Category: "Misc. Stuff"

The Extraordinary Esmond Skidmore

January 19th, 2018

Esmond Astley Skidmore was born December 26, 1917 in Guelph, Ontario. He married Ethel Gertrude Gillsepie in West Hill, Ontario, in 1943.

In 1953 he built a small home in the community of Lake St Peter. Moved in his beloved piano and started covering the walls with his own paintings. Five years later, he moved there full time. Without an income, in 1959, he hung a sign on the side of his house and in his 12 X 18 living room, "Esmond's Tea Room" was born. He became famous for his western sandwiches and butter tarts, all prepared on his wood burning cookstove.

In a 1985 column for the Orono Weekly Times, Bill Bramah wrote about Esmond tea room and Esmond, who he described as "even more colourful than the brightly painted tea room". At that time, Bramah said that Esmond ".... appeared to be about fifty. Tall, lithe and built like an Olympic swimmer, her positively bristled with vibrant health." He also said that "He eats and serves good food. He does his own baking. Uses no additives and nothing but stone ground flour. He bathes daily in the nearby lakes. When it's frozen over, he has a snow bath. He did it, when were there late in February."

Locals still remember him, sunbathing outdoors in the winter, wearing his little bikini- or preparing for his snow bath.

Running the tea room single-handedly, Esmond refused to sell junk food. He'd been sickly as a child and had made a point of learning about fitness and nutrition. His morning fitness regime included over a hundred sit-ups. In addition, Esmond rode his bicycle everywhere, including trips to the post office and for supplies. He was a staunch believer in sunbathing and was fond of removing his entire bedroom window, allowing the sun to shower him as he lay on his bed.

Esmond loved to entertain. He would play his piano and tell stories for guests, between taking orders and he frequently held special, private concerts. Over the years, he augmented his income by tuning pianos, supply teaching and selling audio cassettes of his performances. He occasionally parted with his art, primitive oil paintings and driftwood works, very much dedicated to extraterrestrial beings and planets, which Esmond called "forest treasures".

For a time, there was a steady stream of traffic to Esmond's and some folks claim his charm brought him a lot of, ummmm... admirers. There was never much talk about his daughter who who passed away (in Peterborough, Ontario- in her 53rd year) in February of 2007 or his wife who passed away in June of 2007 (in Bowmanville, Ontario).

In his final years, Esmond lived in Belleville and he passed away there, on May 9, 2011. He wrote a poem, to be published upon his death, which read:

I lived on the earth
A good many years,
I had lots of joy
And a great many tears.
Then came the time
No longer to roam,
I moved from the earth,
At last I'm back home.

Deep in the Woods

January 11th, 2018

In the 1940s, a man from Chicago engaged a local fella to build a log home on the side of hill near the hamlet of Quadeville, Ontario. It was pretty much kept a secret but there are still people around who claim to have met the owner.

Those who still talk from personal memory are people who, as children, went to play with the kids who spent holidays at the log house. Those children arrived in big fancy sedans, their dads and uncles dressed in dapper suits and well-shined shoes, and their aunts and mothers were even flashier. It's hard to forget that kind of fashion in the forests of eastern Ontario.

Many remember one of those men, in particular. "Uncle Al", who frequently wrapped himself in a blanket and sad on the porch, watching the children. And yes, he had a scarred face. Although he would later try to pass them off as war wounds, he actually was the doorman at a Coney Island Cabaret and was slashed by a patron, after insulting the man's sister.

Once he got to be an infamous mobster, the press gave him the nickname Scarface and he hated it. It's said that his criminal associates called him "The Big Fellow", and friends referred to him as "Snorky"- which mean well-dressed. Alphonse Gabriel Capone, was born January 17, 1899. He was the son of Italian immigrants. His father was a barber.

Alphonse quit school after the fifth grade and joined a Manhattan gang, working for mobster Frankie Yale. He married Mae Coughlin in 1918 and together they moved to Chicago, where their son, Albert Francis "Sonny" Capone was born. There, he went to work with an associate of Frankie Yale's- a man by the name of Giovanni "Papa Johnny" Torrio.

Torrio was the underling of mob boss "Big Jim" Colosimo who was assassinated in 1921. Both Capone and Yale have been considered as suspects. After the murder, Torrio took over and with Capone's help, built a mutli-million dollar empire from a prostitution racket, and opium trafficking, and turning it into a sophisticated illegal liquor operation that took advantage of 1919's Prohibition. It was known as "The Outfit", and they controlled the largest bootlegging business in the United States.

After a nearly successful attempt on Torrio's life, in January of 1925, Torrio retired to Italy and the Outfit was handed over to Capone. Torrio returned to the U.S. to testify at Capone's tax evasion trial, in 1931 and stayed on to mentor Lucy Luciano, afterward.

