A veritable piece of music history heads down the highway


The family piano is on its way to southern Ontario from Perth, having been wrapped in quilts with care this morning, under Mom’s watchful eye, and loaded into a moving van.  It is about to find another appreciative home at my sister’s where my young niece and nephew are at a good age to learn to play it.

To me, given my way of waxing hyperbolic, this is no ordinary piano.  Mom and Dad bought it, nearly new as I recall, more than fifty years ago taking it from Perth to (Salaberry-de-)Valleyfield’s three residences and then back to Perth when they retired.

It is, as Mom explained to me, an upright grand described this way by the Blue Book of Pianos:

Due to their towering height, these instruments usually had string lengths and musical capabilities equal and often superior to actual grand pianos, thus being labeled “Upright Grand”, “Cabinet Grand” or “Inverted Grand” by their manufacturers.

Heintzman of Toronto was the manufacturer of this instrument, the company name and “Toronto” stenciled on the shimmering wood centered above the middle C.  It’s been interesting just to read up on this company’s history at its website, so familiar – and greatly changed – are its former Toronto addresses.

The “Pledge-shine” piano always enjoyed a prominent place in the living rooms of our homes, except in the last couple of years of Mom, Dad and Janice living in Valleyfield when it was moved into an otherwise empty bedroom.  The only times the keys were covered were when it might serve as an elbow rest for untold numbers of house guests, such as we experienced at holiday choir parties.  Said guests would likely be sitting on the matching bench (two slender bums could share it), a bench full of all sorts of things over the years.  There was sheet music, of course, complete books of music as well, partial pages of various stickers Mom employed to encourage her students, pictures (both framed and unframed), diplomas sometimes, a tattered hymn book or two, perhaps some gift wrap.  Well, I’m sure that paints an adequate picture.  It has always been the go-to place when we couldn’t find something – such as last Thanksgiving when I was searching for a biography of my grandfather which an aunt had typed many years ago.

Things atop the piano changed depending on the circumstances, except for the ever-present light over the open music – family pictures, a little clock, and, when teaching was in progress, a metronome (which spent its off hours in a cupboard), a wind-up gizmo that counted the prescribed beats of a given piece of music.


Oh the stories these pictures-within-a-picture can tell! (click to enlarge)

A crowd of faces flashes through my mind when I think of the piano students Mom taught over the years, not the least of whom were her four children – with varying degrees of interest and success.  As I progressed (and wanted more time) I was farmed out, as I saw it, to one of her senior students.  Neither of my sisters took much interest in the piano but Craig, bless him, learned to play by ear which pissed me off to no end as I methodically plunked out the notes of whatever I was learning.

Craig’s gift came in handy when, as pre-adolescents, we played church (that’s a variation on playing house).  Craig took the dual role of minister (long before he felt called to do so as a vocation) and pianist.  I was the soprano soloist since I was able, with rather surprising ability, to imitate one of them from our own church – complete with impressive vibrato.  My sister was responsible for taking up the offering (of which there was none) – all of this being played out before the birth of my youngest sister (or, at least, before she could participate).  Craig might have baptized her, I don’t remember!  The piano bench served as altar until it was needed, of course, for its intended role to support the pianist.

There’s a picture somewhere, which I’ll seek out at Christmas, of Janice sitting at the piano on Craig’s lap.  Mom was delighted that Janice could carry a tune before she could even talk properly.  I remember a little ditty she and Craig would sing together, to commemorate the arrival of K-mart in Valleyfield: “Let’s go to ‘Tay-mawt’, let’s go to ‘Tay-mawt’, ‘Tay-mawt, Tay-mawt’ Department Store.”

Another legend I have codified, inasmuch as I’ve put them in a music list for my hypothetical memorial service, revolves around the painstaking process (for those who overheard it as much as me) as I learned two difficult pieces of music – and not just “easy for piano” knock-offs, either, but the original scores.  I don’t remember which was first (they seemed to be my two-song repertoire ad infinitum) – “The Homecoming” by Hagood Hardy, made famous as the background music for Salada tea commercials and “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin, a much more complex piece which was the theme from the 70s flick “The Sting”.  Weeks of work leading to months of practice and even years of play – both on this piano and on the green one located where I used to spend my summers.

It was while Mom was trying to teach after-school piano lessons that Lynn and I would arrive home ready, if not always willing, to deliver the now-defunct Montreal Star, the afternoon newspaper competitor of the morning Gazette (which is still going strong). We each had routes of about the same size which brought in a little spending money. There were occasions when the distributor left us one newspaper short which led to, above the melodic plunking of the piano keys at the other end of the house, a row over who would have to go to a store to pick up the extra copy (and, being an English paper, our options were limited somewhat). Nine times out of ten it would be yours truly who went, usually to O’Neill’s on Boulevard du Havre until a new little book-store opened up in the shopping centre, about the same distance away.

