A few years ago I wrote a historical story about an incident that took place in 1915. It was a tale of shenanigans by a group of kids that led the citizens of the Ottawa Valley to believe the Germans had landed via UFO’s. Years later paranormal studies attempted to debunk history and insist it wasn’t kids wreaking mayhem, but was indeed a cluster of UFO’s.
As a fan of the X-Files I really believe that there is someone else out there. However, I have always thought my late father was dubious when he insisted I join him in a spaceship watch. In the late 60’s he claimed to have seen something up in those starry skies hovering over the Brome Pond/Lac Bromont area– which I jokingly blamed it on too much exhaust coming out of his Ford Pinto.
In 1974 it happened again and this time he made me sit for what seemed like hours to see what he claimed was another UFO. Of course I never saw anything unusual and handed him a glass of wine and suggested he go watch The Rockford Files.
Today, going through the news archives I found out that there were indeed many UFO sightings in the Eastern Townships and Arthur Knight might not have been so crazy after all. In the late 60’s many sightings in the Sherbrooke area have been documented and Michael Phelps sent a letter to the Sudbury Star in 1990 in response to a request by the newspaper for personal encounters.
The letter discussed a 1968 incident at an Ayer’s Cliff cottage on the shores of Lake Massawippi that his family was renting. He spoke of walking home one evening when the whole sky lit up like giant spotlights being turned on. He looked across the lake and saw 3 or 4 balls descend, and after a few seconds they were gone. His sister had seen the same thing, but later they found out that it had not been a visit from beyond, rather it had been nothing but earthquake lights.
In the summer of 1909 a similar aerial display was seen in that part of the heavens which looked down upon the Eastern Townships. At night it was seen by many, but two fishermen claimed that they had a view of it by daylight, although it must be admitted that the description given by the latter was not quite so circumstantial and satisfactory.
The people of the Townships justly celebrated for solving mysteries were this time completely baffled. There were explanations, but no two people agreed on one story. Some in Magog thought it might be a new contraption for facilitating smuggling, others guessed it might be improved rural mail delivery. Some thought it could have been done for election purposes, but there just wasn’t one pending.
As the autumn nights grew dark, and chilly the mysterious flying machine like the birds went its way and was seen no more. Until a few weeks later in October it was seen hovering above the city of Worcester, Mass. exciting the people considerably and causing no end of conversation.
Now it was discussed whether the flying object could be a thing of supernatural existence. It was nothing in the nature of a witch or anything of that sort. The fact that it appeared at Worcester and not at Salem, of uncanny fame, stopped the witch’s conversation immediately. They said the thing “bore a ‘searchlight”, and there is nothing on record to show that a witch ever carried anything on her journeys except a broom.
Again, it became the talk of the Townships, and some thought it should now be considered serious and be attended to. One thing was for sure– that the people of New England would not be satisfied with any of the Township’s theories based on such common subjects as spying or smuggling.
The Montreal Star’s explanation was that any answer that did not provide for something like a visit from the Martians would not be satisfactory. In the meantime they suggested that everyone should look into hiring one of their famous air navigators and put them on the trail of the mystery, and just fly It down.
Did anyone ever take up The Montreal Star’s suggestion? Not in any archives I was digging into, but as they say: “The truth is still out there!”
Our new editor at The Townships Sun, Rachel Garber thought it would be a great idea if I wrote about our late editor Barbara Heath. Normally it would be an easy task for me, but in this case I had never met Barbara. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t know her– but in reality, we knew each other. They say to have a close friendship you need to meet each other first which helps strengthen the bond. Barbara and I did not need that, as we easily exchanged over a 100 emails between each other and felt like long lost sisters.
I first met Barbara years ago when she emailed me about a story I did about the rumoured 30-foot- long monster called Gog, Manaloo, Memphre, the Anaconda, or the Lake Monster of Lake Memphremagog. Somehow she had seen it on Facebook and asked if the Townships Sun could run it. Since I had spent the first night of my honeymoon looking out the motel window which faced Lake Memphremagog searching for that creature; it was a story that was near and dear to my heart.
And so, as they say, began the online friendship of Linda and Barbara. I had been writing for years in the States for publications about celebrities, murders and pets and she assured me that history was my thing and she was right. She encouraged me to keep writing with my heart, and to pursue my potential. It’s not like I needed anyone to encourage my prolific writing, but even though we were the same age, it was like someone putting their arm around you. It was always that way between us. She represented a part of my self-identity.
We both believed in saving heritage like the Tomifobia church which is a short distance from Stanstead, Quebec. The poor wee church was sold and abandoned for years and it left a mark on both of our hearts. She was a fighter like myself and we both stood up for the wrongs in our communities. Barbara with the closing of the CIBC in Stanstead and me with stormwater management ponds and supporting local business. It doesn’t matter how slowly we now moved along, we just had to make sure we didn’t stop. Neither of us kept our feelings in a drawer to be forgotten.
I am heartbroken and I should have known her health wasn’t getting better. In March she sent me two beautiful jewellery artifacts that belonged to her mother. She said in a letter,
“I hope they bring you joy and show your spirit. You are certainly a valuable member of the Sun Family.”
Barbara did not wish to have any services, like myself. We both had figured out that lots of things happen after you die and none of them involve the deceased. I had told Barbara that when I die, cremate me and stick a tree on me. I wanted absolutely no headstones so these genealogists I have been writing about for years will come looking for me. She always thought that was funny.
We never met, yet we knew each other well, almost like we were friends before,
We never met, but we both grew up in the Eastern Townships and loved and breathed history,
We never met, but you sent me letters from those that enjoyed my writing in the Townships Sun and told me never to stop writing.
We never met, but you were a friend and a mentor, and for that I will be eternally grateful and never ever forget you.
Once Upon a Time it was Yesterday Linda Knight Seccaspina
They say if you time travel in your dreams you might end up in a continuous loop, and if it were possible to go back a few years maybe we could undo our mistakes. Last night I found myself once again breathing in the past.
