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

Skies over the plowing-match site

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

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

Hastings County Plowing Match 2016

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

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

Plowing-match site 2

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

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

Hastings County

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

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

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

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

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

Plowing Match schedule

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

Vintage tractor at the Plowing Match

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

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

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

Incoming equipment

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

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

Family Tent Schedule

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

Queensborough stuff for sale

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

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

Three United Churches banner

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

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

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

Long time gone, or: after 40 years of wandering, a return home

The Manse on Dominion Day 2015

The first three-quarters of Dominion Day 2015 (don’t get me started on “Canada Day”) were cloudy and rainy here in Queensborough, but as I was taking this photo of the Manse the sun suddenly broke through. A good sign for a momentous (in my life, anyway) anniversary!

Happy Dominion Day, everybody! As you can see from the photo I took today, the “new” (well, new as of 1965, a mere half-century ago) Canadian flag has replaced our usual Ontario flag in adorning the Manse in celebration of July 1. As I’ve reported before, Raymond likes to use his ever-growing flag collection to mark special national and regional days. If you noticed Quebec’s fleurdelisé flying at the Manse a week ago today, that was in celebration of St. Jean Baptiste Day, Quebec’s “national” holiday; and you’d better brace yourself for the Stars and Stripes this coming Saturday, the Fourth of July.)

But national holidays are not what this post is about. This post is about anniversaries, and the passing years, and the joys (and sometimes sorrows) that come with them.

Let me back up a tiny bit.

The weekend before last, we were thrilled to bits to have a visit from Raymond’s sisters Eloise and Jeannie, coming all the way from their homes in the Boston area, and his daughter Dominique, from Montreal. It was the first time that any immediate members of Raymond’s far-flung family have been able to come see us here in Queensborough, and it was just delightful to have them and to show them the Manse and the beautiful area in which we live. It was also a very lively time; normally the Manse is a pretty quiet place with just Raymond and me knocking about in it (and especially since we no longer have Sieste the Manse Cat to share her point of view with us). With four women and Raymond in the house, the place was full of chatter and laughter, and that was just great.

The gang on the front porch

A houseful of Brassards! Left to right, Dominique Brassard (Raymond’s daughter), Jeannie Brassard Tremblay (Raymond’s sister), Raymond, and Eloise Brassard Maddox (Raymond’s sister), all enjoying the view of Queensborough from the Manse’s front porch.

But at one point in the weekend, I had occasion to leave the hubbub behind for three-quarters of an hour and enjoy some quite reflections on this place in which we live. The occasion in question was Raymond having forgotten to buy a key ingredient of his Caesar salad – that would be the romaine lettuce, a rather important part of the whole operation – and I volunteered to drive in to town (Madoc, in this case) to pick some up. It was about 7 p.m. on a glorious summer day, the time when late afternoon is just turning into evening, when the shadows are ever so slightly beginning to lengthen and the slowly declining sun puts a golden evening glow on everything.

It’s only 10 or 12 minutes to drive to Madoc from Queensborough, but those 10 or 12 minutes there and back were so filled with the beauty of this place that my eyes were brimming with tears more than once. That golden glow that I mentioned made everything – the rolling farmland, the rocky outcrops, the silos, the old farmhouses, the split-rail fences, the pretty flower displays at the entrance to Queensborough, the gardens at some of the places along the way – look its absolute best. The quiet of the evening was broken only by birdsong. “We are blessed,” I thought.

us six at the Manse

My family – Dad and Mum and (left to right in front) me, my sister, Melanie, my brother John and my brother Ken – in about 1968. At the Manse, of course.

And then something struck me. It was this: that it was at this exact time of year – end of June/beginning of July, when everything is green and golden, and summer holds out its promise, and life is good – that I first came to Queensborough, as a child of four; and it was also the time when I left Queensborough (though not forever, as it later turned out), as a 15-year-old, having spent all of my formative years in this lovely and never-a-dull-moment little place. My dad, the newly ordained Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, arrived here to begin his career as a minister at the start of July 1964, with my mum and three little kids (we later became four) in tow; the only thing I remember about that first day in Queensborough was the shouted warning from our across-the-street neighbour Will Holmes not to drink the water that came out of the tap. (More on that story, and the years of carrying buckets of drinking water from one of the village’s communal wells, here.)

Actually, there is one other thing I remember about that first day in Queensborough, which could very well have been 51 years ago this very day: It was bright and sunny and warm and summery. Just that kind of day that this July 1 has turned into. Queensborough looked its best.

As it did on another sunny summer day 11 years later, on or about July 1, 1975, the day that my family left Queensborough as my dad took up a new pastoral charge in Seymour Township, outside Campbellford, Ont. So much had happened in those 11 years, in Queensborough and in the world. Humans walking on the moon. Vietnam. Trudeaumania. Watergate. Hippies. Woodstock. The Rock Acres Peace Festival!

