Now and Then – FREDA MAE FARQUHAR

The family gathers for John and Freda’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

FREDA MAE FARQUHAR

Freda Farquhar clearly remembers the time she was in the bathroom, in her housecoat, curlers in her hair, when the knock on the door came from the Prime Minister of Canada. He was escorted by Vi and Elmer Vincent and Barney and Phyllis Turner. The Turners had donated their car so Aussie (Austin Hunt) could pick Prime Minister Lester B. (Mike) Pearson and his wife Marion up at the Sudbury airport. Prime Minister Pearson had just attended the official opening of the Manitoulin Centennial Manor in 1967 and Freda knew he would be heading in their direction next to freshen up. (Prime Minister Pearson was also, during his career as an MP, national Liberal Party leader, prime minister and Member of Parliament for Algoma-East, one of the forerunning ridings to the current Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing.)

“I was totally surprised to hear them at my door. I had just jumped out of the shower thinking I had lots of time. My network was supposed to let me know when his entourage was on the way. I scrambled and stood ready within 15 minutes, fully coiffed, makeup in place and a suitable outfit on. Phyllis was spellbound at the speed of my transformation, as was Mrs. Pearson who said to me in amazement, ‘How did you get so beautiful so quickly?’ I just smiled”.

Subsequently, the prime minister would visit their house at 23 Robinson Street when he came to Manitoulin. He would sit and enjoy a cool drink. It was a quiet place where he could get away from the media, freshen up and temporarily ‘let his hair down.’ “He used to come a lot when John’s dad (Thomas Farquhar) was in the Senate. The last time I saw Prime Minister Pearson, he was sitting in the hammock chair by the pool. He seemed sad and I remember his ominous words. ‘Freda, I’m so tired.’ It was near the end of his term and he retired in 1968 and left government shortly after that visit.”

As a teen at home.
As a teen at home.

Maternal grandparents Robert and Emma, ‘Em’ (nee Wilson), Graham owned the Ocean House Hotel in Gore Bay. The Grahams sold fish all over New York: salmon, whitefish, trout and occasionally sturgeon. The kids in the village called Robert Graham, ‘Pop.’ He was popular partially because he was generous with the gum he always had in his pockets for kids.”

Freda Mae Elliot was born to Arthur, ‘Daddy Art,’ and Edna, ‘Maw’ (nee Graham), Elliot in the house above the falls in Kagawong on May 10, 1925. Her siblings were Freddie, Jiggs, Marlene, Marie, Connie and Judy. Jiggs and Freddie became well known for their many businesses in the Little Current area, including the Wagon Wheel and Elliot Motels as well as a garage and the Dodge dealership they moved from Kagawong. (It was located where the current Hilltop Shell is presently sited.) Marlene and Judy were married to OPP officers, Glen Pringle, who ran the OPP powerboat here for a number of years, and Rod Hyatt, respectively.

Father Art Elliot had run a garage in Kagawong and sold Dodge vehicles near where the Chocolate Factory is today. The family lived in the apartment upstairs. One of Freda’s earliest memories in Kagawong is singing old-time songs. “Sisters Marie, Judy, Marlene and Connie joined in while Aunt Maude and mum shared the piano bench,” she shares, smiling. “I also have fond memories of gliding on homemade skis made by the Berry Boats people. We slid or skied down Bailey’s Hill. At the bottom we would wait for Grandfather Graham’s truck. He hauled ice blocks up the hill for storage and we would hang on the back of the truck.”

The Palmer girls, Anita and Norma, were friends of Freda’s and they liked to go for walks or go sleighing in the winter. “I was friends with Aussie Hunt (the mayor of Billings Township and Canada’s longest-serving municipal official) for a while too. I remember sitting on the handle bars of his bicycle at 13 when he gave me a ride home.”

There was lots to do at home. The young lass helped to look after the other kids. She did her fair share of laundry, ironing and baking. “Our butter was churned from milk, first soured in the creamer. The curds were used in recipes. We always had lots of cream.” Freda adds. “I really enjoyed cooking and still do today.”