I have digressed.

This piano was where Mom transcribed the Sound of Music wedding processional.  It was where Craig rehearsed for at least a couple of friends’ weddings.

I know that many more stories will come to mind, which I will add, as the piano – absent in one home, present in another – continues to be a beautiful part of our family’s collective memory.

Old pictures tell only a fraction of the stories


 

 


Great-great-grandparents Thomas Butler and Dorcas Radford

Thomas Butler was born in Bathurst, Lanark County, Ontario in 1826, one of nine children of 1819-1820 Irish immigrants John Butler and Alice Warren. While six of his siblings married Warren cousins, in 1852 Thomas Butler married Dorcas Radford, born in 1835, also in Bathurst Township. That’s their picture, taken in 1909! According to a 1974 family history Barker and Warren Families from Ireland** , compiled by Grace Hildy Croft, my great-great grandmother Dorcas Radford was a daughter of William Radford of Ireland, while the Butlers can also trace roots there as far back as 1185 to when a Theobald Butler accompanied King John into Ireland.

The second child of Thomas and Dorcas, Jane, married James Chaplin but Jane died at the birth of their first child, Sarah Jane Chaplin, in 1873. She was just eighteen years of age. (This had been the first recorded marriage between a Butler and a Chaplin but it would not be the last.)

Thomas and Dorcas Butler, who raised their orphaned grand-daughter, and a niece as well, while parenting ten children of their own (born between 1854 and 1875), were the grandparents of my paternal grandmother Pearl Butler who married Henry Burton “Bert” Chaplin in 1922. Grandma’s brother, Thomas, Jr., died on the First World War battlefields of France on March 1, 1917 sixteen days shy of his twenty-first birthday. I wish I had been more curious about his young life, when I had the chance to talk about him with my grandmother, but it was the war story which caught my attention. More about that, including photos and newspaper clippings, here.


Pte. Thomas E. Butler (17 March 1896 – 1 March 1917)


My great-grandparents, Henry Butler and Jennie Moodie with Beatrice, Thomas, Pearl and cousin Mildred(?)

Only a couple of Grandma Chaplin’s five siblings were familiar to me in my early years, great-aunts Bea (notorious for her home-made fudge) and Ruby (who lived in LaSalle, Québec with her husband, family and a very articulate mynah bird.)

The Chaplin family, which settled within easy courting distance of the Butlers, has an interesting part in the pioneer history of Lanark County, too, parts of which can be found in another family genealogy project McKay Family History: Walking in their Footsteps.

I remember my grandmother Chaplin telling me a story, which I in turn used in an elementary school project, of how Henry Chaplin, my great-great-great-great-grandfather, the second child of English immigrants John Chaplain and Sarah Jones, was born in 1835 on board the Pomona freight ship at St. Helen’s Island in Montréal harbour. (That was one of the islands used for Expo 67 and continues as a park today. It’s also home to a fort, now a museum, where John Chaplain’s assigned station quarters were located. He had served in the Royal Regiment of Artillery in Woolwich, County Kent, England. In the regimental book it listed his date and place of birth as Foxfield, Hampshire in 1806.)

Fort St. Helen’s Island

As was common with retiring English army personnel John Chaplain purchased land, in his case in Bathurst Township, west of Perth. The McKay book records that in 1840 he bought a 100 acre parcel of land from Richard Lewis for 130 pounds. From Montreal the family took a barge up the St. Lawrence River as far as Brockville.  They then crossed overland to Lanark County.

His children’s registered surnames dropped the second “a”, a change of spelling not uncommon in those times as a new generation in a new land. There have been dozens of Chaplins in the Perth and Glen Tay area for generations, a name synonymous for many years with a large dairy and related delivery business, no longer in operation. Others made their name in a variety of ways, both locally and farther afield.

Grandma and Grandpa had five children – my Aunt Eileen, Uncle Ken, my Dad (Arnold), and then twins Iris and Lois. Eileen died a couple of years ago. Ken, for whom I was named, died on his thirty-fourth birthday, about five months before I was born. He was married and the father of two girls aged twelve and eight. Having entered hospital for a hernia operation, he died of a blood clot on the day he was supposed to have been released. There seems little doubt that today’s routine blood-thinners would have saved his life. In any case there was an almost-immediate understanding between my mother and her mother-in-law that, should I be a boy, I would be named after Ken. (My middle name, George, I owe to my maternal grandfather and great-grandfather.)

