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.

A field of dreams – and tractors, plows, farm talk and food

Skies over the plowing-match site

A sunbeam shines down through the fluffy clouds on the ever-growing tent city at the site of the Hastings County Plowing Match and Farm Show at Cornervue Farms on Queensborough Road.

Remember how a few months ago I told you that the agricultural event of the year was coming to Queensborough? And explained that the agricultural event in question was the Hastings County Plowing Match and Farm Show? Well, guess what, people? The Plowing Match is upon us! And here in Queensborough and environs, we are braced for a huge influx of people and lots of excitement. Why, it’s almost certainly the biggest thing to hit our corner of the world since the Rock Acres Peace Festival way back in 1971!

Hastings County Plowing Match 2016

More than 20,000 people – 20,000! – are expected for the Plowing Match, which takes place this coming Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 24 and 25, at the McKinnon family’s Cornervue Farms, 2431 Queensborough Rd., just west of Queensborough proper. (And just northeast of Hazzards Corners, which in turn is due north of Madoc. Consider yourself oriented.)

I’m pretty sure I speak for everyone in Queensborough when I say we’ve been watching with great interest over the past few days as tents and signs started going up, tractors and other farm machinery arrived at the site, and the first of what will doubtless be many portapotties was installed:

Plowing-match site 2

The first of the tents (and the first of the portapotties) set up toward the western edge of the large plowing-match site on Queensborough Road late last week. (Photo courtesy of Marykay York-Pronk)

Plowing-match poster from 1966The Hastings County Plowing Match in its current incarnation has been going on since 1989 – although similar events were held well before that, as you can tell from the photo at right, a picture of a picture that appeared in a Plowing Match special edition published by the folks behind one of our local weekly papers, the Central Hastings/Trent Hills News. It shows the event’s publicity chairman, Jim Haggerty, with a poster advertising a plowing match in central Hastings County back in 1966.

Hastings County

As you can see, there’s a lot more of Hastings County north of Highway 7 – the yellow line running east-west through Marmora and Madoc – than there is south of it. Not too much of that land is good for farming, however – with some happy exceptions.

While I tend to think of 1989 as yesterday, it was in fact a while back – 27 years, to be exact. And in all that time, people, the Plowing Match has never until now been held North of 7! (That’s Highway 7, for those uninitiated with the phrase, which I explain in detail here.) This might seem odd, given that there’s a lot more square miles of Hastings County north of 7 than there are south of it. But Highway 7 is the east-west dividing line between fertile farmland and rolling hills and fields (to the south) and the thin and rocky soil atop the Canadian Shield (to the north). North of 7 country is where pioneers’ dreams were dashed, when they tried and utterly failed to establish farms on soil that just wasn’t good enough. The whole story of the Old Hastings Road a bit north of Queensborough is about that.

However – and this is very important: that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of good soil, and very successful farms, north of 7. The McKinnon operation just west of Queensborough is one excellent example. Angus McKinnon – my contemporary and former schoolmate at Madoc Township Public School and Centre Hastings Secondary School, back in the years when I was growing up in Queensborough – now operates the farm with his father, Don, a very active nonagenarian. As Angus said in an interview published in that Plowing Match publication I referred to earlier, Don “has been here all his life, and his father and his father.” The McKinnon family settled the farm back in the 19th century, and has operated it successfully in all the generations since.

We’re all so happy for the McKinnons’ operation to be in the agricultural spotlight in this way. And so excited about the week ahead!

So what goes on at a plowing match, anyway? Well, let’s have a gander at the schedule:

Plowing Match schedule

So there’s plowing, of course: competitions in many different classes in which, to quote the event’s website, participants “are judged or scored in five different areas, including the opening split, the crown and the finish. And covering any green matter is mandatory in all classes, whether it is plowing in grain stubble or sod.” (I confess I really do not know what any of this means, but I hope that after watching some live plowing this week I will.) The classes include tractors, horses, antique tractors, walking plows, young people, and Queen of the Furrow (more on that shortly) – as well as one for local politicians, and even one for the media. (Do reporters and heavy farm equipment mix? I guess we’ll find out!) And all of that’s a big deal.

Vintage tractor at the Plowing Match

A great old Allis-Chalmers, one of the many antique tractors that will be on display at the show.