Sitting on a bench outside the old train station in Cowansville, Quebec in a dream, it seemed like forever, but in reality it was probably just a few minutes. Nothing had changed as the lunchtime whistle blew from the Vilas factory across the way, and the ghosts of workers past streamed out of boarded up doorways and broken windows.
I saw the Realmont building and remembered it being such a mysterious place to some of us as teenagers. Whispers of what went on in that building were always on my mind and the secretive hygiene products of what we thought they sold were now irrelevant in my life.
I looked at the old bowling alley across the street and remembered the evenings spent in a cigarette smoke filled basement dancing to 60s music and the friends I will never forget.
Sitting on the cement steps of the old Voyageur Bus Terminal I watched my late Father trying to calm the owner, telling him to ignore the teenagers with their transistor radios as they were never going to take his jukebox business away. In reality all of us are just full of hot air and I had to giggle at my father’s lack of faith in technology. I snapped a photo of the two of them realizing it would probably only end up becoming memories and kept on walking down South Street stopping to peer into Hashim’s window.
I had spent a great deal of my youth shopping in this store and loved the smell of new clothing and running my hand down the long wooden counter on Friday nights. In those days you trusted your retailers, and so did my Father when I purchased a pair of lime green ‘leprechaun’ shoes there in the 60s for $7. I remember those shoes as being the most outrageous, but incredibly uncomfortable shoes I had ever worn.
My Grandmother was sitting on the screened verandah and I waved as I walked by and said I would be back. She pointed to the big Shell truck that was unloading gas at the corner gas station. Every Friday evening the truck would pull up and the heavy smell of gas would invade the air. Grammy would put her hands on her hips and tell the driver that the next smoker who lit up was going to blow us all to kingdom come. My grandparents never owned a car so they had great difficulty understanding those who did.
I longed to see the shoes in Brault’s window as I had always admired their quality and cutting edge. The Anglican church beckoned me to pay homage to the place that I had spent a great deal of time in. The usually locked door was open and I looked inside and remembered the sound of the choir and the smell of the vestry that my Grandmother and I worked in every Friday night. I saw apple blossoms on the church pews for someone’s wedding and this seemed all too real and better to relive this just once more and not a thousand times again.
It was a debate where to stop next– Cowansville High School or Le Patio restaurant across the street. Both had been instrumental in my growing pains and I swore I heard the song “These Boots are Made for Walking” on a continuous loop and the smell of “patates frites avec sauce” filled the air.
I looked down the street and saw the shattered glass of the Mademoiselle Shoppe and knew I could not cross the bridge and go further because I was caught in a loop of that Winter day in 1959. Many children were hurt in a terrible accident which I am sure they too never ever forgot.
Sometimes you have to travel a long way to find what is near and life now has to begin at the end of my comfort zone. My past has given me the strength and wisdom I have today and some things are better left in yesterday along with all the mistakes and regrets. What happened yesterday is just a story, and I accept the result of once having had the time of my life and know that you can always go back home– somehow.
As a fan of the X-Files I have always believed that there is someone else out there in the skies. However, sometimes I thought my late father was nuts when he insisted I join him in a spaceship watch outside on his driveway. In the late 60’s he claimed to have seen something up in those starry skies on Miltimore Road hovering over the Brome Pond area– which I blamed it on too much exhaust coming out of his Ford Pinto. In 1974 it happened again and this time he made me sit for what seemed like hours to see what he claimed was another UFO. Of course I never saw anything unusual and usually handed him a glass of wine and told him to go watch The Rockford Files.
Today, going through the news archives I found out that there were indeed many UFO sightings in the Eastern Townships in that time frame and my father, Arthur Knight, might not have been so crazy after all. In the late 60’s many sightings in the Sherbrooke area have been documented and Michael Phelps sent a letter to the Sudbury Star in 1990in response to a request by the newspaper for personal encounters.
The letter discussed a 1968 incident at an Ayer’s Cliff cottage on the shores of Lake Massawippi that his family was renting. Walking home one evening the whole sky was lit up like giant spotlights being turned on. He looked across the lake and saw 3 or 4 balls descend and after a few seconds they were gone. His sister had seen the same thing, but later they found out that it had not been a visit from beyond, rather it had been nothing but what they call ‘earthquake lights’. These lights in the sky are caused by electrical properties of certain rocks in specific settings. When nature stresses certain rocks, electric charges are activated, as if you switched on a battery in the Earth’s crust.
On the 15th of July in 1974, a UFO wave swept the Sudbury, Ontario and once again the Eastern Townships area. Among these were some UFOs that had a bell shape and that was what my father had insisted he had seen in his second encounter. In October of the same year a bell-shaped UFO was also seen between Deauville and Rock Forest, and in this case, the object was orange in colour.
So today I sit here, over 30 years later, and wonder what my father actually saw. Did he see spaceships, or was it natural mineral gas lights coming off nearby Gale Pond? For those that have no idea what I am talking about– Gale Pond, which is now called Lac Gale, sits on top of Gale Mountain in Bromont.
As a kid we used to climb the rough trail up the mountain where a former volcanic crater sat at the top, disguised as a natural lake. There we would mingle with the campers of Gale Camp that Reverend Peacock of the Anglican church in Cowansville had begun in 1944. Kids would swim off the dam on the south end of Gale Pond and the water warmed up faster than any other lake after a good rainstorm. But did we ever see any spaceships coming out of the water, or was there anything else that would have been labeled odd? Not that I remember! The only thing that would have had something similar to wild lights and burning speed would have been the Farr boy’s toboggan zipping down that trail coming from the top of Gale Mountain.
