’ve written about it here and here, among other posts), appeared in the fall 2011 issue of Country Roads magazine.

You don’t have to take my word for it. An article by John Hopkins about the history of the hamlet of Actinolite that appeared in the fall 2011 issue of the wonderful Hastings County magazine Country Roads says: “In the summer of 1933 Price’s Log Cabin was opened on Highway 7 and the service station and restaurant became an almost indispensable stop for travelers on the new highway. Part of the Log Cabin’s appeal was its black bears, and tourists would stop to have their pictures taken with the animals, share their lunch or simply take a look. Teddy, the original tenant, was one of two cubs found in the area in May, 1933 while in 1950 Buster and Bandy joined him. When Teddy died in September, 1964 at the age of 31 it was the cause of much sadness in the area.” (You can read the full article here. And if you’re interested in Hastings County, let me tell you that Country Roads is well worth picking up when you’re in the area, or subscribing to.)

Anyway, back to the bus-stop situation. All I can think of is that something happened so that the Log Cabin lost the rest-stop rights for a while, and the honour went to Bill Willemsen’s Windmill Restaurant. But with the Windmill long gone, and the Log Cabin still operating, I suppose things have reverted.

That said, the Log Cabin isn’t what it used to be. (Is anything?) When I was a kid growing up in Queensborough, going out for a meal at the Log Cabin was quite the treat, being served your hamburger by waitresses as you sat in the very funky rustic-styled wooden chairs that looked (perhaps except for the many coats of varnish) like they really did belong in a log cabin. The last time I stopped in was probably 15 years ago – long before I ever dreamed of buying the Manse – and it was kind of a bare-bones self-serve cafeteria-style operation. But I’m sure the hungry bus passengers appreciate it.

Anyway, two more things and I shall completely exhaust my store of Madoc-Actinolite bus-stop lore. Are you still with me?

This is not a terribly helpful image, but just to say that the Gateway Restaurant in downtown Tweed has, I am pretty sure, the old wooden tables and chairs that used to be in the Log Cabin at Actinolite.

This is not a terribly helpful image, but just to say that the Gateway Restaurant in downtown Tweed has, I am pretty sure, the old wooden tables and chairs that used to be in the Log Cabin at Actinolite.

One: While the Log Cabin no longer has those rustic wooden tables and chairs, I think I know who does. One day a few years back (still long before I ever thought I might one day own the Manse) I happened to be in the nearby village of Tweed, and stopped in for lunch at the Gateway Restaurant on the main street. And was delighted to see it furnished in part with those very same (if I’m not mistaken) tables and chairs. I wish I’d thought to take a photo of them, then or since; Raymond and I go to the Gateway often for breakfast or lunch when we’re staying at the Manse, so there’s no excuse. But I did find this tiny one (at left) online, and it kind of gives you the idea.

Because every good bus stop should have a bear or two. (Photo by J.A.S. Keay)

Because every good bus stop should have a bear or two. (Photo by J.A.S. Keay)

And two: about those bears that John Hopkins’s article mentions. Yes, Teddy apparently died in 1964 (the year my family moved to the Manse), but Buster and Bandy were very much alive, well and drinking Coke out of Coke bottles, much to the entertainment of bus passengers, car travellers, and those of us who lived in the area, back in the long-ago day when I was young. I made them guests of honour in a blog post a while back – it’s here – and I am re-using a photo (taken by my grandfather) of Buster (or is it Bandy?), just because I can.

And because it makes me smile to think about the old days at the Log Cabin. Where the buses still stop. A lot.

Lights shining in the darkness

christmas_lights

It is Epiphany, people, and do you know what that means? Okay, well, yes, it means it’s the day on which we (western Christians, anyway) mark the visit of the three kings, or wise men, to the baby Jesus. It’s also known as Twelfth Night – the “twelfth day of Christmas,” as that annoyingly catchy song has it. (If you saw the Stratford Festival‘s production of Shakespeare’s comedy of that name a couple of years back, lucky you!)

But it also means, to my mind and I hope to the minds of all right-thinking people, that after today Christmas is over and done, and it is time to move on. And that in turn means: as lovely as your Christmas tree and your outdoor Christmas lights may have been again this year, it is time for them to go. Christmas lights still shining in late January or even February (and sometimes even later than that) are just, well – not right.

However, I wanted to say in these waning hours of the Christmas season how particularly enjoyable I have found looking at Christmas lights this year.

When I was a little girl growing up at the Manse, my mum used to find it a real treat to “go for a drive and see the lights.” I kind of wondered what the fuss was about. (And in retrospect I think one reason she liked it was simply that it was a chance to get out of the house she shared with a husband and four little kids, and away from her minister’s-wife and professional [she was a high-school teacher] duties for a little while. It was a respite, basically.) She especially loved to go look at the lights when we were visiting a city, like say Peterborough, where my grandparents, her parents, had retired. I think she enjoyed seeing a lot of displays all at once, and comparing and contrasting different households’ efforts.

