New Lowell

There’ll be bluebirds over….

…the white cliffs of Dover.  This was the song that greeted Dad on the phone each time Jack MacArthy phoned him.  Check it out:

Jack and Dad, Flight Lieutenant William James Duff, went back a long way. I wish that I had payed more attention to details about him when Dad talked about him – as now I simply don’t have the answers.

What I do know is that when my son, Ben, and I introduced ourselves to Jack at the George Duff Memorial Legion in New Lowell today – Jack greeted us with a very wide smile.  “Oh, my.  I’m so glad that you spoke to me.  I’m so sorry to hear about your Dad.  He was a very good man.  And your Mom, Paula, she was very beautiful.  I ran into she and your Dad many times in Barrie when my wife Helen and Paula were having their blood work done. “, said Jack.

“My Dad remembered you always, Jack, so fondly.  I always knew when you had called because Dad was sure to tell me.  But, what I don’t know is what song it was that you used to sing to him.”

And Jack began to sing, “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover”.

How wonderful it was to hear that song.  Jack’s chest was literally covered with medals of honour.  He is 93.  He looked great.  What a spirit.  What a voice.

Jack MacArthy, of New Lowell, introduced me to his family and he to mine.  It was clear that Ben, my son, was not of the “Duff” blood as he towers over all of us and Jack noted this difference.  “How proud he was of all of you.  He spoke so often of you and your family, Stacey, that I know all about them. ”  Jack commented.

It was an honour to be there in New Lowell today.  It was a necessary.  We were representing not only Dad, but his Dad – George Hunt Duff – after whom the New Lowell legion was named.  Their photos hung in prominent places both in the Legion and in our hearts.

To Dad and Grandpa – we salute you and thank-you for your contributions to family and country.  In peace may you rest, may we never forget.


Categories: Duff History, New Lowell | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Really – reel to reel

Bill and Paula Duff with Bill and June Malloff in Nassau.

The box was larger than a bread basket, but smaller than a television (the old ones!),  and it was very well bound with packing tape.

The label screamed at me. “Bill and Paula Duff”.  Egad.  This was a real treasure trove!  Here, in this box, were Mom and Dad’s memories.

When Jamie and I were investigating the things Mom stored in the pantry of their condo, we discovered two boxes of reel-to-reel film.  Of course, Mom had also preserved the projector, splicer, and old camera and these sat well organized right beside the movies.  We took the old movies out to examine what was there.  “New Lowell, Duffs, and Malloff Clan”, read the labels from one box of movies.  This was the series that was to be developed first.

Costco prints old reel-to-reel to DVD at a very good price and so… off they went.. and yesterday …. here they were.

Finally, the box was freed from tape and I carefully open the flap.  There it was – ONE DVD.  On the outside were images (59 in total) of every “scene” that was contained on the DVD.  There was also a label warning that some of the film had been over-exposed, some under-exposed, and some with dust, hair… and whatnot.  How would the movies look afterall?  I didn’t really care – I just knew I was holding fast to history.  And it was to be a history that revealed a world through the eyes of Mom and Dad.  What had they seen?   What had they deemed to be important enough to film?  Who were their friends?  How had they lived?  All these questions would be answered – presently.

I slid the DVD into the player, with the help of my 9 year old I might add, and suddenly there they were – Mom and Dad in 59 scenes.  “Which scene would you like to choose?”,  opted the play menu.  I chose “Play from the beginning”.

Fantastic. Costco had added music – their music – the music of the 40s and 50s.

Fantastic.  Mom and Dad were dancing.  It was a party.  Mom and Dad were serving turkey dinner to guests.  Mom was showing off her beautiful new gown to the camera.  Dad was shoveling snow.  Don Duff was mowing his lawn.  Lou Duff was pushing her daughter Nancy on the swing.  The animals in the zoo were racing around.  The flamingos in Nassau were nibbling at their lunch.  The lighthouses in PEI appeared far below from the plane where Dad had obviously flown over.  The Hepplestons and Duffs were together – eating – laughing.  There was a lot of laughter.  It seemed everyone was laughing.  I think I saw Grandma and Grandpa Malloff – but I couldn’t be sure as I had never met them.  And there was the house that Dad built for Mom and Dad in New Lowell.


