Permafrost: oldest historical artifacts around?

7 Jan

Given the present cold snap, this month’s Glengarry Historical Society presentation is very apropos. The title of the talk is “Permafrost” and the speaker will be Donaldson MacLeod, Canada’s leading expert on this phenomenon. The International Permafrost Association defines permafrost as: “ground (soil or rock and included ice or organic material) that remains at or below 0°C for at least two consecutive years.” The thickness of permafrost can vary from less than one metre to more than 1,500 metres. What does permafrost have to do with history? Well, the IPA’s website states that most of today’s permafrost layer formed thousands of years ago during the glacial periods and has persisted through warmer inter-glacial periods. Which makes at one of the oldest historical artifacts around, aside from the earth itself.

After graduating from Glengarry District High School, Dr. MacLeod (who was born and raised in the Dunvegan area) went on to earn a Bachelor of Engineering at McGill, an M.Sc. from the University of Saskatchewan and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. Donaldson MacLeod amassed his impressive store of permafrost knowledge by working, in one capacity or another, on the construction of most of the northern highways in Canada.

“Permafrost” is the first in the Glengarry Historical Society’s winter presentation schedule. It will be held tomorrow night, Thursday, Jan. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the Alexandria United Church (Church-on-the-Hill) at 36 Kincardine Street East.

The Volunteer Gene

As many readers know, I am a great supporter of volunteerism, i.e., the willingness of people to work on behalf of others without the expectation of pay or other tangible gain. In small communities like ours, it is the engine that drives programs and events that improve our quality of life — activities that probably wouldn’t exist without the selfless dedication of countless volunteers. That’s why I thought I’d start off the New Year by devoting space in this week’s column to people whose volunteer activities have made a real difference to life in Dunvegan. I wish I had the space and time to feature the literally hundreds of Dunvegan (and Dunvegan-at-hearf) volunteers, but I don’t. Nevertheless, these three accounts will serve as a starring point

The late Diane McMullin

I’m very sorry to report that Yvonne Diane McMullin (nee Rozon) died the day before the DRA’s December Euchre Tournament. That Friday before Christmas, we were all very surprised when she failed to make the holiday card party. She had alwaysjoved the Christmas tournament and we assumed that, given the good weather, she would make the journey from her new home in Cornwall.

Unbeknownst to us, on Thursday, Dec. 18, Diane had suffered a devastating series of strokes and fell, breaking her hip and a leg. She was rushed to hospital in Cornwall where she died at 3:40 PM on Monday, Dec. 22… just four months after the death of her long time partner, Richard Hebert. Diane’s parents and two brothers are long gone. And her only remaining relative is a cousin out west. So I have few details of Diane’s earlier life. I believe she was raised in Dominionville and have been told she spent a great deal of rime at her grandparent’s general store in Maxville. And that’s about all I have from her past. However, I do know that she made a real difference here in Dunvegan.

Each and every month for many years, she and her friend Ann Stewart would travel from Moose Creek and Maxville respectively to help organize the Dunvegan Euchre Luncheons. From making sure the players had fresh decks of cards (which she bought for a song from a casino somewhere) to bringing special door prizes to mark every minor and major celebration from Easter to Mother’s Day, Diane was always striving to make the Dunvegan card game a little bit better. As one of her close friends told me, “Diane was a very good person.” And to that I can attest. She will be missed. Diane’s remains were cremated and, in the spring, will be buried along side her parents’ plot in the cemetery at the corner of McConnell and Marleau in Cornwall.

 J. Wilkie & Son

If you live in Glengarry, especially in the Dunvegan area, you’ve probably seen one of Jason’s signs at the foot of a driveway announcing another one of his firm’s projects… from framing, siding and windows to residential renovations, additions and restorations. However, the one place you won’t have seen a sign is in front of the DRA Hall this past December. Nevertheless, Jay was there volunteering his time to help DRA President Ben Williams upgrade the Hall’s back shed.

For those of you who have memories of the Hall back in the days when it served as home to the Dunvegan Women’s Institute or the Orange Lodge before that, you’ll recall the lean-to structure tacked on the building’s north face. For many a year, it housed the building’s rudimentary toilet facilities, for those times of the year when a trip behind the bushes was out of the question. More recently, the space has been used for storage and to house the oil furnace. However, the lean-to was not insulated, was unheated and during extreme cold spells the fuel oil pipe feeding the furnace would freeze solid. The DRA came up with a plan to change this picture once and for all… and increase the Hall’s storage capacity significantly. And that’s where J. Wilkie & Son comes in.

One day this past autumn, Jay was talking with Ben and mentioned that he’d be glad to donate his labour if the DRA had a project they needed help with. Naturally, this was music to the ears of a volunteer organization like the DRA. His kind offer would allow the organization to fast track its plans to freeze-proof the back shed. When I asked Jay why he offered to help, he replied, “I wanted to find a way to give back to the community and this is something that I could contribute.” And as someone who has prayed the furnace would be working on many a frigid Euchre Friday, I’m very glad that he did. Jason and his wife, Cindy, moved to Dunvegan East eleven years ago from Lachine (via a short stay in Lancaster). They have two young children: Sarah who is eight and Orion who is ten. Which makes the “& Son” part of his corporate handle a bit tongue in cheek Thank you, Jay. And you’re right… volunteering is all about contributing what you can, when you can.

‘Double Decker’ James

The third volunteer that I’d like to recognize is James Prevost. James lives with his partner, Sandra MacPherson, in the brick manse beside the Kenyon Presbyterian Church. While both the church and the DRA have benefitted from his generous donations of time, his main focus of late has been the Glengarry Pioneer Museum.

James works for Export Development Canada, a progressive organization that recognizes the value of employees who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to improving to their communities by volunteering. Through the EDC’s ‘Dollars for Doers’ program, eligible employees may request a financial donation to the charity of their choice. The only requirements are that the organization must be a registered charity with the Canada Revenue Agency and the employee must show that they have contributed at least 35 volunteer hours in the previous twelve months.

“It was not difficult for me to tally up the 35 volunteer hours for the application,” James told me. “Like all volunteers are aware, time flies when you’re having fun.” James submitted his ‘Dollars for Doers’ application at the end of September and was notified that his request had been approved this past November. The Museum is delighted that James took the time to fill out the application, because on Nov. 24, curator Renée Homiak was officially notified by mail that the EDC was donating $1,800 on behalf of James Prevost.

The 35+ hours that James donated to helping with Museum events is great. But to have leveraged this generous contribution by securing a matching grant from his employer is icing on the cake. “Perhaps this will inspire other museum volunteers and members to discover whether similar type programs exist at other workplaces,” says James. And he’s right. It doesn’t cost anything to inquire and other worthwhile local charities could see the benefits.

Missing column

A number of readers have complained… albeit good-naturedly… that my column was absent from last week’s paper. And for that I do apologize. However, the deadline for last week’s edition was Saturday, December 20. That would have meant having to write three columns in the space of six days.