40 Years Later

It was exactly 40 years ago that I came to Almonte to live. The date was June, 1976 and I was 27 years old. I had been tipped off about a possible opening with Messrs. Galligan & Sheffield, Barristers, Solicitors, &c., Almonte who had recently purchased the law practice of Mr. Raymond A. Jamieson, QC who retired in 1976 after 52 years of practice in Almonte. The tip had come from Senator George J. McIlraith, QC who was Counsel to Messrs. Macdonald, Affleck, Barristers, Solicitors, &c., 100 Sparks Street, Ottawa where I was then practicing following my Call to the Bar at Osgoode Hall. Mr. Michael J. Galligan, QC (who had once practiced with McIlraith, McIlraith & McGregor, Barristers, Solicitors, &c., Ottawa) was the son-in-law of Senator McIlraith, having married Mrs. Janet E. Galligan (nee McIlraith).

Thanks to the influence of Judge Alan D. Sheffield (then of Galligan & Sheffield, Barristers, Solicitors &c.) I rented the home owned by Rev. and Mrs. George F. Bickley on Martin Street South (where Martin Street rounds into St. Paul Street at the Mississippi River and then connects with Spring Street just past the Almonte General Hospital). Rev. Bickley was Rector of St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Brougham Street. During his tenure and until retirement he and Mrs. Bickley inhabited the stone manse located behind the Church on the River. My introduction to Mrs. Bickley taught me to give her a wide berth. I had made the mistake of asking whether I might deposit certain of my belongings in the garage of the Martin Street home before the precise date of commencement of my lease. Mrs. Bickley sharply rebuffed the proposal by telling me in unqualified terms that the current tenant had not yet fully vacated the premises (which of course was an understandable objection though I hadn’t anticipated being told so quite so forcefully). Later when I met Mr. Raymond A. Jamieson, QC he coincidentally told me a story of Mrs. Bickley which oddly proved to assuage my sense of private injury. The story goes that Mrs. Bickley, upon arriving in Town as the wife of the new Anglican minister, had taken a pair of her shoes to Mr. Philip Needham (cobbler) on Mill Street to have them repaired. After depositing the shoes on Mr. Needham’s counter and being about to exit the store, she turned and said to Mr. Needham that he hadn’t given her a receipt for her shoes. To this Mr. Needham replied, “Who’d want them but you!” Mr. Needham owned the building (now owned by C. R. Gamble Holdings Inc.) which housed his store (street level) and Mr. Jamieson’s law office (second floor). Mr. Jamieson paid rent of $25 per month. It was Mr. Fred Larose who, over a two-day period, arranged to get Mr. Jamieson’s vault up the old wooden stairs (next to what is now Cortelli’s Pizzeria) on the second floor. When I later moved out of Mr. Jamieson’s former office to my own building at 77 Little Bridge Street next to Baker Bob, Drummond Bros. removed the same Goldie & McCulloch vault from the second floor window and transported it to my new office in a matter of hours. Though I relinquished to Bell Canada the antique black desk telephone used by Mr. Jamieson for the many years of his practice, Mr. Jamieson’s former telephone number (256-3072) which I acquired is now owned by Ms. Evelyn Wheeler, Barrister, Solicitor, &c. who is the successor to my own law practice.

Spring Street (overlooking the Mississippi River) was among the first “subdivisions” in Almonte, succeeded by the “Gale Subdivision” which turned up Gale Street onto Evelyn Street (named I believe after Mr. Albert T. Gale’s wife) and Laura Crescent (named after Mr. Gale’s daughter, now Mrs. Laura Douglas). The Gale Subdivision was in 1976 so relatively recent that one of my first duties upon beginning to work for Galligan & Sheffield was to arrange the registration of hydro-electric utility easements in conjunction with Mr. Brian Gallagher, General Manager, Public Utilities Commission of the Town of Almonte (coincidentally my introduction to Mr. Gallagher would many years later bring me shoulder-to-shoulder with him on the Board of Directors of Mississippi River Power Corporation). Although Mr. Gale had no doubt been the prime mover behind the infrastructure and hard surfaces of the subdivision, by the time I arrived on the scene the majority of the actual housing development had been assumed by Messrs. Alan Gale (son of Mr. Albert T. Gale) and Frank Kremarik who operated under the name of Meadowdale Homes Limited. That Company would later develop the land between King Street, Perth Street, the former Town Limit (separating from Township of Ramsay) and Highway No. 29. Within months of my arrival in Town I had a slightly unpleasant encounter with Mr. Kremarik as a result of having ordered a “Certificate of Status” for his Corporation from the Ontario Government. The government official responded that the Certificate would not issue until the Corporation had filed the latest annual return (which is nothing but a tedious bureaucratic filing honoured more in the breach than the observance). Meanwhile Mr. Kremarik (who clearly was unaccustomed to such finicky enquiry having been made) harboured the view that I had told him he had an ugly baby. He nonetheless perfected the matter by filing the return and thus restored his Corporation to technical “good standing”. This was the first instance of many which followed over the ensuing 40 years in which I succeeded to annoy local businessmen and other lawyers with so-called petty concerns, most of which revolved around real estate conveyancing (an art I preferred not to practice with the contempt which some apparently thought it deserved).

