Haugen’s – The Place to Be ©2009


(a version of this story was published in Canadian Biker Magazine in June, 2009 under the title They Came for the Fries. They Stayed for the Bikes.) Note: This Magazine pays well, but the editor likes to do a lot of re-writing, often with grammatical errors, so I prefer my own versions. Hope you agree)

After having spent two sunny weeks without a bike, amongst the curves and hills of the popular town of Kaslo, BC, it was refreshing to at last be on our Venture once more, taking advantage of what was apparently one of the few clear evenings that central Ontario had experienced since we’d left.

It began with a call from Mike at 4:00 pm.  “Can you meet us at the Bell parking lot at 4:30?  It looks like we’re going to be done work early.”

After exchanging our shorts and sandals for jeans and boots, and making a quick call to Keith to see if he was up for the ride, Jim (Victor) and I were on our way. It took a little longer than anticipated to get everyone gathered, but by five there were eight bikes heading out the 115 from Peterborough towards Port Perry. Our destination was the weekly Bike Cruise-in held at Haugen’s Chicken & Ribs Barbeque Restaurant, a seventy-five kilometre trip from Peterborough.

Besides our Yamaha Venture, our party included Brian and Carol on Vulcans, Tom on a Harley Fat Boy, Randy on a Honda 750, Keith on his Honda ST 1300, Mike on a Honda 13TX 1300 and Glenn on a 1500 Kawasaki Mean Streak.

The sun was warm and the air was clear. We left Hwy 115, and followed the grey ribbon of highway 7A up long hills and down through lush valleys, past corn fields and rows of freshly mowed hay, through the little communities of Cavan, Bethany, Nestleton and into the Town of Port Perry. Three kilometres west of there we turned south at the traffic lights onto Hwy 12 and road into the Hamlet of Manchester. Soon the familiar sites and sounds of a Motorcycle Cruise-in greeted us. The smell of barbecued meat and homemade strawberry pie accosted our senses as we pulled into the parking lot. The paved parking areas were already full.  We picked up our free door prize tickets at the gate, and continued over the bridge to the grassy excess parking spot, next to a corn field.

Haugen’s has been around since 1953 and over the years has become popular with thousands of families and travelers. Fourteen years ago the current owners started welcoming area car buffs to a Classic Car Cruise-in on Wednesday nights throughout the summer. Seven years later they expanded that invitation to motorcycle enthusiasts, creating the Thursday Night Motorcycle Cruise-in. With about 1000 bikes attending weekly, Haugen’s has become the place to be on Thursday Nights.

On January 7, 2006 Haugen’s was presented with the Max Award in the category of “Motorcycle Event” at the North American International Motorcycle Supershow in Toronto.

After filling our growling stomachs with some of the specialties at the restaurant, while watching the empty parking spaces gradually fill, we went out to do the tour.

Although Harleys were in abundance, a large variety of other bike makes and classes were represented. Near the front door, four shiny new Boss Hosses with their V8 car engines were attracting a large crowd, the owners more than pleased to rev the engines to demonstrate the roar from the pipes. There were vintage Triumphs, Hondas and BMWs.

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We checked out the details of some unique custom work, such as the copper coloured chopper with brown tooled-leather seat, bronzed fenders and accessories, and exposed primary belt drive; and the custom-made bright yellow trike with a leading link front end and a chrome combination of crash bar/floor boards; and the low-to-the-ground customized Suzuki with a single swing-arm, and chromed connecting rods used for mirror arms, brake peddle, shift lever and kick stand.

The sun reflecting off the profusion of glistening chrome was sometimes blinding, and we looked in amazement at the variety of graphics and pin striping. One Shadow could have been an advertisement for a popular biking magazine, owned by a proud “Canadian Biker” displaying red maple leaves air brushed onto the white tank and fenders.

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There was a new green Ural with sidecar that one person passing by mistook for a restored vintage bike.

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“Wow, this is amazing,” exclaimed Carol when I caught up with her an hour later. “I’ve never been to anything like this before.”  She explained that she was a new rider, having ridden for just three months, and she hadn’t been to any kind of a motorcycle gathering before. I think she’s hooked.

