Saturday, August 10, 2013

Another weekend in old Glengarry

Another August long weekend, which means we headed off to the farm in old Glengarry again. Just like last year, the year before, the year before that, and the year before that (etcetera).

Saturday, August 3, 2013 [photo of Ruairidh (Rory) MacLennan of MacLennan, Clan Chief of the MacLennans with myself in Christine in the Clan MacLennan tent, Glengarry Highland Games]: We spent the bulk of Saturday at the Glengarry Highland Games, arriving just before 10am and leaving soon after 6pm. This year, ours was the featured clan, and I was invited to do a talk on compiling my McLennan/MacLennan genealogies of the two counties [see the text of my talk, posted here a few days ago]. 

Other talks ensued, including one by David Anderson on some of the famous Scottish-born Mc/MacLennans in Glengarry County (which included a couple of names from my own talk), and David McLennan of Ottawa, who spoke on aspects of the old clan system, and further Mc/MacLennan histories. A highlight of the day had to be the first Glengarry Highland Games visit by Ruairidh (Rory) MacLennan of MacLennan, Clan Chief of the MacLennans.

Where are you from? the Chief asked me. Um, here, I said. Right here.

Walking in from where we parked the car for the day, seeing the house where my great-grandparents, Fred and Janie Campbell, lived until the early 1960s [see my previous post on them here]. Their house sitting just behind the post office.

I was the only one in the MacLennan tent that appeared to be from the Maxville area, although there were various people with Mc/MacLennan connections there from Apple Hill and Laggan, including Stephen Brockwell’s cousin, Jack McRae (apparently a McLennan woman married into the McRaes a couple of generations back). Jack has yet to get me his genealogical information, so I can enter it into mine.

Ruairidh (Rory) MacLennan of MacLennan, Clan Chief of the MacLennans spoke briefly, and performed on the bagpipes. After his father, he is only the second Clan MacLennan Chief in a couple hundred years, and is an entirely nice man.

Apparently he is to be married next year. I asked him, as Clan Chief, do you feel any pressure to have to continue the line?

Since it was Christine’s first Glengarry Highland Games, we wandered around various booths, beer enclosures (tent and building), watched the caber toss, the tug-of-war cup finals, the massed Highland fling and massed pipe bands (we should have brought chairs). To accompany me wearing my kilt, she even wore the small fascinator she had constructed with the McLennan tartan last fall for the wedding. Apparently, being six months pregnant also means that beer enclosures are slightly less entertaining (who knew). We saw people I knew from high school and public school, that I manage to only see now (if at all) when I come through for the Games.

It was an enormously long day, arriving back at my sister’s house just in time to sing happy birthday to her husband, Corey, and enjoy cake for dinner.

On the way back to the farm from my sister’s house, we caught the entirety of a rainbow over the homestead, protecting the property like a dome. 

A weekend of rainbows, which also meant a weekend of raining.

Unfortunately, we were kept awake by a bat that wandered into the bedroom we were sleeping. It crept in through the closet, and woke us around midnight. It took ninety minutes for the two of us to get the damned thing back outside.

We took no photos of that.

Sunday, August 4, 2013: We woke with an idea for coffee, and managed to wander from Cassleman (to pick up Christine’s preferred breakfast) over to Alexandria, where we sat at the Dairy Queen and I made terrible jokes, seeing the sign next door at the Giant Tiger. My quip, “did you hear they killed the village chicken?” And then I pointed (see: below). Christine rolled her eyes. This seems very much the kind of joke my father would have made, somehow.

Although apparently a photograph of me was required as well. Dairy Queen, where I spent years coming home to get writing done. Years upon years upon years.

Eventually we wandered over to Williamstown, where we visited both the Sir John Johnson House and the Bethune-Thompson House. In this area, history simply abounds. Here is a portrait of Christine in front of the grounds, taken from the far end of the yard (the cannon, just beneath the flag, was said to have been used during the 1837 Rebellion).

 I’ve shown numerous people over the years the Sir John Johnson House, and enjoy it in part for the fact that you can see the remnants of the grand estate it must have been, and that it currently houses not only the county archive for Glengarry, but is the local library as well. I like very much that it is not exclusively historical, but currently used. We snapped a number of pictures around the property, across the manicured lawns, the old mill wheel, and the old foundation of lost buildings.

In the furthest corner from the house, you could even see where the old mill once stood (the "You are here" helping situate the site of the former mill). The water barely says a single word.

Williamstown, with the oldest county fair in the country, as well as the nearby family cabin where poet Don McKay [see a post I wrote on him here] has written for years (and, for a number of years, his former partner Jan Zwicky as well). I still haven’t managed to figure out where it is.

There’s a North-West Company Museum in the village as well, but we didn’t make it over there, this time around. Historical sites in this area are near-impossible to make in a single day.

And Christine found a bench in the overgrown brush, where she sat for a minute or two.

God only knows how, but I’ve managed all these years to never actually make it over to the Bethune-Thompson House in Williamstown. The oldest remaining house in Ontario, the house is the former residence of Rev. John Bethune (1751-1815; relative of Norman), and the explorer David Thompson (1770-1857). Thompson not only named the Fraser River after his mentor, Simon Fraser (who lies in a graveyard close by in St. Andrew’s West), but mapped the 49th parallel, famously “losing a country for four days” when he wasn’t sure if he was in British or American territory.

We wandered up to the house, only to discover that this is where David Anderson (one of the speakers at the previous afternoon's Clan MacLennan tent) and his wife actually live. How does anyone live in a museum? He toured us through much of the building, including their Georgian fireplace, said to be the best in the country (as all the sibling fireplaces sat in Niagara-on-the-Lake and were burned during the War of 1812). He has the finest memory for local history I’ve seen, and manages to keep everything in his head, somehow. A collector as well as a bookseller and historian, he and Christine went through a number of historical books that relate to the area.

He did seem pretty excited that Christine works as a book conservator, and said he knew full well about where it is she works. There were a number of books on display the two of them went through, and even other incredibly rare titles on his shelves he showed us.
I can’t imagine that many places around that have not one but TWO historical plaques, and has someone actually living there.

Once through there, we made our way back the hour or so from Williamstown to my sister’s small house, where we enjoyed her annual backyard barbecue. 

Children tore around, it rained occasionally, and, unfortunately, the cool kept us all from the pool (unlike previous years). The children eventually took turns breaking their way into a piñata, pouncing upon the wounded thing once it touched the lawn like the feral beasts they truly are.

We spent the afternoon interspersed with rain and barbecue, with various friends and family wandering in, wandering through, wandering by. Once the food had come and gone, so did most of the crowd (as many had small children). And the rain came through again, as did another few rainbows.

By dark, only a small handful was left: myself, Christine, my sister and her husband and their children (with a friend of Emma's who stayed over), as well as a friend of my brother-in-law Corey. A small group, as the children lit sparklers, and watched the fire burn slow.

We were back at the homestead by midnight, exhausted. Hoping not to see any more bats.

Monday, August 5, 2013: We arrived home in the morning just in time to spend two days with Christine’s young Winnipeg cousin, Adam. En route from parts of Quebec back west through to Toronto, we picked him up at the youth hostel and took him for lunch at The Wellington Gastropub.

An exciting few days, but admittedly, I was looking forward to a couple days of absolutely nothing (but for my usual routine). Soon.

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