End of an Era

At the end of summer 2019, Henry Lach, who had spent almost his whole life at the historic Graham farm on the Aragon Road, left our neighborhood to live in Camden East with his family.

Henry Lach

His world was the farm, the cows, and sheds where he stored odds and ends, large and small, metal and wood, and much, much more…

The Graham’s century farmhouse

Slide show of the Graham Farm on the Aragon Road, Glenburnie, Ontario

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Here is a story written by Jackie Duffin who knows Henry well.

At the end of August 2019, Henry left Aragon Road to move in with his brother John and sister-in-law Linda of Camden East. He was a familiar sight along our Aragon road. With Cecil Graham, he hayed our fields for many years, and he has handled our snow removal single-handedly since 1988 (31 years!). After our apple tree grew too large and too low for his tractor to handle our drive, he kept it up by hand. Henry dropped by in mid-August to tell us that we had to find another solution for the coming winter, and I was lucky enough to have a long chat with him about his life.

Born in Kingston around 1949, he was the second youngest of five kids—John, Mary, Greg, Henry, and Michael—who became wards of the Catholic Children’s Aid, when their father died in 1952 of cancer at age 42.

Their mother Doris worked in a hotel, but she could not look after the family. The children’s early life with the Sisters of Providence orphanage was described in 2016 in the story of his older brother John, click here.

Henry remembers that he was just about to turn 9 when he came to the Graham farm around 1957. A Catholic couple, Wilma and Cecil Graham had no children of their own. Wilma’s memories are also at this website.
All the children did chores around farm before and after school. Henry loved the outdoor life and looking after animals. But he recalls the home-life was somewhat “rough” – and said that there “could not have been a worse” place to receive foster kids. For example, when they first arrived and for many years, there was no toilet – only a bucket with a toilet seat, which they had to carry outside to dump, even in winter.

Henry went by bus to St Theresa Catholic School and then later to Frontenac high school. Lasalle school still was under construction (opened 1966). Sometimes Henry walked home. He completed grade 9 and 10 in the Occupational program, but never heard if he passed or not. Apparently, if students passed grade 10 Occupational, they could switch to grade 9 in the academic program. Only after Wilma died May 13, 2015, at age 94, did he find out that he had passed grade 10. He thinks that the family did not tell him, in order to keep him at home working on the farm.

Henry admits to having a temper. Occasionally he would get so angry with Cecil that would try to beat him up. Cecil could be difficult, and he fought with John too. Henry was very sad when John decided to leave home. He remembers begging John not to go while they stood together at the sink doing dishes. It was the year of Expo, 1967.

John served in the army and for a while was out in Edmonton. Henry recalls a time when John went AWOL and a military truck arrived at the farm while Cecil and Henry were haying. Henry quipped, “There must be a war!” and they trudged back to the house to see what was happening. Looking for John, the soldiers wondered if he might have returned to the farm. Henry found it highly amusing that John would even dream of returning to the farm when he had left in such anger. In the end, John showed up back at the army base…and later he returned to the farm too.

When in school, Henry was aware that the teachers and other students saw him as disadvantaged and slow—an “orphan kid tied to Wilma.” But he says, “I’m nobody’s fool.” He has a well-developed sense of honesty and a reliable dose of suspicious propriety that always led him to recognize (and reveal) when he was being mistreated or taken advantage of.

From an early age, Henry drove vehicles around the farm and to the “other farm” owned by Cecil’s brother, Matt Graham, at the corner of Battersea road and the Bur Brook Road. But Henry did not get his driver’s licence until he was 42 years old. Cecil was getting on in years, and Henry would be needed “to do the donut run.” Cecil had long left the task of Henry’s licence to Wilma, but Wilma was too busy. And so Henry just stuck close to home, driving around the farm and to the “other farm” a short distance away. Never did he venture any further. Finally, a friend named Gus spent some time giving Henry a few lessons and to everyone’s amazement, including himself, he passed the driving test.

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A slide show of “The other farm.” Owned by Matt Graham a brother of the late Cecil Graham, The barns, high on a hill, can be seen from the the Battersea Road at Maple Lawn Drive/ Burbrook Road. The house is hidden by a grove of maple trees.

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[Henry pauses for an aside. Matt Graham’s wife had left him for another Graham brother, but all along growing up they had not known that he had ever been married.]

Henry can’t remember how long he has been recycling—certainly well before it became fashionable. Cecil Graham had a deal with local businesses—grocery stores, donut shops, dairies – to collect their outdated products, which he then used to feed his cattle. Henry carried on after Cecil’s death on 7 November 1992. After the cows had been sold, he became well-known around town for his “business,” collecting metal pop empties from curbside boxes, which he took to Kimco for cash—mostly cans and bottles. Sometimes he gots in trouble with neighbours, the city, and the police –especially when people noticed him at night. But he was always baffled by these problems because he would collect only things that had been already discarded.

Henry liked all aspects of farming. Before Cecil died he told Wilma that she should plan on 20 calves a year to provide a good income. The work fell to Henry and he felt pressure to make sure all 20 would survive.  Sometimes a calf would die – and Henry said that people would blame him for not paying enough attention owing to his his pop-can activity. But he thinks it wasn’t that; rather it was just nature. One year he increased his pop-can activities and all 20 calves survived. He had a knack for helping newborn calves—and was able to encourage the reluctant ones to suck. More than once, he successfully used a trick with Aspirin to save sick calves. He also understood animal psychology and the best way to manage stubborn bovines without coercion. He was hurt when Wilma decided to sell off all the cattle without consulting him, but he gathered them all in the corral to help the man who came to take them away.

Henry also looked after sheep at the other (Matt Graham) farm. One cold winter night, we visited him there and he proudly showed us the lambs. He sometimes had to work very hard to keep them alive; taking milk from a ewe who had an abundance and encouraging a tiny weakling to drink. During lambing season, he did not get a lot of sleep.

Haying was hard work too, but Henry enjoyed it. He liked working the bailer for small square bales, but he did not like the big round bailer. He found it clumsy to use with its many more controls. With humour, he describes his troubles in learning how to use it. “That was an ordeal,” he says.

Henry is proud of his “new” big black pickup truck, with he bought from Jack Blacklock, a retired car dealer in nearby Mount Chesney. He uses it for his business and to visit his sister Mary who left the farm to live in town and in many ways continued to look after her “little” brother.

The farthest Henry says that he has been from Aragon Road is to Camden East. He found his way by reading the signs on the 401, but he jokes that he might have missed it and ended up in Toronto. He interrupts himself to recall that long ago, he did go further away with school trips to Upper Canada Village, Expo’67, and the Hershey Factory at Smith’s Falls (closed 2008, and now making cannabis products).

“You gotta hear this,” Henry often says. “You won’t believe this!” On the day of our chat, he had a great new tale about an aluminum ladder that he had left behind near recycle bins while he was helping someone else. When he returned it was gone…stolen! “My theory was,” he said, that it had been taken by a city truck. When he spied a city truck, he voiced his complaint. To his amazement and delight, a different city truck soon appeared, and his ladder was returned.

This home-spun raconteur, philosopher, and psychologist (of both animals and people) will be missed along Aragon Road and we wish him well in his new home.

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Some images of the fields Henry roamed in and the mailbox of the Graham farm that Henry checked every day after the mail delivery.

One thought on “End of an Era

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