Two young girls approached us to ask if we’d purchase 50/50 tickets and we obliged.  The proceeds are donated to the local Big Brothers and Big Sisters Organizations.

Each year, on the first Thursday of September Haugen’s runs a Motorcycle Rider Appreciation Cruise-in that has become known as “The Big One”. For this they bring in a live band and a number of vendors.  The attendance count for last year and this was 1350 bikes, but that didn’t break the record set on September 7, 2006 when there were 1522 bikes, and $1000 was raised for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of North Durham.

We connected with several bikers who until then had been only names-without-faces that we’d gotten to know through online exchanges. Great food, great friends, great bikes, great weather – what more could a biker ask for? No wonder it’s the “place to be.”

This quote from Haugen’s website (www.haugensbbq.com) sums it up:

Here’s what you need to know about our Motorcycle cruise in: All bikes are welcome, it’s free and it starts at 5pm on Thursday nights. Besides all the amazing bikes to see and like minded people to exchange stories with, there is music to be enjoyed and door prizes to be won.

From Landed Immigrant to Proud Canadian ©2008


(published in The Country Connections Magazine, July 2008)

Canada is blessed with many seniors who immigrated to Canada forty or more years ago to become an integral part of our society, and they have wonderful stories to tell. This is the story of Elsa’s journey.

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When they married in 1950 in their homeland of Holland, Elsa and Gerrit Deruyter lived in a small house without indoor plumbing, on a dairy farm, where Gerrit worked as a farm-hand. The accommodations were free as was all the milk they needed. They owned a few cows and chickens. Even though farmland was scarce and expensive at the time, it was Gerrit’s hope to have his own small farm one day. He’d been told he would inherit his elderly aunt’s farm, but a change in plans dashed that dream. Disappointed, Gerrit thought he’d have a better chance in Canada, and he suggested to Elsa that they make the move.

“I said no. It wasn’t a good time to leave his mother, who was so distraught over the recent death of Gerrit’s younger brother,” Elsa explained.

They remained in Holland for another ten years, moving twice to different farms as Gerrit changed jobs, and they were blessed with three children.

When, in December 1959, Gerrit suggested once more that he’d like to go to Canada, Elsa agreed. It took nearly four months to get their passports and make all the necessary arrangements.

Their decision was made a lot easier by the fact that the Dutch government, fearful of overpopulation and unemployment, and the limited amount of arable land after the Second World War, had put policies into place to assist those wishing to emigrate.  They were still in effect when Elsa and Gerrit were ready to leave Holland. All transportation costs for the family and for their belongings were paid by the government, and there was no limit on how much they could take with them. Gerrit was even entitled to two weeks of holiday pay from the Municipal Office.

On April 27, 1960 they embarked on their journey with their young children, aged three, five and seven, leaving a large extended family behind. The thirteen hour flight from Amsterdam to Montreal wasn’t a pleasant one for Elsa. Both she and her older son, Herbert, suffered from air sickness. After a nine-hour wait in Montreal they boarded a train to Bowmanville, Ontario where Elsa’s step-aunt was expecting them. It was on the train that they encountered their first challenge.

“We didn’t know how to flush the toilet,” laughed Elsa. “There was no chain like the ones in Holland.  But it wasn’t long before three year old John figured it out!”

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Elsa and family heading to plane in Amsterdam

Their furniture that had been sent by ship arrived in Bowmanville six weeks after they did, and they moved into their own one-bedroom apartment.

I asked Elsa what her first reaction was upon arriving in Canada. “I looked out the train window and exclaimed at the high clotheslines! In Holland clotheslines are only one strand and hang low to the ground.”

When they arrived, Gerrit could speak a little English, and Herbert could count to ten, but Elsa and the other two children knew none of the language. The children learned very quickly.

“My daughter Reina came home from school three times because she couldn’t understand. I told her she had to go back.  After that she learned and had no more problems.”

When shopping, Elsa couldn’t read the labels and had to look to see what was in the packages. It was two years before she became comfortable enough with the language to go to work doing housecleaning and babysitting.

