A RETROSPECT OF MILLBROOK’S

SPACIOUS DAYS IN THE SIXTIES

________________________

As one of many old Millbrookites who, from other surroundings than that of youth, find their thoughts at this season setting in the direction of the old home, may I send my wishes to “The Mirror” and its readers for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Despite the ever narrowing of the circle of the family and old time friends, the place which once held them, and was home, remains home always in something much finer than literal fact or mere sentiment. More truly so, perhaps, when youth is but a matter of reminiscences, and the shadows, all falling Eastward now, are getting so long that they try the eyes at times. We find our lost youth in meeting again with old associates. We like to revive the past. And how one picture of that time restores, calls back a hundred, half or, wholly forgotten ones. I am the more reminded of this fact by a little book which I had not seen before for, lo, these many years. It is dated Christmas, A.D. 1868, a St. Thomas’ S.S. prize given to the writer, “by his teacher, George Needler”. Of the merits which won it, small enough, I suspect, I retain no remembrance, other than that of gratitude and esteem for the giver. But of other things in connection with that time the little book is as magic as Alladin’s Lamp or the Enchanted Carpet of Bagdad. It brings back again the Millbrook of wooden awnings, wide boardwalks, and wooden shutters. From many local saw mills, shingle mills, machine shops and small local factories the “hands” and their women folk throng the streets again on Christmas Eve and mingle with Christmas shoppers from the country. Millbrook is a busy little centre of over twelve hundred inhabitants and the do not shop in Peterborough, not even the merchant’s family. Blanketed squaws with beadwork and Indian bucks with their big hand sleighs piled high with baskets and Indian hand made woodenware are there too, from the swamp suburbs, east and west of the village. One young Indian is endeavouring to make a ‘swap’ in Howell’s store of three axe helves for a pair of ‘gutter’ skates, Ogilvie wants four. Outside “Young presslite” has started a dogfight between the Indian ‘huskies’ and Sandy Crummer’s Coon dog “Romeo”. And the band is playing, “Those Tassels on the Boots”, up in front of the Old Town Hall. Cool Burgess, the king of burnt cork artists, and his minstrel troupe are playing there to night, and it will be packed. There is also a dance on at Todds. Millbrook is a show town, the finest circus stand between Toronto and Kingston, so Old Dan Rice said. “It is honoured in these days by such companies as the Holman Opera Co., in the Bohemian Girl, and Il Travatore. The “Royal Theatre Stock Company” from Toronto in a run of five nights of the ‘ligitimate’ play to “standing room only”, and visit us two or three times in a season. O, Millbrook was some show town then. “I’ll tell the world.” It was a bright Christmas day that Christmas of ’68, and the snow lay deep in the fields and in the old lane leading to the little church in the shade of the evergreens. It was deep at least for a small boy’s legs, and the little book was almost lost in a drift. Every member of the class was at church that morning, for had they not helped to decorate, and provide the cedar and balsam boughs which were cut and drawn in, from Hutchinson’s swamp. Of the congregation, I need but mention a few of the names of families in their accustomed seats, as I recall them. Howden, Dawsons, Hayter, Sootheran, Sowden, Armstrong, McBean, Winslow, Turner, Needler and their beloved Rector, a young man then. In the Sowden pew I recall two slight dark youths who had accompanied their aunt to the service. They were Billy and Walter Sims, here on a visit and attending the public school for a time. In the great was to lately (unreadable) Billy Sims made good. He was Admiral William Sowden Sims, commander of the American Navy and staunch ally and friend of Britain and the Grand Fleet. Fifty-one years ago. How many changes the old place has seen since then. But old day returns. Christmas with its merry greetings and its generous impulses and larger charity. Its spirit is epitomized in the Christmas prayer of Dicken’s immortal Tiny Tim - “God bless us, everyone.”

Toronto, 1919. S.H.

(Sam Hunter in Millbrook Mirror).

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