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.

A hibernating bumblebee, and an extraordinary school

Breakfast at MTPS 1

Breakfast is served! Every Tuesday, community volunteers Suzanne and John Paul Copeland, whose children were fortunate enough to attend Madoc Township Public School, give back to the school by cooking a hot breakfast that all students can enjoy.

The bell rang. The front door opened. Children started streaming in. One little girl came up and, before doing anything else, hugged Raymond around the knees, which was as high as she reached. The look on Raymond’s face was priceless – ever so slightly startled, but mainly delighted and touched. This little girl didn’t know us, and we didn’t know her. But she knew that because we were among the teachers and school volunteers waiting to say good morning to her and the other kids, we were her friends.

“I went to Wolfe Island!” a tiny boy, again unknown to us until that moment, shouted up in great excitement. Looking down, I smiled to notice from his mismatched socks that he had clearly been in charge of his own wardrobe that morning. Soon we knew quite a bit more about his adventures over the long Easter weekend that had just ended: “I saw a bumblebee! It had been hibernating! And it woke up! And then it went into my dad’s car! And it hibernated there!”

This was such a momentous happening that the boy felt compelled to share the story with us, and with anyone else within range, several times. He told it a couple of times before he’d got his coat off, and a few times more after that. It was a great story each time. It was a story about discovering a little piece of the magic of the natural world.

St. Andrew's donation 1

Presenting a donation from the members of St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, to support the excellent Food for Learning program at Madoc Township Public School: from left, accepting the donation on behalf of the school, are students Isaac Shanks, Braden Shaffer and Curtis Gunter; in the rear is French-toast chef extraordinaire John Paul Copeland (and, hidden behind Isaac, Suzanne Copeland); beside Curtis is principal Leanne Pond; and then there’s me, looking as terrible as I generally do in photos. But all in a good cause! (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Raymond and I were at Madoc Township Public School that morning a couple of weeks ago to present a donation from the members of our church, St. Andrew’s United in Queensborough, to the Food for Learning program at the school. Principal Leanne Pond, her staff and the parents and others who volunteer at the school have made it their mission to see that breakfast, lunch and snacks are available for every child who wants to partake. As Food for Learning volunteer Suzanne Copeland (whom I’ll tell you more about in a second) put it in a message to me: “Eliminating/reducing hunger keeps the focus on the learning agenda. With the thoughtful way (Food for Learning) is set up at MPTS, there is no stigma attached to grabbing a bite to eat. Great things are happening at MTPS!”

I’d wanted to visit the school to present the donation on a Tuesday, because that is a special day in the Food for Learning work at Madoc Township Public School. Every Tuesday, Suzanne Copeland and her husband, John Paul, volunteer their time to prepare a hot breakfast that’s waiting for the kids as they arrive. It was Suzanne who first made our church congregation aware of the program and the need, and I wanted to see the kids enjoying the fruits of the Copelands’ culinary labours. We weren’t disappointed: as we entered the tiny and somewhat makeshift kitchen where Suzanne and John Paul were working, the delightful smell of French toast and maple syrup greeted us. By the time the kids started pouring through the door, a long table in the hallway had been set up with plates and utensils and the hot French toast and a big bowl of fresh strawberries, and Suzanne and John Paul were right there to serve it up and pour the syrup. Some kids lined up right away; others went to their classrooms, where we saw their teachers waiting to welcome them, deposited their coats and knapsacks, and hurried back to join the line. As far as Raymond and I could see, almost every kid came for French toast, or strawberries, or both. And John Paul and Suzanne dished it up with friendliness and lots of smiles, making frequent dashes back into the kitchen to replenish supplies.

The atmosphere was so warm and welcoming – not only for us, the visitors, but for every kid who came through that door. Madoc Township is a small school, and everyone knows everyone else. No one slips through the cracks, ever. If there’s a problem, a worry, a meltdown, a fear, it will be noticed by a teacher, a fellow student, the principal, the office administrator, a parent volunteer, a custodian – in all likelihood, by every single one of them. The children evidently know that when they are inside the school’s walls, they are among friends – people who are there to help them be their best. Raymond and I felt honoured beyond description that we were – simply by being there – seen as being among that group of friends, helpers and mentors by the kids who spoke to us, hugged us, told us their story of a hibernating bumblebee, and lined up for that amazing breakfast.

I had tears in my eyes as I watched the morning unfold and saw how happy, loved, safe and looked-after those kids are – and as I thought of the world of possibilities that lay before them thanks to the excellent education and the support they are getting in that small rural school. Perhaps our young bumblebee enthusiast with the mismatched socks will grow up to be a renowned naturalist or conservationist. Perhaps the wee girl who trustingly gave Raymond a hug will herself become a teacher, or a doctor, or a psychologist – someone who looks after the well-being of others.

