Life in the shires,,,

shire | ˈʃʌɪə | noun1 British a county, especially in England. (the Shires) used in reference to parts of England regarded as strongholds of traditional rural culture, especially the rural Midlands.

Though I haven’t a clear idea what constitutes “traditional rural culture”, after having lived here in Almonte since 1976 (45 years ago) I fully suspect that I am a part of the fabric whatever it is; and, similarly that my parts whatever they are have insinuated the whole. Indisputably my entire practice of law (with the exception of articling and my first year with a distinguished Ottawa law firm from 1973 to 1975 upon my Call to the Bar at Osgoode Hall) was fully entwined with local rural tradition, from being an indisputable outsider, the lowest employee in the firm to the traditional though commonplace rural distinction of a sole practitioner.

Running one’s own business is a full-time operation.  I frequently worked late into the night and early into the morning. My work predicted my every move and monopolized my life. Between 1976 and 1996 my leisure activity was infrequent and ephemeral. I often attempted to coincide my brief sojourns with popular holidays notably around Christmas when the boundaries were usually distended and trade was predictably diminished. Otherwise I satisfied myself with brief private events on home territory, inspired in the summer by patio dining under a sprawling umbrella and in the winter by a blazing hearth reflected upon the shiny pine planks recovered from the Ottawa River. Every particle of my life was consumed by “traditional rural culture” from lectures in the parish hall to stewardship in the business association and a service club. I recall having been told by one of my longstanding local clients that in thirty years here he had never been to the city. It was the start of my bucolic obscurity.

There is oft expressed the unflattering notion of a big fish in a little pond.  There is no question that within the smaller social, commercial and municipal domain opportunities for contribution abound. In some instances the qualification is mere presence; in others, the merit of education or training is pertinent; still others, it is just the fortuity of availability and possibility. One should however be aware that advancement in the little fish bowl is also a matter of rotation and expectation.  It is never suggested that one should or should not undertake a project, enrolment or association; but once there, it is an opportunity for input not to be overlooked when blending one’s own capacity within the sphere of acquaintance.

My social boundaries developed throughout my residency here. When I arrived the population was 4,500. I began my involvement through St. Paul’s Anglican Church, initially as a parishioner then as warden. It was an appropriate coincidence in light of my communion with the Church of England begun at St. Andrew’s College in prep school; and, by further accident my first home in town was rented from the chaplain of the church who then resided in the manse with his wife. It was an arrangement organized on my behalf by another parishioner of the church, Mr. Justice Alan D. Sheffield who at the time was the other partner of my employer, Messrs. Galligan & Sheffield, Barrs &c.

Not far removed from that singularly religious theme was my unwitting admission to Freemasonry. My predecessor Raymond A. Jamieson, QC was by the way a member of St. Paul’s Anglican Church and Freemasonry. His unforgettable contribution to my growth within this pond was his first question to me upon meeting. He asked, “How’s trade?”  The simple question was totally out of my customary orbit wherein the same question would have been, “How’s business?” Mr. Jamieson thereby taught me about the paramountcy of tradesmen not businessmen. I must note as well his second question, “Are you not a non-resident of Canada; and do you own any adjoining lands?’. He was making a joke of the affidavits regularly required of people selling real estate. The conjunction of the two questions (each with their pointed undercurrent) instantly vitalized my intentions to be part of the scene. I subsequently discovered that Mr. Jamieson and I shared other features.  When I removed my practice from his old office to my new building in 1980 I unearthed empty booze bottles secreted on the shelves behind his law books. I also learned that he was an amateur guitar player similar to my amateur piano playing. As recently as this morning I bicycled as I routinely do past his former house on Union St N.

Perhaps most importantly concerning the evolution of my rural culture was the similar association Mr. Jamieson had had with John H. Kerry of Kerry Funeral Home upon John’s arrival in town years before; and the subsequent association of John with me upon my arrival in town. As Mr. Jamieson quipped when I last visited him when he was hospitalized at 96 years of age, in response to his question about what was new, I told him John had constructed a chapel onto the funeral home to which he responded, “I’m looking forward to going there!”  And he did!

It was through John Kerry that I became acquainted with the influence of country gentlemen to the pinnacle of provincial government.  Regarding a tedious reporting of the perpetual care fund of the United Church of Canada concerning the Auld Kirk cemetery, John eliminated what would otherwise have been an expensive and drawn-out accounting process by successfully commanding the Conservative government to send its representatives to Almonte in person to dispose of the matter summarily.  Given the fluidity of the affair I rather suspect John coordinated his designs with the Honourable George Gomme who was another local resident. In due course I learned that Mr. Gomme had been one of the orphan boys from England sent here to provide cheap farm labour.

Gomme served as the Mayor of Almonte, Ontario.

Gomme was elected in a by-election to replace John Arthur McCue who died after having served for only one year. He was re-elected in the general election of 1959 and 1963. He was appointed as a Minister without Portfolio on January 12, 1966, and then as Minister of Highways on November 24, 1966. A time of tremendous growth in Ontario, particularly in Toronto and surrounding suburbs, Gomme was actively involved in the development of new highways, such as Highway 410 in the Brampton area, as well as the expansion of other 400-series highways. He continued to serve as Minister of Highways until March 1, 1971. at which time he left Cabinet, having already announced that he would not be running in the 1971 general election. He died on March 3, 1996.

The other socially motivated ambitions like politics and society were readily at hand. If one wished to distinguish oneself in those manners there was always the chance to do so. As I later learned upon retirement, the occasion for public service in municipal government also arises. I count this an advantage of small-town living.

Working for and among the tradesmen and farmers invoked what was no doubt a different experience with other lawyers or businessmen. It was by nature more intimate. The discussions were perhaps more calculated to a specific end without the necessity of superfluous dialogue.

I would be remiss not to mention the influence of J. C. Smithson who was Land Registrar for Lanark County. Given that much of my practice was devoted to the conveyance of land it was for me a natural alliance. Once again the fabric of the community was entwined when I learned upon my admission to Freemasonry that J. C. Smithson was a senior member of Grand Lodge.

A similarly pronounced association arose from many of the strictly governed women in the area.  They represented determination mixed with amusement. Apart from the very meaningful contribution of women to local businesses and farming, upon my arrival in town I soon learned about the conviction of women to local charitable projects when I worked for the founders of the Almonte Community Coordinators aka “The Hub”.