Friday, June 7, 2019

Bicycle Trail

The brand new Mississippi Mills trail for walking/cycling/ATVs and snowmobiles is an extremely pleasant addition. We gave it a try today, the first sunny, warm morning we've had for weeks, just when we were beginning to lose hope of seeing summertime.  The venture was for me an entirely new perspective upon this part of Almonte - no small observation after almost precisely 43 years here (I arrived June 12, 1976). The trail follows the former B&O Railway which was in use from Confederation until as recently as about five years ago. My impression and knowledge of detail concerning what is contained herein is not reliable; however, my initial ride along the trail this morning provoked many ancient and hitherto dormant memories. I should first say that in this area the Brockville and Ottawa Railway had discernibly little to do with either.  What the railway more accurately reflected was the importance and persuasion of such people as the Rosamond family in Almonte.  I believe it was the Rosamond sheep herders who, in the interest of assisting their business of wool gathering and sale, applied to the ruling government leaders (primarily I would suspect at the federal level where the railway enjoyed its cultural and legal paramountcy) to redirect the B&O Railway from its original scope along the Ottawa River towards Renfrew (to service the burgeoning forestry industry) through Almonte where there was an equally productive woollen industry.  Consider for example that the cost of building multiple bridges to accommodate this diversion was not negligible. At that time there were something like four hotels in Almonte attending to the needs of the millworkers, local trades and associated transient businessmen (entrepreneurs and investors) from Toronto, Montreal and England. There was the contemporaneous exploit of mining in nearby Lanark Highlands, the management of some of which spilled onto at least one lawyer in Almonte (W. H. Stafford).

From the Town of Almonte the trail is a conveniently flat and substantially strait route towards the Village of Blakeney (formerly the Village of Rosebank). Until the trail reaches the Village of Blakeney it is largely parallel and adjacent Martin Street North before swinging to the north to bypass the Village.  Martin Street North is the address of a number of farms with which I had some association during my law practice in Almonte. In one instance, the association was nothing more than that of an historical nature concerning the deaths of certain residents at one of the many private railway crossings along the route. The McPhail crossing is one of the first adjoining the Town of Almonte.  What makes the tragedy all the more sad is that it apparently happened around the Christmas holiday, in the winter obviously.  Normally the approaching train would have sounded its blaring horn when approaching the crossing.  Whether this happened or not I do not know. The story is that the private vehicle containing its local passengers crossed the track and was hit by the train. I count this tragedy as the first among others in this area with which I have since become acquainted.

Further along Martin Street North towards the Village of Blakeney is a farm formerly belonging to a longtime local gentleman and his wife who sold to European emigrants. I understand the buyers had sold their farm in Europe for a handsome sum of money which enabled them to buy the acreage here for what was then as well a sizeable amount. At the front of the farm property adjoining Martin Street North is a small area of land which served as a private family cemetery.  When I did the investigation of the real property title in connection with the transfer of the farm I encountered this anomaly for the first time in my professional experience.  Subsequently when doing similar rural title searches throughout Lanark County I came upon other private plots. I am uncertain whether the Government of Ontario perpetuated these quaint title qualifications concerning private cemeteries when converting the titles from the historic Registry system to the modern Land Titles system.  Generally speaking any title qualification which began more than 40 years prior to the date of conversion - and which had not been referred to or effectively reactivated thereafter - was ignored as being no longer pertinent or potent. These old private cemeteries would most often not have enjoyed any re-surging familiarity given their antique start and waning social and legal utility (having been replaced by current and more restrictive burial and interment policies). The other peculiarity of this transaction I recall is that the sellers expressed an indisputable anxiety regarding the safety of their sale proceeds when funnelled through my office. I was not offended by this legitimate concern, especially as I was young and relatively new to the area and they were dealing with what represented for them the summary of a lifetime of commercial effort. Upon hearing their disquiet I therefore poignantly went to my large Goldie & McCulloch steel office vault, painfully swung open the heavy metal door and extracted from the inner polished mahogany compartment a copy of my Law Society of Upper Canada Professional Errors & Omissions Insurance policy.  I then shared with the sellers the contents of the policy coverage and assured them they were at liberty to speak to my banker at Bank of Montreal directly across the street to satisfy themselves regarding the legitimacy of my Trust Account.

