Winter in the country

Over forty-four years ago in June of 1976 I arrived in Almonte with my purebred Yellow Labrador puppy appropriately christened by me at the kennel as Lanark Drummond Beckwith of Rosedale (a reference to three of the townships in the county).  Mr. Justice Alan D. Sheffield (one of the principles of Galligan & Sheffield, Barristers &c. by whom I was hired as a junior) arranged for me to rent a house belonging to Rev. and Mrs. Geo. Bickley on Martin St S not far from the current lookout by the Mississippi River at the end of St. Paul Street.  Rev. Bickley was then the presiding minister at St. Paul’s Anglican Church on Clyde Street near the Land Registry Office. My move into the house was a bit frosty thanks to the stiff objection Mrs. Bickley registered to my request to store some of my belongings in the garage before the former tenant had fully moved out.

The church and the registry subsequently became central to my settlement in Almonte.  I was a regular member of the church (preferring the early morning service at 8:30 am conducted in the chancel without the benefit of music). Subsequently I acted as Warden of the church. I have since abandoned my taste for the Anglican church in particular and religion in general as much as I once thought well of the taste of dry sherry and the attraction of stone walls. While still a participating member of the church I hosted a series of ten lectures called “Law and the Layman” in the basement of the church.  The cost was $1 per lecture.  It was through that didactic exploit that I met Mrs. Annie Johnston from Carleton Place. To my utter astonishment I learned that Mrs. Johnston was the widow of Doc Johnston who had originally employed Dr. Frank Glassow upon his arrival in Canada from England.  Dr. Glassow subsequently became head surgeon at the Shouldice Hospital in Thornhill near Toronto.  Dr. Glassow’s son Nicholas and I were colleagues in boarding school at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora in 1963. Though it hardly bears repeating, my recollection is that Dr. Glassow had had an unfavourable association with Doc Johnston (at least according to the critical account of Mrs. Winnifred Glassow when dining with her and the family on Colborne Street in Thornhill).

Immediately across the street from the church on Brougham Street was the ancient Land Registry Office which had been constructed in 1873 around the time the cornerstone of St. Paul’s Anglican Church had been laid in 1863 by Dr. William Mostyn, first Master of Mississippi Masonic Lodge No. 147 (itself an ancient creation as evidenced by the gold braid which presently adorns the aprons of its members).  I later became Master of the Lodge as well as Historian and President of the corporation that owned the Lodge premises on Mill Street. Dr. Mostyn lived nearby the church at the corner of Clyde Street and Bridge Street in what has since become known as the “Doctor’s House” because it was until just recently owned by an Irish-born medical practitioner (subsequently including Dr. James Dunn and Dr. Frank Murphy). Coincidentally Dr. Murphy was among the first people I entertained for luncheon on Martin St S not long after my arrival. Years later I endured the dubious privilege of being thrown out of the Doctor’s House after Dr. Murphy took exception to my proposal to drive a drunken Dr. James Coupland, DDS home. Not many months afterwards Dr. Coupland was charged with DUI and his licence was temporarily suspended.

My move to Almonte from Ottawa (where I had articled to the firm Macdonald, Affleck at 100 Sparks Street) arose from a conflict I had with my principles regarding salary. Naturally I was in no position to enforce my thinking upon the partners so instead of harbouring ill thoughts I first attempted to relocate to another firm in the city. That project never gained traction.  Then Sen. George McIlraith, Counsel to Macdonald, Affleck, informed me that his son-in-law, Mr. Michael J. Galligan QC was looking for someone to plug the hole left upon the retirement of longtime practitioner Raymond A. Jamieson QC. Eventually I had another “discussion” with Galligan & Sheffield (this time about partnership); and when that too failed to produce any immediate results I arranged to buy the office furnishings and lease of Mr. Jamieson and proceeded to set up my own practice effective March 1, 1978.

My first winter in Almonte in 1976 was a lonely one, the weight of which was cushioned by my dog and my practice duties.  Ms. Patricia K. Flesher, one of my close family friends, pointedly asked, “So when are you returning to the city?” It was my first introduction to the nose-in-the-air attitude of my urban neighbours to the quaint but pejorative rural setting. The reflection was particularly odd because Patti’s sister Suzanne Campeau was a resident of Dunrobin and she forcefully advanced her displeasure doing business with anyone other than a country lawyer. Both she and Patti favoured me with substantial retainers throughout my practice. Coincidentally Patti was among those who attended my first luncheon with Dr. Murphy.

La Pie, Effet de Neige, Claude Monet

My little dog proved to be a greater burden than I had anticipated.  Initially I left him home alone.  When he chewed the kitchen baseboards I mistakenly quelled my anxiety by chaining him outside on the front patio with a rug.  Unknown to me at the time, Robert N. Sadler passed by the house and saw the dog constrained and lying on the mat.  Bobby (as he is popularly known) was an animal lover. He built a lovely dog house painted red and white and gave it me to accommodate Lanny on the patio.  Eventually after I bought my first little house at 313 St. George Street I heard from a tipsy neighbour at an evening bonfire gathering of Lions Club members that Lanny regularly barked after I had left the house to go to the office. Soon thereafter I hesitatingly returned Lanny to the breeder at Rosedale kennels east of Ottawa. It broke my heart to do so – and the breeder expressed amazement at my willingness to relinquish such a beautiful and well-trained animal – but I was simply unable to care for him properly.  About thirty years later – at the suggestion of Marilyn Harris (a client and dog lover) – I welcomed my French bulldog Monroe into my life.  Monroe was a small dog by comparison to Lanny.  Monroe could not tolerate being left alone so he went everywhere with me – including Holt Renfrew where he proved himself of celebrity status.  His presence at the office was notorious.

77 Little Bridge Street, Almonte

Now forty-four years later, fully retired and sans dog, having bought and sold houses and an office building in Almonte, 25 acres in Ramsay Township, and an apartment in the By Ward Market in Ottawa, I am again renting.  Our Landlord is John H. Kerry, undeniably my most favoured and supportive client since 1978. I now amuse myself by glancing at the frozen snow covered fields beyond.  The pandemic has revitalized the distractions of old age and reminiscence. My parents are dead; my erstwhile clients have understandably relinquished me; I have retired by design from every committee, club, foundation or corporation of which I was ever a part. The vagaries of physical declension now hound me when not diminished by pain killers and a collection of indescribable pills. Gone are the martinis and cigarettes.  Instead I suffer a hang-over of a different and sometimes dreadful character.

The Hollow Men
by T. S. Eliot

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.