But there’s also the farm-show part, which at least as big a deal. As the publicity materials say: “300 exhibitors of agricultural technology and services, woodlot info and demos, crafts, family program, antiques, Queen of the Furrow and entertainment.” Not bad! (Okay, what’s Queen of the Furrow? Not a beauty contest, organizers stress. It’s a competition to be named a young ambassador for Hastings County agriculture – and yes, you do have to demonstrate plowing skills, as well as public-speaking skills and whatnot. I do find it a bit retro that the title is “queen” of the furrow. Surely young men could be agriculture ambassadors too?)

The number of tents and displays set up – I got an advance look when I was out at the site this morning – is astounding. It seems like anything you could ever want to look at in the way of farm equipment will be there, all shiny and new for you to admire.There was a steady stream of big trucks like this bringing in equipment this morning:

Incoming equipment

I leafed through the ads in that Plowing Match publication to get a sense of other equipment and services that would be on display, and here’s just some of what I found: milking systems for tie stall, parlour and robotics (Greek to me, but dairy farmers will understand); generators; custom manure spreading; chainsaws; fuels; seeds; farm insurance; trailers; wood stoves; bush hogs; roofing; farm sheds; feed suppliers – and on and on and on.

But if farm equipment and services aren’t your thing, there’s always the Family Tent, with a variety of speakers and events. Its schedule was just published today on the farm show’s Facebook page, and here it is:

Family Tent Schedule

Freddy Vette, a hugely popular musician and DJ on good old CJBQ radio out of Belleville, should be a big draw. Fashion shows featuring ordinary humans from the local area as models are always fun. The Hidden Goldmine Bakery in Madoc is insanely great (as I’ve written before), and it will be interesting to hear from its proprietors, Cheryl and Brad Freeman. And I am delighted that Queensborough’s own Elaine Kapusta has been invited to speak about “Historic Queensboro” (love the vintage spelling)!

Queensborough stuff for sale

Queensborough caps, mugs and cutting boards will be for sale at the Queensborough Community Centre tent.

Hey, speaking of Elaine and “Historic Queensboro” – the organization that Elaine will be representing, and that Raymond and I are also volunteers with, will have a tent at the farm show. Please stop by the Queensborough Community Centre tent to say hello, learn more about Queensborough, and maybe buy one of our nifty items for sale: Queensborough walking/driving-tour booklets, and caps, mugs and locally made cutting boards all featuring the Queensborough logo. What a great memento of the farm show – and in buying them you’ll be contributing to the work that the QCC does in promoting our little hamlet, preserving its heritage, and providing community programs and events.

Three United Churches banner

The main focus for Raymond and me at the Plowing Match will be helping out at the food tent that volunteers from three local United churches – ours (St. Andrew’s in Queensborough), Bethesda in White Lake and St. John’s in Tweed – will be operating. About 25 of us were out at the Plowing Match site this morning getting things set up. I have a few photos of this very pleasant few hours:

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As is always the case, many hands made light work, and there was a lot of laughter along the way. We’re going to be working awfully hard on Wednesday and Thursday to feed those long lineups of hungry farm-show visitors, but we know the experience will also be a whole of fun.

So listen: your mission for this week is to come visit the Plowing Match! Enjoy the plowing, the equipment displays, the special events, and the food. (Ours will be the tent at the northwest corner of the site – and did I mention there’ll be homemade pie?) Enjoy the company of lots of good farm folk and their urban neighbours out for a day in the country. And most of all, enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the McKinnon Farm and Queensborough – which is, as we say around here, a little bit of heaven north of 7.

Good food, and lots of it, in a historic setting – times two

RMS AscaniaI suppose you might be wondering what on earth an old postcard showing the Cunard ocean liner Ascania has to do with life here at the Manse in Queensborough. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s all about the food.

Along with my love for vintage cookbooks, I have a soft spot for vintage menus. I’ve got a small but interesting collection of them: bills of fare from long-gone midcentury restaurants in various parts of North America, and also menus that were handed out to passengers in the glory days of air and ocean-liner travel, when elegant dining was considered to be an integral part of the excitement of long-distance voyages. I love poring over these menus, imagining the people who once held them to ponder their selection for “luncheon” or dinner. I love the reminders of how things used to be when people dined out, like how it was once common for a glass of tomato juice to be served as an appetizer. I love the way the restaurants, and especially the cruise lines and airlines, did their best to make everything sound so refined and fancy. And I love the vintage prices!