Rock Acres Peace Festival, Queensborough, Ont., 1971

The Rock Acres Peace Festival, Queensborough’s answer to Woodstock.

And I had grown up. And watched and read about all those exciting things happening in the larger world from right here at the Manse in Queensborough. I remember how very sad I was as we drove away, to be leaving behind that golden past and that golden place, the place of my childhood. “I never dreamed you’d leave in summer,” a pretty song sung by one of my (and my dad’s) heroes, Joan Baez, goes. Well, I never dreamed that I’d leave in summer. But I did.

And was gone for a long time. And lots happened in the interim, both to me and to Queensborough.

But now … well, now I am home again. And you regular readers all know the story: how Raymond and I bought the Manse, on a whim and a prayer (i.e. not really knowing what on earth we were doing or getting into), back in January 2012. How we quickly began to love our connections with this beautiful and little-known part of the world as we visited when we could, on the occasional weekend away from home and work in Montreal. And how we ended up, counter to all expectations, actually moving here in October 2013, Sieste in tow to make it really official. And how life has never been the same since. In a good way. I am so, so happy to be home. To have returned. In summer.

Today, the rest of Canada celebrates our country’s 148th birthday, and that is an excellent thing. But I hope you will excuse me, as I sit here in one of the most beautiful parts of Canada, if I celebrate another sort of anniversary, a far more personal one: the one in which, 40 years from when I left, I am back from my wanderings – not quite in the wilderness, where some people famously spent 40 years, but wanderings nonetheless. It is summer; and I am home.

Life is good.

1,001 Nights at the Manse

Katherine in blog position

This is the view of me that Raymond has had for many and many an evening – 1,001 evenings, in fact – as I’ve worked in the blue glow of my MacBook Pro to churn our yet another yarn about life at the Manse. It’s time to move away from the blue glow, just a bit. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Tonight we are celebrating here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. Why? Because we have reached our 1,001st post!

Celebratory Manhattans

A thousand and one posts? Hey, that calls for a Friday-night Manhattan at the Manse!

Yes, just like Scheherazade, that legendary young woman of the Arabian Nights who held off a cruel king’s bloodthirsty urges by telling him stories every night for 1,001 nights – featuring Aladdin and the lamp, and Ali Baba, and Sinbad the Sailor, and all that stuff – I have recounted a yarn for you every single night (minus Sundays, because a minister‘s daughter shouldn’t work on Sundays, right?) 1,001 times, as of this very night. Now if that doesn’t call for a little celebration, what does? It being Friday night and all, I think I’ll have a Manhattan – minister’s daughter or no.

I’m in a bit of a celebratory mood for another reason too. It’s this: I decided a while back that with my 1,001st post I’d cut myself a bit of slack and lift the daily deadline that I imposed when I started this blog, on Jan. 30, 2012 – the day that Raymond and I became the owners of the Manse, the house that I grew up in. I do this with mixed feelings; I know from many years of practising journalism that deadlines are what force writers to produce, and without them, they… well, they often don’t produce. My daily deadline has been very helpful in giving me both focus and an imperative to get the job done.

But writing a post every day takes an extraordinary amount of time, and I am finding that I need some of that time – time being, along with health, the most precious commodity that any of us has – for other things. I have community work to do; I have St. Andrew’s United Church work to do. (I am the church secretary.) Also, spending a bit more time with my mum and the rest of my family couldn’t possibly hurt. Having more time to spend with Raymond would be a very good thing; he has been unendingly patient as dinner has been delayed night after night after night as I have hunched over this laptop, writing like mad about Avocado Green and Freshie and antimacassars and crokinole and the like. I’d like to stop dipping into his huge well of patience. And hey, the timing is good too: two days from now (April 12) is our seventh wedding anniversary, and maybe giving more of my time to my excellent husband and less to producing words on my laptop is a good anniversary gift.

Also: I could use a bit of a rest. Since I started this blog I haven’t taken a break from it, even when on vacation. I need a vacation.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Meanwhile at the Manse is going to go dark. Far, far, far from it! I promise I’ll still post with great regularity. Because, you know, there is just so darn much going on in Queensborough to tell you about! And there are so many interesting bits of local history to be dug up and reported on! So much artistic activity to investigate! Why, just last night as I was going through my photo files to find a picture I took a year ago of a crumbling shed on the road to town (to use in last night’s post, which is here), I realized that I have a lot of photos and ideas for posts kicking around. And then of course there are all those memories of my childhood here at the Manse in the 1960s and ’70s still to be mined – along with pictures of vintage finds from auctions and flea markets and yard sales to complement those memories, and take us all back to those happy midcentury times.

So yeah, there’ll continue to be Meanwhile, at the Manse stories. And if I give myself a little more time to produce them, I should be able to do some deeper research when it’s warranted, which it often is. Like: doing an interview with one of the people who was on the scene shortly after the UFOs landed in Cooper. (I am not making that up.) Or: checking out a hand-painted mural of a Queensborough scene that exists in a local house, a wonder that I only recently learned about. Or collecting still more reportage about Queensborough’s first and only (to date) rock festival.

