Want to be a genius pie-maker? Come to Queensborough!

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

The pie table at a community supper at St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, is proof that the art of pie-making is alive and thriving here.

I have noticed that the world is divided into two kinds of people:

  • Those who can make pie.
  • Those who cannot.

By my unscientific calculation, the second group outnumbers the first by a factor of about 377 million per cent.

It wasn’t always like that – at least, not in the world I grew up in, which was North America in the middle part of the 20th century.

In that world, every woman – or at least, every woman I knew, here in Queensborough and elsewhere – and also some men, could make pie. And by “make pie” I do not mean “could pour a can of pie filling into a frozen pre-made pie crust.” No, I mean taking a basket of freshly picked apples, or strawberries, or peaches, and peeling or pitting or stemming or whatever you had to do to them, adding some magic ingredients such as maybe cinnamon and definitely a whole lot of sugar, and then putting it into a homemade pastry shell, covering it with another piece of homemade pastry (possibly in the form of fancy latticework), crimping the edges prettily, cutting a few artful slashes in the top, and after it spending a certain length of time in the oven, producing a mouth-watering dessert that needed only a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a dollop of whipped fresh cream, or – if we’re talking apple pie, and if we’re in dairy-farm country like my own Hastings County – a slice of nicely aged cheddar to turn it into something that everyone at the table would adore and ask for seconds of.

That, people, is pie-making.

Pies at the church food tent

Homemade pies at the food tent that St. Andrew’s United Church, Queensborough, helped run at the Hastings County Plowing Match at the McKinnon farm just west of the village in the summer of 2016. We sold every piece!

But now that we’re well into the 21st century, it seems to be something of a lost, or at least disappearing, art. Can you make melt-in-your mouth flaky pie dough, dear reader? Can you make a raspberry pie that would have them coming back for seconds?

I know people – notably my mother, Lorna – who used to whip up homemade pies at the drop of a hat, but who for some reason have lost their pie-making mojo, or at least think they have. “I can’t make pie crust anymore,” my mum tells me quite frequently. I don’t think it’s true, but I do know that, unlike in the days of my childhood, she doesn’t make pie very often.

Then there’s the vast number of people – including me – who never had that mojo in the first place. For all of my life – until just a couple of weeks ago, and I’ll tell you that story in a bit – I’ve been unable to make pie, because I could not make pie crust. The few times I tried it, even under the watchful eye of an experienced pie-maker, the crust was an utter disaster, falling apart as I tried to roll it out, hard and unflaky when baked. It was a stressful, discouraging experience. I’ve always thought of people who could actually make great pie crust as being – well, kitchen magicians.

Ruth's pie vs. my pie

This is the time a couple of years ago that I tried to make a lemon meringue pie to contribute to a community event. The result – the pie on the left – was an appalling embarrassment, and went straight into the garbage. My pie-making neighbour Ruth, who just makes the best pies, saved the day with a lemon meringue pie of her own – the beauty on the right.

Carol's pie pastry recipe in my recipe box

Carol’s recipe for pie pastry, safely stored in my vintage recipe box.

(My recent modest conversion to the side of people who can produce a pie crust – if not necessarily yet a full pie – came about thanks to a conversation on the picket line, of all things. As many readers will know, faculty at all of Ontario’s community colleges were on strike for an agonizing five weeks this past fall. Since I’m a faculty member at Loyalist College in Belleville, that included me. As I walked the picket line with a colleague named Carol one day, we began talking about pie-making, and I referenced the same sad tale I’ve just told you about my lack of pie-making skills. Carol told me that if I had a food processor – which I do – I had no excuse, that she had a recipe that would never fail me. The next day, she produced it on one of those old-fashioned recipe cards. I tucked it away in my old-fashioned recipe box [of course you knew I’d have an old-fashioned recipe box] and promised Carol, and myself, that I’d try it one day. Well, that day came one late night two days before Christmas, when Raymond was making a fancy recipe for tourtière and the fancy recipe’s recipe for the dough failed utterly. Raymond was not happy, and I knew I had to step in if Christmas cheer was to be restored. “I have Carol’s recipe!” I told him, trying to sound more confident than I felt. I knew that if I messed up on the the pastry, and all those lovely tourtière ingredients – various meats, spices, vegetables, herbs, stock and so on – that Raymond had so painstakingly prepared couldn’t be baked in it, there’d be a whole lot of crankiness at the Manse. So I gathered my courage, followed Carol’s simple recipe to the letter – and voilà:

Tourtière saved by Carol

I like to call this “Carol saves Christmas.” The pastry isn’t perfect – you’ll spot the place where it had to be patched a bit – but it looked, and tasted, wonderful!