So what did my Dad see? Personally, I believe there are just two possibilities– either we are alone in this universe, or we are not. I guess we will never know– but after doing research for this story, more of my childhood came back in a flood of memories. It’s just so hard to forget an area that gave me so much to remember– even on the subject of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Remembering Courage Strength and Love- Linda Knight Seccaspina
By the 1930’s 90% of the urban population was dependent on a wage or salary, and most families you knew lived on the edge. Living in the city meant reliance on a male family member with a job to stay alive, and if you lived on the farm you counted on what you grew to feed everyone.
As a child, my Grandmother used to tell me all sorts of stories about the Depression. Each morning she made sandwiches for the hungry people knocking on her door, and her weathered screened verandah sometimes became a shelter for homeless people during rainy nights. The train station was just a few blocks down from where they lived on South Street in Cowansville, and those that rode the freight trains would get off daily to see if they could find work or food.
I was always told that we had a hobo mark on our side door, and Grammy Knight would also take in needy families until they got on their feet. Grampy once said that he never knew who would be sitting across from him nightly at the dinner table. Each time my Grandmother asked him to go to the grocery store to get another loaf of bread for someone in need he went without complaining.
One day Grammy hired a young homeless woman named Gladys who worked for her until she died. I was barely eight years old when Gladys passed, but I still remember her like yesterday. Gladys was an odd looking woman who tried to hide her chain smoking habit from my Grandmother. The manly-looking woman would talk up a storm while she cleaned with stories that young ears should have never heard– but I always did.
Gladys would tell me all about her days during the depression as a teenager, where she would hide along the tracks outside the train yards. She would run as fast as she could along the train as it gained speed and grab hold and jump into the open boxcars. Sometimes, she missed, and sometimes she watched some of her friends lose their legs, or their lives, as they jumped off as the train was reaching its destination.
There was nothing left at home for her during those horrible years of the Depression. One Sunday they were without money for the church collection plate and under one of the old rugs they finally found a dime which they proudly placed on the collection plate.
There were just too many mouths to feed and Gladys knew she wasn’t going anywhere if she remained at home. So she just rode the rails as it was free and she knew she would find food somewhere, which was more than she was going to do at home. She cut her hair, wore overalls and a cap, and survived life on the road until my Grandmother hired her.
Gladys ended up dying in her sleep in ‘the back room’ of my Grandparents home. After she died, my Grandmother promptly labelled it ‘Gladys’s room’. When I was older and came home on weekends, that very same room was where I slept. You have no idea how many times I thought I saw Gladys in the dark shadows scurrying around with her feather duster, and yes, still chain smoking.
When I was older my Grandparents would make a simple dinner for themselves. My Grandfather would cut up tomatoes, add mayo like a dressing with salt and pepper. While I watched him eat, I would say, “is that all you’re having !!?? He would reply to me,
“I’m from a time when you looked in the icebox and you put together what was in there and that’s what you had. Remember that “my birdie” … it isn’t always right there for you when you get home . Money was scarce and we had to survive on what we grew in the garden. We learned to use everything and had no waste”.
My Grandparents taught me a lot about life. I never thought I would be my Grandmother, but here I am now. They taught me to count my blessings, not my troubles, and to “show up” for people. Your ancestors that lived through those times were brave and they never judged a book by its cover. You just never know as they say, the things you take for granted might be something others are praying for.
When I was at the Middleville Museum a few years ago they had a display of cow bells from a few neighbouring farmers. I had no idea that each bell belonged to a different cow and that is how the farmer’s distinguished them.
In Lanark County you could sometimes stop walking along the side of a back road and hear the faint clank of the cow bell. In the summer when the cows were in the pasture finding them and bringing them home for evening milking would have taken hours of searching if it were not for the cow bell. They were crafted by blacksmith or tinsmith and measured eight inches along the four squared sides.
On day as a child there seemed to be cow bells ringing in the sky and I thought it was actually a bell around the neck of a turkey buzzard often called a turkey vulture. We could hear the bell coming and first thought it was the ice cream truck but couldn’t see anybody anywhere on Albert Street. It stayed in the neighbourhood two or three days and we always knew it was around because we could hear the bell tinkling.
The bell was about the size of a small cow bell and the buzzard seemed used to it, or at least he didn’t mind it at all and it didn’t seem to bother him. My father thought it might be somebody who kept the vulture for a pet and attached the bell when he let it out for exercise.
One day my Dad was cutting the grass and the sound of that bell kept getting closer and finally he looked up. The buzzard was about 75 feet up—and he could see the bell clearly around its neck. Every time it would go up or down the bell would ring. The vulture seemed to enjoy the music as it circled around and I think it went to roost in a tree fascinated with everyone watching him. All the neighbours had seen this vulture at this point, and insisted the bird had a cow bell on him.
Adding to the evidence that there was a buzzard with some sort of bell going around one day my Dad spotted him again. He and a couple of his men went on a job in a very rural area. One of his assistants saw a flock of buzzards and finally he spotted a bell on one of them. The buzzard bell sounded more like chimes and his apprentice said, it was way too small for a cow bell. My father laughed and agreed-
“Those town folks may know buzzards” he remarked, “but they don’t know cow bells” he laughed.
Writing this story today I had no idea that “The Belled Buzzards” were a series of strange bell-wearing birds of prey that had been sighted all across the country roughly from the late 1860s and into the 1950s. One legend states that the bell around the buzzard’s neck tolls to signal the upcoming death of a notable person. For half a century, the belled buzzard was the object of headlines throughout the Southeastern United States and the subject of fascination, speculation and doubt. Those that heard its haunting ring fled into the darkness fearing that the end of the world was near.
These creatures were described as resembling normal turkey vultures or buzzards, with the exception of the strange bell they wore around their necks. Occasionally the birds were said to have worn the bells around one of their legs. The most common explanation is that the belled buzzard was part of a poorly-thought out prank wherein someone tied a bell to a buzzard they had captured. I’d like to think that is exactly what it was and leave the lingering chimes of this story now before I tell my grandchildren and scare the feathers out of them.