It took Gerrit only two days to find work. Because they had no means of transportation, Elsa didn’t want to live on a farm again, so he searched for other jobs. He was hired at a Nursery in Bowmanville, and began working the next morning for $1.00 an hour. Although this hourly wage was less than what he made in Holland, they were amazed by how far a week’s pay would go. Gerrit was also surprised at being sent home from work if it was raining, since it rained most of the time in Holland.

After about two years in the Nursery, Gerrit tried a job in a factory in Newcastle, catching a ride to work with a friend, but some days he’d get to the plant only to discover that there was no work for him. He’d walk back home to Bowmanville, a distance of eight kilometres. He soon got hired at The Fittings in Oshawa, and could travel by bus.  It wasn’t until 1965, when they finally had saved up enough money to put towards a farm, that they bought a car, and they both learned how to drive.

In Holland a family could earn a living on a fifty-acre farm, so when they bought their fifty-acre farm on the 6th Line of Millbrook, Gerrit expected to be leaving his factory job and working the farm full-time within five years. They worked hard. Each day began at four in the morning. Gerrit milked the cows before leaving for work at the plant.  Elsa got the children off to school, and then did the rest of the chores. Gerrit cleaned the barn when he got home at night. Ten years later Gerrit was still at the plant, and they switched to beef cattle to lighten the work load. He worked in the plant for twenty years, until retirement.

Despite the hard work and a few disappointments, neither Elsa nor Gerrit ever regretted coming to Canada. By 1969 they knew they were here to stay and applied for Canadian Citizenship.

They made their first trip back to Holland in 1975 for a five-week visit.

“It was too long,” said Elsa. “I couldn’t stand the cramped space. Everything seemed so small.”

In 1987, having lived their dream, they sold the farm, and became involved in the community of Millbrook. Gerrit passed away in 2000. Elsa enjoys life at Millbrook Manor Seniors Residence, and is proud to be a Canadian.

Uncovering a Wartime Love Story ©2007


(published in The Country Connection Magazine, No. 55 Winter/Spring 2008)

In the early morning hours of July 15th, 2004 Jim Victor was awakened by the sound of running water. His first thought was that his upstairs tenant had been using the washing machine and a hose had somehow become detached. Finding no sign of water filtering through his ceiling, he ventured downstairs in search of the source. He was devastated when his feet sank into the soggy carpet, and he saw water pouring in around the windows. The duplex we now share on Watts Avenue was one of many homes that were flooded that day after 14 billion litres of water dumped on Peterborough, Ontario in under five hours. It took months of frustrating work to clean up the mess. Jim’s basement, including his workshop, had to be completely gutted. While removing the wooden shelves that had held various tools and supplies, he discovered a shipping label attached to the under side of one of the shelf boards. It read: To Dora Emmenegger, c/o Doug Metherel, R.R. #6, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. Curious about how it got there and the people involved, we began to investigate. We had no idea that it would lead us to a wartime love story. With the help of an article in The Peterborough Examiner, we tracked down Dora, and she unfurled the mystery.

On August 1st, 1948, while with a friend at the Switzerland National Day Dance in her home town of Aarau, Dora, met Herman Ksander, a young engineering exchange student from Vienna Austria. They shared a few dances, but when Herman offered to take her home she declined.

“I didn’t think it was proper to leave with someone other than the person who’d taken me there,” said Dora.

Herman, however, was smitten. His housemate had also been at the dance, and the next day Herman queried him about Dora. As it happened, this fellow was one of Dora’s friends. At Herman’s request, he arranged a date for them. The next two weeks sped by with Dora and Herman seeing each other often, until Herman’s exchange program ended and he had to return to Austria. They agreed to keep in touch by mail. Through their frequent letter exchanges they got to know each other and their friendship grew into a long distance courtship until, nine months after he’d left, Herman returned to Aarau, Switzerland where he had a job and Dora waiting for him. The couple planned to marry as soon as Herman was able to obtain a permanent visa to remain in Switzerland, but the politics and uncertainties following the end of World War II made it difficult. Finally, after four years of dating, they decided that they’d rather take their chances across the ocean in Canada than run the risk of being forced back to Austria, and possibly even behind the Iron Curtain. So in the spring of 1952 Dora said goodbye to Herman once more when, at Paris France, he boarded a ship for Montreal in search of employment and accommodations for the two of them.