But just because I can now produce a pie crust doesn’t mean that I know anything about filling a pie, or doing that lattice-work thing with the top crust, or marking the edges look nice – Raymond did that with the tourtière – or actually baking it.)

I believe I’m safe in saying that those of us who can’t whip up a pie tend to be in awe of those who can. And that we would love to have that skill, would love to be able to proudly produce a delicious blueberry or lemon meringue pie, or a savoury chicken pot pie. In my case, I’d like to be able to be one of the women of Queensborough and area who, when a church supper or other community event involving food looms, turn out two or three delicious pies in a snap to contribute. My contributions always have to be something else, because of my pie-making shortcomings. Despite my recent start on the pastry front, I’m still out of the pie-making clubhouse.

Does my situation describe your own? Or are you maybe one of those people, like my mum, who thinks you’ve lost a knack you once had? Or are you maybe just in need of a bit of pie-making inspiration? Well, people, I am here to tell you that help is at hand! Right here! And soon! It’s your chance to learn about making pie from the best of the best: the women of Queensborough!

HQD QCC with Buddy Table

The Queensborough Community Centre, where the March 3 Master Pie-Making Class will take place. It’s at 1853 Queensborough Rd. But because of expected demand you’ll probably have to pre-register (rather than just showing up), so watch this space for details!

On Saturday, March 3,  at 1 p.m., there will be a Master Pie-Making Class at the Queensborough Community Centre – our village’s historic former one-room schoolhouse. At this session, you’ll have the opportunity to learn the art of pie-making from three of Queensborough’s best and most experienced pie-makers. And this won’t just be a watch-the-teacher-do-her-thing session; people, we are talking about hands-on learning! You will have flour on your hands, and you will be rolling out that pastry yourself, under the careful eye of a master of the craft.

Does it get any better than this? I think not.

Word of our Master Class has already gone out in some tourism and coming-events publications, and people are excited. Members of the community centre committee are being stopped in the aisles of the Madoc Foodland by people who want to come on March 3. It seems that even if the skill of pie-making has got a little bit lost these days, the interest in acquiring that skill has not.

We’re still working out some of the details of the pie-making session, like whether students will have to bring anything (probably not, aside maybe from an optional apron), and what kinds of pies we’ll make, and how much the fee for the session will be (small, but necessary to cover the cost of ingredients). So keep an eye on this space, on the Queensborough Community Centre Facebook page, and on the local media as we get closer to the date – or message me here if you have questions. Meanwhile, please feel free to tell your friends, family and neighbours – men and women! young and old! – about this amazing opportunity to learn pie-making from those who do it best.

I, by the way, will be the keener in the very front row.

A Queensborough miscellany, complete with porcupine

Roscoe, Liz and me at the Manse

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

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

Turkey Supper 2017

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

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

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

Keene wedding

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

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

Mailed to the Manse

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

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

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

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

In Queensborough, there’s always something going on

Turkey Supper poster 2017

Here’s the big news in Queensborough for the coming week: it’s time once again for the famous annual Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church. Please join us!

Today here at Meanwhile, at the Manse, we’re bringing you some bits and bobs of Queensborough news: a little of this and a little of that, and all of it good.

One reason for keeping things brief in this latest instalment is that it is too hot for anything right at the moment. This business of 32-degree temperatures at the end of September is seriously crazy. And when you live in a 130-year-old Manse that doesn’t have air conditioning, even hunkering over the keyboard of a laptop makes a person hot. So let’s keep it brief, shall we?

First things first: you need to know that this coming Wednesday, Sept. 27, is when the famous annual Turkey Supper takes place at St. Andrew’s United Church here in Queensborough. Now, I fully realize that high-summer temperatures in September may not put you in mind of a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but look at it this way: it’s too hot to cook! So let us do it for you! It’s always a splendid meal, topped off by our famouser-than-famous homemade pies. And all proceeds go to the work of our historic little church.

