Stories and folklore

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By L.G. William Chapman, B.A. LL.B.  

Introduction

I think you’ll agree that Almonte is rather like one big family. As with any family, no history is complete without mentioning some of its stories and folklore. Gathered here are a collection of accounts (some factual, others clearly not) which I have plucked from my personal diaries. I hope that within these sometimes preposterous tales and otherwise plausible narratives there will be some historical enlightenment or at least a bit of news to enhance your knowledge of our Town.

Arnold Craig

Mr. Arnold Craig was among the first story-tellers I met in Almonte when I arrived here in 1976. Mr. Craig was visiting Mr. and Mrs. Frank (“Honey”) Honeyborne who lived across the street from the bungalow (owned by Rev. and Mrs. George Bickley) where I was living at the time. I remember that it was New Year’s Eve. Miss Rosalyn Morgan (a friend and former legal secretary at Macdonald, Affleck in Ottawa) had come for a visit that evening and we dropped over to Frank and Annie Honeyborne’s to give our best wishes for the New Year. Arnold was an extraordinary looking person. He was quite short and had both large ears and a large nose which gave him a comical appearance. And he certainly had the proverbial “twinkle in his eye”. He said that his wife was from Clayton. When they were first courting he invited her to Almonte to go to a dance. He said he put gravel in her shoes to make her feel at home! As the occasion of our visit was New Year’s Eve, Arnold recounted a story about a New Year’s Eve which he remembered some years back. Imagine sitting in the cozy “front room” of Frank and Annie’s house, with a fresh layer of snow outside, everyone charged with a bit of cheer, and hearing Arnold tell this story with an accent which was clearly “Lanark County”and probably resembled something from Ireland:

For years, I had been in the custom of going outside the house on New Year’s Eve with my shotgun at midnight and shooting off a couple of rounds to bring in the New Year. But one year, we noticed the next day that no one had bothered to call us on the telephone as they normally did on New Year’s Day. So I went outside to take a look, and hadn’t I shot the Bell Telephone wires off! So the next year, we decided to do something different.

The wife and I, we live down by the River. I came up with the idea of going down to the River and throwing onto it a stick of dynamite (which he pronounced din-a-mite). We had been using dynamite for ice fishing for years. After the blast – WHOOSH! – the fish’d come right out of the water!

Anyway, there I was down by the River waiting for the wife to give me the signal that the clock had struck midnight. Finally, I saw the wife wave from the kitchen and I knew that it was time. So I lit the stick of dynamite and threw it onto the River. Well, geez, didn’t the dog go out after it! He picked it up and started back towards me. I didn’t stop running until I got to the Bell’s Corners; and the dog or someone would’ve been hurt if he hadn’t dropped the stick of dynamite. But didn’t he drop it right under the outhouse!

Howard Sadler

Another less humourous but perhaps more truthful tale was the one told me by Messrs. Bruce and Carl Sadler shortly after the death of their father, Mr. Howard Sadler, in February of 1981. Howard was an elderly gentleman about the same vintage as Mr. Raymond A. Jamieson, QC (who had retired from the practice of law in 1976 at the ripe age of eighty-two). Howard lived on a large parcel of land in an old farm house on the edge of town (behind the current Tim Horton’s) where he conducted his market gardening business. The story goes that years ago he was selling strawberries for 15 cents a quart. The local IGA then began selling strawberries, 2 quarts for 25 cents. Howard followed suit and sold on the same basis. Then the price war escalated, with IGA selling 3 quarts for 25 cents. When Howard got wind of this, he told his wife, Beatrice, that he couldn’t make a living selling his product at those prices; and, he went out into the field and plowed the whole thing up.

Howard obviously had a healthy degree of pride, and undoubtedly a bit of a temper, both of which I suspect he inherited from Scotland whence I understood his family came. He always had that rugged, weathered look which one might expect to see on a man who spent a good deal of time outside on the land. Howard and his wife lived with his parents on the farm which he eventually purchased pursuant to a lease-type of agreement. The farm was subsequently transferred to his two boys.

Marion Graham

   For years I played the piano by ear. In an effort to improve myself I hired the services of a piano teacher, Mrs. Marion Graham (who was the widow of Mr. Clifford W. Graham who owned the pharmacy next door to Kerry Furniture on Mill Street). Mrs. Graham was one of those sparkling women who enjoys the company of men. One of her gentleman friends was Mr. Jim Monette (uncle of Mr. Raymond Monette, insurance agent for the Co-Operators in Almonte and Carleton Place). Jim had a place on White Lake across the lake from Mrs. Graham’s cottage. I had been invited to Mrs. Graham’s cottage one weekend:

Last night, we had a lovely dinner: cocktails on the front yard, overlooking the Lake; Spencer steaks cooked on the out-door gas stove; homemade potato salad; bread and tomatoes; Beaujolais Superieure red wine; fruit pie; and Belgium chocolates. After dinner, we played cards, nattered away, and Jim kept us entertained with stories. He told two tales which I remember in particular. First, about how he put a stop to people stealing his cut wood; he drilled a hole in one log and filled it with gun powder; it apparently blew up the cast iron stove of the thief. Second, about how he deterred thieves from raiding one of his camps; he rigged up a shot-gun inside the door, and the gun went off when the door was slightly opened.

Mrs. Graham by the way charged her piano students the outrageous sum of $5 for each lesson. She reportedly kept the money in her freezer where she said she could put her hands on “cold cash”.

