“Lovely as a tree.”

Manse looking southwest 16 Oct 2017

Here at the Manse, we are so fortunate to be surrounded by a variety of trees, both on our own and our immediate neighbours’ properties.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree…

You all know that one, I’m sure – or at least some version of the first two lines. It came into my head this evening as I was downloading photos of the trees here at the Manse. The autumn foliage in the Queensborough area has in general been less than spectacular this year – probably due to the cool, wet summer and then the sudden burst of extreme heat just around the time the leaves had started to turn – but in the closing days of the foliage season some trees are looking pretty great. And one of these, I am happy to report, is the maple tree that Raymond and I proudly planted a few months after we bought the Manse 5½ years ago.

It’s funny to go back and look at the photos of that planting day in November 2012, to see how scrawny our maple was then – even though we’d taken the advice of my brother, John, and bought the biggest and fastest-growing one we could afford because, you know, none of us is getting any younger and it would be nice to see it turn into a tree of some size in our lifetimes. Here’s the view of our tree from the front porch of the Manse that grey late-fall day:

The maple on the day it was planted

Day 1 of our newly planted maple tree. It didn’t look like much then!

And here’s the same view (a little zoomed in on the tree) from this bright fall afternoon:

Autumn Blaze maple with the Tree of Life in background

Our beautiful maple tree (with the equally beautiful Tree of Life behind it to the right, across the street).

As you can see, our maple tree has grown and flourished. And the fact that it’s a variety called Autumn Blaze means that it looks spectacular come September and October – more so, I think, this year than in any of its autumns past.

So yes, poems may be lovely – but can they ever be as beautiful as a tree? That’s the question American poet Joyce Kilmer (“Joyce” in his case being a male name) asked (and answered in the negative) in his poem published in 1913 and memorized by countless schoolchildren since.

In reading here about the history of the poem – which is simply called Trees – I learned that Kilmer was inspired by the view from the window of his writing room in his family’s home in rural New Jersey. His son, Kenton, recalled many years later that their “well-wooded lawn” contained “trees of many kinds, from mature trees to thin saplings: oaks, maples, black and white birches, and I do not know what else.” Kenton Kilmer also said: “Dad never meant his poem to apply to one particular tree, or to the trees of any special region. Just any trees or all trees that might be rained on or snowed on, and that would be suitable nesting places for robins. I guess they’d have to have upward-reaching branches, too, for the line about ‘lifting leafy arms to pray.’ Rule out weeping willows.”

That description of the Kilmers’ “well-wooded lawn” reminded me of what Raymond and I are fortunate enough to enjoy here at the Manse. As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, which I also took this afternoon, not only do we have our maple but also the elm tree that we planted post-Manse purchase (it’s in the right foreground of the photo; it’s lost almost all its leaves now, but has also grown and flourished beautifully in the five years since it was planted), as well as huge yet-to-be-identified (by me, at least) evergreens at the rear of the property (actually in our neighbour-to-the-west Julie’s yard, but we can enjoy their beauty too) and a beautiful birch (behind Raymond’s red truck) and quite a few colourful deciduous trees on the property of our neighbours to the south, Brian and Sylvia.

And on the right of my photo you can just catch a glimpse of the branches of the two huge evergreen trees that fill out the northeastern section of the Manse property, and that tower over the house. Here’s a summertime photo I took of them when I wrote a few years ago about my (probably needless) worry about their proximity to the Manse:

Very large trees very close to the Manse

The two huge spruce trees – Norway spruce, I believe – that tower over the northeast corner of the Manse.

These two trees – which I once identified as red spruce, but which I believe are actually Norway spruce – are making their presence felt in a very different way than our Autumn Blaze maple this season. Like every other coniferous tree in our area this year, they have produced cones like it was nobody’s business. (Rather like the apple trees – another kind we’re lucky enough to have on our property – were drooping with their bumper apple crop last year.) The spruce trees are absolutely loaded with cones, as you can see in this photo:

Lots of cones on those trees

And better still in this closeup:

Cones closeup

And you can probably figure out what this means for us down below:

Cones on the ground

Yes indeed: a lot of cone-picking. This is how our lawn looks after two clean sweeps of the cones have already been made this season. And there are still hundreds left to fall!

