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 LOL

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, who emigrated as a young single woman from Northern Ireland and built a life on the far side of the Atlantic as a hugely respected educator and member of our local community, 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
Email: bdanes@hpedsb.on.ca

Justin Bray:
Phone: 613-478-3696
Email: jbray@hpedsb.on.ca

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, dinch@hpedsb.on.ca; the top bureaucrat at the board, director of education Mandy Savery-Whiteway, is at 1-800-267-4350, x2201, directors.office@hpedsb.on.ca.)

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.

Simple pleasures: an old-fashioned Halloween party

Halloween conga at QCC

An old-fashioned conga line was the final dance at the community Halloween party at the Queensborough Community Centre Saturday night. Historic surroundings (it’s the village’s well-preserved former one-room schoolhouse), lots of treats, families in costume, music: it was a recipe for a great time.

Boo! And happy Halloween to you all. May your plastic pumpkin be filled with oodles of treats, and the inside of your plastic mask not get too slippery and uncomfortable as it fills up with condensation from your excited breathing as you race door to door.

Oh, wait: I’m channelling some long-ago Halloween memories from my Queensborough childhood – the days when kids wore plastic masks that were doubtless highly flammable, when our identity had to be guessed by each householder before treats could be doled out to our plastic pumpkins, and when those treats were, as often as not, homemade maple and chocolate fudge and sticky-sweet popcorn balls. Those were the days!

But speaking of old-fashioned Halloweens, I thought I’d tell you about an event we had in our little village this past Saturday night that really reminded me of them. It was a community Halloween party/dance organized by the Queensborough Community Centre committee, and yours truly was there to take it all in, help out, and get some photos.

Welcome to the QCC Halloween party

Thanks to Halloween aficonado Tom Sims of Queensborough, we had a huge and spooky welcomer to all who came to the party.

This was the first Halloween event the QCC folks had organized in many years, and no one knew how many people were likely to show up. In the end the turnout was pretty decent, though we had room for more. But really, I thought to myself as I watched the kids dancing and racing around on the dance floor, taking part in the games (more on that in a sec) and generally having a rip-roaring good time, what do numbers matter? Those of us who were there – especially those under the age of 15 or so – had a ball, and that’s all that matters. And if word gets around about what a good Halloween party Queensborough throws, who knows? We may have lots more participants next year.

At any rate, it was a delightful old-fashioned event.

The community centre (Queensborough’s historic former one-room school) was decorated to the hilt:

Mummy in the window

How much is that mummy in the window?

Ghost in the doorway

I believe this is the ghost of Miss Havisham in the doorway!

There was, as is Queensborough tradition, tons of food – evilly delicious snack foods, but also treats like homemade cookies and brownies. And all of it was placed around an ominous-looking table centrepiece wearing Professor Trelawney spectacles:

Treats on the table

There were games and contests, like the one where you had to guess the number of seeds that had come out of the pumpkin:

Pumpkin prize

And there was bobbing for apples! That’s a game I’ve heard about all my life, but had never actually seen in action before. Here’s what it looked like:

Bobbing for apples

A superhero keeps a watchful eye on two urchins bobbing for apples.

A bobbing for apples win

We have a winner!

And there was musical chairs, one of the simplest games of all time, which proved to be wildly popular with the kids:

Musical chairs

Racing for a seat when the music stopped. What a kerfuffle!

There were treat bags for everyone, and costume prizes…

Treat bags and costume prizes

And of course there were judges to award the prizes! Here’s one of them (note the alleged visual impairment of the judge), complete with pet skunk on his shoulder:

Judge Ed with his pet skunk

And here are both of our suitably dark-robed judges doing – of course – the Monster Mash:

And speaking of dancing, there was lots of that. The Macarena was a particularly big hit. How do they remember all the moves?

And how often do a wee kitty-cat and a wee Supergirl get to do the Macarena with Catwoman?

