Another link to the past lost

1 Feb

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Donnie Ian MacLeod this past Saturday. While not born in Dunvegan — Donnie spent the first nine years of his life in Clinton, Brighton and Brantford, Ontario — he, his sister and his parents returned to the family farm on Skye Road in 1945. When Terry and I moved to the area, Donnie Ian, Jean and their daughter Wendy were living in a lovely white house at the east end of Dunvegan’s Murray Street. The young couple had bought the property from Alex Stuart in August of 1971.

Like so many Glengarrians, Donnie Ian was blessed with the gift of music. And he loved sharing his talent with others far and wide. A perfect example was reflected in the Dunvegan column of December 17, 1986 written by one of my predecessors, Marion Lowen. The Kenyon Presbyterian Sunday School held its concert Saturday at the WI Hall. The program commenced with a welcome by Sarah ViauRecitations were given by Erin Graham, Carrol Heinsma, Chad and Serena McRae, Mark and Matthew Fraser, Tara Taggart and Julie Masson. Wendy MacLeod, Allison McIlwain, Erin Graham and Sarah Viau showed their fancy footwork in their tap dancing routines. Everyone tapped along to the tunes played by Duncan MacDonald, Donnie Ian MacLeod and Bev MacQueen. Piano selections were enjoyed from Jamie and Julie Addison and Jeri-lynn Heinsma.

Reading this account 37 years later, reminded me of how vibrant and alive with the joy of children Dunvegan was back in those days. Vestiges of our formally tight-knit community still can be seen in the background, if you know where to look. The speed of the jungle telegraph is a perfect example. Long before Robert Campbell called me last Sunday to alert me to Donnie Ian’s passing, Ken McEwen in Ottawa (formerly of the 7th of Kenyon) had heard the news, via a grapevine operator in Maxville.

My sincere condolences go out to Jean and Wendy. I am so sorry for your loss. I also mourn the demise of one more link to Dunvegan’s past. As Robert remarked when we spoke on Sunday, “There’s hardly any of us left, at least who lived in town… Margaret (MacLeod), Brian (Campbell) and myself. That’s about it.”

“Worship here” month

As you know, today marks the first day of February, a month that I’ve always thought devoid of much hope. Even the calendar wants to cut it short and only allots 28 days to frigid February… 29 when it absolutely has to. True, the Dunvegan Winter Carnival on the first Saturday of the month brought a little joy into our collective lives (and will again when we’re finally to able to resurrect it from the ashes of fear that was Covid). And the paltry Canadian knock-off of Groundhog Day on February 2 offers a wee bit of frivolity.

But the rest of the month is a bit of a wash… except for members of the stone church in Dunvegan. In recent years, to save money, our Kenyon Presbyterian Church and its sister in Kirk Hill, St. Columba, have taken turns hosting Sunday worship in the depths of winter.

February is the month when worshippers from the two congregations return to our hamlet. Worship will be at 11:00 am and, in addition to members of Kenyon and St. Columba churches, the services are open to all who wish to attend. There’s plenty of free parking for cars, trucks and snowmobiles. The only thing missing is a battery (pun intended) of charging stations for those new-fangled electric automobiles.

Uncle Ray’s hot spot

I recently took ‘’ out for a test drive. It’s the ‘’ sister site that has bought up a great many of newspapers archives in North America.

I had two major complaints. First, their Canadian coverage is very spotty, especially when you get east of the Rockies. Around here, the only papers in their database were the Ottawa Journal and Ottawa Citizen. No Standard Freeholder and no Eastern Ontario weeklies. Second, while you can download a PDF of a page or part of a page, it’s not searchable. At its heart, it’s really just a JPG image. So it’s a real hassle to extract text from the material you’ve downloaded.

Nevertheless, it was fun to travel back in time looking for “Dunvegan (Ontario)” references inthe Ottawa papers. To my surprise, unlike today, in the decades before Canada turned 100, there were a surprising number.

For example, did you know that in the 1940s and 50s, Dunvegan was an “Uncle Ray” hot spot? The weekday “Uncle Ray’s Corner” and “Uncle Ray’s Saturday Mail-Bag Club” were the brainchild of Ramon Coffman, an American reporter and later children’s editor, for newspapers in Milwaukee. In 1922, he began writing a daily column called “Uncle Ray’s Corner,” which was syndicated in 1925. The column, which ran in newspapers throughout the United States, Canada and other members of the Commonwealth, was intended to teach children about science. Uncle Ray appeared in the Ottawa Citizen from 1939 until the late 1960s.

I’m rapidly running out of room in this week’s instalment of Dunvegan: An Ontario hamlet at the crossroads of time, but I will continue the ‘Uncle Ray’s Mail-Bag Club’ story next week. The letters to Uncle Ray from his 17 Dunvegan members (including Sherrill [Ferguson] Trottier and Donaldson MacLeod) provide interesting insights into life in this isolated, pre-417 community, from the perspective of the children growing up here. I also hope to answer why, for the first time since the Township started plowing Kenyon’s roads back in the 1940s, Alice Street is plugged solid with piles of the white stuff.