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.

Welcome to Blue Sky Country

Black River early September

The Black River in “downtown” Queensborough on a recent sunny September day.

I’ve started noticing something about the photos I take here in the Queensborough area. It’s that despite what the ostensible subject of my photo is, there’s very often a surprise guest star – to wit, the sky. We have great sky around here.

In some ways I’ve kind of recognized that ever since Raymond and I bought the Manse. I well remember the 4½-hour drive we’d make from our then-home in Montreal on a Friday night, and the awe I would feel when first stepping out of the car here in Queensborough and looking up to see a dark, clear sky – far from the bright lights of the city – absolutely sparkling with a universe-sized blanket of stars. It was awe-inducing then; it still is.

Another time, shortly after we moved here permanently, I did a little post (it’s here) specifically about the great big skies that you notice as you’re driving past the farms and fields around us. This is the photo I used in that post, which celebrated the gorgeous clouds as well as the huge blue sky:

McKinnon barn

The McKinnon barn (Queensborough Road just west of Queensborough) under a glorious late-afternoon sky.

But I got thinking more about our clear blue skies toward the end of this past spring, sparked by a comment from a friend and former Montreal Gazette colleague. I’d done a post about moving the very last of our stuff out of the Montreal house, which we’d finally sold, and in it had used some photos of scenes that greeted us at the Manse when we arrived here with the last truck- and carload. They included a few along the lines of this one, featuring the elm tree we planted a while back…

The Manse's elm tree, spring 2016

… and this one, featuring the clothesline that I love so much:

Laundry on the clothesline, 2016

In response, Charles (who is a science buff), commented:

“Look at that clear sky. If you and Ray haven’t at least thought about getting a good-size telescope, you aren’t doing the Manse site justice. If I lived there full time, I’d build a massive Dobsonian.”

In the months since then, I’ve been paying more and more attention to the beautiful clear skies here. I especially notice them when we visit, or drive through, Toronto; I am unfailingly astounded by the smog and haze that one encounters in the air even when you’re almost an hour out from the city. It makes me appreciate the fresh clear air of my Queensborough home that much more.

Anyway, let me show you a few photos I took recently that weren’t supposed to be about the sky at all, but in which the blueness and clearness made the surprise guest appearance that I mentioned at the start of this post. I should mention that no filters have been used on any of these photos; what you see is the real thing.

Sign over Hazzards Cemetery

This photo was intended to be about the attractive metal sign over the historic cemetery at Hazzards Church, which I am pleased and proud to say was made right here in Queensborough by master craftsman Jos Pronk at Pronk Canada Inc. Queensborough Machine Shop. But when I looked at the photo afterward – man, that is about as blue as ever a sky could be!

Skies over the Plowing Match

The skies over the parking area at the recent Hastings County Plowing Match at the McKinnon Farm just west of Queensborough.

Great trees and blue sky at Feast from Farm

The most beautiful of blue skies over the scene of the recent Feast From Farm local-food event beside Stoco Lake in the village of Tweed.

Blue sky and clouds over the millpond

I took this photo to show low water levels (caused by the ongoing drought in Eastern Ontario) at Queensborough’s popular swimming spot, the millpond on the Black River. But when I looked again – that’s a pretty nice skyscape. Not to mention its reflection.

From the front porch of the Manse

The view from the Manse’s front porch – where I’m writing this post – on any given summer day.

This one was intended to show the just-starting-to-wane Harvest Moon that shone brightly over the Manse this morning as I left for work, about 7:30 a.m. But it also shows the brilliant blue of the sky that the moon is in:

Morning moon over the Manse

Here, just in case you’re interested, is a closer look at that morning moon:

Morning moon closeup

Last but not least, here is some late-summer, late-day sun on the monumental red pine that’s across the way from us. Raymond and I adore that tree; we call it the Tree of Life.

Late-summer sun on the Tree of Life

I think the perfect clear blue of the sky makes the colour of the sunlight in the upper branches that much more glorious.

So I hope I’ve made my case about the beauty of the skies around this magical place that Raymond and I have chosen to live. Now: a little Willie Nelson, anyone?

In which we eat locally, and well, in glorious surroundings

Railway Creek Farms at Feast from Farm

Visitors check out the amazing selection of different kinds of organic garlic grown by Elly Finlayson (behind the counter, left, aided by her mum, the artist Jean Finlayson) at her Railway Creek Farms operation – which, I am pleased and proud to say, is just up the road from Queensborough in the hamlet of Cooper. Note the brilliant blue skies and the setting right beside Stoco Lake. Pretty nice!

Many’s the time I’ve told you about how good we are, here in the Queensborough area, at serving up great community meals. Whether it’s the famous St. Andrew’s United Church suppers (the Ham Supper in the spring and the Turkey Supper in the fall, and more on the latter at the end of this post), or community potlucks, or pancake breakfasts, or barbecues that are part of special events, or the food booth at the recent Hastings County Plowing Match – well, let’s just say that if you are fortunate enough to be in Queensborough when there’s a meal to be had, you will go away happy and replete.