“I also used to accompany my father when he was delivering a new car. That was fun because everyone loved to get a new car,” Freda explains. “I went to a lot of places with my mum too. I remember going to the bridal shower for Danny Dodge’s bride, Lorraine McDonald. (Danny Dodge was the heir to the Dodge Motor Company fortune.) She was a telephone operator in Kagawong. In those days, tea towels or utensils were the usual shower gift.”

“The kids would play games while the adults chatted. One game was ‘drop the clothes pin in the jar.’ Y

John and Freda in the 1980s.
John and Freda in the 1980s.

ou had a handful of clothespins and you took turns trying to drop them into the mouth of a milk bottle or a small jar. You could do the same with beans. The winner got the most items into the bottle.”

Sadly, the Dodge marriage ended after only 13 days with Danny’s untimely death. He suffered extensive wounds from an explosion he allegedly caused and was subsequently lost in rough water as his wife and two caretakers were trying to get him to the hospital in Little Current. That incident kept the phone lines busy for a while. His body was subsequently recovered and the ‘Danny Dodge story’ remains an abiding piece of Manitoulin folklore.

Freda’s school sat on the hilltop at the eastern entrance to Kagawong. “Our teacher had 40 kids,” Freda explains. “My favourite subjects were geography, spelling, art and baseball. Once a week, our teacher made soup using vegetables we brought in.”

Going home from school in the winter was fun. A large water pipe ran down the hill and a perpetual leak yielded a ribbon of ice. Kids would slide down the icy path. “We never told our parents. They never questioned the rough patches on our rears, but they must have wondered how we got them.” Freda left school after Grade 8 so she could help out at home. “If I had continued in school I would have become a nurse.”

Bridal Veil Falls has been a long-time attraction in Kagawong for both tourists and local families. “We swam in the lower canal but had to be vigilant to spot and scare away the big water snakes that were there back then. A rake was great for that,” claimed the fearless hunter. “In the fall, you could see the salmon spawning. In the spring, smelts made this a popular place. The tiny fish were good eating, especially fried in butter. Personally, I could take them or leave them. One family each year would host a big fish fry. The salads and the salted butter were delicious.”

Then there was the story about Aunt Ruth’s pie. Ruth (Farquhar) Ashley was John’s sister and one day, early in her baking career, she made a lot of pies at threshing time. The pastries looked impressive but had a terrible taste. She had accidentally used salt instead of sugar. That story was a favourite for many years.

“My parents loved to curl. They went to a lot of social events, many for curling, and I would babysit. I would be upset when they didn’t appear at the appointed hour,” the elder shares. “But I understood that they were delayed for good reasons from time to time.” Freda also helped look after neighbours who were sick or bed-bound. “I used to help Mrs. Hilliard by bathing her in bed and doing other jobs for her. I have always liked working with older people.”

Many cottages were located on Lake Kagawong and Maple Point. Summer folk would come by boat to pick up their mail and all the kids would hang around the dock to meet them. “There were always some good looking boys there.” Freda met John Farquhar when she was 16. “I was at a Billings dance featuring a local band and saw John there,” she mused. “It was love at first sight. Later, I found out he had felt the same way. He was tall, nice, good-looking and he had his own car.”

John worked on the family farm in Mindemoya. Freda and John dated for a year and then married on the Anglin Farm in Mindemoya on New Year’s Eve, 1942. Both were 17. Mrs. Anglin was John’s aunt and Will Anglin married the couple before family and friends. The newlyweds moved into an apartment across from where the Manor is today in Little Current. Later, they moved to the family farm in Mindemoya when John’s brother Tom joined the Air Force.

Being serenaded by John on the grand piano at Deerhurst  December 1992
Being serenaded by John on the grand piano at Deerhurst
December 1992

“Running the farm had been enjoyable despite all the work,” Freda reminisces. “At threshing time, I made eight or nine pies in the morning and prepared meals for the men. We looked after the animals too but the acrid and penetrating smell of the chicken coop was never my favourite. The cows were milked by machine. One time, when the hydro was off, the hired hand asked me to help him milk the cows. I tried hard but I couldn’t get milk out of them.”

