Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Fair Day on Faraday

Monck Road
I'm forever on about the stories old houses can tell. This past fall, based in a comfortable rental on Baptiste Lake north of Bancroft, I was reminded once again that old roads also have the power to take us back in time. No matter how widened and well-surfaced they are - true of most of the back-roads I explored, although the blind hills and corners cancel out any feelings of security - the impenetrable forest bordering them recalls the experience of new European arrivals determined to make a stand, and a better life for their descendants.

Baptiste Lake 
  I have written about the area on several occasions. 
 Should you be in any way interested, you might  search the blog for Old Hastings Road. Here's   a starting point.

The week in the Hastings Highlands included daily back-roads drives and regular hikes. I finally visited all the communities on all the roads we'd had to postpone visiting, on our regular commutes between Belleville and North Bay, prior to our own settling here on the Front years ago. Evocative names, and roads, and heaps of  history. Today  rural hideaways and cottages of all sizes replace the settlers' hand-hewn homes and hopeful barns of the mid-1800s.

What links all these roads and experiences and the history of the area together for me is an exceptional book. I've read  Your Loving Anna, by Anna Leveridge half dozen times, and given away copies. Should you want to spend several hours in the shoes (and hopeful heart) of English settlers transplanted into the bush near Coe Hill in the early 1880s, this is the book for you. The book consists mostly of letters written by Anna Leveridge from her shack in the forest, to her mother at home in England. Despite the struggles and privations of her life, it is a hopeful and joyful read. Can you say, character?

Lower Faraday School
On my final day, my return trip to the city (one might think I was delaying the inevitable, and one might be correct) I travelled several northern settlement history rabbit-holes - Lower Faraday Road, the Ridge Road, and the Old Hastings Road (the section between McGeachie Lake Road and Ormsby (where I stopped for a chat with Lillian at the Old Hastings Mercantile... and a bit of restorative retail therapy.)

Incidentally, I met Lillian years ago while I was writing for Country Roads magazine; editor Nancy Hopkins had asked me for an article on General Stores. The issue came out in 2012 Sadly, Nancy died earlier this year, and the magazine is no longer. A sad loss, both of a great magazine and of a much-loved champion of Hastings County.

Lower Faraday Road, deep forest
Lower Faraday Methodist Church

On the road again, I  came upon the Lower Faraday School. At some optimistic time in the more recent past it was converted to community use, but is again abandoned.  

At the intersection of White Church Road and Lower Faraday, I came upon this humble white frame church. I read somewhere that it had been used as a community library in more recent time. Imagine the hopes and efforts of the fledgling community, building this simple structure to house their deep faith in God and the future.

now would you call this historic beauty The Gut?
Towards the end of my drive I travelled The Ridge, a surprising little area of prosperous farms and an active church, south of Coe Hill.  I'd like to show you the route I took, but the intrepid Streetview camera people decided not to take this road, which, incidentally got me to The Gut, a much more scenic spot than the name would suggest, and onward by a bit of crossroads sleuthing, to The Ridge and beyond. 

I love just motoring on, uninterrupted by map consultations, until I discover for myself how roads connect and assemble my own mental map - ah, this is a familiar place just off Highway 62! So, since I'd come upon them,  I walked the trails at the McGeatchie Conservation area on Steenburg Lake. I first visited in 2012 with Dave Golem, local councillor and McGeatchie CA enthusiast,  on another assignment for Country Roads.

And all dreams end in cemeteries. The Lower Faraday pioneer cemetery dated 1893, was restored by St. Michael's Anglican church of Coe Hill and others, and rededicated in 1980.

I fear that these road memories may be out of chronological north to south order.  But should you wish to retrace my route, I can recommend another fine book, which I learned about on this trip.

Before I left on my Baptiste Lake sojourn, I contacted area poet Kathy Figueroa, whom I met in my Al Purdy A-frame Association volunteer days; Kathy read at the first Purdy Picnic back in 2014.

 I suspected she might know if there were a book about the area, a sort of back roads driving tour resource. And Kathy did. She recommended Touring the Past by Bob Lyons. Published by KirbyBooks, a fine local publisher of area history, and written by a well-known Bancroft Times columnist and author with an eye for history, the book made for delightful reading, and proved a great guiidbook. I recommend it! I picked up my copy at Bancroft's deservedly famous Ashlie's Books.

