The internet came, and then it went away again

Queensborough, we have an internet problem. Again.

But then, if you live in the Queensborough area, I’m pretty sure you know that. Why? Because not long ago I asked you, and you answered. Boy, did you answer.

Some good news about this internet problem, however, is that I have put my journalistic skills to use, made some inquiries, and now have a suggested plan of action. It does require something from you, my dear Queensborough reader, but only this: that you pick up your phone and call our local internet provider. Yes, you know the one:

Xplornet logo

For the benefit of non-Queensborough readers, let me provide some background on all this. And then I’ll share what I’ve learned about what can be done.

Longtime readers of Meanwhile, at the Manse may recall my many posts on the topic of slow to non-existent internet from the early years Raymond and I spent here in Queensborough. Between our purchase of the Manse in January 2012 and a magical day in March 2015 (more on that in just a bit), our internet situation was absolutely dire. The signal was impossibly slow; streaming services such as Netflix were out of the question; and the incredibly lame service that we had was still costing us $100 a month. (You can read some of my posts on the topic here and here and here.) Many were the evenings when the frustration of the endless hours it took to do a simple internet thing like putting up a blog post for you all to read had me practically in tears.

But then on March 19, 2015, the internet came to the Manse! Xplornet Communications, the company tasked with providing high-speed internet to rural Eastern Ontario, had just erected a tower on DeClair Road a bit east of Queensborough. On that magical Thursday in March, a technician came to the Manse to install a setup allowing us to connect to the tower. As you can read in my excited post about it here, and an even more exuberant followup a month later, we suddenly had endless and gloriously fast internet, for about the same price we’d been paying for the previous ghastly setup. We could watch Netflix! Raymond could watch his beloved Boston Red Sox games, streamed in high definition! I could do blog posts quickly and without tears! It was wonderful!

And it wasn’t just us: suddenly all of Queensborough (with exception of one household that had too many trees between it and the DeClair Road tower) had access to lightning-fast internet. Basically, it changed our lives – forever, we thought.

Alas, “forever” turned out to be about three years.

Since this past spring, internet in Queensborough has once again been terrible. Not so much in the daytime, mind you; but in the evening, when everyone’s home and online – Facebook, Netflix, Raymond watching his Red Sox via the Major League Baseball streaming app – it slows to a crawl at best and a complete freeze a great deal of the time. Here, let me show you with a little video of the action – actually inaction, due to the internet freeze – during a Red Sox-Tampa Bay Rays game the other night. The only “action” you’ll see until the freeze finally lets up is the ever-circling “loading” wheel – appropriately named (not by me) “the spinning wheel of death”:

These freezes happen dozens of times during every game. Lately, Raymond’s just given up trying to watch most evenings. And while that’s causing him so much grief, I’m usually trying to compose emails or blog posts or some such, and experiencing exactly the same thing – freeze after freeze, and more of the spinning wheel of death. The situation is every bit as frustrating as it was pre-2015. And we’re paying more than $100 a month for this?

About 10 days ago, I decided I’d had enough. It was time for action.

Step 1 was to get confirmation of how bad, and how widespread, the problem is. I already knew from a couple of conversations I’d had with neighbours that we are not the only household experiencing suddenly terrible internet. I felt quite certain that all of Queensborough was having the same problem – doubtless because more families have moved to the area in recent times, and because they (and everybody else) are using the internet more than ever. My educated guess was that the DeClair Road tower could no longer meet internet demand from Queensborough. But I needed some ammunition for Step 2, and so I sent out a message via social media outlining our no-internet-in-the-evenings situation and asking my fellow Queensborough-area residents to tell me if the same thing was happening to them. Which they did.

Facebook post on slow internet

The Facebook post in which I asked residents of our area whether they are experiencing the same internet problems as we are here at the Manse. The replies came thick and fast, and confirmed that we have a Queensborough-wide problem.

“I have the exact same experience and complaint, Katherine,” wrote one person.

“We had tons of issues in the last year with the internet service,” wrote another.

“Same issue,” said several others.

“I almost curse them all the time now,” wrote someone who happens to be a devout Christian. Wow!

Armed with confirmation that the problem is Queensborough-wide, I moved on to Step 2, which was to call Xplornet. Two hours on the phone later, I had a much-reduced internet bill and quite a bit of information. Which I now want to share with my fellow slow-internet sufferers.

The first department I got was customer service. I explained to the pleasant woman who took my call (after about 45 minutes on hold) about how all of Queensborough was experiencing the same internet problems, that the tower that services us must be beyond its capacity, and that we’re all pretty darn frustrated. She told me that:

  • Additional panels can be put onto a tower to resolve the problem of overload (though she stressed that this technical end of things was not her area of expertise).
  • All calls about such problems are logged and actively monitored by Xplornet, and if there is a sudden influx of calls of complaint from one particular area, there’s more likely to be action to resolve the problem. Which is why, Queensborough people, you should call! The number (which you can find on your bill) is 1-866-841-6001.

