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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

This term, let's do more than vote.

It’s almost October 22nd. This is the time where we are supposed to encourage and remind each other, from 18-year-old to senior, to get out and vote. It’s so important, to exercise your democratic rights this way. You get to contribute to the governance of the amazing community in which we all live.
If you were born and raised here, like me, chances are when you were 18 the primary thought on your mind was not getting out and voting, but rather, getting out of Dodge. But the truth is, most of us, if given the opportunity to live elsewhere, would still choose North Grenville. It is a pretty spectacular place to call home.
I lived in the suburbs. I also lived overseas. When it was time to come home to Canada, my publishing certificate in hand, I just assumed I would end up in Toronto. That city, after all, is the home of Canadian publishing. The Universe had another plan, however. I spent my first few months as a returning expat living at my parents’ house, waiting for my driver’s license, health card and other privileges of being Canadian to be returned to me. During that time, I met and fell for the Farmer. I wasn’t moving to Toronto.
I often think about how life can change in an instant. Sometimes the same opportunities come up more than once. But we still have to take the step, push the button, answer the call, mark the ballot. Buy the lottery ticket or you will never win.
This week, we get to choose who will make decisions on our behalf, for the next four years. Let’s choose carefully. We are in an interesting position, here in North Grenville. We are growing like crazy, but we are also trying very hard to hang on to our small-town feel. We want new businesses and industry to move in, so that our skilled workers do not have to commute to the city every day. But we also want to be able to walk to the store, and to recognize people on the street. We want to keep our small town, but we want it to become sustainable.
After we mark our ballots and learn who the new council will be, it’s important to stay involved. I don’t mean you have to go to council or committee of the whole meetings every Monday night – unless you want to. But stay involved. Get into the conversation on social media. Read your local news. Learn what decisions are being made on your behalf, and hold your elected officials accountable if you think they are not following the will of the people who elected them.
We want to see some big businesses move into our community in the near future. They would be foolish not to. We are perfect for them. We have green space and homes for their employees. We are situated next to the highway, half way between the United States and the Nation’s Capital. We have no excuse not to become a tourist attraction. We are beautiful, with our Ferguson Forest Centre, our South Branch of the Rideau, and our Old Town. We have talented artists to entertain us, fun things to do, and great places to eat.
When the new council comes in, and municipal staff makes plans to replace the Bridge Street bridge, I would like to see it built so that boats can easily pass beneath it. We can be a destination for daytrippers by water. We used to have huge steamer ships come to our town centre.
Local businesses need to realize that we are still a big community of commuters. Ottawa is a government town and many of us are driving North every day to help staff the machine that runs the country. Stay open later so that we can shop locally after work in the evenings. Kemptville used to have a thriving downtown of shops that stayed open late until the last train brought workers home on a weekday evening. We need to look at our past to define our future.
We have many things to consider as we manage our community growth and prosperity into the next 4 years. We want all the things that growth brings, but we also want to remain the community that looks out for its own. We are North Grenville.
Now let’s go and vote.

What will you leave behind?

