The torch has been passed, and the pies have been made

Betty shows how it's done

Betty Sexmith demonstrates the fine art of pie-making as fellow teacher Barb Ramsay (to Betty’s right) and eager students look on. (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

“So,” you’re probably saying to yourself, “I wonder how that pie-making class in Queensborough last weekend went.” Well, people, I am here to tell you: It was absolutely fantastic. And I have the pie to prove it.

You might recall that in telling you about the Queensborough Community Centre‘s first-ever Master Class in Pie-Making (in a post that is here), I mentioned that I was a card-carrying member of the large segment of the population that cannot produce a homemade pie. I thus planned to be in the front row as Queensborough pie-makers extraordinaire Barb Ramsay, Ann Brooks and Betty Sexsmith shared the secrets of perfect pie crust. And on the sunny, springlike Saturday afternoon on which our Master Class was held, there indeed I was: watching every move Barb, Ann and Betty made, asking questions, taking notes and snapping photos.

Get your aprons on!

Students, don your aprons! There was a lot of happy bustle as the historic former schoolroom filled up and eager students got ready for their lesson. On the tables were laid out everything they needed: recipes, mixing bowl, ingredients, etc.

And I was far from alone. As predicted by me and many others, all available spots in our Master Class were filled very quickly. More than one would-be student had to be turned away, though with the news that we’ll probably hold the pie-making class again. After all, success should be repeated!

So along with 26 other students and some onlookers and helpers, I watched Ann, Betty and Barb as they made their trademark flaky and delicious pie crust: Betty and Barb by hand, using a pastry blender, and Ann using her high-powered KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook.

Blending the pastry

Betty Sexsmith demonstrates the use of a pastry blender.

Betty and Ann demonstrated lard pastry, while Barb made hers using vegetable shortening (suitable for vegetarians and vegans). I don’t know that any of the three have acted as teachers before, but they did a brilliant job, clearly explaining the various steps as they went along, and reassuring us that whatever might go wrong – for instance, a bottom shell that doesn’t quite stretch to the edge of the pie plate – can easily be remedied – in this case, with a bit of patching.

Barb's rolling-pin technique

Barb Ramsay demonstrates the fancy way to get the dough into the pie plate: rolling it around your rolling pin, and then unrolling it into the plate. Impressive!

They showed us the two techniques for getting the pie dough into the pie plate. Betty and Ann folded it in half, lifted it and placed the fold in the centre of the plate, then gently unfolded it. Barb, meanwhile, showed the very impressive rolling-pin technique, in which you roll the dough around your rolling pin and then unroll it into the pie plate. Wow! (I was too scared to try it.)

They showed us how to cut slashes and make the top of the pie look fancy, and different ways of pinching the edges together – with a fork, or by fluting them with your fingers.

And then it was our turn!

Making pie at my tableMaking pie at Table 2Making pie at Table 1

Me making pie crust

Here’s me blending up my pie crust, nervous as all get out. Longtime readers might recognize the turquoise apron (complete with vintage-style rick-rack) that I was wearing; it was made for me by my friend Margaret Squibb, who is a baker extraordinaire. Margaret bakes all the amazing pies served at the Montreal restaurant Tuck Shop, where her son, Theo Lerikos, is owner and chef. Thanks, Margaret! (Photo by Jill Cameron)

As we nervously measured out our flour and began our blending, the three experts and some helpers roamed from table to table, watching, offering advice, answering questions and calming our anxieties.

Ann helps James

James Cipparone of Queensborough celebrated his 11th birthday Saturday by taking part in the Master Class. He chose to make his pastry using Ann
Brooks’s KitchenAid mixer, and she talked him through the whole process.

Ann advises the pie-makers

Ann Brooks visits a table of pie-makers to calm nerves and answer questions.

Frankly, I don’t know what I would have done without Betty’s frequent visits to our table to check on us. When is the pastry sufficiently blended? I didn’t know, but she guided me through it. Have I rolled it out properly? Sure I had, she encouragingly told me. How do you cut those fancy slashes again? Betty kindly showed me once more.

And by the end, I had a pie!

My pie

And so did everybody else!

Happy pie-makers

(Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

All we had to do was take them home and bake them. Which of course I did, and here’s my finished product:

Finished pie

I cannot tell you how proud I am of having produced this raspberry pie. As Raymond (my husband) will confirm, it was delicious – and the pastry was nigh on perfect.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos of the day to give you a sense of what a great afternoon we all had:

Elaine starts us off

As the afternoon kicked off, Elaine Kapusta of the Queensborough Community Centre committee explains to the students how we came up with idea of the Master Class in Pie-Making. Looking on are our teachers: from left, Barb Ramsay, Betty Sexsmith and Ann Brooks.

We are ready to make pie

This roomful of people is ready to make pie!

