Neighbours, and kindness, and help when you need it

flat tire on Highway 7

This is the only photo I took of our itinerary-altering flat tire, and I am wildly disappointed in how poorly it shows just how flat that tire was. But be assured (and we have witnesses): it really couldn’t have been flatter. Just what you need when you’re setting out on a long trip home.

Well! Raymond and I have just had a somewhat more eventful (and longer) weekend in Queensborough than we had planned.

We had expected it to be one of our flying visits, arriving at the Manse after work – okay, after my work; Raymond is now retired, though amazingly busy for all that – late on Friday night, and heading back to Montreal after church at St. Andrew’s United on Sunday. But there was the small matter of a tire flatter than a pancake (discovered through sheer dumb luck, as Professor McGonagall would say, thanks to a spur-of-the-moment pit stop in tiny Kaladar) and unable to be fixed when it’s Sunday and you’re “north of 7” (Highway 7, the Central Ontario Route of the Trans-Canada Highway and also, in Hastings County and points east and west, the demarcation point between, as poet Al Purdy put it, “the fat south/with inches of black soil on/earth’s round belly” and the “bush land scrub land” – the barrenness and, for 19th-century homesteaders, heartbreak of the rocky Canadian Shield). Our flat-tire mishap meant that we had to stay an extra day and night in Queensborough. I had to use up a vacation day from work, but that was all right; we got some stuff done that otherwise would have had to wait, and hey, we got to spend a bit more time in tiny and pretty Queensborough.

But what I wanted to tell you about was not so much our misadventure (or, depending on how you see it, adventure) but the kindness of our Queensborough friends and neighbours.

Having discovered the flattened tire in the hamlet of Kaladar (and mercifully not farther east and in the middle of nowhere, though Kaladar is not that far from the middle of nowhere), we hied our way across Highway 7 to a gas bar with an air pump and filled it right up. And then, figuring we were better off heading back to a place where we have a spare vehicle (Raymond’s red truck) than further east on Highway 7 with a dodgy tire and a road with a whole lot of nothingness on it, and on a Sunday to boot, we turned around and drove back west. But by the time (20 kilometres or so) we’d turned north off 7 onto Queensborough Road, the tire was totally flat again. We couldn’t carry on.

What to do? People, neither of us had ever changed a tire in our lives before. Apparently we had both led a charmed existence on the flat-tire front, until yesterday. We dug out the car manual and tried to figure it out, and more or less did, but executing the tire change was more than we could manage. (Tight lug nuts and whatnot. Don’t get me started.)

As Raymond was making unhappy noises while struggling with all of this, I suddenly thought: Wait a minute. There are people – friends and neighbours – in Queensborough, just a few minutes up the road, who are far more used to dealing with these kinds of situations than we city slickers are. So I called our friend John, who looks after our yard and does a lot of other good maintenance work around Queensborough – you can read about his latest efforts here – and said (to paraphrase, but only just): “HELP!”

And John said: “Chris Moak’s your man. I’ll call him.” Chris owns a busy and successful Queensborough business called Smokey’s Towing, and given the nature of that business has seen and dealt with a lot of car problems. So John kindly called Chris and directed him our way, called me back right straight and said he’d done so, and Chris showed up in no time. And had that spare tire put on in just a few minutes, and gave us some good what-to-do-when-driving-on-a-spare advice.

So we (slowly) drove the crippled car back to the Manse, where Raymond got into the red truck, and we headed off to our Madoc garage, Derry’s Dipsticks and Driveshafts. Odd name, great garage. Excellent service, fair prices, no nonsense. We left the car there with a note explaining its presence so that the Derry’s people would know what was up when they arrived at work Monday morning. And we headed back in the red truck for a quiet evening at the Manse. And while we were doing that, I left a phone message for our across-the-way neighbours Chuck and Ruth, whom we’d seen Sunday morning and to whom we’d announced that we were heading back to Montreal. I didn’t want them to worry that intruders had taken over the Manse when they saw lights in it on Sunday night, which is why I left the message. (Chuck and Ruth were, like pretty much everyone else in the area, off at the Madoc Fair on Sunday afternoon.)