Remember that old line about there being “a million stories in the naked city”? (In researching it just now, by the way, I discovered that the line is actually that there are eight million stories in the naked city.) Well, I am pretty sure there are a million stories in Queensborough alone – or, for that matter, in any place on this good planet. Every place, no matter how small, has history, and art, and interesting human beings, and anecdotes, and oddities, and slices of life both ordinary and extraordinary. All that’s needed is someone – a Scheherazade-type character – to find and tell those stories.

As of this post I’ve told 1,001 stories about life in Queensborough, and life at the Manse. And I’m rather proud of that accomplishment. Well, proud, and – ready for a bit of a rest.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the stories so far. I hope you don’t mind if it’s a bit longer in between them from now on. Most of all, I hope you’ll stay tuned. There are many more stories to come. I can’t wait!

Great community journalism: the North Hastings Review, 1971

North Hastings Review

The North Hastings Review issue of June 16, 1971. I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed reading a newspaper as much as I enjoyed reading this one.

A wondrous thing arrived in the mailbox here at the Manse the other day. It was a copy of a now-defunct weekly newspaper: the North Hastings Review, issue of June 16, 1971. Its arrival was easily the best thing that’s happened to me so far in 2015.

You’re thinking I’m addled, aren’t you? You’re wondering: How on earth could a 44-year-old copy of a tiny and long-gone newspaper be such a thrill to that Manse woman?

Well, I will tell you. But first let me tell you how this treasure – which I must emphasize is only on loan – came my way. Its sender was Ken Broad, who has been known to read and comment on my posts here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, and who, while he now lives elsewhere, is a native of the Queensborough area, having grown up on a farm just a bit west of here in Madoc Township. (Ken notably sent me a photo of his ticket to the 1971 Rock Acres Peace Festival, an incredible artifact of Queensborough’s version of Woodstock. More on that anon, as it happens, but if you’d like to see that photo, it’s here.)

Anyway, I am pretty sure that the reason Ken had held on to this particular copy of the North Hastings Review – which was published in nearby (to Queensborough, I mean) Madoc, and later became the Madoc Review before it became nothing at all (sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I believe) – was that there was a story about him right there on the front page. He had just sold his fuel-delivery business to Tom Fox of Campbellford – a familiar name in this area – and there is a story about the change in ownership, and a photo of the two men, right there at top left of Page 1.

In a brief note he sent along with the paper, Ken said that his father (a remarkable person whom many people called “The Major” due to his distinguished service in both the First and Second World Wars – but that’s a whole other story, and a great one) used to call the North Hastings Review “the 7-7-7 paper: 7 days to print, 7 cents to buy and 7 seconds to read.” Oh lord – as the former editor of another small-town newspaper, the Port Hope (Ont.) Evening Guide, I am very familiar with readers’ joking comments about how one could throw our modest little daily paper up in the air and read it on the way down. But you know what? Behind the joking, people loved and (more to the point) needed that paper, that daily report on what was going on in their own community. And I am totally certain that The Major and all the other readers of the North Hastings Review also very much appreciated its community reporting, even while they made gentle jokes at its expense.

Anyway, I must tell you that, as I told Ken in my email of thanks to him, it took me a lot longer than seven seconds to read that paper. With the exception of the small print in some of the classified ads, I read every single word. And all of it was an utter joy.

Why? Two reasons.

North Hastings Review front page

This is a front page with a lot of local news. And so many of the names are familiar!

One: this was the local news from what I consider my time. On June 16, 1971, I was about to turn 11 years old. My family had been living at the Manse in Queensborough for seven years, and we would live there for four more. We were deeply embedded in the Queensborough-Madoc-Eldorado-Cooper area, and because my father was the local United Church minister, we had contacts and friendships with many, many families in that area. The people who are mentioned in the pages of this issue of the North Hastings Review are people I knew (and in some cases still know) – everyone from teachers and fellow students at Madoc Township Public School (where I would have just been finishing Grade 6 in June 1971) and Madoc Public School (where the following September I would start Grade 7), to players on the local minor-sports teams whose games are reported, to the ministers of the local churches cited in the long column of notices for church services, to the mother and father of the bride in a delightful report on a wedding that my father had conducted.

North Hastings Review church ads

Some of the church ads (people actually went to church in 1971!) in the North Hastings Review.

