Some stuff from a North Sydenham farmboy and his sister

Authors note: This story was written in the fall of 1996, just before my parents sold the farm. The artwork is by my sister. North Sydenham was the name of the township where I grew up.

This is my last day on the farm. I can’t believe it. So many things have changed in my life, but one thing was always constant – the farm. The foundation of my upbringing, the refuge from the big bad world, the weekend retreat – no longer. My parents, who are now too old to keep up with the work, sold the farm. Now, with less than two weeks to go, they will depart as well. After thirty-five years of sun, sweat, toil, mud, cows and snow, it’s over. None of us six kids wanted to take over the farm. No choice but to sell. They’re moving into town.I returned for the final time on the Labour Day weekend. No longer part of the agrarian population, I now make my home amongst the high-tech industries in Ottawa. The previous week, I had been jetting to a different U.S. city each day, espousing the wonders of our product to Corporate America. Upon my return, I had managed to squeeze a side trip (the last) to my parent’s farm. One day I’m stepping out in Manhattan, – the next I’m stepping into a freshly formed cowpie in the barnyard. What a contrast – from the scions of Wall Street to the cows of the barnyard.The farm is no ordinary farm. Situated just north of the village of Leith and close to the shore of Georgian Bay, it has all of the elements of paradise. The farm, one-hundred and fifty acres in total, is bordered on three sides by dense bush. The fourth side, which faces to the south affords an unobstructed view all the way to Owen Sound. In the distance, amongst the shimmering tin barn rooftops, I can see the farmhouse where Tom Thomson grew up. The beauty of the landscape, which he began to appreciate here, and finally expressed in a form that became our national treasure, is the very same beauty I grew up with. I know exactly what he felt and what he wanted to express. I’ve seen his early works, paintings of the area, and he has captured the very same mood that I feel now. To the west, above the trees of the near shore and below the far shore, I can see a blue sliver of Owen Sound Bay. Further to the north, the sliver opens into greater Georgian Bay and, with distant clouds, fuses with the sky. Here, it’s the top of the world. I can see the entire world, or what really matters to me. The world needs to be no larger than what I can see.What is the best way to say goodbye? I’ve often heard that lingering goodbyes are the worst. I’ve also heard the best goodbyes are the quick ones that have a real sense of closure. When I was a kid. I remember the goodbyes to visiting relatives from Holland. Often during the summer, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, from the old country would come and stay with us on the farm. During the brief weeks, they would become part of my world – the farm, and I would grow to love them dearly. Then, in the front yard where I am standing now, the visit would abruptly come to a close. The final goodbyes were exchanged. They were always brief and packed with emotion that was most often not shown. Suitcases packed in the trunk, visitors in the back seat, and my parents in the front, the car would begin its journey down the long hilly laneway. Not wanting to finish the goodbye, I would race back into the house, up the stairs to the bathroom where the window would give me a better view of the laneway. I could see the car go down the big hill, disappear from view, briefly appear at the rise of the middle hill, disappear once more, re-appear again, and as it made its final climb, disappear into the bush. I would wave but I knew they couldn’t see me. The waving and the glimpses from the better view made the good-bye less painful. It consoled me. Now, as I walk around the farm, I feel that I am doing the same. I am consoling myself, as I survey the farm, snatching final glimpses, extending my goodbye.

Not only will I have to say goodbye to the farm as a whole, but also the house and the barn. The house is an old fieldstone house, older than the country itself. It is actually several houses in one. Starting from the back, a decrepit shed complete with an out-moded outhouse, next, to an old mundane middle brick part, and finally, culminating in the front, stands proudly the beautiful solid fieldstone structure. Built by a Scottish settler who was given a grant from the Queen’s Bush, and using the glacial errata cleared from the fields, this is a true Southern Ontario fieldstone house, gathered , hewed and built from the geography and its residents . The barn too, like the house, is several barns in one. Viewed from the sky, it has the shape of a gargantuan, squared ‘C’ punctuated by a silo. From the ground, the aged gray cedar barn boards give testament to their time bared to the elements.

My flight back to Ottawa leaves soon. I must say my final goodbye. Like the goodbyes to my relatives from Holland, it is brief, emotional and silent. Suitcase in the trunk, me in the back seat, and my parents in the front, we begin the journey down the laneway. I look out the back window to catch the last glimpse. I can see the barn and the entire farm rising up behind. The house and bathroom window disappear and re-appear as we dip between the hills. Maybe the farm is waving goodbye and I cannot see. Maybe it too feels the pain that I do. We’re near the end of the laneway. We make the final ascent and enter into the bush. The farm disappears from view. The last glimpse is seared in my brain. There are tears in my eyes. Goodbye Farm.

Back Cover

Tom Thomson, as the famous Canadian landscape artist, gave Canada its most enduring icons, The Jack Pine and The West Wind. But Tom Thomson, as a private man, remains an enigma. Little is known about the man and even less is known about his personal thoughts, feelings and struggles with his art and with life against the darkening backdrop of history. A century has gone by since Tom Thomson disappeared in Algonquin Park on July 8, 1917. Eight days later, a body was found, rising up from the waters of Canoe Lake. What really happened, to this day, remains a mystery.  Did he die of natural causes? Was it an accident? Was he murdered? Follow the final months and days of Tom Thomson in the revealing and intriguing pages of his journal.