Pies at the church supper

Homemade pie is a very important part of the Turkey Supper!

If you joined us for the Turkey Supper last September, especially if you showed up close to closing time, you will know that something that had never before happened, in all the decades (six at least) of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper, did happen: we ran out of food. We were the victim of our own success! Never before had we had so many people attend our event. Only a very few people went away unfed, and they were mostly the hardworking men and women of the church who’d been cooking and serving all afternoon and evening, who took it in good humour – but still, this was unprecedented and unfortunate. It’s not going to happen again! This year people who formerly roasted one turkey are instead roasting two. (One of these is my husband, Raymond.) People who formerly peeled 10 pounds of potatoes are instead peeling 20 pounds. (One of these is me.) People who formerly made two pies are making three, or four. (That would be many sainted women from Queensborough and area.) So we are ready for the crowds!

And we hope you’ll come. It’s a lovely, old-fashioned church-social evening of great food and friendly conversation with people you’ve known forever and people you’ve only just met.

Okay, next on the list: a beautiful pop-up garden!

New garden in Queensborough

A beautiful (and unusual) garden that suddenly appeared a few days ago in front of the historic home of our new neighbours, the Alinards. What a lovely addition to the streetscape!

Speaking of St. Andrew’s United Church, I was walking up there from the Manse for the worship service this past Sunday, and I suddenly noticed that a beautiful new garden had appeared in front of a historic home along the way. Where for some years nothing but a patch of ever-larger weeds has stood, the young family who are the brand-new owners of the house (which was for many years the home of Goldie Holmes, Queensborough’s famous Quilt Lady) have created a gorgeous little fall-themed oasis. In it are ‘mums, a piece of driftwood (perhaps representing the family’s former home on the west coast), some vintage items, pumpkins of different colours and sizes, and pretty shrubs and rocks. How absolutely lovely! Bit by bit, almost every little corner of Queensborough is getting spruced up.

Halloween party 2016

What a great community Halloween party we had last year! The historic Queensborough Community Centre (formerly our village’s one-room school) had kids (and whole families) dressed up as everything from angels to superheroes, and enjoying games (like bobbing for apples), contests and dancing – not to mention treats! This year there are quite a few more kids in Queensborough, so Raymond and I are hoping for lots of trick-or-treaters at our door come Oct. 31.

And finally, speaking of that young family (whose wee son, Noah, is my new pal): there are so many kids in Queensborough all of a sudden! In the 5½ years since Raymond and I bought the Manse, our hamlet has gone from almost zero pre-school and school-age children to, at my last informal count, at least 10, with half a dozen more who don’t live here full-time but are frequent visitors (to grandparents’ homes or whatever). These kids hang around together, play games together, climb trees, build forts, and bring sparkling life to Queensborough.

Can you guess where this is going? Think: what’s the next big event in the lives of North American kids? You’ve got it: Halloween! When I was a kid growing up in Queensborough, it was the perfect place for Halloween. There were just enough houses to visit that your pillowcase (or in the case of us Sedgwick kids, your plastic pumpkin) would be filled with treats. And the place was small enough that everyone knew everyone else, which meant that the handing out of treats was always preceded by the householders having to guess which of the local kids were the masked trick-or-treaters at their door. There was no anonymous trick-or-treating in those days! And an added bonus was that the treats were often homemade: chocolate or maple fudge, or popcorn balls. Nothing better, if you ask me.

Now, I know the days of handing out homemade fudge on Halloween are gone. But I think we’re ready to go back to something not altogether dissimilar from the Queensborough Halloweens of my childhood: everybody knowing everybody; people who answer the door delighting in the cuteness and cleverness of the costumes worn by the kids, whom they know by name; a happy and friendly community atmosphere pervading the whole event. Possibly preceded by a community Halloween party a few nights earlier, as we had to great success last year.

All of which makes me realize: not only is there never a dull moment in Queensborough; there’s also always something to look forward to. We live in a happy little place!

