Almonte Alameda: Guide to Furniture
B1. The birds they sang at the break of day. “Start again” I heard them say. Leonard Cohen
– Timmons Family
B2. The storytellers, here’s to them. Val Sears: the last line of his book “Hello sweetheart, get me rewrite”
– Edith Cody Rice for Val Sears
“Let me tell you a story” – the most powerful words in the English language.
Such was the mantra of Val Sears, one of Canada’s leading journalists for almost half a century. Born in Vancouver in 1927, Val worked for the Canadian Press and Toronto Telegram before spending more than 30 years at The Toronto Star. His lively 1988 book Hello Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite remains a classic account of the 1950s Toronto newspaper wars in which he was a frontline combatant.
Val went on to become a celebrated feature writer and globetrotting foreign correspondent in the golden age of newspapers. He travelled widely as the Star’s correspondent based in London, England, and later Washington DC, before capping an illustrious career as the paper’s national political editor and Ottawa bureau chief. The typewriter beneath this bench is his trusty Olivetti which accompanied him on all his foreign correspondent adventures.
Val was famously droll and sardonic, and renowned for pithy one-liners. A remark said in jest to fellow reporters while boarding a Diefenbaker campaign plane in 1963 – “To work, gentlemen, we have a government to bring down!” – followed him throughout his life until he groaned at the mention of it.
An endlessly curious observer of the world and its characters, Val’s fascination with the bizarre and the eccentric, in people and politics, never faded. His admonition to his children and the countless younger journalists he mentored to “never lose your curiosity” are words to live by.
After retiring in 1991, Val was awarded a visiting professorship at the University of Regina and an honorary life membership in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Several years after moving to Almonte, Val and wife Edith Cody-Rice founded with friends the online community newspaper, The Millstone, in 2011. Until the end of his life, Val dismissed the idea that journalism was dying. He was convinced that new storytelling methods and new storytellers would emerge.
Val died in Almonte in 2016 and is buried in MacLaren Cemetery in Wakefield, Quebec, near his hero Lester B. Pearson. His gravestone describes him simply as “Val Sears, Storyteller.”
B3. I say Dank voor de liefde. Thank you for the love. Buster Van de Geest, Dutch poet
– Branje family
B4. So come and sit with me awhile. Elliot Matsu
– Pat Vetter for Frank
B5. This place is the poem I wanted to write. from Mary Oliver
– Jane McLeod for Margaret Duncan
B6. I shall e’er be in sunshine with my love by my side. Jane Coyle’s dad
– Jane Coyle
B7. And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul. John Muir
– Tove for Ed Lawrence
Ed Lawrence is a renowned horticulturalist, gardener, broadcaster and writer. He has been involved with The Alameda from the conception of the project: planning the type of trees suitable to plant, how far apart, the depth to plant and many other aspects of this important undertaking.
So how wonderful for Ed then, to sit down and enjoy the trees as they grow, from his bench wide enough to invite a friend or two. From this vantage point, Ed and friends can also enjoy the Almonte Horticultural Society flower gardens and the Foodbank vegetable gardens.
Planting trees is Ed’s favourite “thing” to do, so The Alameda Bench is a tribute to his 50 + years of community and horticultural commitment.
Not only to Mississippi Mills but across Ontario.
The inscription on the Bench says it all, who Ed is:
“and into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul”
B8. A paradise my garden is, and there my day is spent. Robert Service, “My Garden”
– Ayling family for Ron
B9. One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. William Shakespeare
– Geuer family for Juan and Els Geuer
Juan and Els Geuer became “Almontonians” in 1956.
Els Vermeij was born in Indonesia to Dutch parents in 1921. Surrounded as they were with a profusion of tropical flora, she and her sister developed a deep love for nature and gardening.
Juan was born in the Netherlands in 1917. His parents were artists who raised eleven children, all of whom became artists.
The two met in the Netherlands in 1938. Juan and his family fled Europe soon thereafter to escape the horror they were sure was coming. While en route, he wrote to Els asking her to marry him. By the time she responded, WWII had started and travel was impossible. After five long hard years, Els travelled by ship and small plane to join him in the mountains of Bolivia.
They married and had four children, one of whom died at five weeks of age. As Bolivia was experiencing multiple revolutions, they decided to leave. In 1953, with three children, they returned to the Netherlands and worked on the paperwork to emigrate to Canada, arriving on May 6, 1954, eventually settling in Almonte. They had five more children, and lost a son to cancer.
Els embraced her new home: working at the Almonte Public Library for thirty years, volunteering on the library board and repairing books. She volunteered with the Brownies and Girl Guides, the CWL, served on the board of the Children’s Aid Society, the AGH auxiliary and was instrumental in establishing day care in Almonte, and the Almonte in Concert series. She was a talented craftswoman and found peace in her beautiful garden. Els died in 2021.
Juan worked for the federal government developing an impressive career as an artist, exhibiting his work within Canada and internationally. He first worked in glass, then painting but found his oeuvre in multi-media works blending art with science. Juan was involved with Holy Name of Mary Parish, Amnesty International and the visual arts community of Almonte, Ottawa and further afield. Juan died in 2009.
Together they found a true home in Almonte. They delighted in their large family that included seven children and their partners, twenty grandchildren and their partners, and thirteen great-grandchildren.
The plaque on the bench their children and grandchildren chose in their honour states, “With love and gratitude for Juan and Els Geuer, whose search for truth and beauty blossomed here.”
