MY GREAT FOLLY: ADVENTURES IN RESTORATION

MY GREAT FOLLY: ADVENTURES IN RESTORATION

In the beginning, it sounded like such a good idea!

 

As the owner of a small business promoting heritage, it only made marketing sense to develop a strong, iconic brand – like a vintage truck – to shout out to the world that we were in the history business. Miraculously, there was such a truck.

 

Through a relative living north of Winnipeg, we learned there was a GMC farm vehicle that had been purchased new from Carter Motor Sales in Winnipeg in 1952. It had faithfully served its original owner, a grain farmer from Whitemouth, Manitoba for decades until his passing. Now, it was living a rusting retirement in a barn on the property. The farmer’s son was looking to sell it – for $800. This was fate.

I have owned old vehicles before. My first car was a 1954 Chevrolet purchased for $75 by my Dad who I think felt it was a wise investment since it kept me from driving his car. It was simply awesome – even if the heater remained on high all year round. When it could carry on no longer, and I was asking again for the keys to my Dad’s Buick, he found a 1956 Plymouth, a very sleek, two-tone car. The lower half was painted a kind of snot-green colour. The upper half was a darker green I called gangrene. Aside from its distinctive looks, that car refused to go into reverse. This required advanced driving skills, as you had to plan your parking spots carefully.


So during a spring not so long ago, my life partner and I started driving out west as part holiday and part mission to return this vintage 1950’s farm vehicle to our hometown of Picton. Some of the trip was made through the northern United States, something that was possible in the Obama era when Canadians were not considered a national security threat. Within a few days, we arrived at our cousin’s place where the holy grail of trucks rested stately on a front lawn. 

It was green, rusted, and big – much bigger than anticipated. A one-ton rather than a half-ton, a fact that proved to be very significant during our return journey home. And yet, it worked. Pressing on the starter pedal on the floor, with just the slightest touch on the trombone-like choke, and a robust push on the gas pedal, its mighty engine started with a deep, throaty rumble and we were off driving down a dirt side road. Despite the considerable amount of engine exhaust that came up through the floorboards, the hand-cranked windows worked well and I was in love.

 

Love – especially in its earliest days – can be oblivious to a great many things. So when we were gliding into our relative’s driveway and his garage, I overlooked the small matter of the brakes that didn’t work. And of course, it wasn’t my garage anyway! But it seemed timely to leave soon after that unfortunate incident, and we loaded this metal behemoth onto a U-Haul rental trailer to head home.

I should state at this point that I am not a very mechanical person. I am actually something of a hazard with power tools. I once had a job as an apprentice working in a machine shop. I broke their industrial saw the first day on the job. The next day, my overalls caught fire on the pilot lights for the shop’s welding torches. Later that week, my newly – acquired welding expertise turned a small car part into a tiny, red glowing ball of burning metal that is likely still attached to a work bench in the shop.

 

I am hopeful that the owner of that car part has mellowed over the intervening years.

When I buy a vehicle, I do look under the hood as it seems expected – part of the etiquette of the purchase. I may gaze intently, and maybe even fiddle with some wiring. But I have no idea what I am looking at. I am quite satisfied to know that my car does come with an engine and I’ll let it go at that. I don’t think I am alone in this. I believe there are many men who don’t possess this expected mechanical ability. They just aren’t writing about it.


So, in loading my prized antique truck onto the U haul trailer for the trip back to Ontario, I was oblivious to the great forces that can be unleashed when a weight is not sufficiently distributed on the ball of a trailer. This is likely something Isaac Newton wrote about centuries ago. But I never knew the guy. I discovered these great laws of nature for myself as we drove down a steep hill near Dryden, Ontario, when the trailer decided it wanted to be the lead vehicle, and we were thrown violently from one side of the road to the other as my F -150, a heavy vehicle in its own right, was simply no match for this pitching trailer and its heavy load.


My partner observed that we were on a bridge with a steep ravine below us, and that there were transport trucks heading in our direction. She speculated that this just might be the end of things. This, of course, was very helpful to know. As a much older and wiser man now, I have learned there is a time to speak up – and a time to say nothing. Somehow in these moments of eerie silence occasionally punctuated with her screams, I did manage to get the trailer back into position and we drove slowly into Dryden. The next morning, the old truck was on its way via commercial transport to its new home in Picton. We enjoyed the rest of our leisurely, stress – free drive home. With meals, gas and hotels, it had been a bargain adventure for only $4,500.


