The big, the bold, the ec­cen­tric

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

Bold, strange, bril­liant, un­for­tu­nate and evil char­ac­ters from the past are to be show­cased in the North Glen­garry Her­itage Tour, another pro­mo­tional tool de­signed to bring tourists and pros­per­ity to On­tario’s Celtic Heart­land.

Sto­ry­telling, based on facts and fic­tion, is a key el­e­ment of “brand­ing” the his­tory of the place “Where On­tario Be­gan.”

The her­itage tour is a spin-off of the North Glen­garry Com­mu­nity Im­prove­ment Plan.

“One of the pri­or­i­ties iden­ti­fied in the plan was to lever­age eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment through the cel­e­bra­tion of cul­tural tourism prod­ucts that high­light the her­itage and cul­tural as­sets and dis­tinc­tive iden­tity of the town­ship,” the draft re­port notes.

In the on­go­ing quest for a tourism boost, colour­ful peo­ple, the suc­cess­ful and scur­rilous, from the early days of Glen­garry will be res­ur­rected as visi­tors dis­cover the good, the bad and the ugly of the county’s past.

A fea­ture of the pioneer days in Glen­garry County was that the set­tlers were “highly and even in­dul­gently tol­er­ant of ‘ec­cen­tric’ men,” reads a draft re­port on the tour, which re­lies heav­ily on de­tails con­tained in the Dic­tionary of Glen­garry Bi­og­ra­phy.

While the lead­ers and builders of Glen­garry have been cel­e­brated, and their lives have been well doc­u­mented, the tour will high­light some less prominent, and less pop­u­lar, fig­ures as well.

For in­stance, when he died in 1922, Wil­liam “Wild Wil­lie” Den­o­van fi­nally stopped scar­ing the chil­dren and in­tim­i­dat­ing the adults of Dalkeith. Known for his “vi­o­lent speech and ec­cen­tric life,” he rarely saw his par­ents, who lived in one half of their home, slip­ping notes to him un­der a closed door if they needed gro­ceries. In­fa­mous for lurid out­bursts, he may have had Tourette’s Syn­drome, or he may have just been giv­ing the peo­ple what they wanted, liv­ing up to the char­ac­ter he had in­vented.

He was a choir boy com­pared to the boot­leg­gers and bodys­natch­ers who plied their il­licit trades here. “Grave-sized dents” were reg­u­larly found in burial grounds, in­di­cat­ing that med­i­cal school stu­dents had des­e­crated plots to re­move ca­dav­ers. Corpses are the cen­tre of many in­trigu­ing tales. “The Man Who Dis­ap­peared,” Archibald H. McCuaig, was last seen cross­ing Alexan­dria’s Main Street in 1908. His body was never found. But le­gend has it that it might have sunk into the ooze of the Mill Pond, or was burned in the fur­nace of a ho­tel.

Is­abella M. Gilchrist, of Maxville, was in­deed a vic­tim of foul play. On her way to Alaska in 1905, she mar­ried an Amer­i­can, Lee H. John­ston, who claimed to be a “pro­moter.” The vic­tim’s body was later found, cut into pieces and partly burned, and buried near a Nome cabin she shared with her hus­band, and pre­sumed kil­ler. Mr. John­ston con­cocted a story about his de­spon­dent wife com­mit­ting sui­cide, and writ­ing in a note that her fi­nal wish was that her body be se­cretly in­terred and that no­body know of her “self-de­struc­tion.” He had con­ve­niently lost the “sui­cide note.”

In the mean­time, he re­turned to Maxville and sold her prop­er­tuy us­ing forged pa­pers. But the jig was up. Is­abella’s sis­ter re­gained the farm. Lee John­ston was charged with mur­der, but he es­caped the gal­lows. In the Sum­mer of 1908, while be­ing taken from Seat­tle to Nome, the pre­sumed kil­ler dis­ap­peared over­board and his body was never re­cov­ered.

