The “Margaret Thatcher” of Campbell Street

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Muriel McNeely Simpson and her brother Howard McNeely.jpg

Photo of Mrs. Eric Simpson aka Muriel McNeely Simpson and her brother Howard McNeely—-photo donna mcfarlane

 

Dedicated to Blair White-

Years ago I used to know all my neighbours. I was lucky to have great people like Mrs. Cummings, Laurel McCann, the Johnstones, the Gordons and the Nephins live near me. Joyce and Stuart White lived across the street and Howard McNeely’s sister, Muriel Simpson, lovingly ruled us all in the neighbourhood like Margaret Thatcher. No one dared cross the line with her on Campbell Street, not even next door plumber Gerald Hastie. Especially Gerald Hastie! No matter how much he mocked her –if she yelled ‘jump‘ he would ask “how high?” and quickly at that.

When I moved here in 1981 I asked her if I detected an Irish accent. She laughed for barely 5 seconds and then looked at me like she was going to take my head off and said,

“My dear WE ALL talk that way here in Lanark County!”

After that firm answer I never disputed what Muriel said as I knew I would have a debate on my hands. No matter what year you moved to Carleton Place, if you weren’t born here- you were a newcomer for the rest of your life and that was that. No way,  no how. What would get you into the most trouble with her was if you dared ask her how old she was. That lone question was the kiss of death, as this was not a woman that just stayed home knitting. This was more of a woman who would press a life alert button to see how many firemen showed up.

It doesn’t matter how many jokes Blair White still tells to this day about Muriel Simpson, I am sure she put the fear of God in him and his brothers as she did the rest of us–only he will never admit it. Muriel was afraid of no one, and there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t ask you if she was curious- and you had better be ready with an answer. Muriel never accepted silence or making excuses in any conversation. There was never anything off the table with her and she would find out what she wanted to know at any cost. She was a walking encyclopedia of local gossip and there was nothing this woman did not know about Carleton Place. She would begin most of her stories with the words,“Well you know…” and then launch into full barracuda attack mode.

Muriel loved to reminisce about her beloved ”McNeely farmhouse” that she was born and raised in. Her childhood home once sat just about where Mitchell’s Independent’s Grocery is now located on Highway 7 and McNeely Blvd. In fact if I had money I would erect a billboard in that field  that said,“Muriel McNeely Simpson lived here” as I know that she would love that.

Each week she seemed to get more depressed as she watched the building fall apart from neglect, similar to the McCrae farm across the road. Muriel did not live to see the day of box stores and having the new road and bridge named after the McNeely’s,  I often wonder if she would be complaining about the new structures that are sitting out there now. She didn’t like new things and scolded me once when I said we were getting prices for something we were having done in my home. She gave me ‘that look of hers’ and said:

“My dear, that’s not how we do it in Carleton Place. We just pick the right man for the job and call him- and we especially don’t call strangers!”

Muriel would also probably throw in a “Hmmph” and “For Land’s Sake” in conversation every 60 seconds. She was frustrated in the early 90’s about our new addition going up at our home. It just wasn’t going up fast enough for her and she would throw her hands up in the air and say to anyone who visited her,

“Do these people across the street know what they are doing?”

Muriel would complain incessantly about the possibility of the local corner stores staying open 24 hours. Day after day I heard,

“Surely, if these places are open until midnight folks should have enough to get them by until 7am.”

In reality, her complaints always had me in a fit of giggles and I loved her.  We were as different as night and day, but she would talk about me like I was her daughter. If  my name came up in conversation she would say,

“Oh you know the gal with the ponytail on the side of her head and she wears only one earring”.

Like everyone should know a woman sporting an 80’s disco ponytail wearing one earring.

Each week I would load this elderly woman into my pink Corvette Stingray and she would wave to her subjects in a regal manner as we went to Sunday service at St. James. She never failed to tell me that she and her husband Eric had bought the cross that hangs over the altar in the Anglican church. So remember that when you walk into St. James as she would want you too.

Muriel made an impact on me and there is never ever a day that I will not forget her. You see she made me promise that I would sit in her spot in a certain church pew after she died.  If you were sitting in it when she was alive she made you move. She told me that bad things would happen to me if I didn’t sit on her spot upon her demise.  If you have seen me sit on the right hand side of the church it is for a very good reason, and– if you are sitting in her spot I will slide myself in there no matter how many people are sitting there.  After all God said she had full custody of that seat and like Muriel I always have thought that life should be Pay per Pew. 🙂

Amen!

Miss you Muriel!!

 

 

comments

Karen Blackburn Chenier —I remember her when she was also “Queen ” of the kitchen at the old St James Parish hall, I have no idea who the actual head of “The Energetics” as the Womens Council was called then, but I do know everybody hustled when Muriel spoke. As a teenager and being volunteered,by my mother, to help out I was quite intimidated by her and just stayed out of the way. Heaven forbid if I put the wrong cup and saucer on.. The kitchen ran like a well organized military operation and look out if the potato masher got put away in the wrong drawer!

 

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun and Screamin’ Mamas (USA)

 

Related reading

Howard McNeely- I Aim to Please

H B Montgomery Auctioneer

50 cents I ’m bid–Auctioneer

Buttons and Quilts by Sherri Iona (Lashley)

The Mysterious Riddell— H B Montgomery House

In Memory of H B Montgomery

 Glory Days in Carleton Place-Sherri Iona (Lashley)

Glory Days of Carleton Place- Dear Miss Powell by Terry Kirkpatrick

Update on Miss Powell from CPHS- John Edwards

Clayton Hands

Reusing the Past of Carleton Place — The Morphy’s and the McCann’s

In the Year 1923 —- “BHM”– (Before Howard McNeely)

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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