My latest addition to the collection came from an antiques warehouse in the pretty village of Orono, which is a drive of about an hour and three-quarters from Queensborough on the way to Toronto. Orono has done a fabulous job of turning itself into a destination for visitors, with nice restaurants and pretty shops, many of them focused on antiques. In one of those shops this past Saturday, I spotted this delightful image in a boxful of stuff:

Ascania menu front

Because it said “Cunard” on the front, I guessed, correctly, that it was the cover of a long-ago menu from that venerable British luxury cruise line. And here’s that menu, from 62 years ago:

Ascania luncheon menu

Isn’t it lovely? Sounds like some pretty nice gastronomic offerings there on the R.M.S. Ascania, though I’m not too sure what “Home-made Brawn” is, and I’m not entirely sure I want to know. Also, I wonder what “Colonial” cheese is. Maybe it’s the very cheddar that our own Hastings County has specialized in making for more than a century and a half – Canada being, of course, “the colonies” in the eyes of British steamship owners in 1954.

I have subsequently learned that I was on the mark in finding the offerings of the Ascania menu appetizing. How do I know this? Because of this interesting discovery that the internet turned up! It’s the flip side of the colour postcard of the Ascania featured at the top of this post:

Postcard from the Ascania

Note how Jack writes from on board, as the ship is passing Newfoundland and Labrador en route to Montreal, “The boat is very overcrowded but oh Elsie such good food – it makes my heart ache each time I sit down to a meal.” Isn’t that lovely? One can’t read the year on the postmark, but I suspect the card was sent in the years after the Second World War, when England was still suffering from food shortages that would have made the offerings of the Ascania look sumptuous indeed.

Here, from the website of the London Telegraph, is more evidence that the shipboard food was much appreciated: a lovely memoir by a chap named Cyril Collie of emigrating from England to Canada on board the Ascania in February 1952. He reports, in part:

“The Ascania was not a luxury liner but to me it was first class all the way. I shared a stuffy inside cabin with three other young men, two of whom spoke very little English. Along with many others on board they were refugees who had survived the holocaust and were seeking a new life in Canada.

“Britain at that time was still a country of shortages and rationing and I’d known little else since age 11 when the war had started. There were no such conditions on the Ascania. It was as though we entered another world.

“The food was excellent, plentiful and we could order anything we wanted. Any amount of liquor, chocolates and cigarettes could be purchased at tax free prices. Overnight we went from a world of austerity to a haven of abundance.”

I wondered if there was any way to find out where exactly the Ascania had been on the day my luncheon menu was handed out to its passengers – Wednesday, March 17, 1954. I didn’t find that, but I did discover from various sites, including this one and this one, that at the time the Ascania sailed the route between Liverpool and Montreal – and that in 1957, only three years after that menu was printed, the ship was decommissioned and destroyed.

So that’s a lot of history learned thanks to one luncheon menu!

And now, while I have your attention and we’re talking about food, let’s turn to your opportunity to eat very well in historic surroundings. Not a vintage Cunard ocean liner, granted, but the homey and historic setting of the Queensborough Community Centre, our village’s former one-room schoolhouse. Here are the details:

Pancake Breakfast 2016 poster

That would be this coming Sunday, people, and you don’t want to miss it. Not only is the food good and plentiful, but the company – your neighbours and friends, whether you’ve known them all your life or have just met them – is second to none. And as an added bonus, this year you get to admire a fantastic bit of renovation that’s just been completed: the schoolhouse’s classic original tin ceiling has been freshly painted, and looks wonderful!

Newly painted ceiling at the QCC

The newly painted ceiling at the Queensborough Community Centre – another beautifully executed project by Queensborough craftsman Ed Couperus. (Photo courtesy of the Queensborough Community Centre Facebook page)

The food may have been bountiful and delicious aboard the Ascania, but somehow I doubt the shipboard breakfast buffet could compare with the new-crop maple syrup, freshly made pancakes, sizzling bacon and sausages, soft scrambled eggs and buttery warm toast that you’ll enjoy at the Queensborough Pancake Breakfast this Sunday morning. I’m getting really hungry just thinking about it.

Or maybe I’ll rephrase that by echoing Jack in his postcard to Elsie: “It makes my heart ache.” We are blessed with bounty!