I’m going to close with one last video, showing pretty much everybody – Captain America, Wonder Woman, the Scarecrow, the Incredible Hulk, a beautiful angel and many more whooping it up on the dance floor. It was a happy evening, reminiscent of simpler times.

The world needs more of this.

In which we eat locally, and well, in glorious surroundings

Railway Creek Farms at Feast from Farm

Visitors check out the amazing selection of different kinds of organic garlic grown by Elly Finlayson (behind the counter, left, aided by her mum, the artist Jean Finlayson) at her Railway Creek Farms operation – which, I am pleased and proud to say, is just up the road from Queensborough in the hamlet of Cooper. Note the brilliant blue skies and the setting right beside Stoco Lake. Pretty nice!

Many’s the time I’ve told you about how good we are, here in the Queensborough area, at serving up great community meals. Whether it’s the famous St. Andrew’s United Church suppers (the Ham Supper in the spring and the Turkey Supper in the fall, and more on the latter at the end of this post), or community potlucks, or pancake breakfasts, or barbecues that are part of special events, or the food booth at the recent Hastings County Plowing Match – well, let’s just say that if you are fortunate enough to be in Queensborough when there’s a meal to be had, you will go away happy and replete.

Yesterday there was just such an event in our little hamlet, but before Raymond and I could even get to it, we had the opportunity to eat very, very well just a few miles away. The occasion was the annual Feast From Farm event in the village of Tweed, where local food producers show off their bounty – vegetables, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, herbs, baked goods, and so on – and we lucky visitors get to sample delightful dishes made by local chefs with these local products.

Palmateer's at Feast from Farm

Palmateer’s Meats of Tweed has been in business a long, long time, and there’s a reason for that – great-quality local products. Yesterday people were lining up for a taste of sausage freshly made by Tara Palmateer (left). It was delicious!

So I’m going to show you some photos from Feast From Farm, and then carry you on into a much lower-key but also delightful food event that happened later in the afternoon right here in Queensborough. All to show you that we really know how to eat and have a good time around here.

Enright Cattle Company tent at Feast from Farm

The booth of the Enright Cattle Co., a farm just outside Tweed that produces beef that’s in demand in top Ontario restaurants. We enjoyed an amazing snack – Hoisin Glazed Enright Cattle Beef Taco with Srirachi Aioli – prepared by the folks from the excellent Capers Restaurant in Belleville. Yum!

Leather bags from Enright Cattle Company at Feast from Farm 2016

Also at the Enright Cattle Co. booth: a display of the gorgeous handcrafted bags made from the carcasses of the farm’s cattle. I am lucky enough to own one of those bags!

Lineup for Langevin lamb, Feast from Farm

A lineup (which Raymond was in, though toward the back) for treats made from Langevin Sheep Company lamb.

Langevin Sheep Company, Feast from Farm

I like the fact that there’s a sheep farm not far from us – it’s between Tweed and Flinton – and I also like their pretty sign! Raymond, who loves fresh lamb, likes all of this even more than I do.

Pumpkin carving, Feast from Farm

Another thing you can do with locally grown food products: carve them! The kids were enjoying this.

Aside from all the good food we got to enjoy, I have to say the beautiful early-fall weather and the glorious lakeside setting made the event that much more enjoyable.

Great trees and blue sky at Feast from Farm

Beautiful trees (I believe they are ash) tower over the lakeside site of Feast From Farm.

Lineup, Potter Settlement Winery, Feast from Farm

The Potter Settlement Winery booth was a popular spot, where lineups formed as soon as the sun made it over the yardarm. Don’t worry – I don’t know what “the sun’s over the yardarm” means either, and I’m not sure anyone does. Basically it think it means  it’s a respectable hour to taste some amazing wine made with grapes grown right here in central Hastings County. The owner of Potter Settlement, Sandor Johnson, was on hand to pour and talk about his products, which are very quickly gaining wide acclaim. Just check out this recent splashy article in the Toronto Star!

