THE FLOODS PASSED THIS WAY - A Memoire By Alison Leith

alisonI have always loved lilacs. Every year Malcolm and I go back to the farm in late spring to gather an armful of branches from the thick cluster of lilac bushes that had embellished our log cabin at the end of Flood Road along the Rideau Trail in the south west corner of Ottawa. Now only an outline of the foundation remains of the 500 square foot storey-and-a-half log building that had been built by Adam Baker in 1843. After our ownership ended, hunters or vagrants burned it down.
On the opposite side of the concession road, the Flood family farmhouse bore witness to the harsh, isolated lives of three generations of subsistence farmers hailing from County Sligo, Ireland. If you had passed by the farmhouse forty years ago, you might have seen Claude, in well-mended overalls, hoeing his vegetable patch, his sister Pearl  pumping water from the well in preparation for the evening meal.  Linger a while and peer through the kitchen window.  Claude and Pearl, seated opposite one another at a pine table, are eating their supper of salt pork, baked beans and boiled potatoes. They eat in silence out of respect for the food which has been produced with so much effort. A third pressed back chair, drawn up between them at the head of the table, has never been moved since the death of their older brother Gordon. None of the three siblings had married.  A Findlay Oval stove, complete with warming oven and hot water tank stands in the center of the inside wall of the kitchen, flanked by brackets on either side with two trimmed hurricane lamps ready for nightfall.
Back then we were city folk looking for a rural patch to satisfy our back-to-the-land longings. Claude and Pearl held on to the one hundred and twenty acre parcel of land lying opposite their farmhouse because it had a working well and a pond, but it was time for them to sell it to provide financially for their future. With a little imagination we saw what we could make of the dilapidated log cabin lying abandoned on the property. We pictured ourselves cross-country skiing in winter and skating on the pond. We were enchanted. A deal was struck with Claude, but not before he had satisfied himself that we shared common values and respected the land that had been painstakingly cleared, acre by acre.
Our small two bed-roomed log cabin that we lovingly restored to habitable condition once had its upper level divided in four bedrooms and housed a family of eight. We discovered some faint traces of its past occupants when we began the unenviable task of stripping off the wall coverings, starting with three layers of patterned wallpaper. Underneath were multiple layers of newspapers glued on with flour paste to the rough sawn Red Pine planks which were mounted vertically on to the squared White Pine log beams. We peeled off fragments from farmers’ almanacs, articles from newspapers about the daily lives of people and births, deaths and marriages columns dating back to the 1850s; a faint heartbeat of days gone by. The newspapers gave us a reliable time frame for the two inch strips of torn-up petticoats, soaked in flour paste, that had been stuffed into the cracks of the wall planks to keep out draughts. This humble vestige from the past linked us to a pioneer family’s existence and underscored the different relationship that we each had with the log cabin; where we had found a magical playground, they had struggled daily to survive.
We got to know Claude and Pearl pretty well over the next few years. They were salt-of-the-earth types. Their lives followed a predictable pattern year-round, until one day they qualified for their old age pensions which caused a significant change. Store bought butter, milk and bread enabled them to cut back on daily tasks. The small herd of cows went first, followed soon after by the pigs. We noticed fewer and fewer chickens scratching in the yard. One day a For Sale sign went up on their fence post.
They bought an old brick house in Merrickville. It needed major repairs and we felt it was no match for their wooden farmhouse.  Malcolm helped them fix it up and showed Pearl what purpose was served by the long cord attached to the electric iron and water kettle;  no need to heat them on the stove any more.   Claude missed his vegetable patch.  Pearl, missing her bed-straw tick which she would refresh every month with sweet Timothy hay to keep it soft, complained about the newer store bought bed with its uncomfortable bed springs.  But their expectations were modest and their lives were now comparatively easy after a life time of working the land to provide themselves with the necessities of life.
We think about Claude and Pearl’s life journey when we make our annual excursion to gather lilacs. The land that they once owned has been designated a deer yard. Not much remains to tell the story of three generations of subsistence farmers in this part of the present city of Ottawa except a few White Pine stump and cedar rail fences and piles of big limestone rocks in overgrown fields, a few heritage apple trees, and the foundation of  a derelict farmhouse. We ponder over the tenacity of those settlers who stubbornly clung to this harsh land that never, perhaps, should have been farmed in the first place.
The concession still bears their family surname. It affirms that they and their forebears once passed this way

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