It was rich.

I was watching history that no one else at that moment had access to.

I must figure out how to copy this history to embed it into this blog.

I must figure out how to copy the DVD to offer these special images to my cousins.

It is funny how video can transcend time.  I am so blessed to have known my parents as adults.  I am so curious now to know about my parents as a young couple.  I am so blessed to have just a little insight into the young Bill and Paula through reel-to-reel.

Categories: Duff History, Family and Friends, Life After Dad, New Lowell | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Mrs. Reynolds’ Class

The New Lowell Public School was a classic.  It was made from red-brick, had two wood-burning stoves which needed were used to heat the building in the fall and winter and, most importantly, it was where “Mrs. Reynolds” taught.

Mrs. Reynolds looked just like a Hollywood star and it was my intention when I was young, to marry her.  I think it may have been every boy’s intention in that school.   She was gorgeous.  So, we didn’t skip school.

The school itself had two rooms; in one room were the children attending grades 1 – 8 and in the other were the seniors who were in grades 8 – 12.  There were about 25 – 30 students in each class, which made our school quite large at a grand total of 60 students.  One teacher was assigned to each room and she taught all subjects to all grades.  I guess that must have been a challenge when I think back on it now.  My favorite subject was geography – this bode well for me when I traveled overseas during WWII.  A lot of guys had no idea where they were headed – so I became the “expert” of sorts.  Mrs. Reynolds, in addition to being gorgeous you see, was also a good geography teacher.

I was a good student and, in those days, good students were “honoured” by being able to sit in the seats next to the stove.  Maybe that was the best motivator of all?

During recess we’d play, “Crack the Whip”.  We’d all line up and hold hands at the top of a hill and then run down the hill.  One person would plant his/her feet and the rest would, well, crack like a whip.  We’d of course fall down and roll and laugh… and sometimes cry.

The boys were in charge of loading the stove at the school.  Cliff Martin, who lived across the road from the school, would supply the wood to us.  I suppose it was the School Board that had to purchase the wood – seems a bit odd today that a School Board would purchase wood from a farmer, but that’s what you did in those days.  The wood was cut and delivered and the boys would stack the wood and keep the fire going.

The girls, well, the provided us with a good supply of pigtails.  You see there was a purpose for pigtails in those days – they were meant to be dipped in ink-wells.  I did my share of dipping – oh boy they’d get mad.  But it was all in good fun – and you’d really only dip the pigtail of the girl you liked the most.

I did end up graduating from grade 12 and had to eventually say good-bye to Mrs. Reynolds.  I guess that was a good thing since it afforded me the opportunity to say “hello” to the future Mrs. Duff – my beloved Paula.

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Peas Sir – I Want Some More!

I have become a fan of technology – somewhat.

I was sitting in my livingroom yesterday watching pictures that had been uploaded to my digital picture frame when I realized that a whole new series of old photos had been added.  My daughter bought me a photo frame that can receive new images through email and so I often get new photos – but not so often do I get the old ones.  These images, as it turned out, had been scanned by Mary Anne and Megan.  They were images I hadn’t seen for years.

The one that I was most surprised with was the photo I’ve inserted into this post.  I must have been 9 or 10 at the time.  The older gentleman standing with me was my Grandfather William Taylor (my Mom’s Dad).

Grandpa Taylor lived with Grandma (Jacobina Roy) in Scone, Scotland.  He’d come and visit my Mom, Dad, sister Peg, and I every once in a while.  This particular photo was taken when he came during the pea harvest.

My daughter, Stacey, was surprised that we grew peas and the resulting conversation is the material for this post.

During the depression, you see, you’d grow anything you could sell.  My father grew 25 acres of peas.  They were harvested in the fall.  You had to catch them at the right time. Farming peas was hard work as you had to walk along side the horses who pulled the mower that cut the pea plants.  Once they were cut, you would pick up the plants and put them in piles or heaps (called coils) with a hay fork. The neighbours would then come and up pick up the coils.  The peas would dry and then we’d thrash the plants to separate the peas.  Stacey asked me how much we’d pay the neighbours.  I chuckled and said, “nothing”.  We were part of a community and farmers would help each other – their pay was taken in the form of an IOU – when they needed help you were there.