Potter Settlement Winery at Feast from Farm 2

Another look at the Potter Settlement Winery booth. Raymond and I were lucky enough to be able to purchase a case of the fast-disappearing 2013 Marquette, which is an absolutely outstanding red. And made right here in our neck of the woods!

So after all this tasting, we headed back to the car with a case of Potter Settlement wine, some fat, fresh Hungarian garlic from Elly Finlayson’s Railway Creek Farms, a bottle of Kricklewood Farm Cold-Pressed Sunflower Oil, some recipes and business cards to aid us in future purchases (fresh lamb, yum, says Raymond) – and very full tummies.

But the eating wasn’t over yet!

Cornstalk/scarecrow at QCC corn roast

This friendly cornstalk scarecrow welcomed visitors to the Queensborough Community Centre corn roast.

Next on the agenda was the annual corn roast hosted by the Queensborough Community Centre committee, of which we are members.

Garden at the QCC

What a lovely garden! It was planted by children taking part in the annual summer youth drop-in program at the Queensborough Community Centre. There’s a mix of annuals and perennials, including some from historic local gardens. Since the summer program ended at the start of August, volunteers have been carefully tending to the garden.

The QCC holds several events throughout the year, and the corn roast is probably the most laid-back of them all. On a sleepy September Sunday afternoon, 10 or 12 dozen ears of fresh local corn are boiled, a few dozen hot dogs barbecued, and people come, grab some nosh and a drink – all free of charge – and sit down for a spell on one of the benches that have been set out under the trees in front of the community centre, our village’s former one-room schoolhouse dating from the dawn of the 20th century.

Did I mention that these food events were taking place in beautiful locations?

Yesterday as we sat on the benches under the trees, we shared stories and news and gossip with our neighbours as we enjoyed the simple but good food. People came, people went; there was a quiet buzz all afternoon. At the corn roast you almost always meet someone from the neighbourhood whom you didn’t know before, and that’s really nice.

QCC corn roast 2016

A relaxed way to spend the afternoon: enjoying hot dogs and fresh corn on a bench under the trees at the historic Queensborough Community Centre (formerly the village’s one-room schoolhouse).

I would like to think that right about now you are saying to yourself: “My gracious but there’s a lot of good stuff going on in the Queensborough area! Notably when it comes to food. I must visit one of these times…”

Which is exactly what you should do. And I will tell you exactly when.

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

Homemade pie is the specialty at the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper on Sept. 28.

The St. Andrew’s United Church Turkey Supper – at which you will enjoy a full turkey dinner, including our absolutely fabulous homemade pies – takes place Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. It’s held in the hall of our church, at 812 Bosley Rd., and this year while you’re eating your amazing turkey dinner you can also take in the renovations we (the St. Andrew’s congregation, that is) have done to the hall over the past summer: a new floor, newly painted walls, and a fresh look overall. The ticket price for the supper is $14 for adults, $6 for young people aged six to 12, and free for children under six. All proceeds go to support the work of St. Andrew’s, a vibrant little rural church.

It’s an event about food and community, in equal measure. It’s in Queensborough. In lovely surroundings. What more could you ask for?

Everyone loves a good apple. But what kind is it?

First apple from our tree

The first apple I picked from the apple tree that Raymond and I acquired when we bought the property next door to the Manse. This photo of it proved ever so popular on social media. Now comes the important question: what kind of apple is it?

The goldenrod is yellow,
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
with fruit are bending down.

Did you learn that little poem in your school days? I certainly did, sometime early in my elementary-school career at Madoc Township Public School, when I was growing up right here at the Manse. It was one of the poems we students were required to memorize and recite out loud, back in the time when such things actually happened in elementary schools. Longtime readers might recall a post I did some time ago about my younger brother John and his youthful recitation of this poem, hampered by a missing baby tooth or two: “The goldenwod is wullow…”

Anyway: despite the terrible drought that has gripped Eastern Ontario this summer, the trees in apple orchards really are bending down with fruit this September. Or actually – I can’t speak for the orchards, because I don’t know of any cultivated apple orchards around Queensborough. But the apple trees in people’s yards, and at the edges of farm fields and fence lines, and along the roadsides, are most certainly bending down with a bumper crop of fruit. Maybe drought is good for apple crops? Hard to imagine, but there sure are a lot of apples.