Okay, so it’s mid-Sunday afternoon and we’re back at the Manse, and there’s time for a nice late (very late) breakfast and even a nap. And while I was still napping, but Raymond was up, a knock came at the door. It was Ruth: “We got your message, and we didn’t know if you’d have anything for supper, so I brought you some things.” How lovely is that? Including freshly picked garden tomatoes! And homemade cookies!

We walked over to thank Chuck and Ruth. And then we popped in to see our nearby friends and neighbours Jen and Ed, and we left that visit with a big mason jar of Jen’s just-made spicy black bean soup.

And when we got back to the Manse, I thought: wow.

John being at the other end of the line and knowing just what to do and whom to call, just when we needed it. Chris getting us on the road in no time flat. Ruth and Chuck bringing supper. Jen and Ed always being there, and sending us home with a future supper. In small rural places, like Queensborough, that’s the way it works. People really do help each other out.

This morning, we took the red truck to Dennis Derry’s garage – where he charged us a grand total of $16 and change for fixing the tire. As Raymond says, you couldn’t put a foot in a garage in Montreal for that kind of money. Raymond drove the truck back to the Manse, and I followed him in the newly repaired car. It was a bright sunny day, and the rocky north-of-7 landscape was beautiful.

And I found my eyes filled with tears as I reflected on the kindness and help we have received in this rocky north-of-7 place. What a gift it is for us to have found that place. And more especially, to have found the people, our friends and neighbours, who live there.

Building Highway 7

Highway 7 under construction in 1932

It looks a lot different from the nicely paved Highway 7 we know today, doesn’t it? This is the well-known east-west highway under construction in 1932. Keith Millard, who graciously supplied the photo, says it was probably taken near Flinton Road, which is just east of where the buses now stop at Actinolite. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

My new cross-country pal Keith Millard – who discovered Meanwhile, at the Manse while researching the history of his family, the Kleinsteubers, who established the German Settlement in Elzevir Township in the mid-19th century – recently sent me a couple of very cool photos that I thought you folks would be interested in. They show Highway 7 in the Actinolite area when it was under construction, in 1932. These days one takes Highway 7 – part of the Central Ontario Route of the Trans-Canada Highway – so much for granted; it’s smooth and wide and nicely paved (especially after last year’s construction work on it; Raymond and I thought it was very thoughtful of the construction folks to redo Highway 7 just as we started using it regularly to travel between Montreal and the Manse in Queensborough), and it’s just there. And useful. But once upon a time it wasn’t there, and it had to be built. And what a project that must have been! Given that Keith’s photos are from 1932, in the Great Depression, I had guessed that the construction was a job-creation project, and that turns out to be correct. According to an excellent history of the highway here, the section between Peterborough and Perth was built in the ’30s to provide work (and thus income) to many labourers in those terrible times.

We know that these photos were taken in Elzevir Township because they come via two chaps named Art Robinson and Peter Forbes, who are seen in the picture I’m about to show you and who, Keith tells me, had homes in Elzevir’s German Settlement. Here’s another shot of the highway construction showing the two men:

Another view of Highway 7 under construction, this one showing Peter Forbes and Art Robinson, who lived in that part of Elzevir Township. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

Another view of Highway 7 when it was under construction, this one showing Peter Forbes and Art Robinson, who lived in that part of Elzevir Township. (Photo courtesy of Keith Millard)

Really, it is quite something to be taken back in time by great old photos like these. And to be reminded of what a huge undertaking it must have been to blast through the rock of the Canadian Shield and build a stretch of road that nowadays we zoom over without thinking about it. Thanks for the history lesson, Keith!

Our area needs a hospital – and I know just the spot

A prime piece of property, right on Highway 7, beside the new McDonald's: I know just what to do with it.

Prime property, right on Highway 7, beside the new McDonald’s: I know just what to do with it.

It is a burr under my saddle, a bee in my bonnet, that the Madoc/Tweed/Marmora/Queensborough area is so far from a hospital. It worries me. I would have no concern making the 50-minute trip to Belleville General Hospital in Belleville for non-urgent things like, I don’t know, a broken arm; but 50 minutes is a long time if you’ve had a heart attack or have been in a serious accident. And a recent report in the local press about average ambulance-response times in central Hastings County – more than eight minutes in some cases, which is an eternity if you’ve had a heart attack – doesn’t make me feel any better.

