To Kay Brookins, growing up a Gillan on a farm just up the hill from Pakenham was a lovely experience. Now 89, Brookins lives on the banks of the Mississippi in a house built of stone from the old Methodist Church which was torn down in 1929. “Father paid $400 for the structure on the understanding it would be removed within four months of purchase,” Brookins recalls. “My brother, who should have been an architect and not a farmer, designed the house for my parents. Later I bought the property between the river and the edge of the lot to prevent anyone from building there and ruining the view.” Brookins’ Canadian ancestry dates back to 1831, when her great-grandfather Francis, the first of five generations of Francis Gillans left Cloonageeher. County Longford, Ireland to settle on 100 acres of land between Pakenham and Antrim. A Gillan, his great-nephew Arthur, still lives in the old stone house he built, not many miles from where her mother’s family, the Hunts of Country Leitrim, settled in Galetta. Brookins recently returned to Pakenham from Massachusetts where she’d lived with her husband of 12 years until his death in 1982. They met as students at Queen’s University in 1926, but did not marry until nearly half a century later.
“It was very romantic,” she admits. “We had had a nice time at college dances in Kingston, many years before. But he had a girl friend in Ottawa whom he married when he graduated. “Almost 46 years later, after his wife died, he wrote and asked if he could call on me in Pakenham, and I said yes. We married soon after I met his family whom I grew to love.
We had 12 of the happiest years of my life until he died of cancer in 1982.” Prior to her marriage, Brookins taught high school phys-ed, chemistry and biology for 35 years in Kemptville. “And except for one boy, I never had any trouble with any student in all those years,” she recalls.
Of her childhood and youth, Brookins says she misses the sensible conversational arts practised at the turn of the century. “Society was quieter,” she recalls. “People did more than gossip or watch TV shows. There was no loud orchestrated music to go through your head, no violence constantly on view.” Mixed farming provided the family livelihood for four generations. Her father rejected a career in teaching after 18 months at a school near Torbolton.
“He was a quiet man who preferred to farm, working long, long days.” Looking back, Brookins feels her mother taught the family of six their social and moral values. “I can still remember how she made butter and wrapped it in parchment to store in our cool basement with its clay floor. And how everyone helped make ice cream each harvest season on hot days.”
But she doesn’t remember any particular friction among siblings or neighbors. “You had to build good relations with neighbours then,” says Brookins, “and get along with others in the community even if you didn’t always agree with them. With good relations you didn’t need to worry about future trouble. PeoplpIe looked after each other. That’s missing today.” Brookins relates an old folk tale from the area, telling how everyone for miles around turned out to search for the one needle in the community when it was lost by one housewife taking it to another. The search went on through the night with candles until the precious needle was found,” she says to illustrate the depth of community that existed in the 19th century. Read- One Village? One Sewing Needle!
Candace StewartShe was a great lady and so supportive for career and education for women. When I got accepted to university she wrote me a lovely note which I still have and gift.
Stephen BrathwaiteKay married Harry Brookins after his wife died. His wife was my Aunt Irene born Irene Kelley our mum’s older sister.
Jeri LunneyHer nephew was Dr. Bill Buttle, our dear friend, who died last winter. Small world.
Martha SheldrakeWas Kay Gillan related to Mrs. Gillan who taught at ADH in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s? Also was that Mrs. Gillan related to Mrs. Buttle who taught there at the same time? Bill Buttle had just begun practising dentistry at his office on Metcalfe Street in Ottawa my first year of teaching and he remained my dentist for years. ( I still have some of his fillings in my mouth. Proof that he was a good dentist! Also, that i’d have made a good horse as at this age, I still have all my own teeth!) We used to say we’d retire at the same time and laugh because we both thought we’d never be old and reach that age! Wrong again! But then I left Ottawa and lost touch. I’m sorry to hear of his passing, Jeri.
Jeri LunneyYes, a sister-in-law of Kay Gillan, I believe. Mrs. Gillan taught me grades 1-4 in Pakenham SS#4. She was a wonderful teacher. If Donna Scott Fairbairn is reading this, she can confirm. Bill played duplicate bridge in Arnprior- that’s how we became friends.