Betty and Teresa

The class was billed as a passing of the torch, as veteran pie-makers taught younger folks (okay, not all of us were younger) the art of pie-making. This was beautifully exemplified by the participation of Teresa Laton, granddaughter of teacher Betty Sexsmith. (Photo by Jill Cameron)

QCC members at pie class

Our pie class was organized by members of the Queensborough Community Centre committee, some of whom are (right to left) Elaine Kapusta, Ann Brooks, Joan Harrison Sims, Betty Sexsmith, Barb Ramsay, Stephanie Sims and yours truly. (Photo by Jill Cameron)

And here’s the good news: most of the people who attended this first class – which focused on the fine art of the pie crust – are already signed up for a followup session on making pie filling using fresh fruit. Success breeds success! Also, as I said, there will probably be another session on pie pastry for those who couldn’t be squeezed into this first class and those whose interest may be aroused by the positive publicity our class got. (We had two reporters there to document the day.)

Ann and James with James's pie

James Cipparone with his pie whisperer, Ann Brooks, and his finished product, lattice-topped and all. Pretty nice to go home on your 11th birthday and have a pie like that for your family to enjoy!

People, I think we are on to something. The fact that it’s something delicious just makes it that much better.

Your ticket to learn the secrets of Queensborough pie perfection

Pie FlyerYou heard about it here first, people: early next month, you get your chance to learn how to make pies as great as the ones you enjoy whenever you come to Queensborough for church suppers and the like. As I reported back in January, the volunteers at the Queensborough Community Centre committee are organizing the first – and, we hope, far from the last – Master Pie-Making Course. And now, as I promised in that earlier report, I have all the details for you, plus – as you’ll see at the top of this post – your registration form for this fantastic event.

Potluck Supper poster 2018The first thing I have to tell you is this: act fast! Spaces in the class are limited and, judging by the enthusiastic response I received to that first post both here and on social media, they will fill up very quickly. If you want to learn from the best of the best, follow these instructions:

  1. Click on the photo at the top of this post showing the registration form.
  2. Go to the bottom right of the next screen you’ll see. Click on “View full size.”
  3. Drag the image to the desktop of your computer.
  4. Print it out, fill in your information, and mail it off as soon as you can – or better yet, come to the potluck supper this coming Sunday (Feb. 18, 2018) at the Queensborough Community Centre and drop it off ahead of time. (Hey, how about this: we’re having a Queensborough Trivia competition at the potluck supper – how much fun is that? People, we in Queensborough know how to have a good time.) Also: if you have trouble downloading the form, you can also find it, readily downloadable, at the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page.

And hey – how about the amazingly low registration fee for this class? Only $10 to learn life-changing pie-making skills from the pros: Betty Sexsmith, Ann Brooks and Barb Ramsay. Plus the QCC supplies all your ingredients! (That would be flour, lard or shortening, pie filling, etc.) You’re not likely to find a better deal than that.

Now, you do have to supply some stuff yourself, as noted on the information sheet. Presumably you all know what a rolling pin is, but we decided to use a photo of a pastry blender because there are probably some potential pie-makers who have never used one. Wondering about the dry-measure measuring cups? As the lovely Mrs. Meraw taught me in home-economics class at Centre Hastings Secondary School in Madoc way back in the days when I was growing up in Queensborough, you must use dry-measure cups for ingredients like flour, sugar and so on – not the measuring cups you use for liquids like milk, oil, etc. Here’s a visual to help the measuring-cup-challenged, with Raymond, my husband and in-house chef extraordinaire, doing the modelling. Dry-measure cups look like this:

Raymond with dry-measure cups

And liquid-measure cups look like this:

Raymond with the liquid-measure cups

There! A baking-utensils lesson from me, of all people. All credit to Mrs. Meraw for this knowledge. She was an excellent (and very patient) home-ec teacher.

Now, a couple of other things to note:

  • The spaces for this session really will fill up quickly. We don’t want people to be disappointed, so if it turns out that the class is full by the time your registration arrives, don’t despair! We can and will do it again.
  • After lengthy deliberations, the planning committee decided that this first Master Class will be strictly about the magic of making good pastry. We thought that adding instructions for turning fresh or frozen fruit (or savoury ingedients, such as the makings of chicken pot pie) into pie filling would be too much for one session. As a result, the pies that students will take home to bake will contain canned filling. But! If there’s interest and demand, we’ll hold another class on making yummy fillings for your perfect pie crust.

Okay, there you go. Round up your materials – borrow them if you don’t have them, or stop by your friendly local Home Hardware store or equivalent to buy some of your own, because lord knows you’ll be making pies after this pie-making class. Send in your registration. And come to beautiful Queensborough on Saturday, March 3, for this extraordinary culinary experience.

The organizers think of this as a passing of the pastry-blender-shaped torch, from the veteran pie-makers of Queensborough to the next generation.