So yeah, if you live in central Hastings the nearest hospitals – or more to the point, emergency rooms – are in Belleville, Bancroft (an hour away) and Campbellford (also an hour). And yes, I know we live in a rural area and you can’t have everything. But hear me out.

The combined population of the greater Madoc, Tweed and Marmora areas – through which, I want to stress, runs heavily travelled Highway 7, the Trans-Canada Highway, where accidents happen regularly – is just under 17,000. If you add in the nearby areas that would doubtless also make use of a regional ER (Havelock in Peterborough County to the west, Stirling-Rawdon in Hastings to the south, and Addington Highlands in Lennox and Addington County to the east), the population total rises to almost 30,000.

Meanwhile, the Campbellford area’s population is about 12,000 (though the hospital’s catchment area would go into Stirling and also the Havelock area, so okay, maybe 25,000 total). Bancroft’s population is less than 4,000. Picton, in Prince Edward County south of us, has a hospital, and its population is less than 5,000. Lindsay, in nearby Victoria County (or, as it’s officially and boringly known because of a boneheaded decision of a few years back, Kawartha Lakes), has a hospital, with a population of about 20,000. And little Minden, Ont. (where I was born), in Haliburton County, local population less than 6,000? Yes, you guessed it: it has a small hospital, complete with ER.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

We don’t need a full-service hospital. We don’t need long-term or rehabilitative care; that can be done in Belleville (or in non-hospital facilties), for sure. But I think we need a small but well-equipped ER where emergency and trauma cases can be efficiently dealt with, with a helipad so patients can be transferred quickly to a larger centre if need be. It doesn’t have to be a big sprawling building, so it doesn’t need a big property. Parking can be underground and the helipad can be on the roof (as opposed to on an adjacent piece of land).

It should be very close to Highway 7. It should be centrally located. I know just the spot.

It’s the lot beside the brand-new McDonald’s in Madoc, a vacant space that currently has a big sign on it inviting development. It’s not a huge piece of land, but I think it’s big enough. The location is perfect, right at the intersection of Highway 7 and Highway 62, and not a long drive from either Tweed or Marmora.

Now, I know it’s a big deal even in the best of economic times to get a new hospital built. It requires great drive from the broad community, and it needs tough and determined people to lead the charge and raise money. But it can be done. And it should be done.

It would make our area much more attractive to companies that could provide jobs, and to new residents who would add to the tax base. And I bet it would save a lot of lives.

Shall I make it my mission? Anybody else in?

A year’s worth of adventures in Queensborough, at the Manse

Raymond and me at the January 2012 community skating party at the millpond in Queensborough in January 2012, a few days before we became the official owners of the Manse. A lot has happened since then!(Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

Raymond and me at the community skating party at the millpond in Queensborough in January 2012, a few days before we became the official owners of the Manse. A lot has happened since then! (Photo by Elaine Kapusta)

This is the last day of the year. Not the calendar year, obviously, but the year that has gone by since Raymond and I bought the Manse – the house I grew up in – in Queensborough, Ont. Tonight’s post will be No. 314 – one for every day of the past year (minus Sundays, my day of rest; but including Feb. 29, since 2012 was a leap year). That’s a lot of writing! Though since it’s about a subject very close to my heart, it hasn’t seemed like work. As I often tell people, this blog practically writes itself.

Anyway, year-end being often a time for reflection and looking back, I thought I’d take a trip back through the past 12 months and a few of the adventures Raymond and I have had as we’ve adjusted to the idea that we own this historic house – that needs a lot of work – in tiny, pretty Queensborough.

(We are, by the way, still adjusting.)

Okay, here we go, month by month:

January 2012

January 2012: We visited our new acquisition on a cold, grey winter day. We took measurements of rooms, and wondered: what on earth have we got ourselves into?

February 2012

February 2012: Thanks to some demolition work by my brother John, the turquoise colour on the kitchen’s original plaster walls – the colour that I remember from my childhood – is revealed, for the first time in about 40 years.

March 2012

March 2012: As the weather turned nicer, Raymond and I started taking drives along  the rural roads in the area. And soaking up the fact that old, evocative things like split-rail fences were still to be found as part of the landscape of central Hastings County.