The First People of Queensborough

Black River running through Queensborough

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

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

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

First page of Times to Remember

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

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

Historic Queensborough Day 2017 poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Group of Seven painter, and his link to Queensborough

A.Y. Jackson, one of Canada’s foremost landscape painters and a leading member of the Group of Seven – the group that changed the face of Canadian art.

The message was a bolt out of the blue: “Stop the press! Get ready for fantastic news. A donor is letting us display their A.Y. JACKSON painting of Queensborough for Historic Queensborough Day.”

I was stunned.

“Good God!” I responded. “Did you even know this painting existed?”

“Nope!” was the response.

Sometimes, people, amazing things just fall out of the sky. This was one of those times.

The message exchange was between me and my friend Elaine Kapusta. We’re two of the large group of volunteers working to put together Queensborough’s second Historic Queensborough Day, following up on the huge success of our first such event in 2014. This year’s edition takes place on Sunday, Sept. 10, and you can read a lot more about it in my post from last week, which is here. But let’s get right back to the amazing surprise of a painting of Queensborough by A.Y. Jackson, and the fact that it will be on display on Sept. 10.

As many of you will know, A.Y. Jackson is one of the most famous and highly regarded painters in Canadian history. He was a member of the Group of Seven, painters who basically changed Canadian art – and the way we look at the Canadian landscape – forever. Think Lawren Harris‘s paintings from north of Lake Superior and his mountainscapes (one of which sold at auction last year for $11.2 million, a Canadian record). Think Tom Thomson‘s scenes of ragged and hardy pine trees, notably his seminal work The Jack Pine. (Thomson was not a member of the Group of Seven, but was closely associated with them.) And yes, think A.Y. Jackson’s scenes of rural Quebec…


Baie-Saint-Paul by A.Y. Jackson


House at Baie-Saint-Paul by A.Y. Jackson

…and of the Canadian wilderness, particularly in Ontario’s near north:


The Red Maple, A.Y. Jackson


Frozen Lake, Early Spring, Algonquin Park by A.Y. Jackson

“A.Y. Jackson was a leading member of the Group of Seven and helped to remake the visual image of Canada,” says the Canadian Encyclopedia in its entry about him here.

The painters in the Group of Seven “spoke with a new voice – the voice of Canada,” says a fascinating National Film Board of Canada documentary about Jackson from 1941, which you can watch here. “A foundation member of the group, and foremost among those who spoke in this new way, is Alexander Young Jackson. Born in Montreal in 1882, he is today the leading Canadian landscape painter. He has travelled from the whaleback rocks of Georgian Bay to Baffinland and up to the Arctic. He has sketched in Halifax, and in the fishing villages of the Gaspé along the Gulf of St. Lawrence where houses cling to the steep cliffs. In doing so, he has produced his own essence of Canada – vast, rhythmic, vigorous.”

A.Y. Jackson working in rural Quebec

This picture of A.Y. Jackson sketching in rural Quebec comes from a National Film Board of Canada documentary featuring him and his work, called Canadian Landscape. You can watch it, and see Jackson sketching in the Canadian wilderness, here.

And now think about this: on Historic Queensborough Day, you will have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to view a painting of Queensborough by A.Y. Jackson!

I can hardly find the words to express how excited I am about this. Nor can I find sufficient words of thanks to the person (who wishes to remain anonymous) who has offered to make this one-day loan of such an important work of art.

Queensborough has long been known as a favourite destination, and subject, for artists. I wrote here about the days when students at the Schneider School of Fine Arts in the nearby Elzeviir Township hamlet of Actinolite would regularly pile into our little village, plunk themselves and their easels down at various street corners, and work on sketches of homes, sheds, barns and landscapes. When I close my eyes and think back to those days of my childhood, I can still remember the interesting and rather exotic scent of their oil paints that would waft up when you timidly looked over their shoulders to see their works in progress.

But to think that a member of the world-famous Group of Seven visited, and painted, here in Queensborough!

Goldie Holmes's Queensborough quilt

Goldie Holmes’s Queensborough Quilt.

