Meet Me in DeWitt’s Corners

‘The Corners’ was a phrase heard often in our small community.  The Corners referred to DeWitt’s Corners, a mile or so west of our farm, and was located at the crossroads of the Third Line, Munro’s Side road and Cameron’s Side road.

The early settlers in Bathurst Township were keen to have their own church instead of driving to St. John’s Church in Perth, or St. Bridget’s Church in Stanleyville.  Roads were treacherous at times in the winter, with deep snow, sometimes freezing rain, or both.  John DeWitt, son of a pioneer settler, and his wife Mary Neil knew there was a need for a Roman Catholic Church to serve the growing community. Hoping to improve the situation, they made a promise to donate the land to build a church.

St. Vincent de Paul Church

The construction progressed quickly, and the first mass was held on November 23, 1889.  The church was packed that day, and this stately building has served generations of families around DeWitt’s Corners and the area for over 125 years and counting.

A bike ride down the Third Line often meant that my friends and I would gather around the millstone at Cavanagh’s general store.  It was a central meeting place where we could sit and talk.  Between us, we could usually scrounge together enough pocket change to buy some penny-candy at the store.

Shep with the Millstone

DeWitt’s Corners was a busy place in the 1960s and 1970s, with cars stopping at Cavanagh’s store for gas and groceries, or zooming up the Third Line toward Christie Lake.  Christie Lake was a tourist destination with accommodations of all kinds for seasonal visitors.  Norvic Lodge, Arliedale Lodge, and Jordan’s Cottages, were some of the busiest places in the summer months.

Cavanagh's store black and white

 

Across the Third Line from Cavanagh’s store was the old Bathurst cheese factory.  The factory produced cheese until about 1954 and then ceased operations as other larger factories began to edge out the smaller producers.

DeWitt Cheese factory

Photo: old Bathurst cheese factory in the background with Helen and Jim Cavanagh and Shep.

Not far from the ‘Corners’, just up Cameron’s Side Road was the little white school house – S.S. # 4 Bathurst, where many of the members of our family attended school.  Mary Jordan taught all eight grades, keeping order in a compact classroom, heated with a wood stove, and bursting with energetic farm kids.

S S # 4 class in 1968

Front row – Brent Scott, Carl Gamble,John Conboy,John Cameron, Peter Kerr, Bev Miller
2nd row – Standing Kim Kyle,Betty Conboy, Judy Radford, Janice Jordan , Nancy Radford, Beverly White, sitting in front of Nancy Radford is Bobby-Jean Gamble and beside her is Mary White
Beside Kim Kyle is Brent Cameron, Bryan Tysick, Maxine Closs with her arms around Judy Radford, behind her is Kenny Perkins, Brad Kyle, Susan Turnbull, Darlene Charby,
Back row Randy Sargeant, Kent Shanks, Mrs Carrie Barr, Doug Jordan, Brian Miller and Mark Greenley

S S # 4 School for book

S S # 4 school from Janice # 2

Back row: Mrs Carrie Barr, Mary White(in front) Beverly White, Anne Marie Kyle, Nancy Radford, Bobby-Jean Gamble, Maxine Closs, Darlene Charby, Doug Jordan, Brent Scott, Carl Gamble, JoAnne Cavanagh, Bev Miller, Judy Radford, Betty Conboy, Kim Kyle, Janice Jordan, Susan Turnbull
Front row: Brent Cameron , Peter Kerr, Mark Greenley, Raymond Shanks, Randy Sargeant, Brad Kyle, Brian Miller, Ken Perkins, Kent Shanks, Brian Tysick, Dan Charby, John Conboy, John Camerom

 

When Mary Jordan wasn’t busy teaching eight different grades, she coached the DeWitt’s Corners softball team.  Both of my sisters Judy and, Jackie, played on the championship team in 1959. My brother Roger was on the team in 1964.

