I’m sure there are as many different ways to remember loved ones, events, and experiences as there are people. My long-time favourite is plants. My friend’s mother gave me a piece of lamium from her flower garden during one spring visit. I planted it, and always took a little bit whenever I moved. Today – it welcomes me by the main door and brings both my friend and her mother to mind every time I come home. The smell of geraniums always takes me back to my grandma’s kitchen. For many years, my jack pine served as a faithful reminder of my summer spent planting trees as a junior ranger.
A few weeks ago, I had been checking field edges for windfalls and was walking along the river. I followed an animal path up the steep river bank. Suddenly, I came upon a clearing that was full of brilliant colours, in sharp contrast to the dull underbrush that hadn’t yet taken on the clothes of spring. It instantly brought to mind a bunch of people that I have never even met. People long gone, but not forgotten.
Those people planted primroses and grape hyacinths, rhubarb and lilacs. All brought with them from England when they came and settled Morris township in the mid 1850s. Before I get angry letters – I’m well aware that many creatures – both plant, animal, and yes, more than a few humans – have been transplanted from place to place and done irreparable harm. But in this case, the plants in question have been well behaved, not displaced large swaths of native vegetation, and just quietly continue blooming in their spot, spring after spring, for over 170 years.
These plants lived in the Bodmin village gardens, located near where Brandon Road crosses the middle Maitland River. “William Harris, the founder, settled here in the winter of 1853-1854, naming the site after the county seat of Cornwall, in his mother country, England. Here he built the first grist and saw mill in Morris township” (Kirby, Jeanne. Morris Township Past to Present, 1981).
William Harris’s young daughter, Sarah, was buried on the river bank, her stone moved to the cairn located where the Bethel Church once stood, on the corner of the farm where my parents live. Although the stones are very difficult to read now, you can make out some of them. “Sarah Harris, daughter of William and Isabelle Harris, Died July 22, 1864. Age 1 year, 9 months. The stones tell the story of the tough life and hardships endured by these early settlers.
Bodmin was a bustling little place for about 30 years. In addition to the grist and saw mills, there was also a post office, school, manse, tailor, lime kilns, general store, and cabinet factory (Kirby, 1981). I sent pictures of the primroses to an expert in such things and she told me that old newspapers are available online from both the Huron County Museum, and the Huron County Library. It is unbelievably easy to access and on more than one rainy spring day, I found myself venturing down a rabbit hole into a long-gone time. I learned a few things, one of the most important being that human nature has not changed in all these years. Long before Facebook and Twitter, neighbours exchanged barbs in the local paper – the only difference being they had an editor to call a halt when things got out of hand.
Bodmin thrived until 1880 or 1890, when the location of the railroad helped Blyth and Belgrave flourish, and the families moved away. The lime kilns remained in operation and I found an advertisement for fresh lime in the Brussels Post from 1902, but it is believed to have operated until 1910. “The Bodmin Lime Works, 4th Line, Morris, are ready for the Spring trade and have a quantity of fresh lime on hand. Guaranteed to be first-class. Price 15c. a bushel at the kiln. A. Nicholson & Son. Proprietors.” A clothing ad placed around that time for “the very latest New York styles” that fit perfectly also offered to trade eggs for goods.
My Dad, George, and his brothers, Ross and Charles, purchased the land in 1955. For anyone who has ever wondered, our farm name, Bodmin, comes from that long-gone village that was located on the banks of the Maitland River, the land now used to grow wheat, corn, and soybeans. There is no “Mr. Bodmin” here, although it is a good way to weed out the tele-marketers when they call. A map from the time shows that while there were no Procters actually living in Bodmin, Charles and Abraham Procter had farms close by. They are the only farms still owned by descendants of those original settlers.
I have visited Bodmin in England and thought about the people who bravely set out across the ocean to an unknown land. The presence of those flowers always makes me wonder… did they really have any idea what conditions here would be like? Who would think to pack ornamental flowers if they actually knew the difficult life they would be facing? As I wondered this aloud to my Dad, he suggested that they knew they would never be back and just longed to carry a piece of home to their new land. As far as memorials go, plants have proven to be perhaps the best – long outliving the humans and the structures they built. ◊