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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

sailing from Ameliasburgh

photo courtesy Jason at Rednersville Country Store
In the long poem 'In Search of Owen Roblin', Al leaves an account of Jib, an historical figure (I wonder) who must be 'the village simpleton,' to talk about Ameliasburgh history. As one who worked for many years with folks labelled developmentally handicapped, I want to stay to find out more about Jib, a man who makes me think of  Joe Barr in another Purdy tale. Joe, a man in whom Al recognized a dignity few others acknowledged. But no...the story is about the mill, and milling, and shipping, and Jib is peripheral.

"Sweating and stumbling he fell
sometimes grining his idiot grin
but "Get a move on!"
said the farmer from his high wagon
seat impatient for Rednersville
and foreign ships awaiting cargo."
(In Search of Owen Roblin)

The poem takes us to Rednersville, a place I go gladly, for I find the stone village centre evocative of early history, despite the wider south shore area's transformation to sprawling upmarket subdivision. The village resonates with the story of Owen Roblin, and reappears in Al's long poem.

The limestone village church, which I researched for an article in  the Autumn 2012 issue of County and Quinte Living (Keary House page 32) was built by local people, who pulled limestone from the escarpment that got named Onderdonk's Hill, and built a Methodist house of worship. The road that leads in front was immortalized in a Purdy poem.

The PEC Heritage designation plaque on the Rednersville  store (now closed, sadly) reads "1845 Country Store. This two storey gabled roof building remains the most dominant landmark in the village. In 1840 John Cole purchased the lot from Owen Roblin. In 1851 the lot was sold to James Redner. When fire damaged the original facade around 1865 it was rebuilt in brick with three round-headed windows in the front. The Rednersville store is a fine example of rural commercial architecture."

For more detail, check out the wonderfully crafted local history produced by the 7th Town Historical Society in 1984. It contains more of the flavour of the thriving early village.

the road to the wharves...but no longer

By the 1890's Prince Edward County was booming. The so-called Barley Days provided work and wealth, as the fertile farming county produced superior quality export barley for the American distilling trade. Histories describe long lines of loaded grain wagons straggling south along the old Barley Road which runs through the village toward Wellington, farmers and horses patiently waiting for their turn to off-load at the Rednersville docks, from which local produce and lumber had long been exported by sailing ship and later, steamships.

I wandered down the hill toward the bayshore, listening and looking for hints of those rough and bustling days. Nothing. A tantalizing stand of bush remains at the bottom of the street, but the no trespassing sign stopped my search for resonance. A walk along the short street bordering the shore, shots over smooth lawns of lakeside homes. Nothing.

imagine tired horses struggling downhill holding back
the weight of a heavy load of barley

"The wheels stopped
and the murmur of voices
behind the flume's tremble
             and the wind-high ships
that sailed from Rednersville
to the sunrise ports of Europe
are delayed somewhere 
in a toddling breeze..."
(Roblin's Mills II)
one day I'll find a kindly neighbour to grant me a look downhill
nothing remains of the old shipping days, but the water

Credit where it's due:

Regarding the above archival postcard image of a steamship approaching the Rednersville dock. I received the kind permission of Jason, who maintains a website from which he sells historic postcards, antiques and the like, to use the image. Jason reports that he has a new website under development, and I will publish it here when it becomes available. In the meantime, he can be reached at the above link. Thanks Jason!

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