Picture it. It’s mid-May of 1919, and you’re a 12 or 13-year-old frolicking in the waters of the Scugog River at the foot of Georgian Street – not too far from where William Purdy and his sons constructed a dam some nine decades before. A little to the west, the tall stone edifice of a flour and feed mill constructed in 1869 casts a shadow over the locks. It’s one of many manufacturing facilities which have sprouted along both banks of the river and beyond in the half century that Lindsay has been called a Town.
With spring in full swing and April’s showers heralding May’s flowers, the end of summer is probably the farthest thing from most of our minds. For those who can’t wait, one of Ontario’s longtime end-of-summer traditions will be the focus of an upcoming presentation at Fenelon Falls United Church on Tuesday May 14 when author Lee Shimano shares with the Fenelon Falls United Church Women and friends her memories and mementos of the Canadian National Exhibition.
“The first duty of an industrial order, whatever its nature, is to provide for the needs of the people. Business is good, in the true sense, when all the people are maintained in decent comfort and wholesome security. Salaries for presidents of corporations and dividends on stock should come after that has been accomplished.”
These words were printed, not in last week’s business or opinion section of one of Canada’s major national newspapers, but in Lindsay’s Evening Post almost 100 years ago, in 1920. The author, a syndicated columnist whose writings appeared in newspapers across Canada, went by the byline, “J.W. MacMillan, D.D.” The post-nominal letters, which stand for Doctor of Divinity, tell us that MacMillan was a man of the cloth; a minister of word and sacrament. “What does he think he is doing, sticking his nose into public affairs?” a contemporary observer might sneer. “Shouldn’t he be concerned with matters of a purely spiritual nature? Do we not believe in the separation of Church and State?”
The young lady in the accompanying picture is my great-grandaunt, Euphemia “Effie” McQuarrie (1885-1967), known by her extended family simply as “Aunt Ef.”
Born in Argyle, she was once described as “small in stature, a very attractive girl with a good mind and a delightful personality.” Photographs of Ef, and Edwardian-era postcards she mailed to her siblings, portray her as a vivacious individual who personified what American writer Winnifred Harper Cooley called “The New Woman;” one who was independent, educated, and in control of her own destiny.
Imagine strolling through Lindsay’s historic boroughs 100 years ago, in 1919. What might life have been like, behind the scenes and within the businesses that once drove our economy? What thoughts and emotions coursed through the minds and hearts of local citizens? Imagination – and a little research – are powerful tools. They transpose me from the streets on which I stroll today…to the Lindsay of a century ago.
Lindsay, mid-spring, 1919.
Before venturing into the heart of commercial Lindsay, I pause to admire the Ross Memorial Hospital, standing proudly on a height of land adjacent to Kent and Angeline Streets. The 16-going-on-17-year-old Ross is generously supported by the community it serves, and this support apparently extends to the new Isolation Hospital at the corner of Colborne and Angeline.
Many years ago, when my father taught school full-time, a highlight of the academic year for his students occurred on or around the 25th of January – the birthday of Robert Burns (1759-1796), the “Bard of Ayrshire,” who is widely regarded as Scotland’s national poet. For over 30 years, students in Mr. McKechnie’s classroom celebrated the legacy of this literary legend by reciting portions of To A Mouse and Auld Lang Syne, among other works; enjoying a cup of tea; and feasting on the Abernethy biscuits and shortbread made by his grandmother and mother, respectively.
Sometimes when I walk by Lindsay’s iconic municipal building — our former Town Hall — I look up at that top-level balcony and imagine Sir John A. Macdonald speaking from there. Our first prime minister – whose birthday is Jan. 11 – visited Lindsay twice. The first time was as prime minister, in either 1872 or 1874 (records vary), and a second time he visited as leader of the opposition in 1877.
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month of the year, Canadians from coast to coast will pause for two minutes’ silence to remember those who died during the First and Second World Wars; the Korean conflict; and various peacekeeping operations in which Her Majesty’s armoured, naval, and air forces have been involved over the course of the 20th and 21st Centuries.
The statistics are staggering: nearly 70,000 Canadians died during the First World War (1914-1918); nearly 50,000 gave their lives during the Second World War (1939-1945); 516 died during the Korean War; and over 1,800 have paid the supreme sacrifice in various operations at home and abroad over the course of the last 70 years.
The sun sets over Lindsay as a young family gathers at the end of a rustic peninsula on the west bank of the Scugog River to admire a heron standing regally on the opposite shore. If they are lucky, they might perchance see a beaver swimming through the water.
To their left, in the shadows of a well-preserved remnant of the Carew sawmill complex (now part of the Rivermill Condominium community), a groundhog stealthily makes its way through the tall grass. In the distance, two ancient boathouses watch forlornly from the east bank as personal watercraft roar past.
A familiar ritual plays out across Kawartha Lakes on the first Tuesday of September. It’s a ritual that most of us have participated in – sometimes grudgingly, often anxiously. For those living in the countryside, this ritual involves waiting at the end of a long laneway for a yellow bus.
For those in town, it involves making a five, 10, 15, or 20-minute journey by foot, or occasionally by car. Parents reassure their children that they will do well on their first day of Kindergarten, while down the street their teen-aged counterparts are gaily exchanging pleasantries about their summer break, and comparing notes about who is taking what classes this semester.