Another letter-writing year passed before Herman had himself established in an engineering job in Peterborough, Ontario and could arrange for Dora to join him.  Dora packed her wedding trousseau in several wooden packing crates addressed to herself, care of Doug Metherel, in whose house Herman had found room and board. Dora’s mother and sister accompanied her by train to Le Havre France from where she and her boxes set sail for Quebec on April 29, 1953.  On May 5th Dora was surprised to receive, at her cabin on board the S.S. Atlantic, another love letter from Herman. Included was an invitation to her own wedding.

“In order to enter Canada as a landed immigrant, I had to prove that I was getting married, and I had to be married within a few weeks of my arrival,” explained Dora, “so Herman had made all of the wedding arrangements, with the help of the Metherels.”

After work on May 6th Herman climbed into his ’49 Chevrolet with a rose in his hand, headed to Quebec City to reunite with his bride. The Metherels witnessed their marriage just a few weeks later.

Dora and Herman Ksander spent their first few years in a small apartment in downtown Peterborough, until their daughter was born and it was time for a house. Herman put his engineering skills to work to design and build the duplex on Watts Avenue. Dora said Herman was a recycler long before it became environmentally correct, so when he was building shelves for his basement workshop, he used the boards from Dora’s trousseau crates. Several owners have occupied the duplex since Dora and Herman moved into a larger home in 1958, but the shelves remained in the workshop, the label undiscovered, until Jim removed them.

Dora was intrigued to have a look at the house again. We were just as intrigued to see pictures of what it had once looked like, and to hear this wonderful love story. Dora also shared with us pictures that Herman had taken as her ship arrived in Quebec harbour, and as she walked down the gangplank. She still has her original immigration papers, and a list of contents for the shipping crates. She confessed that Jim’s discovery had made her a little melancholy while she once more looked through the fifty-three love letters she still has tucked away with her wedding dress and many pictures.

Herman passed away several years ago in a glider accident, but Dora cherishes her mementos of their life together and she was thrilled to have another one. To create a more compact keepsake for her, Jim cut the plank in half and attached the pieces side by side, then put them into a wooden frame. Next to the shipping labels he mounted copies of the photos of her arrival, and a copy of her immigration papers.

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Dora and Jim with the Board

When I asked her what it was like to leave her family and travel alone across the ocean to an unknown land, she simply smiled and replied, “I was in love. I didn’t think too much about it.”

Bikers Reunion©2007


(an enhanced version was published in Canadian Biker Magazine, November, 2007)

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 The Bikers Reunion in the northern Ontario town of New Liskeard got its humble start in 1999 when Barry Phippen decided to celebrate twenty years in the sign making business.

“I started with an Open House at my shop where we had displays of the history of our business, and I invited 20 bikes over to show them off while we were flipping burgers for cancer. It wasn’t to be a Bikers Reunion at that time and we missed a few years, but the demand for us to put on another event just grew and grew. From that start it has evolved into the reunion as we know it today,” Barry explained.

And what a reunion it has become! In 2004 the first official Bikers Reunion was staged at the local fair grounds as a community event in conjunction with the New Liskeard Summer Festival, the purpose being to celebrate the thrill of motorcycle riding and to raise money for the cancer care unit of the Temiskaming General Hospital. It was held on the July 1st long weekend. $45,000 was raised.

77-year old Keith Gummo was there in 2004 and every year since. Last year he convinced my husband, Jim, and me to make the 472-kilometer trek with him. Despite some bad weather that sent many people packing, it was such a great family-oriented event that we had to return. This year Keith had exchanged his Goldwing for a new Honda ST1300 and we were on our Yamaha Venture When we arrived at the registration table on Thursday afternoon, it was apparent by the number of bikers already there that the gathering was going to be bigger than ever. I was amazed by the community support, evident from the sponsor banners that lined the roads into town, and hung on the walls of nearly every business establishment.

At the campsite, members of the Ottawa Vulcan Riders Club volunteered their reasons for having traveled so far, other than to have some fun. Len told me he was there in memory of his father who’d died of prostate cancer. Brothers Denis and Roger were also there in memory of their father who’d succumbed to cancer in 2004. Dani was thinking of her mother, Denise, who has been in remission from thyroid cancer for fifteen years. They would add these names to the Memory Board.