Elizabeth Kelly

Mrs. Marion Graham was friendly with Miss Elizabeth Kelly (who by no small coincidence is the namesake of our library). Once I was visited at my office at 77 Little Bridge Street by Mrs. Graham and Miss Kelly. Miss Kelly was born and raised in this building. Interestingly, I was able to obtain the autograph of Miss Elizabeth E. Kelly at the foot of my original diary entry of this event. I say “interestingly” because there was some question in my mind when I met Miss Kelly on July 4, 1983 (when I understand she was well into her eighties) whether in fact she knew her own name. As it turned out, she knew a lot more than that. For example, Mrs. Graham turned to her at one point during our conversation and asked Miss Kelly whether she (Miss Kelly) knew where she was (Mrs. Graham had asked her this because my own office, in which we all were sitting, had once been the bedroom of Miss Kelly’s parents). To this Miss Kelly simply replied, “Yes. My bedroom was upstairs. There are twenty-four steps going upstairs.” Well, I need not tell you that, upon their departure, I wasted no time in counting the number of steps leading to the top of the stairs, and she was right!

Speaking of Miss Kelly’s bedroom, I once heard a story, perhaps it was from Mrs. Marion Graham (Library Board Member May 1953 – December 1975 and Chairman for 20 years), who, with Miss Elizabeth Schoular (Almonte Public School Teacher) and Miss Elizabeth Kelly (Librarian) and other like-minded citizens (W.J. “Jim” Coady, farmer & Chairman, 1953- 1955; Mayor Alex “Sandy” McDonald, In Charge of Dy house & later Superintendent ; Dr. John F. Dunn – Medical Practitioner; Rev. Arthur Hirtle, Baptist Minister; George L. Comba, Director of Comba Funeral Home; Stewart Lee, Merchant – Lee’ s Hardware; Miss Jessie Mathews – High School teacher, Latin, Art & some history) that Miss Kelly was such an avid reader that practically nothing could keep her from her books. Even as a young child, when Miss Kelly was sent to bed by her parents, she would pull the bare lamp-bulb down from the ceiling on its cord, and hide herself, the bulb and the book under the covers so that she might continue to read. Not surprisingly, this heated relationship with a burning bulb proved disastrous one night as her bed sheets caught fire and sent her fleeing onto the little roof-cover over the front porch of her house screaming for help. Years after I had bought the building, when I was having some work done on an area near Miss Kelly’s former bedroom, the tradesman asked me whether the house had ever had a fire. It was then that I recollected the story I had heard about her reading mishap. Parts of the old brick wall are still charred from that night.

Miss Kelly’s father was Dr. John King Kelly. Mrs. Graham reported to me that he was a very compassionate doctor, but he died a poor man. His books disclosed that he got paid most often in specie (potatoes, cuts of beef, and other such farm products). But he would never let the manner or probability of payment get in the way of him attending to an ill patient, even if he or she were as far away as Clayton on a wintry night.

Louis Irwin

Sometime in 1984 or 1985, Mr. R. Louis Irwin of nearby Ramsay Township came into my office to discuss some thoughts he had about our local library (probably shortly on the heels of the library having moved from its rather unimpressive digs in the basement of the Town Hall where Miss Elizabeth Kelly formerly held court overseeing what I believe may even have been called the “Mechanic’s Institute”) to its new building near the Royal Bank on the site of what had once been the train station). Louis was concerned that the library was having trouble maintaining itself, its staff and resources, and I recall that he particularly disliked the possibility that the library should have to grovel for government funding. He saw no reason why we could not create some vehicle of financial resource which would become self-supporting and self-generating. This was the beginning of what was to become the Elizabeth Kelly Library Foundation. I might add that I had had little to do with the considerable efforts of the many citizens of Almonte who orchestrated the raising of money to build the new library building. But it seemed that, that task accomplished, people were burnt out by the idea of anything to do with the library, and the matter of its maintenance costs had apparently slipped into obscurity.

Louis engaged my services as a lawyer to prepare the constitution of the foundation; and, we agreed to call upon the assistance of Robert C. Wilson, C.A. for accounting advice. The three of us were to become the founding trustees of the foundation, but it was clear that the motivation behind the whole affair came from Louis. However, Louis, like so many thinkers, had ideas which were a bit beyond the scope and comprehension of the average mind. So it was that at our first meeting called at the library to present the idea of the foundation to the public, Louis got a bit ahead of himself (and his listeners) when he disclosed his vision for the foundation as including not only benefit to the library, but even to such other institutions as the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. This reference almost derailed the process, because its apparent lack of connection with the immediate needs of the library threatened to alienate those who might otherwise have an interest in the foundation. What Louis meant, of course, was that we could, if we wanted, create a money vehicle which could be used to benefit any number of local public institutions. But, for the time being, I tried to return the focus of the foundation to that of the local library only. Following is an extract from my original diary:

March 18, 1986.

The Foundation annual meeting last Friday night went well, although there couldn’t have been more than a dozen people there, including Bill Barrie (recently retired Chairman of the Library Board), Dorothy Finner (Council’s representative on the Board, and the newest member), Stephen Handfield-Jones (Honourary Board member of the Foundation), Joe Banks (Editor of The Almonte Gazette), Winston MacIntosh (interested party), Joan Rivington (ditto), Lou Irwin and Bob Wilson (my co-Trustees), Madeleine Moir (who is the only person at the moment who is helping with fund-raising for the Foundation). Bill Barrie, to whom the $2,000 donation from the Foundation was presented, gave an excellent “speech” about the value of the Foundation to the Library Board, and he certainly gave the meeting that special tone.

To be continued in next week’s column