And Now for Something Completely Different– The Junk Drawer……. Linda Knight Seccaspina
Across vast countries, mixed into every culture we all share one thing, one dirty little secret throughout time. That, my friends, is the junk drawer. No matter if you move, don’t have junk, or even aspiration to have one, that drawer is with you– sometimes forever. Someday you might even have enough of a variety in that drawer to make a spaceship– or even save the world.
Let’s be totally honest, is there anything you would really miss in that drawer? The nails and bolts, the bits of string, and yes, even small packages of Ketchup when you always keep a fresh litre in the fridge. If a global condiment packet shortage comes our way, my junk drawer will reign supreme. I can’t even begin a conversation with you about that strange light bulb in my drawer that could possibly be useful 20 years down the line— or the fork with two missing centre prongs that is used to unjam the dishwasher as seen on YouTube.
That’s where the birthday candles are kept, keys, keys and more keys that fit nowhere and lots of twist ties.One day down the road some archaeologist is going to find all these bread and twisty ties and conclude it must have played an incredible role in our society. Sometimes just the right whatever-it-is can be found in there, but how many old pens do you have in that drawe,r and actually how many work?
In all honesty, that drawer never started out to become a junk drawer, it probably had high hopes to be a utensil container and somehow it became a vast memory capsule for your family. In one fell swoop unexpected visitors called one day and whatever was hanging around on the counters got thrown in that drawer for a last minute hiding place and its fate was sealed forever.
In my drawer I have a flashlight with no batteries, but flashlights without batteries also exist in various places around my home. They are all awaiting the first storm so I can complain about them not working.There are scraps of paper with written notes on them I can’t read, like the poison hotline centre. Menus from restaurants along with enough mouse traps to catch The Mickey Mouse Club constantly jam the drawer each time you attempt to close it.
My sons are in their mid 30s yet rolls of hockey tape along with a remote control that controls nothing still lie at the back of that drawer. Instructions for the old BETA VCR and batteries that we just aren’t sure if they are dead yet lay next to markers that are half dead but not dead enough. There are small pieces of metal with no purpose that my late husband put in there along with matching pieces of similar plastic with elastic bands that no longer stretch around them. A Tim Hortons ‘Roll Up the Lid to Win’ remainder is in there along with things that came from the bottom of pepsi bottles caps for contests that ended at least a decade ago.
If anyone uses a tool, the mandatory protocol seems to be to give it a home in the junk drawer instead of putting it back. I swear my grandson who is now 3 will do the same in 10 years if I am still alive. It’s just the family traditions that will never be broken. Why are we still saving the extra buttons that come with sweaters, and various blouses even though the chances of using them are null to void? Odd band aids used to be in that drawer until I decided cleanliness needed to be next to godliness and some of them just didn’t stick anymore. I just threw out the small ancient Nerf gun with two bullets as I realized protection while cooking dinner is no longer needed.
No matter how you argue that your junk drawer isn’t like mine– this drawer exists in every household and you know it is the staple of every happy family. Right now you can go to this drawer and whatever you are looking for is right beside the old roll of duct tape that is next to the empty BIC lighter. I am sure we could empty out that drawer for the good of mankind, but in all honesty how could you break the news to the junk closet or the junk room? To those that say they haven’t opened that drawer in a long time I would suggest that you go take out that half broken rogue potato masher or spatula that is keeping the drawer stuck and investigate. If you really think of it junk drawers are mostly like opinions– everyone has got one and they are mostly full of crap.
This morning I got up and sat on the edge of the bed and read the news on my phone as I always do. Nothing much had changed as I scrolled through the various news outlets. I hit my email and found out that I had a message from someone on Ancestry.ca. If you read my blog this week I am finally putting my maternal family tree together.
I dangled my feet off the side of the bed and remembered the black smoke coming out of the family burn barrel in the Albert Street backyard during the last days of September 1963. I can still see my father through the white sheer curtains stoking the fire and tossing photograph albums and the beloved handwritten family genealogy book that cousin Iveson Miller from Island Brook, Quebec had done for my mother. Death does strange things to the mind, and it was obvious that my Father was wiping away any trace of my Mother who had just passed away at the age of 34.
As a very young child I still remember taking that family book out of the piano bench and reading all the family entries written in fountain pen ink. It was just names to me in those days, but year after year those names became more important to me. For many years I have been the last standing family member of the Knight family from Cowansville, Quebec. It’s not easy to watch family members die from cancer, always wondering when it is going to be your turn. But, through the years of cancer, heart attacks, and strokes I am still standing. In the back of my mind I feel there has got to be a reason somewhere other than irritating people with my eclectic personality.
Last week I began the maternal family tree and found out that I actually had a bonafide settler who made a name for himself on my mother’s side. James Miller and his wife Mary Henderson were prominent founders in the Eastern Townships from the bottom up: designing buildings, working on the railroad and birthing babies.
For years I have been posting online trying to find the handwritten notes of Iveson Miller to no avail. This morning I got a note that someone has them and will be sending them to me. That was the best present I could ever get besides my Pioneer Woman salt and pepper shakers Steve gave me. This will be a gift for someone in my family down the line who is interested.
After sitting on the edge of the bed smiling for a long time I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror at a face I seldom recognize these days. I looked closely, shrieked, and got the flashlight and tweezers out. I am not going to explain this line of events, but any woman will know what I am about to write. There above my lip was the longest transparent facial hair I had ever seen. It could have knit a sweater it was so long. Obviously I am getting my proper vitamins to grow something so humongous.
It reminded me that today was Christmas Eve and my Grandmother Mary Louise Deller Knight would be outside the kitchen door with her axe. A prime turkey would be sitting on a stump and she would cut that sucker in half with one fell blow. Half would be for Christmas day and the other half would be jammed into a tiny freezer for Easter. After the final blow to Christmas dinner she would take out my Grandfather’s round shaving mirror and pluck her chin hairs. It was an annual tradition to the soothing sounds of Mantovani.