April 2012

April 2012: On a gorgeous spring day, we finished raking all the leaves and debris from the Manse’s expansive lawn. And it looked beautiful in the afternoon spring sunshine. And we were very proud of ourselves.

May 2012

May 2012: Raymond buys his long-dreamed-of red pickup truck, especially for service at the Manse. Now all he needs is a beagle named Kip to ride shotgun.

June 2012

June 2012: We attended our first Hastings County auction, near Stoco, featuring the amazing and popular local auctioneer Boyd Sullivan (here holding up – well, a china chicken). We took in several more auctions as the year went on, and can’t wait until auction season starts again in spring 2013.

July 2012

July 2012: A zen moment at the Manse on a hot summer day, looking out from the shade of the side lawn to the intersection of two of Queensborough’s busiest streets – “busy” by Queensborough standards, of course.

August 2012

August 2012: The annual summer service at beautiful and historic Hazzard’s Corners Church, where my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was once the minister. We were all joining in as the featured performers sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Perfect.

September 2012

September 2012: On Labour Day Monday, the last day of summer before the school year began – and a scorcher as the great drought of 2012 continued – Raymond and I paid a visit to my beloved Madoc Township Public School, where I attended Grades 1 through 6 from 1966 to 1971. The bell rang for recess just as we were leaving.

October 2012

October 2012: A new painting on the walls of the Manse – a landscape showing the Hazzard’s Corners area by Vera Burnside, a wonderful teacher, Sunday School teacher, artist and friend whom I remember so fondly. I bought the painting at – of course – a local auction.

November 2012

November 2012: The last of the late-fall sunshine shining (after a storm) on the trees and the Black River at the heart of Queensborough.

December 2012

December 2012: Raymond’s Christmas tree made of books in the Manse study.

January 2013: One of the most fun of the many links and interesting tidbits that readers have sent over the year: a song celebrating (sort of) Highway 7, the Trans Canada Highway, as it runs through the little villages in Queensborough’s neck of the woods – like Actinolite, which is only 10 minutes away. You readers find, and know, and send, the most amazing things.

And I hope you will continue to, as Meanwhile, at the Manse heads into Year 2. Tell Raymond and me more about renovating a Victorian brick house; tell us more about historic linoleum and plaster; tell us definitively how to get all those layers of wallpaper off the walls; tell us how to grow a garden. Tell us your Queensborough stories, your Hastings County stories, your North of Seven stories.

It’s really all about telling stories, isn’t it?

A McDonald’s in Madoc, on the “bypass”: good or bad thing?

McDonald's is open for business in Madoc, and it was big news in the local newspapers. This photo is from the Belleville Intelligencer, and you can read reporter Mark Hoult's report on the new business here.

McDonald’s is open for business in Madoc, and it was big news in the local newspapers. This photo is from the Belleville Intelligencer, and you can read reporter Mark Hoult’s report on the new business (still, as of the time the photo was taken, minus the giant Golden Arches) here.

It was a big deal for the small village of Madoc when it was announced several months ago that a McDonald’s franchise would be built just outside town – on what we used to call, back in the day, “the bypass.” Those days of the 1960s and early 1970s were when terrible things happened to towns large and small thanks to the “modern” idea of “the bypass.” They were the days when good highways were new, gas was cheap, and speed was what one wanted in travel. Ergo, bypassing towns in which you had to reduce your speed to 30 miles an hour (this was before metric, people) via a highway just outside of the town limits was considered a highly desirable thing. And the result was that an incredible number of villages and towns were “bypassed” – by the traffic, and thus by economic opportunity. And ruined, or very nearly. It was basically the worst civic-planning decision of all time. All in the name of progress.

But anyway, the bypass of downtown Madoc exists in the form of “Number Seven Highway,” as people of a certain vintage charmingly call it. No. 7 is the Trans-Canada, and zips straight through from Ottawa to Peterborough and thence carries on along the northern edge of Toronto, though many westbound travellers head south at Peterborough, via Highways 35/115, to the 401 and on to Toronto.

