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.

Weather and Climate

Erratic weather is not the same as climate change. Weather is only predictable in the short term, while the latter is a long term phenomenon. However, if weather becomes unusual and deviates from the norm towards another normal, such as higher seasonal temperatures, it might be a telltale sign that climate change is involved.

We visited the Aragon Road towards the end of December 2019, after we had moved for more than a year from our perch at the west end of Colony By Lake . We wanted to see how the neighbourhood looked between Christmas and New Year.

There were no ice-sailors, no hockey rinks and no cross-country skiers and only one brave ice fisher trying to catch a fish.

But he is not alone on thin ice, far away in a very cold country there are two more…

These two ice-fishers were not on Colonel By Lake but could have been. Instead they were on a small lake just outside Moscow, 7324 km kilometers to the east. The caption informed us that their little lake was barely frozen and ice fishing was risky. Recorded temperatures had never been that high shortly before the new year. That’s MOSCOW. Things seem to be the same here in Kingston. Photo credit: EPA at: https://www.scmp.com/news/world/russia-central-asia/article/3043991/russia-has-hottest-year-records-began-1891

Where there is open water, waterfowl are congregated. We could see hundreds of Canada geese, gulls and ducks on the shore and bobbing in the water. On our way back to Battersea Road we saw an osprey perched in a tree near Graham’s farm.

When I stopped our car to have a better look, the bird flew away. This is the nearest image I can show of what I saw. Photo from the www at: https://unsplash.com/s/photos/osprey

From what we have experienced during our forty years of living on the Aragon Road, this is the first time, just before Christmas, that the temperature has been for weeks well above freezing, the roads are clear, fields are brown with patches of green and just a dusting of snow.

Three small barns on the hill at Grahams’ farm, halfway down the Aragon Road. Early January 2020. Photo credit Henk Wevers
The wooded area opposite the boat ramp at the end of December 2019. Photo credit Henk Wevers

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lt wasn’t always so. Some of the winter activities around Christmas a year ago in 2018 are shown in the collage below. Overall, that was also a mild year, but it gave us an old-fashioned winter.

Let’s hope that 2020 will be the year when we take climate change seriously. There will be snow and ice but how much that’s anybody’s guess. Have a nice one anyway.

Planned and Unplanned Actions City of Kingston

The City of Kingston prides itself on “where innovation and history strive”, and there are indeed examples of exciting policies and good infrastructure emerging  in our city. A good example is the city’s Waterfront Master Plan. Click here to see how it affects the Aragon Road. 

But if eager civil servants do not communicate between the silos they inhabit at City Hall, good plans  go awry. Take the latest example of unwelcome and unplanned tree planting in the Cecil and Wilma Graham’s nature park  opposite their century farm  on the historic Aragon Road. Located adjacent to the Esther March Bay, a secluded bay off Colonel By Lake, where nature has been left alone for the last century plus and where nature thrives.

Suddenly,  rows of evergreen seedlings in a straight pattern appeared in the park area that has been used for haying as long as people along the Aragon Road can remember. The soil has been treated with chemicals to destroy the grass  and flowers that grow in this ecologically important meadow habitat. It was Cecil and Wilma’s wish when they donated this valuable land bordering the lake, that it would remain natural and would be enjoyed by the public for observation of wildlife and for light recreational activities like hiking and birding.  Why would the city plant 4000 trees in a mono-culture of spindly evergreens in a strict geometric pattern, which is not compatible with a nature park. Photo credit: Jackie Duffin

Concerned citizens asked our Councillor Gary Oosterhof if he could help to explain this unwanted action.Bob Wolfe past member of the Rural Affairs Committee sent a letter to Councillor Oosterhof which is included in the August agenda for the meeting: click here for the letter with supporting documentation. It will be discussed at the September 25th meeting.

And here is the answer to inquiries from him, sent to the Councillor by the Department of Transportation and Public Work. (highlights by the website editor):

This is a seedling planting program that is done in partnership with the CRCA ( Cataraqui Regional Conservation Area, ed.) under a Provincial Program called “50 Million Trees”. It is part of a reforestation program and the City has participated since 2016 to support Council’s priority to Double the Tree Canopy. I believe the CRCA has a 3rd party that does the planting. I understand they do spray so the seedlings have a chance to survive rather than competing with the grass. I don’t have all the details but I can assure you the planter would be registered and would only use approved products. We can ask the CRCA for additional information if that is required. The planting is (sic) being done in a municipal park and it has not been our practice to notify area residents when we are planting trees on public land.