I want to be there to catch that torch. You do too.

Postscript: Thank you so much to all of you who responded to last week’s post, sending me some answers to my questions about “Canada’s Oldest Gas Station” in Eldorado. I promise I’ll get back to that topic, and share the information you sent, very soon. But right at the moment, pie-class registration is urgent!

Want to be a genius pie-maker? Come to Queensborough!

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

The pie table at a community supper at St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, is proof that the art of pie-making is alive and thriving here.

I have noticed that the world is divided into two kinds of people:

  • Those who can make pie.
  • Those who cannot.

By my unscientific calculation, the second group outnumbers the first by a factor of about 377 million per cent.

It wasn’t always like that – at least, not in the world I grew up in, which was North America in the middle part of the 20th century.

In that world, every woman – or at least, every woman I knew, here in Queensborough and elsewhere – and also some men, could make pie. And by “make pie” I do not mean “could pour a can of pie filling into a frozen pre-made pie crust.” No, I mean taking a basket of freshly picked apples, or strawberries, or peaches, and peeling or pitting or stemming or whatever you had to do to them, adding some magic ingredients such as maybe cinnamon and definitely a whole lot of sugar, and then putting it into a homemade pastry shell, covering it with another piece of homemade pastry (possibly in the form of fancy latticework), crimping the edges prettily, cutting a few artful slashes in the top, and after it spending a certain length of time in the oven, producing a mouth-watering dessert that needed only a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of whipped fresh cream, or – if we’re talking apple pie, and if we’re in dairy-farm country like my own Hastings County – a slice of nicely aged cheddar to turn it into something that everyone at the table would adore and ask for seconds of.

That, people, is pie-making.

Pies at the church food tent

Homemade pies at the food tent that St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, helped run at the Hastings County Plowing Match at the McKinnon farm just west of the village in the summer of 2016. We sold every piece!

But now that we’re well into the 21st century, it seems to be something of a lost, or at least disappearing, art. Can you make melt-in-your mouth flaky pie dough, dear reader? Can you make a raspberry pie that would have them coming back for seconds?

I know people – notably my mother, Lorna – who used to whip up homemade pies at the drop of a hat, but who for some reason have lost their pie-making mojo, or at least think they have. “I can’t make pie crust anymore,” my mum tells me quite frequently. I don’t think it’s true, but I do know that, unlike in the days of my childhood, she doesn’t make pie very often.

Then there’s the vast number of people – including me – who never had that mojo in the first place. For all of my life – until just a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll tell you that story in a bit – I’ve been unable to make pie, because I could not make pie crust. The few times I tried it, even under the watchful eye of an experienced pie-maker, the crust was an utter disaster, falling apart as I tried to roll it out, hard and unflaky when baked. It was a stressful, discouraging experience. I’ve always thought of people who could actually make great pie crust as being – well, kitchen magicians.

Ruth's pie vs. my pie

This is the time a couple of years ago that I tried to make a lemon meringue pie to contribute to a community event. The result – the pie on the left – was an appalling embarrassment, and went straight into the garbage. My pie-making neighbour Ruth, who just makes the best pies, saved the day with a lemon meringue pie of her own – the beauty on the right.

Carol's pie pastry recipe in my recipe box

Carol’s recipe for pie pastry, safely stored in my vintage recipe box.

(My recent modest conversion to the side of people who can produce a pie crust – if not necessarily yet a full pie – came about thanks to a conversation on the picket line, of all things. As many readers will know, faculty at all of Ontario’s community colleges were on strike for an agonizing five weeks this past fall. Since I’m a faculty member at Loyalist College in Belleville, that included me. As I walked the picket line with a colleague named Carol one day, we began talking about pie-making, and I referenced the same sad tale I’ve just told you about my lack of pie-making skills. Carol told me that if I had a food processor – which I do – I had no excuse, that she had a recipe that would never fail me. The next day, she produced it on one of those old-fashioned recipe cards. I tucked it away in my old-fashioned recipe box [of course you knew I’d have an old-fashioned recipe box] and promised Carol, and myself, that I’d try it one day. Well, that day came one late night two days before Christmas, when Raymond was making a fancy recipe for tourtière and the fancy recipe’s recipe for the dough failed utterly. Raymond was not happy, and I knew I had to step in if Christmas cheer was to be restored. “I have Carol’s recipe!” I told him, trying to sound more confident than I felt. I knew that if I messed up on the the pastry, and all those lovely tourtière ingredients – various meats, spices, vegetables, herbs, stock and so on – that Raymond had so painstakingly prepared couldn’t be baked in it, there’d be a whole lot of crankiness at the Manse. So I gathered my courage, followed Carol’s simple recipe to the letter – and voilà:

Tourtière saved by Carol

I like to call this “Carol saves Christmas.” The pastry isn’t perfect – you’ll spot the place where it had to be patched a bit – but it looked, and tasted, wonderful!