At the point on “the bypass” where it intersects with another highway, #62 running straight north from Belleville through Madoc and on to Bancroft and beyond, a bit of a commercial centre is springing up. There is a Tim Horton’s and an Ultramar – and, as of these past recent weeks, a McDonald’s. You can’t blame these operations for choosing location, location, location; it’s a busy crossroads, not only for cars but also for transport trucks and, in their various seasons, ATVs and snowmobiles. The parking lot at the new, open-24-hours McDonald’s is set up for all those vehicles and buses too.

I’ve heard a lot of local people express dismay at the coming of the Golden Arches. They worry – justifiably – about travellers, and locals too, stopping there for breakfast or lunch or supper rather than patronizing the restaurants in town, off the bypass. They see it as an unwelcome intrusion by Corporate America into a pretty, unique and off-the-beaten-track little village. I totally get that.

There’s another side to the coin, though. For one thing, my understanding is that the McDonald’s has agreed to have a sizeable display of brochures and other local tourist information. If travellers who would ordinarily whiz by will now stop at the Madoc McDonald’s – “McMadoc,” as the ads in the local papers call it, which I find rather cute – for a bathroom break at minimum, and maybe a meal, and into the bargain are able to find out what lies in the area beyond the bypass – well, they might just possibly venture a bit south into the village itself. And they will discover treasures like the Hidden Goldmine Bakery and the Country Treasures gift, antiques and collectibles store, not to mention coffeehouse Amazing Coffee, Johnston’s venerable gift shop and pharmacy, the fantastic One Stop Butcher Shop, the Barley restaurant and pub, a couple of good pizza places, and quite a lot more. Or they might decide to turn north and discover the O’Hara Mill living-history site and conservation area, or try some Eldorado Cheese Factory cheese, or go as far north as Bancroft, “The Mineral Capital of Canada” – or even, if we Queensborough folks have our planned walking-tour brochures on display, come and see beautiful and historic little Queensborough.

And aside from all that, McDonald’s is very good about having wi-fi available, helpful in an area where internet connections can still be a tad dicey. And it will be handy too for those who might want a late-night nosh in a place where most restaurants are closed pretty early in the evening. Or to any of us on the occasion once or twice a year when we really crave a Sausage McMuffin With Cheese.

And it brings jobs, which is not a small consideration.

So I am going to vote, for now, on the positive side of the new McDonald’s, the McMadoc. And hope it doesn’t turns out to have been a terrible move.

Like the bypass.

The bus stops – where?

Contrary to what one might expect, there is in our experience almost always a bus stopped at the modest Log Cabin restaurant outside Actinolite. We pass it on the final stage out our journey to Queensborough from Montreal. (Photo by Vlastula via Flickr)

Contrary to what one might expect in kind of the middle of nowhere, there is in our experience almost always a bus stopped at the modest Log Cabin restaurant outside Actinolite. We pass it on the final stage on our journey to the Manse in Queensborough from Montreal. (Photo by Vlastula via Flickr)

When Raymond and I are beetling along good old Highway 7 (the Trans-Canada) on our way to the Manse from Montreal late on a Friday night, through hot spots like Sharbot Lake and Maberly and Kaladar, we have a standing question/joke: when we get to the outskirts of Actinolite (the tiniest place of them all, and very close to our final destination, Queensborough), will there or won’t there be a Greyhound bus at the Log Cabin?

The Log Cabin, you see, has been a stop on the Highway 7 bus route for – well, I want to say time immemorial, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. But for a long time. And it’s not just a stop to let passengers on and off; the Log Cabin is a restaurant, so it’s a rest stop, allowing bathroom breaks and telephone breaks (not that people need that much anymore, thanks to cellphones) and snack breaks and cigarette breaks. And it is amazing how many times – like, 9 times out of 10 – when we drive by, there is indeed a bus stopped at the Log Cabin, with passengers milling about outside taking their smoke breaks or whatever.

One wonders: how can there be that many buses going east and west along Highway 7 (between Ottawa and Peterborough and then on to Toronto) that there’s almost always a bus stopped at the little old Log Cabin? Mind you, on our drive on 7 from Perth to Queensborough Road (just a bit west of the Log Cabin) we do tend to see at least a couple of moving buses per trip. But still: how can there be a stopped one at Actinolite almost all the time? It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe.

I got thinking about the Log Cabin (and more on it a little bit later) and bus stops on Highway 7 because of something I found last night when I was looking online (in vain) for a photo of our bread man back in the Manse days, Bill Willemsen, and his bread truck – the subject of yesterday’s post.