And two: This newspaper is great journalism. And no, I am not trying to be funny. The North Hastings Review is chock-full of local news, and providing local news is what local newspapers are supposed to do. When you’d finished reading it, you really knew what was going on in the local area – from who had dined with whom the previous Sunday in Cooper and who had visited whom in Bannockburn; to who was the winning pitcher (as it happens, the late Lorna Matthews, a wonderful person who was the church pianist at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough for many years) when the Cooper women’s softball team defeated the “Madoc Ladies” 24 to 7; to who gave a demonstration on refinishing furniture at a meeting of the senior citizens’ club; to where local school groups had gone for their end-of-year excursions (Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons and the Shrine Circus in Peterborough; the reports, which appeared on the front page, were written by some of the students themselves, and I can only imagine how proud their parents must have been); to what was on sale that week at George West’s Men’s Wear.

North Hastings Review Rock Acres story

The major story of the week: the latest news on the Rock Acres Peace Festival, which had been planned for the Quinlan farm near Queensborough – or “Queensboro,” as the Review spelled it.

You got the big stories – an in-depth report on what at that point looked like the defeat of the plans to hold the aforementioned Rock Acres Peace Festival on the Quinlan farm outside of Queensborough; in fact, the Quinlan family later won the legal battle against the local authorities, the festival went ahead, and you can read all about that here and here and here and here.

North Hastings Review community news

Everything you might have needed to know that week about what was going on in the hamlets of Bannockburn and Gilmour. Good stuff!

And you got the small ones: the aforementioned who-visited-whom listings for the local hamlets, like Bannockburn, Cooper and Gilmour. You got full reports on the doings of three municipal councils; the police news; the meeting of Unit 3 of St. Andrew’s United Church Women; a birth notice (on the front page); and the new officers of the Kiwanis Club. And all of it, I have to tell you, is well-written and well-edited. I think I spotted maybe two typos in the whole affair; that is very impressive, and significantly better than any newspaper (or news website) can boast these days. (Kudos to its publisher, Maurice Goulah, and its editor, Carol Foley, for that.)

North Hastings Review Letters to the Editor

A letter to the editor from Grant Ketcheson, comparing the farming life in Scotland to that in the Madoc area. Good stuff!

But there’s more! There’s a letter to the editor from a young whippersnapper farmer from the Hazzard’s Corners area named Grant Ketcheson (still a great friend to this day), who was visiting Scotland on an agricultural scholarship and sent a lively report on farming practices (and weather) there as compared to the Madoc area. There’s the report on that wedding conducted by my father, complete with the extraordinarily detailed description of the wedding dress that those reports always had: “The bride was lovely in a full length taffeta gown highlighted with a dainty lace trim around the scoop neckline, down the full-length sleeves and around the full skirt. The bodice and sleeves also featured rose appliques and her long full train with matching lace trim was attached at the waist with a large bow. The three-tiered bouffant veil was gathered to a circle of dainty white orange blossoms and seed pearls, leaving the centre open for flocks of curls. She carried a cascade bouquet of yellow daisies.” (And if you want to know what the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom wore at the reception, you’ll just have to get you hands on your own copy of the paper.) There’s a column by Bill Smiley, who was omnipresent in small Canadian weekly newspapers back in those days. It was delightful to see the late Mr. Smiley’s byline again after all these years.

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And there are the ads for businesses that bring back such good memories: George West’s, as I mentioned; Wilson’s (which only recently closed down after many years in business; I wrote about that here); Johnston’s Pharmacy (still going after all these years; that too is reported on in this post); the long-gone and much-missed Plaza cinema in Marmora (I saw my very first movie there!); and (ta-da!) the Cash & Carry! Which was having a sale that week on wood panelling. I’d almost be willing to bet my bottom dollar that the wood panelling that got put up in the Manse kitchen during my family’s tenure here – about which we were so excited at the time, because wood panelling was so fashionable; and which Raymond and I are now very keen to get rid of, because, let’s face it, it’s awful – might have come from that very sale at the Cash & Carry down there on St. Lawrence Street East in downtown Madoc.

It is community journalism at its very best.

I know that Ken Broad knew I would appreciate having a chance to go through that paper, but I bet he didn’t guess just how much I’d appreciate it. Such wonderful, wonderful memories, all thanks to a terrific community newspaper. And a person who had the excellent good sense to preserve it – and the kindness to share it.

Meanwhile, at Woodstock…

We interrupt the regular ramblings here at Meanwhile, at the Manse to bring us all a reminder of something that happened in the Manse years – that is, the years when I was growing up in this fine old house that I now am happy to call home once again. Those years were 1964 to 1975, and as I have said many times before, they were remarkable ones on many fronts – but perhaps especially for popular music. Oh, and by the way, it’s not just me who thinks that; I imagine it is most, if not all, of you; and here at this link is an excellent take on the subject by John Harris of the Guardian.

Harris’s piece, headlined “The giants of rock are leaving the stage: their music never will,” was prompted by the death this past week of Joe Cocker. What everyone thinks of when they think of Joe Cocker is, of course, his inspired cover of the Beatles’ A Little Help from My Friends, and his even more inspired (and spasmically frenetic) performance of it at no less a time and place than Woodstock, three days of peace and music in August 1969 that were attended by half a million children of God, as Joni Mitchell put it. (And an event that was also the inspiration for Queensborough‘s own rock festival, the Rock Acres Peace Festival.)

