Chapter 1; Intro
Sherwin’s Falls was a typical community for that part of the country, a small white clapboard Presbyterian church with a presbytery next door, two dozen or so houses bounding the intersection of two country roads, ranging from one or two manor-houses typical of a well-to-do lawyer or notary to a couple of ... well, ‘shacks’ would be the polite term; one-room houses in beat-up clapboard, with mismatched windows and a small door just barely high enough for the average person to enter without stooping, a general store and a beat-up hotel that had been boarded up for at least forty years when its owner, Old Man O’Shaughnessy, was killed in a bar fight ... a visiting American had disagreed with O’Shaughnessy’s political opinions and had tried to argue the point with a tire iron.
The town had sprung up out of nowhere some two hundred and thirty years ago, when George Washington, Ben Franklin and a few of their pals decided that tea should not be a taxable luxury. Not everybody agreed with them or, at least, they felt that it wasn’t worthwhile kicking the red-coats in the swallowtails just because they disliked how their tax dollars were being spent (the red-coats had a habit of shooting back, for some weird reason). As the rowdiness spread north from Massachusetts into New York and Vermont, those who happened to like the idea of having a king (the fact he was a Hapsburg was beside the point) decided to move north as well.
Sherwin’s Falls got its name because one these people who had gone north (in the history books, they were called the United Empire Loyalists, not that they were at all united or even that they gave a hoot about the British Empire), was named Sherwin and was a brewer by trade. When he spotted that hundred foot cliff with the falls pouring into a crystal-clear pond below, he decided it would be a great place to open a brewery and public house and let’s face it, as soon as you have a good pub going, you also have customers who are willing to settle down nearby to consume your wares.
The land thereabout was ideal for growing apples but he convinced some of his neighbours that barley and hops were also useful crops and proved it by buying most of the yearly yield (he sold it back to them in the form of beer, hard cider, and maybe a little whisky, as well, so everybody was happy, especially in the wintertime when there was only so much you could do).
Sherwin eventually sold the place and over the centuries, succeeding owners transformed the brewery into a hotel. The stable was turned unto a carriage house and the malting kiln was turned into a storage shed. Somehow, the place fell into O’Shaughnessy’s hands (rumour had it he played a mean hand of poker). He had kept the original brewing kettles stashed in the old malting kiln, thinking he might get around replicating Sherwin’s recipe (he was a bit of an antique buff with a passion for the ‘traditional’ arts) but unfortunately, the tire iron had put an end to that ambition.
The sixties were a period of unbelievable progress ... previously, the province’s Liquor Board sold hard liquor already wrapped in brown paper bags; the client had to choose his lubricant by name at the counter and a surly government employee would go get the bottle from the back of the store, and corner grocery stores would sell beer for home consumption. Pubs were unheard of; the nearest thing to that were ‘Taverns’, grimy, smoke-filled hole-in-the-wall places with tile floors, small tables, rickety chairs for men only.
Now, women were finally recognised as human beings and allowed to vote (and to drink), the province’s repressive liquor laws were modernised, the Pill became the prime weapon in the revolt against the Catholic Church and ... well, whatever. In Sherwin’s Falls, all that passed by the wayside. Oh, they knew what was happening ... they did have TV sets, after all, and ‘Hockey night in Canada’ was a national pass-time, especially as The Montreal Canadien with Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard, Jean Béliveau and Bernie ‘Boom-boom’ Geoffrion were more or less claiming permanent ownership of the Stanley Cup.
Sherwin’s Falls did see a bit of an economic boom for a while ... With this new freedom, hard cider saw a rise in popularity and Sherwin’s Falls finally found a market for all those apples. For a while, Sherwin’s Falls Sparkling Cider was to be found pretty well everywhere and the tourist trade saw a major upsurge because of the quality and the variety of apples that were grown in the area. But then, the provincial Liquor Board started hiring customer-friendly wine ‘experts’ to staff their revamped boutique style emporia and the upscale snobs dropped their Sherwin’s Falls Cider bottles for Philippe de Rothschild’s Bordeaux and the latest batch of ‘vin nouveau’ out of Bourgogne. It was about that time, as well, that O’Shaughnessy had had his scull reformatted so the local citizenry didn’t even have a place nearby so they could talk about ‘the good old days’, anymore.