A mysterious nighttime visit

Horse poop near the Manse

On a crisp late-fall morning, we awoke to an interesting surprise: piles of horse poop! You can see four of them in this photo showing the north side of the Manse. We’d had some large four-legged visitors in the night. And even though our bedroom (the right-hand window on the second floor) looks right onto this spot, we didn’t see or hear a thing.

I’m sure that regular readers of Meanwhile, of the Manse will have long ago figured something out: that there is never a dull moment in Queensborough.

Oh, I know our little hamlet may appear supremely tranquil most of the time. I know that when you drive through you may see only one or two other vehicles, one of them very possibly a piece of farm equipment; or you may see none at all. I know that the most human activity you might spot is someone (maybe me) raking leaves from her lawn, or “Sheriff” John Barry mowing the grass along a roadside and keeping the place looking tidy.

Ah, but those of us who live here and keep tabs on things – and that would be everybody, of course – know that there’s always something of interest to keep an eye on and talk about.

I mean, think about the early spring, when whitewater kayakers from all over the place flock to Queensborough for hot coffee and homemade pie after they thrill us all by going right over the dam in their tiny craft:

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Think about our church suppers and skating parties and the laughter-filled summer day camp for kids up at the Queensborough Community Centre. Think about the springtime thrill you can get when you hear a chorus of peepers in the marshy area that’s close to the centre of the village. Or the fun, a little later in the year, of watching two big families of Canada Geese parading the young’uns down by the Black River. Or of spotting the otters that are known to frolic in the river. Or – speaking of wildlife – a deer walking right into town:

No, there’s never a dull moment. Why, don’t you remember the time I told you about when the cows came to visit?

Cows come to Queensborough

One time when some cows came to visit Queensborough. (Photo courtesy of Anne Barry)

Now that’s something you don’t see every day – in Queensborough or anywhere else.

Which leads nicely into my very latest example of how there’s never a dull moment in Queensborough. Because do you know what we saw when we all woke up this past bright Saturday morning? I’ll tell you what: horse poop all over the place!

I kid you not, people.

I spotted it as I was opening the curtains on the north side of our Manse. In several spots in the big open yard next door were dark piles. At first I thought it was the work of moles, or voles, who are not uncommon here, creating piles of dirt on the surfaces of lawns as they tunnel their way underground.

But closer inspection of the dark piles next door and the one on the front lawn of the Manse revealed otherwise. This was poop! From large animals! And once you started looking around, you realized there were plops of it all through town, in streets and on grassy areas. What the deuce?

Was it the cows again, making a return visit under cover of darkness while we all slept? No, I think not. I think (and I am not alone in this theory) that it was something rather more interesting: horses! Because those piles of poop look to me distinctly like horse poop. If you don’t mind an agricultural closeup, I’ll show you and let you decide:

Horse deposit

Now, I have to tell you that I am thoroughly amused at the idea of a large group of horses roaming through downtown Queensborough of a Friday night (or very early Saturday morning) and leaving several deposits as evidence of their visit. I actually think it’s hilarious, because – well, because it’s further proof that there’s never a dull moment in Queensborough. I gather a few residents did not respond to the midnight visit with quite the same equanimity and amusement as I did, but hey – what are you going to do? It’s almost winter, and the horse manure will be good fertilizer for our lawns as it works its way in under cover of snow.

And besides, I am tickled to death by the idea that a whole herd of horses – I mean, there must have been a lot of them, given the number of piles of poop – tromped into Queensborough right under our snoring noses and (as far as I know) nobody saw a thing! How long did they stay? When did they leave? Did someone round them up, or did they just decide that since the stores were closed they might as well head on back home?

I’m a pretty sound sleeper, for which I am a bit sorry. Judging by the location of the poop, several of those horses were practically outside our bedroom window. One would think they would have made some whinnying-type noises, but Raymond and I didn’t hear a thing. Wouldn’t it have been something to wake up in the night and see a bunch of fine-looking draught horses (because I think that’s what they were; there is a farm just up the road where several beautiful draught horses live) under our window?

Horse poop outside the Kincaid house

Another view of the nighttime deposits on the property next to the Manse.

Then again, the fact that we didn’t see this exciting event just adds to its allure. Makes it a bit mysterious, you know. The Herd of Horses That Came In The Night – it’s got kind of a ring to it, doesn’t it?

Ah, Queensborough. Where you just never know what might happen next.