Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Dispatch #14: Parkhill whoops it up

Well, it’s officially fall here in beautiful North Middesex. The temperatures are lot cooler now, and the leaves are beginning to turn. The ladies in the choir have resumed wearing their formal choir gowns after a sartorial recess during the summer.
The temperature has also cooled around the advisability of having a crosswalk on Main Street: this innovation is no more. The signs have been taken away and the lines painted over. The problem now is that a handful of drivers have gotten used to the cross walk and stop for pedestrians; however, others usually coming at top speed from the opposite direction at the same time have never had any intention of stopping and still don’t. So it is wise to be even more careful than before when if someone sailed through the crosswalk narrowly missing a pedestrian, they would just holler out their open window, “Oh sorry.” Now they just barrel along with the windows closed.
Cars are now just a blur.
Ah well. The fall fair was held on the weekend. I helped out at the Hort. Soc. display. Cost me $5 to get into the fairgrounds  and, when I complained, a reprimand from one of the ladies I was replacing for not being more enthusiastic about supporting the town. I did have a good time handing out candies to children while their mothers signed raffle tickets for a draw on a chrysanthemum. Just about every one of the kiddies said please and thank you without being prompted, whereupon I offered them another candy. I found out later, at the St. James beef dinner, that the mum was won by the mother-in-law of the daughter of one of my fellow directors and back yard neighbour. Good to have that loose end tied up.

After my hour was up, I toured the petting zoo on my way back to the car. I eyed a llama (we were roughly the same height it might have been an alpaca) and patted a sheep. Sheep have extraordinarily thick coats. Never having experienced a sheep except from a distance, I thought their fleece would be like cat fur with a perm, but no, it was more like a bouncy rug.

Sadly, I missed the baby contest; it will be a week or so before I find out in the paper who had the most dimples and rolls, not to mention who was the baldest, happiest or youngest. There were 10 classes in all and you could enter your baby in up to three of them.

The fair ambassador was crowned the night before. We have gotten away from queen of the fair in light of a push to a more unisex modernity, although there is still a fair prince and princess chosen from amongst the younger crowd. Some fairs still crown a queen of the furrow, but thank goodness we don’t. We don’t dance around maypoles either, but there is a demolition derby and lawn mower races (riding, not push) for those who like destruction and noise. 

Speaking of royalty, we had a bang-up kickoff to the fall season of the Hort. Soc. when we
commemorated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This event quickly took on a life of its own. We decided to invite the attendees to dress up. Many of the ladies, normally attired for gardening, donned skirts, hats and white gloves.  As someone noted, we “cleaned up good.”

Indeed we did!

This is our usual look.


We're ready for our guests to arrive.

My gloves and those of one or two others (see gloved hand in photo above ) dated from public school graduation or high school proms.

My Ryerson grad dress  -  and gloves: 1960
and in 2012


Greg was asked to dedicate the carving of the Royal Oak tree trunk, which commemorates the wedding of William and Diana and Rapunzel letting down her hair. He also alluded to the Diamond Jubilee and Queen Elizabeth rosebushes we’ve added to the garden around the gazebo. They are a bit buried under mulch at the moment but will blossom again next spring I’m sure. I was rather perplexed as to whom the dedication was being made; Greg kind of fluffed over that bit.

Attendees also answered the Queen Quiz and heard an amusing talk by Paul Knowles about English gardens and gardeners. Then we enjoyed tea served from china cups and saucers the organizers brought from home, along with a slice of the half chocolate/half white slab cake decorated with the Queen’s Canadian Standard and purchased from Sobey’s in Grand Bend.
Yum yum - almost to nice to slice

The piece de resistance for the occasion, however, was the guest appearance of none other than Her Majesty and Prince Philip, aka Eric and Eileen Scott. Eileen wore a bright yellow dress, white gloves and carried a black handbag on her arm; her summery hat was decorated with rose blossoms. I would be remiss if I did not mention that Eric wore tails and a bowler hat and walked several steps behind his wife.

Our royal couple cut the cake.

