Our County Correspondents
When you hit the Independent in Alexandria (as I am wont to do most Saturdays), you never know whom you’ll run into. Two weekends ago, I struck gold; I bumped into lifelong Dunvegan resident, Paul Tenger. Sufficiently aware of the failings of those from away like myself, Paul skipped over the standard Glengarry conversational starter (a.k.a., the weather) and we caught up as old acquaintances do, decrying the vanishing sense of neighbourliness that once glued the small community of Dunvegan together. “Years ago, when my house burned down, I had countless offers of places to stay” Paul told me, ”long before the fire engines even arrived at the scene. It was heart-warming.”
I’m not entirely sure how we got on to the topic of cars, for I am not known as a car buff. Nevertheless, I’m ever so grateful that we did. My best guess is that our discussion grew out of a mutual agreement that “new” didn’t automatically mean “better.” As an example of this premise, Paul offered his new-for-him wheels: a 1966 Chrysler 300 with 60,372 original miles on the clock, that he had just acquired this past spring. I could tell that, for Paul, the vehicle was an important checkmark on his classic car bucket list.
One of the other highlights along this road to Chrysler 300 nirvana was Paul’s acquisition of a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II a few years ago. When I asked Paul why, if owning a Rolls had been such a dream, he had let it go, his explanation was simple. “I loved it… a car that took 18 hides of hand-matched, imported leather to upholster and had lamb’s wool on the floor and on the roof liner… what’s not to love?” But he lived every day in fear that it might break down. (Rolls Royce insists their vehicles never break down. They merely experience a “failure to proceed.”) The downside is that this “failure” can be mighty costly. The previous owner of Paul’s Rolls had spent $9,000 US just to service the rear brakes.
Next, Paul traded the Rolls for a Model A Ford, plus a mint-inbox snow blower and an air compressor. The Ford didn’t hang around long, though. It was sold to a European buyer, I believe, which freed up the funds for his amazing deep maroon Chrysler classic. Given its age, the car is in superb shape. The paint, while a bit faded in spots, is untouched by rust. The chrome, of which there appears to be at least an acre inside and out, is pit-free and as shiny as the day it rolled off the assembly line. The engine compartment is uncluttered and almost clean enough to eat off. In fact, it’s cleaner than some eateries I’ve visited in my youth. And the trunk is sufficiently spacious to hold a brace of dead mobsters from Chicago, and their luggage… plus the car’s original bias-ply spare tire.
But let’s pull this back on topic, i.e., that new isn’t necessarily better.
Paul offered two attributes of the Chrysler 300 to underscore his point. The first was visibility. Like most of the cars of its era, the 300 is a ‘boat’… even tending towards land yacht status. “But the visibility is incredible,” boasted Paul. “360 degrees!” This brought up my pet peeve with our latest Rondo; KIA took what had been a vehicle with great all-around visibility and turned it into a pimpmobile with narrow windows and so many blind spots our present model came with a back-up camera (one that you can’t see if there’s a hint of sunshine). And they call this progress.
“It’s also amazingly quiet,” claimed Paul. “You can travel down the highway with all the windows rolled down and still hold a normal conversation with everyone in the car.” I took this latter claim with a grain of salt because I know that if I drive our Kia Rondo in the windowdown mode, the noise is beyond deafening. It’s mind numbing.
And so our encounter came to a close. At least until a few minutes after I arrived home, when Paul and his maroon 300 unexpectedly pulled in behind me. “If you’re going to write about it,” Paul sagely observed, “you’d better take it out for a spin.” And so I did, down to downtown Dunvegan and back. And as I tooled along (at the speed limit, naturally) and with the windows wide open, Paul and I continued our conversation as effortlessly as we would have in my living room. And to really make my day, the moment I slipped behind the wheel, the world of government-enforced metrification melted away. There before me was a chromesplashed, MPH-only dash that transported me back to my very first (used) car: a 1964 Pontiac convertible. Thank you, Paul.