Yesterday there was just such an event in our little hamlet, but before Raymond and I could even get to it, we had the opportunity to eat very, very well just a few miles away. The occasion was the annual Feast From Farm event in the village of Tweed, where local food producers show off their bounty – vegetables, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, herbs, baked goods, and so on – and we lucky visitors get to sample delightful dishes made by local chefs with these local products.

Palmateer's at Feast from Farm

Palmateer’s Meats of Tweed has been in business a long, long time, and there’s a reason for that – great-quality local products. Yesterday people were lining up for a taste of sausage freshly made by Tara Palmateer (left). It was delicious!

So I’m going to show you some photos from Feast From Farm, and then carry you on into a much lower-key but also delightful food event that happened later in the afternoon right here in Queensborough. All to show you that we really know how to eat and have a good time around here.

Enright Cattle Company tent at Feast from Farm

The booth of the Enright Cattle Co., a farm just outside Tweed that produces beef that’s in demand in top Ontario restaurants. We enjoyed an amazing snack – Hoisin Glazed Enright Cattle Beef Taco with Srirachi Aioli – prepared by the folks from the excellent Capers Restaurant in Belleville. Yum!

Leather bags from Enright Cattle Company at Feast from Farm 2016

Also at the Enright Cattle Co. booth: a display of the gorgeous handcrafted bags made from the carcasses of the farm’s cattle. I am lucky enough to own one of those bags!

Lineup for Langevin lamb, Feast from Farm

A lineup (which Raymond was in, though toward the back) for treats made from Langevin Sheep Company lamb.

Langevin Sheep Company, Feast from Farm

I like the fact that there’s a sheep farm not far from us – it’s between Tweed and Flinton – and I also like their pretty sign! Raymond, who loves fresh lamb, likes all of this even more than I do.

Pumpkin carving, Feast from Farm

Another thing you can do with locally grown food products: carve them! The kids were enjoying this.

Aside from all the good food we got to enjoy, I have to say the beautiful early-fall weather and the glorious lakeside setting made the event that much more enjoyable.

Great trees and blue sky at Feast from Farm

Beautiful trees (I believe they are ash) tower over the lakeside site of Feast From Farm.

Lineup, Potter Settlement Winery, Feast from Farm

The Potter Settlement Winery booth was a popular spot, where lineups formed as soon as the sun made it over the yardarm. Don’t worry – I don’t know what “the sun’s over the yardarm” means either, and I’m not sure anyone does. Basically it think it means  it’s a respectable hour to taste some amazing wine made with grapes grown right here in central Hastings County. The owner of Potter Settlement, Sandor Johnson, was on hand to pour and talk about his products, which are very quickly gaining wide acclaim. Just check out this recent splashy article in the Toronto Star!

Potter Settlement Winery at Feast from Farm 2

Another look at the Potter Settlement Winery booth. Raymond and I were lucky enough to be able to purchase a case of the fast-disappearing 2013 Marquette, which is an absolutely outstanding red. And made right here in our neck of the woods!

So after all this tasting, we headed back to the car with a case of Potter Settlement wine, some fat, fresh Hungarian garlic from Elly Finlayson’s Railway Creek Farms, a bottle of Kricklewood Farm Cold-Pressed Sunflower Oil, some recipes and business cards to aid us in future purchases (fresh lamb, yum, says Raymond) – and very full tummies.

But the eating wasn’t over yet!

Cornstalk/scarecrow at QCC corn roast

This friendly cornstalk scarecrow welcomed visitors to the Queensborough Community Centre corn roast.

Next on the agenda was the annual corn roast hosted by the Queensborough Community Centre committee, of which we are members.

Garden at the QCC

What a lovely garden! It was planted by children taking part in the annual summer youth drop-in program at the Queensborough Community Centre. There’s a mix of annuals and perennials, including some from historic local gardens. Since the summer program ended at the start of August, volunteers have been carefully tending to the garden.

The QCC holds several events throughout the year, and the corn roast is probably the most laid-back of them all. On a sleepy September Sunday afternoon, 10 or 12 dozen ears of fresh local corn are boiled, a few dozen hot dogs barbecued, and people come, grab some nosh and a drink – all free of charge – and sit down for a spell on one of the benches that have been set out under the trees in front of the community centre, our village’s former one-room schoolhouse dating from the dawn of the 20th century.

Did I mention that these food events were taking place in beautiful locations?

Yesterday as we sat on the benches under the trees, we shared stories and news and gossip with our neighbours as we enjoyed the simple but good food. People came, people went; there was a quiet buzz all afternoon. At the corn roast you almost always meet someone from the neighbourhood whom you didn’t know before, and that’s really nice.

QCC corn roast 2016

A relaxed way to spend the afternoon: enjoying hot dogs and fresh corn on a bench under the trees at the historic Queensborough Community Centre (formerly the village’s one-room schoolhouse).

I would like to think that right about now you are saying to yourself: “My gracious but there’s a lot of good stuff going on in the Queensborough area! Notably when it comes to food. I must visit one of these times…”

Which is exactly what you should do. And I will tell you exactly when.