One thing I did find was this article from the Ottawa Citizen way back in March 1980:


Now that is good stuff, is it not? The big old bus company (Voyageur in those days, before Greyhound took it over) forced to back down in the face of being told by its customers, drivers and everybody else that Bill Willemsen ran a very fine operation and the buses should keep on stopping there.

The Windmill is, sadly, long gone, and Bill himself died some years ago. But one thing that puzzles me about this article is that it suggests that the Windmill was the main rest stop for the buses in that region – a place for passengers “to stretch their legs and get a bite to eat on the long trip to points west.” So where does that leave the Log Cabin at Actinolite, just a few miles east? There’s no way there would have been two rest stops so close to each other. But for untold years – way back to when I was a kid at the Manse, and long before then – the Log Cabin had been where the buses stopped.

See? Even way back in the day the bus stopped the the Log Cabin restaurant, here as it originally appeared. This photo supplied by the wonderful Tweed and Area Heritage Centre (I've written about it here and here) appeared in the fall 2011 issue of Country Roads magazine.

See? Even way back in the day the bus stopped the the Log Cabin restaurant, here as it originally appeared. This photo, supplied by the wonderful Tweed and Area Heritage Centre (I’ve written about it here and here, among other posts), appeared in the fall 2011 issue of Country Roads magazine.

You don’t have to take my word for it. An article by John Hopkins about the history of the hamlet of Actinolite that appeared in the fall 2011 issue of the wonderful Hastings County magazine Country Roads says: “In the summer of 1933 Price’s Log Cabin was opened on Highway 7 and the service station and restaurant became an almost indispensable stop for travelers on the new highway. Part of the Log Cabin’s appeal was its black bears, and tourists would stop to have their pictures taken with the animals, share their lunch or simply take a look. Teddy, the original tenant, was one of two cubs found in the area in May, 1933 while in 1950 Buster and Bandy joined him. When Teddy died in September, 1964 at the age of 31 it was the cause of much sadness in the area.” (You can read the full article here. And if you’re interested in Hastings County, let me tell you that Country Roads is well worth picking up when you’re in the area, or subscribing to.)

Anyway, back to the bus-stop situation. All I can think of is that something happened so that the Log Cabin lost the rest-stop rights for a while, and the honour went to Bill Willemsen’s Windmill Restaurant. But with the Windmill long gone, and the Log Cabin still operating, I suppose things have reverted.

That said, the Log Cabin isn’t what it used to be. (Is anything?) When I was a kid growing up in Queensborough, going out for a meal at the Log Cabin was quite the treat, being served your hamburger by waitresses as you sat in the very funky rustic-styled wooden chairs that looked (perhaps except for the many coats of varnish) like they really did belong in a log cabin. The last time I stopped in was probably 15 years ago – long before I ever dreamed of buying the Manse – and it was kind of a bare-bones self-serve cafeteria-style operation. But I’m sure the hungry bus passengers appreciate it.

Anyway, two more things and I shall completely exhaust my store of Madoc-Actinolite bus-stop lore. Are you still with me?

This is not a terribly helpful image, but just to say that the Gateway Restaurant in downtown Tweed has, I am pretty sure, the old wooden tables and chairs that used to be in the Log Cabin at Actinolite.

This is not a terribly helpful image, but just to say that the Gateway Restaurant in downtown Tweed has, I am pretty sure, the old wooden tables and chairs that used to be in the Log Cabin at Actinolite.

One: While the Log Cabin no longer has those rustic wooden tables and chairs, I think I know who does. One day a few years back (still long before I ever thought I might one day own the Manse) I happened to be in the nearby village of Tweed, and stopped in for lunch at the Gateway Restaurant on the main street. And was delighted to see it furnished in part with those very same (if I’m not mistaken) tables and chairs. I wish I’d thought to take a photo of them, then or since; Raymond and I go to the Gateway often for breakfast or lunch when we’re staying at the Manse, so there’s no excuse. But I did find this tiny one (at left) online, and it kind of gives you the idea.