B10. Imagine all the people living in peace. John Lennon, Imagine
– Bill and Ingrid for Bill and Betty Barrie
William “Bill” Harper Barrie
Royal Canadian Air Force 1940 – 1945
Elizabeth “Betty” Williams Buchanan
Women’s Royal Naval Service 1944 – 1946
In November 1940, at the age of 22, Bill Barrie was recruited by the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Leading Aircraftsman. His qualification consisted of a Certificate as a Second Class Commercial Radio Operator, obtained at the Marconi Radio School in Toronto in 1939. He sailed from Halifax in January 1941 on the RMS Nerissa, disembarking in Glasgow, Scotland, 5 days later.
His first posting in Britain was to the RAF Station at Sumburgh in Shetland, a fighter-bomber base covering the sea routes from the North Sea into the North Atlantic. The Luftwaffe bombed the base frequently, and air raid warnings were a daily occurrence. Bill’s work there consisted of monitoring an invasion-warning radio channel and using an encryption machine in the Enigma System. Seventy years later, Bill learned that he had been radio operating on a cipher link with the famous Bletchley Park.
In July 1941, Bill was transferred to the RAF Radio School in Prestwick, Scotland, to study airborne radar used by the night fighters and coastal patrol aircraft. He later became an instructor at the school. It was in Prestwick in 1941 that he met Elizabeth (Betty) Buchanan, a 16-year-old Scottish school girl. They met only briefly twice before Bill was posted to RAF #212 Flying Boat Squadron located at Korangi Creek near Karachi, India (now Pakistan). He was in charge of the Special Equipment (Radar) Section being formed to install, maintain, and operate the airborne radar for two squadrons of Catalina flying boats. These aircraft patrolled vast areas of the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, escorting convoys and searching for Japanese and German submarines. In June 1944, he was posted to #5 Base Signals Depot in Calcutta to design and construct radar beacons for use in guiding supply aircraft in Burma and for navigation over the “hump” to China.
During his years in India, Bill kept up a correspondence with Betty. They exchanged 1,000 letters during two and a half years, eventually leading to their engagement. While posted in the desert, the letters provided him with reading material from Betty, including poetry, music, and philosophical discussions. They exchanged books, magazines, and photos,in air letters back and forth between England and India. By mid-1943, Betty was writing daily. She provided Bill with much-needed encouragement, and he provided her with support during the terrifying bombings in London.
While in Calcutta, Bill found a school of dance and later surprised Betty when she found that he could waltz, tango, and foxtrot. He went to a jewellers shop in Calcutta and they fashioned for him a diamond engagement ring, which he carried sewn into his tunic pocket.
In January 1945, Bill was posted back to Canada via the UK, and Bill and Betty spent 6 days of leave together in London. They met in London at Victoria Station. Betty was now 19 and according to Bill looked “smashing” in her Royal Navy uniform. At a Buchanan family gathering in Liverpool, Bill presented Betty with the little diamond engagement ring. Her father was not in favour of the match and refused to give his daughter‘s hand!
Bill returned to Canada in 1945, starting a 4-year course in Radio Physics at the University of Western Ontario. Betty was discharged from the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENs) in 1946 and sailed to New York on the RMS Queen Elizabeth and then on to Hamilton, Ontario, by train. Bill and Betty were married on the Barrie family farm near Galt in December 1946. After graduating in 1949, Bill was employed by Northern Electric as a Development Engineer at their Electronics Division in Belleville, where he developed high-quality audio amplifiers, communication systems, and military radar.
In 1952 he became part of a “Cold War” project with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Bell Laboratories to design a radar system to detect trans-polar Soviet aircraft advancing on North America. This work resulted in the establishment of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line.
In 1957 Bill designed and installed a sound system for the Senate Chamber in the House of Commons intended to permit hard-of-hearing senators to participate more fully in their work. The first use of the system was by Queen Elizabeth at the opening of parliament in 1957. The speaker had a handle and could be held close to the ear. That year the family moved to Montreal and Bill’s work was to set up a semi-conductor laboratory.
In 1961 his laboratory was moved to Ottawa as part of the new Northern Electric Research and Development Division. His design group produced satellite communication systems and later turned to space hardware for communication satellites. After retiring from Northern Electric (Northern Telecom) in 1981 Bill joined Spar Aerospace and worked on the Canadarm System for the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.
Bill and Betty were attracted to the “Friendly Town of Almonte” where they bought a house on Bridge Street for them and their three children. They loved the community and quickly became involved in many endeavors, including the Boy Scouts (Bill), Almonte Presbyterian Church, Centennial Choir, Curling Club, Almonte Library Board (Bill), and Crazy Quilters (Betty). Bill (VE3AAS), a long-time radio ham, was one of the founding members of the Almonte Amateur Radio Club (https://almontearclub.ca click on Club History) and was one of many local Amateurs who provided radio communication during emergencies (such as the 1998 Ice Storm) and various community events.
The quote on the bench is from Imagine by John Lennon.
T1. All our wisdom is stored in the trees. Santosh Kalwar
In memory of Bruce Duncan with love, the Clulee, Crampton and Duncan-Fraser families
T2. With all things and in all things, we are relatives. Sioux proverb
R1. Now that you’re here, come and visit the Hub.
R2. Maybe now my daughter Rona will ride her bike. Norman Fraser