DeWitt's softball champs 1959

 

DeWitt's Softball Champs 1964

 

FRONT ROW David Scott and Bill Cavanagh
MIDDLE ROW Earl Conboy and Ronnie Brown
BACK ROW; Arthur Perkins, Roger Stafford Norman Kerr Arnold Perkins Connie Conboy and Mrs Mary Jordan

S S 4 School colour

Interior photo of S.S. # 4 Bathurst School

Front row Earl Conboy, David Scott, Arthur Perkins, Ron Brown, John Conboy, Bill Kyle

2nd row Arnold Perkins,Joe Mitchell, Roger Stafford, Norm Kerr, Bob Perkins,Paul Cavanagh

3 rd row Peter Kerr, Betty Conboy, Anne Kerr, Bill Cavanagh, Carl Gamble, Judy Radford, Janice Jordan, Doug Jordan Back row Mary Jordan, Kim Kyle, Connie Conboy, John Scott, Richard Cooke, Sharon Doyle

—–

There always seemed to be a sense of history in DeWitt’s Corners, and intriguing tales of the early settlers were told and re-told around that small hamlet. Most of us in the community were aware that Helen Cavanagh was a member of the DeWitt family, but many may not have realized how far back her roots stretched to the earliest settlers.

William DeWitt, and his wife Margaret Noonan DeWitt had a large family of eight daughters:  Helen Mae DeWitt who married Jim Cavanagh, Margaret Gertrude DeWitt, Vera DeWitt who married Ed Brady, Carmel DeWitt Matthews who settled in San Francisco, California, Jean DeWitt Garry, Mary DeWitt O’Hara, Josephine DeWitt who settled in Toronto, and Sophia DeWitt.

Cavanagh’s Store

The store opened on June 3, 1947 – carrying a full line of groceries, confectionaries, and tobacco products. Along with groceries and everyday sundries, Cavanagh’s store also sold gas supplied by Esso, a branch of Imperial Oil. Locals and cottagers, along with campers at nearby Christie Lake, were all pleased to hear that there would be a general store in the area, and they would no longer have to drive to Perth to pick up daily necessities.

Jim and Helen Cavanagh operated the popular neighbourhood store for nearly four decades until they retired in 1985.

Cavanaghs store for book

Many members of this proud community played a part, and their descendants carry with them the legacy of this historical settlement in Lanark County:

Adams, Allan, Blackburn, Blair, Brady, Cameron, Carberry, Cavanagh, Chaplin, Closs, Conboy, DeWitt, Dixon, Doyle, Fife, Foster, Gamble, Heney, Hogan, Johnston, Jordan, Keays, Kerr, Kirkham, Korry, Kyle, Leonard, Majaury, Menzies, Miller, Mitchell, Morrow, Munro, Murphy, Myers, Noonan, Palmer, Perkins, Popplewell, Radford, Ritchie, Somerville, Scott, Siebel, Stafford, Stiller, Truelove, Turnbull, and Tysick.


 

Thanks to JoAnne Cavanagh Butler for contributing the photos, and thanks to Janice Gordon, JoAnne Cavanagh Butler, Roger Stafford and Beverly Miller Ferlatte for all of their help identifying our neighbours and classmates in the photos!


 

For more information about the history of DeWitt’s Corners and the people who settled in the community, you can read the full version of the story in “Lanark County Classics: A Treasury of Tales from Another Time”

Available at The Book Nook, The Bookworm & Blackwood Originals in Perth,  Perfect Books & Books on Beechwood in Ottawa, Arlie’s Books in Smiths Falls, Mill St. Books and Divine Consign in Almonte, or on http://www.staffordwilson.com

Lanark County Classics Book Cover small for blog

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An Easter Tale from the Third Line

Easter Bunny 2

I’d heard some pretty far-fetched claims from my brother Roger before, but this one had to top them all. One spring morning long, long ago, he tried to tell me that our Mother was the Easter Bunny. He’d better be careful saying things about the Easter Bunny, I thought to myself, or he won’t be getting anything at all in his Easter basket.