This morning as I plucked that sucker off I put it on the bathroom mirror to show Steve in case he was interested. As he loaded the dishwasher in his usual anal ritual of making sure cutlery was placed neatly and in order I told him the story. I reminded him once again that when I am on my deathbed all facial hairs must be removed or I will come back and haunt him for the rest of his life. He said nothing as he loaded dishes in next and nodded his head to my wishes. You have to remember after almost 23 years he finds the best way to deal with my constant stories is to just nod and move on. Probably for the best.
So to the person in the Eastern Townships that found me thank you for a wonderful Christmas present. Genealogy is like a magic mirror. Look at it, and sometimes some pretty interesting faces appear and honestly… they probably all have chin hairs.
Once the Duke had “his way” with some peasant girl, she was soon forgotten and my family continued to farm rocks— Steven Robert Morrison
I saw this quote from my friend Steven yesterday and I wondered why some of our ancestors were so naive and honestly, not thinking. But, I realized some of my moves through life have also been dumb as rocks, so, in all honesty, I guess some of us have not changed.
For the past 6 years I have spent hours a day recording local history and answering other people’s questions about their families, and I have never really looked at my own. Last night instead of wrapping Christmas presents I decided to start my family tree on my maternal side as I knew it was going to be the easiest.
Years ago Iveson Miller from Island Brook used to visit our home on Albert Street in Cowansville, Quebec and tell me family stories. Before my Mother died in 1963 he gave her this wonderful family tree book hand written in turquoise fountain pen ink. My mother stored it in the piano bench and ever so often I would take it out and read it. To this day I have never seen a more comprehensive book and was hoping one day it would be given to me. But that was not to be. When my mother died my father took all the family photographs and that precious family tree book and burned them in the burn barrel in the back yard. Today I understand that the years of pain he went through with my sick mother drove him to do that, but I often wonder if he regretted it. So last night I began Iveson Miller’s journey once again, knowing I would not get the detail he had once provided, but it would be something for my children and grandchildren to cherish. I thank Ruth Burns Morrow for compiling the “History of Island Brook” and for the people that saved it.
Bernice Ethelyn Crittenden in West Brome
My mother’s family were basically Irish to the core and came from England and Ireland and settled in the United States and Argenteuil County, Quebec and them moved on to Island Brook and Brome in the Eastern Townships. Island Brook was a fantasy place to me during my early childhood and I can still myself in one of the Miller’s small barns milking my first cow.
James Miller and his wife Mary Henderson were the grandparents of my grandmother Gladys E Griffin (on her maternal side Charlotte J. Miller) who died of the family disease at age 39. Gladys would have no idea that her only child, my mother, Bernice Ethelyn Crittenden, and her granddaughter, my sister Robin Anne Knight Nutbrown would die before the age of 40 from the same thing she had died of–cancer.
Gladys’s grandfather James Miller was actually a veteran of the Fenian Raid, belonging to No. 5 Company of the Argenteuil (Quebec) Rangers, for which services he received a Fenian Raid Medal. Decades after the Fenian Raids, in 1899, the federal government decided to award the “Canada General Service Medal” to all who volunteered during the Fenian invasions of 1866 and 1870. James serve at Cornwall & St. Johns at Niagara 1866 under Colonel Abbott Island Brook, Quebec for 3 months.
However, in order to actually receive the medal, the person had to still be alive in 1899 and had to apply for it. The Ontario Government offered a free grant of land to all the Fenian Raid Veterans. Mr. Miller was one of those who did not accept the offer, as he believed that what they offered was very poor land. Later it became the site of the fabulously rich gold fields in the Kirkland Lake area. Would this be considered a ‘dumb as rocks move?
Ontario Travel photo– Kirkland Lake area– Some of the folks that made it rich.
During his younger years, James Miller and his brothers travelled with the farmers, who were taking their produce to Port Royal (Montreal), as Security Guards against Indian attack.
James Miller and his wife moved from Argenteuil County to Island Brook, Quebec in January 1868, accompanied by their son, Alexander, who was three years old. I wonder if James had accepted the offer to mine in the fabulously rich gold fields in the Kirkland Lake if life would have been different. There was no cars in those days and the trip to Island Brook was made by oxen. It was a great perilous distance of approximately two hundred miles and settlements were a rare site in those days and there were no settlements east of the Island Brook River.
So the description of life they had was no different than that of any other settler I have written about. Mary Miller worked with her husband on a daily basis clearing the land, and taking the children along with her. They burned the trees they cut down and often baked potatoes in the hot ashes from the fires which would be their noon meal. Later on in years their great granddaughter Linda would do the same thing with the Cowansville Girl Guides at the Brome Fair property not knowing that this was no lark to them as it was to her.
My great grandfather James Miller walked on trails through the woods to La Patrie (12 miles), or to Cookshire, a distance of 8 miles, to get groceries, and he carried them home on his back. I have written so much about other settler families and wondered if my only interesting heritage was Alexander Knight ( great grandfather on my paternal side). Alexander was a music writer, had a musician’s agency and ran music halls in London. Or how about Louisa Knight who scandalously rocked Queen Victoria’s court. I wanted some hard working settlers on my side and I was not to be disappointed.
Ruth Burns Morrow wrote that James also worked on the railway line when it was built through Cookshire. He designed houses and barns for friends and neighbours as the settlement grew and made scale-models beforehand and when the time came for a barn-raising.
My great grandfather was also a rural mail driver for thirty-four years, under contract to the Dominion Government and his route covered twenty-two miles from Island Brook through Learned Plain to Cookshire. When the roads were blocked by snowstorms, he made the trip on foot, carrying mail on his back. In all those 34 years, only four trips were missed. During busy seasons on the farm, his daughter Ethelyn often carried the mail. When I saw the name Ethelyn I was taken back. I often wondered where my mother Bernice Ethelyn Crittenden Knight had gotten the name Ethelyn from– and there it was. Ethelyn was taken from James and Mary Miller’s daughter. My grandmother Gladys Ethelyn Griffin Crittenden had been named after her and then chose the same middle name for her daughter Bernice.