But just because I can now produce a pie crust doesn’t mean that I know anything about filling a pie, or doing that lattice-work thing with the top crust, or marking the edges look nice – Raymond did that with the tourtière – or actually baking it.)

I believe I’m safe in saying that those of us who can’t whip up a pie tend to be in awe of those who can. And that we would love to have that skill, would love to be able to proudly produce a delicious blueberry or lemon meringue pie, or a savoury chicken pot pie. In my case, I’d like to be able to be one of the women of Queensborough and area who, when a church supper or other community event involving food looms, turn out two or three delicious pies in a snap to contribute. My contributions always have to be something else, because of my pie-making shortcomings. Despite my recent start on the pastry front, I’m still out of the pie-making clubhouse.

Does my situation describe your own? Or are you maybe one of those people, like my mum, who thinks you’ve lost a knack you once had? Or are you maybe just in need of a bit of pie-making inspiration? Well, people, I am here to tell you that help is at hand! Right here! And soon! It’s your chance to learn about making pie from the best of the best: the women of Queensborough!

HQD QCC with Buddy Table

The Queensborough Community Centre, where the March 3 Master Pie-Making Class will take place. It’s at 1853 Queensborough Rd. But because of expected demand you’ll probably have to pre-register (rather than just showing up), so watch this space for details!

On Saturday, March 3,  at 1 p.m., there will be a Master Pie-Making Class at the Queensborough Community Centre – our village’s historic former one-room schoolhouse. At this session, you’ll have the opportunity to learn the art of pie-making from three of Queensborough’s best and most experienced pie-makers. And this won’t just be a watch-the-teacher-do-her-thing session; people, we are talking about hands-on learning! You will have flour on your hands, and you will be rolling out that pastry yourself, under the careful eye of a master of the craft.

Does it get any better than this? I think not.

Word of our Master Class has already gone out in some tourism and coming-events publications, and people are excited. Members of the community centre committee are being stopped in the aisles of the Madoc Foodland by people who want to come on March 3. It seems that even if the skill of pie-making has got a little bit lost these days, the interest in acquiring that skill has not.

We’re still working out some of the details of the pie-making session, like whether students will have to bring anything (probably not, aside maybe from an optional apron), and what kinds of pies we’ll make, and how much the fee for the session will be (small, but necessary to cover the cost of ingredients). So keep an eye on this space, on the Queensborough Community Centre Facebook page, and on the local media as we get closer to the date – or message me here if you have questions. Meanwhile, please feel free to tell your friends, family and neighbours – men and women! young and old! – about this amazing opportunity to learn pie-making from those who do it best.

I, by the way, will be the keener in the very front row.

A late-fall cornucopia from out Queensborough way

LOL Halloween 1

I just can’t even begin to tell you how great Halloween was this year in Queensborough – first and foremost because of the amazing multimedia “spooktacular” mounted by the new owners of the historic Orange Hall, Jamie Grant (performing here) and his wife Tory Byers. On behalf of all the trick-or-treaters and their parents: huge thanks, Jamie and Tory!

The short and chilly days of November are most definitely upon us. The sun sets before 5 p.m., there is snow in the forecast for this week, and we’re in the sombre time leading up to Remembrance Day. Soon enough we’ll all be feeling a little cheerier because of the Christmas lights and ornaments that will appear; but right at the moment, it’s perhaps the gloomiest time of the year. Which means it’s time for me to bring you some cheery late-fall news from Queensborough!

First up: My report on Halloween – the second annual Family Halloween Party at the Queensborough Community Centre (held Saturday, Oct. 28) and then the big night itself.  Regular readers will probably recall that I gave you a heads-up about all this (not to mention an invitation) in my most recent post. Well, I am happy to report that Halloween in Queensborough was a huge success!

Raymond and I were unable to attend the Saturday-night party due to a longstanding commitment in Toronto that evening. Fortunately, however, some of the 60-plus people of all ages who attended and had a bang-up time shared their photos with me. I’ll in turn share some of them with you; you can find more on the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page. Here goes:

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And then there was Halloween itself! Here at the Manse we had the largest number of trick-or-treaters since our arrival in Queensborough, which was very exciting. As usual we had the Manse looking pretty Halloweenish, thanks largely to Raymond’s pumpkin-carving skills. Here it is before night fell; note scary monster (Raymond wearing his anti-blackfly hood) lurking in the doorway!

Manse Halloween 2017

And here’s the Manse after dark:

Manse after dark Halloween 2017

But of course the highlight of Halloween 2017 in Queensborough – as predicted in my last post – was the amazing multimedia show put on for trick-or-treaters at the former Orange Lodge. New owners Jamie Grant and Tory Byers absolutely outdid themselves with many hours of work to put together a Halloween extravaganza in the historic building. Here are a few images:

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And then there was the onstage entertainment, courtesy of a well-disguised Jamie Grant. Amazing!