I am thinking the Farmer and I are going to leave a few things behind for our loved ones when we leave. It won’t all be intentional.
I cut my weekly columns out of the newspaper and file them in binders in my office. I now have 11 years of columns. That’s 572 stories of our life here together on this farm. It’s like a “Dear Diary” of my life.
Most days before I head out on my morning commute I write a note to my husband and leave it on the kitchen island next to the 50-year-old stainless steel percolator that he insists on using for his coffee. I think the drip machine makes a tastier brew and more than once I have accused him of using the perk just for nostalgia’s sake. He does things like that. He has his favourite coffee cup too. I bought it at the Salvation Army. He says it perfectly fits his nose. I didn’t realize his nose was a concern. If I have fresh lipstick on, I seal the note with a kiss. Those ones are his favourites, but he keeps all of them.
If he is going out to show a house in the evening, my realtor husband leaves me a note. It’s usually very short, and funny. But don’t tell him I said that. I’m trying not to encourage his particular wry sense of humour.  The Farmer saves our messages to each other in shoeboxes so that our loved ones’ loved ones can get to know us a little bit better after we are gone. I think he is up to shoebox number 4 by now. They are in a rusty old metal filing cabinet in the basement.
I started writing important little things that I wanted to remember in a hard-covered journal the year we were wed. I still haven’t filled the book, because with my weekly column acting as a journal, I don’t have much else to say. The book is saved for the things that are either too banal, too trivial or too personal to print. That little book will be of interest to someone someday, I’m sure. It is already of interest to me, as I flip back through the past decade of scribbled notes about 30 degree days in November, sheep that had quadruplets, movies that made me cry and jobs that I applied for. It’s funny but I don’t even remember writing half of this stuff and it’s only been a few years since I did.
I also seem to be one of the few people I know who still prints photographs for albums. I actually have too many photos for albums so the Farmer gave me an old cabinet in which to store them. The cabinet stands about four feet tall and it’s two skinny drawers across, seven down. It will take me at least another twenty years to fill it with photos, ticket stubs, postcards and notes. I already have a tallboy of four drawers filled with photos and cards from our first decade together. These are standing right beside the front door of the house. I was thinking of pushing them out onto the front lawn when the porch caught fire last year. Luckily I didn’t have to.
There is something else the Farmer and I will be leaving behind, and it isn’t necessarily on purpose. My husband and I occasionally put money, spare car keys, gift cards and other valuables “in a safe place” for future use. Then we promptly forget where we put these things. I am also in the habit of stuffing ten-dollar bills in out-of-season coat pockets, so as to surprise myself when the weather changes. I do the same with purses that are out of rotation. Someone is going to feel like they won the lottery someday, when they go through our things.
I saw a documentary once about seniors who decide they don’t trust banks anymore. Some of them tape their money to the bottom of desk drawers. They stuff the piano or the mattress with bills or they fill a rubber boot in the attic. Then they forget that they did it. Years later, they pass away and the contents of their home are distributed or sold. Sometimes the new owners discover the bounty. Sometimes they don’t.
To whomever inherits the contents of the humble home that I have shared with the Farmer I would like to say, check every envelope. Do not throw out shoeboxes full of paper without having a read. Look under the chair cushions, and check behind the dresser drawers. I left something for you.

Tea with the brides of yesteryear

The Kemptville District Hospital Ladies’ Auxiliary had a great idea for a fundraiser: a Vintage Bridal Tea. In this case, not only the gowns were vintage; one of the brides was too.
The event was sold out – a huge success – and I know a few people were sorry they missed it so I’ll fill you in on what happened.
Months ago, Linda Carnegie started organizing the event and accepting donations of vintage bridal gowns for the show. St. Johns United Church was chosen as the venue because it has a circular aisle and riser – perfect for a fashion show.
It wasn’t easy to find models for the gowns, because in many cases women were a lot tinier in days gone by than we are today. Most of the gowns, starting with the 1920s flapper-style floral number, were modeled on mannequins.
A lot of research went into this event. Jenny Thibert (my co-host) and I were provided with a bit of commentary on bridal fashion in each decade, along with a few anecdotes about each dress.
Entering the 20s, dancing became a big part of the wedding celebration, and the gowns got shorter as a result.
In the depression-era 30s, gowns were practical and sturdy. They were made out of florals or solid colours in fabrics that could be worn again for other occasions. There just wasn’t extra money to spend on a one-time gown, even for an occasion as special as a wedding.
In the 40s and 50s, the crinoline took over. In some cases the dress was wearing the bride and not the other way around.
In the 60s wedding gowns took on a number of different styles, depending on the bride’s own choice rather than one particular style. Some were a bit more mod, with mini-dresses hidden under long veils – and white go-go boots to match. Others had a bit of a space-age effect, with metallic touches on the shoulders and belt. The crinoline was still in fashion for the princess-inspired bride, and the simple column dress made an elegant, clean line.
My favourite wedding gown decade was the 70s. Wedding gowns were long and free-flowing without the added bulk of crinoline. Most had long sleeves and high necks, and the daisy pattern that had debuted in the 60s was all the rage in the hippy generation.
At the Bridal tea, one model showed a wedding gown that had been designed and worn by a First Nations bride in the 70s, complete with fringe. The bridesmaid gowns were a blast from the past too, in their couch-cushion florals and starchy organza fabric.
I’m amazed at how well the gowns kept their colour and shape after all these years. In honour of the event, I decided to take my own gown out of storage from when I married the Farmer 11 years ago. It’s still in style, but I have no intention of selling it just yet. With 5 daughters between us, someone may find a use for it yet. My gown from 2007 was strapless off-white with a boned and embroidered bodice and rosette accents on the back and the train. I got it from the bridal salon that was once located at #10 Prescott Street in Kemptville. When they went out of business, I got the dress for about $150. The veil cost more, at $199.
I can’t get my dress to zip up anymore, as I was pretty tiny when I got married. I got my eldest daughter try it on though, so that was fun.
At the Vintage Bridal Tea, we had a vintage model. Norma Fisher whispered in my ear in the dressing room: I feel a bit silly, modeling wedding gowns at my age. I told her, Norma, if I look like you when I’m a senior, I’m going to be strutting around every chance I get!
Norma wriggled easily into her sleek cream-coloured, long-sleeved gown with lace overlay. And that’s a good thing because I can’t think of anyone else who could have fit into it. She said the seamstress charged her $15 for the dress back in 1951, and she gave her $20. Norma also modeled her own daughter’s wedding gown for our charity fashion show. How many 96-year-olds do you know who could do that.
You can see some of the photos from the KDH Vintage Bridal Tea on Kathy Botham’s Facebook page.