I knew being a pig headed woman I must have had strong women on both my sides, but it was with great pride when I read about my great grandmother Mary Miller. Mary was the local midwife in the early days of the Island Brook settlement and brought over a hundred babies into the world without losing a single mother or baby. If the home where the birth was to take place was nearby, Mrs. Miller would walk to it, otherwise the husband would come for her with whatever conveyance he had.
A story from “History of Island Brook” tells of a member of the Irish settlement, on the road to Ditton, came for Mary with a stone-drag (a flat platform made of heavy planks used for hauling away large stones when clearing a field). As there was nothing to hold onto, and the worried father-to-be kept whipping the horse to make it go faster, Mrs. Miller was in danger of falling off without the driver even noticing it, but she managed to hang on, and arrived safely, although badly shaken up.
Mary, like all of my family, seldom wanted any pay for her services, although people often gave her a pretty dish from their cupboard, or some meat. Mary was there when anyone needed help as a nurse and she also laid out the deceased after a death. One of her saddest experiences was laying out four young children of the family of John Patton, who died within a few days of each other. Because they died of such a contagious disease, black diphtheria, the bodies were taken directly from the home and buried at night.
“Mr. and Mrs. Miller were active members of the Methodist Church and helped in building the Church”.
A pile of wood is on my bucket list if I ever win money- but it might be too late. Once a cornerstone of the tiny Eastern Township community, the old Methodist church was mostly unused since it stopped offering regular services in the 1980s. In 2014 the then United Church decided to try and sell the building. The asking price is a paltry $15,000, but so far, there have been no serious offers — probably because buying it means having to move the old church, which was built in 1870, to a new lot. If I ever win the lotto and the church is still around– look for it in my yard– as I think it would be grand to have in memory of my old Irish ancestors. As Andrew Lyon told me on Facebook in 2016:
I think the key word now in conclusion is: every day your life is re-assembled, sometimes even elsewhere. Life is not a solo act–it’s a huge collaboration, and we all need to assemble around us the people who care about us and support us in times of strife living or dead. It’s our duty…. especially now.
I thank Ruth Burns Morrow for compiling the “History of Island Brook”. I hope one day to read it all and send regards to those still living in Island Brook.
I just finished packing at the same time for the second straight night in a row. It was all horrible packing tonight. ( I refer it to kindly as bitch packing) Most of it was going over to the UK. I made sure that Mr Cambridge in South Wirral had lovely soft pink tissue to protect that size 22 white mini dress he bought for himself, and the Gothic hat I made and sold with 7 yards of black bridal illusion net was packed with equally nightmarish tissue to please the dark kinder-goth girl in New Mexico. I got up late today as I was so tired from the past two days of posting and packing. I literally ran to buses and the subway today just to keep on track. I have all my hunting spots down to a specific time when they bring new things out. I was a good 30 minutes behind today. Even “Cashier Joe” at the Community Thrift shop said to me “You’re late today” and I just laughed and rolled my eyes. I started off the day going up Market Street to the Goodwill salvage depot. On the way a brisk cold damp wind was blowing hard. It was darn cold.
I saw this old woman backing up against the wall of the Bank of America building and felt really sad for her. I thought how sad it was that she was lifting her dress and getting the hot air to blow up her skirt from the vent to warm her up. I soon found out that was her way to relieve herself. As things were flowing down the walls I was very quickly flowing up the street trying hard not to catch any down winds. I got into the salvage place and started going through bins. The man who own the Sharks vintage chain and his pickers and a whole slew of Latinos from the flea market were forming this very straight line in front of the chain fence that separates the Goodwill workers waiting for bins of clothing to come out.
I found this great piece of vintage fabric from 1971 from Walt Disney’s movie The Aristocats. I was looking at it and the guy from Sharks comes over:
He says ” Hey Linda, I see you here every week, want a job?”
I looked at him and started to giggle and politely said no. Me and my ‘allergic nose’ can barely stand 30 minutes in here, and I am going to come here every day earning basically $5.00 bucks an hour? I think not. Once a week is enough for me.
I paid for the stuff and the cashier said “New bins coming out soon”. I said, “Oh they come out at noon? ” He said, “No, every 30 minutes.”
I mean that’s crazy–these bins come out like cinnamon rolls at a take out place. These people stay there all day every day and all day long just to get stuff to sell at the flea markets and vintage stores. I immediately hear horror movie music in my head.
My fun find today was a great silk skirt from the J PETERMAN COMPANY for a buck. Yes, that J Peterman CO. If you are a Seinfeld fan like me you know when I wear that sucker this week there is going to be one gory description full of adjectives.
I leave the salvage place on the rest of my hunting journey while Shark Man keeps asking me if I need a job. I am allergic not only to dust but to stupidity, so I decide to speak to him in fluent sarcasm. Shark Man laughs and says he will see me next week.
Have you ever asked yourself why everyone loves quilts? What drove families to gather in their communities and make quilts for their families? Quilts connect everyone and they speak about former lives of families, and their joys, their hardships, and their homes.
Seven days after my birth I was placed in a quilt my grandmother had made and brought immediately to her home as my mother was ill. I was tucked into my crib with the same quilt I came home from the hospital in.
One night my father gathered me up in that same quilt and smuggled me into the Royal Victoria Hospital hoping my mother might remember me as she had postpartum depression. I can still see her looking down at the cards she was playing solitaire with while I was holding on to the edge of that dear quilt in fear. To this day I will never forget that image – my father says I was barely two, but I still remember the grayness of the room. While my life was sterile and cold, the quilt held warmth and security. My grandmother always said that blankets wrap you in warmth but quilts wrap you in love.