The school day was beginning, and it was time for us to leave. Our departure was slowed a bit by the sound of the national anthem coming over the loudspeakers. “Raymond!” I whispered urgently as he kept walking. “Stop! You’ve got to stop for O Canada!” (Can’t set a bad example for the kids.) So we stood at attention in the hallway, along with Leanne Pond and a few kids with whom she’d been walking and talking as she made her way back to the office. And I was delighted to hear the national anthem played in both French and English.

As we collected our coats at the office, two students were there doing the morning announcements over the loudspeaker system. I was so impressed with a) how well they read them, and b) how much was going on at the school. We heard about a book fair, a Learn with Lego event, and all kinds of other activities for that day and the days ahead.

Just before I walked out the front door, I stopped to take a photo of the portrait of Florence McCoy, MTPS’s founding principal, that hangs in the entryway:

Florence McCoy

Florence McCoy photo info

Mrs. McCoy was both a force of nature and my first principal, the person who, when I was a tiny, scared kid first walking through the doors of Madoc Township Public School, oversaw a school where every child was warmly welcomed, and known, and helped and encouraged in whatever way he or she needed help and encouragement.

“Some things never change,” I thought to myself. At least at Madoc Township Public School.

Madoc Township's former schools

This charming painting that hangs at Madoc Township Public School shows all the one-room schools that it replaced, and that are thus part of its heritage. Burris School (third from the top on right) stood where MTPS is now.

I also thought about how saddened and disappointed Mrs. McCoy would be if she knew that officials with the local public school board had targeted Madoc Township Public School for closure. How this beautiful little rural school that she had worked so hard to get off the ground back in the early 1960s – a central, modern school replacing all the one-room schoolhouses that were scattered around Madoc Township and surrounding areas, including Queensborough – might close its doors forever in just a little over two months. Of how the children from our community would never again get that warm, special Madoc Township Public School welcome at the start of their day.

Madoc Public School playground

The tiny play area for students in kindergarten to Grade 3 at Madoc Public School, which is where students from Madoc Township Public School will be bused if the plan of the public school board’s administration is passed by the trustees on the board. MPS is a good school; I can say that from personal experience, having attended Grades 7 and 8 there long ago, and visited it and spoken to students in more recent times. But I think we can all agree that this small playground with the chain-link fence around it is not outdoor learning at its best.

I thought too about the devastating loss of what is perhaps Madoc Township Public School’s most important asset: the five-acres-plus playground/green space that surrounds it, where children can run and play and have fun and learn about the natural world to their hearts’ content. I thought about our little bumblebee enthusiast. In the town school where the education officials plan to move the MTPS students, the playground for the kids his age is a tiny space containing an even tinier bit of grass, surrounded by a high chain-link fence. There isn’t going to be much opportunity for the little guy with the mismatched socks to discover bumblebees or caterpillars or grasshoppers or blue jays or jack-in-the-pulpits or trilliums or toads in that play space. That is a terrible loss. Inexcusable, I would argue.

http://www.hpedsb.on.ca/ec/directorsOffice/arc/documents/RequestforDelegationStudentEnrolment_SchoolCapacityCommittee2.pdf

One section of the huge play area/outdoor space at Madoc Township Public School. A bit of a contrast with what students can expect if they are bused into the town school next year. (Photo by Denise Gray)

Raymond and I had come in separate cars; after our visit, he headed home to the Manse, and I headed to work. As my car rounded the bend in Hazzards Road just past the school, I had to brake sharply as a collection of rather gigantic wild turkeys made their way across the road and over a fence. Their size, their colours, their dopiness (getting over the fence was quite the challenge for them) were amazing and delightful. This is the kind of thing – a little piece of the magic of the natural world – that kids at Madoc Township Public School get to experience all the time.

I am 100-per-cent sure that Florence McCoy would echo me (and in fact probably is echoing me, from behind her sturdy principal’s desk up there in heaven) as I ask: Why would this amazing school, this place where children are so supported, fed, cared for, loved, and exposed every day to a vast green space where they can enjoy healthy outdoor activity and learn about the magic of the natural world – why would this outstanding school be closed?

The committee of school and community representatives that the board itself set up to study the school-closure proposal recommended against closing Madoc Township Public School. The committee urged instead that kids from Madoc Township and area who are in Grades 7 and 8 be returned to MTPS, rather than (as is currently the case) being bused into town to attend playground-challenged Madoc Public School. If that were to happen, it would return MTPS to its original mission – back when Florence McCoy was running the show – of educating the local children until they were ready for high school. It would also mean that the MTPS building would be full, and fully used.

And it would also mean that another generation, and hopefully many generations to come, of kids from our beautiful rural area would receive the warm welcome, strong support and excellent education that Madoc Township Public School offers.

If you think that’s a good idea, please call, email or write the 10 elected trustees who will make the final decision on MTPS. You can find their contact information here. The trustees next meet on Tuesday, May 23, to prepare a final recommendation on the fate of our local schools. That recommendation will be voted on, and the final decision made, at a meeting on Monday, June 19. I sure wish that before that day the trustees would pay a visit to MTPS, like Raymond and I did. Perhaps they should be invited to do so.

