The last payphone?

28 Jun

There’s a wonderful photo in the Glengarry Pioneer Museum’s collection. It shows Duncan K. McLeod standing proudly on the front porch of the Dunvegan general store he owned from 1897 to 1939. I’m unsure of when the picture was taken. However, given that there’s a hitching post out front and a horse and buggy ‘parked’ beside the building’s west wall, I’m guessing it was the first decade or two of the 20th century. What caught my eye was the hint of the modern world to come… a small metal sign with the classic Bell Telephone ‘bell’ icon and the words: “local long distance telephone.”

In the days before cellular telephony, the number of public telephones like the one D.K. McLeod had in his store exploded. There was a time when ‘payphones’ could be found wherever people congregated. From bus and train stations, theatres and retailers to countless street corners, payphones let one stay in touch when away from one’s home or office.

However, with the advent of the cell phone, the days of the payphone were numbered. A 2022 Globe & Mail article stated that, from 2013 to 2020, the number of payphones nationwide fell 67 per cent. I’m not sure when the last payphone in Dunvegan bit the dust; it was gone before we moved here. But I have watched them go ‘poof’ in Alexandria, like the phone booth that used to stand on the southwest corner of the Bank of Montreal parking lot. In fact, I was convinced they had left town for good until I stopped to refuel at the ‘taxoline’ pumps beside Alexandria’s railway tracks and spotted one attached to their outside wall. The attendant (who was old enough to know about payphones) had never noticed it and asked what a local call cost. I checked. It’s 50 cents. Or at least it was. That phone may be gone by now, too.

Real pelts & wool underwear

Last Monday, the Glengarry Pioneer Museum hosted another one of its “Pioneer Days” programs for Grade 3 children. Over 75 students from St. Martin de Porres School in Kanata came to learn what rural life was like in the 1800s. I spoke with Christina Potvin, a teacher at St. Martin, and mentioned I was pleased that kids were finally learning about Canadian history at an earlier age. She concurred, but told me, “It’s not really considered ‘history’. It’s part of our Grade 3 Social Studies curriculum.”

Nevertheless, Christina thinks Pioneer Days is a terrific program. In fact, this is the second year in a row her school has chosen our museum for their end-of-year school trip. When I asked what made the program so appealing, she replied, “It’s very well organized.” Christina loves how the kids are divided into smaller groups who then visit a series of hands-on learning stations. “They get to experience a one-room school, leather-working, blacksmithing, spinning, and much more.”

As I moved from station to station, I was amazed at how well the GPM volunteers, all in period dress, engaged with young students struggling to see the world through the eyes of their counterparts over 150 years ago. At the leather-working tent, one young girl was amazed when Lynn Mcnab explained that the pelts and hides on display were real. At the spinning station, kids were dumbfounded by Barb Newman’s story of Newfoundland women knitting underwear for their menfolk. And at the Big Beaver schoolhouse, Carmella Ranellucci’s first hurdle was getting kids (who probably had never done so before) to stand quietly in two separate lines before entering the classroom… one for boys and one for girls.

The museum is to be congratulated for outreach programs like these. The staff and the dedicated volunteers put on a truly memorable event. Why more schools don’t take advantage of it is beyond me.

Donald finds “the one”

If you were with us last week, you know we peeked at life in Kenyon Township in the late 1880s, thanks to some diary excerpts I stumbled across. They were written by Donald D. Kippen, son of Duncan Kippen and Annie Sinclair of Lot 29, Concession 4. Even though their farm was almost eight miles from Dunvegan, Donald and his family were members of the Kenyon Presbyterian Church. Here are some of the highlights.

March 21, 1882 Brother Rob got married. We drove to Dunvegan. He got married there and then we drove west to Fraser’s. Pretty cold day. It was the carriages we had.

March 24, 1882 We set the stovepipes on fire, Dunc Fraser and I •

June 9, 1882 Was at a concert in Charles McDonald’s schoolhouse in aid of a Library for the Sunday School. Mary Ann Campbell, Finlay, and Jane Ann and I were there.

July 12, 1882 Duncan Fraser and I at the Orange Walk in Dunvegan. Grand time.

August 12, 1882 Very warm.  Hay weather. 96 degrees in the shade, and 114 in the sun.

You’ll notice that Donald makes mention of his friend Jane Ann with increasing frequency. And surprise, surprise, his entries appear to get shorter and further apart as other thoughts occupy his mind

September 20, 1882 I and my friend were to the exhibition in Alexandria.  Roads muddy… Husking bee at Finlay McKay’s house – a lively time for me. Husking bee at Robert Kippen’s.

January 2, 1883 – The Church Collectors were around. We saw them home and had a little dance. Another night we all went up to the Chisolm’s. 

February 17, 1883 – We had a collision on the railroad at Kenyon Station.  One man killed and three wounded.

June 21, 1883 I had sister Jane and Jane Ann at the picnic in Dunvegan.  The picnic was to get a bell for the church. Fine day, good times.

June 24, 1883 We burned a lime kiln in John-Fraser’s kiln. We are putting up Bob’s house. Very warm.

September 1, 1883 I am twenty-seven years old today. I wonder what changes will be before I am twenty-eight.

September 23, 1883 We were in Dunvegan Church. They rang the bell today for the first time.

January 1, 1884 I got married to the only girl I ever loved, and the only one that I popped the question to.  May God Bless our Union

And that, I believe, was Donald’s final entry. Looks like he got his birthday wish: Jane Ann.