Because every good bus stop should have a bear or two. (Photo by J.A.S. Keay)

Because every good bus stop should have a bear or two. (Photo by J.A.S. Keay)

And two: about those bears that John Hopkins’s article mentions. Yes, Teddy apparently died in 1964 (the year my family moved to the Manse), but Buster and Bandy were very much alive, well and drinking Coke out of Coke bottles, much to the entertainment of bus passengers, car travellers, and those of us who lived in the area, back in the long-ago day when I was young. I made them guests of honour in a blog post a while back – it’s here – and I am re-using a photo (taken by my grandfather) of Buster (or is it Bandy?), just because I can.

And because it makes me smile to think about the old days at the Log Cabin. Where the buses still stop. A lot.

A trip to Flinton: back of beyond, or a place showing the way?

Flinton may be small, but it does have a cute little restaurant/café/shop, the River Cottage Café. Which means there’s a place for locals and visitors who may pass through to get a cup of coffee and a bite to eat – and that’s a welcome thing in a tiny village.

Flinton is a small village just across the county line from Hastings, in neighbouring Lennox and Addington County. My mother used to use phrases like “the back of beyond” and “the end of the world” when she referred to it, and when Raymond and I went for an afternoon drive there one recent Saturday I could kind of see why. Queensborough (where the Manse is) may be a little off the beaten path and not really on the road to anywhere, but it’s still only 15 minutes in different directions from two busy little towns, Madoc and Tweed. Flinton, on the other hand, is a good long drive along a county road that seems to go on and on and on once you turn north off Highway 7 (the Trans Canada) a little east of Actinolite. (Both Actinolite and Flinton were founded by Billa Flint – hence Flinton’s name – who was an early entrepreneur in the area, eventually mayor of Belleville, a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada before Confederation, and a Canadian senator. And a temperance man. So there.) Its nearest “towns” are Northbrook and Kaladar; Northbrook has some commerce and a regional school, but Kaladar is not too much more than a crossroads.

Flinton’s old Methodist Church, which is what I assume must have become the United Church that I have the vaguest of memories of visiting in the late 1960s. It seems to be a private home now.

My family used to visit Flinton fairly regularly back in the late 1960s because my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was for a while the supervising minister of the Flinton-Cloyne Pastoral Charge of the United Church of Canada. That is, the charge had its own minister, but he was not fully ordained; I guess he was a diaconal minister or some such. So an ordained minister was needed to perform certain services, such as baptisms and weddings, and that was Dad. I guess the reason why the whole kit and caboodle of the Sedgwick clan went along when Dad visited the Flinton-Cloyne charge was that the Flinton minister and his wife (whose names I’m afraid I cannot remember) had several children – five, if memory serves – who were not far removed from our ages. (I recall playing my very first game of Twister in the Flinton manse.)

So I was curious to see what Flinton looked like all these years later. It was bigger than I expected, with quite a few houses, a recreational centre (that’s what they call arenas these days) which that day was bustling because a community turkey supper was being served, and several actual streets. And there were two churches that seemed to still be operational, though the United Church was, sadly, not one of them. While it does seem remote, Flinton is quite an attractive little place.

This is what I find welcoming when I visit a small rural community: a sign that says “Café (or store, or restaurant) Open.” Bravo to Flinton for that!

But best of all was this: there was a commercial enterprise! Actually, there were two; one seemed to be some kind of bare-bones antiques-and-collectibles place, though as far as we could see the materials on offer were old tools, which don’t interest us too much. But the other was a little restaurant/café, with tables out front and some young people (local, I think) enjoying them. While we were a little pressed for time and so couldn’t pop in, I have to say that just seeing the “Open” sign at the little River Cottage Café made my heart leap. A village with a place where you can get a cup of coffee and some information about the local area just seems so much more alive than a village where you can’t. At the risk of sounding like a diehard consumer, there’s just something welcoming about a place that gives you the opportunity to spend money.

(My favourite examples of this, by the way, are all the tiny places in New England where there are just a cluster of homes but some great old general stores, selling all manner of stuff and freshly brewed Green Mountain Coffee and sandwiches to boot – and the stories and information you can pick up from the denizens are of course free of charge.)

So while Flinton may be remoter than Queensborough, I applaud the entrepreneurs behind its River Cottage Café for giving it some commercial life. And, without wanting to give away too many Queensborough secrets, I will say that I eagerly await the day when a similar kind of enterprise will be extending a warm welcome to visitors to our pretty little neck of the woods.