Time is short. The stakes are high. And our school is unique and precious – as Florence McCoy would be the first to tell you.

Or you could just ask the boy with the bumblebee story.

Queensborough will never have a better friend than Johnny Barry

Johnny mowing along Bosley Road, September 2013

This is how I will always think of Johnny: on his second-best ride-on mower, giving his own time, labour and lawn-mower-gas money to keep the public spaces of Queensborough – in this case the grass alongside Bosley Road, a little south of the Manse – looking their best.


Sheriff Johnny 1

A couple of years ago, some of Johnny’s Queensborough friends decided they should make “official” what everybody knew anyway: that he was our village’s sheriff, always on patrol to make sure everything was as it should be. (Photo courtesy of Johnny’s wife, Anne Barry)

“You need somebody to cut that grass!” the man behind the wheel of the pickup truck shouted out through his open window one spring morning in the first year Raymond and I owned the Manse. We had travelled from our then-home in Montreal to spend the weekend in Queensborough, and I was doing an inspection of the grounds to see what needed doing.

“I sure do!” I responded as I approached the truck idling in front of the Manse. (This even though the question of who was going to cut the grass had not once occurred to me until that moment. It wasn’t going to be us, because a) we weren’t at the Manse very often in those days, and grass grows quickly; and b) we didn’t have a lawn mower.)

Sheriff Johnny 2

Johnny’s sheriff’s badge on the back of his hat. (Photo courtesy of Anne Barry)

“Could you do it? I’m Katherine, by the way.”

And he was Johnny. And Johnny totally knew who I was, even though I don’t think we’d ever met until that early-spring morning. When I was a kid growing up in Queensborough at the Manse, I knew the Barrys, Johnny’s family; but I believe in those years he was off working in other places. Johnny knew who I was because he was Queensborough’s unofficial sheriff, keeping an eye on everything that was going on and making sure that things were going on as they should be going on. And the fact that the daughter of a former minister here had bought the former United Church Manse and was spending the occasional weekend in it would most certainly not have been something Johnny didn’t know all about.

That day five years ago began our friendship with Johnny, who not only cut our grass for those five years but helped us out in a hundred different ways.

When we needed someone to make a gravel driveway, he rustled up Charlie Murphy, who did a superlative job. When we needed someone to repair an elderly whipper-snipper weed-whacker, he directed us to Frank Brooks, who specializes in such repairs. When I asked him how I could get rid of an ancient clothesline wheel that was permanently stuck into a tree in the back yard, he disappeared it for me. When we needed a new porch on the neighbouring Kincaid House that we bought a couple of years ago, he and his good friend and ours, Chuck Steele, built one for us. When underbrush on the Manse property needed clearing, he cleared it. And so on and so on and so on.

Johnny supervising the driveway project

Johnny in his dark-blue Ford 150 keeping an eye on the creation of our new driveway at the Manse – which he had organized.

But even though we were, and are, grateful for all this work he did for us and all the helpful advice he gave us, it’s more for his friendship and his example that I treasure his memory.

Johnny’s family, friends and community said goodbye to him this past weekend. After an up-and-down battle with cancer, Johnny died on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

“Queensborough will never have a better friend,” I said in my headline for this post. And that is true. It is also true that Queensborough will never be the same.

Johnny liked a tidy village, and that was that. It made him happy when people kept their properties, lawns and gardens looking neat – and it made him grumpy when they didn’t. Those sentiments extended to public property, and Johnny could regularly be seen on one of his two trusty riding mowers cutting the grass alongside of all the roads in the village, down by the river, and in other public places. Keeping Queensborough looking good.

Johnny and others spreading topsoil

Johnny (in purple T-shirt) and other volunteers – Tom Sims in the back of Johnny’s truck, and Ed and Jen Couperus – spreading donated topsoil on a problem corner in Queensborough. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)


Johnny weedwhacking

Johnny weedwhacking near one of the entrances to Queensborough. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)


Johnny's truck loaded with cleared brush

Johnny’s truck loaded with cleared-out brush. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)


Johnny and Chuck 2, August 2016

A Queensborough moment: Johnny (right) and his good friend and fellow fan of grass-mowing, Chuck Steele, take a break from their labours and chew the fat one day late last summer.

Property-owners who don’t even live here and who let their properties deteriorate drove him crazy. After a while he could only take so much, and then he’d be on his riding mower again, cutting their grass too and then clearing out brush or whatever needed to be done. Doubtless he never received a word of thanks (or a dime) from the negligent property-owners, but those of us who live here loved him for it.