North Grenville: a refuge from the storm

Well that was quite a weekend. A tornado touched down in the Ottawa area Friday night and some people suffered a great deal of damage to their homes and property. Although we in North Grenville were virtually unharmed by the storm, we did notice a change in our little town. Saturday morning, thousands of our neighbours to the north woke up to realize their electricity had not come on over night. Worse than that, they were told that the power might be out for five days. The stores, restaurants and gas stations in the remaining powered areas of the city just couldn’t accommodate the customers, so residents of the blacked-out areas headed south, to Kemptville.
I was doing my regular Saturday grocery run when I noticed the lineup from the MacEwen gas station. It was spreading all the way back, out of the parking lot and down the road, into the roundabout. There were about fifty cars lined up when I drove by. At first I thought, Wow. The price of gas at 1.18 must be really good in Kemptville. Then I realized what was going on. Storm refugees.
There was an actual traffic jam in the Canadian Tire parking lot, and the grocery stores were experiencing the same influx of people who had come-from-away. I had a couple of my own storm refugees – my daughter and her fiancĂ© from Barrhaven, who needed to take a shower, get a good night’s sleep and use our Internet for the night before they hoped to return home.
As power lines were down on a section of Greenbank Road and traffic was nuts, it took our Barrhavenites almost two hours to get here. Once in town, they realized they were starving and pulled into Fat Les’ chip stand for a poutine. It turned out to be a wise decision, because nearly every other restaurant in town was full to the rafters with a line of hungry, rumpled and tired people waiting to be seated.
I didn’t hang around long enough to witness any grumpiness myself, but I hear that some people were less than patient when dealing with the traffic and congestion in the stores. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that, like me, they did not immediately realize why they were forced to deal with a sudden influx of shoppers in our little community. For the most part, I think we can safely say, residents of North Grenville quickly realized that the newcomers to town were here because they were hungry and in need of supplies. They didn’t need anyone giving them a hard time. That’s not what my hometown is about.
Here is something I found on Facebook Sunday night that warms my heart. It was written by Kika Smith, who runs one of our local coffee shops. Located on the County Road 43 strip, Brewed Awakenings would have been directly in the line of fire for all of those disheveled visitors in desperate need of a good cup of java:
What a weekend! It has been an incredibly busy weekend with many new faces coming in from areas affected by the tornadoes. I want to take a minute to thank my phenomenal staff, who took it all in stride and continued to smile and put orders out quickly. One of my staff was headed to volleyball tryouts, which got cancelled, and when she saw how busy we were, she came in and worked for six hours. Not only that, but her dad came in and did dishes for us for hours, smiling and joking the whole time. Thank you Rachel, Rick and Debbie at Grahame's Bakery, who were ridiculously busy at their place but took a couple minutes to drop off some extra bread; not because we asked them to but because they knew that we would be as busy as they were and need the extra bread. Thank you to Paula who stopped in for a coffee and cleared tables while she waited. Thank you Cathy, who offered to run out and get us any groceries that we may need. Thank you Ghislaine, one of our regular customers who offered to do dishes when she saw our absolutely full restaurant; she decided to come back when it was less busy to get her espresso and then helped us clean up at the end of the day. Again, a huge shout out to my staff for being so amazing. And lastly, thank you to all our customers, new and regular alike, for their patience and humour. We live in an incredible community.
Indeed, we do.