Okay, so that’s Halloween wrapped up. Can’t wait for next year!

Now on to the latest proof that deer-hunting season is something that people who’ve lived in the city for many years (such as Raymond and myself) really need to get their heads around. I’ve written before (that post is here) about making the rookie error, not long after we bought the Manse, of inviting some friends for dinner in early November. Doh! That’s hunting season, Katherine – when men from North of 7 are not available for dinner parties, because they’re back at the hunting camp with their buddies. Another year, I did a hunting-season post (it’s here) featuring some fantastic you-are-there (“there” being the hunt camp) info from a book produced by my Madoc Township friend Grant Ketcheson.

But despite my growing understanding that much of ordinary male life screeches to a halt around here during deer-hunting season, I was still taken aback by something that happened today.

It began with an appliance that broke down this past weekend. (Is it my imagination, or do appliances always break down on the weekend, when repair people are not available?) In mid-wash cycle, when the tub was full of water and soaking wet clothes, our venerable washing machine (it came with the Manse) decided it would no longer drain. We hauled the clothes out and took them and the rest of the laundry to the local laundromat, but in the meantime our washer looks like this:

Broken washing machine

A tub full of grey water that won’t go away – just what you want in a washing machine…

So last night I looked up the phone number for the local appliance-repair outfit that has served us well in the past, and also (being in full honey-do-list mode) the number for the local company that empties septic tanks, which is another fall thing that needs doing around the Manse. When Raymond found the sheet of paper with those numbers neatly written out on the dining-room table this morning, he of course (being a good husband) recognized his mission. The result, relayed to me by text mid-morning as I drearily walked the picket line on the strike by Ontario college faculty that please will end soon, was this:

  • Automatic message at the appliance-repair place: “Closed for the week of Nov. 6.”
  • Friendly message from the woman who answered the phone at the septic-tank place: “Not this week. The boys are all hunting!”

So there you go: another reminder that if you want a guy to fix your washing machine or drain your septic tank, hunting season is not the time to ask. Sooner or later I will figure this out.

Finally, a very happy piece of news: There was a huge and joyous gathering at the Queensborough Community Centre this past Sunday as Ken and Betty Sexsmith celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Ken and Betty have been pillars of the Queensborough community their entire lives, and it was just lovely to see their four children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and hundreds of friends and members of their extended family out to wish them well. Here’s my photo of Ken and Betty that afternoon – looking pretty great, I have to say:

Ken and Betty Sexsmith 65th anniversary

Betty told me that Sunday (Nov. 5) was in fact the actual anniversary of their marriage in 1952. “There was a terrible snowstorm that day – an early one,” she recalled.

Well, 65 years later, there is again snow coming soon. As we all brace for the the harsh days of the winter that will soon be here, I think a Queensborough love story of 65 years – and counting – is just what we need to warm us up.

This year, Queensborough is Halloween Central

The Grim Reaper

Boo! The Grim Reaper welcomes you to Ghost Crossing. He’s just one of many Halloween-themed decorations to be found around Queensborough as we gear up for the big night.

You know, before Raymond and I moved to Queensborough (or in my case, moved back to Queensborough), I found Halloween a large annoyance. Our house in Montreal was not in an area where we could expect little kids in costume to knock at the door in search of treats; instead, Halloween seemed to be all about adults who (in my view) should have known better showing up for work on the weekday closest to Oct. 31 in silly getups. “Since when did Halloween become a thing for adults?” I used to grumble, curmudgeon cap firmly jammed onto my head. In retrospect I realize that I was unfavourably comparing Adult Halloween In The Big City to the sweet Kid Halloween In Queensborough of my midcentury childhood.

And really, no Halloween could compete with Kid Halloween in Queensborough in about 1968. Or wait – maybe it could! In fact, I think this Halloween – that would be Halloween 2017 – in Queensborough will very possibly be the best ever!

Which is why I’m writing what should be next week’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse a few days early: so you have time to rearrange your schedule so as to be in Halloween Central – Queensborough – this Halloween.

First: this coming Saturday (Oct. 28) will be the second annual Queensborough Halloween Family Party at the Queensborough Community Centre:

Halloween flyer 2017

As regular readers may recall, I attended and wrote about our first such Halloween Party venture last year (that post is here): it was an old-fashioned, apple-bobbing, musical-chairs, fun-and-games-and-treats event, and everyone (including me) had a splendid time. When we put the flyer for this year’s event up on the Queensborough Community Centre Facebook page, it immediately got a ton of likes and shares, which suggests to me there’s going to be a good turnout on Saturday. That turnout should include you!

Next: the big night itself!

Manse Halloween candy

Halloween candy ready to be put into treat bags and given out here at the Manse. Do you think Raymond and I are ready?

