The labours and pleasures of rural life

by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
Those who live on acreage in the townships may look down their noses at those who live in the town and village enclaves of Almonte, Appleton or Pakenham. Admittedly those who live in Blakeney or Clayton boast ambivalence upon this particular point. I think it is nonetheless fair to say that we all fashion ourselves “rural” as compared to city dwellers.  And I would even go so far as to suggest that we as a corporate lot practice a collective condescension respecting the city inhabitants (the rivalry between the Country Mouse and the City Mouse has ever been so).
 

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Apart from that facetiousness, rather than promote any disparity among us, I am more anxious to advance the theory that we who live in what is currently called the Town of Mississippi Mills (unless and until Council expropriates that traditional terminology and replaces it with what I personally consider the saccharin idiom “Municipality”) are blessed both to endure the labours and to relish the pleasures of rural life.  Following are some examples.

The country fair positively effuses the rich tradition of all that is rustic –  crates of exotic birds and fowl, the exhibition of handsome and endearing farm animals by proud owners, mouth-watering homemade jams and goodies, superb examples of harvested crops, glorious flowers, aromatic honey and endless stands of local artistic commodities from soaps to pottery to jewellery.  A generous luncheon or dinner table can always be relied upon for succulent comfort food and homemade pies for dessert.  Equally reliable is the likelihood of a chinwag with friends and acquaintances.  If one is favoured with a warm autumn day of sunshine there is nothing that surpasses an outing at the fair and its innocent pleasures!

Country Fair

Breakfast at the Mississippi Golf Club is a much anticipated weekend routine for us. In the charming Club House on the grassy banks of the meandering Mississippi River Chef Wendy MacDonald serves up what I can report with considerable authority is one of the most satisfying breakfasts around!  No need to be shy on the weekend!  We treat ourselves to a varying combination of eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, home fries, sliced tomatoes, whole wheat toast and beans. There is no heartier repast! Here too you can be assured of camaraderie with many familiar faces not to mention the blissful panorama.

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Before I raise the worrisome hackles of my health-conscious physician (at whose stone home I can visit for a cup of tea and cake) let me assure both him and you that we expiate the guilt of our protein breakfast by cycling upon the countryside roads.  It is an unqualified rapture to wander aimlessly upon the byways of our County. The Arcadian scenery lends itself to even the most amateur photographer, whether an expansive view of a pasture, a cool clear stream of water or sheep and cattle lying about.

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My most recent affection is for the Sunday matinée sponsored by the HUB at the Old Town Hall. These tireless volunteers have reinvented the lost delight of the former O’Brien Theatre (which coincidentally is the very building now owned by the HUB at the corner of Mill and Bridge Streets in Almonte).  These world class films provided in association with the Toronto International Film Festival afford a splendid way to wile away a Sunday afternoon.  We make a point of going for a drink or a bite to eat afterwards in one of the nearby eateries, perhaps toddling along the Riverwalk adjacent the roaring waterfalls.

Tonw Hall (Almonte)

If one feels compelled to travel further abroad from time to time there are endless opportunities in the country.  To protract a friendly reunion at almost no expense other than the time it takes to get there, I regularly go to Burnstown in neighbouring Renfrew County for a tasty coffee and sweet at Neat Café located near the Madawaska River which can be seen to incredible advantage from the bridge in the centre of the village. As always the back roads to this destination through Pakenham, Waba and White Lake provide a picturesque and relieving adventure for anyone whose soul requires some ventilation. White Lake (which itself offers tasty homemade meals) is the hub to Arnprior and Cedar Cove Resort. I mention these places not to diminish the many attractions at our own front door but rather to illustrate that the knee-jerk target for discovery need not be the City.

Madawaska River (Burnstown)

Though I won’t risk the embarrassment of others by referring to them by name, allow me merely to say that we are the home to many people who are celebrated for their accomplishments. What however is the most singular element of their notoriety is that they happily mix with local people from every walk of life.  Quite frankly it was this feature of society I appreciated in the Atlantic provinces where members of parliament, professionals, judges, famous artists and well-to-do denizens were your neighbours and they related one-on-one without pretence or reservation.  We can be proud of our esteemed citizens and of their mutual admiration and appreciation of the people with whom they associate.  It is an idiosyncrasy of rural society that we have the privilege of meeting one another on the level.

I began this rumination by referring to both the labours and pleasures of rural life.  I believe you will grant me that I have but touched upon the many pleasures of rural life and that there are so many more upon which one could liberally dilate.  Oddly I am not so readily inclined to delineate the labours of rural life.  Certainly one acknowledges the assiduity of the farming community; the challenges of the sole proprietor in a small town; the exigencies of the private medical practitioner as a country doctor; the high expectations we have of our clergy, teachers and funeral directors who at one time or another care for those dearest to us; the sometimes treacherous distances to be travelled.  Yet one would be unfair to attribute these burdens only to rural as opposed to urban people even if the stressful demands upon one group is different for another.

With tongue-in-cheek there are I confess certain labours which are peculiar to rural life.  It is for example axiomatic that if you hear a rumour it’s likely true (a variation upon the observation, “No one suspects. They know!).  Some object to the perception that “everybody knows your business” (which I have always characterized as a familial trait having no greater import than knowing the balance of your chequing account).  It isn’t long before any newcomer of quality is conscripted for membership in one charity or another. You may actually feel obliged to get to know your neighbours. You care to know your local history. Your voice matters on a political level and you have at least the inclination to participate with a sense of purpose. Your conduct may reflect upon more than yourself; it may insinuate an entire clan which has resided here for hundreds of years.  There is a good chance you are related to the person you just maligned.

All that said, in a complicated way the labours and pleasures of rural life define our robust community!  I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

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