The painting will be on display at the Queensborough Community Centre, which is headquarters for Historic Queensborough Day. Also at the centre – itself an important historic building in our hamlet, since it was our one-room schoolhouse from the time it was built in 1900 until the mid-1960s – will be a raft of displays of photos, documents and artifacts on many aspects of Queensborough’s history. Another highlight will be the display of Queensborough Quilt Lady Goldie Holmes‘s famous quilt featuring homes and buildings in the village. It too will be on show at the community centre (1853 Queensborough Rd.), thanks to a one-day-only loan from the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre where it usually resides.

But a painting of Queensborough by A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven – holy smokes! Surely you need no further inducement to come join us on Sunday, Sept. 10. Though in case you do, let me remind you that the day will also include:

  • Horse-drawn wagon tours of the village
  • A visit from Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald (a onetime Queensborough property-owner)
  • A presentation on the latest available research on Queensborough’s Indigenous history
  • A vintage and classic car show
  • A peek into some of the hamlet’s most interesting buildings
  • The opportunity to have your family’s portrait taken at the historic Kincaid house, and share for our records your connections to Queensborough
  • A visit to the amazing grounds and gardens at St. Mary of Egypt Refuge
  • Sunday worship in historic St. Andrew’s United Church
  • And food! There’ll be an all-day barbecue at the Queensborough Community Centre, and goodies and sweets also for sale there.

All this and a Group of Seven painting of our lovely little village: what more could you ask for?

How do you pack a church? With a worthy project – and music!

Packed church for music night

We’ve had some popular events, notably special anniversary services, at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough in recent years – but never have I seen the sanctuary as full as it was for Music Night last night.

You don’t see packed churches all that often anymore. But last night at St. Andrew’s United right here in Queensborough, every seat (including some extras in the aisles) was filled. What drew so many people to our little country church? An evening of crowd-pleasing music by some well-known local performers, and a good cause to support.

Music at the Church poster

The poster on the church doors that welcomed the crowd to Music Night.

Our small but spirited congregation organized Music at the Church night to raise money to send two Queensborough children to Camp Quin-Mo-Lac this summer. As you can see me explaining at the start of this video of the event made by Terry and Eileen Pigden of Centre Hastings TV, we wanted to undertake a new community outreach project, and sponsoring two children to attend Quin-Mo-Lac – a highly regarded United Church camp on the shores of Moira Lake just a few miles south of us – seemed like a good idea. It seemed like an even better idea when the idea of raising the money by holding a music night came up.

While you see me standing at the front of the church talking at the start of that video that the Pigdens were kind enough to come and make, I can take very little credit for the evening. It was very much an effort of the entire congregation; various people who’ll be embarrassed if I name them took on the jobs of lining up the entertainers, planning the program, handling seat reservations, setting up the church, and of course baking and serving the cookies that were served afterward.

And what a success it was!

Every seat in the church was filled, and some people watched from our overflow space in the church hall. The musicians – all of whom had donated their time and talent, and more on them in just a second – were absolutely wonderful. Throughout the evening the sanctuary resounded with appreciative applause, and at the end the organizers were peppered with a comment repeated over and over: “Do it again!”

Which I think we’ll have to! Because not only did everyone have a splendid time, but we met and slightly surpassed our fundraising goal. In one night, with this one event, our little church raised just a hair under $1,100, and some donations are still expected to arrive. This not only covers the full $990 cost of sending two kids to camp, but will help pay for any camping equipment they might need – and if not, will go into the send-kids-to-camp fund for next year. How do you like that?

We owe a huge, huge thanks to the musicians who were the “draw” for the night. In order of appearance, they were:

  • Katherine Fleming and Don Bailey (accompanied by Bob Watson), who sang haunting ballads, meaningful gospel, and an old-time crowd-pleaser that got the crowd singing and clapping (and broadly smiling) early in the evening. Here’s a taste of that wonderful moment:

  • Elementary-school students and ukelele superstars-in-the-making Morgan Beaton, Brooklyn Gylyktiuk and Fiona Fountain, along with their teacher, Deb Chatreau. What fun it was to hear them play (and in most cases sing) everything from pop standards to classical music. They too got the crowd singing along enthusiastically, with a rousing version of Harry Belafonte’s Jamaica Farewell. You can watch them (and the other musicians) perform on the video the Pigdens shot, Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Deb, Fiona, Brook and Morgan

From left, teacher Deb Chatreau, Fiona Fountain, Brooklyn Gylyktiuk and Morgan Beaton delight the crowd with their music and youthful energy.

