Shamefully this morning at 2:00 am – while listening to an unfamiliar and dynamic rendition of Handel’s Messiah conducted by Barnaby Smith – I twigged I had hitherto overlooked nearby Village of Clayton in my recent reflections upon the secrets and mysteries of Mississippi Mills of which the Village of Clayton is an important historical slice. Oddly enough on this Boxing Day 2020 it was two recent arrivals (who now live in the same building as we) from the Village of Clayton to the Town of Almonte (part of the conglomerate Mississippi Mills which includes broadly speaking the Townships of Ramsay and Pakenham – each about ten square miles – of which we all form a part) who awoke me to the oversight by sending me the link to the exceedingly fine chorus.
“Barnaby Smith is Artistic Director of the internationally renowned vocal ensemble VOCES8, Live From London digital festivals, and the UK and US arms of The VOCES8 Foundation. He is in demand as a conductor, choir trainer, countertenor and arranger. Barnaby completed his studies in Specialist Early Music Performance at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis where he was a pupil of Andreas Scholl. Barnaby is also an alumnus of the Britten-Pears Young Artists Programme.“
This epiphany of sorts is yet another of the fortuitous events lately inspired by the pandemic. We’re we to have been in Florida as usual at this time of year I most certainly would not likely to have been drawn into the fray of these ancient recollections – albeit at the instance of our new acquaintances from the Village of Clayton. What was once submerged in my past – basically the colourful mix of 39 years of the practice of law as a country lawyer – has leached into my consciousness. Not insignificantly it was these erstwhile Clayton residents who are the authors of my fortune! This is remarkable not because of what their contribution and education did for me but rather because of what it exemplifies of many of the residents of the Village of Clayton. The Village residents share a distinction worthy of record.
My first introduction to the Village of Clayton was through John Bell, son of James Mackintosh Bell. While John Bell and his wife Halcyon were themselves distinguished people of indisputable energy and accomplishment, they suffered like so many progeny of famous people the predominant mark and esteem of ancestry.
James Abbott Mackintosh Bell (23 September 1877 – 31 March 1934) was a New Zealand geologist, writer and company director. He was born in St Andrews, Quebec on 23 September 1877 and graduated from Harvard University in 1904. In 1909, he married Vera Margaret Beauchamp, the older sister of the writer Katherine Mansfield.
James Mackintosh Bell died at Almonte, Ontario, Canada, on March 31st, 1934, in his 57th year.
He was a nephew of Sir Robert Bell, Director of the Canadian Geological Survey, and the son of Andrew Bell, a well-known mining engineer. He graduated from Queen’s University and School of Mines, Kingston, Ontario, in 1899, with the degree of M.A., having taken the Honours Course in applied chemistry and mineralogy.
Though John was educated at Upper Canada College in Toronto and grew up in his father’s “Burnside” mansion in the Town of Almonte where, as he advised, his father maintained the property with a “skeleton staff of fifteen”, he was at heart a country boy. John and Halcyon lived off the Clayton Road on an extensive rural estate of probably 100 acres, with a winding drive from the Clayton Road to their home perched on a hill deep within the property. For the first 30 years there they had no electricity. When however I dined with them the place was by contrast fully outfitted, including an exotic terrarium with colourful frogs and an in-ground pool overlooking the back meadow where John routinely voided his bladder purportedly to keep the racoons and porcupines at bay and out of his garden. John and Halcyon were assisted in the management of the property by Dennis and Jean LeClaire who I expect continue to reside nearby. Dennis is a highly accomplished stone mason, a lost art peculiar to very few others.
Subsequently I was introduced – through the office of my predecessor Raymond Algernon Jamieson QC (who was called to the Bar at Osgoode Hall in 1921 and continued to practice law in Almonte until my arrival in 1976) – to Bill Bellamy and his wife Margaret. Bill Bellamy was then known as the “Mayor of Clayton”, testimony to his long-standing involvement in the community. When I settled his estate it evolved that he hadn’t paper title (that is, a deed of land) to about 100 acres which he appeared to have mistakenly included in his last Will and Testament. Bill and his wife owned extensive properties in the area. The 100 acres however were denoted in the land registry office as Crown Land; viz., belonging to the provincial government. When Mrs. Bellamy insisted that her late husband had “openly and without objection occupied, used and enjoyed” the 100 acres, I prepared an application to the Ministry of Natural Resources, supported by sworn affidavits of family members and others having personal knowledge of the facts, to have the so-called “adverse title” transferred from the Crown to the late Bill Bellamy for the price of $1. Adverse possession was at the time an uncommon claim as it flew in the face of the putative owner’s entitlement. As between commoners, the customary prescription was 10 years; but as against Her Majesty in Right of the Province of Ontario, an enduring claim required 60 years or more. Bill Bellamy and his family succeeded to the latter contingent without question.