Anyway, back to my call. The last thing the customer-service rep did was: cut my monthly internet bill by $30! The reduction is good for the next six months, and if service hasn’t improved at the end of that time, it will be renewed.

And when I politely but persistently reminded her that I’d already paid more than $100 a month for several months’ worth of terrible service, she also gave me a rebate of one month’s charge. The next bill arrived a few days later, and because of all the reductions, I ended up with something even better than a zero balance: a credit of about $25.

So: did I mention that you should make that call? That number again is 1-866-841-6001. (But make sure you have a cup of coffee and something to read in hand, to get you through the wait time to speak to an agent.)

So then my helpful customer-service rep transferred me over to Xplornet’s technical department, where I had a long and enlightening chat with a member of the technical team. Once again I told my whole story, including the fact that all of Queensborough is experiencing the same problem.

He told me that towers, including the DeClair Road one, are being upgraded with what’s called an overlay, to add capacity. He noted – and I know this is true – that these upgrades can’t be done at the drop of a hat; there are licensing issues involved that take time. But he did confirm that the work “is under way.” When I asked when it would be completed, he said Xplornet does not give out end dates for such projects, but said he suspects it’ll be mid to late September at the latest – if only because the company doesn’t want its workers up on the towers when bad weather comes.

When I told him about the customer-service rep’s advice to urge people to call about the problem, he agreed that a bunch of calls from our area might well get the timeline for the tower work bumped up. So people! Call! 1-866-841-6001. And please tell them, as I did, that the problem you’re experiencing is shared by everyone in our area. This definitely adds oomph to the complaint, and avoids an agent trying to solve a (probably nonexistent) problem with your own personal setup.

Oh, and a bit more information I got: for those of you who get your internet via Xplornet satellite rather than from the DeClair Road tower, but are experiencing the same problem with painfully slow loading times: it’s again because of capacity issues. Demand on the satellite signal is growing very quickly, just like demand on the towers. I suggest you too call to let the company know about the problem, and inquire what can be done about reducing your bill until the signal comes up to snuff.

Internet announcement

The posting on Hastings-Lennox and Addington MP Mike Bossio’s website about the plan to bring the internet via fibre-optic cable to our area. The announcement was made at the Signal Brewery in Corbyville (once the site of the famous Corby Distillery), and on hand were (from left) Signal owner Richard Courneyea, Bay of Quinte MP Neil Ellis, Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of innovation, science and economic development, Jill Raycroft of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, MP Mike Bossio, and Xplornet chief executive officer Allison Lenehan.

FibreRoute

The network of fibre-optic cables that will bring super-duper internet to our area within a couple of years – or at least, that’s the promise. (Photo via lennox-addington.on.ca; click to enlarge)

Now, in the slightly longer term there is some good news for us all. Last month, our MP, Mike Bossio (a schoolmate of mine in Madoc back in the days when I was growing up in this area), announced a partnership between the federal government and Xplornet to improve high-speed internet in Eastern Ontario using an existing network of fibre-optic cables. You can read about it here, and you’ll see on the map, as well as in the news story, that our entire area – the Municipality of Tweed, of which Queensborough is a part, and neighbouring Madoc Township, which is Queensborough-adjacent – are included. This is fantastic!

The only down side is that this new and improved service won’t be up and running until 2020. And yes, I know we’re already more than halfway through 2018, but a year and a half is a long time to deal with frozen-screen baseball games. Just ask Raymond.

So until then? Call Xplornet. Be polite but persistent. We had great internet for one brief shining moment. (Okay, it lasted three glorious years). We need to get it back!

Hey, Queensborough: Let’s talk about Queensborough!

Which direction for Queensborough?

What direction for Queensborough? Please come and have your say, and enjoy some wine and cheese, this coming Saturday (May 12, 2018) at the Queensborough Community Centre.

You know, I love the fact that people from all over the world – and I mean all over the world; in the past couple of days alone, we’re talking Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, the U.K., the Philippines, Australia, France, Ireland and Russia, in addition to Canada and the U.S. – check into and read Meanwhile, at the Manse. People out there in the wider world: Thank you! I love you! But my most important audience will always be the people who live right here in our North of 7 neck of the woods, because – well, because you are my people. And because we are doing things together. Good things.

This post is aimed at that local audience. It’s about an interesting experiment we’re undertaking this coming Saturday (May 12) for the people who live in and care about Queensborough and the Greater Queensborough Area.

(What is the GQA, you ask? Well, I define it by the roads that lead into or are close to our hamlet. If you live anywhere on Bosley, Barry, DeClair, Rockies, Hunt Club or Queensborough roads – as well as the smaller roads that lead off them, like Hass, Carson, Hart’s and Cromwell; and then there’s Cooper Road and surrounding offshoots – then feel free to consider yourself a citizen of the Greater Queensborough Area.)