Turning back time

By now you may have heard they found a one-hundred-year-old time capsule when they demolished Leslie Hall. What did Kemptville residents want us to know about life in our little town back then? What items did they chose to place in that capsule and seal away in a cement block, to be uncovered and discovered one hundred years later? As I write this, several old newspapers and collector coins have been revealed from inside the time capsule. I am anxious to see what else is in there. But in my opinion, the newspapers are all we really need. They tell the stories and live on for centuries if preserved properly.
I did some digging through the archives about ten years ago when I was writing a history column for The Advance. Reading those old newspapers was quite an education. Beyond the headlines, the articles and the editorials, there are so many clues to what life was like years ago, between the pages of a newspaper. Luckily the North Grenville Historical Society has many of these publications saved on micro fiche – itself a bit of technological history – so we can look things up and imagine Kemptville life in decades past.
Old newspapers tell us what was going on back in the day, but they also give us an idea of how each bit of news was perceived. You will notice if you read an old newspaper that the idea of journalistic neutrality may not yet have been introduced at the time of printing. Today we accuse some publishers of being partisan in their thinly-veiled barbs against one political party or another. One hundred years ago it was more likely that local reporters and editors would openly express their political opinions. They were also pretty nosy about residents’ private business, so the papers were full of scandal and speculation. It no doubt sold more copies.
The Classified section had a busy Personals section in days gone by. I guess it was like the original Facebook, spreading gossip and connecting people. I remember reading one personal ad in a paper from the 40’s. Buried among the birth and engagement announcements, was a small notice about a young woman who appeared to be entertaining people from out of town. The reporter had noticed a strange out-of-town vehicle in her laneway and had had the gall to approach her and ask her who was visiting! Then he wrote about it (I say ‘he’ because most reporters were men, after all), so that everyone in this little town would know who they were, why they were visiting and when they were most likely to be leaving town. Bizarre. At first I thought the reporting of people’s personal lives was incredibly intrusive. And then I realized, it was likely just the way they did things back then, in this small town, to keep people feeling safe and informed.
We may not have had high security back in the earlier part of the 20th century but we sure knew how to keep an eye on things. Not much got past the local newspaper reporters. Another article from the 30’s has made the rounds several times, and become part of our local folklore. It’s the one about the strange black vehicle that was seen pulling into the big stone mansion on Oxford Street on more than one occasion. The writer noted that the car was a shiny black sedan, and that the driver killed the headlights as it cruised silently into the lane of the stately house, owned by a physician who had a practice in Chicago. The car also had Chicago license plates, the article said. The writer surmised that the good doctor must have had mysterious friends visiting from out of town. Over the years someone decided that one of those elusive characters must have been Al Capone.
Things really haven’t changed that much. You can still get the local scoop at the barber shop or bakery. We just don’t read about our neighbours’ personal lives in the newspaper anymore, because we have a different idea now of what is truly news-worthy. We have learned to value our privacy and to respect others’ too, hopefully. And it is no longer considered scandalous to have a gentleman caller if you are one of the town’s unmarried school teachers, living alone. It’s called life – and it has changed in so many ways in the past one hundred years. What will it be like in another one hundred?