The Mackintosh name coincidentally sparked the recollection of the other – though unrelated – name of Neil MacIntosh, father of Alan MacIntosh (wife: Christine) who was the father of Douglas MacIntosh. The elder clan of the MacIntosh family resided in the Village of Clayton. Doug is one of the prime movers behind the eponymous Neilcorp Inc., developer of many of the newer award-winning homes in Almonte and beyond. I first met Doug and his brother Keith when they were two of the shareholders of the initial corporation. They engaged me to assist in the enactment and enforcement of what is called a “Shot Gun” clause in the shareholders agreement whereby they exercised their right under the Shareholders’ Agreement (similar to a partnership agreement for unincorporated parties) to offer to buy or sell their shares to the other shareholder(s) for a stipulated price within a stipulated time. Its efficacy is that the party to whom the offer is “put” has the first choice to buy or sell at the stipulated price. Obviously the MacIntosh boys ended buying up all the shares which subsequently translated into an expanded business with Robert Dick who in turn has contributed so much to the success of the current enterprise.
If my recollection serves me correctly two other persons with whom I originally dined at John and Halcyon Bell’s property were Keith and Penny Blades who subsequently moved from the Village of Clayton to the Town of Almonte where we now reside. Keith is denominated publicly as a “conservation consultant” though I known him by the less esoteric vernacular as one who oversees the restoration of really old properties which for example I understand includes no less than the Parliament of Canada in Ottawa. By no small coincidence Keith has worked with Dennis LeClaire in the restoration of the Parliament buildings.
Parenthetically allow me to record that Keith and Penny Blades were also former owners of another Almonte treasure, “Pinehurst”, where Mary Rosamond (late wife of Mr. Justice James Knatchbull Hugessen) was raised. The Rosamond family were founders of several of Almonte’s historic woollen mills.
Judge Hugessen in turn – if I may permitted to continue this ramble – formerly owned another of Almonte’s magnificent dwellings overlooking the Mississippi River.
And while we’re on the subject of Almonte properties, one further home of notable mention is “The Glen” formerly owned by Col. John R. Cameron and his wife Peggy, and subsequently by their son Bernard with whom I attended boarding school at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario.
Returning to the Village of Clayton, another of the then elderly clients whom I met through R. A. Jamieson’s former law practice was Russell Bain Thompson and his wife Mary, predecessors of Thompsontown Maple Products.
“In 1982 Ray and Wayne Thompson, along with their wives Ann and Teresa, re-established a long tradition of maple syrup production on Ray’s family’s farm on the west shore of Clayton Lake.
Ray, with a background in forestry management, and Wayne with a background in computers, technology and teaching discovered a perfect fit for both of their passions. In the first year, they purchased a used evaporator from a neighbouring maple producer and moved into the sugar camp Ray’s father had built in 1954. The same camp that Ray and his siblings spent their springtimes in helping their father make maple syrup on the family farm. In the first year, they gathered sap from 1000 buckets.“
In addition to settling the estate of the late Russell Bain Thompson I had the subsequent privilege to represent members of the family in the navigation of corporate ownership and related shareholder matters flowing from the families’ extensive land ownership surrounding the Village of Clayton.
Like so many of the retainers I handled for others in my practice of law in Almonte from 1976 – 2014 more often than not I acquainted myself not with the place whence my clients came but rather with the nature of the work involved. As a practitioner it makes sense to focus not upon the whereabouts of one’s clients but rather upon the type of work performed. Increasingly throughout the growth of my practice I learned to narrow my focus, an option I found enabled me to profit incrementally as a qualified advisor. In the end my primary focus was upon the perpetuation of wealth from one generation to another with the least impact of government and tax implications. The richness that has emerged from these historic details is a snowball familiarity with some of the ancestors and descendants of Lanark County of which the Town of Mississippi Mills is a part.
Unquestionably it is yet again a reminder of the privilege of old age to dwell upon these sinews of the past. Equally remarkable is the palpable element of discovery to unite these historic connections. Naturally it shouldn’t for a moment surprise me to unearth the interdependence of these sometimes amusing details. And yet it does! It completes my picture of society and of myself. Even my own parents have an odd though limited connection with Almonte. For example when my father retired from his last diplomatic mission to Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland my mother inspected “Pinehurst” with a view to purchase it. At my father’s insistence they resolved instead to build a new home in Ottawa. My parents were also friendly with Air Commodore Donny Blaine and his wife Norma who lived in another ancient property on Main Street East in Almonte.
I have to laugh aloud when I recall the pointed question of Patti Flesher (who was among those who accompanied me to dine with John and Halcyon Bell over forty years ago), “So when are you returning to the city?” Though Patti and her husband Horace Cohen (for both of whom I acted on occasion) now hang their hats in Palm Beach County, Florida, Patti’s sister Suzie Campeau followed in the footsteps of her parents in Dunrobin, Ontario by insisting upon retaining a “country lawyer” as her advisor. I must repeat the comic account of one of Suzie’s visits to my office. Upon leaving my office, she withdrew from her pocket a car key which was then in the form of module most recently available on the market. I had just bought a new car myself with a similar key module. I asked her, “Where did you buy your new car?” to which she replied, “In Montreal”. When I asked, “Why Montreal?” she said, “Because that’s the only Rolls Royce dealer nearby!”
I am indebted to the people with whom my career unfolded. Clearly they and their personal sequences formed a vital part of my life. Naturally many of those whom I represented or knew are beyond my current familiarity; a few others have lingered. It is an expected consequence of both age and time that things change. But it is equally clear that certain impressions are unforgettable.