I urge you to read the article, the thesis of which is that the generation of musicians that included Cocker “made music that has never been surpassed.” And this from a writer who was born in the year of Woodstock, and thus is much too young to remember the glory days of Cocker, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Who, etc. etc. etc. (Including maybe Joni Mitchell, come to think of it.)

“Be in no doubt,” Harris writes of Cocker’s generation of larger-than-life and massively talented musicians: “as they go, these people take an entire culture with them, and by around 2030 our understanding of rock’s essence will be synonymous with recorded music, old footage, and the overwhelming sense of art that no subsequent generation could top.” It’s a great and thought-provoking piece.

And to prove how right Harris is, I urge you to click on the video that’s at the top of this post, and take yourself back to that time and place. Have a listen to Joe Cocker in his prime, and then just try and tell me that when it comes to rock’n’roll and pop, the Manse years weren’t the best years ever.

Remembering Dad, who is the reason we are at the Manse

Dad

This photo of Dad was taken not long before he died, for a newspaper article about the stone fence that he was building up at the family farm at Gelert in Haliburton County. It captures his kindliness and his open spirit, and I will be forever grateful to reporter/photographer Lance Crossley for taking it.

Today has been a hard one, because it comes with the burden of sad memory. It was 10 years ago this day – Dec. 11, 2004 – that my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, died. My mind has kept flashing back to that terrible December day of his sudden death, to how the shock and grief instantly overwhelmed the lives of my mum, Lorna, and my sister and brothers and me.

us six at the Manse

My family – Dad, Mum and us kids, from left me, Melanie, John and Ken – in the Manse years.

But one of the most important things you can do when a loved one dies, both for yourself and to honour that loved one, is to keep front of mind all the good memories you have of your times together. And that’s mainly what I was thinking about as I drove home to the Manse in little Queensborough tonight after work, welcoming the quiet of the car and the darkness around me to just think about Dad. And especially to think about all the good times our family had right here at the Manse, where we moved when he was a young man and a newly ordained United Church minister and, as I’ve said before, all the world was young. Tonight as I drove past the row of old maple trees out on Queensborough Road west of the village, I was thinking about all the early-spring evenings back in those days of the 1960s and early ’70s when Dad would bring his half-ton truck and a truckload of kids – his own and a bunch of others from the neighbourhood (there’s a photo in this post that should give you an image of that) – to gather sap from those trees, which he tapped every spring to make maple syrup.

shovelling snow

That’s me (in the orange coat), my younger brother Ken, my dad, and Finnigan the dog shovelling snow at the Manse back in the early 1970s.

If it weren’t for Dad, I wouldn’t be on this earth, of course; but more specifically, if it weren’t for Dad having been posted here when he became a minister, I would not have grown up in Queensborough – and I would not have returned here, to this same village and this same house, as an adult, many years later.

Things happen for a reason, don’t they?

I think mainly what I’d like to say tonight is how much I have appreciated, in the almost three years since Raymond and I bought the Manse, the memories that people in the area have been kind enough to share with me about my dad. So often those memories are of him pitching in and helping out in this rural farming community. Pitching in, helping out, and working very, very hard are what Dad was all about, as I wrote in this piece about him. I’ve heard about the time he helped out one farmer, laid up and unable to work, by cleaning all the manure out of the barn. About how he was in the thick of the mess and gore, doing what had to be done, after a horrible fire destroyed a barn and the livestock in it. About him up on the roof of a maple-syrup boiling-house in his “minister clothes,” doing repairs. About him trying to find a way to make sure the long-haired hippie kids at the Rock Acres Peace Festival were doing all right. About him teaching a very nice young couple of back-to-the-land city folk the old-fashioned art of cutting hay with a scythe.

I hear stories like that all the time. My dad is remembered fondly around here by those who knew him. Those stories are a gift, appreciated more than people probably know even as they share them with me.

And Dad’s life was in turn a gift to those around him. His kindness and faith and good humour, his intellectual curiosity and rigorous honesty, his hard work and ever-present willingness to help, made him a friend to many, and a model to more. I am so very proud of him.

And happy, this night, to be in the place where once upon a time, when all the world was young, he brought his young family to live and grow. The Manse was a happy, happy place in those times. I hope it brings Dad joy to know that it still is.

August Affair: a poem about the Rock Acres Peace Festival

Rock Acres Peace Festival site

At the heart of the Rock Acres Peace Festival – a photo taken by one of my correspondents who has kindly shared memories of the event but has requested anonymity. Thank you to that person!

Today, people, is Aug. 6, 2014. Do you know the significance of that date? Well, I’ll tell you. It is the 43rd anniversary of Day 1 of the Rock Acres Peace Festival, Queensborough‘s one and only (to date, as I always like to say) rock festival.