It was still cool outside, and I could feel the wind from the north make its way into my coat, as I jumped rope on the sidewalk in front of our house. There really weren’t many flat surfaces good for skipping in our yard. The brownish spring grass was still wet and mushy, and the driveway was nothing but puddles all the way down the lane – soggy remnants of the melting snow. The old concrete sidewalk was definitely my best bet that day for skipping, so that’s where I was. Jump, jump and swing the rope around; jump, jump and swing the rope around. Skipping was a pleasant activity to do when I was deep in thought, and my mind was racing a million miles a minute that day so long ago.

It was right after Mother left the room as we finished breakfast on Saturday morning when Roger had leaned over and said in a hushed voice,  “She is the Easter Bunny!” Roger was older, and he knew a lot more, about a lot of things, than I did, so I tended to believe him most of the time; but this seemed pretty crazy. He had told me the summer before that I wasn’t born in the Perth Hospital like him, and that the family had found me in a cardboard box near the railroad tracks, back the side road. I was very upset when I heard that because I’d always thought that I was the same as everyone else.  I felt ashamed, ran outside, sat on the rope swing and started to cry. I was still crying when Dad got home that night, so I didn’t wave at him when he drove up the lane. I was angry because he hadn’t told me the truth.

Dad was smiling as he walked over to the swing, and asked why I was crying. When I told him what Roger had said his whole face turned red, and he walked straight into the house. A few minutes later he returned with Roger and made him apologize for lying to me. What a relief to find out that I hadn’t been found in a cardboard box and was born in the hospital, and that I was related to everyone else. Maybe this latest story about Mother being the Easter Bunny wasn’t true either.

I continued to skip, and once in a while the water on the sidewalk got swept up with the rope and splashed on me. We’d had piles and piles of snow in the yard that year, and there was water everywhere, including the sidewalk, even though I’d done my best to sweep it off. I kept hoping that the story was just made up, and I tried to think of how it couldn’t be possible for our Mother to be the Easter Bunny. There was no way that she could travel all over the world in one night delivering chocolate. After all, it took twenty minutes just to get to Perth. It took ten minutes to get to Cavanagh’s store at DeWitt’s Corners. It took at least ten or fifteen minutes for her to drive to Glen Tay School and drop me off whenever I missed the bus. There’s no way that she could cover that much territory in one night. Maybe I should just ask her, I thought to myself, but what if she is the real Easter Bunny? Would she be mad at me because I’d found out?

Just as I was wondering if I should ask her, Mother opened the door, and told me that we’d be going to town soon to pick up some things for Easter. I hung my rope over the handrail beside the steps to dry, and came into the house. Mother already had her purse in hand, and her car keys in the other. As I headed back outside she closed the door behind us. We stepped around the puddles in the driveway, got into the car, and she started it up.

It was a wet, mushy drive down the laneway, and the Third Line wasn’t in much better shape. Big puddles everywhere on the way to Perth, and cars splashing each other as they passed. This was the dirty part of the year; not quite winter and far from summer; just lots of mud, water, and small piles of murky-looking snow.

We drove up to Wilson Street, turned right, and in a few minutes we were parking in front of  the IGA store. Mother had read in ‘The Perth Courier’ that they had their Easter Lilies on sale, and she wanted to pick one up for Aunt Pat because we were having Easter dinner at their house. We walked into the store, and the lilies were right up at the front. We picked one up, paid, and drove back out to  the Third Line.

The days passed quickly, and soon it was Easter morning. There was a little yellow wicker basket at the end of my bed, filled with small chocolate eggs wrapped in foil, and one tall chocolate rabbit sitting on shredded green tissue, just like always. The wrapper on the rabbit said ‘Mr. Solid’, and I peeled back the top of the wrapper and took a little bite off of his ears. It tasted so rich and creamy that I took another little bite, wrapped him up, and set him gently on the green ‘grass’ in the basket.

I put on my new Easter dress, which wasn’t really new, but was new to me, and next I put on my little white shoes with the strap across.  I took my small white stretchy gloves and slid them on my hands.  They were a little tighter than last time I’d worn them, but they would still do. I took them off and carried them downstairs.