I decided to have the truck restored. Now, I wouldn’t say you have to be crazy to do this. But it helps, because you are about to begin a long and perilous journey into the unknown – the sort of great abyss of restoration.


An early indication of this soon came from the guys at the garage. It turned out there wasn’t a whole lot worth restoring on my 1952 GMC one ton. Useful parts seemed limited to the side mirrors, a couple of fenders, and the throaty motor. However, it wasn’t all bad news. They knew of another truck that was partially restored – a 1954 Chevrolet half-ton, which I could –  and did – purchase for $8,500. The theory at the time was that a 1952 GMC one-ton and a 1954 Chevrolet half-ton were highly compatible and could be blended together. As it turned out, this was fake news.


We moved forward: “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

Given my mechanical abilities, the garage guys prudently kept me away from welding torches, and the mysterious inner workings of their shop. My job was to make frequent runs to the U.S. and to Bill’s Truck Shop near Oshawa for parts. I also wrote cheques on a regular basis.  I’ve forgotten how many. Somewhere along the way, I simply lost track. I focused on the positive – the original $800 purchase price had been a bargain; an absolute steal.


Over the next two years, the spread of innumerable parts on a shop floor gradually evolved into something that looked like a truck. And after a few months of intense negotiations with the licensing vehicle department who were initially not satisfied with a bill of sale, the original VIN registration form, and paperwork documenting the import of the Chev truck into Canada in the 1970s, the day finally came when I could legally drive my most prized possession (and retirement fund) onto county roads.


It was awesome – close to a religious experience really. The stick shift on the floor, the rumble of the original GMC engine, the wind through the windows, and the looks of other drivers and pedestrians along the road. At my age, I wouldn’t call the truck a “chick magnet,” but safe to say it is a “seniors magnet” that draws a crowd wherever I stop.

My only issue that first driving season – really a small concern within the sheer ecstasy of this dream vehicle – was its fuel consumption. After a short 15 – minute ride, I needed to fill it up again. Rocket ships get better mileage. Turned out it was a leaking fuel pump. This seemed to cause considerable excitement from the garage guys when I left the truck running outside their establishment. It was somewhat reminiscent of the excitement I caused when I caught fire in the welding shop many years ago.


To be fair, this seems to have been the last of the mechanical issues I have endured. (Of course, it’s early in the season yet. But I am a “glass is half full” kind of guy.) So, I’ll be on the roads of Prince Edward County again this summer. And when the touring season ends, and the vehicle goes back into winter storage, I will still love my truck – perhaps even more – as it is so much cheaper to own then.

The Gunshot Treaty

The Gunshot Treaty

The cairn describing The Gunshot Treaty at the busy intersection of Highway 33 and Portage Road, marks crossroads in history. It was here on September 23, 1787 that hundreds of Aboriginal peo­ples from the Mississauga nation met with representatives of King George III to negotiate a historic land deal known as The Gunshot Treaty.

The treaty was spurred by the urgent British need to find land for thousands of United Empire Loyalists looking to re-settle after their flight from their homes in The United States during and after the American Revolution. The Gunshot Treaty was one of a number of hastily arranged ne­gotiations with Aboriginal peoples along Lake Ontario, drawn up to secure title to land for survey and settlement, and to develop alternative water routes for commercial travel and military use. The Gunshot Treaty would be­come the 13th in this series of land negotiations.

Prior to The Gunshot Treaty, Carrying Place had been significant to many cultures. Long before Champlain came this way, before the fur traders and before the missionaries of the 17th century, native people portaged their ves­sels from the great lake across a narrow neck of marshland to the gentler wa­ters of the bay that would someday be called Quinte. By and large, the region remained free of Caucasians until the 1780s.


It is not known what the first people who lived here called this portage route. The Mississauga First Nation called it “de-ga-bun-wa-kwa,” meaning “I pick up my canoe”. English-speaking Europeans called it the Carrying Place and the name stuck.


In the decades that followed The Gunshot Treaty, Carrying Place became a commercial route connected by a stagecoach service operated by Asa Weller and a major shipping route with the construction of the Murray Canal in the late 1880s. But in the 1780s, it was simply a well-known landmark, ideally suited as a gathering place for treaty talks.

A WAY FORWARD: TRUTH, RECONCILIATION AND THE COMPLICATED LEGACY OF JOHN A. MACDONALD

A WAY FORWARD: TRUTH, RECONCILIATION AND THE COMPLICATED LEGACY OF JOHN A. MACDONALD

In many communities across the country this year, Canada Day will be a subdued event.

