Some time in the 1850s somebody somewhere in Canada started the idea of “Penny Readings.” The idea was to provide educative and healthful amusement or entertainment for the people of the towns, villages and purely rural districts. As far as can be learned the idea was brought to this country from England by a new arrival.
Anyway, the Penny Readings idea took like wildfire. They became organized in every hamlet. They were started in Bytown and from Bytown they spread to the surrounding country and soon every second school-house in Lanark County was having its penny readings.
The average penny reading consisted chiefly of songs, recitations and addresses. Most of the people liked “recitations” the best. This liking led to the production of a whole flock of budding elocutionists. Lanark Country people took to the Penny Readings because it provided the only entertainment they had outside of the occasional dances that were staged.
As a rule the Penny Readings were quiet affairs, but now and again the small boys caused trouble. Mr. Alexander was a small boy at the time, but of course it is not to be assumed that he was one of the boys concerned. Because of the fact that the small boys were, as a rule, restless during the proceedings, the people who ran the readings decided not to let them in any more. That was where they made an error.
The kept out boys had to find some mischief to do, so they decided to annoy those inside all they could, They knocked on the doors and walls and yelled like Irish Banshees. In self defence the parents appointed “Hickory” James as guard. He was known as “Hickory” because of his strength and agility and took up a position just inside the door.
When the boys got troublesome he ran out, caught one or two of them (when he could) and flailed them. In reprisal the boys planned revenge. As soon as the next gathering had started they quietly piled fence rails and boughs of trees against the door. Then they rapped on the building and yelled like the dickens. “Hickory” James threw the door open quickly. The fence rails and things fell in on him, causing a ruckus in the hall.
After the meeting the parents held a conference and decided that it would be better to let the children in than have them annoying the meetings in the manner in which they had been doing. So at the next gathering the doors were thrown wide and the boys were let in. But they were scattered amongst the others so that an eye could be kept on them After that things went all right.
Also read: The Penny Readings of Lanark County