Galligan & Sheffield owned and operated out of the sizeable building which was then as well the offices of the Royal Bank of Canada and Dr. James G. Coupland, DDS at the corner of Bridge and Mill Streets (the former O’Brien Theatre). The Bank eventually bought the building from Galligan & Sheffield and ultimately transferred title to Almonte Community Coordinators (the HUB) then championed by Mrs. Nellie Hempell, Mrs. Janet Duncan and Mrs. Fern Martin. Dr. Coupland’s dental practice was subsequently purchased by Dr. Naji Louis, DMD.

The first day I arrived in Almonte I went to the Superior Restaurant for lunch. I sat at the counter and I remember having coconut cream pie for dessert. The place was then owned by Messrs. George and Terry Charos. The server who attended upon me that day was Mrs. Gladys Currie. Mrs. Currie immediately struck up an animated conversation with me and we have been laughing and gossiping with one another ever since! It was the vivacious Mrs. Currie who over the next 30 years primarily took care of me and my five other colleagues (including Mr. John H. Kerry and Mr. Nick Magus) when we met each morning promptly at 8:30 a.m. to put on the nosebag for coffee and breakfast.

While I have already mentioned in passing my own annoying habit of particularity, I should note that I was not alone in my dedication to propriety. Early in my career I was introduced to Mr. John H. Kerry whose reputation – as the saying goes – unquestionably preceded him. In fact as I awaited his arrival and introduction for the first time I was full of trepidation. I had been told that Mr. Kerry, aside from being one of the Town’s senior businessmen, was not to be trifled with and that he could drive a hard bargain especially when it came to getting what he wanted. On this particular occasion, the object of our meeting was devoted not to Mr. Kerry’s personal affairs (which I understood were extensive) but rather the administration of the United Church Perpetual Care Fund for the Auld Kirk Cemetery. The Ontario Government had issued a mandate that the Perpetual Care Fund was required to “pass its accounts”, a formal audit procedure. Mr. Kerry (who was closely involved with the United Church) had no objection to this process, but when I informed him that it entailed the contracting of a chartered public accountant and the production of reams of paper at considerable cost, he hit the roof. Mr. Kerry was not about to tolerate the satisfaction of the mandarins in Toronto for their sole pleasure at the Church’s expense. Besides Miss Elizabeth Schoular (who managed the books of the Perpetual Care Fund) had in her own less complicated way already provided all the evidence needed to support the proper management of the fund; and Mr. Kerry felt that if the Government wanted to translate that information into some esoteric form then they could pay for it themselves! Initially I exchanged a barrage of letters with the Government officials concerning the resolution of the matter but nothing substantive transpired until Mr. Kerry (who by then had had enough of this fruitless back and forth) literally summoned the Government officials to Almonte to review the matter in person. The Government ended by conducting their due diligence at their expense to the complete satisfaction of all concerned. Coincidentally I have subsequently joined the ranks of many others who participate in the Perpetual Care Fund in anticipation of ultimate interment. As Mr. Raymond A. Jamieson, QC once said upon being informed that Mr. John H. Kerry was adding a chapel to his funeral home, “I’m looking forward to going there!