They were perfect choice as they resembled the Royal Couple in so many other ways. It was noted that like the Queen and Prince Philip, they were also celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary this fall and had four children (three girls and a boy as opposed to three boys and a girl, but who cares). They sat in special chairs borrowed from the United Church; the Anglican rector was a bit sniffy for some reason about lending out ours (suggesting the bishop might object). 

The special chairs and their special occupants

However, lest we get too hoity toity, we will be brought back to earth at next month’s meeting when the topic will be “creating your own indoor worm composter.” We have to bring our own plastic container, but the worms will be provided.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Demolishing our city hall

I am not happy. Why not?  City council has just voted to have our century-old city hall building torn down. It will join the old high school, the old city hall and the old train station in old-building heaven, I guess.
City hall, previously the post office, is slated for demolition.
The powers-that-be want a one-storey combination service centre, city hall and library (costing over three million dollars) to be built on vacant land behind the existing building.
The butterfly garden is right behind city hall.
Apparently, renovating and adding to the structure is not an option, despite one architect’s report to that effect.  Well, goodness, an elevator alone could cost a prohibitive $150,000.  Also, the councillors feel Parkhill could use the area it now occupies for green space once the new building is constructed. That’s a lot of respect for grass, given the fields to the north and west of the proposed site, not to mention Coronation Park, barely a block away.
Coronation Park is well used - even by aliens.
Selling the building is not a possibility either, it seems.

Built in 1908, the structure originally housed the post office. It has been so carelessly  “renovated“ over the years that, unfortunately, aside from a spectacular oak staircase, little of its original interior remains. Many of its contents, including all the wooden wickets through which post office business was conducted were removed when the post office moved down the street to new premises, a squat one-store building where the previous city hall once stood.  

The new post office,the  bell from the previous city hall and the Carnegie library are down the street.

The latter housed a jail in the basement, council chambers on the first floor and a concert hall on the second. One of Greg’s parishioners remembers Christmas concerts held there in his youth. But all that remains of it now is the bell:
Oddly, a similar building in neighbouring Ailsa Craig was restored by its "Friends" and is now a popular concert hall. Our mayor, who hails from Ailsa Craig but must still be reeling from the shock of such restoration, was quoted as saying you can get “swamped with old buildings.”
According to another source, he feels the municipal government can manage only one “old building”:  the present Carnegie Library beside the new Post Office. By the way, this library is one of 111 libraries in Ontario , endowed by the Carnegie Foundation circa 1913, most of which still function as originally intended; however, about 15 have been destroyed by fire or were demolished in the “enlightened” 60s and 70s.
See this web-site for more information: http://www.mtc.gov.on.ca/en/libraries/carnegie.shtml
I love the steps leading up to the library with their short rise and longish run (there is a ramp around back at the parking lot).
Our library lacks an elevator and public washrooms, but apparently these and other renovations can’t be undertaken because the wide swath of land behind it is a right of way for the new Post Office.  Other municipalities have been able to find the answers to similar dilemmas, but apparently not ours.

Also puzzling is the wish of some councillors to incorporate elements of the façade of the soon-to-be-demolished city hall into the planned new structure. That implies a pretty meticulous and expensive demolition.   Also, their hope that the new structure will reflect the old buildings still standing across the street kind of begs the question and I think I am using that phrase correctly as to why they would go to all the trouble of destroying a building, albeit too vertical in nature, in order to erect its horizontal twin.
The old post office/ city hall building anchors the downtown streetscape,  and although not a masterpiece, nevertheless embodies our past.  It reflects Edwardian civic virtues (which in this neck of the woods were likely still very Victorian). Upright, unsparing, functional and stolid, it is a monument to what hard work, civic duty and sober Sunday worship could achieve and symbolizes an ethos which was, and to an extent still is, prosperous, solid, unyielding and,  sadly, also acquiescent.
Kind of like the roads around here, caging the flat land under a grid where it is woefully hard to get lost, we seem to be immobilized by a similar lack of vision. Taking the easiest path is great for driving, but not so great for preserving our heritage and its buildings for future inhabitants of Parkhill.

This photo was taken in May 2011.




