My down-east folks were delightful!

I first met my mother’s Veley relatives down east in Kennebec County while I served in the RCAF. I was stationed not far from them at Kingston, Ont., but have had little or no contact with most of them ever since because of the distance.
A cousin from down there was near here in an O.P.P. uniform—and he is a giant. Other Veleys I have met were also big men, much larger than my father.
Anyway, I learned a lot while visiting them at Arden, Ont., including the quite contrasting arts of producing both maple syrup and moonshine. These skills were practised regularly by my mother’s youngest brother.
You see, there is background for those hobbies in the U.S. mountains where the family once came from after the American Revolution (equate Kennebec with Kentucky!). As United Empire Loyalists, they flocked into Upper Canada (as early Ontario was then known) despite the fact their ancestry was probably Dutch or German.
The Appalachian Mountains were their home for generations. If they had not settled in Canada, Ontario probably was destined to become part of Quebec and speak French.
Anyway, my relatives also brought along a love for music and horses. Small farmers like our own district people, they were skilled with axes and saws. Most of their timber had vanished long before I went to look around.
There was on sawmill left at nearby Sharbot Lake on the road to Ottawa. And like here, American tourists had found nearby Gull Lake attractive for their fishing.
My uncle, Everett, was a violinist in demand for country dances for years and I suspect, like his other interests, his music was inherited from his U.S. mountain background.
I decided to pay them all a visit one cold winter night at Christmastime and my mother, who had not seen her old home in more than 20 years, arrived to be with us. My uncle had acquired a housekeeper with a small daughter and kept his house beside the Henderson Road cozy with heat from woodstoves.
So, I admired his fiddle playing, and helped feed his team of horses and a cow. That was as close to farming that I ever got before buying my own farm here about 20 years later.
I cannot believe that farming was really in my blood all along, although my father had helped his own granddad look after sheep in the mountains of southern Italy (incidentally, my dad knew my eastern uncle from youth when they both worked in Alberta and they remained friendly).
Two older brothers of my mother were no longer on the scene when I arrived at Arden on a passenger train. That’s before I learned I had to make a cold six-mile hike after midnight!
Life was always full of surprises for this young fellow just trying to fit in, but this “hillbilly” experience was one I soon learned to enjoy. I was still only 18.
Fortunately, I had taken some rifle training, so I could impress these relatives with my target shooting. As well, I knew enough about boats to jump into my uncle’s rowboat the next summer and help him set out a fish net.
Another uncle lived down the same road on my granddad’s old farm. When we dropped in there, his little girls went into the cellar to bring up a pair of young raccoons they were raising as pets.
I mean, this was a different and fascinating life for me in many aspects and I’ve never forgotten much I encountered: everything from making “moonshine” to the centuries-old social life of that neighbourhood.
Cousins I met for the first time down there on several visits were curious, of course, about my own family affairs up here, but nobody except my policeman cousin ever ventured this far from home.
I guess it sounded too much like merely imagination to them when I described my pre-war jobs like shipbuilding at Port Arthur, or on papermill construction, or grocery clerk—things so far out of their own experiences.
But they could relate to our tourist industry, and even if some drove the oldest cars you ever saw, they got around well on their own dirt roads. They needed to travel miles for beer if for no other reason.
Their closest beer parlour, as in much of the rural east, had been closed like prohibition. In fact, much of Ontario had “gone dry” far and wide those years.
You might expect that people who had saved Ontario from Quebec’s clutches would be entitled to more privileges, but I don’t suppose many of those backroaders every understood much about our governments, either, although they elected politicians.
In this connection, you might laugh to hear an election day there would be watchfulness around the breakfast table in some homes, I heard about. Brothers and father would be alert to notice when anyone headed to town to vote that day. Then a rival might jump in his own vehicle to go and “kill” or cancel the other’s vote.
Both older parties had supporters in some of those eastern families.
Something I learned down there was never to show much surprise—no matter what was going on!
• • •
Okay, so I’m still shopping and it’s hard to stay out of Safeway, where I’m on the lookout for familiar faces of long ago, like that of Clora McEvoy (nee Dumeney) and one of 12 in that big family when we all attended a one-room school at Mine Centre, which I cannot resist mentioning at every opportunity.
Of course, this being school opening week helps freshen all our memories and we were lucky enough to never start school until after Labour Day. Nor was there ever such brutality as was shown in Russia last week where armed rebels slaughtered over 300 people, mostly students!
And we won most, if not all, of our football games against Kenora and Rainy River, the only other high schools available for challenges, while I toiled on the line as guard next to big Eddy Mihichuk while dynamic Waldemar Zimich exploded with his running game.
And we wore our first gold sweaters, which came as gifts from Franky Pearson, our rotund export to UCLA, who had heard his old team (us) had no money for uniforms.
And we knew the Second World War was underway but managed not to become overly concerned although some of us were soon involved.
It seemed violence was never too distant from our own lives, and many parents had knowledge of war from personal experience earlier.
• • •
Bill Bone goes sky-diving at the Thunder Bay Airport on Sept. 21 in aid of the local Arthritis Society. There will be 23 participants and each will have been credited with a $500 donation. These pledges will total at least $10,000.
The Arthritis Society challenges anyone to “take a leap of faith!” Safety will be fully practised.

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