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Friday morning began with a ride on the “Shower Shuttle” to the nearby Pool and Fitness Centre and the Arena, where use of their showers had been donated. Two newly constructed covered wagons fitted with bench seats and pulled by John Deer tractors made the circle every ten minutes from 6:30 am to 4:00 pm daily.

That afternoon we joined the Early Bird Ride to Elk Lake, escorted by two OPP officers. With lights flashing, they stopped us in the middle of the highway to don our rain gear when a torrential downpour suddenly hit. Unfortunately, many riders who were unprepared turned around. For the occupants of the 40 bikes that braved the trip, hot coffee, hot dogs and burgers were waiting at the local Legion. Among the riders was Biker TV’s Heather Ireland. We enjoyed an interesting two-hour tour of the Domtar/Liskeard sawmill before a sunnier return ride along some nice biking roads.

Back at the fair grounds, we watched riders as young as six maneuver dirt bikes around barrels, sand flying, in the Motocross Olympics. A few horseback riders even got in on the challenge. In the evening, while enjoying a drink in the beer garden under a massive tent, people of all ages, both bikers and locals, listened to one of the talented live bands that entertained all weekend. Some even made use of the dance floor.

Despite persistent rain on Saturday, a crowd cheered for the entrants in the Strong Man Competition. The sky cleared long enough for a Show and Shine that featured thirty-five bikes, including one dubbed a Yam-da-har, a 2006 Yamaha Silverado that had been customized with Honda Goldwing top trunk, backrest and saddle bags, and a Harley bat wing faring. Several times each day members of the Free-Style Motocross Thrill Show had observers holding their breath as they did hand stands and back-flips on their bikes while sixty feet up in the air.

In Vendors Alley we met Trillium Muir, the recently crowned World’s Fastest Woman on an open wheeled motorcycle. She was surprisingly quiet, and unassuming for a girl who, in North Carolina in May, had clocked 350.76 km/h on a Suzuki GSX-R1300 Hayabusa. Her boyfriend and owner of the bike, Jody Leveille, enthusiastically displayed the machine to the inquisitive crowd.

The highlight each year is the Sunday afternoon Terry Phippen Memorial Freedom Ride, a scenic tour of the North Country and its towns, with a stop at the Temiskaming Hospital where bikers give out roses and care packages to every nurse and patient. This year the site and sound of over 700 bikes pulling into the hospital parking lot brought goose bumps and tears to both participants and recipients. Signs of thanks greeted us at the entrance. Young volunteers handed out cups of water; others carried signs to let us know when the ride would leave again.

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Along the entire 120 km route men, women and children were out to greet the parade of bikes. As we descended the hill into downtown Cobalt, two people dressed in red and white stood on a house roof holding a huge sign, and waving. “THANK YOU BIKERS” was written in large red letters on the white billboard.

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This well-organized event wound down on Sunday evening with a draw for a new Yamaha Roadliner. Dave Wilson from Waverly, Ontario was the lucky winner. Four bikers from Grand Prairie Alberta earned the prize for longest distance ridden. A fantastic display of fireworks followed the announcement that $80,000 had been raised. Barry and his committee were already making plans for 2008. I’ll be there. Will you?

Never too Old to Learn


(published in Cycle Canada, November/December, 2006)

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My first experience on a motorcycle was at age 46. I had never before had the opportunity, and indeed would never have even considered the possibility a few years earlier.  But my life had been turned upside down by divorce and I was picking up the pieces, learning to experience life with more enthusiasm.  When my new partner, Leo, asked if I’d like to go for a ride on his bike, I jumped at the chance.  To my surprise, I loved it!

Four years later I was standing next to a much smaller bike, on a military base parking lot with twenty other people, all there to complete the course that would give us a licence to ride.  Ages and genders varied.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the majority were closer to my age, rather than much younger.  My presence was partly because my partner’s health was failing and I wanted to learn how to handle the bike in an emergency; but it was the encouragement from my daughter, Ann, that had brought the musings to reality.