Johnny watering the flowers

This is classic Johnny Barry, volunteering his time and labour to water the flower baskets in Queensborough every single day. Johnny wanted Queensborough to look tidy and beautiful, and he worked tirelessly to make that happen. If you go to the Facebook page of the Queensborough Beautification Committee (the volunteer group that puts up the flower baskets every year), you can watch the video of Johnny in action from which this screen shot was taken. “Tomorrow morning I’m going to be up by Ralph Underhill’s cutting brush,” Johnny tells Jos Pronk as Jos shoots the video. That’s Johnny: always another project in mind to make Queensborough look better. (Photo courtesy of Queensborough Beautification)

In recent years Queensborough has been adorned from spring to early fall with hanging baskets of flowers throughout the village. Johnny and Anne did an enormous amount of work to make sure those flowers were kept looking good. Like clockwork every early evening last summer, Johnny and Anne would go around the village watering the flowers. Johnny had done it himself the previous year, but last year he was already battling the effects of the cancer that had struck, and the treatment, and the aftermath. But as Johnny often said to me: “You’ve got to keep going.”

Hanging basket, Queensborough, June 2016

One of the beautiful hanging baskets that Johnny and Anne watered every day last summer.

And keep going he did, pretty much until he died. Only 10 days before that happened, he was out and about in Queensborough, raking up winter sand along the roadsides so that the municipal crews would cart it off. I had a good chat with him and Anne that morning, in which I got a tiny bit of a well-deserved (though good-humoured) lecture from him for being tardy in raking up last fall’s leaves from the Manse yard. Later that day he stopped by when doing his rounds in his pickup, telling me that when I did rake up the leaves, to leave them in piles and he’d come and take them away. He knew, and I knew, that he was very ill. “No way!” I said. “You can’t do that!” He assured me that he could and he would.

I raked up the last of those leaves this past Saturday afternoon, after returning home from Johnny’s funeral. Both it and the visitation the previous day were packed with friends; Johnny was a friend to everyone. I was happy, though not surprised, that as people spoke to Anne and to Amanda and Maryanne, Anne and Johnny’s beautiful daughters, there was a great deal of laughter mixed in with the tears. There isn’t a soul who knew him who doesn’t have a funny memory about something Johnny said or did. He was a good-humoured person to the core. He said what he thought and he didn’t hold back, and sometimes what came out (like when he was talking about people who let their properties get messy) could take you aback – but it was the plain-spoken truth, and underneath it were his good-heartedness, good intentions, and sense of humour. Johnny had an absolute heart of gold, and everyone knew it. He loved a good laugh, and I know he would be happy that his friends were laughing even as they mourned his death.

Here is a video that makes me laugh. Our neighbour Chuck had an old shed on his property that he wanted to get rid of. It turned out that the shed, though small, was amazingly heavy, and it became problematic as to how it was going to get taken away. Of course Johnny had a plan. It involved a big truck owned by Smokey’s Towing of Queensborough (Smokey’s owner, Chris Moak, being a dear friend of Johnny); and it was quite the production, involving several neighbours who came to watch (me) and to help (others). As I filmed it, I thought, “This is classic ‘How we roll in Queensborough.’ ” Here’s the triumphant moment when they finally got the shed to load onto the big truck:

And here is what happened next! The shed was so heavy that the loaded-down big truck got stuck in the soft earth of Chuck’s yard. But – Johnny to the rescue! He and his hard-working Ford pickup pulled the whole shebang, and off went the shed for good.

Moving the shed 8

Big truck stuck? No problem! Johnny’s Ford pickup to the rescue, Johnny (of course) behind the wheel and directing the operation.

Anyway, back to me raking up the leaves from my yard. As you can imagine, my mind was filled with thoughts and memories of Johnny as I was doing it. Every time I do any property-maintenance work at the Manse, I think of Johnny, because I know he would approve. I am pretty sure he was happy that Raymond and I did a lot of cleanup around the Manse right after we bought it, turning a place that had been a tad neglected into a pretty attractive sight (if I do say so myself). That approval showed itself in his never-failing willingness to help us get the work done, whether that meant finding workers for a project, carting off rotting logs in his truck – or offering, just the other day, to pick up my piles of leaves. Basically, when it comes to doing work around the property, we ask ourselves: “WWJD”? (What would Johnny do?) And then we do it.

I mentioned Anne and Johnny’s daughters, but I haven’t yet mentioned Amanda and Maryanne’s children, Max, Owen and Will. Johnny was so proud of those little boys – as well he should have been. They are handsome and smart and well-spoken and friendly – a tribute to their parents and grandparents. Owen read one of the scripture passages at the funeral, and though he is only in Grade 2, he read it astoundingly well. His Poppy would have been bursting with pride. In fact, from somewhere high above us, I’m sure he was.

Here is one final video, shot by my friend Elaine in 2012, the first year we owned the Manse, on a day when Raymond and I weren’t here to see the action that we’d commissioned at our Queensborough house. Elaine was filming the stump grinder whom she’d found to come in and remove the remains of a big lovely maple tree that adorned the front yard of the Manse when I was a kid here but that had been cut down several years before. The stump-grinding is quite interesting to see, but what’s the best is when Johnny comes riding into the picture on his mower and gives a huge wave:

That’s our Johnny. The absolute best.