But despite our trees sometimes being work – as in picking up many lawn bags’ worth of cones, not to mention fallen leaves – I have to say I am always appreciative of their beauty, and of how much they contribute to our lives and landscape. Like Joyce Kilmer, I love living in the midst of a “well-wooded lawn.” Would I swap poems for trees? Let’s just say I’m happy I don’t have to. Here’s Joyce Kilmer’s sweet little poem in full.

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

– Joyce Kilmer

A Queensborough miscellany, complete with porcupine

Roscoe, Liz and me at the Manse

Raymond and I had some visitors to the Manse one recent hot summery September Sunday afternoon: nonagenarian Roscoe Keene and his daughter Elizabeth Turcotte. (That’s me to the left of Roscoe.) While they both live in the area of Elginburg, Ont., Roscoe grew up in Madoc Township and has many family ties in this area. He also has a very special tie to the Manse, and there’s a reason why this part of the house was chosen for a photo to commemorate the visit. Read on for more…

Time for a another roundup of the news from Queensborough, people. I believe I’ve mentioned before that there’s never a dull moment in our little hamlet; here’s a sampling of what’s been happening over the past week or so, just to prove my point. And yes, read to the end and you will be rewarded with a porcupine.

Turkey Supper 2017

We had a full house and a lot of happy diners at the St. Andrew’s United Church Turkey Supper last Wednesday. Everyone was in a good mood, and the food and conversation were great. Another huge success in a long history of feeding people well at St. Andrew’s!

First: thank you so much to all who came out for the famous annual Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church! We had a fantastic turnout of people from near and far, and everyone was so nice and so complimentary about the fine meal. Best of all, since all the volunteer cooks and pie-bakers had been asked to cook and bake a bit more than usual, our food supply held up well and – unlike last year, when the unexpectedly huge crowd meant we ran out by the end – there was lots left after the doors closed, which meant that the hard-working cooks, servers, ticket-sellers and dishwashers could sit down together and enjoy a great feast. This event, which has been going on for longer than I’ve been on this planet (which is a not inconsiderable time), is an important one for St. Andrew’s: important because it gives us a chance to open our doors to the wider community and share one of our church’s great gifts, which is our ability to feed people really, really well; and also important because the money raised will help support the work of our little church both here and in the wider world. A good time was had by all, and it was for a very good cause.

Next item: A great visit and some sharing of memories at the Manse. Take another look at the photo at the top of this post. It shows Roscoe Keene and his daughter Elizabeth Turcotte (with yours truly), when Roscoe and Liz dropped in for a long-planned visit a week ago Sunday. We’re standing in front of the northeast corner of the Manse – which, as it happens, is just about the same place where Roscoe posed for a photo with his family on the day he and the former Joan Murray were married at the Manse, 72 years earlier. I told you the story of that wedding in this post, and here is one of the photos I used in it, showing the dashingly handsome and very happy groom with his new bride and his family:

Keene wedding

Joan (second from left) and Roscoe Keene in front of the northeast corner of the Manse on the day they were married here: June 9, 1945. With them are (from left) Roscoe’s sister Winnifred Ketcheson; Bessie Keene, Roscoe and Winnifred’s mother; and Cora Patterson – who, as the wife of The Rev. W.W. Patterson, who had just performed the wedding ceremony, lived in the house where Raymond and I do now. (Photo courtesy of Grant Ketcheson, Winnifred’s son and Roscoe’s nephew)

Item #3 is what I like to think of as a little Canada Post miracle. The other day this package arrived at the Manse:

Mailed to the Manse

What it contained was the latest issue of Municipal World magazine, which includes a story by my friend Liz Huff of Seeley’s Bay, Ont. Liz and I met when we were both speakers at events called Teeny Tiny Summits, organized by small municipalities and the Ontario Ministry of  Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for people who live in teeny tiny places (like Queensborough and Seeley’s Bay) to share ideas on maintaining their communities as great places to live, attracting people to them, and ensuring that residents get the services they need. Liz’s story is about those events and how they’re helping rural Ontario, and she was kind enough to make mention in it of me and my work here at Meanwhile, at the Manse.

But nice as it was to get the magazine with Liz’s story in it, I have to confess that the real thrill was that the package made it to us at all! After all, Queensborough hasn’t had a post office for almost 50 years; and “The Manse” isn’t exactly the kind of “911 address” that Canada Post usually insists on for delivery. (I wrote here about how a letter I’d sent a while back to a rural route address – something that worked just fine for mail delivery for decades – was sent right back to me by the post office.)