Sunday, 9 September 2012

Cimolino’s Cymbeline works — despite the play

When I saw Cymbeline last night at Stratford, I thought of Shakespeare in Love, the part where Geoffrey Rush’s character, Shakespeare’s producer Philip Henslowe demands a play with pirates, a dog and a happy ending.

There are no dogs or pirates in Cymbeline, but there is just about every other theme or motif from Shakespeare’s other plays, including a happy ending.

I enjoyed the production a lot because director Antoni Cimolino just let the play be what it was. He stayed true to the text and played it straight. This took some doing because there were so many unexpected things happening. Also the tone would change from farcical to serious on the turn of a line.  For example, the beheading of Cloten was a jarring surprise and the Queen’s death was a handy turn which came out of nowhere, not to mention, Belarius’s recognizing Cloten although he hadn’t seen him for 20 years. Nevertheless, Cimolino resisted the temptation to tidy things up or, worse, to send them up.

It seems such a mishmash of a play, I wondered whether Shakespeare had actually authored it (some sources think his Jacobean contemporaries Beaumont and Fletcher had a hand in it) or if he just tossed it off because someone requested it and he needed the money. Unlike the hero of Shakespeare in Love wrestling with writer’s block early in his career, the actual Shakespeare would have had lots of his own previous works to draw on, as the play was one of his last — apparently first performed about 1611.

Cimolino’s production began with Cymbeline, king of the first-century Britons lying in a large (and anachronistic) four-poster bed with figures surrounding him as if in a dream. Therefore the entire play, similar to The Taming of the Shrew, could be understood as a dream, but without a lot of internal logic.  As in the latter play, using a dream format might also excuse the highly misogynistic views of women Shakespeare puts into the mouths of some of his characters.  The late Virgin Queen might not have been amused. Perhaps the unappetizing descriptions of women make Cloten’s death even less mourned and Posthumous’s repentance even more heart-felt, so there is some redeeming dramatic reason for their fervour.

But I actually wonder if Cymbeline might originally have been produced as a masque —James I, along with his wife, was very fond of this form of entertainment. It has the elements of such a courtly pageant: the scenes in the play often seem like tableaux; Wales provides the requisite pastoral setting (and in Milford Haven, a fleeting reminder of Henry VII’s landing there prior to the Battle of Bosworth); folk tales, in this case a wager based on a woman’s fidelity, were common themes in masques; the political subtext around the harmonious rule of a king would have bastioned the new monarch’s view of himself and his subjects.

The appearance of Jove — in this production at the sound of thunder and riding on an eagle with red eyes and flapping wings — would meet the need for elaborate staging. Although there is not a lot of singing, characteristic of masques, the two brothers of Innogen sing a dirge for her.  The masque format would also explain the seeming lack of coherence in the play and the many times only one character is on stage explaining the action.

Anyhow, be that as it may, Greg and I were outsourcing bits and pieces of the themes, characters and motifs of the play to other of Shakespeare’s works as we drove along the Highway 7 — so much so that laughing and talking, we turned too early for the detour at St. Mary’s.  We were soon off track in the pastoral wilds around Fullarton at midnight in the rain.  No pirates or dogs interfered in our little domestic drama, but we did eventually find our way home: a happy ending to an enjoyable evening of theatre.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Woodleigh Replicas come back to life

 We drove to see the Woodleigh replicas again this year because of events that had transpired over the previous 12 months. After we returned home last year, I joined a Facebook group attempting to somehow save them from likely demolition. Here is the link:

The group grew over the year and now has over 200 members, but until recently no one had stepped up as leader. Posts were becoming more and more despondent when, lo and behold, we learned part of the property had been bought by Tim Archer, a country and western singer and producer from Ontario, who planned to restore the property to its former delight.

I was going to say glory, but that is not quite the right word: more about that in a moment. Suffice it to say Tim has his work cut out for him. You can listen to an interview here with Tim here on CBC:
He has already restored the Blue Dragon Inn, booked solid as a bed and breakfast, by word of mouth, all summer. He was about to walk the current guests’ dog, as we arrived to say hello, but he paused to chat.

