The country drive

The thing I like about the magazine Country Life is that each issue dwells predominantly upon people, places and affairs having a rural theme. Certainly many of those are decidedly polished – royalty, castles and prestigious equestrian events – but for the most part it strives to expand upon everyday country living and the often amusing and capable denizens therein. Whenever I drive about casually in my motor vehicle there is only one direction for me – and that’s a country drive!

What a great number of city dwellers do not know – and honestly it’s a good thing they do not as it would unquestionably offend their natural air of superiority – is that we country “folk” (gotta love it!) are frequently the winning recipients of trove from the public purse.  Without getting into the sticky business of gerrymandering, allow me merely to observe that after 45 years here it is amply apparent to me that the country roads are often superior to what is found within the urban boundaries. Why this is so I have regularly contemplated.  Certainly there is the projection of geography; or the influence of a Senator from the “boonies” (there’s another!), or the equal vote of one member of parliament for a vastly narrower populace. Perhaps it’s as uncomplicated as having the roads “less traveled” by which I mean a purely diminished “use-and-abuse” feature. Then there’s the pragmatic necessity that a road has to go from here to there whatever you say. Anyway…my point is simply happily (and thanks to our erstwhile reigning politicians in Queen’s Park) that our nice, long, unblemished roads are ribbons of superb delight! They are the ideal stream for a languid afternoon drive in the country.

For a country drive one has a choice of two road categories – well, really three; a national freeway (such an undignified label for one of our fine country ribbons!); the proverbial “back roads” (provincial highways) or the yet more bucolic collection of county and municipal “concession roads”, “Quarter Session roads” and “side roads”. They’re all spectacular for independent reasons. One is perfect for cruise control and and automatic lane keeping. The other has its rollicking up and down, back and forth avenues. And the third is the more intimate category often deviating through hamlets and villages. All wend and weave their way aside broad open fields braided by threads of different hues upon an expansive horizon; past ancient grey cedar barn doors; over a magnificent 5-span stone bridge; through quaint villages and along a dark and glassy river. When the sky is blue it is a massive shimmering  dome with a yellow tinge; the flat broadscape to eternity. Percolating throughout the coarse fields in the wavering distance are the anamnesis of people, clients, business associates and a half-century of tales.

The icing on the cake are the burgeoning blossoms of crab apple trees and dandelions. Their presence though fleeting is always inspiring.

The courts of quarter sessions or quarter sessions were local courts traditionally held at four set times each year in the Kingdom of England (including Wales) from 1388 until the end of the kingdom, then in 18th-century Great Britain, in the later United Kingdom, and in other dominions of the British Empire. The quarter sessions were named after the quarter days on which they met in England and Wales from 1388. These days were later settled as Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer, and Michaelmas sessions.

The roads laid out at the Quarter Sessions marked local government congresses.

The Courts of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace had jurisdiction over minor criminal matters, with responsibility for the trial of cases involving breaches of the peace in their respective districts, including assault, misdemeanours, and petit larceny. The Sessions were also responsible for establishing the divisions of the districts in which the Courts of Request were to be held, and for the appointment of the justices of the peace to preside over these courts. In addition to these, and until 1841 when District Councils were established, the Sessions were also responsible for local district administration, including the granting of tavern, shop, and still licenses, and for the building of a proper courthouse and gaol for the district.

In 1984, the Courts of the General Sessions of the Peace, along with the County Courts, and the County Court Judges’ Criminal Courts, were amalgamated to form the District Court of Ontario.

The following is a simple alphabetical listing of the counties/districts/judicial districts that existed within the Province between 1777 and 1984 (with Dt.= District, Co.=County, and J.D.=Judicial District), along with the dates for which they existed: Lanark and Renfrew United Cos. (1850-1866); Lanark Co. (1866- )

The side roads were open divisions between every fifth lot in a county to permit travel between concessions. Side roads are mandated by legislation.  In cases where the mathematical division was impractical or impossible because of the natural geography, the Quarter Sessions road filled the gap to permit winding and erratic roads. These roads are sometimes called “Forced Roads” to accommodate nature’s obstruction.

English Common Law states that once the public right of passage and re-passage has been established that right remains regardless of how long a road has been unused or abandoned.

For a seemingly simple concept roads are an extremely complex and complicated subject as evidenced by the many many Statutes, Laws, Regulations and Court proceedings that have involved roads since the founding of Upper Canada in 1791.

It startles some cave dwellers to learn that country folk can often bear the deprivation of opera, late night carousing and endless mall shopping. I confess however that we’re regularly treated to top Canadian artists especially for chamber music. And the performances are within our superb theatre at the Old Town Hall with its astounding acoustics.

The country road is an open and remarkable pathway. My history of involvement goes back to my prep school days in the country near Aurora, Ontario.  One of my primary contacts was from the town of King outside Toronto; another from the Village of Thornhill; a classmate from the hamlet of New Market.