John’s father Thomas, who had been reeve of Carnarvon Township in the mid 1920s, went on to become Liberal MP for Manitoulin from 1935 to 1945. His son John would often accompany him for campaign trips. Thomas gave up his seat so that Lester Pearson could take over his riding and in 1948, Thomas was appointed to the Senate.

Father-in-law Senator Thomas helped facilitate the construction of the international bridge at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. (In the early years of the twentieth century, he had served as councilor and mayor of that city.)

John’s older brother Stan was running the dairy, processing milk and bottling the old Stubby Pop brand when Stan became an MPP for the provincial riding of Algoma-Manitoulin. This left John or his brother Tom to run the dairy after Tom returned from the Air Force. Tom won the coin toss, so he moved to the farm and John moved into Little Current, to Blake Street, to help run Farquhar’s Dairy.

Molly was the well-liked Clydesdale who pulled the milk wagon up and down Little Current streets. The kids all loved her. She knew all the stops and reportedly would refuse to move if only the milk was delivered and not the cream. Younger brother Allan Farquhar helped with the deliveries. Freda recalled that one Christmas Eve, in the late afternoon, when Stan happened to be there too, Molly came back to the dairy pulling the cart without a driver. Stan asked John to take the wagon back out and find Al. After some time, Molly was back again without either driver. It was not clear what happened but it was likely that Molly grew impatient with pre-Christmas visits and decided the schedule must be kept with or without them. Nobody noticed Molly pulling an empty cart. Both drivers eventually got back to home base. When old Molly died, it was such a milestone event that a school holiday was declared in Little Current.

In 1963, the family moved to the senior Farquhar home on Robinson Street in Little Current. John served as mayor of Little Current for two terms. “The town’s sewer project went forward and the new lagoon was established. It was affectionately referred to as ‘John’s sh-t lake’ by old Mrs. Turner, Barney’s mother. John also helped set up a plan for a new bridge off the Island, but that project did not proceed.”

Freda loved to tan. A liberal dose of baby oil helped create that amazing dark tan that was so popular. An indoor pool was added to the Farquhar house and was kept at 80 degrees. “This was for my significant arthritis. The warm water was great for my joints,” Freda shares. Dr. Jack Bailey, a neighbour and friend, learned to swim in the pool. “He was reluctant to go in the first time, so I pushed him in. Once in, he was fine and quickly learned how to swim.”

John was a good salesman and he qualified for numerous trips through the Chrysler Corporation. Lee Iacocca was turning the fortunes of that company around. “We saw the Barbados, Bermuda, Florida, Egypt, Ireland and Scotland. In Scotland, we found a Farquhar Castle and a Farquhar Dairy.” The couple visited a few local pubs where John thrilled people by singing some old Irish songs. He had a great voice, much like Bing Crosby. “The locals were surprised to hear a Canadian sing these old Irish songs. John’s rendition of ‘Dear Old Donegal’ got quite an emotional response.”

At home, the family enjoyed boating along the North and Wabano Channels by the La Cloche Mountains. Golf was popular in the summer as was hanging out at the camp. John always arrived with several tubs of ice cream for family and guests. “We loved to make sundaes and banana splits. A case of Farquhar’s Stubby Pop would be served with the treat.”

In the winter, curling was a popular pastime. Freda and John accumulated a grand number of trophies well into their 70s. Freda and her fellow curlers would often dress up for theme bonspiels. “One year we became tigers, emulating the Esso gasoline ad about putting ‘Tigers in Your Tank.’ Another year we were all Egyptians. Guessing how each one would interpret the style was exciting.”

The Haweater parade was begun in the mid 1970s. Freda remembers everyone dressing in Native reglaia in 1962 to help celebrate the centennial anniversary of the grand treaty made between the Anishinabe people and the federal government.