So: wow! Thank you, Canada Post, for recognizing Queensborough, even though it isn’t officially a post-office place (and in fact is confusingly torn between two other post-office places, as you can read here). Perhaps the Manse has become a destination!

And now the item that I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: Yes, it’s the porcupine. Raymond spotted it this morning on Queensborough Road just west of the village. When he stopped the car and hopped out to get some footage, Porky waddled from the eastbound lane over to the side of the road, continuing his westward journey while accompanying himself with a little hum. (Actually those sounds are probably him expressing concern about Raymond’s presence.) We’ve seen too many of these remarkable creatures dead in the middle of the road, struck by vehicles and left for the turkey vultures to pick over. What a nice change to come across one alive and well, and saying hello to boot!

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!

The First People of Queensborough

Black River running through Queensborough

The Black River that runs through Queensborough, eventually meeting up with the larger Moira River that empties into the Bay of Quinte, was almost certainly a route used by Indigenous peoples in the days prior to European settlement.

Until relatively recently, the history of most North American places has generally been presented as what happened once the Europeans got here. Think about it: how much time did you spend in elementary- and high-school history classes learning about the Indigenous peoples who lived here for many thousands of years before people like John Cabot and Christopher Columbus turned up to “discover” North America, and people like Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain showed up to explore and claim what they found for their own monarchs? (If you’re a current or recent elementary- or high-school student, this probably doesn’t pertain to you; we live in more enlightened times now, history-teaching-wise. I’m thinking more of people of my own vintage who had their schooling in the middle part of the 20th century.)

The book that is the definitive (not to mention only) history of the Queensborough area is typical in this regard. Published in 1984, Times to Remember in Elzevir Township devotes about half a page (of a total of almost 300) to “The First People,” as the first chapter is called. After telling the reader about a few local finds of artifacts such as “rocks with pot holes, believed to have been used by Indians for grinding grain,” beads, arrowheads, a spear point and an earthen vessel, it immediately (on Page 2) moves on to European “first people” such as Upper Canada Lt.-Gov John Graves Simcoe, and the first land surveyors and timber-cutters of this area.

First page of Times to Remember

The first page of Times to Remember in Elzevir Township, containing pretty much all the information that the authors were able to gather about the presence of Indigenous peoples in this area before European settlement.

Now, please don’t think that I’m criticizing the authors of Times to Remember. I am quite certain that they would have included more information about the people who may have lived, or at least moved through, the Queensborough area prior to European settlement if they had had access to that information. The problem is that there is basically nothing in the way of written records of that time. There seems to have been an oral tradition, reported very briefly in Times to Remember‘s chapter on Queensborough, that there was a “little Indian village – then called ‘Cooksokie’ – by the (Black) River” in what is now Queensborough at the time the first “white man,” one Miles Riggs, arrived and built a sawmill and grist mill on the river. But to date, to my knowledge, not a shred of evidence has been turned up to support the existence of a permanent settlement here by Indigenous people, or of “Cooksokie” being an Indigenous name or word.

Historic Queensborough Day 2017 poster

The gorgeous poster for Historic Queensborough Day 2017, designed by Jamie Grant, the brand-new owner of one of Queensborough’s most interesting buildings, the former Orange Hall. Click on the photo to enlarge it and read all about this very exciting day!

So a few months ago, as a group of us Queensborough people started talking about holding a followup to our wildly successful Historic Queensborough Day in 2014, one person among us decided that some time and effort needed to be spent on finding out more about the people to whom this place was known long before anyone from “the old country” came here.

That person was (and is) my husband, Raymond Brassard. As plans have come together for Historic Queensborough Day 2017 – which will be on Sunday, Sept. 10, and believe you me, you don’t want to miss it; read more about it here and here, and follow updates on the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page – Raymond has been busy researching, visiting archives, contacting experts in the field, and generally trying to piece together any information he can about the Indigenous history of this beautiful area.