Since Meanwhile, at the Manse has (I say quite proudly) become the go-to place on the internet for information about that amazing (and, yes, long-ago) event, you can learn all about Rock Acres in my various posts, notably here and here. But if you want more, just click on “Rock Acres Peace Festival” under the Categories heading on the home page of this blog, and you’ll learn pretty much everything you might want to know about what happened when hundreds of long-haired young people came to tiny Queensborough for a weekend of peace, love and music in that summer of 1971.

Okay, well, maybe not everything. Because as it happens, on this anniversary of the start of the festival, I have a new bit of information for you. How do you like that?

Goldie Holmes

Goldie Holmes, Queensborough’s Quilt Lady – and unofficial midcentury poet laureate.

It is nothing less than a poem about the great event by the late Goldie (Ash) Holmes, Queensborough’s famous “quilt lady” – she made quilts that were brilliant folk art featuring buildings and scenes from the Queensborough area; you can read about that here and here. Goldie also wrote poetry and, as I reported here, a song recorded by one of Canada’s early country-music stars.

My Memory Book of PoemsGoldie’s poem about Rock Acres is included in her collection My Memory Book of Poems, published in 1976. The book is delightful to leaf through; Goldie recorded all manner of events in verse, from the Madoc Fair, to bus excursions by the Queensborough branch of the Women’s Institute, to the momentous Rock Acres Peace Festival. The poems may not go down as monuments in world literature, but as records of a place, a time and a community – Queensborough and its inhabitants and institutions in the middle of the 20th century – it is kind of unmatchable.

I love her poem about the rock festival, which is entitled August Affair. The metre and rhyme may be a bit tortured, but Goldie paints a very complete picture of the event. And what I especially like is her fair and even kindly attitude toward the young people who came from near and far to Queensborough. As you read it, I think you’ll appreciate her interest in these kids (They “gave us a slant/On this generation, how they like to live/And it gave us a chance, hospitality to give,” she writes), and her appreciation for what they did for our hamlet’s economy and renown.

So without further ado, here is the inimitable Goldie Holmes on the Rock Acres Peace Festival. And hey, everyone: happy anniversary!

Rock Acres Peace Festival crowd

Another photo by my anonymous correspondent, whom I thank once again!

AUGUST AFFAIR

The “Rock Acres” festival is over, Hurrah!!
It is something we’ll remember for many a day.
In the year nineteen hundred and seventy-one,
In the spring, the excitement begun
When the public became aware of the plan
For a rock festival on a local man’s land.
His sons did some planning, folks hoped for no harm
When the festival came to “Rock Acres” farm.
There were injunctions against them and feelings ran high
When they first said the festival would be in July.
But it was put off until August and then,
The young folk came walking, the weekend to spend.
Some carried bundles, some had packs on their backs,
But for “Rock Acres” farm they were all making tracks.
They came on cycles, and cars too, good ways to travel
And went in on the narrow, crooked road made of gravel.
When they came to our village, in the heat of sun’s ray
To swim in the mill-pond and put in the day.
Until it was time for the festival fun,
Of Rock and Roll music when night-time had come.
They behaved very well, caused no fuss or havoc
Didn’t shop-lift, or cheat, or create any panic.
The two local merchants sold things galore
Friends helped out at Sager’s and McMurray’s stores.
The kids had long or short hair, some wore jeans, some short pants
Some had on bikinis, and gave us a slant
On this generation, how they like to live
And it gave us a chance, hospitality to give.
The O.P.P. were kept busy, here and there on patrol
And we felt they were keeping things under control.
Around our village we felt pretty good
And hoped they all sensed our deep gratitude.
Down at “Rock Acres” festival there was plenty of drugs
Also there were many mosquitoes and bugs.
Can and pop bottles and other stuff too
Could be seen on the ground ‘ere the festival was through
There were some traffic problems, which were handled quite well
And a number of people said the festival was “swell.”
Some rail fences around, soon went up in smoke
In little bon fires to warm young folk.
The weather was fine, the whole weekend through
Which helped out the young folk, and helped us out, too.
The noise bothered some of the neighbours quite near
And kept them awake all the night, so I hear.
I’m glad the rock festival is now in the past
And I hope it’s the first that we have, and the last.

– Goldie (Ash) Holmes

A return to to the Rock Acres Peace Festival, 40-odd years later

Rock Acres from the air

The Rock Acres Peace Festival in all its hippie glory, August 1971. Photo from the Hastings County Archives, dug up by festival attendee Bert all these years later.

One of the bonus offshoots of writing about the life, times and history of Queensborough and area has been getting to meet people who themselves have an interest in, or connection with, the life, times and history of Queensborough and area. It is amazing how many people I have met (either virtually, through comments and conversation on my blog posts, or in person), how many things I have learned, and how many experiences I have had that never would have happened had I not taken it into my head a little more than 2½ years ago to start Meanwhile, at the Manse.