As quaint as some people fashion a country law practice, it is of course a business and that means getting paid for one’s services. After almost 40 years of practice my only account receivable was $1,000. I remember the exact amount because it was one of the very few occasions on which I undertook any work without a retainer. As might be expected there were signs of trouble from the outset (though I foolishly chose to ignore them). To begin, my client arrived unannounced and unexpected. I had never heard of him and he wasn’t from Town; and he certainly hadn’t called to make an appointment. Even before I could usher him into my inner office to acquaint myself with his legal needs, he bizarrely asked whether he might use a washroom to change his clothes. Apparently he had bought some new pants and shirt and he wanted to put them on. I suspect there was some other collateral explanation surrounding this unusual request but I cannot recall. When at last we seated ourselves to discuss his requirements, he instructed me to prepare an offer for $1,000,000 for the purchase of mining rights in a nearby rural Township. He led me to believe that he had sufficient evidence to support existence of an extensive mineral vein in the area (and he was acting on behalf of Toronto prospectors who wished to proceed accordingly). I realize this must all sound too preposterous for words but, by way of defence, I must tell you that I had learned early in my career that Mr. W. H. Stafford, Barrister, Solicitor &c. had reputedly a large mining practice in Almonte and that most of his clients were from Toronto. Accordingly I felt that the possibility of a renewal of this paradigm of legal elegance was not entirely without substance. I did by the way insist upon a $1,000 retainer from the gentleman at this stage particularly because I sought to remove myself from the engagement by telling him I had no experience whatsoever in matters relating to mining or mineral rights (other than having read about their exclusion from Crown Patents). The gentleman however insisted that I undertake the matter, no doubt persuading me by a combination of arguments about getting my feet wet, jumping into the deep end and having to tackle new things to learn old tricks. And he gave me a cheque for $1,000 (which was honoured upon presentment). Because I flattered myself to imagine that I could write a contract for anything given enough application, I did in fact produce a contract and submitted it to opposing legal Counsel in Perth for consideration. At that time it was close to Christmas and before I received a reply from the Perth solicitor I left the country for a brief southern vacation. Upon my return from the holiday I was greeted by a counter-proposal from the other solicitor. It was at this stage I made my mistake. Although I immediately telephoned my client to inform him what I had received, and although I asked for a further retainer, he told me to proceed forthwith to redraft the contract and to resubmit it to the other lawyer. This I did, all with considerable effort and additional time. I cannot recall the outcome of that gambit but I know I never heard from my client again in spite of repeated follow-up calls. Obviously no contract was ever concluded. To this day I am amazed that I was an agent to these proceedings which clearly had some strength to them. I will never understand how the apparent interest evaporated so quickly nor do I have any idea who were the other parties involved. While I doubt there was anything nefarious involved it nonetheless stymies me why such a seemingly lucrative opportunity simply vanished.

I have learned two important things about real estate over the years. One, never buy a house you can afford; and two, never buy vacant land on a sunny day. My first house was eminently affordable even by standards 40 years ago. I never had to make any compromise of the quality of whiskey I purchased or the frequency of my vacations. What however evolved was that I ended by spending far more to improve my little house than it was worth. By the time I sold it, I suffered a significant (30%) loss. As for vacant land, I got it into my head that as a country gentleman I needed a place to walk my dog (a Yellow Labrador named “Lanny” – short for “Lanark Drummond Beckwith of Rosedale”, his official registered name). The vendor of the acreage was a seasoned real estate investor and he knew in an instant he had hooked a sucker. I recall it was a spectacularly beautiful sunny, dry day when we first visited the country property (25 acres). The deal was practically concluded within minutes. What however I had overlooked is that I despise a dirty car. And mosquitoes. After I had purchased the property it seemed to rain almost every day that I proposed to visit it. The property was on a dirt road. And did I mention the mosquitoes! The rural fantasy was short-lived.  I sold and barely broke even.

You have no doubt heard mention of the “Doctor’s House” on the corner of Clyde and Bridge Streets next to St. Paul’s Anglican Church. That house (apart from reputedly having been where the assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee was hatched) has been owned by an Irish born medical doctor since the day it was built by Dr. William Mostyn in the 1860s. Shortly after I arrived in Almonte I was invited by Dr. Frank Murphy to attend a Conservative political gathering at the house. Although I naturally had many Conservative associates in Town the history of my political involvement had been with the Liberal Party (especially because one of the lawyers where I had articled in Ottawa was President of the Liberal Party of Ontario). When I arrived at the house party, things were in full swing. I was later informed that, soon after my arrival, the plumbing in the entire house failed to work properly and the suggestion was my unwelcome Liberal influence had precipitated the defect! I can’t recall having ever been invited to return.