As I’ve written before, Queensborough is kind of the perfect place for Halloween. The village is just big enough that 1) kids should get enough candy to make them happy and give them a suitable sugar fix, without having to trudge up and down many suburban streets, or be driven to a larger nearby town; and 2) we pretty much all know each other here, so we can greet the little trick-or-treaters by name and they (and their parents) know and trust the folks who are doling out the candy. Plus it’s such a pretty little village, and with the dried fallen leaves blowing about in the wind on a bright moonlit night, it has just the right feel for a friendly Halloween experience.

As you can see from my photo at the top of this post, people are getting into the Halloween spirit with decorations outside their homes. Here are a few more bits of evidence:

Grinchy pumpkin

A rather grinchy-looking Pumpkin-Head.

Pretty pumpkin display, top o' town

A pretty pumpkin display at the top of the village.

Spooky motorcycle

Ghost rider?

Spooky stuff on King Street

There’s some spooky stuff going on in this front yard.

Pretty pumpkins at Goldie's house

A welcoming doorway.

Skeleton in chains

I wouldn’t want to run into this chap in a dark alley…

Halloween bear

The delightful chainsaw-carved bear that adorns the front of the house of our friends Ed and Jen now has a special seasonal touch.

But this year is going to be something special! Why? Because the new owners of the historic Orange Hall, just around the corner from the Manse, are promising a Halloween spook-tacular in their newly renovated interior space.


The former home of the Loyal Orange Lodge Branch 437 is one of the oldest and most important buildings in Queensborough. Over the years it has been used as a concert and entertainment venue, for church services (before any of Queensborough’s four churches were built), as a polling place in elections, and for many a wedding dance, in addition to its official lodge service. It had been unused and left to decay for some years, but brand-new owners Jamie and Tory have been doing big renovations and repairs and have already turned it into a spectacular space. On Halloween, that “spectacular” becomes – spook-tacular!

I promised I wouldn’t give out the details ahead of time, but I happen to know that Jamie and Tory, who are artistic, inventive and whimsical (as you can tell from the Happy Orange symbol that Jamie has made the emblem of the building, and that adorns the west side of it), will have that old hall decked out in stunning Halloween style. Visitors to it on our recent Historic Queensborough Day were blown away by the work the couple have done; the hall’s Halloween getup is going to be just as much of a blast, for parents as well as kids.

All in all, people, here’s the thing about Halloween in Queensborough: you don’t want to miss it!

In Queensborough, there’s always something going on

Turkey Supper poster 2017

Here’s the big news in Queensborough for the coming week: it’s time once again for the famous annual Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church. Please join us!

Today here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, we’re bringing you some bits and bobs of Queensborough news: a little of this and a little of that, and all of it good.

One reason for keeping things brief in this latest instalment is that it is too hot for anything right at the moment. This business of 32-degree temperatures at the end of September is seriously crazy. And when you live in a 130-year-old Manse that doesn’t have air conditioning, even hunkering over the keyboard of a laptop makes a person hot. So let’s keep it brief, shall we?

First things first: you need to know that this coming Wednesday, Sept. 27, is when the famous annual Turkey Supper takes place at St. Andrew’s United Church here in Queensborough. Now, I fully realize that high-summer temperatures in September may not put you in mind of a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but look at it this way: it’s too hot to cook! So let us do it for you! It’s always a splendid meal, topped off by our famouser-than-famous homemade pies. And all proceeds go to the work of our historic little church.

Pies at the church supper

Homemade pie is a very important part of the Turkey Supper!

If you joined us for the Turkey Supper last September, especially if you showed up close to closing time, you will know that something that had never before happened, in all the decades (six at least) of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper, did happen: we ran out of food. We were the victim of our own success! Never before had we had so many people attend our event. Only a very few people went away unfed, and they were mostly the hardworking men and women of the church who’d been cooking and serving all afternoon and evening, who took it in good humour – but still, this was unprecedented and unfortunate. It’s not going to happen again! This year people who formerly roasted one turkey are instead roasting two. (One of these is my husband, Raymond.) People who formerly peeled 10 pounds of potatoes are instead peeling 20 pounds. (One of these is me.) People who formerly made two pies are making three, or four. (That would be many sainted women from Queensborough and area.) So we are ready for the crowds!

And we hope you’ll come. It’s a lovely, old-fashioned church-social evening of great food and friendly conversation with people you’ve known forever and people you’ve only just met.

Okay, next on the list: a beautiful pop-up garden!

New garden in Queensborough

A beautiful (and unusual) garden that suddenly appeared a few days ago in front of the historic home of our new neighbours, the Alinards. What a lovely addition to the streetscape!