 

This is not a bad thing. It creates an occasion for all of us to be reflective about this nation and the work yet to be done, while we also mourn with Indigenous peoples the tragic loss of the many children who attended residential schools. It is a heartbreaking history that starkly showcases the difference between what we aspire to be as a nation and sadly, what has happened in the past. Perhaps in this moment there is an opportunity to have compassion and caring guide us forward along another path that is true reconciliation in action.  

 

Much of the heated debate of our times is centered on the complex legacy of the country’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Statues of him have been vandalized, torn down, moved to other locations, and sometimes put into permanent storage across the country. But is it realistic to blame one person like Macdonald as one stop shopping for everything that is wrong with the past?

Macdonald is not my hero. He is not my villain. I have always described him as an imperfect man living in imperfect times – just like us. But he is a dominant historical figure. Here we are – 130 years after his death – still talking about him in an animated, passionate fashion. That’s because it is not possible to talk about the history of my hometown, the neighbouring Quinte region, the country he helped create, and the many contemporary indigenous issues without talking about Macdonald.

 

I want to speak on behalf of history. I believe we need more history, not less; we need more public education, not less; and we need to harness the very best of us – not the least or worst – as we examine our complicated past, learn from it, and shape a new way forward.

John A Macdonald statue vandalized in Picton, Ontario

I do not see what good will come from hiding Macdonald away. We will not change a moment of history. We will not address the priorities of Indigenous peoples today. We will have mistaken rage and revenge for reconciliation. And we will have all failed because amidst all the blaming and shaming, we will have not heard the opportunities to do something extraordinary – to forge a new way forward that unites us rather than divides us, and is based on mutual respect, compassion, and true partnership in shaping the future of this country. 


I have been a journalist all my life – a job that has taken me across Canada, Europe, and to other parts of the world. I’ve reported on many stories involving Indigenous peoples and minority groups in this country and elsewhere; I worked at Indian Affairs on the land claim of the Labrador Inuit, was a radio and tv trainer for First Nations Communication Societies, was part of the Special House of Commons Sub- Committee on Indian Self-government in the 1980s that recommended the elimination of the Department of Indian affairs and the Indian Act, and worked as the Interim Manager of the journalism program at the First Nations Technical Institute in Tyendinaga when I first returned to my hometown of Picton over 20 years ago. 


I’ve been telling stories of Prince Edward County for 40 years, and was part of the Macdonald Project, the volunteer group, which raised the funds to gift the Macdonald statue to our municipality in 2015 with the widespread support of the community.


Should we not tell our stories? Or tell only some stories? Or some parts of some stories? And who will decide? I believe we should tell all the stories as completely as we can because they are the story of us. And I am saddened by what this heated debate has become because it is a wasted opportunity to do something remarkable…together.


These are extraordinary times. So, I am asking all of us to do something extraordinary.


I am asking that we release ourselves from being perpetual prisoners of the past and focus on efforts to learn from the past while going forward together towards a different, better future. Let’s create solutions that unite us rather than divide us; that are constructive rather than destructive; that bring out the best of us – not the least or worst. A key element in this journey is to stop endlessly blaming others for what happened in the past. That’s easy. What we really need to do is live in our own time seizing ownership of these issues to create a better Canada.  That’s the hard work that needs to be done. We need to be better – not bitter.


In the longstanding Canadian tradition of compromise, The City of Kingston, Ontario has removed their statue of Macdonald to his gravesite at Catarqui Cemetery, a national historic site. I hope the work is not vandalized further at its new location as his grave has been desecrated multiple times in the past. In my hometown, local council has temporarily removed the statue in Picton into storage until a final decision is made in March 2022. I believe it too could be moved from its current location in front of our Carnegie Library to our old courthouse, one of the sites originally considered for this art work by Ruth Abernethy, one of Canada’s foremost artists. I am hoping that its re-location will bring an end to the vicious campaign that has so bitterly divided the community. Big picture, we need to move onto bringing about profound, systemic change in our everyday relationship with our Indigenous neighbours – enduring, enlightened, and lasting change. We can start by listening rather than shouting. And we can be thoughtful rather than vindictive.


We are all heartbroken by the discovery of bodies at the Kamloops residential school and other former church -run schools across the country. Canadians strongly support reconciliation. But I agree with the viewpoint of many Indigenous leaders like Senator Murray Sinclair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Melissa Mburki of the Treaty 4 Nation in Saskatchewan, Chief R. Donald Maracle of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, and David Chartrand, President of the Manitoba Metis. “We can’t hide this history,” Chartrand says. “We need to tell the truth about that history and I think that would be more healing than trying to rip down statues.”