All of us in Queensborough will miss his hard work, his leadership, his example, and his sense of humour as he offered commentary on the passing scene from his favourite chair on the front porch of the lovely home that was one of many he built.

But his legacy will live on. Those same qualities – his hard work, leadership, example and sense of humour – will, I believe, continue to inspire us all to ask ourselves, “What would Johnny do?” and then do it. And in the process keep Queensborough looking as beautiful and as tidy as it does now – as Johnny would want.

If a little bit of Johnny stays with all of us in Queensborough – as I’m sure it will – then we’re good to go.

Thanks, Johnny.

New neighbours: the ruffed-grouse family next door

Grouses in the trees

“Look! The trees are full of big birds!” That was the excitement here at the Manse this past late Saturday afternoon. We think they are ruffed grouses. Wow!

The world is full of scary things these days. Innocent people killed at a worship service, right here in our own country. Chaos and ominous, discriminatory edicts from the centre of power in the nation immediately to the south of us, the most powerful in the world. I don’t know about you, but I feel like we’ve entered a dark time. Which means it’s up to all of us to light up our own little corner of the world in any way we can, but especially with kindness and support for others – both the neighbours and family members we know, and the strangers from afar who are trying to make a go of it for themselves and their families in a new place. Enough light shone in enough corners can change the world, you know.

Here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, I try to shed a little light by telling you stories of life in Queensborough and environs that I hope you’ll find interesting, entertaining, maybe sometimes even touching. In tiny out-of-the-way Queensborough, neighbours always help neighbours. Also: it’s the place where it feels like, as a neighbour and friend of ours once said, “The world could end and you wouldn’t know it.” That, I think, makes it a good setting for stories that might brighten things up for us all once in a while.

Today I want to tell you about a simple yet rather astonishing thing that has twice brightened up the day for Raymond and me here at the Manse recently.

The first occurrence was a sunny morning a few days ago. Raymond was upstairs; I was down. I heard him calling me to come up, with some urgency. Up I zipped, and joined him at the north-facing window of our bedroom, which looks out on the adjacent property where the historic Kincaid house sits. “Look! Look!” he urged me. And there, to my astonishment, I saw a whole whack of big birds collecting beside the Kincaid house porch. They weren’t wild turkeys, a large bird that one sees fairly often, generally in groups, around here. They weren’t turkey vultures, another large and striking (in a rather ominous way) bird. They had ruffy things on the top of their heads. “I think they’re ruffed grouses!” I exclaimed. Like I knew what I was talking about, which I didn’t. But we are pretty sure they were ruffed grouses – and people, how often have you had a big collection of ruffed grouses show up outside your bedroom window? I was only sorry I didn’t have my phone to hand to get a photo.

They didn’t stay long; they flew up and over the top of the old barn/shed attached to the Kincaid house, and were gone. But we were delighted once again, as we have been so many times since we bought the Manse, at a wildlife sighting. It’s so different from living in the big city.

This past Saturday, some out-of-town friends arrived for a weekend visit. As we were catching up on what’s going on in their lives and ours, we mentioned with delight the recent visit of our ruffed-grouse clan. A couple of hours later, as afternoon turned to evening and the four of us were sitting at the dining-room table enjoying some delightful before-dinner snacks that Raymond had whipped up, I happened to glance out a north-facing window to the trees that hang over the Kincaid house.

“Look! The trees are full of big birds!” I shouted. Everyone turned to look, and I dashed outside with my phone to try to get some pictures before darkness had fully set in. And there they were again: six or seven very large birds, ruffed crests atop their heads, bobbing about in the trees. They seemed as happy as all get out, carrying on a conversation in what I thought were oddly tiny voices for such large birds. If you watch this little video and turn up the volume, you can listen in:

So it seems a grouse clan may have taken up residence in our neighbourhood. And I think that is a happy and interesting thing. Just the bright spot that a person needs in their corner for some cheer in these trying times.

Good neighbours

Ruth and Chuck on moving day

Ruth and Chuck on their final morning this past weekend at their lovely, historic home on King Street in Queensborough, across the way from the Manse.

This past weekend, Raymond and I said goodbye (for now) to Chuck and Ruth Steele, who have been our neighbours and friends since we bought the Manse five years ago. Chuck and Ruth have sold their home around the corner from us – it’s one of the prettiest and most historic houses in Queensborough – and are moving to not-too-far-away Belleville.

We’ll miss them. A lot.

In January 2012, when we were new to the Manse and I was back in Queensborough for the first time since my childhood here, I only knew a few people in the village and environs – people who’d been here when I was a kid and my dad was the minister back in the 1960s and ’70s. Among the very first of the “new” people Raymond and I met (though in reality we were the new people) were Chuck and Ruth, who introduced themselves, warmly welcomed us, and quickly became the best across-the-way neighbours anyone could hope for.