Christmas and Easter were always special. “Only the oldest of the children, Nancy, was allowed to see the tree on Christmas Eve. We were all blindfolded and taken down the stairs to have breakfast first, so the anticipation nearly killed us,” son Mike shares.

“At Easter,” Freda adds, “I loved making the bunny cake, carved from a flat cake.” The kids were thrilled with the iced bunny and the usual chocolate bunnies.

“One year,” Mike laughs, “I ate the backs out of all the bunnies that the other children got and put them back in the box. You couldn’t tell that they had been touched.”

For their 52nd anniversary in Deerhurst, Muskoka, John set Freda up on the grand piano and began to sing to her. The entire family enjoyed that interlude. They all laughed and cheered when the traditional anniversary waltz was replaced by their requested song: Billy Ray Cyrus’ ‘Achy Breaky Heart.’

For his parents’ 60th anniversary at Casino Rama, son Mike wrote an Irish jig. That was a big hit. On their way back to their rooms, Freda threw a quarter into a machine and won $1,000. As a joke, daughter Peggy pinned the ten $100 bills to her mother’s pajamas for a photo to celebrate her ‘anniversary’ success. It should be noted that Freda was very frugal. She saved up many $20 bills John had given her for ‘fun’ gambling. One day, John was asked to get something from her purse. He wondered why she had $600 in twenty dollar bills. It was the money he had given her. The family laughed at that discovery.

In her senior years, Freda volunteered for the hospital auxiliary, driving the tuck cart. She baked and cooked food for the church auxiliary and helped residents at the Manor. She has few regrets. “If I could go back in time, I might have had more children,” she reflects. “There is nothing I would have spent less time at. My John died 10 years ago from cancer. It was a hard time; we had been married so long and had done so much together. There was lots of company after he passed, but then it was very quiet. Now, I am very lucky to have 18 grandchildren now and 22 great-grandchildren.”

Daughter Nancy was a Bell switchboard operator in Little Current and, later, a bank teller. She had three sons. Sadly, Nancy died at 49 of a heart attack. Peggy married Gerry, a RCMP officer, had two boys and one girl and lived in Vancouver until recently. Jack has a boy and a girl and he is the president of Thomas Farquhar and Sons Ltd and oversees two Chrysler dealerships. Mike has retired as president of Farquhar Dairies. He and his wife Marilyn have two sons and a daughter and live in Kagawong. Doug worked at the dairy in Espanola. He and his wife Georgina have a daughter and a son. Doug also died of heart disease at 36. Lastly, Stephen and Marg live in North Bay. They have five boys. Stephen runs North Bay Chrysler and the newly-opened Farquhar Orchards, a fresh-fruit and vegetable store.

“Today, I live in the Manor in Little Current,” Freda adds. “If you have to be somewhere, other than at home, this is a good place. There is lots to do, including baking.” Son Mike, who was visiting his mother today, confirms that she is still an excellent cook. “Volunteers helped mum bake some terrific chocolate chip cookies here at the Manor last week,” he boasts.

Freda shares that painting is something she has rediscovered with the help of some local artist volunteers and her nephew Lemar Hyatt. “It is so much fun and I am glad to be in the program. I have given all of my art to friends and family.”

“Living here in safety, I am reminded that there is danger in other parts of the world. I was almost kidnapped in Egypt. We had been warned not to go off on our own, but John and I left the group to go to the market. I was wearing jewellery and that may have made me a target. I was circled by a group of Egyptian men with covered faces; slowly, they began to manoeuver me away from John. I knew I was in trouble. Thankfully, John saw what was happening and he quickly intervened, intimidating the men with his size and his anger. He saved me. That was close!”

“Manitoulin is the best place in the world. It is a wonderful place to raise a family. I feel safe on the Island. My son Mike and daughter Peggy are not far away and they visit regularly along with my sisters Connie, Judy and other family. My memories are always close and they help to keep me warm on quiet days. I can’t ask for more.”

By Petra Wall