These days, the apple growers around Sherwin’s Falls still had the occasional commercial buyer, especially for the more exotic kinds of apples, and there were still the occasional apple connoisseur who preferred driving down narrow back roads for an hour or more from Montreal for apples straight off the tree than buying week-old apples from British Columbia in a plastic bag. But it wasn’t the same; most of the crop now went to apple sauce manufacturers. To sell their apples, they had to price them so low they barely broke even, kids left home as soon as they could for the lights and the challenge of the big city and all what was left were a bunch of old fogeys in ‘lamb-chop’ whiskers reminiscent of the sahibs of India during the height of the British Empire and their heavy-set wives in aprons and calloused hands. Things were grim, to say the least.
Chapter 2; Background
The remaining residents of Sherwin’s Falls were gathered at in the town hall across the street from the church. Most of those present were in their late sixties and early seventies; Bill and Brenda Matheson, who owned the orchard ‘next door’ to the O’Shaughnessy property, were still in their fifties with one teen-aged daughter still at home ... their two elder children, Little Bill and Elisabeth, had both left the roost to go to university several years ago and the parents were unsure whether they would come back to take over the family spread, especially as they were both married now with kids of their own. ‘Bertie’ Hinckley was there. Bertie did fairly well ... he owned some one thousand acres of woods that consisted of mostly maple trees. Every spring around March, he would ride all over his forest in a snowmobile and string plastic tubing to all his maples, and with a small vacuum pump, he would siphon off some of the sap, which he would boil down to produce maple syrup. On average, he produced some 200 000 liters of syrup every year for three to four weeks’ work. The O’Donnell’s were there, as was ‘Skinflint’ MacGruder. Even Farley Gee was there. Technically, Farley belonged in the next county but that was a political decision with which Farley had never agreed; he himself had always considered himself a resident of Sherwin’s Falls. In his younger days, Farley had been quite the rake-hell ... One never saw him without a Macgregor kilt. At one time, when he was being interviewed on national television for some political rally or other, he offered his opinion of the local government of the time by turning around and showing the southern end of his fundament to the camera. Jeffrey Hennessey was there as well with his wife, Ilene, and their six year old twins; daughter, Heather, and son, Kevin. Both of the Hennessey’s were still in their twenties but they didn’t really count as residents because Jeffrey was an agronomist with the Ministry of Agriculture and had settled in the town to help the local farmers raise production and help them switch over to the newer, ‘greener’ pest control methods while Ilene was a kindergarten teacher.
The main subject of that night’s discussion was “Wither Goest Sherwin’s Falls?” Two weeks before, on a Monday, a couple of trucks from Valleyfield had driven into town and, before anybody even knew what was happening, a crew had set up a ten-foot plywood fence all around the entire O’Shaughnessy property, including the pond, the falls themselves and all the land around the spring that fed the falls. Since then, every day, trucks with earth-moving equipment, vans and cars had been driving up to the property every weekday morning, where a security guard would let them in through the gate which he locked again after they entered and, every evening, the guard would again unlock the gate and these same trucks, vans and cars would leave again. Several of the nosier residents have tried, without success, to peak into the property while the gate was open. So far, no one had dared crawl over the fence. Tonight, every one was milling around and talking to one and to another, each guess being wilder than the previous one.
Finally, the pastor, James Athelstone, called the meeting to order. The Reverend Athelstone had come over from England some twenty-five years ago with his wife Sarah after ten years as a missionary in Brazil when their old pastor had died of old age. They were quiet, unassuming couple with a serene outlook to life that suited the community perfectly.
“Ladies and Gentlemen ... Quiet down, please? Thank you. As you are undoubtedly aware, this community is living from hand to mouth and has been doing so for at least the last twenty years. The problem is that none of us is getting any younger and none of the younger generation seems to want to invest the long hours and risk the uncertainties of the weather to take over the orchards and the farms.”
“About a month ago, I was approached by a gentleman from out of the country who wishes to remain anonymous and we had a long conversation about the future of this community. This gentleman is apparently interested in investing quite a large amount of money here in an enterprise that will bring in quite a lot of tourist dollars but that would also permanently change the nature of this community.”