The event, organized by the Queensborough Community Centre committee, of which Raymond and I are proud members, is called Wine, Cheese and Chat About Queensborough. Here’s the deal: you show up at the Queensborough Community Centre (our hamlet’s historic and well-preserved former one-room school, at 1853 Queensborough Rd.) at 4 p.m. Saturday; you are warmly welcomed and offered a glass of red or white wine (donated by volunteers with the committee) – or, if you prefer, a cup of coffee or tea – plus some first-rate local cheese from the Ivanhoe Cheese Factory; and after half an hour or so, when everyone’s met everyone and we’re all feeling comfortable, we’ll sit down and talk among ourselves about our little community.

The background is this:

Six years ago, a whole bunch of people from the Greater Queensborough Area gathered in the same place (though without the wine and cheese, more’s the pity) and tossed around ideas for what they’d like to see happen in Queensborough: their vision for the community, if you like. The event was, like this coming Saturday’s, organized by the Queensborough Community Centre Committee; and, like this coming Saturday’s will be, it was brilliantly helped along (I can’t bear the bureaucratic word “facilitated”) by Karen Fischer, an agriculture and rural economic development advisor (in the old days they called them “ag reps”) for our region with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Karen has been a staunch – and I mean staunch – friend to Queensborough over the years. She has attended so many meetings, responded to so many emails, offered up so many ideas: I think – in fact I know – that she likes us here in Queensborough! She really likes us! And so I know she’ll do a great job once again this coming Saturday, helping us corral and organize our ideas and maybe turn them into one or more plans of action.

The upshot of that gathering six years ago was a vision statement and four goals for our community. This vision statement says:

The Queensborough Community vision is to maintain a quality rural lifestyle through building community pride and preserving its heritage, and supporting and developing a vibrant commercial, residential, recreational and cultural setting.

And the four goals we set were:

  • Develop community pride
  • Preserve our heritage
  • Develop economically
  • Enjoy.

But now, prodded by Karen and ourselves, we’re wondering: do the vision and the goals need to be updated? A lot of people – including, wonderfully, a lot of young families – have moved into our community since 2012. What do these new Queensborough residents – you new Queensborough residents – need, want, expect and hope for from our community? And how can we all work together to make this happen?

Those are the questions we’ll be asking, and hopefully answering, this coming Saturday.

And here’s what I have to say about all this: you should come!

Because there’s so much we can talk about!

Like, for instance (to throw out some of my own pet beefs/ideas/projects):

  • Why in the HECK can’t we get trash and recycling pickup in Queensborough? Having to emit ridiculous amounts of fossil-fuel pollution into the environment as we drive all the way to the Tweed dump at Stoco is just ridiculous, especially when the trash and recycling pickup trucks from neighbouring Madoc Township drive right through our hamlet on the way from pickup in the Cooper area to their next stop on Queensborough Road to the west. Can we not persuade our municipal council to help us find a way to piggyback onto that service?
  • Would games nights at the Queensborough Community Centre be a good idea? Back in the day (that would be my long-ago childhood here in Queensborough), crowds of people would show up every week for euchre parties at the QCC, and everyone had a whale of a time. Some local hamlets – notably Actinolite, which along with Queensborough is the only other population centre (if you count “population” as being 50 or so people) in Elzevir Township, now part of the Municipality of Tweed – still have euchre parties, and they are still popular. Meanwhile, local libraries hold games afternoons at which people young and old gather to enjoy playing all kinds of board games. I’ve already spoken with one fairly new Queensborough resident who would love to attend regular games nights; should we try it?

But what else? What do we need in Queensborough? I’m voting for a store, but you all knew that, given my many posts on the topic and my nostalgia for the general stores that once upon a time were pretty much the heart of our community. What else? More in the way of kids’ playgrounds and activities? More heritage stuff? (Don’t even get me started on my cunning but still secret plan to turn a historic but decrepit and neglected building into the official Queensborough archives … )

What are your ideas for our community?

People, we need you. It’ll be a fun and fulsome exchange of ideas. Do you have kids? Bring them along! We’ll have juice boxes and lots of people with lots of kid experience to help entertain them while you’re engaged in visionary discussions.

Here’s the official poster for the event that went out to the community via Canada Post. If you live in the GQA, I hope and expect you’ve seen it. If you’re further afield but are a friend of Queensborough, and would like to join in the discussion, you are so welcome.

Queensborough wine, cheese and chat

Your community really does need you. Even if you’re one of the quiet households on Barry, Bosley, Queensborough, DeClair, Rockies, etc. roads who keep to yourselves – this is a fantastic chance to come out to a friendly gathering, meet some neighbours, and participate in a great discussion for a future that will affect all of us.

As I finish this post lateish into the evening, the peepers are singing their hearts out in “downtown” Queensborough. Their music is making its way into the Manse through the screened doors and windows. This lovely spring that has finally arrived has brought new life everywhere, and our hamlet is looking so beautiful. As I weeded the flower garden for the first time of the season today, I waved to so many cars and trucks passing by, and everyone waved back.

We live in a wonderful place; we are so fortunate. Especially when it comes to our friends and neighbours.

So: let’s channel all of that good stuff about living in this lovely, quiet place, look to the future – and make that future a good one for us, and for the generations that follow us, in the GQA.