We need to be fearless in facing the past. And we need to have an unshakeable belief in each other in shaping a better future. This is bold, challenging, tough work just as it must have been in Macdonald’s time to overcome the bitter divides of French-English, Catholic – Protestant solitudes. But he did. Now let’s see what we can achieve together in our time.

THE ONGOING BATTLE FOR HERITAGE IN THE COUNTY

In September 2010, this community watched in horror as an 1875 former Methodist Church was demolished on Picton’s Main Street. The destruction of the building was rated as one of the top ten heritage losses of that year by the National Heritage Trust of Canada. Today, the site remains a weedy, vacant lot – a sort of perpetual heritage crime scene and tribute to thoughtless development.

 

Last week, Sandbanks Park officials achieved their agenda of demolishing two heritage homes – the Hyatt house (circa 1869) and the MacDonald home (circa 1878) despite repeated requests from our Mayor and Council, the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee, and other heritage groups including the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, to meet onsite to explore creative, alternative options. We wanted to discuss the re-imagining of the buildings as additional accommodation for visitors and park staff, as restaurants, cafes, boutique shops, interpretative centres and exhibit spaces to meet both the needs of the park, visitors and residents. Those meeting invitations were declined, and on September 9th, both buildings fell victim to demolition crews hauling the materials to a landfill site. Park officials now say they are open to a meeting – about commemorative plaques.

The park’s disrespectful attitude showcases a longstanding issue that dates back to its expropriation of properties in the 1970s. Many local families – including my own – remember the heavy-handed “take or leave it” approach to negotiations. The Lakeshore lodge was left neglected until vandals burned it down. The Hyatt and MacDonald homes, originally scheduled to be restored as part of the park’s management plan, were also abandoned. After 40 years of their own neglect, park officials now argued that the buildings were beyond restoration and represented a public safety hazard. This too is untrue.

Inexplicably, park officials have spared the hog barn at the MacDonald property as a property worth preserving. This is good to know. Hog barns at the park are “keepers” – even though heritage homes are not.


So, what can be done now that these homes are lost to history? Those of us involved in this heritage battle over the last decade feel strongly that there are a number of steps which need to be undertaken.


Our local government should demand – not request – a meeting with the Minister responsible for parks, the Hon. David Piccini, our local MPP Todd Smith, park officials and the community to develop a new and more equitable relationship. Currently, the park operates as a separate kingdom within the municipality. While we all recognize the economic spin off from its over 700,000 annual visitors, there is also a cost to the community from congested road traffic, litter and garbage, noise, and other inconveniences from such a heavy influx of tourists over a short season.


Local officials have for a number of years wanted to have a surcharge added to park gate admissions so there is a direct financial contribution to the municipality. We feel there should be a minimum $2/per person heritage fee as well that assists the community in maintaining and restoring its many heritage properties and cultural landscapes. Directed into a community fund to support heritage projects and initiatives, this would be a significant step forward in repairing the park’s dismal relationship with the community around it.


We also believe the entire ministry process to amend its park management plan – to allow for demolition – should become a case study documenting the many badly – flawed steps that characterized this bungled approach.


Finally, we believe it is now time to form a strong local chapter of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, an idea discussed over a decade ago when we watched the demolition of the former Methodist Church on Picton’s Main Street. There is a chapter based in Belleville. But like many heritage organizations in the area, it is small, volunteer – based, older, and under-resourced. It is timely to create a County chapter to serve as an umbrella group for the many local organizations struggling to preserve heritage in all its many forms – historic homes, conservation areas, museums, town halls, cemeteries, and churches.


This is a watershed moment. And these are just three ideas of many that can be undertaken – because we cannot continue to do what we have always done in the past. It is time for a bigger, bolder vision of this special place that aligns with the vision and statements in our new official plan, and to develop a practical, thoughtful plan to achieve them.


For more information, visit our website at https://saveheritagesandbankshomes.com/

Peter Lockyer

Save Sandbanks Heritage Homes

Save Sandbanks Heritage Homes

Historic Prince Edward County, Ontario is home to many heritage buildings and cultural landscapes all contributing to its special appeal as a major international tourism destination. And yet the community continues to struggle with preserving its special spaces. In recent decades, there have been many efforts to save heritage buildings and properties from neglect and demolition. While there have been some successes, there have also been many significant losses. 
 