The result is that on Historic Queensborough Day, there will be a presentation about this accumulated research. We’re excited to announce that the event will feature a special guest speaker and a video presentation. Anne Taylor, the cultural archivist at the Curve Lake Mississauga First Nation in the nearby Peterborough area, will present and discuss a film she co-produced, called Oshkigmong: A Place Where I Belong. The film is the story of the people of Curve Lake but also the larger story of the Mississaugas and the nation they are a part of, the Anishinaabeg. It was the Mississaugas who were using the lands and waters in the Queensborough region at the time that the British crown obtained it in a series of treaties in the early 19th century. The story of the Mississaugas of this entire region is, sadly, also a story of their unfair treatment following the signing of those treaties.

But the Mississaugas are not the only part of the Indigenous history of this region; the Huron Wendat people and the Mohawks are also known to have been here. All would have been attracted by its woodlands and waters, offering plentiful hunting and fishing.

What were these people like? What were their traditions, their lifestyles? What did they pass down through the many generations to their successors, the people of Curve Lake, Tyendinaga, Alderville and other First Nations territories?

Those are the kinds of questions that will be discussed at the Historic Queensborough Day presentation, most certainly the first ever of its kind in Queensborough. We hope you can join us for it!

The session will take place in the hall of St. Andrew’s United Church, 812 Bosley Rd., at 10:30 a.m., following the 9:30 morning worship service at St. Andrew’s. It’s expected to last an hour to an hour and a half, leaving you lots of time afterward to enjoy all the other activities of Historic Queensborough Day.

I am very proud of Raymond for undertaking this research project. There is much still to be done and learned, but it feels like this is a very good first step toward us being able to have a more complete understanding of all the peoples who have known and been touched by this beautiful and still unspoiled place.

Welcomed home from afar by bunnies and bats

Home from Scotland

The Saltire (Scotland’s national flag, showing the cross of St. Andrew) flew outside the Manse for a day as we celebrated our return home from a wonderful trip.

Hello, people! It’s been a long time since my last post. There’s a reason for that: I took a vacation! Raymond and I tore ourselves away from beautiful Queensborough for a few weeks and made a long-hoped-for visit to Scotland. It was absolutely marvellous, and at the risk of being one of those people who bores you to death with their travel photos, I’m going to share a few before I tell you my welcome-home-to Queensborough story. Here’s how we spent much of July:

Champagne cocktails, Grand Central Hotel

A good start to the adventure: champagne cocktails as we look out onto the main hall at Glasgow’s Central Station.

Eilean Donan

Eilean Donan, pretty much your classic Scottish castle – one of lots of castles we visited.

Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn

The statue of Robert the Bruce at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn, where he famously defeated the English in 1314. Of course we had to visit, especially since we live close to the Hastings County hamlet named for it.

Raymond and Greyfriars Bobby

Raymond with the statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh. We were both touched by the story of the wee terrier who stood guard over his master’s grave for 14 years, until his own death.

Portree, Skye

The harbour of Portree, Isle of Skye.

Stairway inside the broch at Dun Carloway

The stairway inside a 2,000-year old broch (high-walled fortification) at Dun Carloway on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides.

Gardens, Balmoral

In the gardens at Balmoral Castle, where the Queen stays every August.

Raymond at the wheel of the Discovery

Raymond at the wheel of the Discovery, the ship used by Capt. Robert Scott (“Scott of the Antarctic”) on his 1901 expedition to Antarctica. The ship spent two years trapped in the ice there, but eventually made it home and is now moored in Dundee, where it was built.

Sheep in Barra

Sharing the single-lane roads with sheep on Barra, Outer Hebrides.

Drawing room, Royal Yacht Britannia

The state drawing room aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, permanently docked in Leith, Edinburgh’s port. Love the midcentury furniture!

Isle of Harris, on the way to Lewis

The stunningly beautiful Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides.

William Wallace monument

The gothic monument to William Wallace, better known (thanks to Mel Gibson) as Braveheart.

Breakfast menu, Ardhasaig House

Breakfast menu at the charming Ardhasaig House Hotel, Isle of Harris.

Raymond and the printing press

Raymond the journalist revisits his professional roots thanks to an 1860 printing press at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Cuillin, Skye

The Cuillin peaks, Isle of Skye.

Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street

Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street on a very wet day indeed. We both bought raincoats.

Drummond Castle Gardens

Drummond Castle Gardens, Muthill, Perthshire.

The Lewis Chessmen, National Museum of Scotland

The Lewis Chessmen, carved in the 12th century and discovered in the 19th on a beach in Uig, Isle of Lewis. Their amazing story is told here.