I have so many good memories of them over the past five years!

Jen and Dustin loading the truck

In typical Queensborough fashion, several neighbours showed up this past Saturday morning to help Chuck and Ruth with their move. Here, Dustin Whalen loads boxes into the truck while Jen Couperus stacks them at the rear.

We treasure all of our good neighbours in Queensborough, and I could tell you stories about the kind, funny and interesting things that pretty much every one of them has done since we’ve been at the Manse. But since Ruth and Chuck are the ones who have recently moved, today’s post is going to be about the kind, funny and interesting ways in which they have been our wonderful neighbours. But just before I get to that list, I want to emphasize that even though Chuck and Ruth have moved, they are not going to be strangers to Raymond and me. They’re now our friends, and a bit more distance between us doesn’t change that.

Okay, some stories to show you what good neighbours they have been. Let’s start with one that is highly embarrassing to me.

When the Hastings County Plowing Match was held at the Queensborough farm of Angus and Don McKinnon this past summer, and St. Andrew’s United Church of Queensborough (along with its two partner churches) had a food booth there, church members and friends were asked to make pies to sell. (Pie is a big deal in Queensborough, and people are good at making it, as you can see in this post.)

People, I do not make pie. It’s not because I don’t want to; it’s because I can’t. Every time in my life that I’ve tried to make pie crust – admittedly, you could count those tries on the finger of one hand and have several fingers left over – it’s been a disaster. But I tried. I tried a lemon meringue pie. I didn’t get fancy; I used the lemon-meringue-pie mix that comes in a box. There are instructions on that box. What could go wrong?

It was a disaster.

I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I sure as heck knew I wasn’t going to take that pie to the booth at the plowing match.

“Ask Ruth if she’ll make a pie!” cheerfully suggested Ed, another of our wonderful neighbours. Brilliant!

I was shy about doing it, but I was desperate. I went over to Ruth and humbly explained my predicament.

And she made two gorgeous lemon meringue pies. Look! Here’s the evidence – my sorry-looking excuse for a pie on the left, and Ruth’s miraculous creation on the right.

Ruth's pie vs. my pie

And speaking of lemon meringue pie – I have another little Chuck and Ruth story in which it plays a role.

“Queensborough: the place where you go out for a community meeting, come home and open the barbecue to make supper, and find two pieces of homemade lemon meringue pie there. To whomever we owe thanks for this wonderful surprise dessert: thank you!”

That was my post on Facebook one day last August. I was dead beat from a long day followed by that evening meeting. But to open the barbecue on the front porch and find two pieces of homemade lemon-meringue pie there – wow!

lemon-pie-in-the-barbecue

The surprise lemon-meringue pie in the barbecue.

Of course the pie had suffered a tiny bit from being there under the barbecue lid for perhaps a couple of hours. But man, was it delicious! Raymond and I gobbled it up after whatever it was that we barbecued that night. (I can’t remember the main course, but I sure remember that pie.) And of course you can guess to whom we owed the kind gesture of the surprise pie. Chuck had brought over two pieces of Ruth’s latest fabulous baking project, discovered we weren’t at home, and left it for us in a place he was pretty sure we’d find it.

There were so many other kind gestures over these past five years: Chuck bringing over his snowblower to clear out our socked-in driveway after a snowstorm; invitations for get-togethers at which there was so much of Ruth’s amazing cooking that we left barely able to move; Chuck bringing over his pickup one spring morning to boost the killed-by-winter battery of Raymond’s truck:

Chuck helping Raymond boost the truck

Chuck setting up the booster cables between his truck and Raymond’s to get the latter going again after a long, cold winter being parked in the Manse garage.

And:

  • The helpful advice from Chuck on things like weed-whackers and truck trailers and such.
  • The kind gestures to others in the community, like the homemade cookies Ruth always had on hand for neighbourhood kids.
  • Their contributions to the community, through their volunteer work with the Queensborough Beautification Committee and just making their own home and grounds look so nice that they were a model to others in the village:
Ruth's beautiful garden

Ruth’s beautiful garden, a pleasure for us to look at all summer long from the front of the Manse.

Avocado-green phone

I adore my avocado-green phone, which I have Chuck to thank for.

Also: Chuck spotting something for sale online that he knew I needed, and letting me know about it right away. It was, of course – of course! – an avocado-green dial phone; I mean, who doesn’t need an avocado-green dial phone to remind them of their midcentury youth? Thanks to Chuck, we are now the proud owners of that phone, which isn’t hooked up yet but I am thinking might make a fine addition to a retro-style avocado-green bathroom here at the Manse…

(Which reminds me of another way, this one kind of inadvertent, in which Chuck and Ruth were an inspiration: their Queensborough home still has its c.-1970 avocado-green bathroom! Sadly, I don’t have a photo of it.)

