Apr. 12th, 2017

bjarvis: (Default)
I currently live in Maryland in the US, but I was raised in northern Ontario, on a dairy farm in Dack Township, near the towns of Charlton and Englehart. My parents still live in the area and since we were coming to Canada this week anyway for my grandmother's birthday, I thought it was a good opportunity to travel the full distance north to visit the homestead.

It's been a bit of an adventure overall. My parents are still living on the farm, but they've had their share of health problems and even they are conceding they can't stay on the farm for many more years before the maintenance simply overwhelms their ability to manage.

Much of the farm itself has changed over the years. There is currently the house and the barn with its attached milk house left. When I was a very young child (pre-school), there was the car garage, tractor garage (the original 1920s homestead), a grainery, a log garage for farm equipment, and the old barn. The house I grew up in burned in 1984; the parents' current house then is the third home on that farm.

The old buildings were mostly cleared away years ago. The old barn was collapsing under its own weight when I was a kid, and we were strictly warned never to go in there. Which we of course then did. There were some ancient farm implements, a couple old horse collars for the plow and little else, but it was fun to explore. It was torn down in 1976 as unsafe, along with the log barn.

My dad built the milk house in 1970 or so. While we haven't had dairy cattle since the 1970s, it has been a comfortable workshop for him since then and as held up pretty well.

The barn was built some time in the 1950s, I think, well before my family bought the property in 1969. It's been remodeled several times over the decades, but dad recently returned it to its original form: slide doors on either side to allow a pass-through for tractors & wagons of hay, and an open loft for unloading the delivered hay. The stalls are more modern but haven't seen cows in years.

The fences are all gone. We had maintained a distinct north field & south field, separated by a fenced cow pasture, and a path to the pond at the edge of the forested area to the back of the property. All traces of that are now gone: it is now one continuous field from the northern edge to the southern edge of the property lines, and it is currently leased to other farms in the area for their use.

Sadly, the ground has been too wet for us to hike back to the uncleared portions of the property along the eastern edge. The underlying rock of the Canadian shield rises above soil level in these spots, over 40 feet in some places. They were fun places to go when I was a kid and I had hoped for clear views of the full farm from there with the absence of leaf cover. The exposed and barely-covered rock surfaces however mean there is little drainage for heavy rains, not to mention melting spring runoff. I'll try again in a dryer season.

Many other surrounding properties have changed too. I noticed some houses where there were none before, older or abandoned structures have been cleared away, some houses & barns have simply vanished entirely.

The Mennonite community has been buying up a number of properties in the area, priced out of the southern Ontario market. Driving at night, it's easy to spot the houses lit by kerosene lamps, and we passed more than a few horses & buggies on the roads. On Monday, we passed several groups of children walking home from their school, the girls in long dresses and white bonnets, the boys in dark trousers & coats with wide-brimmed black hats. Other than their dress, they were perfectly ordinary kids doing perfectly ordinary kid things.

On the advice of Gesile Belanger, the town clerk for Charlton & Dack Township, we went to what is now known at the Heritage Center in Charlton. That building was the town hall when I lived there, built in 1909. It now has a room for community meetings (an artists' group meets there weekly), and houses archives of the area. Looking randomly through official voter lists of the 1950s, I found the names of many people I knew, including the people who owned our farm before us. Sadly, I wasn't able to determine who owned our farm before them, but I didn't have the time to dig as deeply as I wanted. Perhaps the next time.

Overall, the region is recognizable but very different from the place I knew. Charlton is very similar, but Englehart has unquestionably gone downhill over the past two decades. New Liskeard seems a mixed bag, a downtown a bit past its prime but not too far gone, and a burgeoning suburban shopping area, although at the expense of the mall next door.

I could wish to spend more time there, but I think I've had enough for this trip. The next visit should be in the fall, when the local tourist attractions are open, perhaps late enough to see the leaves changing colour.
bjarvis: (Default)
I'm not planning to die any time soon, or at all. While I'm assured that my death is inevitable in perhaps 40-50 years' time, I'm personally against it. I am by nature a cautious person so it seemed prudent to ensure I'm prepared for my theoretical demise.

We already have wills in place to dispose of my earthly assets. And while I'd prefer to be buried body intact and in a nicely appointed coffin (dark wood finish, brass fixtures, free wifi), getting my hydrocarbons across an international border would require significant effort by my executor, not to mention a great deal of money. It would be vastly easier to cremate me and carry my ashes in one's carry-on bags.

While we were in the Charlton area, I stopped by the township hall to talk with the clerk, Gisele Belanger, to enquire how one goes about being placed in the Brentha Cemetary near my childhood farm.

My parents (also still alive) have a plot there, I-16. Gisele informed us that a plot may contain a coffin & three cremains, or a total of five cremains. My parents are planning to be cremated so as long as my parents stop by the office to officially RSVP me into their plot, my position is guaranteed. There is an administrative fee of $265 if it were to happen today, but otherwise all expenses are covered.

The cemetary contains a lot of childhood memories for me. Rather, it contains a lot of people I knew. I went to school with several occupants. Some I knew through church. Some we shared a telephone party line with, while others were merely neighbours we sometimes saw. There were parents or grandparents of my childhood friends. There was my bus driver for my first & second grade, as well as the fellow who was the janitor of my elementary school, buried with his late wife. There was the couple who owned sold us our farm, and their extended family. There was the local telephone switchboard operator until the systems went digital in the early 1970s. And so on. I could give a mini-biography on nearly 2/3 of the people at rest there. And I'm intrigued by the ones I didn't recognize: there are no more families named Goldstein, Schultz or Kiehna in the area, and I'm curious what brought them, and why happened to their descendants.

Like any good story, I'm left with a lot of answers, but a few extra questions too.

September 2017

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