The fountain and wishing wells are working again, and Tim has put back together the cherubic statues tossed into the fountain at some point by local vandals. A team of volunteers has done other restoration work.

Tim is planning a haunted house for Hallowe’en. (I felt the maze planted with pine trees, and now very thickly grown together, was already rather haunted.) At Christmas, he told us he hopes to have a typical English celebration in the farm house and grounds.

Just as we were leaving, a well-dressed middle-aged man walked up the lane. He was vacationing from Nova Scotia (his family was waiting in the car), and he said he wanted to revisit the replicas he’d been to many years before. He reminisced that the model of Yorkminster Cathedral was built from stones from Nova Scotia and that it took many years to build in such meticulous detail.

I visited the replicas for the first time in the 1980s. The first time I remember trying to paddle a boat on the pond with my daughter; we couldn’t get it to do anything but go in circles. I think we also had ice cream. I remember her fascination with the Tower of London replica and how she was small enough to follow all the corridors.


But I am not sure that the Woodleigh Replicas are really meant for children. You may ask why.

It occurred to me that so many of the people who delighted in the Woodleigh Replicas are now middle-aged. And that our current fondness for the replicas was redolent of nostalgia, which my dictionary describes a longing for home or for an idealized past. In fact, the word is made up of the word for return (nostos) and the word for pain (algia). Nostalgia is something that perhaps very few young children feel, as they are as yet so new to this world. Their hurts and pains are likely more concrete, specific and present.

Nostalgia the sometimes painful yearning for what is past is for older folk. In fact, a subsequent entry in my 1953 edition of Webster’s is “nostology,” which it defines as the study of aging a term I find so much more poetic than its more modern synonym, geriatrics.

So why do the Woodleigh Replicas tug at our heartstrings? I suppose not only do we have memories of visiting them in happy times with our children, but they themselves are a product of nostalgia. Their builder was Ernest Johnstone, a veteran of World War I who wanted to recapture the delight he felt while touring English monuments and buildings before returning to PEI after that war. He and his son Archibald, a world war II veteran, began to build the first of the replicas in the late 40s after the latter returned to PEI from the battlefields.


Their choices (including the previously mentioned cathedral, Anne Hathaway's cottage, Shakespeare's birthplace, Nelson’s monument, the Old Curiosity Shop, Dunvegan castle, and the Tower of London) are sometimes whimsical and certainly idiosyncratic.

Their placement on the grounds follows no particular pattern or plan. And now that the trees have grown up, and the lawn is unmowed, they take on a layer of greater mystery.

They must have meant a lot to both of these battle-weary men maybe as a symbol of what they had been fighting for in both their wars. Who knows, but I think of it in that way. In any event, they weren’t built originally to be a commercial money-making venture.


The replicas are endearing because they were constructed for the sheer love of it. They are evidence of play – play taken very seriously, a characteristic of imaginative play at its best after all, for many of the replicas took years to build. After years of neglect, the mortar is still in pretty good shape, although the thatch on Anne Hathaway’s cottage needs work, and I wouldn’t count on the wood in the floors.


The grounds were opened to the public in 1957 and operated for close to 50 years. There were several owners after the Johnstones, the last of whom simply handed the keys to the government in 2008 when he could no longer look after the property and no one wanted to buy it.

My Google search revealed that some of the actual miniatures were put up for sale — a goofy notion if there ever was one. No one seems to have appreciated the true value of these odd structures, as a tribute to imagination and the joy of creation however quirky it might seem to the less imaginative among us.

As a commenter said in the  Summerside Journal Pioneer in 2011 (three years after the auction of the property failed to find a buyer), “it is more than a business. It is a work of art, and it should be preserved.”

I second that sentiment, and I wish Tim Archer every success with his endeavours.


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

I make a pastoral visit

Written a couple of years ago but not published, for privacy reasons. "Alice" now lives in long-term care, not all by herself:

In The Country Parson, 17th century English cleric and poet George Herbert noted the role played by a clergyman’s wife. It  included the “curing, and healing of all wounds and sores with her owne hands.”  The pastoral concerns of a country parson’s wife were still alluded to by Anthony Trollope in his 19th century novels. Alas, I have not followed in the esteemed foot-steps of a parson’s wife to any praiseworthy degree whatsoever.

