Senior Anni

1 Jul

I don’t know why, but almost everything sounds better, or at least of greater import, when said in Latin. On the good news side of the ledger, I’m delighted to report that honourary Dunveganite, Robin Flockton, has received a Province of Ontario “Senior Anni” or Senior of the Year award.

The Ontario Senior of the Year Award program gives each municipality in the province the opportunity to honour one outstanding local Ontarian who, after the age of 65, has enriched the social, cultural or civic life of his or her community. And this year that local citizen is Robin.

Officially, Robin is being recognized for his work with “Encore and the Dunvegan Museum.” But his volunteer contributions over the years have covered a much wider scope, including: the Glengarry Wood Fair, the Eastern Ontario Certified Forest Owners, the Glengarry Archives and the Glengarry Public Affairs Forum, to name but a few.

Congratulations, Robin. No doubt, Flip and the rest of your family are justifiably proud.

As an aside, Robin sent me a copy of the certificate he received and I was struck how the signatures on the document seemed reflective of the signatory’s station. Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Elizabeth Dowdeswell’s signature was almost regal, with a distinctive calligraphic flair. And the Minister Responsible for Seniors, Mario Sergio’s John Hancock commanded attention through the use of swash characters at the start of his names. Building on the idea of “dressing for success”, I wonder if developing a signature that’s in step with your professional goals, when one is starting out, would be advantageous?

15 Painful Steps

On the negative side of the ledger, I learned last week that Dunvegan playwright and author, Bonnie Laing fell down her home’s front staircase. According to Statistics Canada, stair-related falls represent 21% of all major injury hospitalizations in Canada. By the numbers, this results in an average of 314 deaths and 100,000 injuries annually. Those 65 years and older represent 67% of the deaths from stair falls, and brain injuries resulting from stair falls occur three times more frequently among children. In other words, stairs can be dangerous… very dangerous. Luckily, Bonnie was not part of the 67% statistic.

Here’s what happened. When going to bed Monday night, she took a major tumble down her front stairs… all 15 of them… but she has no idea how the accident happened. Having suffered a similar fall a number of years ago, I can attest that one minute all is right with the world and the very next instant you’re tumbling head over heels to the floor below.

All Bonnie can remember is waking up at the bottom with partner Greg Byers asking her if she could move her arms and legs. She was rushed by ambulance to Glengarry Memorial for x-rays and then sent on to the Ottawa Civic for a CT scan to assess brain damage and an MRI, because they feared that the vertebrae in her neck were cracked. Although her brain was swollen, the verdict was that there is no permanent damage. “I’ve always been hard-headed,” quipped Bonnie when I communicated with her. The Civic did keep her overnight on Tuesday, just to be safe.

Bonnie returned home on Wednesday with torn ligaments in her neck and back. She also brought home cracked ribs, a concussion, two broken toes and bruises all over… not to mention some excellent painkillers and anti-inflammatories. She must also wear a collar for at least two weeks to support her neck while the ligaments heal.

On behalf of all her friends I’d like to wish Bonnie a speedy recovery. “I feel very lucky to be alive,” reports Bonnie. “It scared the s__t out of Greg, too.”

Ar N-Eachdraidh An Albainn Nuaidh

According to Dunvegan resident, Sandra MacPherson, the Gaelic title of this section means: “Our Nova Scotia Story.” Sandra and her partner, James Prevost, live in the old brick manse just north of the church hall. From June 4th to June 14th, they took to the highways and byways as they travelled east to Nova Scotia. They took the new Autoroute #30 along the south shore of the S. Lawrence to bypass Montreal. (Although this is a great alternative to going through Montreal, I’m still partial to the Lachute – North Shore – Quebec City route.) Their destination was the famous Cape Breton Trail.

Their first stop was a quick visit with Sandra’s cousin, Haley Flaro, and her husband, Brad Coughlin, in Fredericton, NB where they were treated to dinner at her cousin’s favourite pub. Sandra reports that the apple blossoms, tulips and lilacs were in full bloom – probably about two weeks or more behind our season.