This past weekend was a banner example of that. Raymond and I were absolutely delighted to have a visit from two people who, 43 years ago this summer, were among the hordes of long-haired music-loving people who thronged to Queensborough to attend the Rock Acres Peace Festival at the Quinlin farm just west of our little hamlet.

Bert and Barry viewing the Rock Acres site

Bert (left) and Barry, having a look (from a distance) of the scene of their Rock Acres memories (musical and otherwise) all those years ago.

(Readers, in case you didn’t know, I can proudly tell you that Meanwhile, at the Manse is the internet’s go-to source for information about those three days of Woodstock-inspired peace and music in Queensborough back in August 1971. If you click here you’ll find my initial post, filled with all kinds of useful information [if I do say so myself] on our one and only [to date] rock festival; but you’ll find other posts on the subject, many of them incorporating fresh information that readers have kindly shared, on the home page of this blog [here] if you click on the Rock Acres Peace Festival category. The “Categories” section is on the right-hand side of the home page, about a screen and a half down from the top.)

Anyway, yes, Bert and Barry, who respectively hitchhiked and drove from the Toronto area in that summer of ’71 to attend Rock Acres, when they were respectively 17 and 19 years old, came back last weekend to revisit the scene. What a pleasure it was to meet them and hear their memories of the event! And of course to ask them questions about it. Yes, people of Queensborough who remember the rock festival, of course I asked them the most important question, the one you are doubtless wondering about. And the answer is: no, Barry and Bert were not among the throngs who chose to swim nude in the Black River to cool off from the August heat.

Barry, Bert and me

Here are Rock Acres veterans Barry (left) and Bert – and me. Could I be called a Rock Acres veteran? Given that I only experienced it from a couple of miles away from the site, in “downtown” Queensborough (where we could hear the music, and it was all very exciting) – well, maybe.

The guys have nothing but good memories of the event, having sensibly made the decision at the time to steer well clear of the one bit of unpleasantness that disrupted things on the Saturday night of the festival: the arrival of some members of the rival Satan’s Choice and Para-Dice Riders motorcycle gangs. They told us that as long as one left the bikers alone, the bikers would leave you alone. Sounds like a wise course of action – and one that left a lot more time for listening to the music and looking at the stars in the clear night sky. (An experience that Bert memorably wrote about in a comment a while back, and that I reported on here.)

An original Rock Acres ticket

A historic moment, for me at least: I got to hold Bert’s original Rock Acres Peace Festival ticket! (Photo courtesy of Bert Duclos)

I think we all found it hard to believe that it has been 43 years – 43 years! – since that memorable event. (I was 11 at the time, for the record.) In the interim we have all – Bert, Barry, Raymond (who wasn’t there, but who has heard so much about Rock Acres that he probably feels like he was) and me – grown up and got responsible jobs and all that stuff.

But as the lot of us kept saying over and over during their visit this past weekend: what a time it was. Not just Rock Acres, but the ’60s and the early ’70s in general. What a time to be young. What a great, great time.

That time when the UFOs stopped by

UFOYou just never know what stories you might hear when you’re chatting with folks.

For instance: at the recent pancake breakfast at the Queensborough Community Centre, an old friend of my family (from the days when my father was the minister at St. Andrew’s United Church here in Queensborough) got talking to me about my posts on the 1971 Rock Acres Peace Festival (here and here, among others). Which was all well and good, but then he suggested another topic that really got my attention: the time the UFOs visited Cooper!

Former Cooper United Church

The former United Church at Cooper.

(Cooper, for those who might not know, is a hamlet just a few miles north of Queensborough. Until its pretty little United Church was closed in 1967 (it is now a private home), it was part of the Queensborough Pastoral Charge of which Dad (The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick) was the minister. There are lots of ties between Cooper and Queensborough.)

Now, I had the dimmest of recollections from my youth of stories about strange happenings and suspected UFOs over Cooper, but I had to admit that until Norm mentioned the incident I’d completely forgotten it. I had to ask him to give me the details. Which were along the lines of:

One summer back in the early 1970s, several huge pieces of sod (turf? whatever the correct term is) were discovered lifted up wholesale from some farm fields at Cooper, and just moved! Now, who or what could have done that? And I believe the story also included some strange lights in the sky.

It seemed weird to me, as Norm told me the story, that I didn’t remember more about an event that must have been the absolute talk of the town around here. However, I’ve since figured out the reason for my lapse in memory. (And perhaps you’ll be relieved to know that it has nothing to do with my being taken aboard an alien ship and brainwashed.) A quick search on the internet revealed that the space aliens’ visit was in 1976, a year after my dad had moved on to another pastoral charge and my family had left Queensborough. So whatever I knew at the time about the UFO activity was gleaned from newspapers, not from what must have been humdinger first-hand accounts from friends and neighbours in Queensborough and Cooper.