Oban, Scotland

The pretty town of Oban, from which we set sail on a five-hour ferry ride to the Outer Hebrides.

As you can see, we had a pretty great time, learned a lot of Scottish history, and saw some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. It was a wonderful trip.

And now, as promised, here’s my story about what happened when we got home to the Manse.

We pulled into the driveway just under 24 hours after we’d got up that morning in Edinburgh. Exhausted but hungry, we were sitting down to a plate of spaghetti topped with Raymond’s Famous homemade spaghetti sauce (always on hand in the freezer) when I happened to look out a front window.

“Look! A bunny!” I called out in delight. A wee brown bunny with storybook white cottontail had hoped into the front yard for a nibble on our grass.

A second later, it was joined by another one.

And then another one.

And then another one!

Four little bunnies! They only stayed a minute, then hopped away in a southerly direction. We’ve never before seen bunny visitors on our lawn. It felt like they’d come just to say welcome back to Queensborough.

(Though I did learn the next day that it’s a banner year for bunnies – I believe Eastern Cottontail is the proper name – in Ontario. Well, so much the better!)

A little later, as we were putting away dinner’s residue and outside darkness was beginning to fall (along with our eyelids), I glanced out the kitchen window. To my astonishment, I saw a bird that I am fairly sure was a bat zoom in the jerky way that bats do over the south section of the Manse yard. And then there was another. And another. Wow!

When I was growing up in this house, bats were part of every summer evening. As my siblings and I and the neighbourhood kids played softball or tag or hide and seek in the Manse’s front yard, there would always be bats swooping overhead. Aside from the scary (false) stories that some of the big kids would tell about them getting caught in your hair, we never gave them any mind. But ever since Raymond and I bought the Manse, I’ve been struck by the utter absence of the bats. Of course, it’s not just in Queensborough; thanks largely to something called white nose syndrome, brown bats are considered an at-risk species in Ontario. Which is bad news not just for the bats, but for humans who live in places (like Queensborough) where summertime means mosquitoes. Did you know that a single brown bat can eat up to a thousand mosquitoes an hour? (More amazing facts on bats here.)

For years I’ve been hoping for a bat sighting at the Manse. Unless my eyes deceived me, we got it on the very evening we returned from three astounding weeks away.

The bunnies and the bats are a long way from the castles, lochs and mountains of beautiful Scotland. But there couldn’t have been a better welcome-home gift.

Now it’s on us – to celebrate our school, and to work for it

Thanking the trustees

Some of the people who have worked so hard to save Madoc Township Public School (at left, from left, Margaret Heard, Wendy Spence and Amy Beaton) offer handshakes and heartfelt thanks to school-board trustees (in foreground is Dwayne Inch; behind him is Jim Patterson, and half-hidden while shaking Amy’s hand is Mary Hall) this evening for their unanimous support of keeping MTPS open and returning to it students in Grades 7 and 8.

Call it a victory for rural education. Call it the best-case scenario for the children of Madoc, Elzevir and Tudor and Cashel townships. Call it a huge shot in the arm for our local economy and way of life. Call it whatever you like. We have something to celebrate.

This evening, the trustees who make up the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board voted unanimously to keep Madoc Township Public School open, and to expand it by bringing back students in Grades 7 and 8 as of this coming September. Here’s the video of the vote that put paid to the whole thing:

Big crowd at the school-board meeting

The boardroom was filled to capacity for this evening’s final votes by the school board on the future of quite a few schools in Hastings and Prince Edward counties. Many supporters of Madoc Township Public School were among the crowd.

After a campaign that lasted more than six months – beginning in November 2016, when administrators with the board announced their recommendation to close MTPS and bus its students to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc as of this September – our community emerged stronger than when the whole thing started. Madoc Township’s only school will not only be able to carry on its long tradition of excellence in education, but students from our rural area will be able to attend it through Grade 8 rather than (as has been the case for about 45 years) be bused into “town.”

This is an astounding outcome, and one that even the most optimistic among us campaigners for MTPS barely dared think about, let alone hope for, during these past six months.

(If anyone reading this is unaware of the whole saga, which I freely admit I’ve covered in perhaps more detail than anyone wanted, just click on the “Madoc Township Public School” category on the right side of this blog’s home page. It’s all there – every step of the way.)