1927 – Ross Chaplin, brother Bert (my grandfather) and Pearl (my grandmother) holding my Dad, Arnold, with Ken and Eileen in front

Not too far away from Glen Tay, to the south and west of Perth, is the Scotch Line (County Road 10) where my mother and her little brother spent their toddler years before George Henry McGinnis, Sr. and Lillian Thelma MacPherson moved into town, relocating to a Drummond Street home where my mother still lives today.

1932 – Lillian (MacPherson) McGinnis with Madeline, George Henry McGinnis with George, Jr.

Grandpa McGinnis, born in 1887 in Sharbot Lake to George Henry McGinnis, Sr. and Eliza Bertram, was a widower cheesemaker, having worked at various cheese factories in the area (Fallbrook, Lanark, Mississippi-Prestonvale) before going to the Scotch Line Union Cheese Factory on the Upper Scotch Line and eventually marrying my grandmother, the new school teacher. They were married in St. Paul’s United Church in Perth on June 26, 1925, one of the first, if not the first, marriage in that congregation of the newly-formed United Church of Canada.

Lillian MacPherson, born in 1904 in Green Valley, Charlottenburg Township, was a school teacher who had come to the Perth area from Glengarry County, east of Cornwall and, among the many schools she eventually taught at, was Scotch Line School.

My great-grandparents, Marjory and Alex MacPherson

My grandmother, Lillian (MacPherson) McGinnis, age 18, in 1923

Grandpa McGinnis, believed to have been taken at Prestonvale Cheese Factory

Scotch Line Union Cheese Factory – ca.1932

Scotch Line home, near the cheese factory

The former Upper Scotch Line School, one of many small schools in the area where my grandmother McGinnis taught, is now used by Scotch Line Cemetery and casts its morning shadow over the grave-sites of my grandparents, parents and brothers Craig and Claude – mine, too.

During the Great Depression, when both my mother (Madeline) and George, Jr. were born, there was a great deal of bartering that went on – cheese for milk, cheese curds for produce, and so on. Nevertheless cheese was a staple in the family and has remained so. Mom jokes that she’ll never have problems with her bones because of the great amount of calcium she ingested as a child.

Grandpa and Grandma were also very musical and would go to house parties always prepared to provide some of the entertainment, Grandpa on the violin and Grandma “chording” accompaniment on the piano.


Grandpa died in 1951, a little over a year before Mom and Dad were married. This picture was taken in approximately 1949.

Grandma (my siblings and I actually called her “Gammy” until she died at age 95 in March of 2000), never stopped being a teacher even though she had retired by the time I was half-way through elementary school. One of the stories she talked about was the still-legendary Judge John Matheson, who presided at the Lanark County Court House right across the street. Talk about six times six degrees of separation but Judge Matheson, known for his role in the crafting of our Maple Leaf flag, is related:

My grandmother’s grandmother, my great-great-grandmother Margery McIntosh-MacDonald, was a sister of Judge Matheson’s grandmother Catherine McIntosh.

Grandpa McGinnis had three older sisters – Mary (Mrs. Duncan Avery), Maud (Mrs. George Fife), and Maggie (Mrs. Billie Ennis). In addition he had two younger brothers: Charles (who married Della Doran) and Arthur (whose wife’s maiden name was Meta McLellan.) One younger sister, Christena, was married to Ed Pratt.

As mentioned Grandpa was a widower married first to Edith Jackson. They provided his second family, along with his many descendants, with step-sister Dorothy (“Auntie Dot” to me) and step-brothers Mervyn, his wife Myrtle “Myrt”, who gave birth to cousin “Red” Jack, and Fred and his war-bride Betty, all of whom the blended family simply claimed as aunts, uncles and cousins. Dot and Homer gave us sons Jack and Don and daughter Nancy.

A character known as “Grandma McGinnis”, she would actually be my great-grandmother, was named Eliza Ann Bertram and having lived until 1953, to the age of nearly 104, stories about her will be passed on for many years. When I was growing up, particularly when I was doing so literally hitting 6’3″ in my teens, I had a habit of clicking my feet on the dining room floor at dinner. That, my mother (and others in the family if they were visiting) told me, reminded them of Grandma McGinnis who seemed to have the same kick in her step.

Great-Grandma McGinnis (Eliza Ann Bertram) 1849-1953

Dancing had a lot to do with Mom and Dad getting together. A friend of Mom was dancing with him one night and Mom inquired as to who he was. They would dance together through nearly fifty years of marriage which began on July 26, 1952. Their first child, Arnold Craig Chaplin, was born May 13, 1955.

Dad was working at a textiles plant in Perth called Springdale Mills, owned by a company based in Montréal, and which presently closed up in Perth and transferred anyone who wished to go to Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec. Mom, Dad and Craig moved despite misapprehensions from family and friends, who seemed to see Québec as a nearly foreign, dangerous place. We, on the other hand, feel that the experience of living there enriched us immensely. Craig stayed in Montréal the rest of his life, dying in 2007, and we remain close with his partner of seventeen years, Claude, so maintain a connection with the city and province.