“All I can say is that when this gentleman first discussed the nature of his enterprise, I was very much surprised, but after I, and Sarah, as well, overcame our initial chock, we both could recognise the financial potential of the project and of the benefits to this community. While I’m not at liberty to say more at this time, I do wish to underline that I am totally in favour of it. We have discussed the implications, both from a social point of view but also from a religious point of view. I mention this because the man responsible for the enterprise ‘follows the beat of a different drummer’, so to speak. However, there is absolutely nothing, either in the Old Testament, or in the New Testament, that cautions against what is to come, rather, if I may be so bold, there are strong indications that speak in favour of the practice ... I had better stop because if I say more, I may spill the beans, and this I may not do. May God forgive me but I cannot help but be devilishly pleased in anticipating what is to come. You will be surprised,” said he with a smile on his face.
Chapter 3; Construction continues on the hotel grounds & the fence comes down
During the following week, the construction seemed to have switched over to a new phase ... The heavy equipment had been hauled away and the contractor’s vehicles now bore the names and logos of plumbers, bricklayers, plasterers and electricians. Occasionally, a delivery truck would come by and drop off a load of lumber or a few truck-loads of sand, as well as some other materials that could not be identified as they had been carefully covered with tarpaulins. Behind the fence, there was the constant sound of hammering, of power saws and the distinctive rumble of a cement mixer.
This went on for several weeks and, with time, the residents became accustomed to the goings-on, with the noise and the fence and life went on. The flow of industrial traffic no longer drew the attention it had done in the beginning, besides, the apples were growing to maturity, and needed to be protected from the local thieves, the birds, the racoons and even the occasional deer.
One morning, however, around the middle of August, the residents woke up to see that, overnight, all the fencing had been removed from around the O’Shaughnessy place. It did not take long for the news to spread and curious onlookers dropped by, ‘by accident’ so to speak, to see what there was to be seen.
The first thing that they saw, was the new look of the hotel, although ‘new’ was not really the word that suited. Gone was the white clapboard with the green trim, gone were the rickety stairs leading to the main door and gone were the sheet-metal roof panels. Instead, they saw a building with several wings, in the shape of a capital ‘E’ on its side, all made of squared-off yellowish tan field stone, with small recessed windows and a roof made of slate shingles, built in the style of English public houses of a bygone era. Facing the street, like the vertical part of the letter ‘E’, was a long, two-storey building with five windows on each floor. In the roof above the middle pair of windows was a gable with a small window and at the far end, above the last pair of windows, was still another gable. There was a door between the third and fourth pairs of windows and a second door between the fourth and fifth pairs of windows. There was even a signpost in front of the building with a reproduction of the falls situated at the back of the property.
MacGruder may have been a skinflint but he was no coward. Seeing that the door to this part of the building was open, he boldly walked in as if he owned the place, side-stepped the labourers that were busy in the main room and looked around. After a half-hour or so, he casually walked out again and rejoined the several residents who had not had the stuffing to follow him inside.
“So, what did you see?” they asked.
“Well, this main part is divided into two, with a lobby in between. On this side, the room is set up as a dining room, only the tables and chairs are not there. The wing behind it is the kitchen. That outbuilding there is a larder. On the other side, there is another large room with a christly long mahogany bar. Off the lobby, there’s a hallway leading to some rooms and some stairs leading to the second storey. Let’s continue to look around.”
Behind the hotel, the old swimming pond had been cleaned up and landscaped. Over the years, a few tree trunks had fallen into to the pond. These had been removed, All around the pond, a double row of mature cedars had been planted, screening off the pond on all sides except directly in view of the hotel itself and the ground between the pond and the hotel had been leveled and, where previously had been an awkward pile of boulders, a small beach had been created.
To one side of the pond, leading away from the hotel, was a gravel lane. Sherwin’s old malting kiln, which, as had been mentioned previously, had been turned unto a storage shed, had been completely emptied and redone. Workmen were hard at work, fitting the old brewing kettles back together and redoing the steam pipes in the floor of the malting kiln. Near the falls, screened off behind some cedars, there was an industrial steel stairway leading up the cliff. Three of the more fit residents made their way to the top of the stairs and disappeared beyond the cliff’s edge. A few minutes later, they came back down.
“And... ?” MacGruder wanted to know.
“Nothing. Where the spring used to be, it’s now capped off, except for a foot diameter pipe that leads the spring-water almost to the falls. You can’t see the pipe from below. The whole thing is now surrounded by a six-foot high chain-link fence.”