Thanks to Trustee Danes from MTPS supporters

Centre Hastings Trustee Bonnie Danes (left) was all smiles after this evening’s board meeting, as supporters of Madoc Township Public School, including recent MTPS grad Brooklyn Gylyktiuk (right foreground) and her mum, Wendy Spence, thanked her for her tireless work.

Every single one of the trustees on the board gets my huge thanks – and I hope yours too – for this vote of confidence in our school and our community. But I’d really like to single out Centre Hastings Trustee Bonnie Danes, who I think I’m safe in saying spearheaded the work behind the scenes at the board level in pushing for MTPS’s continued existence. I am sure that Southeast Hastings Trustee Justin Bray worked really hard on this one too. Trustees Danes and Bray: thank you so much!

As for the core of volunteers who have championed the cause of our local school on behalf of the community as a whole – who attended what seems like endless meetings, and put hundreds of hours into researching, planning, lobbying, networking, worrying (hey, I have to be honest) and strategizing – really, there are no words. Here they are, and it is one of the greatest honours of my life that they asked me to be in the photo with them:

The MTPS crew

Some of the core group of Madoc Township Public School supporters and activists who made it happen: from left, honorary member Brooklyn Gylyktiuk (an MTPS grad), plus some of the main crew: Wendy Spence, Margaret Heard, Randy Gray, Denise Gray, Holly Kormann, Amy Beaton – and, I feel shy to say and very honoured because they asked me to be in the photo, me.

So what happens next?

Well, we know that MTPS will be open for business this coming September, welcoming students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8. That is just amazing. And wonderful. And I think we should have a party! Maybe now; maybe in September. Whenever: a time for kids, parents and the community at large to gather on the five-plus acres at Madoc Township Public School for an afternoon or evening of kids running and jumping and exploring and playing soccer or softball or tag or hide and seek, parents taking photos and refereeing and chatting and enjoying the outdoors, and community members sharing their memories (old or new) of happy times at MTPS. With hot dogs and lemonade and conversation and smiles and tears of joy. Wouldn’t that be fun?

But in the longer term (and by that I mean only the very slightly longer term, i.e. starting pretty much now), I think it behooves all of us – parents, community members and MTPS students and supporters – to step up and show our ongoing support. I’m speaking only for myself here, but maybe I’m not alone in having realized that until six months ago, I took Madoc Township Public School for granted. It was there, it was a great school and a great asset to our community, and I assumed it would continue to be all of that.

And then we almost lost it. As Joni Mitchell says: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” Now, I think we did know what we had; but maybe we weren’t doing everything we could to ensure our community would continue to have it.

In the note of thanks that I sent to the 10 trustees last week after they passed their first (though not final) vote in favour of keeping MTPS open, I wrote this:

The confidence the trustees have shown in our school inspires me to do everything I can to ensure the community in turn does everything it can to support MTPS. Ways we can help that come to mind immediately are fundraising for playground, library and other school equipment and resources; assistance in establishing after-school care to help working parents; and support for outdoor-education programs that take full advantage of our school’s unparalleled green space. But I’m sure there are many other ways we can continue and expand our support.

I really mean that, and I hope others in the community will feel the same. If we want to continue to have this splendid school in our community, we can’t take it for granted; we have to work for it! And the more we do to help and improve our school, the greater its success will be – and the more assured will be its continued existence.

Madoc Township Public School, June 12, 2017

This is our school – and I am so proud of it!

One area that I feel strongly about is support for the school library. When I was a kid attending that brand-new school back in the 1960s and ’70s, it had a wonderful library – lots of books, comfy chairs, a welcoming ambience; it made you want to just curl up and read and read and read. Among my happiest memories of MTPS days are exploring all the books on the shelves, learning how they were categorized and shelved, and taking advantage of the newfangled (hey, it was the ’60s) audio-visual equipment. When I returned to MTPS for its fantastic 50th-anniversary celebration in 2011 (even before Raymond and I had bought the Manse and I resumed my childhood Queensborough connection), I was a little sad to see that the beautiful library space had been chopped up and turned largely into a computer lab, with a much-reduced library parked in a former classroom. If someone asked me tomorrow to head up a fundraising campaign to support and improve that library and the experience it offers the kids of MTPS, I would accept in a heartbeat. And this from someone (me) who is seriously lacking in free time – but aren’t we all? Hey, what can you do to support our school? Please think about it.