John J. Mac­In­tosh, an Alexan­dria builder who erected schools and churches, died in 1917 while su­per­vis­ing the de­mo­li­tion of Knox Pres­by­te­rian Church in Van­kleek Hill. Fire had gut­ted the build­ing, which had been the site of an ear­lier tragedy. In 1900, while in­spect­ing con­struc­tion of the orig­i­nal new place of wor­ship, Rev. John Ma­cLeod climbed to the top of a scaf­fold. When the wall col­lapsed, he and two of the builders were killed. Some be­lieve the deaths were the work of di­vine in­ter­ven­tion, vow­ing to never darken the door of the church be­cause it had been built on a for­mer burial ground.

Alexan­der (Alex And A Half) MacDonald, so nick­named be­cause he was be­lieved to have been dim-wit­ted, was only 32 when he died un­der sen­sa­tional cir­cum­stances in 1946. When he dis­ap­peared, it was as­sumed he had headed off to work in a lum­ber camp. His life­less form was later found in an out­door privy, after a woman had dreamed that he would be dis­cov­ered there. A coroner’s jury could never deter­mine the cause of death, which re­mains a mys­tery.

The out­side pub­lic in­ter­est in the case is said to have marked the end of the “old Glen­garry,” which had been closed off and in­ward-look­ing.

When it comes to lega­cies, few could match Joseph Lau­zon (1799-1881), who had 36 chil­dren dur­ing three mar­riages. When in­ter­viewed at the age of 91 he said he was about to be­come a father again.

A legacy of another sort was the scar on the head of Alexan­der John MacIsaac MacDonald, who passed away in 1951. “Big Alex The Cham­pion,” from Ap­ple Hill, was a world cham­pion stone thrower and re­ceived a gold wrist­watch from the Queen at the 1919 Bri­tish Em­pire Games. His scar was not the re­sult of com­pe­ti­tion. He said he suf­fered an in­jury dur­ing what he de­scribed as “a most vi­o­lent fight with a su­per­nat­u­ral crea­ture in a swamp near where he lived.”

Those are just some of the fig­ures whose sto­ries will help en­cour­age out­siders to ex­plore Glen­garry’s routes and roots.

It is re­fresh­ing to see that the her­itage tour will give much-de­served at­ten­tion to both the weird and the won­der­ful peo­ple who have made this place so spe­cial.

Bee watch

We are con­stantly be­ing told to, at any cost, avoid con­tact with the minis­cule threats that may be lurk­ing in the great out­doors.

We are sup­posed to be par­tic­u­larly wary of black­legged ticks that may be car­ry­ing Lyme Dis­ease.

Since we can­not live in bub­bles, we can­not guar­an­tee that we will not feel the sting of a close en­counter with a nasty in­sect.

But now we are be­ing en­cour­aged to ac­tu­ally seek out and be­come ac­quainted with bum­ble bees.

Un­der the Bum­ble Bee Watch ini­tia­tive, a “cit­i­zen sci­ence project,” peo­ple are urged to pho­to­graph the in­sects and record the im­ages at the bum­ble­bee­watch.org to be­gin a “virtual bum­ble bee col­lec­tion.”

The in­for­ma­tion will help re­searchers deter­mine the sta­tus of the bees and help con­serve the vi­tal pol­li­na­tors.

Just as honey-mak­ing bee colonies have been threat­ened, the bum­ble bee num­bers have also been de­clin­ing.

If you ac­cept the mis­sion of be­com­ing a cit­i­zen sci­en­tist, you may get stung, should you cor­ner a bee, or dis­turb its nest. How­ever, these busy buzzers are gen­er­ally in­nocu­ous, and can be safely pho­tographed when they are do­ing their thing on a flower.

With any luck, you might help find rem­nant pop­u­la­tions of rare species, be­fore they go ex­tinct.

At the same time, to fur­ther help the cause of bee re­ju­ve­na­tion, you could con­sider tweak­ing your gar­dens by cre­at­ing beefriendl­y habi­tat.

We can never un­der­es­ti­mate the im­por­tance of the tini­est of crea­tures.

-- Richard Ma­honey

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