A current battle is to save two historic homes located within the Sandbanks Provincial Park – a major destination for over 700,000 visitors each year. Park officials want to demolish the Hyatt and MacDonald homes (circa 1870s) as early as September, 2021 despite earlier plans to restore them to meet ongoing visitor needs. Many community residents are urging officials to delay demolition until other development alternatives can be carefully considered. Will this fight be a victory for heritage conservation….or another tragic loss to the county’s dwindling inventory of heritage assets? We will soon find out.

Among Giants: Inside Trenton’s Dinosaur Factory

The Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the forested river valleys of North America 65 million years ago – the dominant predator of its age. Up to 12 metres long and six metres tall, scientists estimate the creature could consume up to 230 kilograms (500 pounds) of meat in a single bite.  At that rate, it would certainly have taken several villages to raise this child.

Sandra Foreman Photography

But while the T-Rex in the cavernous warehouse of the Research Casting International plant in Trenton, Ontario still looks fierce, this one is a re-creation – a skeletal model destined for display at a special exhibit opening this year at the Tokyo Museum. Our job was to photograph the T-Rex in its assembled state before the model was taken apart for shipment to its new home so the museum could use the photos to promote the exhibit.

Sandra Foreman Photography

Making reproductions of dinosaurs is a rare skill set.  But that’s the day job of the 20-person staff of Research Casting International, one of four companies in the world capable of undertaking this work.  Under the direction of owner, Peter May, who used to work at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, the company has several projects underway at any given time for museums the world over including the prestigious Smithsonian Institute in the United States. In their own way, they are making history.

Justice or Vengeance? The Lazier Murder Trial of 1884

Justice or Vengeance? The Lazier Murder Trial of 1884

One of the most enduring stories in Prince Edward County is about a murder that took place at Christmas 1883 when three masked men knocked late at night on the kitchen door of an old Quaker homestead just west of the village of Bloomfield. The men were after money – $550 paid to a Quaker farmer for his hop crop. They didn’t expect any resistance from Quakers known for their peaceful nature. What they didn’t know is that the family had a visitor who resisted their robbery attempt. A shot was fired. The visitor died. And within hours a search party was following tracks in the snow that led to the homes of two men living along West Lake. The trial of these local men in May 1884 is insight into the temper of a community out for blood and the limitations of the law of the period – factors which cost two men their lives. To this day it is uncertain whether justice was served.

You can judge the case for yourself by attending a lecture at the Drake Devonshire in Wellington at 3 pm on Sunday, November 22, 2015. Guest speaker Judge Robert Sharpe of the Ontario Court of Appeal and author of a book on this trial, will review the facts, the personalities, and the laws that governed the case – a defining moment in the history of Prince Edward County.

The Drake Devonshire is hosting this event and tickets can be purchased at the door for $20.00 which also includes a free beverage.

CKWS TV BROADCASTS THE HISTORY MOMENTS SERIES

Beginning every Monday afternoon from March 2 – May 25th 2015, CKWS TV in Kingston will be broadcasting The History Moments series – short video vignettes on local history themes. 

Over the next 13 weeks, excerpts from the five series produced by History Lives Here Inc. will showcase popular history stories on early settlement, founding industries, prominent people and significant events, which have shaped the history of Eastern Ontario. The series airs on ‘Ws Daily, the station’s current affairs show which airs weekdays from 5 – 6 pm.

The series kicked off on Monday, March 2 with an interview with series producer Peter Lockyer discussing the project, plans for a new series scheduled to be launched this fall in Kingston, and his introduction of a segment on the Fox Sisters of Prince Edward County, two teenagers who are credited with founding the American Spiritualist movement in the 1840s. Katie and Maggie Fox claimed they could communicate with the after life through a series of knocking sounds they interpreted. The idea didn’t seem so preposterous in an age when American inventor Samuel Morse had demonstrated how a series of telegraph clicks could be communicated across vast distances and translated into messages. And in an era when so many families were suffering the loss of wives in childbirth, and children from a wide variety of diseases for which there were not yet any cures, the Fox Sisters provided hope to a grieving nation. The girls became an instant sensation making $150/night conducting demonstrations of their abilities in lecture halls across the country. In reality, the Fox Sisters were frauds able to make their knocking sounds by snapping their toes on hardwood floors. Yet they were also gifted clairvoyants who told skeptics and families things about their loved ones they could not possibly have known by tricks alone. Today, Maggie and Katie Fox remain two of the greatest historical figures from the rich past of Prince Edward County.