Speaking of St. Andrew’s United Church, I was walking up there from the Manse for the worship service this past Sunday, and I suddenly noticed that a beautiful new garden had appeared in front of a historic home along the way. Where for some years nothing but a patch of ever-larger weeds has stood, the young family who are the brand-new owners of the house (which was for many years the home of Goldie Holmes, Queensborough’s famous Quilt Lady) have created a gorgeous little fall-themed oasis. In it are ‘mums, a piece of driftwood (perhaps representing the family’s former home on the west coast), some vintage items, pumpkins of different colours and sizes, and pretty shrubs and rocks. How absolutely lovely! Bit by bit, almost every little corner of Queensborough is getting spruced up.

Halloween party 2016

What a great community Halloween party we had last year! The historic Queensborough Community Centre (formerly our village’s one-room school) had kids (and whole families) dressed up as everything from angels to superheroes, and enjoying games (like bobbing for apples), contests and dancing – not to mention treats! This year there are quite a few more kids in Queensborough, so Raymond and I are hoping for lots of trick-or-treaters at our door come Oct. 31.

And finally, speaking of that young family (whose wee son, Noah, is my new pal): there are so many kids in Queensborough all of a sudden! In the 5½ years since Raymond and I bought the Manse, our hamlet has gone from almost zero pre-school and school-age children to, at my last informal count, at least 10, with half a dozen more who don’t live here full-time but are frequent visitors (to grandparents’ homes or whatever). These kids hang around together, play games together, climb trees, build forts, and bring sparkling life to Queensborough.

Can you guess where this is going? Think: what’s the next big event in the lives of North American kids? You’ve got it: Halloween! When I was a kid growing up in Queensborough, it was the perfect place for Halloween. There were just enough houses to visit that your pillowcase (or in the case of us Sedgwick kids, your plastic pumpkin) would be filled with treats. And the place was small enough that everyone knew everyone else, which meant that the handing out of treats was always preceded by the householders having to guess which of the local kids were the masked trick-or-treaters at their door. There was no anonymous trick-or-treating in those days! And an added bonus was that the treats were often homemade: chocolate or maple fudge, or popcorn balls. Nothing better, if you ask me.

Now, I know the days of handing out homemade fudge on Halloween are gone. But I think we’re ready to go back to something not altogether dissimilar from the Queensborough Halloweens of my childhood: everybody knowing everybody; people who answer the door delighting in the cuteness and cleverness of the costumes worn by the kids, whom they know by name; a happy and friendly community atmosphere pervading the whole event. Possibly preceded by a community Halloween party a few nights earlier, as we had to great success last year.

All of which makes me realize: not only is there never a dull moment in Queensborough; there’s also always something to look forward to. We live in a happy little place!

They say our school should be closed. We can push back.

Madoc Township Public School

Madoc Township Public School, opened in 1961 to serve students from the rural area that includes Queensborough. Will this be its final year of operation?

The place where I began my school days, where I learned cursive writing and the times tables and long division and the parts of a flower and the life cycle of a monarch butterfly and how to say “Je m’appelle Katherine” and how to play Red Rover – that school is threatened with being closed at the end of the current school year. And I am very sad about that.

Well, sad – and mad. And mad not necessarily for the reasons you might suspect.

Me in front of Madoc Township Public School

Me in front of my old school.

The school in question is Madoc Township Public School, located a little west of the hamlet of Hazzards Corners, south of the hamlet of Eldorado, and north of the village of Madoc – pretty much dead centre in Madoc Township. That central location is deliberate, because the school was built in 1961 as a big (by the day’s standards) modern central facility to replace the one-room schoolhouses where until then the children of Madoc Township had received their primary-school education – schools at Hart’s, Cooper, O’Hara’s and so on. (I know those geographical references won’t mean anything to readers from outside central Hastings County, but please bear with me on this: they mean a lot to the people who live where I do.)

As time went on, children from one-room schools a little further afield were also moved to Madoc Township Public School. That was the case in 1966 for kids from Queensborough; our hamlet’s one-room school, built in 1901 (and now the Queensborough Community Centre) was closed that summer, and so in September I, along with all the other kids from the village, climbed aboard a big yellow bus to attend the new school a few miles west of us. I was just starting Grade 1 – we didn’t yet have kindergarten – so Madoc Township Public School was my very first educational experience.

I have the happiest of memories of those school years. Educational standards at Madoc Township Public School were high; our principal, the redoubtable Florence McCoy, demanded the best of her staff and students even as she set and encouraged an atmosphere of friendship and support for all. Florence McCoy is one of my all-time heroes. Here she is surrounded by her staff at the time I began school there:

Staff of Madoc Township Public School

The staff of Madoc Township Public School, c. 1966-67: back row, from left, Anna Carman, Sadie Miller, Vera Burnside, Monica Tobin and Evelyn Boyle; front row, from left: Irene Reid, principal Florence McCoy and Gayle Ketcheson. As I’ve said before: best teachers ever.