Oh, and P.S.: Whether you can come on Saturday or not, please visit the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page or click here and respond to a quick and easy survey we’ve posted there (with much help from our friend Karen Fischer); your answers (and by the way, the survey is completely anonymous) will be SO helpful as we chart our community’s course.

A new year, and many reasons to be thankful – and excited

Madoc Township Public School

Easily one of the things I am most grateful for when I look back on 2017 is the fact that our local elementary school, Madoc Township Public School, was saved from closure and will go on to educate our community’s children, and expand their skills and their horizons, for years to come. You can read all about the hard-fought battle by dedicated community members to save our school in many of my posts from the past year, notably this one.

Happy new year, dear readers! I hope that 2018 brings you much joy, interesting things to see and do, lots of opportunity to be with family and friends, good health – and perhaps most of all, the ability and the time to step back and appreciate all the gifts and blessings that life offers us.

That stepping-back-and-appreciating business is something I find myself doing as the old year merges into the new. In the days and weeks leading up to the start of 2018, I have been feeling thankful for so many things.

Lots of them are personal, and they’re the kind of things that I’m sure most of us are thankful for at one point (hopefully at many points) in our lifetime. I am, for instance, thankful for having a job (teaching student journalists) that allows me to do something useful to society, and that pays the bills. I am thankful for my five (yes, five) sweet, beautiful and friendly cats, all rescued from feral colonies and rough situations by good cat-loving people for whom I am also thankful. Would you like to see some photos of my cats? Gracious, I thought you’d never ask:

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I am thankful for the occasional chance to travel, though I’m generally even more thankful to get back home to Queensborough, the place I love the best. And most of all I’m thankful for my kind, smart, resourceful and (most of the time) patient husband, Raymond, who is (in my opinion) the best husband anyone could ever have.

Raymond outside the opera

Raymond looking handsome on a recent visit to a Canadian Opera Company performance in Toronto.

But those are things that are personal to me. What I’d mainly like to write about in this post are the things I’m thankful for that have to do with living here in Queensborough – things that I hope readers both from the GQA (that would be the Greater Queensborough Area) and from further afield can appreciate, either because they are part of their daily lives (the first group), or because they are something they could experience if they visited (or moved!) here. I’m excited to say that this list is growing longer by the year, as good new things happen in Queensborough.

In no particular order, it includes:

  • The beauty of this place, and the wildlife we see every day:
The woodpecker at our feeder

The woodpecker who has been enjoying the gooey feed we put out for him (her?) is one of many birds that we (and the five cats) enjoy watching from our kitchen windows every day.

  • The  smashing success of the second iteration of Historic Queensborough Day this past year (read all about it here) and our plans for an even bigger and better one in 2020:
Crowded King Street by Shelly Bonter

Crowds filled the streets of Queensborough on our second Historic Queensborough Day, held Sunday, Sept. 10. (Photo courtesy of Shelly Bonter)

  • The new owners, Jamie Grant and Tory Byers, of the historic former Loyal Orange Lodge building in Queensborough, who, with energy levels that I can only wonder at, have already transformed the place and are brimful of ideas for its future as a community arts space. While I am sworn to secrecy on some possible events there for 2018, I can tell you that they involve music, theatre and visual arts. Wow! And it’s no secret that the Orange Hall will – on Saturday, May 26 – return to its longstanding function as a place for community dances and socials by playing host to a newly revived springtime tradition: the Queensborough Black Fly Shuffle dance! You can check out Jamie and Tory’s Orange Hall plans and events on their lively Facebook page here. This couple is doing so much to bring new life to our hamlet – and I know I am far from alone in being thankful for that.
Jamie and Tory at LOL by Gary Pattison

Jamie and Tory having fun welcoming visitors to the former Orange Hall on Historic Queensborough Day in September. (Photo courtesy of Gary Pattison)

  • All the other good things that are happening in Queensborough. The annual spring visit of kayakers from all over Eastern North America who enjoy the whitewater trip down the Black River followed by a warm fire and welcome and good food by the river’s edge at the historic Thompson home and mill. Our hamlet’s continuing reputation as a place where artists (once upon a time including A.Y. Jackson of the Group of Seven) like to come and paint. And: a new event for 2018 that is already creating a lot of buzz: a master class in pie-making! Watch this space, local media and of course the Queensborough Community Centre’s Facebook page for details as the time (Saturday, March 3) gets closer, but long story short, some of the people whose talent for making homemade pies has turned Queensborough’s community suppers into a place of pilgrimage will be showing a new generation how it’s done, so that the tradition will live on. (You can bet that yours truly, who has never once successfully made pie crust, will be one of the eager students.) Things are happening in Queensborough!  We are making a name for ourselves!
Artist at work close up

Ottawa artist Nicole Amyot was in Queensborough this past fall for a day of plein air painting. For many years, artists at their easels in various corners of Queensborough have been a not-uncommon sight. Now, with the planned repurposing of the former Orange Hall as a space for the arts, perhaps there can be a showing of all that Queensborough art!