Sheila Kidd, Commissioner Transportation and Public Works

The Cecil and Wilma Graham park should not have  been used to plant trees without regard for the historic nature of the environment of the Aragon Road. It is a forced road, having evolved since the mid-eighteen hundreds into a heritage road with many important natural features that remind visitors and residents of our rural history. This is especially important to recognize since the road runs parallel with the Rideau Canal watershed, a UNESCO world heritage site.

We ask that the natural meadow features be restored to what Wikipedia describes as:  A meadow is an open habitat, or field, vegetated by grass and other non-woody plants. … They provide areas for courtship displays, nesting, food gathering, pollinating insects, and sometimes sheltering, if the vegetation is high enough, making them ecologically important. Click here for more.

The City’s Planning Department works hard to recognize habitats, historic features and sight-lines  in our natural environment and in the so-called build environment in the city’s center and  along its waterfront. All of this is part of the Official Plan and written in more detail in the Waterfront Master Plan. Why is Public Works going outside this plan and ignore  our efforts to keep the Aragon Road Kingston’s best kept nature’s paradise?

For the name “Paradise” see the Oral History of the Road. Click here.

Part of the Cecil and Wilma Park area looking from the Aragon Road to the west. This meadow is used for haying. We have spotted foxes and their young, wild turkeys and their fledglings, deer and many different species of birds and insect-pollinators. At the edges  and in other sections of the park, milkweed grows that is essential for the monarch butterfly population that is just recovering slightly from years of habitat destruction and is threatened with extinction. Photo credit: Jackie Duffin.

The park looking to the east over Esther Marsh Bay and Colonel By Lake. The waterfront is part of the Rideau Canal and the UNESCO World Heritage site. Photo credit: Henk Wevers. 

Esther March Bay bordering the Cecil and Wilma Graham Park. A sensitive secluded area that offers an undisturbed water and wetland habitat intertwined with the meadow habitat of the park. Photo credit: Bob Wolfe.

There will be continuing discussions in the Rural Advisory Committee on this topic and the citizens who care about the preservation of the historic aspects of the Aragon Road demand that the seedlings be removed to prevent the establishment of a disturbing mono-culture of spindly evergreens. See photo below which shows a planted plot of pine trees after thirty years of growth.

Is this example of a mono-culture what Public Works wants for the sight lines towards the Rideau Canal? Would Parks Canada like this view, and does it honor our history and the Waterfront Master Plan?

To go back to the INDEX click the icon below.

SUNRISES OVER COLONEL BY LAKE

Sunrises over Colonel By Lake vary in an infinite series of colours and shapes, sometimes changing in a matter of minutes. The photos were taken in the fall and winter from the patio of our house at the western end of Colonel By Lake.

These photos were taken in the winter looking east over the lake. Cloud formations make the sunrises more interesting. Click the arrows on each side of the the picture for the slide show to start, or use the dots below the photos. These pictures are not protected by copy right. Please feel free to use them as you see fit.

AND NOW, we have reached the end of this post, I hope you liked the sunrises, just a small selection of many in my database. This post was made with updated software that includes slide shows and allows different arrangements of several photos in a block.

The next post will show a sample of sunsets. In many ways they are even more spectacular as they occur in the evening a time of the day that allows to admire the subtle changes, as the sun slowly but quite perceptibly sinks below the horizon.

Stay posted.

To go to the INDEX, click this picture

Mute Swan Couple Persists; 2015-2019

“All up”: Queen Elizabeth’s swans checked and counted:

EXPERT BUILDERS

The animals around us are busy building  their nests and hatching their young. Mark Fleming, a neighbour on our road and and avid  nature photographer, explores the lake and the river in his kayak as soon as the water is ice free. He sent us beautiful photos of water birds and mammals building their nests and dens and starting the breeding  season early in the month of May, 2019.

A Mute Swan couple near the large wetland  that is part of Esther Marsh. 

A goose’s nest has been built, eggs laid and now the hatching begins.

In the same area, but more to the south is evidence of beaver dam building.

The large dome of the beaver den has been co-opted by a  Canada Goose, and why not. It’s great for safely hatching her eggs.

Can you see her?

Maybe not, so have a look at the cropped photo below.