Mother had our breakfast on the table, and she was also getting ready for church. She had her good dress on, and was wearing an apron over it to protect it. After breakfast we headed up the Third Line toward Calvin Church.

When church was over we stayed in the churchyard for a few minutes talking to our friends and neighbours, then headed back home, and had our usual bowl of soup for lunch.

Later that afternoon we headed into Perth, drove up Gore Street and turned off onto Halton Street where Uncle Peter and Aunt Pat lived at house number 48. Mother had been holding the Easter lily on her lap in the car, and carried it up the steps to Aunt Pat’s house.

Aunt Pat was busy in the kitchen preparing the ham and scalloped potatoes. We always had the same thing at Easter – ham, scalloped potatoes and fruit cocktail for dessert, and it was always tasty. Everyone went ahead into the living room, sat down, and Uncle Peter was telling jokes, as he often did, and kept everyone laughing.

I stayed behind in the kitchen with Aunt Pat, and waited until no one else was around.  I asked her the question that had been bothering me all week. “Aunt Pat, is my Mother the Easter Bunny?”.

Aunt Pat had been checking the ham in the oven, and she turned quickly around and looked surprised at my question. “Who told you that?”, she asked. When I explained that Roger had told me, she laughed and shook her head and said, “Your brother is full of beans! Sometimes boys make up stories, and you shouldn’t pay any attention to him.”

What a relief! I finally had my answer, and now that I did the question seemed ridiculous. My hunch was right all along that Mother wouldn’t have time to deliver chocolate to everyone in the world. It was just another crazy story from Roger. I would be more careful in the future not to believe his wild tales.

…….

So that’s how some of us became skeptics. It wasn’t something that began when we bought our first car from a crafty salesman in a plaid jacket. It didn’t come to us out of the blue when someone borrowed money and didn’t pay it back, or when someone in a store told us that something was guaranteed only to find out later that it wasn’t. No, it didn’t happen overnight. Healthy skepticism develops slowly, gradually, and usually begins as a response to a sibling’s tall tales, or a class-mate’s misguided claims.

My particular form of skepticism began with an older brother who liked to tease. It began with a story about a baby being left in a basket near the train tracks. The next attempt was a false claim about our Mother’s secret life as the Easter Bunny. The attempts to mislead me became more creative as the years went by, but as his talent for telling tales grew, so did my ability to spot holes in his stories. When all is said and done we have these pranksters to thank for our skepticism, and the way it shields us from modern-day predators……. so much bolder and more cunning than the early ones we encountered on the Third Line.

…………………………………………….

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June – The Wedding Month

Tim and Marian

“What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer,

the fulfillment of the promise of the earlier months,

and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh young beauty will ever fade. “

Gertrude Jekyll

 

married in June

June Bride
A scene from – June Bride – Starring Bette Davis

 

There are so many things about June that make it a perfect month for weddings. It’s past the rainy season, and not yet into the intense, scorching heat of July.  June also seems like a hopeful time.  Flowers are in bloom, the leaves are back on the trees in full force, and all of the signs of the past winter are long gone, and forgotten.

 

Judy Garland

Judy Garland and Vincent Minnelli – June 15, 1945

 

Lucy and Desi

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez June 19, 1949

 

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller – June 29, 1956

 

June’s popularity for weddings goes back to Roman times, since the month was named for ‘Juno’, the Roman goddess of marriage.  The ancient legends promise that those who marry in Juno’s month will enjoy prosperity and happiness for years to come.

JunoLouvre

Anglo-Saxons had many names for June. One of the names was related to agriculture and the weather.  They called it “Weyd-monath”,   because the cattle were able to find good pastures for grazing.

Another more practical reason for marrying in June , dating back centuries, is that if a woman married in June she would likely have her first child in the spring, and be recovered from childbirth, and ready to help with the harvest in the fall.

Harvest

In the days when regular personal hygiene was less popular, and just not practical, June signified the end of Lent, and the arrival of warm weather.  This improvement in the weather meant that people could shed their heavy winter clothing, and indulge in the annual bath.  This made June a popular month for romance, and of course weddings.

bath

June weddings are as popular with the current generation as they were centuries ago, and we’ve likely all attended a few in our lifetimes.