St. Andrew's choir

The reborn St. Andrew’s United Church choir performs Christmas music at a service this past December. The choir is led by Katherine Fleming (at the piano); members for the December performance were (from left) Joan Wilson, Jean Finlayson, Katherine Sedgwick (me), and Carol King, whose energy and infectious enthusiasm were the reason we got together. We have some additional members lined up for the new year – and if you’d like to join us, please let me know! (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

  • The people who volunteer their time and talent to keep Queensborough beautiful. I’m thinking here of the volunteers who work so hard on the Queensborough Beautification Committee (who this Christmas season launched a fun holiday-decorating competition) and the Queensborough Community Centre Committee, but also many other individuals and households who contribute in so many ways to our hamlet being the kind of place that visitors – rightly – call magical.
Flowers on the Methodist Church steps

Queensborough: the place where caring people turn old church steps into a lovely photo op.

  • Madoc Township Public School, a wonderful school and an important part of our community for many years, which we came close to losing this past year. We didn’t lose it, thanks to widespread support plus endless hours put in by a small, dedicated group of community activists. It is one of the honours of my life to have been a part of that group. Here we are on the day we found out that our efforts on behalf of our school had been successful:
The MTPS crew

Outside the headquarters of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School board in Belleville, happy supporters and activists after we learned that our school would be saved from closure: from left, recent Madoc Township Public School grad Brooklyn Gylyktiuk, Wendy Spence, Margaret Heard, Randy Gray, Denise Gray, Holly Korman, Amy Beaton – and (having been dragged into the photo by the others) me.

  • The neighbourliness and the friendlinesss. Recently I’ve been repeatedly struck by how often I’m on the receiving end of a warm greeting by people who know me by name, and know what I’ve been up to, as I push my cart around the aisles of the Madoc Foodland, or stand in line at the bank, or pop into many other places where people gather in Queensborough, Madoc and Tweed. I love getting a happy “Hi, Katherine – how are you?” when I walk into Kelly DeClair’s Kelly’s Flowers and Gifts or Tim and Penny Toms’s One Stop Butcher Shop or the Hidden Goldmine Bakery in Madoc, or the offices of the Tweed News or the Moira River Food Company in Tweed, or the Home Hardware in either town, or … well, you get the picture.

And then there have been the invitations over the holidays to all manner of get-togethers – Christmas and New Year’s gatherings, housewarmings, anniversary celebrations, sometimes let’s-just-get-together-and-open-a-bottle-of-wine events – mostly casual and sometimes a little on the fancy side.

And then there are the people who stop by to help when you’re shovelling out the driveway, or trying to heft a newly acquired piece of vintage furniture out of the back of the red truck and into the Manse. There are the people you know you can call and count on to help in an emergency, real or imagined: frozen pipes, a difficult-to-locate septic-tank opening, a staple gun when one is needed, a bit of reassuring information on a neighbour you haven’t seen for a while and are worried about.

I guess long story short, you could say that as I bid farewell to 2017 and welcome 2018, I am thankful for kindness and community. And for the chance to experience so much of both, simply by living in beautiful little Queensborough.

Bless This House

Here are the Praise Friends singing Bless This House. From left, they are Janet Ellenberger, Patsy Mitchell, Sandra Brett, Ann Colebourne, Katherine Fleming and Heather Ferguson. Their accompanist is Claudia Scott.

It’s been highlight upon highlight at St. Andrew’s United Church in Queensborough. On Sunday, May 28, we had a rousingly successful, jam-packed Music Night to raise money to send kids to summer camp. (And you can read all about that here.) We followed it up this past Sunday (June 4) with another jam-packed event, a service celebrating 127 years of worship in our pretty rural church.

Good things are happening at St. Andrew’s!

The highlight of our anniversary service was the special music provided by a group of six women who call themselves Praise Friends. The stated mission of the six good friends – who come from small towns and villages throughout south, central and northern Hastings County – is simple: “To praise God through song.” They’ve performed at church services, special events, fundraisers and variety nights, and we were so pleased to have them bring their gift of music to St. Andrew’s. (Mind you, we had a bit of pull: one of the Praise Friends is Katherine Fleming of Madoc, our church’s pianist.)

The group – who are, in addition to Katherine Fleming, Sandra Brett of Stirling, Ann Colebourne of Foxboro, Janet Ellenberger of Coe Hill, Heather Ferguson of Stirling and Patsy Mitchell of Foxboro, with accompanist Claudia Scott of Belleville – performed several lovely pieces before and during our worship service to a very appreciative congregation. Among the highlights for me were a terrific arrangement of one of my favourite hymns, Be Thou My Vision, as well as an extremely moving piece (new to me) called You Are Mine, by the American liturgical music composer David Haas; you can hear a version of it here.