Our community has just received a priceless gift: our school, saved and supported. Let’s pay it forward by doing everything we can to make Madoc Township Public School even better, and in the process ensure a brilliant future for it, our kids and the rural place we are so proud to call home.

Out of the blue, vintage fencing for the Manse

Fenceless Manse 2

Does this Manse need a vintage fence along the front of the property? I think it most certainly does! I have nothing against the front yard being open to the street, but a gorgeous fence from the first half of the last century would be a lovely touch. And it’s coming soon!

A very long time ago – less than a month after I began this blog, way back at the start of 2012 – I asked readers a question: Has anybody seen this fence? It was a plea for information on how a person (i.e. me) could track down vintage fencing of the type that I remember from my childhood here at the Manse in Queensborough: traditional page wire gussied up with decorative small metal maple leaves. To illustrate what I was talking about, I used a photo I’d found of a painting by Robert Bateman. That lovely painting will surely evoke nostalgia in anyone who, like me, grew up in rural Ontario in the middle of the last century. Here it is again:

Robert Bateman Maple Leaf Fence painting

Maple Leaf Fence, by superstar Canadian artist Robert Bateman.

A couple of years after that first mention of the maple-leaf fencing that I longed for, I did another post on the theme, having come upon a 19th-century farmhouse in Hungerford Township (the rural area south of nearby Tweed) that has that exact fencing along its front:

Maple Leaf fence, rural Hastings County

Many’s the time since I wrote the post that I’ve thought about dropping a note into the mailbox at that house, telling the owners that if ever they decided to do away with or replace their fence, to please give me a call and I’d gladly take it off their hands. I never followed through – mainly because the fence is so well-cared-for that I strongly suspect the owners love it as much as I do, and would, sensibly, not want to part with this nice piece of vintage Canadiana.

Maple leaf fence 2

A gate at a farm outside Queensborough that has some of the coveted maple leaves.

My desire for the maple-leaf fence has come up in a few other posts over the years, like here and here. But I was being realistic when I said this in one maple-leaf-fence-themed post:

“Truth be told, vintage fencing is pretty far down the list of priorities for the Manse. (A renovated kitchen to replace the tiny pantry being pretty close to the top. Followed by approximately 38,212 other things.) But as an eternal optimist, I hold out hope that it might happen someday.”

People, “someday” has arrived! I am thrilled to tell you that five-plus years and well over 1,000 blog posts since my first plea for help on finding vintage maple-leaf fencing, I have found my fencing.

Out of the blue a couple of weeks ago I received a brief note via Facebook Messenger:

“Hi Katherine – my name is Debbie and searching for maple leaf fencing on the internet led me to your blog. I have a roll (approx 40-50 ft) for sale. It is very old and I bought it as a project for my house (1832 log cabin) but I changed my mind and decided on cedar rail fencing instead. Would you be interested in purchasing it?”

Wow!

Would I be interested in purchasing it? I most certainly would! Forty to fifty feet is just about exactly the length we need for a fence along the front of the Manse property. Clearly this was meant to be.

Debbie was kind enough to send photos, which only made my heart beat faster:

Debbie's fence 2 Debbie's fence 1

So as you can probably guess, one day very soon Raymond and I are going to climb into his little red truck and take a drive that will end with us bringing home 40 or 50 feet of just the fence I’ve been wanting for the Manse. Life is good!

But I have to confess something. More than five years after I wrote that first plaintive plea for help in finding the fence that would match the one I remember being in front of the Manse in my childhood. I have come to the realization that – wait for it – my memory is almost certainly faulty. Here; you can judge for yourself:

Melanie and me at the Manse, 1965

That’s a photo of me (at right) and my sister, Melanie, in the gateway that once stood at the end of the flagstone path to the Manse’s front door. On either side of the gate is the fence. Which … does not have maple leaves on it. It is a plain page-wire fence.

So that fence memory that I treasure from my childhood must be from somewhere other than the Manse. I feel certain that the maple-leaf fence was somewhere in Queensborough or its immediate area – but I guess it wasn’t at the house I grew up in.

But who cares? The Manse may not have actually had that classic vintage fence once upon a time, but it should have. And now, I am delighted to say, it will.

Better late than never.