Thursday, November 15, 2012
COUNTYKATE'S THOUGHTS ON NOVEMBER.
So the summer is well and truly over, dinghies become large bird baths, and the cottages are closed up and become a little overgrown, with no-one to tend the gardens!
The County is a Cornucopia of Curious Sights and legends; there is probably a Cheshire Cat in the County Humane Society, awaiting adoption to his 'forever home'.
An apology to grammar purists, with my attempt at alliteration, as above.
I'll try in this blog to acquaint you with curious facts about Prince Edward County in Ontario, and accompany them with photographs by way of explanation.
When school starts in early September, life assumes a different pace. For the bus drivers, it means going back to rising from bed at ungodly hours of the morning, checking the bus for faults, and scaring the dawn chorus into silence.
For the general public driving around, it means watching for those flashing red lights atop the school bus, meaning you must stop for students getting on or off, or be fined.
My first pickup would be at 7a.m., a half hour drive from home. Having waved my way there, exchanging morning greetings with farmers, crossing guards, police and others, I often arrived just before the girls were ready to be picked up. I’d make my arrival known, while they collected backpacks, breakfast and kissed the dogs goodbye.
Most students can wait in their homes, watching for the bus to appear. Other kids, who live on farms perhaps, can’t wait inside their homes, they would have too far to run down the driveway. So these guys have shelters erected near the roadway by their dads. Design is personal, I show two examples below. We call them Sentry Boxes! And -yes- the little house with the porch is a luxury version of the school bus shelter!
There is a mixed bag of house design here too. We have three Octagonal houses on the County. This was a design from 1850, popular here and in the States. Apparently the oddly shaped rooms gave more accommodation, and the porch ran all the way around the lower level.
Picton has a magnificent choice of houses, some mansions, built by businessmen such as canning factory owners, shipping magnates and ship builders, and the wealthy from Toronto and the States. Some really huge houses were still referred to as summer cottages!
The mansions were decorated in wonderful styles, towers, wraparound porches, curlicues and elaborate fretwork called ‘gingerbread’. Porches were generously sized, decorated in summer with wicker furniture and flower planters, an extension of the living rooms. Many of these imposing houses still exist, some of them now hotels,
Smaller homes boast their porches too, the roof an extension of the roof line over a wooden deck; this design is supposed to come from the slaves’ cabins in the Southern States, developed for shade and for sleeping. Smaller houses, of course, are candidates for removal to a different site! People often buy an older house and get it transported to a site of their choice.
There was even a castle in Picton, built at the head of Picton Harbour in 1896. Castle Villeneuve was described as one of Ontario’s finest residences and was built in Victorian Gothic style; it had towers, turrets. a round ballroom, and a dozen bedrooms. Sadly it was destroyed by a propane explosion in 1986.
I have mentioned The Palace of the Moon in earlier blogs; this was a very popular dancehall in the 1930's and onward; it literally was swallowed up by the drifting sands of the Sandbanks.
Summer Dance Pavilions were very popular from the 1900's, between the two World Wars, and on into the 1960's! Hundreds of young people descended on the County, in the new fangled motor cars, and danced to resident big bands. All gone now – so many of them were swallowed up by the ever-shifting sand dunes that border the lake.
Other enormous structures have been erected here, for example the Orphans’ Home on Foresters Island, in the northeast corner of the County, which was built in 1900 . It was a huge, Victorian-style, four-storey building with five towers. Orphan children were chosen to live here, to be educated.
Sadly, by 1905, the society responsible had gone bankrupt. The premises were sold to local residents, who took many of the furnishings for their own homes!
We have our own Crystal Palace too, in the Picton Fairgrounds. Built in 1887, it is still used for weddings and other celebrations.
On the County, visible signs of our heritage and history are far ‘younger’ that they would be in Europe for example, but there is no lack of curious sights, each with its own story. Odd sights include the rather small dark blue aircraft,
poised to take flight, on the roof of a local factory.
Or the local drive-in cinema.
Not to mention a ‘house martin cote’ – doves not welcome! (These were built in gardens as mosquito deterrents, the little house martins having a large appetite for mozzies, caught on the wing at dusk.)
We have been visited by all religions, we have about six branches of the W.I., we did have a branch of the Ku Klux Klan, gone now, composed mostly of ladies!
This ‘church’ was built by Norwegians and is now a residence.
There is still the site of Camp Picton, the airfield atop McCauley Mountain. Partly derelict, partly still used for boat storage, films have been made here, including a version of Colditz.
Mysterious caves and caverns are common enough everywhere, and I was intrigued when a couple of local fishermen hinted that there was such a cave, visible only from the sea, at Long Point. They implied that it was a creepy place inhabited by bats. I tried to follow up te clues, but never found it myself. Other informants said it was a submarine base, which sounded a bit of a tall story and reminded me of the caves in the Greek islands that have the same reputation. In the end it turned out to be the work of the wealthy American who owned the property abovethe shore line and had blasted out the shale to make a boat house for his many different boats, from motor cruiser and yacht to canoes.
The tower of the church at Picton leans enough for us to be able to claim that we have our own Leaning Tower of Pi..cton, but it has been examined and declared safe so we are unlikely to be seeing it as a tourist attraction.
Many pioneer relics are to be found here, in the form of the wooden rail fences, still bordering fields today, others buried in the treelines or hedgerows. Just to remind you, all this land was farmed once, a hundred or more years ago. Trees were cut down in their hundreds, to make the fences as well as homesteads. But what to do with the massive roots, left after cutting away firewood and fence rails?
Why, make an animal-proof fence with them!
There is a new type of 'edifice' these days; wind turbines and banks of solar panels in the fields. In bright summer sun, their reflecting metal panels blind the motorist. There is talk of wind farms, a phrase which conjures up quite the wrong image!
We have several methods of heating our homes. We have geothermal heating, an underground piping system.
For those with woodstoves, the woodpiles assume grand shapes, tucked against barn walls, covered if in the open. Spiders are grateful for these snuggly winter homes, chipmunks and squirrels too.
Another form of heating is by using an outdoor stove, connected to the house with piping, and providing heat and hot water. We call them Puffing Billy. We saw them first on a road trip through Virginia, taking the rural route through the beautiful Adirondacks Mountains. Almost every home, hidden away in the trees, boasted this Puffing Billy contraption, and we convinced ourselves that they were whisky stills, illegal of course, but blatantly smoking away.
We were impressed by the number of stills and the quantity of moonshine being made. Maybe the police turned a blind eye to the situation, in return for their share, we assumed.
We realised later , of course, that these were outdoor stoves!
So there are the curious facts and features of the County. The next 'sight' to see, will be the putting up of Christmas Lights, decoration of shop fronts, and the stacking of hundreds of Christmas trees outside the supermarkets!
So the Xmas preparations begin, like making the cake, to be 'fed' every few days with brandy.
We have a friend who is a member of the local Volunteer Fire Brigade, who will stand guard over the turkey on the day – ‘just in case’.
Afterwards, it will be back to life as usual for me, sitting quietly in front of the log fire, to quilt, read and snooze.