As I was driving home from Ottawa after a Christmas visit, I stopped in at the High Spring Trading Post and Saddlery between Marmora and Havelock, to say hello to Rick Mocon.
Above the cash register in the store are clippings and photos from the era of Frontier Days in Millbrook, a highlight of our annual local events calendar for a time, ending in 1979. Rick had a shop in downtown Millbrook up until the mid 1980s, where he repaired and sold saddles, harness and all manner of leather goods. It was a good place to catch up on the news of the day, and if you dropped by, you were sure to be entertained by Pete, Rick’s lively and intelligent crow, who had the run of the place and an impressive vocabulary.
In celebration of Heritage Week every February, the Historical Society hosts an informal evening that focuses on a particular aspect of local history. Last year that focus was Millbrook’s downtown and we had the biggest turnout we’ve had in years! People came from Peterborough, from Lakefield, from Cobourg, and from all over the township to share stories, reminisce, or just listen to the memories. Photos of downtown storefronts were passed around, prompting anecdotes, not just about the businesses and the merchandise, but about the people.
The National Trust for Canada puts it well: “Our special places endure as physical records of the people and events that shape our past and our future. … And our cultural landscapes bear the imprint of generations of Canadians.”
Many who come out to our Historical Society gatherings are newcomers to the area, with no local family connections. Yet there is a keen interest in learning about the history of this place. We get inquiries often from new owners all over the township asking about the history of the home they’ve just bought. Who built it? Who lived here? People value the heritage homes and properties here; at least one real estate agent has been heard bemoaning the fact that there are rarely any on the market. When the Historical Society hosted a walking tour of Millbrook for members of the Architectural Conservancy of Port Hope last September, noted author and heritage home enthusiast Tom Cruickshank wrote afterwards, “Millbrook is an architectural delight that deserves our praise and attention.”
We are so lucky here to have such a rich built heritage; landmarks of the lifestyles and achievements of past eras, and magnets for future prosperity. We are also fortunate to have a team of volunteers and local government appointees working on downtown revitalization and built heritage preservation, casting a vision and formulating guidelines that aim to enhance our worth. Those are two big positives. And there’s a third. We are so privileged to live in a community where we have people who can tell us so many stories about this area and how it was 20, 40, 60, even 75 years ago and more.
In January, the Historical Society invited the community to come to the Millbrook Manor and, over tea and treats, celebrate the life of Jean Olan. Jean died in November. She was passionate about this community, where she lived all her 95 years. Inquisitive, energetic and enterprising, Jean always had stories to tell. Almost all of them had whoever was listening roaring with laughter. She had a twinkle in her eye. As we shared stories about Jean, someone in the room had a brilliant suggestion. How about naming one of the streets in the new Highlands development after Jean Olan? Indeed, why not name the new streets in honour of a number of the inspiring and resourceful people who have helped make this community what it is – a place where we all want to live. A place where we all feel at home. A place where. perhaps, newcomers will wonder and then ask, who are these streets named for? What can we find out about this place? How can we contribute to this gem of a community we now call home?
‘Heritage Stands the Test of Time’ is the National Trust for Canada’s theme for Heritage Week this year. Working with the three positives – our built heritage, its defenders and champions, and the people who tell the stories that breathe life into the bricks and mortar – we are surely on course to show that here, heritage will indeed stand the test of time.
But, there is one more positive element that’s crucial to our success: community buy-in. It is up to us, you and me, to get on board; to preserve and protect the rich legacy we’ve been so blessed to inherit.
By Celia Hunter
Heritage Week is February 19-25. Celia Hunter is president of the Millbrook & Cavan Historical Society, which is hosting two events during Heritage Week: see our Special Events section.