However, the other day, I did accompany Greg on a visit to take communion to a nonagenarian parishioner I'll call Alice.  Rail thin, wearing pressed jeans and a turtleneck, she welcomed us into her kitchen, where there were several comfortable arm chairs. She turned 94 last June, she told me.  She’s like a lot of the farm women around here hardy, practical, and long-lived.

Before her marriage many years ago, she grew up in the brick house next door and confided that she was surprised she had not ended up further away from her original home.

Her mother sounds like someone she might have wanted to put at a greater distance. When the latter suspected Alice’s cat of making her ill, she told Alice’s husband to shoot it. Which he did. But he didn’t tell Alice until she pestered him to such a degree about her missing cat, that he confessed. She strode across to her mother’s and said she was never to do anything like that ever again.

Alice has a soft spot in her heart for animals, especially cats. She told us how she once fed a stray and when winter came had it sleep in the shed in a heated bed she made for it. She took my mother’s cat when Mum could no longer keep her, and Kitten lived a charmed life with a cat bed in every room of the house.  She was recently joined by another cat, a huge gentle Persian; its owner had hit it with a hammer, said Alice. His name is Tarzan.

Alas, Kitten predeceased Tarzan, who is now close to 20 years old. Alice was talking about selling her house and living in town this winter but has decided against it, we suspect, because of Tarzan’s care and keeping. She had to drive him to the vet recently; she prefers the vet located about an hour’s drive away.  Yes, she still drives and gets her own groceries. I meant to ask if she still cleans her own house, which was spotless. She did confess that recently she has felt a bit more tired than usual.

She reminisced about her life on the farm. Before the pipeline came through on its way to London with Lake Huron water, she would get up at the crack of dawn in winter and take the axe to the stream behind the house where she would break the ice, so the cows could have their daily drink.  Then she would carry 30-40 buckets of water back to the barn for the calves and other animals, which were too small to walk that far in the ice and snow.

She and her husband farmed 100 acres of land with soybeans as the cash crop and wheat, barley and oats being other crops to feed the cows, if I heard correctly. He worked all day as a carpenter and evenings on the farm. She did other chores on the farm during the day.  For example, after the beans were cut, she would put the rake behind the tractor and put them in rows hoping they would dry in the sun before it rained, which would necessitate raking and turning them all over again to dry.

All but one of the cows were sold for beef. However, that one was used for milking, which apparently it did not enjoy – it once kicked her niece across the barn with apparently no harm done except to her husband’s slippers which, it seemed, got covered In manure. Alice refused to do any milking, as it made her wrists too sore. 

She also insisted on single beds when her husband’s snoring got too much for her. Her mother thought the marriage would come to an end and told her so, whereupon Alice said, with apologies to Greg for having to hear her say this, that she thought her spouse was quite capable of “getting out of bed and walking three feet across the room.” It must have worked for they were married at least 50 years.

After her husband cut himself badly with a chainsaw and the doctor told him he had to slow down, he built an addition on their house so that in retirement, he could watch the hockey on television and look out patio doors to the fields.  Alice found a lovely stained glass window for the east wall likely a transom from over the front door of a larger home in the area. The house is like Alice very well-preserved.  She still has a black dial phone which works (not surprisingly, as phones in those days were solidly made), but she answers on a large cordless phone which must be one of the first models.  The décor is deep red with touches of orange and lots of brass and photos of the days when she looked a lot like June Allyson and her husband looked dapper lounging in a beige suit beside his favourite sedan.

Before we had communion, she cleared the kitchen table of a bouquet of silk sunflowers. We sat at the table and enjoyed communion from the BCP, although I was the only one to say all the responses audibly. Alice reads them silently, as she has a chronic cough she is rather self-conscious about. It was a very pleasant service, and Alice said with the three of us there, it felt more like being in church.

Then we drove her down her long curving lane so she could get her mail; she refused the offer of a ride back because, as she said, she needed the exercise. It had been a delightful afternoon.