Pies at the St. Andrew's supper

Homemade pie is the specialty at the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper on Sept. 28.

The St. Andrew’s United Church Turkey Supper – at which you will enjoy a full turkey dinner, including our absolutely fabulous homemade pies – takes place Wednesday, Sept. 28, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. It’s held in the hall of our church, at 812 Bosley Rd., and this year while you’re eating your amazing turkey dinner you can also take in the renovations we (the St. Andrew’s congregation, that is) have done to the hall over the past summer: a new floor, newly painted walls, and a fresh look overall. The ticket price for the supper is $14 for adults, $6 for young people aged six to 12, and free for children under six. All proceeds go to support the work of St. Andrew’s, a vibrant little rural church.

It’s an event about food and community, in equal measure. It’s in Queensborough. In lovely surroundings. What more could you ask for?

A stylish and elegant birthday gift, from down on the (local) farm

KS with Enright Cattle Company bag

Me with my beautiful new Enright Cattle Company leather bag. While I may look a little dusty and the worse for wear from a day spent weeding the garden under a hot sun, I think you’ll have to agree that the bag is gorgeous. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

Happy birthday to me, people! Well, actually, it is not my birthday quite yet. But today, as we also mark Independence Day by flying the Stars and Stripes here at the Manse in honour of our neighbours south of the border…

Fourth of July 2016

… I received an absolutely wonderful early birthday gift from Raymond. And since Mondays are Meanwhile, at the Manse days, but more particularly because the gift is a gorgeous, high-quality product produced by a local operation that is not 15 miles from us here in Queensborough, I thought I would share it with you all. It’s a celebration both of a lovely gift and of a local business that is doing amazing things – and that I think you too might be interested in supporting.

But let’s start this tale with the birthday card. Raymond couldn’t have found a better one for a cat-lover like me. Singing cats, complete with bling!

Then came the gift. My eyes lit up as soon as I saw the attractive cotton bag it came in:

Enright Cattle Company bags for bags

Why did they light up? Because I knew what would be inside. And no, it wasn’t several packages of great steaks (though the Enright Cattle Company of Hunt Road, Tweed, produces those too). It was a product from the Enright folks’ newest venture: gorgeous handcrafted leather bags.

Raymond and I met Kara Enright not long after we bought the Manse in 2012. Early that fall I was seeking out a fresh local farm turkey for Thanksgiving, and tracked her down by phone from Montreal through the website of the excellent local organization Harvest Hastings. Kara told me she no longer raised turkeys, but put me on to her neighbours, Tim, Dorothy and Gary Hunt, from whom we got a first-rate one. Not long after, we visited the beef farm Kara runs with her husband, Darold (and young son Corben and baby daughter Evelyn), to pick up tickets for a special dinner featuring local farm products. (I wrote about that delicious repast here.) It was interesting to see their Simmental cattle, a breed I had not known about until then, and to listen to Kara talk about their operation. I came away totally impressed by her dedication and her enthusiasm for, as the Enright Cattle Company website puts it “the preservation of rural life and the improvement of agriculture.”

Since those first encounters, I’ve watched with interest as the reputation of the Enright Cattle Company has grown. Their beef products are being served in a wide array of top-flight restaurants in Eastern Ontario and beyond, generally with the source of the meat proudly listed on the menu. That is very cool.

But then a few months ago I learned that Kara had embarked on a new venture: fashion! Here is the video that I found thanks to my Queensborough friend Lisa sharing it on Facebook – a news report from the launch in Kingston, Ont., of the company’s line of handbags and other leather products.

“Part of our philosophy has always been to utilize as much of the carcass as possible,” Kara explains in the video. “We work with the finest tannery in Ontario to produce this really amazing, very soft leather from our hides, and then we have a really awesome leather maker. He hand crafts each bag – so it’s all done on a bench, hand cut and stitched. And he makes these amazing handbags that now are branded with our farm brand and made right from our own hides.”

Isn’t that something? Good chefs and butchers these days are doing their best to show respect to the animals that give their lives so that we can have meat, through what’s known as “nose to tail” cooking and eating. But what Kara and Darold are doing takes the process another step: using the hides of the animals they raise – with so much care for their well-being, and for the environment – to make of them one final product that will be loved and treasured.

So back to my birthday gift!

Here is the bag Raymond picked up from Kara at the farm this very morning:

Enright Cattle Company bag

And here is Part 2 of the gift! It’s designed to be a case for glasses (i.e. the reading glasses that I lose about 75 times a day), but Kara says (and I agree) that it could also be a great change purse:

Enright Cattle Company glasses pouch

And here is the whole shebang displayed on one of our Solair chairs on the Manse’s front porch – great Canadian design meets great Canadian design!

Birthday gift from Raymond

As you can tell, I am absolutely thrilled about my birthday gift. It is something beautiful, and something local. Thank you to Raymond, to Kara and Darold (and Corben and Evelyn), and to a Simmental cow who, I know, lived a good life on the Enrights’ farm (where maybe I saw her on our visit four years ago), and who is the creature ultimately responsible for this lovely bag.

Local gifts are the best!