My first office sign was painted by Mr. Norman Guthrie. It was traditional gold lettering on a glossy black background. I hung the sign outside my office. One Hallowe’en the sign disappeared. Weeks later a young gentleman named Mr. Kevin Finner (who then worked in the engineering department of the Almonte General Hospital) arrived at my office with my sign. When I asked him where he found it, he said in the back seat of his car. When I asked him how it got there, he said through the back window of his car. Kevin and I naturally became fast friends!

A reminiscence covering a generation in Almonte would be incomplete without a mention of its artistic element. We are so blessed to have among us so many talented artists. I will be forgiven for mentioning those who in particular have touched me; namely, Robert Pauly, Dale Dunning, Edward H. Winslow-Spragge, Jill C. Halliday, Blair Paul, Stephen Brathwaite, Scott Downey (R&S Tool & Die), Rosemary Leach, Ian (“Bertram”) Paige, Ingrid Harris, Anthony St. Dennis and Al Barratt. One of my first social events was attendance at an art show at the Old Town Hall. As I backed up to get a better look at a painting, I inadvertently backed into another gentleman who was doing the same thing behind me. When we both turned around to see whom we had backed into, we exclaimed with surprise, “What are you doing here!”; to which we both replied, “I live here!” I had bumped into my former colleague John R. Cameron, QC. Later that same evening I met Stephen Brathwaite who had once dated Margo Miller whose parents were old family friends. Mrs. Norma Blaine (who made incredible porcelain dolls) was also an ancient family acquaintance. Not long after my arrival in Almonte I visited Cape Cod, Massachusetts where I discovered bronze reproductions of works of art by R. Tait McKenzie whose notoriety, like that of James A. Naismith, the Americans shamelessly expropriated as though he were one of their own.

The breadth of Almonte’s influence extends beyond its boundaries in other ways too. Many years ago on a late August afternoon I was having a picnic on the banks of the Ottawa River along the Parkway in Ottawa with Ms. Janet R. Rintoul. My French bulldog Monroe was in toe. A young scantily clad jogger came along and stopped to pet the dog. During a subsequent brief conversation the jogger informed us that although he had worked in Ottawa for the summer he was from Toronto and was returning there on the following day. I took a gamble and asked what law firm he had articled with. He replied that he had clerked for one of the Justices of the Federal Court of Canada. When I asked which Justice in particular he said Mr. Justice Hugessen. “Oh”, I said, “Jim Hugessen!” The astounded interloper was Alan S. Diner (now Mr. Justice Diner of the Federal Court). Alan ended joining Janet and me and several other guests for dinner in Almonte that evening and naturally Alan renewed acquaintances with Judge Hugessen. I subsequently came to know Alan’s wife and children.

I recall in particular two instances of testamentary bequests made to the Municipality (specifically the former Town of Almonte). The first was that of Winifred Knight Dunlop Gemmill (“Gemmill Park”). Though the expressed intention of the Gemmill bequest was the use of the land as a natural sanctuary, the Town of Almonte Act, 1953 (a private member’s bill) effectively nullified the limitation upon the bequest and permitted the construction of private residences (though subject to restrictions as to size and material). Whether, in the course of the Ontario Government’s subsequent conversion of historical Registry Office records to the current electronic Land Titles system, those restrictions will survive is questionable. It is all too common to see modest bungalows replaced by “monster homes” in desirable residential areas. Contemporaneously these now long-forgotten restrictions (unless specifically revived by repetition in a current conveyance – which is not the norm) are effectively “buried”. In some cases the Municipality may “duplicate” the restrictions in present-day land use by-laws but once again this is not to be expected.

The second instance of a testamentary bequest was that of John D. McCallum to the Town for the lawn bowling property. McCallum was the proprietor of McCallum Soap Company located on Water Street. The McCallum bequest to the Town for lawn bowling was I believe subject to a restriction that if the land at any time failed to fulfill that purpose, it was to revert to the McCallum family heirs. It is possible that the original bequest included more land than what is now recognized as the lawn bowling club on Robert Street; it may have included nearby land which has since become used for baseball. Whether this is correct (and if it is, whether it contaminates the original bequest) is a matter of some technical interest only at this stage, given the effluxion of time and the application of the general laws of laches and limitation periods. Once again the foundation of these assertions is likely “buried” and may even have been obliterated in the name of progress (as applied to the preservation of historical land registry records).