Then there was the time Raymond’s two-year-old grandson, Henry, and his parents visited us here in Queensborough and, just as they were leaving for the long drive back to Quebec’s Eastern Townships, Ruth appeared with a new toy truck to keep Henry occupied and amused on his ride home. He was delighted!

Henry, Justine and Pepere on the swings

Henry, his Pépère (grandfather) Raymond and mum Justine on the swings at the Queensborough Community Centre. Henry’s visit was capped by a gift from Ruth.

Maybe the best thing of all, though, was just knowing that Ruth and Chuck were there. They kept an eye on our place when we weren’t around, which was always a comfort. More importantly, their presence in their lovely home, the lights shining in their kitchen and in their spacious enclosed front porch in the evenings, gave us a feeling of – well, neighbourliness. Queensborough is a small place amid a lot of wide open lonely space where you can sometimes hear the wolves and coyotes howling on a cold and dark winter night. When you look out the window on one of those nights, you like to see the lights of your neighbours from within their snug homes. It makes you feel snug and safe too.

When we popped over to Ruth and Chuck’s for a quick night-before-the-move visit last Friday, Raymond and I were fortunate enough to meet the new owners of their home, Steve and Dana and their two little girls. We really look forward to having them as our new neighbours when they arrive in a very few days.

But since Saturday, Ruth and Chuck’s home (as I continue to think of it) has been dark at night, for the first time in our five years at the Manse. It is dark tonight. No Ruth puttering in the kitchen; no Chuck tinkering in the garage or sharing funny things on Facebook at his computer. It makes me sad and a little lonely when I look out the window of the Manse.

I have one last Ruth and Chuck story to tell you. A few months ago, Raymond and I left for a brief trip somewhere or other and, a couple of hours into it, realized that we weren’t sure if either of us had turned off the coffee pot before we left. What a couple of dopes! I called Ruth and, with more than a little embarrassment, asked if they would mind walking over and checking it for us. (We had given them a key to the Manse long before, just in case.) Of course they didn’t mind a bit, checked things out, and called to assure us that the coffee maker had been turned off and all was well.

Burned coffee pot

What happens when you lose your neighbours.

Okay, that’s Part 1 of the story.

Here’s Part 2: This past weekend, after saying goodbye to Ruth and Chuck, we had to be in Toronto overnight. They were finishing the loading of the moving truck when we left. When we came home the next day, they were gone. Our neighbours’ house was dark and silent.

And at the Manse? We’d left the coffee pot on.

I think it was a sign that we need our neighbours.

Chuck and Ruth, thank you for everything. I’ll leave you and the readers with one last photo of your Queensborough home while you were here, a summer day when a splendid rainbow shone over it and our village. May the rainbow always shine over you!

rainbow-over-chuck-and-ruths-house

A Canada Post puzzle, or: torn between two places

queensborough-on-the-map

Queensborough (starred in this Google map) is within a 15-minute drive of two larger centres: Madoc (centre left) and Tweed (lower right). Officially we are part of the Municipality of Tweed (or the Greater Tweed Area, the GTA, as some wags like to call it), but our connections – schools, shopping, and most especially postal service – are historically closer to Madoc. Click here to read an earlier post about whether “going to town” means Madoc or Tweed for us.

“You don’t need to use the RR number in your addresses any more,” the friendly clerk at the post office in Madoc told me a few months ago. Or actually – my memory for word-perfect conversations being wobbly at best, plus did I mention that this was several months ago? – what she might have said was, “You shouldn’t use the RR number in your addresses any more.”

Are you wondering what I’m talking about? If so, you surely don’t live in rural Canada, where RRs – the number of the rural route that your particular postal-delivery person follows – have been entrenched pretty much since there’s been postal delivery. For probably all of the past century, and more than the first decade of this one, rural addresses were “Katherine Sedgwick, RR#2 (or RR2 if you were feeling too rushed to include the number sign) Madoc, Ont.” And then in the early 1970s they added newfangled postal codes, which made lots of traditionalists hopping mad; you can read all about that here. So my mailing address back in the days when I was growing up here at the Manse in Queensborough was

Katherine Sedgwick
RR#2
Madoc, Ont.
K0K 2K0

RR#2 was the route based out of the Madoc post office that covered Queensborough and surrounding areas. RR#1 was the section of Madoc Township more or less due north of the village of Madoc, while RR#3 was the hamlet of Cooper and environs. I think there were a couple of other RRs for the areas south of Madoc as well.

When Raymond and I bought the Manse five years ago – Five years already! Wow! – and my focus returned to Queensborough after an absence of almost 40 years, I was vaguely aware that the RR number alone wouldn’t cut it any more, address-wise. Sometime during the 15 years I’d lived in Montreal, Ontario had decided that every address needed a street number, even if the street in question was a dusty country road. The main reason for this, as I understand it, was so that emergency responders could more easily find where they were going – and so were born what rural Ontarians call “911 numbers,” as opposed to “addresses.” This initiative also resulted in rural roads that had never before had names suddenly getting them. The road that the Manse was on, nameless back in my 1960s and ’70s childhood here, is now Bosley Road, named for one of the families that once lived on it. And the Manse’s number on Bosley Road – its 911 number – is 847.