For some of the highlights of the couple’s Maritime adventure, I’m going to let Sandra tell things in her own words:

  • Highland Village Museum in Iona, Nova Scotia. The layout of the museum works well in that they span the history of the settlement of the Gaelic Scots that came to Nova Scotia from the Scottish Highlands… Animators or first-person interpreters were able to speak both in Gaelic and English. For the last five year, the museum animation staff has continued to develop their characters and storylines. The animators draw you into their world as it might be in the Scottish Highlands, the great Arcadian Forest of Cape Breton or Nova Scotian life up until the 2nd World War. It was a small, quaint museum similar to the Glengarry Pioneer Museum, which suited us.
  • Rita MacNeil’s tearoom offered homemade clam chowder, great customer service and the best tea in NS.
  • Peggy’s Cove is spectacular once you drive past all the rocks and trees to get there.
  • Worth seeing in Halifax: the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s Maud Lewis exhibit and the Public Gardens.
  • The Fortress of Louisburg didn’t have all its buildings open yet. However, this was offset by our passionate interpreter who took us on a one-hour guided tour. We did one heck of a lot of walking. We dressed warm as the temperature can drop 10 degrees within five miles of the coast.

In the “it’s a small world” column, Sandra and James met up with the interim Glengarry Pioneer Museum curator, Renee Homiak and her beau, Jason, on the Cabot Trail and enjoyed a lobster supper together. When asked if she had any advice for those following in their footsteps, Sandra replied, “… we wish we had taken more advantage of the many university residences that are available to travellers. They are an economical alternative to conventional hotels.”

Tribute to a Past Chronicler

Next Saturday, July 4th, is the 52nd anniversary of the death of Sarah Austin (née MacRae). Leila Renwick, her granddaughter, called me a short while ago and talked about her recollections of life in Dunvegan and her grandmother who was the hamlet’s columnist for the Glengarry News until her passing in 1963.

Sarah Austin and her husband, George, lived in the now-yellow house beside the now-empty lot at the corner of Alice Street and Dunvegan Road. From there, she had a perfect view of Ferguson General Store (two doors to the west) that, at the time, was one of the centres of life in the small community. This vantage point must have made it a lot easier to keep her finger on the pulse of Dunvegan.

Her other news gathering strategy seems to have been frequent visits to store/post office. As Sherrill Trottier (née Ferguson) recalls…

The Austins… were a very small couple, and he was very quiet and soft spoken. She would be in the store several times a day, purchasing maybe just one item at a time. Yes, she was the News correspondent, and naturally was very inquisitive. She used to rock back and forth as she talked to you, from one foot to the other.”

I had a quick look at some of the back issues of the Glengarry News from this period when I was at the new Glengarry Archives in Alexandria. Unfortunately, the community columns from the period have no attribution, only the name of the hamlet or village. So it was impossible to be sure if Leila Renwick’s grandmother had penned what I was reading. However, as soon as I can dig up an approximate date when Mrs. Austin started writing for the News, I will return to the Archives and carry back some slices of times past.

Sarah Austin’s husband, George, was a cheese maker who had been apprenticed as a young lad to Norman MacRae of Athol. Mr. MacRae had established a number of cheese factories in the area, including Sunrise #1 in Athol, Sunrise #2 (with Frank Gireau) in Dunvegan and Sunrise #3 (with Andrew Sorrel) at St. Elmo. Before moving to Dunvegan, George Austin made cheese in Riceville.

George’s son, Clifford, was also a cheese maker. His daughter Leila vividly remembers the young family’s time in Dunvegan when her dad was employed at the factory here. Those familiar with the layout of the hamlet will know exactly where they lived… in the house behind the old Ferguson store on the southwest corner of Alice and Murray Street. Clifford and his family moved when Leila was five or six, but she still recalls her time at the brick schoolhouse. She admits that she wasn’t officially of age for classes, but the school teacher, Marion MacLeod, and her children used to board with Leila’s parents in the house on Alice St. and she would accompany the teacher to give her mother a break.

During our nice conversation, Mrs. Renwick shared a couple of other memories from her childhood. The first was of a rather unusual “playpen.” When her mother had to help her father make cheese, Leila was placed in the spare vat for safekeeping. She also recalls visiting that small log house that left the hamlet a few weeks ago in the backs of a couple of trucks from Mont-Tremblant, Quebec. She suspects the log structure belonged to her grandparents who, in turn, rented it to “Old Bill,” or “Grandpa McCoy” as Leila knew him.

When I spoke with Leila’s lifelong friend, Shelia Kippen (née Ferguson) of Ottawa, she believes Bill’s last name was Campbell. She too remembers Bill’s time in the little log home and his trademark act of offering young children peppermints. Shelia remembers that the candies were often a bit fuzzy from residing so long in bill’s pocket. But her mother had taught her to thank Mr. Campbell kindly and tell him that she’d hold on to the treat and enjoy it after dinner.

With any luck, this story will continue.