This next piece also has a bit of an automotive twist. George Kampouris, when talking with me about his Glengarry Rocks presentation this coming Sunday at the Glengarry Pioneer Museum, revealed a little known fact (at least to me) about the paleontology of Glengarry. Nearly 100 years ago, Dr. Alice Wilson, the first female geologist at the Geological Survey of Canada ( GSC), prospected for fossils all over our county. “She drove up and down the rutted concession roads in a Model T Ford,” said George, “and would stop frequently to ask farmers about rocks on their farm and request permission to wander their stone hedgerows.” George told me that it was a practice he adopted when he started in paleontology.
Dr. Wilson was born in Cobourg, Ontario in 1881 to a family that valued the sciences and the joys of outdoor life. In 1909, Wilson started work at the GSC in Ottawa as a museum assistant. Despite facing many daunting barriers as a woman, she remained at the Survey the rest of her life and quietly became a leading expert in the paleontology of this area. In the process, Dr. Wilson produced a very accurate series of geological maps of the Ottawa region ( without the aid of Google Maps) and authored a collection of iconic publications that detailed all the fossils in the region, by group.
Dr. Wilson’s determination to succeed in a man’s world can be seen in her ‘drive’ to be allowed to do field work. At the time, this was the exclusive domain of men.
While she reluctantly accepted that working in remote areas with male colleagues was verboten, she did convince the GSC to send her on short trips to the relatively unstudied OttawaSaint Lawrence Valley. As the Celebrating Women’s Achievements section of the Library and Archives Canada web site (www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/women/) notes:
“For the next fifty years, (Dr. Wilson) studied this area on foot, by bicycle and eventually by car. When the Survey would not issue her a car for field work as they did men, she bought her own.”
Now I’m not sure if George will be mentioning Dr. Wilson next Sunday, but if you’d like to find out, I urge you to attend the information- packed event on August 14 from 1 to 4 p.m.
Sad sign of the times
It saddened me to see the appearance of a For Sale sign at the end of Bonnie Laing and Greg Byers’s lane way last week. I was just getting used to their move from the hamlet of Dunvegan to Margaret MacCrimmon’s iconic Ontario brick farmhouse at the eastern end of Dunvegan Road, when they decided to pull up stakes again and look for a smaller place in Vankleek Hill.
I understand their underlying motivation completely. Old houses, especially big old houses, are a perpetual merry-goround of maintenance and repairs. It’s as if the house “owns” the occupants and affords them little, if any, spare time for other pursuits, like travel to far-off lands.
Nevertheless, with Bonnie’s impending departure (added to Bill Gildorf’s and Susan Joiner’s recent return to their Montréal roots), it means that shockingly few of us from the original gang of Dunvegan and Dunvegan-inspirit immigrants remain.
On a happier note, I learned when talking with Linda Burgess at last weekend’s Williamstown Fair that her son, Sean (owner of the old brick schoolhouse north of the Dunvegan crossroads) has finally landed a full-time teaching position with the Upper Canada School District.
For years, this talented teacher has had to make do with shortterm assignments, replacing teachers on sick leave or sabbatical.
However, that period is now at an end. He will be teaching full-time in Rockland and I wish him all the best in this new stage of his career.
Mystery bus spotted
Interim curator, Renée Homiak, sent me word about a unique bus tour with about 35 people that stopped by Dunvegan museum on the Saturday afternoon of the Glengarry Highland Games. What made this bus excursion so special is that the passengers were not informed in advance of the tour’s destination.
So many of the people Renée spoke with had never been here before and were amazed at how much is here at the little museum tucked away in Dunvegan.
Christened the Magical Mystery Bus Tour, the event had been organized as a fundraiser by the United Senior Citizens of Ontario and the Long Sault Friendly Circle Seniors Club.
And the organizers, Carson Elliot and Betty Wheeler, have declared it "a resounding success" on their Facebook page.
Since the beginning of June, Renée tells me that the GPM has seen five large groups stop by for tours, lunch under the pavilion and to enjoy the beautiful setting.
“We’re also scheduled to have two more before the month's end,” she told me. Renée’s favourite part of large tours is the conversations she strikes up with the visitors.
“Memories and funny moments are shared and I always walk away learning something new,” says Renée.