Apples on the tree

The branches of our very own apple tree are laden with fruit.

Including, I am pleased to say, on the apple tree that graces the property next to the Manse – a property that Raymond and I bought about a year ago. It’s from that tree that the apple you can see me holding in the photo at the top of this post was picked about five seconds before the photo was taken. I posted the photo on Instagram and Facebook a couple of days ago, with a few words to the effect that it was the first time I’d ever picked an apple from our own tree, and that it tasted really good. (Which it did. Super-crisp and perfectly sweet-tart.)

Gracious, the number of likes and comments that came in! From old friends and new, from all over Canada and the U.S. Perhaps it’s the season: late summer turning to fall, when apples are at their best and people are thinking about them. Perhaps it was a reminder for some of the childhood treat of picking and eating a just-ripe apple from your family’s tree, or that of a neighbour. Whatever the reason, I was inspired to carry on with the apple-tree theme for today’s instalment of Meanwhile, at the Manse.

One of the nicest responses I had to posting the photo on social media was a reminiscence shared in person yesterday morning at church (St. Andrew’s United in Queensborough). A neighbour and friend said to me: “That apple tree – I remember walking under it on the way to school.” The tree stands on the edge of the property, alongside Queensborough Road and the narrow sidewalk along which generations of children once walked every day to and from classes at Queensborough’s one-room schoolhouse, which stands maybe a hundred yards west of the tree.

Queensborough Community Centre

The old one-room schoolhouse in Queensborough, now the Queensborough Community Centre.

I will always regret missing – by just one year – the chance to attend that one-room schoolhouse; it was closed the summer before six-year-old me was to start school, which is why I ended up at much bigger and fancier (for those days) Madoc Township P.S. But regrets aside, I love the image of schoolchildren decades ago stopping to pick apples from the very tree that Raymond and I can now call ours.

The apple tree coming home from school

A view of the apple tree as a kid would see it walking home at the end of an early-fall schoolday. I would think those easy-to-reach apples would be pretty tempting.

And I love the idea that our apple tree is an old one. Because – well, you folks know me. I’m a sucker for history, and for stuff that’s been around a long time. Like the Manse. And the apple tree. And the house on the property next door, the property where the apple tree grows:

Kincaid House by Dave deLang

The house on the property next to the Manse, commonly called the Kincaid House after the family that lived there for many, many years. This beautiful picture is by Queensborough photographer Dave deLang.

At the moment we use the house for storage, primarily of our large (to put it mildly) book collection. But someday, someday… a bookshop, maybe?

But back to the apples. One question I got as a result of my apple-photo post on social media was what kind of apples they are. Wealthy was one suggestion, and I have to say I had never heard of that variety before. (I have since learned a bit more, thanks to various websites including this one from Maine, which says that the Wealthy “is considered to be a standout among pie apples.” Sadly, as my friends know, pie-making is not my forte.) Another suggestion was Northern Spy. My own first guess was McIntosh, since those are common around here, but my friend who remembered the tree from her Queensborough school days was doubtful about that. As this site (from an apple-growing outfit a bit southwest of Toronto) indicates, all three varieties are to be found in Ontario.

But if you’ve ever looked through the criteria for discerning apple varieties (as Raymond did, when I posed the question to him of what our apples might be), you’ll find that the variables are many, and coming up with the right answer is pretty darn hard. So, readers, it’s your turn.

Does anyone familiar with our Queensborough apple tree know what kind it is? Or are there any apple experts out there who can identify it from my photo?

And hey, if you need a taste in order to come up with the answer: stop by and pick one yourself! You just have to reach over the fence – like many a schoolkid before you.