At age 12 my mother died, and my grandmother sat with me on her veranda and wrapped that same quilt around me while I cried. Life was never the same after that, and the quilt was placed on my bed like an old friend when I stayed with her. I would stare at the painting on the wall while I tried to sleep and thought that a lot of people understood art but not quilts. If I had a lot of money I would own a quilt and not a piece of art, because in the end which gives you the most comfort?
When I got married at age 21, my Grandmother sat at the dining room table for weeks and worked on a quilt for my new home. As I traveled down the road of life the quilt was always there while people came and went. Although it was aging gracefully it was still heavy and secure anytime I needed it. Through death and sickness it held comfort, and the promise that it would never desert me. This quilt held my life with all the bits and pieces, joys and sorrows, that had been stitched into it with love.
At age 47 the quilt died peacefully in my arms. A terrible house fire had destroyed it, and as I looked at the charred edges I realized the thread that held it together had bound the both of us forever. Now it was time to go down the final road by myself, and remembering the words of Herman Hesse I began the journey.
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”
Romancing the Princess Theatre Linda Knight Seccaspina
Last night I dreamt I was sitting in one of the maroon velvet chairs of the Princess Theatre in Cowansville, Quebec. It was dark in that theatre and I was alone, but the light from the projector still shot across the room, yet there was nothing on the screen.
For years the Princess Theatre was a safe haven for me. Every Saturday afternoon, I would go to the matinee and be whomever was on the screen. Growing up in a small town you did what you could for entertainment. My limited picks were the local swimming pool, neighbourhood kids, and the Princess Theatre for movies. Because the theatre was small we seemed to get the big movies later than the rest of the world – but 50 cents and a bag of popcorn was a sure fire way to put a smile on your face.
The Princess Theatre was where I first saw Edgar Allen Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, which scarred me for life. Seeing The Sound of Music was the closest I ever came to seeing my Grandmother enjoying her own personal hootenanny while caterwauling along to the songs in the film.
Small town gossip spread quickly among the rows of that theatre and for weeks we hear rumours about the local minister being told not to laugh so loudly at the risque antics in the film Carry On Doctor. Summer romances began on the second level and continued into the colder months, and sometimes there was more steam coming out of the balcony than there was outside.
Drive-Ins were illegal in the province of Quebec as the Catholic Church deemed them pits of sin that could take you halfway to Hell. Had they only looked at the balconies of the Princess Theatre I swear that place would have been shut down in a Cinerama moment.
Esther Williams and her swimming extravaganzas on that movie screen had me hooked making me want to create my own musical number. One day after seeing Jupiter’s Darling I stopped at the local five and dime (The Ritz) and bought one of those flesh coloured nose plugs. Arriving home I dragged out my wading pool in anticipation and went to work.
The hose was hauled out from underneath the porch, pool filled, and I would sit and wait patiently until the water warmed up from the sun. Once ready I would don my one piece bathing suit, rubber cap and nose plugs.
I always seemed to entertain the afternoon passersby on Albert Street as I would kick my legs up in the air and do my personal version of synchronised swimming. Once most of the water had left the pool from overuse I would get out and bow to no one in particular. Seeing the pool was no more than 3 foot around and barely ankle deep I must admit it was quite the MGM presentation. In my mind I was presenting The Greatest Show on Earth!
I had never became a talented swimmer from the encouragement I got from movies, but each time I watch an old move I remember the Princess Theatre in Cowansville. Some old theatres have gone by the wayside, but the memories have lasted in our hearts, mine especially.
What do you remember about your Main Street?
Every Friday night as a young child, we would walk up Albert Street to make our way to the Main Street of Cowansville, Quebec. Everyone was there with smiles on their faces and you could hear the sounds of a jazz band playing from the Hotel. There were clothing stores filled to capacity with people purchasing things, and you could see men in haberdasheries standing on small stools being fitted with pants.
We would stop and look carefully at the store windows and then make our way down to the hat store. Their veranda was yellow and white with many gorgeous hats in the window. I watched my mother point at one and saw my father tell her to go buy it.
Inside it smelled of lilacs and I would sit on one of the fabric covered benches and watch everyone try on hats. The women who worked in the store seemed like they were right out of the fashion magazines and their hair was coiffed in the latest styles.
I remember the hat that my mother bought that day and watched the daisy trimmed straw hat being carefully wrapped up in tissue and then placed in a brown paper bag. The cookie store was next and I was allowed to buy 3 cookies covered in peppermint icing that had chocolate drizzle on them. I never touched them until I got home as I wanted to savour every bite.
After my mother died my father would take me up to Brault’s drugstore every Saturday night where I was allowed to purchase one magazine and a chocolate bar. My father never really talked to me much as he was always busy, but this brief time that we spent together each week is something I will always remember.
He would never understand the teen magazines that I bought but figured it was useless to argue with me about considering another choice. Sometimes he brought me to the Blue Bird Restaurant where we would have a chocolate milkshake and my father would talk non stop to the owner. They would talk about the fire that happened years ago and destroyed most of the street and how chain stores were coming in and might possibly ruin the smaller businesses.
One of those chain stores was Canadian Tire and when it opened there was a line up that stretched down the street and around the corner. They had sent everyone catalogues beforehand and everyone wanted to see all the good deals they professed to have. The kids got a free sucker and balloons and I remember the man that owned the hardware store nearby standing in his doorway with a huge scowl.
Main Street was the place I bought my first lipstick and eyeliner. I was in seventh heaven when pantyhose came to town and was proudly displayed in the Continental store window. That was the same store that I bought my first 45 RPM’s and actually one day I was dared to steal one by my friends – that was the first and last time I ever pulled that stunt. The fact that it was Shelley Fabares’ “Johnny Angel” was not really the perfect thing to put between your loose leaf binder with the name angel in the title.
As I got older and moved away things changed. They erected a shopping centre and an A & P came to town shutting the Dominion store down quickly. People opted to go into the air conditioned mall rather than putter along a dying street. The Princess Theatre no longer had a full house, and it only held remembrances of watching Gone with the Wind and The Sound of Music with my grandmother. No longer did Bonneau’s grocery store stand on the corner and the street now held French bakeries and a cafe that sold exotic waffles with strawberries and cream.