I was born in Ormstown, Québec, a short drive from Valleyfield. It was October 26, 1959. Lynn followed on March 2, 1961 and then Janice was born on September 30, 1968.

100 Nicholson – The first Valleyfield home for Mom, Dad, Craig and then me


22 Maden Street – that’s Craig,8, and me, 4, in the back yard – was the second place we called home in Valleyfield, and where sister Lynn joined us, with memories of this place much clearer than the apartment on Nicholson St.

In 1964 the family moved to 38 Simpson Street, a home which Mom and Dad designed and which managed to meet the needs of a family of six, with Janice’s arrival in 1968.


**The full name of the book, as noted on the title page, is The Barker and Warren Families from Ireland – And Allied Families: Butler, Burke, Crawford, Dodson, Doxey, Hildy, Kinch, Rath, Singleton, Smith, Tompkins, Webster et al.

To the Editor, Perth Courier


Thanks for your article on Andrea Raymond’s work. I look forward to a renewed commitment to heritage conservation in Perth in the spirit of Glenn Crain and others.

During a recent picture-taking tour of the always photogenic downtown I noticed that the Scotiabank branch on Foster Street (pictured) stands out for what I would say is a lack of effort to ‘get with the program’ in terms of heritage buildings. In particular the ground floor windows and doors are unsuitably modern and the bank sign, while conforming with the Scotiabank colour scheme of today across the country, is rather abrasive to the eye. I wonder if old pictures of a branch of what used to be known as The Bank of Nova Scotia might be consulted for guidance. Tasteful (and smaller) modern-day corporate insignia could easily be placed at street level.

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If national corporations such as Scotiabank would lead the way in a new commitment to preserve the heritage streetscape I am sure other businesses would be encouraged in their efforts to do the same.

Trust me – much of downtown Toronto’s historic buildings either burned down early in the last century or have been demolished. Perth is a gem of a town worth continued polishing.

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Suburbia encroaches on wildlife – not the other way around


As I watched this very interesting report on The National the other night I was reminded of a wildlife corridor project a lot closer to home, whether I consider home to be Toronto, Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Québec or Perth, Ontario.

It’s called A2A – Algonquin to Adirondacks Conservation Association. A look at the map on the website shows Perth (when most maps of that scale would not) at the eastern edge of the corridor.

Come to think of it, Perth’s local conservation area is very popular with birders (and less so at certain times of the year with anyone who fears snakes) so conserve-nature-and-they’ll-come-is-a-good-lesson.

Also, about ten years ago, a very forward-looking organization called ecoPerth turned a steep, sleepy hillside just down the street from my Mom’s into a thriving urban “forest in the making” which overlooks the Tay Canal Basin. While it’s still young there were enough fast-growing trees and other vegetation planted to give it a wild out-of-town feel already.

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Not far from Perth, along the back roads to Kingston, is the Foley Mountain Conservation Area on a beautiful peak overlooking the village of Westport. I took this picture around Thanksgiving of 2001 (before I had upgraded my camera).

View of Westport from Foley Mountain

We’ve become accustomed to raccoons making their home fairly close to our downtown household garbage. Yet there really ought be no one surprised when deer, rabbits or even coyotes and bears start visiting and/or terrorizing suburban neighbourhoods.

The answer is not to hand out hunting permits or silently condone such activity unlicensed, either.

Let’s do what we can to make sure they can safely get under our highways, or avoid them altogether.

They aren’t on our lands. We’re on theirs.

New pictures!


This should take you to my latest online photo album – 80 or so pictures in and around Perth, Ontario where I spent Christmas with Mom and Claude, Craig’s partner.

Except for the grayness of the day I was particularly happy with the photos taken along Allan’s Mills Road, a lovely country route at the west end of the Scotch Line Cemetery where Craig, and many other family members, are buried.  Here’s a few of them.

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It was a lovely holiday – quiet, lots of food, and Claude and Mom were good company as we reflected – but did not dwell too long, too often – on our loss of Craig earlier this year. We were sure his spirit was with us.

Travel plans – on VIA’s dime, too!


Having first signed up for VIA Rail’s loyalty program “Preference” in August of 2002 I am only now, five years later, actually cashing in many of the earned miles (or kilometers) and planning a three-stage trip for early August.

I will be going to Mom’s in Perth on August 2, for the August holiday weekend (the first weekend of the month), to attend the Chaplin family barbecue/reunion for the first time ever. Then, after a few days, I will head to Claude’s in Montreal – for the first time since Craig died – to see their new place and spend a few days in the city, before returning to Toronto on August 9.

Jeremy, I’ll look you up!

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