Anyway, here’s the Canadian Press news report on the strange happenings, as printed on the front page of the Sudbury Star of June 12, 1976 (and part of a collection of Canadian UFO reports that you can find at noufors.com – NOUFORS standing for Northern Ontario UFO Research & Study):

Suggest ground displaced by landing gear
Suspect UFO landed near Belleville

COOPER, Ont. (CP) – A Toronto organization says evidence collected by its researchers indicates that one or more unknown, unconventional, aircraft are present in the area of this community about 35 miles north of Belleville.

Neptune Research, a private group that investigates unidentified flying objects, sent researchers last weekend to the farm of Reginald Trotter, who reported that three large pieces of earth had been mysteriously displaced in a field sometime during the last week of April.

Harry Tokarz, co-ordinator of the research group, said members of the group found three large triangle-shaped holes in the field. Soil had been pulled from the depressions to a depth of eight inches and placed neatly about 20 feet away, he said.

Mr. Tokarz suggested the earth was displaced by a disc-shaped object at least 75 feet in diameter.

He said his group assumes some type of heavy aerial craft, possibly fitted with a tripod form of landing gear, moved the chunks of earth as it attempted to land on an angle in the field.

Mr. Tokarz said rock and soil samples have been recovered from the field and have been submitted for analysis. The group sends its samples to private laboratories because it is conducting private investigations, he said.

A spokesman for the Ontario Provincial Police at nearby Madoc said CFB Trenton asked an OPP officer to take photographs and measurements at the Trotter farm.

A spokesman at the military base said earlier this week that the OPP report was forwarded to the Meteorite Observation Centre of the National Research Council in Ottawa where the information will be filed for reference purposes.

Mr. Tokarz said investigators will remain in the Cooper area until early next week to record information and do research on other reported sightings of UFOs in the area.

“So,” you must be asking yourself, “what ever happened? What did the analysis of the rock and soil samples reveal? What did the OPP and CFB (Canadian Forces Base) Trenton make of their investigations? What the deuce moved that soil in Cooper?”

People, I do not know. Do you? Are there readers who remember this crazy incident who might have more to add to the story? Does anyone have any photos of the mysteriously moved earth? Even if you don’t remember, do you have any theories about what might have happened?

The truth is out there… Please help me tell this story!

The Rock Acres Peace Festival musical mystery is solved

Rock Acres Peace Festival poster

Thanks to reporter Brett Mann and the Central Hastings News (and Tweed‘s excellent By the Way Café, whose owner, Lisa Ford, owns the poster), the world can see this original poster advertising Queensborough’s Rock Acres Peace festival. Do you recognize any of the names of those early-70s bands? (Photo courtesy of Brett Mann/Central Hastings News)

I have good news for all of you who remember, or have an interest in, Queensborough‘s one and only (to date) rock festival, the August 1971 Rock Acres Peace Festival. I’ve written about that momentous event several times before (notably here, but if you click on the Rock Acres Peace Festival category that you’ll find on the right-hand side of the home page of this blog, you’ll find all the other posts as well). However, one very important bit of information about Rock Acres has – until now – remained elusive: what bands played at our rock festival? It seems like the music is one thing that people who remember the festival don’t really remember all that well. Until now, pretty much the best information I’d been able to come up with was that The Stampeders were among the headliners.

But that has all changed, thanks to an excellent article in this week’s Central Hastings News by Tweed-area reporter Brett Mann. Brett was on hand when I spoke as part of the Friends of the Tweed Library Writers’ Series early this month, and had asked me some questions about Rock Acres. He told me he’d heard mention of it, but had always thought it was more myth or legend than actual event; I was pleased to assure him (and others in the audience who were in Queensborough at the time happily backed me up) that the Rock Acres Peace Festival had most definitely, really, truly happened.

Well, Brett took that information and decided to do some digging of his own, and the result is the aforementioned article, which you can read right here. He’s found two people who were connected with the festival (an organizer and a chap hired on security), and they have some very interesting memories to share.

But for me, the absolute best part was the photo of the Rock Acres poster that accompanied the article. Because: not only is it a great artifact in and of itself, but it names the bands. People, at last we have a clue to the soundtrack of Rock Acres!

Now, I wonder whether all the bands listed on the poster actually appeared, and at this late date we may never know. But I have to assume that some, if not most, of them did, and so this is very excellent information.

Do you recognize any of the band names? Some are familiar to me: April Wine and The Stampeders, of course, but also Crowbar, Edward Bear, maybe Fludd, and maybe Creed. And I presume “Major Hooples” is Major Hoople’s Boarding House – not to be confused with the endlessly unfunny ancient comic strip of a similar name, or with the British band Mott the Hoople. But Allister? United Power? Piledriver? Spriggs and Bringle? I’m afraid you’d have to hum me a few more bars. Quite a few, in fact. Anyone else recognize these names?

But whether the bands are still familiar or lost to midcentury musical history, how utterly fantastic to have that list! Excellent investigative work, Brett!