“Don’t you remember the day I got a ride home from school on the back of a motorcycle?  You forbid me to ride on a motorbike again as long I lived under your roof,” she reminded me, when she heard that I now enjoyed riding myself.

“I said that?” It’s amazing how memory fails with age!

For my 50th birthday present she gave me the chance to take the Beginner Motorcycle Course.  How could I refuse? How difficult could it be?  Having ridden a bicycle since I was a child I knew how to balance on two wheels, and I had acquired the skill of shifting gears when I learned to drive a standard car.

So there I was, a middle-aged woman with grown children, standing on the threshold of another new adventure.   After three hours of in-class instruction the night before, we had been issued the 150 cc bikes that would be ours for the rest of the weekend.

The first step was to take it off the kickstand.  I straddled my petite 5’6” frame over the saddle, put my weight on my right foot, and pushed my left foot against the stand.  Before I could bat an eye the bike was on its side, and I was scurrying to get out of its way!  I wasn’t off to a very good start.  With the help of a fellow classmate, I quickly got the bike back up on its wheels, ready for the next assignment.  We spent most of the morning riding across the parking lot, powered only by the pushing efforts of our assigned partners.  Before we could hear the engines humming we had to learn how to balance, steer, and brake.  The autumn sun was warm, making me sweat in my black leather jacket and gauntlets, and a full-face helmet. My mouth was dry.  Was it caused by the heat, or by fear?

By the lunch break I was confident enough to move on to the next stage, or so I thought.

When we climbed back onto the bikes, we were told to follow the instructor across the street to a larger lot. Once there, we would be playing a game of follow the leader, turning along the laid out paths.  I started my bike up, pulled in the clutch, kicked it into first gear, and gave the throttle a turn.  The bike leaped forward, then stopped.  I tried again. That time I kept it going.  I followed the crowd across the street and around the perimeter of the lot.  The bike sped up, then slowed down, up and down.  I was not feeling as comfortable with this as I had expected.

After further instructions we started off again, but this time we had to follow smaller circles and figure eights.  I was still having difficulty controlling the throttle and now it was making me really nervous.  As we headed into the first circle I gripped the handles, pushing on the left and pulling on the right like we’d been instructed. Suddenly I found myself shooting far across the lot, my instructor calling to me to come back! When I finally relaxed my grip, I succeeded in slowing down and turned back to join the circle once more, but I was soon off in another direction.  Now it was getting really embarrassing. I struggled all afternoon.  Finally five o’clock came and we were dismissed for the day.  My instructors told me that if I arrived 15 or 20 minutes early the next morning, one of them would work with me. At that point I didn’t think I would ever return.   When I got home, exhausted, I just wanted to go to bed.  I told Leo that I didn’t want to go back, but he reminded me that, because it had been a gift, I should at least complete the course.  I knew he was right, but how could I face another day of humiliation?

The next morning I dragged myself out of bed to arrive a little earlier than the others.  My instructor gave me tips on how to better control my bike, and then led me around the track and through the figure eights.  Maybe the good night’s sleep had renewed my confidence, I don’t know, but we were both relieved that, by the time the rest of the class arrived, I was managing the bike on my own within the paths set out. We spent the rest of the morning practicing the maneuvers, learning how to make quick turns to avoid sudden challenges (the challenge being an instructor standing directly in our path and giving us a signal as to which way to turn at the very last minute!), and how to stop quickly.  By the time we were put through the test in the afternoon, I was able to keep up.  At the end of the day, when the test results were given out, I held my breath. My worries were unfounded.  I wasn’t at the top of the class, but I had finished with a pass, and that was all I needed for now.  Whether or not I would ride a bike again was something I wasn’t going to think about until spring.

Today I have a bike of my own, but I have to admit that you’ll find me more often riding on the back of my partner’s bike where I can relax and enjoy the scenery.