For details on the building habits of animals see this blog of the National Geographic.

mark mute swan nest island 20 may 2019

The rocky island, just south from the canal between Colonel By Lake and the River Styx, has always been an attractive place for gulls, cormorants and since 2016 a pair of Mute Swans, that built a nest on the rocks. A hard but solid foundation. This year when the photo was taken,  Common Terns, on the left, sit side by side, resting from their long migration. They  will spend several weeks in our area.

North American  terns spend the winter in South America or along the Pacific Coast of Central America. One-year-old birds often stay on the wintering grounds and do not migrate to the breeding grounds until they are 2 years old. For more CLICK HERE.

mark mute swan nest island detail 20 may 2019

Here is mother swan with six cygnets seeking the warmth of the sun and of the mother. In the first week of their lives they are prone to hypothermia from the cold water, rain and wind. They also have to learn to feed, while depleting the nutrients of the  egg yolk that  clung to their bodies  when they  hatched.  

Three years ago, I was able to observe this couple from my boat. They had two offspring and none survived. It is well-known that young couples are not very successful in breeding and protecting their young. Of these six cygnets at best three or four will grow up to fledglings  and then they might run into more trouble on their migration to open water south where they overwinter.  However there are plenty of Mute Swans, an invading species, around the lake and especially in the River Styx, all along the wetlands going up to Lower Brewers Locks. Adults can live up to 10-20 years and they mate for life.

And finally, a female Red Winged Blackbird.  She is clinging to two different stalks of bulrushes.

To go back to the INDEX   click here.

 

Spring 2019

One our neighbours on the Aragon Road alerted us in mid-February to the early presence of waterfowl in the open canal that connects the River Styx with Colonel By Lake at Alan’s Point, at the end of the road. On February 15th, around 4:15 pm she counted sixteen Mute Swans in the shallow water that is rich in bottom vegetation that the birds can reach with their long necks.

Mark Fleming, another nature-loving neighbour went out, a few days later and took  photos that he shared with me. There were less swans, but now there were a large number of Canada Geese as well.

This photo is taken just to the west of the canal where it joins Colonel By Lake, the dead tree stump in the background has served as a nesting post for an osprey pair that return to the lake in late March and early April.  

On the ice and in the water at sub-zero temperatures in February, 2019. Sixteen Canada Geese and two Mute Swans, one on the ice the other in the water.

“Welcome back.” As soon as the breeding season starts in April when the ice is out of the lake and the river, these birds become fiercely territorial and the stately Mute Swan will chase away the Canada Geese, sometimes over long distances across the lake or from one bay into the other.

Restoration Work of Kingston Mills Locks

Parks Canada started restorative work on the locks and infrastructure around it in November 2018.  It will take three winter and spring seasons to complete it. The work will stop at the end of April of each year to allow for the opening of the Rideau Canal early May.  It’s hard to believe but that is only a bit more than three months from now.

The first step was to built extensive enclosures over the locks so the space can be heated with propane. The photos will give an impression of the extent of the construction site.

Enclosure of the west side of  the first lock at Colonel By Lake. When finished, the lock space can be heated and the restoration work can be started. The logistics are extraordinary and the work will involve removal and replacement of damaged limestone blocks, backfill and grouting. In fact, it will involve a total overhaul and rebuild of the stone works.

Enclosure in progress on the East side of the lock.

The picnic area is now a staging and logistics area. This will be restored again to a grass covered camping and picnic area in April-May, we imagine.

The lockmaster’s office grounds have become a storage area for propane tanks and piles of scaffolding.

All the while the lake level is low and will remain extreme low to  allow the restauraton work to proceed. The run-off below the weir creates a nice winter scene.

From the Parks Canada website: Kingston Mills Lock Rehabilitation is part of an unprecedented $3 billion dollars investment over 5 years to support infrastructure work to heritage, visitor, waterway and highway assets located within national historic sites, national parks, and national marine conservation areas across Canada. These investments represent the largest federal infrastructure plan in the 105-year history of Parks Canada.