But the song that had very special meaning for me – the one that’s in the video atop this post – was Bless This House. When I was a kid growing up here in the Manse in Queensborough, that song was well-known and frequently sung. In doing a bit of research on it just now, I learned that Bless This House was published in 1927 and made particularly popular through recordings by the likes of Vera Lynn, Perry Como (mid-1950s) and Doris Day (1962) – setting it up for popularity and widespread recognition (and humming) in my 1960s childhood. So as Praise Friends did their beautiful rendition at St. Andrew’s, I recognized quite a few of the words. It is a song asking for God’s blessing on a building – and it works equally well whether the building is a family home, a house of worship, or another place where people gather. I can remember it being sung by school choirs at Madoc Township Public School, asking for a blessing on our school; that was in the days when one was allowed to do things such as invoke a higher being in a school situation.

Here are the words:

Bless this house, O Lord, we pray;
Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out.

Bless the roof and chimneys tall;
Let thy peace lie over all.
Bless this door, that it may prove
Ever open to joy and love.

Bless these windows shining bright,
Letting in God’s heavenly light.
Bless the hearth ablazing there
With smoke ascending like a prayer.

Bless now all who dwell within;
Keep them pure and free from sin.
Bless us all that we may be
Fit, O Lord, to dwell with Thee.

Bless us all that one day we
May dwell, O Lord, with Thee.

“Bless these windows shining bright, letting in God’s heavenly light”: the historic stained-glass windows at St. Andrew’s United Church.

As the members of Praise Friends harmonized so beautifully on “Bless these windows shining bright,” and the outdoor light shone in on us through the simple but lovely red, blue, green and gold stained glass at St. Andrew’s, I thought: “What a perfect musical piece for a historic little church’s anniversary.”

So many blessings have come to the faithful members of St. Andrew’s for 127 years and more; and those faithful servants have in turn, through their care and good works, brought so many blessings to the Queensborough and area community, and to places in need in the wider world. Our fundraiser to send kids to camp is just the most recent in a long, long line – a 127-year-plus line – of community outreach projects.

Our service was followed by a time of food and fellowship in the church hall. Those of us who faithfully attend services at St. Andrew’s every Sunday were joined by members of our partner churches – St. John’s United in Tweed and Bethesda United in the hamlet of White Lake – as well as many old friends and current and former members of our church. Our recently renovated (hey, we’re busy!) church hall was filled to overflowing with people enjoying a fine lunch and sharing stories and news. It was a day full of joy.

Our house was blessed.

A Canada Post puzzle, or: torn between two places

queensborough-on-the-map

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our mailbox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tweed-logo

The Municipality of Tweed includes us here in Queensborough.

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

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

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

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

Madoc Post Office

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

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

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

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

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

Give me more of that old-time entertainment

Queensborough Orange Lodge

The former Orange Lodge is one of the oldest buildings in Queensborough. It’s not exactly in the greatest repair at the moment, but wouldn’t it be something if it could be restored to one of its past uses: as an arts centre for residents of the area?

One of the most striking and historic buildings in Queensborough is the tall old wooden barn of a place that for many, many years served as the Loyal Orange Lodge – the L.O.L., as the fading green paint atop of the building’s facade still says. It stands unused except for storage, and has definitely seen better days. An unfortunate renovation some years back made a bit of a mess of the original front doorways. But it’s loaded with history, and, as a column in one of the local papers reminded me rather indirectly the other day, was an important spot for entertainment in our little village back in the days when entertainment was hard to come by.

Queensborough L.O.L. showing windows

The unusual windows in the building, 16 panes of wavy old glass over 16.

As you can read in the walking-tour guide to the hamlet’s history produced by the Queensborough Community Centre, the Orange Hall (as everyone calls it) is one of the earliest buildings in Queensborough, erected in 1862. It served not only as the lodge for local members of the ultra-Protestant Orange order until the 1980s (yes, you read that correctly), but as the first place of worship in the village. Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians (though presumably not the Roman Catholics) all gathered there for Sunday services and Sunday School before their own churches were built, starting with St. Peter’s Anglican in 1871.

I have also been told, though have not been able to confirm this, that it served as a hospital during the deadly Spanish Flu epidemic that swept North America in 1918.

Back in the days of my childhood here in Queensborough, the Orange Hall was the local polling place; I believe I remember my parents going there to vote in the federal election that brought Pierre Trudeau to power in 1968, and also (dimly) them going to the hall to vote in a referendum on whether Elzevir Township (where Queensborough is located) should stay “dry” (that is, no selling of alcohol permitted) or go “wet.” (I assume this vote was brought on by a restaurateur, possibly the owner of a German place called Mother’s that opened back in the early 1970s, wanting to get a liquor licence. And I’m not sure how the vote went, to be honest.)

But the other thing the Orange Hall was used for back in the day was entertainment: dances and musical performances and travelling shows, including medicine shows. Those were the days before television and even radio, when people worked long hours and had to make their own fun; that is doubtless why every town and village had super-competitive hockey and baseball teams. Christmas pageants and church socials and card parties and quilting bees were where people gathered for a bit of respite from work and the often-hard realities of day-to-day life. The Orange Hall, which I have been inside once since Raymond and I bought the Manse, still has the stage from which performers would have entertained people of the village with songs, readings, plays and declamations on the virtues of some quack medicine or other.

