As my friends will know, I have a huge interest in Canadian history and in that of the world, especially where it relates to my family history. It isn’t possible to know everything well in my lifetime but, what I can do, is become a connoisseur of my own life. As a result, I am intrigued by stories of immigration coming out of the early colonization of both the Atlantic provinces and Ontario, specifically the Guelph, Elora, Fergus, Lindsay and Hamilton areas.
Sometimes, mingling with the writers, artists and performers who I call my friends, I hear less than positive remarks made about the genre of writing that came out of the early 1800s and that were championed by people like Susanna Moodie and her sister, Catherine Parr Trail. Some refer to their works of observation/reporting/narrating, where it relates to living ‘in the bush’ and making observations of wilderness surroundings, as sleepers. Quite to the contrary, I find these pieces of writing, while absolutely short of drama and excitement, filled up with detail that creates a picture for me, of my own ancestors, what they must have seen and what they must have felt.
I also have always liked that, out of a world made, led and meant for the male gender, it is a wonderful thing to see women who have captured the interest of society at the time, as both writers and artists.
But…I digress…I really have the intention of sharing a wonderful story that sees its happy conclusion on the 8th of October..
I spent a summer visiting Mom and Dad in Belleville, Ontario and took a genuine interest in exploring the city for its literature, history and art. I purchased several books ( Belleville: A Popular History by Gerry Boyce and Sisters in Two Worlds: A Visual Biography of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill by Michael Peterman). Here are a couple of the bits that I wrote during that summer and during the summer of 2013.
THE MORNING HOUR by Susanna Moodie
Like a maid on her bridal morn I rise,
With the smile on her lip and the tear in her eyes;
Whilst the breeze my crimson banner unfurls,
I wreathe my locks with the purest pearls;
Brighter diamonds never were seen
Encircling the neck of an Indian queen!
I traverse the east on my glittering wing,
And my smiles awake every living thing;
And the twilight hour like a pilgrim gray,
Follows the night on her weeping way.
I raise the veil from the saffron bed,
Where the young sun pillows his golden head;
He lifts from the ocean his burning eye,
And his glory lights up the earth and sky.
Ah, I am like that dewy prime,
Ere youth hath shaken hands with time;
Ere the fresh tide of life has wasted low,
And discovered the hidden rocks of woe:
When like the rosy beams of morn,
Joy and gladness and love were born,
Hope divine, of heavenly birth,
And pleasure that lightens the cares of earth!
A Champion for Susanna Moodie written on June 30, 2011
I wrote at length a few summers ago about Susanna Moodie. Staying on east Bridge Street in Belleville, Ontario, it only made sense then and because I have returned under sad circumstances, it also makes sense that I continue my exploration of her writing and her place in Canadian history. Recently, it just so happened that I met author and historian, Gerry Boyce, as he was doing some yard work at the front of his house. We engaged in a rich conversation about the surrounding area and the fact that he had, the day before, completed his index for another book.
When I explained to Mr. Boyce my interest in Susanna Moodie, he went on to share with me about the refurbishments made upon her monument over the last several years. He also told me that the entire marble base had been replaced by the Campbell Monument Company and that he believed the original to be in their yard somewhere.
So, yes! Of course I went to meet Gary Foster of Campbell Monuments and he and I walked out to the yard, together, to view the original monument base. Now, the thing is, this beautiful reminder of an earlier day, can not continue to exist as a discard, but rather, needs to be displayed in a place of importance somewhere in the city…perhaps at the front of the library or in a public gathering space. In whatever capacity, I hope to be a champion for this cause. I was remarkably touched to meet Gerry Boyce. He is generous in his sharing of history and I think that sort of generosity is to be admired.
Daughter, Cayley and I made certain that we visited 114 Bridge Street West on July 25, 2011, right before heading south on the Via Train. This was the former cottage of Susanna Moodie and is marked as a noted historical property in the city. It was a beautiful…calming…peaceful experience. History…family…and the tree’s witness came to mind.
Through all of this…and taking up the suggestion of Gary Foster of Campbell Monuments that what the monument required was a champion…I began to write letters. This is how the communications went, with the exclusion of my gushing gratitude and appreciation that, of course, wove in and out of the entire journey. I began by writing the mayor.
My name is Kathleen Moors and I am visiting Belleville for the summer. I have been an art and english educator for the past 34 years. As a visitor from Calgary, Alberta, I can not help but notice that a beautiful portion of marble, the base sections for the Susanna Moodie monument previously replaced, is being stored at the back of Campbell Monuments and NOT on display somewhere in the Quinte area, for all visitors to enjoy. I would like to, for my time in the area, to be a champion for this base and encourage someone to begin planning a place of importance for this piece. Please forward this request to a department related to the historical and parks development, as I was unable to find an e mail address connected to my inquiry. I would appreciate hearing back from you and have included some blog submissions that I have written over the past three years, beginning with the most current. Regards. Kathleen
Very soon after this, I received a note from the mayor.
Thank you for your email, Kathleen. I am taking the liberty of forwarding your correspondence to Richard Hughes, President of the Hastings County Historical Society, in the hope that he can respond to your concerns. Neil R. Ellis, Mayor
Kathleen: I apologize for being slow to respond to you, but it is July and we have been away a fair bit. I have seen the monument and had a good talk with Gary Foster of Campbell’s Monuments. A very pleasant person!
I agree fully that this monument deserves a home in a public place. It is a big piece of our local history.
I am going to start talking around town with people who can help with this.
Bear with me a bit and I will keep you informed of the progress.
Hastings County Historical Society
Kathleen: Over this past week I have been discussing with the directors of the Historical Society which would be the best location for the monument, both for security, beauty of location and for people to actually see it. When we come to a conclusion, we will approach the relevant authority, the owner of the location or park, and see what we can work out.
You have started something….and now a lot of people are enthused. Well done!
Hello Kathleen: It must seem like a long time, but your initial proposal that the Moodie Monument find a suitable home in a Belleville park is alive and well. I have met with officials of Campbells and the City and we are now all working to come up with a method that will work. As the weather is now less favourable, we will work on the project together, over the winter with a view to installing the monument in a city park location in the Spring. I will keep you informed of the progress and, of course, the outcome.
Thanks for bringing this situation forward.
Hastings County Historical Society
I’m so very excited!
Kathleen: On July 2, 2013 you sent an email to the mayor of Belleville, below, and he forwarded it to me “in the hope that he can respond” as the mayor put it. Well, it has been a long year but we have been – thanks to you – fabulously successful. The Moodie monument has now been completely refurbished and installed just yesterday in a beautiful site along the Belleville waterfront and it will be formally unveiled on Wednesday Oct 8th at 11am by the mayor. It is simply beautiful as you will see by the picture I am sending. This was taken during the installation.
You have done a wonderful service to our city and I congratulate and thank you.
Hastings County Historical Society
I am so happy for the front yard conversation I shared with historian, Gerry Boyce, while he leaned his rake against his hedge. I’ll always appreciate that Gary Foster came for a walk with me through his back lot when he really didn’t need to accommodate my unusual request on that particular day. It is such a generous gesture that Mayor Ellis should respond to my e mail personally and then pass my concern on to the Hastings County Historical Society. And finally, it has been a most treasured experience to have the project communicated to me from so far away and then to finally receive this news today from Richard Hughes. I am hoping that all of my Belleville friends will make their attendance. I know that Dad will be there.