During his medical examination, on entrance to a federal penitentiary in Atlanta, in 1932, A Capone was diagnosed with syphilis. The disease had begun to affect his brain. Disoriented and confused, he was treated with malaria injections while at Alcatraz- the injections didn't cure the syphilis and nearly killed him. In January of 1939 he was transferred to Terminal Island near L.A. to serve a one year sentence. He was released that November of that year, to undergo treatments in Baltimore.

It is said that Al Capone spent some time during the summer months at the house in Quadeville and the bulk of his time at the mansion that he'd purchased in 1928, on Florida's Palm Island. His health steadily deteriorated from the disease and, on the 22nd of January 1947, he suffered a stroke. Although it looked like he might recover, he contracted pneumonia and the finally succumbed to a stroke to a heart attack on the 25th. He was 48 years old.


January 3rd, 2018

Just 3 months ago, a massive bomb blast went off, near the Safari Hotel, in the capital of Somali. Sources say that the bomb triggered the explosion of a tanker full of fuel that was parked close by. It is believed that over 500 people have been killed and hundreds of others have been injured.

I must admit that my knowledge of Somalia has come largely from television news broadcasts, the earliest I recall as being reports of unrest and skirmishes with bordering countries like Ethiopia and Kenya. In a 1969 coup, the President of Somalia was assassinated and Mohamed Siad Barre seized power, declaring the country a socialist state. For years, I was aware hostilities in the area and in 1991, Barre was finally pushed out of office but rebels and warlords continued to terrorize the Somali people, while a UN peacekeeping mission and U.S. military operations attempted to restore balance.

In September of 2001, it was believed that Somalia was harbouring the al-Qaida and as the UN withdrew, the United States increased their military presence. The 2002 release of Black Hawk Down, amplified the desperate feelings I associated with the place and while it hardly seemed possible, from that point seemed likehostilities did worsen and the region was plagued with drought. The news from that part of the world continued to be filled with suicide bombings, fierce fighting and hostage taking and ransom demands. Government figures and peacekeepers seem to be consistently under attack by Islamic extremists... between thieves and famine, millions of Somalians have suffered from malnutrition... In 2010, al-Shabaab declared its alliance with al-Qaida

I have to admit that I did experience a different view of Somalian culture since watching Bryan Buckley's film "The Pirates of Somalia" which provided quite the juxtaposition to Denmark's 2012 film Kapringen about a highjacked cargo ship or 2013's Captain Phillips which was based on the 2009 hostage taking of a US cargo ship...

I realized that I had lost sight of the culture itself and had connected, for to long, to images of emaciated, barely dressed, bandits armed with automatic weapons... and I searched for images online of the glorious Somalian landscape and people who were described in 1854 by British explorer Richard Francis Burton as a "fierce and turbulent race"... and also a race of "poets, poetasters, poetitos and poetaccios"... which is just what Buckley tell us, in his film.

The Somali people have lived, from ancient times to the early 1970s, as an oral society- a culture in which people developed a keen sense memory and facility for recitation, eloquence and an unparalleled reverence for poetry. Even the names Somalia and Mogadishu have undeniable appeal as they roll from the tongue.

It's Smart to Buy a Home in the Winter

November 24th, 2017

Don't let the weather stop you from looking for a new home in cottage country this year... here's why:

It may be the perfect opportunity for you to find a Realtor to help you. Frequently we see a bit of a lull at the start of winter, a large portion of our local population heads south- so local sales people should have more time to devote to you.

Many people believe that Sellers are more motivated in the winter... and that might be true... there's a certain sense of impatience for people, when dealing with changing weather.

It's easier to book tradespeople... with fewer folks around, there are less service calls, so you are likely to have less of a wait to get estimates for renovations or home inspections, etc.

Moving can be cheaper... many moving companies and truck rental agencies offer discounts in the off-season and, it's generally much easier to book then, too.

Is the Dream Fading?

November 9th, 2017

Last month, the Vice-President of CMHC said “The dream of home ownership may be fading for many Canadians”. He suggested long-term renting was the solution.

The problem is that the cost of land… AND building materials has gotten so high that prices have escalated substantially, making them less affordable for millenials. In some areas, prices for vacant land has pretty much tripled over the last five years… and this trend is pushing into resale markets, as well.

In many GTA suburbs, the price of land is currently about half the price of a home, up from about a third 5 or 6 six years ago. With more people seeing the need to move to urban centres in search of jobs, the demand for affordable housing is rising higher and with tougher mortgage rules on the horizon and drastic increases in utility costs, the likelihood of homeownership is slowly drifting out of reach… and worse, the cost of rental housing is being affected, as well.