So, now you have all you need for your trek to the near North. Since Baptiste Lake has already called a time or two, we may run into each other (ahem) on one of the back roads of North Hastings County next summer.

Land o' Goshen

1905 Goshen Evangelical Lutheran Church

 "Land o' Goshen!" Look it up. An old-fashioned expression, a "mild exclamation of surprise, alarm, dismay, annoyance or exasperation." The kind of thing you'd expect to hear Mayberry's Aunt Bea say. It derives somehow from the biblican Land of Goshen, the region in Egypt inhabited by the Israelites until the Exodus. And Goshen is the original name of this church in a fascinating "lost village" in the Abbotsford area of B.C. 

So says On this Spot, a wonderfully researched site devoted to this tiny old village, since absorbed by sprawling Abbotsford. The village of Matsqui.

Layers on layers of B.C. history pass unnoticed, as one drives the flat river bottom land en route to other pleasures. Like the charming and historic - and restored - village of Clayburn with which friends Meg and Tom delighted us  on our visit to them and their province, nearly five years ago. How can it be? 

This post was a draft in my new series from early this year, when the Covid travel famine forced me to mine for virtual road trip material in journeys from another time, with my travelling companion who made his own last voyage not long before. So. This makes me happy. And sad. To remember his infinite patience with photo junkets filled with "oh, can we drive down there!" "Oh, will you follow me in the car?...I just want to walk through that lane..." Whatever will I do without my getaway car driver?

the mighty Fraser
The visit with Tom and Meg was special in so many ways - and notable for walks. Walks along the dyke holding back the mighty Fraser, visits to a Chilliwack heronry. Walks along a mossy ferny cedar-scented neighbourhood stream. Walks among towering azaleas at a hillside monastery.

Stay with me, as I remember how to write again.

This is a post about a place people drive through daily without noticing, a place of spreading subdivisions and shrinking village presence. The village of Matsqui  has been absorbed in the municipal sense by the sprawling city of  Abbotsford - absorbed and disappeared.

1914 Matsqui Hotel
It's difficult to get a feel for life in today's Matsqui, much less the thriving little community of 120 years ago. A walk through town helps. A visit to a great website with  then and now photos and good commentary aids and abets. Matsqui seemed a familiar name from my Vancouver days, but U couldn't place it until a bit of searching revealed Matsqui....ah, that Matsqui. The one with the Federal medium-security prison; I once drove a neighbour there to visit her husband, in another life.

once the commercial centre of town

Then, as until recently,  I had no knowledge of the traditional keepers of this area. The Sto:lo people who lived lightly on the land and river in the valley were forced out by European settlers in the mid-1800s, in that way we colonizers had. Their ancestral lake and wetland territory with its abundant cedar and salmon economy was drained for agriculture, and their free and proud life disappeared. In a tragic irony, Sumas Lake is now reclaiming the territory this month. Important to read the entire story at the website I have provided links to; it's not pretty but one we must learn.

The  Norwegians played a role in the colonization of the area. The On This Spot site tells their story in detail. But for an abridged version: it's the same story of hope and struggle told by immigrants everywhere. Hundreds of thousands of Scandanavians caught 'Canada fever' in the 1890s to 1900. They left their harsh lot at home and started over again in the Canadian west. Their roots took hold in the fertile Fraser Valley, and many of their descendants live there still.

typical Matsqui clapboard
I'll leave you with a few views of wet-wool cloud, rain-nurtured ever-green grass and moss upholstering the old walls of the village. 
in 1915, the Patterson Blacksmith Shop

On this wander down St. Olaf Street, named after the patron saint of Norway, you'll see many of the places I've shown you, captured by the bigger technology of the Streetview folks. 

former Post Office

So...this post  which has sat waiting since February asks to be written, Now that our hearts and minds turn to the flooded farms of the Fraser Valley, I revisit these photos and those carefree days when my love and I travelled the area with Abbotsford friends Tom and Meg.

 Hearts are breaking everywhere there.