One of the ones I remember best took place 48 years ago on June 28th, 1969, and was my brother Tim’s wedding, to the lovely and charming Marian.

It was a unique time in our history.  It would be another three weeks before Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon.

Neil

It was two full months before a famous music festival at Woodstock drew half a million fans, to one of the most significant rock concerts of the century.

Woodstock

Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid’, and ‘Easy Rider’, played that summer at the Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls, and the Port Elmsley Drive-In, and Elvis Presley belted out ‘Suspicious Minds’ over the radio, sharing airtime with the The Archies’ song’ Sugar Sugar’. Sinatra recorded his signature song’ My Way’ that year and Marvin Gaye crooned his bluesy lament on the radio stations – ’ I Heard it Through the Grapevine’.

Soper theatre

The summer of ’69 was a more innocent time, and shows like ‘Gunsmoke’ and ‘Bonanza’ were popular as well as ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In’ and ‘The Doris Day Show’.  It was also a good year for Canadian Hockey, and we cheered that year as the Montreal Canadiens brought the Stanley Cup to Canada, defeating the St. Louis Blues.
laugh in    doris day

Although many things were happening around us, in the summer of ’69, the event I remember the most, was that special June wedding.  If I close my eyes I can still see the young bridesmaids, their pale yellow organza gowns flowing around them.  The bouquets were overflowing with fragrant roses, delicate lilies of the valley, and bright white daisies.

lily of the valley  daisies

The day was warm and sunny, in the little country church,  when their union joined two families, one whose roots stretched back for generations in Holland, and the other’s steeped in the green pastoral landscapes of Ireland, Scotland and England.

It was a day to remember, a glorious June wedding, 48 years ago today.

gold rings

 

Today, on their anniversary, I’m reminded that June is a beautiful month for a wedding……….

wedding banner

“Oh, they say when you marry in June you’re a bride all your life,
and the bridegroom who marries in June gets a sweet-heart for a wife.

Winter weddings can be gay like a Christmas holiday,
but the JUNE BRIDE hears the song of a spring, that lasts all summer long”

from the movie: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

 

wedding bouquet

 

Happy Anniversary!

………………………………………………………

 

 

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Great Aunt Clara’s Late June Roses

June roses

Although it didn’t look like much until late in June each year, around the third or fourth week of the month, the old rosebush, planted by Dad’s Aunt Clara Richards Carberry, sprang reliably back to life.  Great Aunt Clara had planted the rosebush back in the 1940s, along our fence, on the east side of the house, under the poplar trees.

It was an uncertain time when she planted that rosebush, the years between 1939 and 1945, when World War II raged on, separating families from loved ones, and prematurely ending young lives, as they fought bravely, on the front lines in Europe.

By the time that I was old enough to be aware of the rosebush, it had spread, as perennials will, and imparted a bright pink show of fragrant roses that stretched  for several yards, along the old fence.  For the entire five decades that we lived in the house, that rosebush bloomed faithfully. Without any pruning or watering, it gave us a lovely fuchsia display, each year, shortly after the summer solstice had passed, as though that was its signal to begin to bloom.

Maybe in such an unsettled time in our history, Clara wanted to create some beauty that would last; something predictable and steadfast; something she could count on.

So the rosebush bloomed like clockwork, late in June, each year for decades, watching silently from its sheltered patch under the poplars, along the fence, as one by one we finished our years in school, and left the old homestead, to go out and make our way in the world.  It watched all five of us come and go, and it thrived long past that time, for another quarter of a century, until our father passed away, and our Mother sold the house, and moved to town.

With a legacy like that, how could any of the short-lived ‘annual’ plants ever compare to this faithful old perennial, planted by Clara, so many years ago?  More importantly, how could we ever forget those bright, pink, fragrant roses, and how they graced the edge of our yard, so beautifully each year, late in June?

 

 

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