Our own household’s effort at the Manse in Queensborough was never particularly spectacular. We had one string of multicoloured lights like the ones in the picture at the top of this post, and my father the minister – who didn’t put much store in anything along the lines of aesthetics or decorative work – would, grudgingly and after many reminders, put a minimalist effort into getting them strung up along the roofline of the Manse’s front porch. They were never remotely like those straight-as-an-arrow displays that many homes had; we kids used to joke that Dad kept tossing the lights up in the general direction of the nails installed for that purpose, and once they stayed he left them alone. So they tended to be a bit droopy and helter-skelter. But at least they shone out into the darkness of winter nights, and there is a lot to be said for that.

Which Raymond and I have really come to appreciate this winter as we have been driving back and forth between Queensborough and Montreal. Usually we drive Q’boro-ward on Friday night after work, and we take a backroads route that we found by happy accident after being stuck too many times in awful Highway 401 traffic backups around construction near Gananoque, Ont. We get off the dreaded 401 at Brockville and drive northwest through little places like Addison and Toledo and Mott’s Mills and Frankville and Rideau Ferry and Lombardy and then the “big city” of Perth, and once we get to Perth it’s only a blessed hour and 10 or 15 minutes along good old Highway 7 (the Trans-Canada) and Queensborough Road to our happy unfinished work-in-progress Manse in downtown Queensborough.

And as we drive along those dark country roads and through tiny country communities, we have been thrilled by, and appreciative of, the festive lights we have seen. My mum may have liked to see lights all together in the city, but I think I prefer them coming at us individually, through the deep darkness of the rural night. You are driving along in darkness and snow, and it’s kind of a lonely feeling even if you are in a nice warm car, but seeing a display of festive lights at a house (or better yet, a village or a town) makes you feel less lonely. When people have really gone out and done their best to make a beautiful seasonal display, then it’s just that much more warming and cheering.

So more power to you, Christmas-lights-people! But now, after Epiphany, the magic is done and the lights have to go. We will see and enjoy them again next Christmas, next winter. Now, the nights just have to be dark.

Which perhaps makes the lights of home – our happy Manse in lovely Queensborough – more welcome than ever.

Friday night at the Manse – when your shoulders come down from around your ears.

Friday night at the Manse: organic chicken pot pie, candlelight, the local weekly paper, and my husband uncorking a nice bottle of wine. Could there be anything better? Especially after a long winter drive in the dark?

Friday night at the Manse: organic chicken pot pie, candlelight, the local weekly paper, and my husband uncorking a nice bottle of wine. Could there be anything better? Especially after a long winter drive in the dark?

People, after tonight and until Christmas, my posts will be all about Christmas at the Manse – the first Christmas my family will have spent there since I was 14 years old, way back in the 1970s. I am very excited about the whole thing, and I think it will be lovely – and I hope my Christmas posts will help put you in the spirit too. Tonight, though, after a hard slog of Christmas-card writing – which I love doing, but my lord it can be exhausting – I’m kind of, well, exhausted. But it makes me think of how the Manse can make one feel better when one’s in that frame of mind.

Driving to Queensborough from our home in Montreal on a Friday night, after a long day’s and week’s work, can be trying. Unless we’re incredibly lucky with traffic exiting the city, and don’t need to stop for gas or to use the facilities, the trip takes four and a half hours, and that is long – especially at this time of year, when it gets dark at 4 p.m. When you drive four and a half hours in the dark, you feel like you’re ready for bed, even if you’ve been lucky enough to get away early and it’s only 8:30 or 9 p.m. when you get to lovely little Queensborough.

Me in the Manse kitchen one recent Friday night with an especially good haul: we'd been away for four weeks, so in the mailbox were four weeks' worth of the local newspapers. Gold!

Me in the Manse kitchen one recent Friday night with an especially good haul: we’d been away for four weeks, so in the mailbox were four weeks’ worth of the local newspapers. Gold!

Ah, but when we get there, something magical happens. First, our tensed-up shoulders come down from around our ears as we take in the night sky and the bright stars and the absolute quiet around us, save for the sound of the water of the Black River tumbling over the dam at the Thompson Mill at the centre of town. And we unpack the car, and in the Manse turn up the heat and turn on the water (and use the facilities). And Raymond generally smokes a little cigar out on the front porch while I put some things away. And the house warms up, and we light the (electric) fireplace and some candles, which helps warm the house up even more. And we put on some music. And I haul in from the mailbox some seriously good reading material: all the copies of the local weekly papers, the EMC and the Community Press, that have accumulated since the last time we visited.

And we turn on the stove and warm up dinner – last Friday it was an all-organic chicken pot pie bought on the way from the excellent store called Foodsmiths in Perth, Ont., recommended to us by Queensborough-area resident and amazing photographer Pauline Weber (and thanks for that, Pauline!). And uncork (or twist off the cap of, if it’s conveniently screw-topped) a bottle of wine.

And suddenly, all the strains and stresses of the work week and everything else are forgotten. We are at the Manse in Queensborough, a beautiful and historic house in a beautiful and historic village. A house and a village filled with stories of interesting residents long gone, and interesting residents of the present day. It is quiet, we are together, we have arrived safely, and there is warmth and good food and a nice glass of wine. And the prospect of a weekend of quiet adventure and discovery as we make our way in this lovely and largely undiscovered part of the world.

What could be better?