There are two properties along this route which both involved an elderly couple with no children. One of the properties was a riparian residence within the limits of the Town of Almonte; the other a farm property also along the Mississippi River.  The farm property devolved from the deceased husband's estate to his widow who later sold it to adjoining farm property owners while maintaining the right to dwell in the farmhouse throughout her lifetime.  The widow invested the bulk of her profit from the sale of the farm in fixed-rate guaranteed investment certificates which at the time were paying for a 5-year term 18.75% per annum. Even one as uninitiated as I in heady financial matters easily recognized the comparative lack of attraction of investment in the stock market at that juncture. The widow had also appointed the farm neighbours (to whom she was close) as executors of her estate.  When the widow died the executors were on holiday abroad and upon hearing the news of her death immediately returned home to settle her estate.

The other property belonging to an elderly couple without children devolved upon the husband.  The former wife had been an acquaintance of a female friend who regularly visited. Prior to the wife's death, she and her husband had made similar Wills in which they left their respective estates first to one another, then upon the death of the survivor of them, to their respective relatives. Not long after the wife's death, the husband fell ill and was temporarily hospitalized.  While still in hospital he communicated with me regarding proposed changes to his Will - effectively leaving his estate to his former wife's friend and her husband. Naturally the circumstances of this amendment - and the scratchy handwritten proposed details of which (seemingly composed at the hospital) at my request were shared with me later when the husband was discharged from hospital - made me nervous. I recommended that the alteration be put on hold until the husband fully recovered.  The matter never resurfaced and when he died his estate was divided in accordance with his current (original) Will. This was my introduction to what thereafter in my career evolved repeatedly as a duty to examine critically the interest of others in estate administrations; and to preserve from the outset at least unquestionable bona fides not only for the benefit of the testator but also for the protection of the intended or expectant beneficiaries. In an atmosphere of widening litigation it is no longer sufficient to escape liability or to expect performance based solely upon accomplishment of the initial campaign.

Whether the characterization persists to this day I do not know for certain, but at the time many years ago the Village of Blakeney was considered a bit along the line of hippieish. One of the inhabitants was a former resident of Ottawa where I believe she was employed by the federal government.  She moved to the Village of Blakeney and maintained a small but comfortable home there. One Sunday afternoon she had a tea party which ended being primarily booze. The camaraderie was notable.  I recall that the late Raymond A. Jamieson, QC had commented favourably regarding the Village of Rosebank (he clung to the original name) and shared with me the popular singular view of the community.  There were several other distinctive personalities in the Village, including a same-sex female couple and a curmudgeonly local merchant. I became so entwined with one young family there that it astounded me in later life that I had the foresight to refuse to represent them when they later sold and moved to an entirely different jurisdiction.  When one so patently enjoys the confidence of others it is difficult to acknowledge the prudence of directing them to employ another individual (in the new area) who is better positioned to advise them. Having lately spoken to some of my former clients I am discovering that the current inclination of the younger legal professionals is to avoid categorically any attempt at either representing more than one party in the same transaction or pretending to have the capacity to deal with unfamiliar environments. While it may seem cumbersome to the client it seldom works to their disadvantage, either financially or professionally.

A couple whom I met late in their lives - when they were both on their second marriages and no longer inhibited by children - did me the favour of following my advice to avoid a proposed real estate transaction and opted instead to pursue another (along Martin Street North) which ended being a very good investment for them. Likewise many years earlier the area nearby the Village of Blakeney had become the fortuitous home of a different couple who with my encouragement abandoned a money-pit disaster of a commercial enterprise in Almonte.

It appears that my unwitting jaunt today along the old railway track was a trip down memory lane! As one who is captivated by story-telling generally, it assuages my sensitivities to rekindle these recollections. It oddly affords a legitimacy which at times escapes me after a lifetime of experiences. I certainly can't pretend to have been pervasively alive to all that transpired in or around my particular orbit but reminiscing about these small details is heartening, buoying the human spirit, narrowing the focus upon the things that matter in the end.

No comments:

Post a Comment