We sold the peas to McCausland in Stayner who then sold them to a canning company.

I don’t remember much more about that “peas”ful experience (couldn’t resist that pun), but I do know that we worked hard and felt a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.  

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The Half-Way House

The Duff family has always taken care of its own.  Some families will give each other the shirt of their back… my family gave away half of our family home.

Aunt Lizzie was my Dad’s sister.  We all lived in New Lowell growing up.  The Duff’s farmed much of the land there and as you know, my Dad owned the general store and operated the post office.  Paula, when she moved there, became the nurse that did home visits.  (She even delivered a set of twins once!)

In any case, Aunt Lizzie needed a home – I don’t remember why or the circumstances surrounding the house, but I remember she needed a house.  We had a house, we being my Mom, Dad, sister Peg, and myself.

The best thing to do, it seemed was to chop the house in half and give it to her.

And that’s exactly what happened.

My Dad literally sawed the house in half.  Build a foundation for Aunt Lizzie’s new half and moved the house down the road.  It took 10 horses to draw the house to its new location down the street- but it ended up getting there.  We patched up the open ends of both houses and that was that.

I guess you could say that was the first half-way house that ever was in New Lowell.

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The Mad River

It has been rumored that theMadRiver was given its name by a woman in Angus who fell into it and nearly drowned.  It has never been very clear, though, whether it was the river or the woman that was mad.  My buddy Reg Rowe and I, however, would conclude that it was indeed the river that was mad… at least the time it ate my car and my shoe.

The Mad River is undoubtedly one of the prettiest rivers inSouthern Ontario. It starts as a narrow stream with high mud banks near Angus, and continues north past Creemore and Glen Huron.  The water rises in various places as it meets various streams along its course and drops in others as it travels along the Niagara Escarpment area.

In Devil’s Glen Provincial Park there is a steep-sided gorge that theMadRivercarved.  It turns into a shallow stream with cedars and rare ferns along the shore. The upper portion near Singhampton babbles over a gravel bed and is shallow enough in spots that you can cross it in rubber boots without getting your feet wet.

Shortly after Hazel had torn through the area, Reg and I took at trip to Angus to 13 X.  To get there we took Highway 90.  The Mad River had flooded and the water had risen above the highway.  Reg thought we could get across.  I don’t know why my buddies always had so much more faith in getting across raging bodies of water than me.  So, I listened to Reg – inspired by the story of success the previous night – revved the engine and tried to take her across.

This time, we weren’t so lucky.  The engine stalled.  “Now what do we do?”, inquired Reg.  I think he felt kind of bad, but not bad enough to be the one to volunteer to get out of the car and get his feet wet.

I said, “Well, I guess we’re going to have to get some help.”  I knew that Ken Kernan’s farm was just up the road and so I thought I could walk there and see if he could pull us out of our mess.   I opened the door to the car and “whoosh” – in flooded the river.  The current was stronger than I had expected and it had chunks of ice in it too as it was still only March.  The worst thing about it was that the current took one of my good shoes with it.  Frustrated because they were expensive shoes, I threw the other one directly after it.  I guess if anyone was lucky enough to find the shoes at least they may end up having a pair.

Off I went – to the other side of the river.  It was quite a challenge to not be swept away myself and the chunks of ice hurt as they struck my legs.  With a great deal of effort, I made it to the other side of the river and to Ken’s farm.

Sure enough, Ken was good to bring a couple of his horses.  We hooked the horses up to the car and pulled the car out of the flooded area to safety.

Weeks later, when I was driving home, I found one of my shoes stuck in a fence.  It was wedged in quite good from the strength of the current.  There was only one shoe.  For years I waited to find the mate to this shoe – but I never did.  I guess you could say I lost my sole on the Mad River that day. 