The stage in the old Orange Hall

The stairs lead up to the stage at the front of the old Orange Hall, which is now used for storage.

The newspaper piece that got me thinking about all this was the Heritage Herald in the Tweed News, a column produced weekly by the tireless Evan Morton, curator of the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre. Evan was writing about an old photo that had been donated to the centre, showing a group of young men in uniform at what seems to be a First World War recruiting event at the Hungerford Township Hall in the village of Tweed. Also in the photo is a poster advertising a coming appearance at the hall by a Tom Marks. Being the diligent historian that he is, Evan had looked into this and reported that Tom Marks was a member of a vaudeville troupe that was once hugely popular in Canada and the U.S., the Marks Brothers, known as “The Canadian Kings of Repertoire.”

The Marks Bros.

A poster for “The Canadian Kings of Repertoire,” the Marks Brothers of Perth, Ont. You can find this and more photos related to this once-famous vaudeville troupe at this excellent Flickr page.

The brothers – Joseph, Thomas, Robert, Alex, Ernest, John and  McIntyre – “left the farm and took to the boards and the footlights throughout the latter part of the 19th century and into the 1920s. The brothers from Christie Lake, near Perth in Eastern Ontario, played to an estimated eight million Canadians, as well as to sizeable audiences in the United States. Their road shows, largely melodramas and comedy, kept audiences crying, booing, laughing and cheering until movies sounded the death knell for touring repertory companies,” according to a blurb about a book about them, which you can find more about here.

To all of which, I can only say: Who knew?

But also, intrigued by the fact that one of the brothers was to appear in wee Tweed around the time of the Great War, I got to wondering: might the Marks Brothers ever have performed at Queensborough’s Orange Hall? It seems at least possible, given this information provided on this page by a former curator of the Perth Museum:

“They delighted audiences in many remote towns and villages, most of them starved for entertainment, with their flamboyant performances and lavish scenery.”

Would Queensborough have been one of those “remote villages starved for entertainment” that the Marks lads visited? I’d love to know.

But anyway, the photo that Evan featured, and his findings about the Marks Brothers of Perth, Ont., got me thinking about those long-ago days when shows would come to the Orange Hall. And I’d like to share with you a delightful reminiscence of them that is included in the late Jean Holmes’s wonderful history of Queensborough and Elzevir Township, a book called Times to Remember in Elzevir Township. This story comes from the late Ed Alexander, whom I remember from my childhood days here. Thinking back on his youth, Ed told Jean and her history-gathering assistants

about the travelling plays that came to the Orange Hall. The fee was 35¢ to see the show. When he was young, if he did not have enough money to pay his admission, he walked around the block on the wooden sidewalks, with a long stick with chewing gum stuck on the end. He would put the stick between the boards and collect enough coins to pay his admission. The shows were usually medicine shows. The owners were trying to con the public into buying their medicine. It was usually described as a “cure-all.” It was a type of tonic, basically useless. 

And then it gets to the part I just love, referring to a part of those shows that apparently was especially popular with the men who worked in the small mines – gold, silver, marble, iron, lime, pyrite, copper, lead and actinolite – that once dotted this part of central Hastings County:

Along with the sales pitch, there would be songs and skits, and prizes for the most popular female. Sometimes, Mabel Chase, from the Chase Boarding-house in Actinolite, won. All the miners would come to buy the medicine and they voted for Mabel.

Ah, Mabel. Mabel, Mabel, Mabel. What I wouldn’t give to travel back in time to see her beaming and blushing with pride as she was chosen “most popular female” – once again – by the miners and others gathered for the medicine show in the Queensborough Orange Lodge.

Times to remember indeed!

Saving a school is hard work. It’s worth it.

Front of Madoc Township Public School

Madoc Township Public School, an excellent rural school that was built in 1961 and is threatened with closure at the end of the current school year. Let’s hope we can change that.

I am stunned by the number of people who read and shared my post from yesterday about the local public school board’s proposal to close Madoc Township Public School. Never has anything I’ve written in the almost five years that Meanwhile, at the Manse has been in existence come near to reaching an audience of that size. What does that tell me? It tells me that people care deeply about either the plight of rural schools in general in Ontario, or the specific plight of Madoc Township Public School – or more probably, both.

Even though I normally write only once a week, I thought I should update readers on developments that have taken place since yesterday’s post was written. I also wanted to offer some thoughts on how those who want to save our school might tackle the mission.

First, I want to say that I have thought better of my choice of words for the headline on yesterday’s post: “They want to close our school. We can push back.” Yes, it is 100-per-cent true that the recommendation that went before trustees on the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board yesterday was that the Township school be closed, that its students be bused to Madoc Public School in the village of Madoc, and that all grades 7 and 8 students from both schools’ catchment areas be moved to the high school in Madoc, Centre Hastings Secondary.