Our mailbox

Our brand-new (in 2012) mailbox at 847 Bosley Rd., RR#2 Madoc.

So ever since Raymond and I got our mailbox in operation, the address I had been using for us was

Katherine Sedgwick
847 Bosley Rd.
RR#2
Madoc, Ont.
K0K 2K0

But then the post-office clerk made that comment about not using RR numbers. Clearly this required further investigation.

It turns out that, just in the period when Raymond and I were still living and working in Montreal and visiting the Manse on weekends when we could, Canada Post was beginning the process of eliminating rural routes. You can read about that here and here, in pieces out of the Grande Prairie (Alta.) Daily Herald-Tribune and the more local Peterborough Examiner from late summer and fall 2012, a few months after we bought the Manse.

Now, I like to think I’m reasonably plugged into the news – being a journalist and all – but somehow or other I remained utterly oblivious to this development at Canada Post. I am pretty sure it’s because during the main period of its implementation I was still living in Montreal, where RRs are unknown and have zero impact on daily life.

But let’s move on to the present day – a few months after the clerk at the post office basically told me (in the nicest possible way) to get with the program. Here’s what I have done in response to that comment:

One: Most of the time, kept using RR#2 in my address. Because it’s the old-fashioned way, and I like old-fashioned things.

Two: When I’m rushed – like, when I’m trying to write many dozens of Christmas cards, as I was last month – dropped the RR#2 from my return address, knowing that not only would it still be correct, but Canada Post would probably like me better.

Three, and this is the big one (not to mention the point of this post): Begun to wonder and worry a bit about where Queensborough falls in this brave new RR-less world. Let me explain.

Ever since the mid-1960s, when the hamlet of Queensborough lost its own small post office – which had been very ably managed in my early childhood years here by the late Blanche McMurray at the general store that she and her husband, Clayton, ran – Queensborough has been served by mail deliverers based at the post office in Madoc. We were always, as I mentioned above, Madoc Rural Route No. 2. (And of course in my mind, if possibly nowhere else, we still are.)

But here’s the thing: in the late 1990s, when the Ontario government in its wisdom decided that many small Ontario municipalities needed to merge into each other and become larger (and theoretically more efficient) municipalities, Queensborough became a part of the newly created Municipality of Tweed. Until then we had been one of the two (or was it three?) hamlets in the extremely rural municipality known as Elzevir Township; but Elzevir, while it still exists in name, is now part of the much larger Municipality of Tweed, which also swallowed up the former Hungerford Township south of the village of Tweed. At the same time, the former village of Madoc and township of Huntingdon merged to become the Municipality of Centre Hastings. Many other such mergers happened all over the province, with the resultant sad loss of many historical names and geographical designations: goodbye, for instance, Victoria County, and hello “City of Kawartha Lakes.” Don’t get me started.

tweed-logo

The Municipality of Tweed includes us here in Queensborough.

Anyway. Long story short, Queensborough is and has been for nearly two decades a part of the Municipality of Tweed. We pay our taxes to Tweed, we take our trash and recycling to the dump in Tweed, we vote for Tweed councillors (and are quite ably represented by them); in pretty much every reckoning, including geographically, we are part of Tweed.

But our post office is in Madoc! And thus our mailing addresses have Madoc in them. And without that RR in those addresses, they look like this:

Katherine Sedgwick
847 Bosley Rd.
Madoc, Ont.
K0K 2K0

Which makes it look like Bosley Road is in Madoc! Which it isn’t! Yikes! Wrong town! While we had that RR in place, the Madoc part of our address made sense; without it, it doesn’t. Bosley Road is, for better or worse, in Tweed.

Madoc Post Office

The post office in Madoc, whence comes the mail that arrives at the Manse and in the rest of Queensborough. But is Madoc our address? It’s a bit of a puzzle.

I fear that the disappearance of RRs from our addresses is going to lead to future confusion. Already Google and other online location services are befuddled. When, for instance, I post a photo on the social-media app Instagram and try to add my location to it, things go quite haywire. The suggestions that come up include “Queensborough Community Centre, 1853 Queensborough Rd., Madoc” (which, again, makes it sound like the community centre is in Madoc when in fact it too is in Tweed); “Tweed, Ontario”; “Madoc Fair Grounds, Madoc”; “Eldorado, Ontario”; and so on. Not the one designation I do want, which is, of course, “Queensborough, Ont.” When I do a search for that, I get no results.

(Though for a brief shining moment – actually a couple of weeks – last fall I found that Instagram would allow me to find and use Queensborough as a location. Then it stopped. Weird.)

So yeah: this disappearing RR thing is leaving us in Queensborough in a bit of location limbo, We know where we are; but will people trying to find us?

Then again: what better way to keep our little jewel of a village our own special secret?