There was no family left to complain to about the changes, and no one really remembered the old stores anyways. The Bank on the corner shut down and became a restaurant and all you could smell was retail death in the air.
The evolution of retail has hit most small towns; from Main Street to shopping malls and then on to big box stores. No one remembers when a trip to the Main Street was a big deal and now frozen food and big screen TV’s have replaced homemade cookies, theatres, and shoe stores. Now only floral displays with donated benches are many a town’s dream of hoping to attract customers that might remember what it once used to be. We know the magic is still there, you just have to remember. Remember to #supportlocal they are counting on it.
The Benefits of Having my Human Chasis
One snowy New Year’s Eve I remember leaving a dinner with friends that invited me to crowd into a Mini Austin for a ride home. It was not exactly an invite per say – it was actually more of a dare to see how many people we could fit into the “Cooper”. One by one we piled into this tiny car with me scoring a seat riding shotgun.
Since I seemed to have the largest “chassis” in the group it was only fair that I house a couple more people on my lap. There was no way in the world we would ever reach the Guinness World’s Book of Records total of 21. We had no super smart Malaysian students that had once figured out the solution and no one volunteered to sit in the boot of the car.
Packed to the rafters with 9 people the driver attempted to leave and immediately the wheels spun in the fresh new snow. We were all pretty uncomfortable at this point and voices of desperation start to surface to the top.
My father Arthur Knight always insisted that you keep bags of sand or salt in the trunk for traction in case you got stuck in the winter. However there was no sand or salt in the back end of this car, only a bunch of lightweights.
I sat in the front seat slowly losing the feeling in my legs due to the human load being forced upon me and suddenly had an idea. I could be the “living” bag of sand in the rear and hopefully that would help. After shouting out my idea everyone agreed and the doors opened with people literally falling out into the snow. I immediately got into the back end and the passengers reassumed more uncomfortable positions. With a huge push from a passerby we were off.
The car swerved and slipped in the snow but one by one we were safely dropped off and had enjoyed a life experience we would never forget. Arthur Knight’s bag of sand, who was really his daughter in this case, had saved the day.
I decided to look this traction myth up on Snopes.com and the page was completely blank. Had Arthur Knight had it all wrong? I found a few discussions on a few automotive boards and one man had this to say.
“So while extra weight generally improves traction, the only safe place to put it is in between the wheels. That’s why, for traction, we suggest car-pooling. In fact, when recruiting car-poolers, you could start by putting up a sign at Weight-Watchers.”
After more research I decided to go back to Snopes when I found another link about the topic. Again the page was blank and the lone entry was about a woman called “The Human Couch”.
Legend goes that a 500 pound woman had to be brought to the ER after she had experienced shortness of breath. While they attempted to undress her an asthma inhaler fell out of one of the folds of her arm. A shiny new dime was under her breast and a TV remote control was found in one of the folds of her lower extremities. Her family was extremely grateful they found the remote and the doctor said it was the first time he had found buried treasure.
No wonder it had been an entry selection when I typed in “sand weight and car”. I sit here and giggle about what I have written and wonder if people reading this will consider my story legend or lore. At least I wasn’t listed as “The Human Couch” because losing a TV remote is a felony I hear in some countries.
Betty Betty Betty
I always believed in Betty Crocker– well, I wanted to believe that the first lady of food was real. Similar to finding out that Nancy Drew’s author Carolyn Keene wasn’t real, one day Betty Crocker was no longer real either. I realized that dear old Betty was just a brand name and trademark developed by the Washburn Crosby Company.
The story goes that they chose Betty as her name because it sounded as American as the Apple Pie she would show us all how to make. The original Betty Crocker New Picture Cookbook was first published in 1951 and everyone knows someone that has a Betty Crocker Cookbook in their home. Betty, like Margie Blake from the Carnation Company, was important to me as my mother died young, and food somehow replaced parental figures. Well, that’s what a few years of therapy taught me.
The recipes from any Betty Crocker Cookbook are from leaner times, and in the 50’s my mother used to make Tuna Pinwheels and Canned Devilled Ham Canapes for her canasta parties. Bernice Ethylene Crittenden Knight was a stickler for an attractive food presentation, and she also made something called Congealed Salad for holiday meals. A combination of Orange Jello, Cool Whip, crushed pineapple, and wait for it, shredded cheese. I think my Dad called it “Sawdust Salad” and I seriously tried to remain clueless as to why.
Families all loved baked bread, but I guess not all people liked Betty’s Fruit Loaf recipes because on page 78 of my vintage Betty Crocker cookbook, the former owner of the book hand wrote:
“Terrible, even Nookie the dog turned it down.”
The steamed brown bread baked in a can was another baking tragedy. It was so horrible my Dad took my Grandmother’s failed recipe target shooting at the Cowansville dump. I would like to think that some of those rats got to feast on one of those brown breads. Of course, maybe after sampling it, they might have wanted to be put out of their misery.
Betty Crocker’s 7 minute-frosting that my mother would put on some of her 1950s nuclear coloured cake was a family favourite. Then there were the Floating Islands, homemade Rice Pudding, chilled with whipped cream and cinnamon on top. My grandmother’s specialty was steamed English Pudding, and when she was done, she would soak lumps of sugar with orange extract and then place them decoratively around the pudding. One by one each lump would be lighted with a match which would result in a near miss family dinner explosion each time.
Nostalgic triggers a story about our lives, helping us reflect on traditions and moments about the days when our parents and grandparents were alive. That’s why we should never lose print recipes, and real paper-based cookbooks. Those mystery meat recipes, books, and foods that were the same colour as radiation will always resonate with us because we get to see and relive the gravy stained favourites, and the personal notes in the margins. If reading about Betty Crocker has you craving a big slice of cake, you’re not alone. Time to bake!