Whew, that was close!

8 Feb

I know for a fact at least two of Dunvegan’s long-time Carnival Breakfast cooks, Bob Linney and Greg Byers, were downright disappointed this year’s event was cancelled. As were Terry and I. However, when last Saturday’s mercury approached the point where the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales intersect (-40 °C equals -40 °F), a sigh of relief escaped my lips. No one would have shown up. We really dodged a bullet this year.

More often than not though, the Dunvegan Winter Carnival has enjoyed good weather. This means that, a year from now, I’ll hopefully report on how successful Carnival 2024 was… from the scrumptious flapjacks drenched in Dunvegan Gold maple syrup to rousing rounds of Jim Tilker’s CrociCurl back on the frozen pond.

Dear Uncle Ray:

Last week, I wrote briefly about Uncle Ray’s Mail-Bag Club. For those who missed the column, “Uncle Ray” was the nom de plume of Ramon Coffman, an American newspaperman. From the 1920s to the late 1960s, Coffman wrote a syndicated column aimed at children under the age of 16. One of the papers that carried his feature was the Ottawa Citizen, which a surprising number of Dunvegan families obviously read regularly.

This was the era when dead-tree media like newspapers and magazines were king. And children, even the very young, could and would read them. Back in the 30s, 40s and 50s, when the word ‘mail’ was spelt without an ‘e’, newspaper features such as Uncle Ray’s Corner were the social media platforms of their time. And, just like today’s e-posts, the correspondence Uncle Ray received from his young Dunvegan readers offers a glimpse intothe lives of children growing up in what was then an isolated, pre-417 community.

Take the 1949 letter from John C. MacLeod, whose family moved to Dunvegan from the Big Smoke. “DEAR UNCLE RAY: I would very much like to join your Club. I live on a farm. We moved from Toronto in the spring of 1948. We have’ 1 dog, 3 cats, 2 horses and 12 cows. I like to trap and play hockey. My birthday is on August 11. I was 11 years old then. I am in Grade 6. I would like a pen pal.”

Or this 1951 letter from the late Sherrill Trottier. She was a Ferguson back then and her father, Martin, owned a general store — and post office — at the corner of Dunvegan Road and Alice Street. “DEAR UNCLE RAY. I don’t know when I wrote to you last time. I am 10 years of age. I am in Grade Seven this year. My hobbles are playing the piano, reading and collecting pictures of the Royal Family… Paddy, my dog, goes to school with me every day. Ihave 2 pen pals, one in England and one in Scotland. Christmas time will be along pretty soon. Then there will be loads and loads of mall to sort In the Post Office.”

Last, but not least, I offer an example of how the column’s young readers sometimes used it as a pre-Apple’s Ask Siri app. For example, in her 1943 letter, Hilda MacCrimmon of R.R. 1, Dunvegan was looking for research assistance: “DEAR UNCLE RAY. Although I have not written for a long time, I have not forgotten you. In school we are carving with soap and find it very interesting. We are going to have a St. Patrick’s program and I was wondering if you could send me the story of St. Patrick and poems for that day. If you haven’t got them, please let me know.”

It made perfect sense. Back then, the area was not brimming with libraries, not that it is today either. And Encyclopedia Britannica door-to-door salesmen were even scarcer. It’s interesting to note that Miss MacCrimmon anticipated a speedy reply. Hopefully before her assignment on St. Patrick fell due. Which wasn’t unreasonable given that, back then, Canada Post was usually able to deliver a first class letter in well under a fortnight. Sometimes even in the order of a few days.

Musical free-for-all

Denis Lavigne is organizing another “Dunvegan Jam” event on Saturday, February 25th at 7:00 pm. I’ll have more details next week. In the interim, if you have any questions, contact Denis at 613-363-8562.

The Alice St. glacier

I reached out to Councillor Jeff Manley for help in determining why, for the first time since the Township started plowing Kenyon’s roads back in the 1940s, Dunvegan’s Alice Street is plugged solid with piles of the white stuff.

Councillor Manley checked with Timothy Wright, North Glengarry’s Director of Public Works and he confirmed that it’s another case of unintended consequences. The new seven-foot fence that was erected last summer on the east side of the street, means the Township can’t clear the snow without damaging the fence. “The risk that the snow pressure will make it topple,” wrote Wright in an email, “is too great.”

He went on to say that the only solution is a snow blower. They have one in Alexandria, butsending it up here after every storm isn’t feasible. They also tried to contract out the snowblowing, but the bids were too high. So we’ll have to live with the snow plug this year. In the meantime, the Township is “looking at a way to do it in-house for next season.” Which will likely be reflected on everyone’s tax bill.

In my mind, this is not the fault of the homeowner. The real issue is: Did anyone in the Township’s planning department look at the down-stream consequences of giving the green light for a 250-foot long solid fence to be built within inches of a public road?