Memories of Sweet Times


(published in The Country Connections Magazine, No. 53, Winter/Spring, 2007)

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The weathered old wooden sugarshack is barely visible through the swirls of smoke and steam that drift from the iron smoke stack on the roof.  The sweet aroma of maple hangs in the air. My two girls, Sarah and Ann, run up the path that winds through the forest of maple trees, their black rubber boots splashing through the puddles.  Three-year-old Brendan is less in a hurry to reach the shack.  His attention is drawn to the sap buckets hanging on the trees.  He’s already learned how to lift a half-full bucket from its hook below the spoil, and tip it up to his lips to drink the sweet nectar. But the bucket he’s chosen has only a cup of sap in the bottom.  He tips it up so high that his head disappears inside and only his little round body, dressed in a red nylon splash suit and rubber boots, remains visible.  He reminds me of Winnie the Pooh with his head stuck in the honey pot.

We reach the door of the sugar shack and push it open.  It takes a moment to adjust to the near darkness. Sunlight dances in streams through the spaces between the blackened wall boards. Uncle Ray is leaning over the flat metal pans that are suspended on an iron frame above the firebox.  He has one foot propped up on the stonewall, next to an old sludge bucket. With a flat metal scoop on a long wooden handle, he reaches over the dark liquid in the pan and skims off the foam that is forming on the top.  He adds that to the bucket by his foot.

There’s a rough wooden bench along one wall where guests can sit. Behind it, large pieces of box-board have been mounted.  We each search for a cooled piece of coal near the fire and add our names and the date to this “guest book” that has been there for decades.  New pieces are added as space becomes scarce.

Uncle Ray moves to the front of the box and slides up the battered piece of tin to reveal a pile of red coals. He carries over an armload of split wood and adds them to the fire.  The wood crackles and the flames jump.  The sap in the pan above begins to bubble.  He replaces the tin cover to contain the fire, and then returns his attention to the pans.

There are two large pans, each about four feet long and three feet wide. The fire is built directly under the front pan.  As the sap in that pan boils and evaporates, cooler sap from the back pan is scooped up in a ladle, and transferred to the front pan. The ladle is devised from another sap bucket with a wooden handle. Grey metal milk cans are lined up along the wall. They contain more sap that will be added to the back pan as its contents diminish.

More buckets sit on a table on the opposite wall.  White cotton cloths are draped inside them and secured with wooden clothespins.  When the big tin thermometer tells Ray that the sap has reached the temperature to become syrup, he takes a sample on a soup spoon and lets it cool for a bit. Then he turns the spoon to let the liquid slide around.  If it leaves a nice film on the spoon, he tastes it.  Once he’s given it his approval, he pours the syrup into the lined buckets. The cloths strain out any sediments to make the syrup clear and smooth.

“I’ve brought Johnny Cake, Uncle Ray,” I say and he grins.  “I’ve got fresh maple syrup to pour over it,” he replies with a chuckle.

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He reminds me of Winnie-the-Pooh with his head stuck in the honey pot.

By now there are several aunts, uncles and cousins crowding around, all on a Sunday afternoon outing to the sugar bush.  I cut the cornmeal cake and serve it on plates.  Ray adds a ladle of warm syrup to each.

When we’ve all eaten, it’s time to load up the wagon with empty milk cans, gathering pails and the one big gathering tank.  Ray stays and tends the fire while the rest of us head out to harvest the day’s sap. Many of us manage to squeeze into the wagon, slumped between milk cans and pails.

“Don’t sit on the milk cans. We’ll never get the lids off,” Ray calls out to us.

We all hold on tight as the battered red farm tractor pulls us over the bumpy track towards the lower bush. When it stops, we clamber out with our pails and make our way through the maze of buckets that are now overflowing with the clear liquid. I place my pail along side a bucket, holding the tin lid up with one finger, and tip the bucket until its contents pour into my pail. If the sap has run well, I’ll only be able to empty two or three buckets before carrying my pail back to the wagon to be emptied into the gathering tank.

Soon the ping, ping of sap dripping into the now empty buckets can be heard behind us. It takes nearly an hour to gather all the sap from the 300 buckets that have been hung.

Back at the sugar shack the liquid treasure is unloaded. Ray has filled cans and bottles with the thick sweet liquid, ready for distribution. It was a good run so someone will have to tend the fire all night to keep the sap boiling.  Between Ray and his nephews, it will be done out of love for the tradition.