But then again, does anyone – the paid school-board administrators or the trustees who are elected by you and me to sit on the board and make the decisions – really want to close a school? I’m sure they don’t, given how much upset and outrage such moves always entail. This recommendation comes because our school board and many others are battling serious financial issues and a funding arrangement with the provincial government that severely limits the boards’ options. As a result, having thought about it quite a bit, I’ve modified that headline to read, “They say our school should be closed. We can push back.”

Now to the developments over the past 36 hours or so:

Yesterday afternoon, the school board’s school enrolment/school capacity committee received the recommendation from board administrators to begin a process called an “accommodation review” of schools in three areas: ours (that is, the Madoc area), Belleville, and Prince Edward County. This “accommodation review” (what does that mean, anyway?) is a process that will look at the feasibility of acting on the administrators’ recommendations that come with it, which involve closing quite a few schools and consolidating students elsewhere. (You can read a full report about it here.)

The committee did accept the recommendation – though I am pleased to say that the trustee who represents schools (including Madoc Township P.S.) and families in our area, Bonnie Danes, voted against it, expressing concerns about the loss of this important part of the rural community – and it then went before the full board last night. The board too gave the green light to the “accommodation reviews.”

Now, it’s very important to explain that school closures are a long way from a done deal at this point. The board’s vote last night merely sets the wheels in motion, and begins a process that will involve public consultation. Here, in fact (from the full report presented to the board, which you can read here), is the timeline. As you’ll see, the final and decisive vote won’t happen until this coming June:

school-review-timeline-page-1

school-review-timeline-page-2Another development since last I wrote is that Hastings County council also had a meeting, this very day. At it, as you can read here, councillors from our neck of the woods expressed what the Intelligencer‘s headline calls “deep concerns” about the proposed school closures. The councillors voted to meet with the school board to talk about the issues, and if necessary, to take their concerns to Ontario’s minister of education. To which I say: good for them. The mayor of Tweed, the municipality of which Queensborough is a part, said it well: “It does (affect) the community when you lose a school.”

That’s the thing, isn’t it? Rural communities like ours in Tweed, Madoc, Madoc Township and, yes, Queensborough, are thinly populated, and services and amenities are few and scattered. People who live here don’t – for the most part – complain about that; we make the best use we can of the services and amenities we do have. I’m thinking here of (to throw out just a few examples) the first-rate medical centre we have in Madoc. And the 24-hour grocery store that has saved my life (or at least my supper) more than once. And an incredible winery just up the road in the hamlet of Sulphide that is poised to become world-famous. And fantastic public libraries in Madoc and Tweed. And so on.

Our schools are among the most precious of our local services. The economies of our rural municipalities need people to come and live and work and open businesses and pay taxes here. If we lose schools, people with families (or who might someday have families) are less likely to do that. And then things just get worse. On the other hand, a vote of confidence in a school is a huge vote of confidence in the community it serves, and can be a major shot in the arm to that community’s economy and well-being and future.

Does the Ontario government want to support rural economies and rural life? Let’s hope the answer to that is yes. Let’s hope that the protests on behalf of rural schools that took place at Queen’s Park yesterday (yet another development in the past 36 hours) will have an impact.

Meanwhile, what can we, as ordinary folks who live in a rural area, do to try to save Madoc Township Public School? As you’ll have seen from the school board’s timeline, over the coming months there will be quite a few board meetings and consultation meetings and “public” meetings (I put “public” in quotation marks because all of these meetings are, or should be, open to the public – the people who, through their property taxes, pay the freight). We need to attend those meetings. And we need to come prepared. We need, to use a classic educational turn of phrase, to do our homework.

Stomping into a public meeting and shouting, “You can’t close my school!” is not constructive, and not all that helpful to anyone. If you’re going to push back against a proposal like a school closure, you should have a workable alternative or two up your sleeve:

  • What are the reasons the board administrators have for suggesting the school be closed – the school’s drawbacks and shortcomings? What suggestions can we come up with to mitigate those?
  • What is the financial reality the board is facing? What ways can we come up with to help it achieve its financial obligations while keeping our school open?
  • Why do the board administrators think things would be better for our kids if they went to a different school? What evidence can we supply to show that this isn’t – or at least needn’t be – the case?
  • What haven’t the board administrators thought of? What interesting and creative and exciting ideas can we come up with for our school that will help it better serve our community and, at the same time, allow the board to meet its provincially set financial targets?

Creativity will be required. The proverbial thinking outside the box.

Bravery will be required. It can be scary to put forward counter-proposals to those made by educational bureaucrats who are paid to come up with them, and are well-trained in the lingo and the tactics of defending their proposals.

But politeness, and kindness, and consideration for the plight the trustees and those school-board administrators find themselves in, are also really important. A polite and constructive dialogue will generally go a lot farther in resolving a problem than will a nasty shouting match.

That said: Creativity, again. Bravery, again. And hard work (getting names on petitions; getting people out to meetings; brainstorming ideas). And research.

And most of all: a determination to stand up for what’s best for our kids and our community.