Chapter 4; The Matheson children come back with their families
With the coming of September, things became extremely hectic ... The weather had been ideal all summer with just the right proportion of sun and rain, so there was a bumper crop of apples that year. Furthermore, the excellent weather meant that the relative humidity had been fairly low all summer, which, combined with Jeffrey Hennessey’s ‘green’ pest-control techniques, meant that the apples were of an excellent quality that year, with little insect damage.
Monday, the Third of September of that year was a statutory holiday in North America; contrary to most of the rest of the civilised world which celebrates Labour Day on the First of May, in North America, they celebrate Labour Day on the first Monday in September. With the long week-end, quite a few urbanites went out on Sunday drives, and... “Why not, let’s go to Sherwin’s Falls and get some apples, fresh off the tree? We haven’t done that for ages.” The Matheson’s, the McGraw’s, the Grabovietski’s (how a Russian refugee came to become the owner of one of the biggest orchards in the county is a story for another time) all had sales counters set up along the main road to sell their wares, mostly Macintosh, Lobo, Melba and some Golden Delicious, but Red Delicious, Cortland and Granny Smith were also to be had. Charlie O’Donnell still grew mostly Golden Russet apples, of the kind that made Sherwin’s Falls Sparkling Cider so renowned. And, as usual, Bertie Hinckley was selling his maple syrup and Farley Gee had again set up his counter in front of the Town Hall. Farley, ornery cuss that he was, had chosen a field of endeavor that went well with his prickly personality ... he was into honey. Besides the rushes he had in his own fields, he also kept several rushes at each of his neighbours’ orchards so that his bees could help pollinate the apple blossoms. Since he used no pesticides in his fields (his bees would not have survived), he also sold edible flowers on the side, flowers such as clover, pansies, morning glory and daylilies (in the spring, he sold tulips and trillium flowers. Jeffrey had helped him obtain official certification for his ‘green’ crops and his flowers brought in almost as much as his honey.
Because this was the peak apple season, Sherwin’s Falls residents did not have much time for chit-chat but there was something unusual that did draw everyone’s attention; sitting next to Bill and Brenda Matheson and their daughter, Caroline, at church on Sunday were two young families, one with a six-year old boy, the other with twin four-year old daughters. Like all small communities, curiosity had been lifted to the level of a fine art and, after the service, when everyone gathered outside the church for a little socialising before going back to the grind of selling apples, it was soon discovered that the families were those of Little Bill Matheson, who was now six feet three, with his wife Karen and daughters, Lucy and Lisbeth, and that of Elisabeth, husband Frank and son, Jake.
When asked if they were coming back to the orchard, Little Bill replied, “No. In fact, the orchard has been sold. We’re here mostly to help Mom and Dad sort through their stuff and pack up what they want to keep. They’ve bought a place in Florida, near Kissimmee, and will be moving there next month, although they will be coming back here in the spring ... They can’t stay down there more than six months.”
“But where will they stay when they come back up north?” asked Charlie O’Donnell.
“Well, that’s part of the deal ... The orchard and all has been sold, but I’ll be working for the new owner and, as of next spring, I’ll be living in the old house myself, and Mom and Dad will be living here as well.”
“So, why didn’t you simply take over the orchard yourself, instead of growing apples for someone else?”
“Oh, I won’t be growing apples ... My field is resort management.”
Chapter 5; Construction shifts over to the Matheson spread as the rumour mill goes into overdrive
With the sale of the Matheson spread, some of the heavy equipment that had come, and gone, at the beginning of the project, now returned but, this time, the place was not fenced in. First there was a team of surveyors with the latest in equipment; GPS receivers, digital theodolites and iPads®, went over the entire orchard. Then a large bulldozer came in an leveled the ground between the apple trees, laying out the equivalent of a miniature town with main roads, cross-streets, and roundabouts.
Since the place had not been fenced in like the O’Shaughnessy place, some of the hardier souls decided to wander over and have a closer look at what was happening here. No effort was made to chase them away, even when one of them started up a conversation with one worker who seemed to specialise in leaning on a shovel. Unfortunately, that worthy gentleman was unwilling, or perhaps unable, to tell the lookers-on anything of consequence other than the fact that the crew had been given specific instructions not to damage any trees or to disturb the property any more than absolutely required.