The local wildlife

This is either Buster or Bandy, the two caged bears who in the 1960s were the star attraction at the popular service station and restaurant on Highway 7 near Actinolite (which in turn is near Queensborough) called Price’s, or the Log Cabin. People loved to stop in and watch those bears. They were, as I recall, famous for being fond of Coca-Cola, and would drink it out of the bottle. Note the classic vintage “Supertest” sign in the background. (Photo almost certainly by my grandfather, J.A.S. Keay)

Bandy (or is it Buster?), safely at bay, 1960s.

Well, yes, the local wildlife – local being the Queensborough area. The first and perhaps main thing to be said about it is that it is abundant. And not as caged or as (ostensibly) cuddly as the vintage photo of Buster (or is it Bandy?) above would indicate. Buster and Bandy were then; now, the wildlife seem to be a little, well, wilder.

Raymond and I usually get our first taste of the wild when we drive to the Manse after work in Montreal on a Friday, which means we don’t arrive in Queensborough until 10 p.m. at the earliest. The last stretch of the trip is on narrow country roads. Now that the warm weather is here, the critters are out in full force at nighttime, and I don’t just mean the bugs that plaster the windshield. We have learned not to drive too quickly on those dark country roads, because you never know what might be around the next bend.

Last trip it was an extremely healthy-looking porcupine taking the evening air – and not seeming to be remotely fazed by approaching headlights – in the middle of the road between Marlbank and Tweed, followed by a family – mother and several babies – of raccoons just barely off the road that runs north from Highway 7 to Queensborough. (The previous time, on that same Queensborough Road, we came across a big black rodenty creature that we later decided, in consultation with our Queensborough friend and nature expert Ed Couperus, must have been a muskrat.)

Then there are the deer, which are quite plentiful. Early in the evening on the Sunday of our last visit, occasioned by the fact that the power had gone out and there was therefore not much else to do, we took a drive back to what’s called “the Rockies,” an area that some might call the back of beyond but where there once was quite a thriving settlement, with a school and everything, and where there are still a number of households. That said, by the time you get to the very end of Rockies Road you are way, way “in country.” At the very end we turned around and headed back (to find the power back on, happily) and on the way were not a bit surprised to have a deer run across the road in front of us. The previous evening, our neighbour and friend Chuck Steele had called us over to see another deer in the field right across the road from his house. And he told us about having very recently seen a bear cub there. “You didn’t see the mother?” I asked. He said he hadn’t been able to spot her, but since she must have been there he of course did the wise thing and kept a very safe distance.

Then there are the wolves, or coyotes – not sure which, and maybe both. The first night we were at the Manse on our last visit, we didn’t get in till after 11 p.m., dead beat and very hungry. We felt much better, though, after having some heated-up high-end frozen pizza and a glass or two of Italian red wine, and were both sitting back relaxing in the vintage rocking chairs, feeling delighted at the peace and quiet all around us – when we heard it: those faraway (but not very faraway) lonesome calls, somewhere between a bark and a yip and a howl. All of a sudden you feel like you’re out on the edge of the lone prairie, to swipe a phrase. It’s quite a beautiful sound, but in a chilling kind of way. One is glad to be indoors when one hears it. If you’re with the person you love, so much the better. He will protect you.

The final wildlife moment of our late-June visit, and it was quite an amazing one, was the turtle. On a sunny Saturday morning, en route to buying trees for the front yard of the Manse, we were bombing east along Highway 7 when an approaching car flashed its headlights. Assuming it was the old “speed trap ahead” signal, we slowed down. But it wasn’t the police; it was the most enormous turtle I have ever seen, slowly – very slowly; it was a turtle, after all – making its way across that particular stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway. It had to have been at least two and a half feet long and a foot or more high. (There I go, betraying my age by using imperial measures.) It looked absolutely prehistoric. I kick myself now for not having stopped to take a photo, but we needed to get those trees bought.

Anyway, in one weekend we can enumerate: a couple of deer, a family of raccoons, a porcupine, a wolf or coyote pack, a reliable report of bears, and a monster turtle.

This is a long, long way from downtown Montreal.