So you’re probably thinking I’m mad about the threatened closing of Madoc Township Public School because it’s my old school. I expect there’s a bit of that running around in my head and heart, and I don’t know how there couldn’t be. But what I’m really mad about is this being yet another undermining of our rural way of life here in our historic North of 7 part of the world.

Here’s what we know as of this writing about the possible fate of our local school:

A report has been prepared for the school enrolment/school capacity committee of the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board (which oversees all public schools throughout those two counties) recommending several school closings and consolidations because of declining enrolment and the cost of maintaining aging school buildings. The recommendation that affects us here in the Queensborough/Madoc Township area is this (and here I am quoting from the document prepared for the committee):

  • Close Madoc Township Public School and consolidate students to Madoc Public
    School for September 2017.
  • Relocate Grade 7 and 8 students from Madoc Public School to Centre Hastings
    Secondary School, creating a Grade 7-12 model, for September 2017.
  • Explore opportunities for community partnerships aligned with the 2015-2020
    Strategic Plan priorities.

(I have no clue what that third recommendation means. As a journalist who covered the education beat for several years, I learned that there is no human organization more given to bureaucratic bafflegab than school boards.)

Now, I also attended Madoc Public School; that’s where students from Madoc Township P.S. went for grades 7 and 8 when I was a kid here, and that’s still what happens now, more than four decades later. It’s a happy little school, like Madoc Township, and I bear it no malice as I voice my opposition to our school being closed and its students sent there.

But Madoc Public School is almost at capacity now (unlike Madoc Township, or Centre Hastings Secondary School, which is the immediate neighbour of Madoc P.S.), and more to the point, it has almost no land. Its playground area is absolutely minimal – whereas one of the wonderful things about Madoc Township Public School is that it was built in the middle of farm fields and wide open spaces. Here’s just one area of the playground:

playground at Madoc Township Public School

Oh my goodness, what fun we used to have on “Field Day” at Madoc Township Public School, with those wide-open fields for races, high jumping, long jumping and so on. And we played ball in our own ball diamond too!

And here’s another:

Soccer field at Madoc Township Public School

The soccer field at Madoc Township Public School.

And that’s not all of it! There is a lot of space for kids to play at that school.

Now, don’t you think that at a time when kids are getting very little exercise and having a hard time focusing their brains because of the constant distraction of the phones and screens they spend their lives in front of (much like their parents and, let’s face it, all of us), a school with magnificent wide open spaces for good old-fashioned play is – well, a good thing?

Founders' plaques at Madoc Township Public School

Plaques paying tribute to the founders of Madoc Township Public School – including, of course, its founding principal, Florence McCoy.

So I’m mad about this great school, in its unparalleled natural setting, possibly being closed.

And I’m mad about the loss of a rural institution. God knows we here in rural Ontario have enough to contend with – high hydro rates; businesses that struggle to survive in the shadow of people’s incomprehensible (to me, anyway) determination to drive 35 miles to Walmart rather then buying local; less-than-great access to health services – without losing our community school too.

I’ve mentioned that once upon a time I was an education reporter who covered school boards for my local newspaper. One thing I learned from that experience is that nothing gets people more riled up than the threat of their kids’ school being closed. Another, more important, thing that I learned is that if you fight hard enough, you can sometimes win. The school board is directed by paid bureaucrats who make recommendations (like closing Madoc Township Public School); but the actual decisions are made by the trustees elected by you and me, and those trustees’ job is to represent the wishes and needs of their constituents.

On that note, here, central Hastings County, are your local trustees on the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board, along with their contact information:

Bonnie Danes (who once taught at Madoc Township Public School):
Phone: 613-472-6107

Justin Bray:
Phone: 613-478-3696

I believe you should let them know what you think.

I believe you should, if you have the time, let all the other board trustees know what you think; you can find their contact information (as I did for Bonnie Danes and Justin Bray) at the school board’s website here. (Also: board chair Dwayne Inch is at 613-476-5174,; the top bureaucrat at the board, director of education Mandy Savery-Whiteway, is at 1-800-267-4350, x2201,

If you can manage it, go to the meetings where this important decision will be discussed; there is great power in numbers, and in representation. The first such meeting (which crops up rather suspiciously soon, in my view, after the news about the planned closures emerged late this past Friday) is supposed to take place this very day (Monday, Nov. 21 – though the current weather situation might have an impact) at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute in Picton at 3:30 p.m., when the aforementioned school enrolment/school capacity committee meets. That will be followed later today by a full meeting of the board, also at PECI in Picton, at 7 p.m.

At those meetings and the others that will follow, make your case for why Madoc Township Public School is a vital part of our community. Elect spokespeople. Organize. Don’t be intimidated by anyone who might suggest they know more about our school, or the needs of our community, than we do.

I think we should stand up for our school, and for the sustainability of our rural way of life. It’s important. Let’s not give up without a fight.