For more information go here: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/on/rideau/visit/infrastructure/kingston/ecluses-kingston-mills-lock

 

WINTER MIGRATION 2018

Jackie Duffin and Bob Wolfe, neighbours on the Aragon Road, sent us early morning photos of water birds congregating on a thin sheet of ice that had formed overnight on Colonel By Lake

“On 22 Nov we woke up to find the lake had frozen with the extreme early cold….(the only year it happened earlier was 1995). But more amazing was the massive number of geese and some ducks that had flown in the evening before and remained there overnight. At first we couldn’t tell it they were floating in the water or sitting on top of the ice. As it got brighter we learned that it was the latter. They were huddled to keep warm — and to our amazement a lonely swan showed up too. By the end of the day they had all flown away.”

The photo below is especially beautiful with some of the birds in focus while others are resting in the early morning fog that hovers over the cold surface. To the right of the standing geese seems to be a little open water with two geese floating in the opening.

Why don’t their feet freeze to the ice? I looked it up on Google: Ducks, as well as many other birds, have a counter-current heat exchange system between the arteries and veins in their legs. Warm arterial blood flowing to the feet passes close to cold venous blood returning from the feet.”

That means the arterial blood flowing into the feet has given off its heat-energy to the the venous blood that is being returned to the body. And that means the cooled arterial blood flowing into the feet doesn’t lose much heat to the cold ice.  In this way only five percent of body heat is lost through the feet. In fact the feet are close enough to the temperature of the ice that they don’t freeze to it. A wonderful evolutionary heat exchange system.

Why don’t  waterfowl  that float and swim in ice-cold water not become hypothermic and die? Are the feathers and down so well organised in layers that the skin doesn’t get wet? And therefore the body doesn’t lose much heat? After all we would die from hypothermia in less than a few minutes if we were submerged in water at zero degree Celsius.

Google: “If you can watch some ducks for a while you might notice that they spend a lot of time nibbling their feathers with their beaks. This is called preening. While the duck is preening she is spreading oil all over her top layer of feathers. The oil comes from a special place near her tail called a gland and when she spreads the oil over her feathers it makes her feathers waterproof. The water can’t get through the first layer of oily feathers and so all of her feathers underneath stay dry and fluffy and keep her warm all over.”

A view from the Wolfe/Duffin property on Colonel By Lake, just north of Kingston Mills on the Rideau Canal between Ottawa and Kingston, Ontario.

Among the many geese there is one lonely swan.

This could be a mute swan, a trumpeter, or a tundra swan. It is difficult to see from a distance like this. It’s most likely a mute swan, the ones we see each spring and summer on Colonel By Lake and in the River Styx. These swans are an introduced species from Europe and Asia. They have an orange coloured beak and an elegantly curved neck while swimming. Tundra and trumpeter swans have a black beak with a straight neck and are more in groups. We saw them last week on our visit to the Opinican Resort at Chaffeys Locks on Lake Opinican about forty kilometers north of Kingston on the Rideau Canal.

We hope you like the photos of a very late fall migration on our doorsteps.

 Click on the icon  of the mute swan to go to the INDEX of this site

 

Wild Turkeys Invade Conservation Area

This wild turkey visited us in the late winter of 2017-18 together with her or his mate. Little did we know that they might well be the couple that populated the Cecil and Wilma Graham Memorial Park on the Arragon Road, adjacent the conservation area on Casey’s Island, a large wild piece of land protruding into Colonel By Lake and Esther Marsh Bay.

Fast forward to the summer of 2018 when mother and father were observed in the meadow that is part of the Graham park with several tiny chicks that had the greatest difficulty navigating the trail that the parents left in the tall grass.

Then, we  recently received these photos from Bob Wolfe and Jackie Duffing residents on our road and avid nature watchers.

An invasion of young wild turkeys in their garden, attracted by the seeds left in the grass below the birdfeeder. How many juveniles do you count? And did you notice the chickadee on the feeder wondering what in the world in going on below?

After a good meal there needs to be time to rest. What better than a garden bench and chair?

Here is a bit of information about the introduction of the wild turkey in the Ottawa Sun: The last native wild turkey in Ontario was recorded in 1902. Generations later, Ontario wanted to provide birds for hunters. The Ministry of Natural Resources brought American turkeys into southwestern Ontario in the 1980s, and in 1997 released the first couple of dozen in Eastern Ontario, in Renfrew County. The ministry described them at the time as “like a grouse on steroids.”

But these are different birds than the native Ontario ones — a bird that is hardier in cold, happy to browse in farm fields, not afraid to live near people, and able to multiply fast. Today, there are many thousands here and in West Quebec, and more than 70,000 across Ontario.