  • Finally, there was a group that had just that day had decided to tongue-in-cheek christen themselves The Extended Teenagers: six performers with deep roots and a long musical history in this area. They are Betty McMurray, Jack McMurray, Betty Brinson, Danny Brinson, Doug Mumford and Joe Saunders – and boy, do they know how to please a crowd that loves country and gospel standards! They even included a haunting new song written by Joe Saunders during which, as one person said, you could have heard a pin drop. Here they are in action; please check out the CHTV videos to hear their songs.
The Extended Teenagers at St. Andrew's

The newly named Extended Teenagers: from left, Joe Saunders on lead guitar, Betty Brinson on keyboards, Danny Brinson on guitar, Betty McMurray on dobro, Jack McMurray on bass, and Doug Mumford on guitar. These performers know how to please a crowd!

I think the performers, the organizers at St. Andrew’s, and all the people who came out to enjoy the music and support the cause deserve a round of applause. What a wonderful, encouraging night for the life and work of our small rural church. Thank you, everyone!

In what is news to precisely no one: women’s work is never done

Peeling potatoes for the Turkey Supper

Me in the midst of peeling 20 pounds of potatoes late at night, after a long day’s work, in the cramped Manse kitchen. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

More than once here at Meanwhile, at the Manse I’ve paid tribute to my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, for somehow surviving the Manse years of my childhood. Now that I am living through the Manse years of my adulthood (having moved back to this great old house in Queensborough a while back), I think I have a much better appreciation of what was involved in raising four small children, working full-time as a high-school teacher, keeping a big old house in reasonable order, preparing three meals a day for an ungrateful lot (and this when she hated cooking), and last but certainly not least, fulfilling all the demands that were placed on a midcentury minister’s wife – including having company to dinner pretty much every single Sunday.

And all this without a dishwasher! Or many other of the conveniences we all take for granted today. (Mind you, Raymond and I still don’t have a dishwasher at the Manse.)

My mother told me not long ago that quite often on Friday afternoons, when she would arrive home at the Manse after a week of teaching, she would just sit in the car in the driveway for a while, too exhausted to immediately face the job of cooking supper for the family. Too exhausted to even face the family.

Now, my workload is not nearly as heavy as my mum’s was. For one thing, there are zero small children to raise, though there are three cats. For another, my husband does an immense amount of work around the house, including cooking meals more than half the time. That said, my paid job (co-ordinating and teaching in the journalism program at Loyalist College in Belleville) is probably more demanding and time-consuming than my mum’s job was. And I have a daily commute of almost an hour each way, whereas Mum only had the less-than-15-minute drive to Madoc and back, to teach at Centre Hastings Secondary School. And even though I don’t have minister’s wife duties, I do have quite a bit of work in my role as secretary at St. Andrew’s United Church. And then there is Meanwhile, at the Manse to produce!

Let’s just say that I sometimes feel, as I’m sure my mother felt a hundred thousand or so times back in those Manse days of my childhood, that I am really tired of being tired.

But who doesn’t feel that way these days? Every working person I know is putting in more hours than workers did even a generation ago. Nine to five? What the heck is that? And we’ve all got so much going on outside of work as well. The other day I was talking to a businesswoman in Madoc who works full time six, and often seven, days a week. How does she do it?

While I fully realize that many, many men (like my husband) work every bit as hard as their wives do, I’ve been thinking a lot about “women’s work” over the past two or three weeks. You won’t be surprised to know that these thoughts have been prompted by being at the Manse, and by thinking about my mum and the women of her generation, and the generations before that.

These reflections kind of got started on a recent Friday night, when, after a very long and trying week at work, I had to spend several hours in the Manse’s ridiculously small and poorly laid out kitchen/pantry doing prep work for a meal to be served to guests the next day. They are guests whom we always enjoy having over, and the meal was not at all a fancy one; but because Raymond and I had out-of-the-house stuff to do most of the following day, I had to get things ready Friday night – when, let me tell you, I was ready to drop from exhaustion. Here I am whipping the cream for the world’s greatest retro dessert at about 10 o’clock at night, feeling more than a little sorry for myself:


As I whipped, I kept thinking about my mum, and all those long-ago evenings in that very same kitchen when she, as exhausted as I was, would be using the hand-held mixer to prepare some dessert or jellied salad or other so as to lighten the load of same-day preparations for company. “How did she do it?” I kept wondering.