It’s the 1970’s and most area maple syrup producers, as a labour saving measure, have installed plastic pipelines to carry the sap directly to the large, modern sugar-houses.  But they’ve become commercial enterprises.   Ours is a family affair.  We make enough syrup to provide the extended family with all we need. Any excess is sold to long-standing customers who prefer the taste of maple syrup made the old fashioned way.

Theatre in the Rough ©2006


(Published in The Country Connections Magazine, No. 52, Summer 2006)

Shortly after I moved to the Peterborough area, I was asked if I’d like to attend a play at the 4th Line Theatre. Being a fan of local theatre, I accepted, and I was delightfully surprised at what I experienced.

After a short drive up the highway towards Millbrook and along some twisting county roads, we turned onto a gravel road. Other than a small sign posted at the corner, there was no indication of anything but fenced fields and cattle grazing until we reached a lane that bore a large board announcing the presence of the theatre. We journeyed up the winding driveway, past the brick farmhouse, and were directed to park the car in the adjacent field. There were several other theatre buffs already there. We were led through a gate and around the end of a barn to where a row of bleachers had been set up. These were to be our seats.

It wasn’t long before the bleachers were filled and the play began with a brief introduction by a narrator. We were sitting on one side of a barnyard that consisted of three weather-blackened buildings forming a u-shape.  Directly across from us, in front of one of the buildings, a small wooden stage was set with a table, two chairs and a sideboard to depict a country kitchen. To our right we soon heard voices approaching, and then two men came into view. One was dressed in overalls and a straw hat; the other wore a brown suit, white shirt and a tie.  They were discussing the new telephone lines that were being strung.

The play that we went to see is called Crow Hill: The Telephone Play. It’s the story of how the local telephone company was started nearly a century ago by a young country doctor as a means for his patients to contact him in an emergency. In the play it is a fictional Dr. Logie who is responsible. The performance carried us through many years of changes as it examined the impact of this new technology on the rural community.

The aging transformation of the characters, especially Dr. Logie, was extremely well done. Ona Gardiner, whose life inspired the story, graced us with a cameo appearance at the end of the presentation. Ona spent nearly 30 years answering calls from patients at a switchboard in the nearby Garden Hill home of Dr. Alexander Beatty in the early to mid 1900s.

The barnyard is not the only production venue on the farm. The following summer we enjoyed seeing Last Summer, a reminiscence of romance and young love discovered during a summer vacation at an area cottage, a romance that was interrupted when war broke out and lives were changed forever.

Getting to the stage area this time meant that we had to take a leisurely stroll through the woods to a small apple orchard. The bleachers were set up close to the stage and off to the left a three-piece band was assembled in a little pavilion, providing pre-performance entertainment. We later discovered that it was also a part of the story. The action took place very close to the audience, sometimes just an arms length away, and gave us a sense of being part of it.

Because we were accompanied by an elderly lady who was unable to make the walk to the orchard or climb up onto the bleachers, we were pleased that a minivan was provided to take her most of the way. We were given lawn chairs to sit on, placed under an apple tree, just steps from the stage. We had an excellent view; however, a couple of times, we had to duck to avoid falling apples, which caused a bit of a chuckle around us.

The charm of this unique theatre is not only the fact that all performances take place outdoors, but also the fact that, although there is only one built set for each play, the action for each scene often begins and/or ends away from that spot, perhaps in the adjacent field, or through the open doors of the barn, from where Dr. Logie burst forth in his Model “T” to begin one scene in Crow Hill.

As a newcomer to the area, I also enjoy learning some of its history through the plays, as most of them are locally written and based on local historical events. Most of the cast members are either professional actors, or aspiring drama students, many of whom are from the community. It’s obvious that they devote themselves to learning their lines and becoming their characters. Both of the performances that we saw left me feeling that I’d been invited into these lives. I felt the joy; I felt the pain.

crowhillgroup

The Cast

Now that I’m familiar with this wonderful theatre it’s become an important part of my summer “must do” list. This year we’re looking forward to seeing Dr. Bernardo’s Children, but we’ll have to get our tickets early.  Last year it was a sold out show every night, and we sadly discovered that we couldn’t pull our usual stunt of deciding at the last minute that we wanted to attend!