(But you know, it paid off: the next day when dinner was a snap to get on the table because of all the advance work that I’d done, I felt pretty pleased with myself. That, however, was after a good night’s sleep.)

I got thinking along the same lines last week, on the night before the Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church that I told you all about in last week’s post. My assigned task, because I am utterly incapable of baking one of those homemade pies that St. Andrew’s and Queensborough are so famous for, was to peel and cut up (into small pieces, so they’d cook quickly) 20 pounds of potatoes. People, do you know how long it takes to peel and cut up 20 pounds of potatoes? I’ll tell you. It takes exactly an hour and a half – 45 minutes per 10-pound bag of potatoes. There was a time when leaning over the kitchen sink for an hour and a half would have caused my back no problems whatsoever. But as a woman of a certain age, I can definitively say: this is not that time. And this hour-and-a-half mission happened, of course, after another very long day at work and another long commute home. You can see me hard at work on the potato front in the photo at the top of this post, and here’s another view where my peeling hands are just a blur!


But I hasten to add that I wasn’t really feeling sorry for myself on potato-peeling night. Instead I was thinking about all the other women of St. Andrew’s United Church and the wider Queensborough community who, that night and over the past several days, had worked way more than my measly hour and a half to prepare food and make everything ready for the Turkey Supper. And then there was the day to come, when many of the same women would be working all day long doing prep work and setup, then serving up the food at a furious pace during the 2½ hours of the supper, and then working late into the night to clean everything up. And people, I hope I’m not giving away any secrets if I say that most of those women are older than I am – some by quite a bit.

They are amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Every year I vow that I will take lots of photos of our Turkey Supper, and every year I fail to fulfill that mission. Why? Because I’m so busy running around helping out! There’s just no time to stop and take photos. And most especially not this year, when – thanks in part to you excellent people – we had what was probably the biggest crowd in the long, long history of St. Andrew’s Turkey Suppers.

Cars parked all through Queensborough for the Turkey Supper

“The cars were parked all over Queensborough!” one visitor to our Turkey Supper told me, completely accurately. I am pretty sure it was the biggest turnout in the history of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper.

Turkey Supper 2016

A view of the newly renovated hall at St. Andrew’s packed with people who were there for our famous Turkey Supper.

Turkey Supper 2016 2

Another shot of the Turkey Supper diners, featuring Raymond (in the checked shirt) who, with our minister, Norm Long, never stopped pouring coffee and tea.

I hope my photos give you some sense of how busy we were. Thanks to ticket sales and donations, our church has received a wonderful financial boost that will help its work a lot in the coming year. But oh, how I wish I had photos or video of Lorraine mashing the potatoes and keeping a steady stream of warm and delicious food coming out of the oven; of Ann Lee making sure all the trays on the buffet table were always filled; of Joan and Stephanie and Barb and Wanda and Lorna and Doris tirelessly washing and drying the plates, cutlery and glasses over and over and over as they kept being used over and over and over; of Netta and Debbie and Susanna racing to clear tables and install new place settings in time for the next round of diners! How I wish I could show you Eilene, making pot after pot of coffee and tea; of Joan, filling bowl after bowl of salads; of Lois, cutting and serving up dozens and dozens of pies; of Sandra, keeping track of when there were spaces at the table and summoning expectant diners to fill them; and especially of Betty, overseeing the whole shebang, as she has done for so many years, and doing a fantastic job. And how I wish I could show you the bustle – exhausted bustle, but bustle nonetheless – as everyone worked to clean everything up afterwards – on empty stomachs, because the crowds were so huge that there was no turkey dinner left to feed these hard-working volunteers!

Pictures failed me. And really, so do words.

Except this: thanks to the work of these women, of women like my mother, who have spent the majority of the days of their lives working until they were ready to drop – we have been fed, and cared for. The world is a much better place for “women’s work.”