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The Bridge over Troubled Waters

My friend, John Hepplestone and I were having dinner at the  Mess Hall in Edgar,  Ontario the night that Hurricane Hazel roared through Southern Ontario.

The Hall is abandoned now but in its heyday it was quite a place.   It was built in 1952 and was home to the 31st Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron.  Three giant white globes once sat on the hill at Edgar Station.  These globes housed powerful radar units that were used during the Cold War.  It had been part of the Pinetree Line of radar stations established in the 1950s and one of the early-warning detection lines against Soviet air attack.  All Pinetree stations were equipped with one search radar, one height-finder radar and a third back-up radar.

It was in operation from 1952 until 1964 when it was sold to the provincial government.  Funnily enough, my daughter Stacey ended up working there when the base was flipped into an Adult Occupational Centre for developmentally disabled of handicapped adults until 1999.  Odd that both she and I worked on the same location, although our roles were quite different.    Nonetheless – I did eat some very delicious meals there and met some good people.

John Hepplestone and I would often have to travel out to Edgar to work – and as I mentioned earlier, to play.  This one evening, I remember leaving and it was raining, well, raining really hard.  In fact, it was one of those nights when the wipers just couldn’t keep pace with the rain.  John and I would have to pull the car over often.   The night was black and the winds were fierce.  I don’t remember what bridge it was, but there was a bridge that we had to cross to get home.  I remember thinking, “Geez, that water looks pretty high under the bridge”.  The river was really swollen.  Back in those days, there was less faith in bridges than there is today.

“John”, I said, “What do you think?”  “Do you think we ought to give it a try?”

John, who had had a couple beverages, replied with all confidence, “Sure. It looks good to me.”

So – we began.  I held my breath and hit the accelerator.  I could hear the water rushing below and the rain pounding on the windshield.  We kept on – and as luck would have it we made it to the other side.

I have never breathed such a heavy sigh of relief as when we actually crossed that bridge.

After a very long, and dark ride home, we remarked how terrible the weather was.

I heard the next day that the bridge had washed out – it turns out only hours after we had crossed it.

There were many more damaging effects to come as a result of  Hurricane Hazel – but I let this story flood your imaginations and whet your whistles for now.

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George Duff’s Great Adventure

George Duff was my father.  He lived in New Lowell for the best part of his life and became quite a cornerstone of that community.  The George Duff Memorial Legion was named to honour his memory and recognize his contributions to both his country (he fought in World War I ) and his community.

We were quite close, my Dad and I, but Dad never really understood that I flew planes.  For some reason it had never really made a connection.  I think my flying remained something of “theory” to him…. until the time I picked him up at the Edmonton Airport – by plane.

I had been posted to Cold Lake, Alberta to work in air traffic control.  Since it was a posting with the Air Force, we lived in PMQs.  Dad had never been to Cold Lake before and so when I invited him to visit Paula, Jamie, the twins, and I, he agreed. He was flying in from Toronto via Air Canada and we were t o meet him at the airport in Edmonton.

I was president of the Cold Lake Flying Club at the time and so I was able to arrange to pilot a 152 myself to fly to Edmonton.  I took my son, Jamie, with me.  He must have been no more than 8 or 9.  In those days, one used headsets to talk to the air traffic control tower.  As we approached Ed airport I put on the headsets so I could negotiate our landing.   Jamie, on the other hand, couldn’t hear what I was saying.  I asked the tower for landing instructions.  I was #2 behind my Dad’s Air Canada flight which was landing in 10 minutes.  I told the tower I was over the run-way and I could take a “straight in” and land  in 5 minutes.  The tower cleared me provided I could clear the active run-way in 5 minutes. As soon as I got clearance, I pulled full flap down and power off.  Naturally, the airplane nose-dived and Jamie, not knowing what the heck was happening,  hung on for dear life as the plane rapidly descended.   I think the marks of his fingerprints must still be in the plane!

We were clear in 5 minutes and told the tower – they were relieved.

We parked the plane and went into the terminal to meet Dad.  We saw the passengers get off the Air Canada flight and spotted Dad quickly in the crowd.  We picked up his suitcase off the carousal and he turned and headed to leave for the  car park – assuming that we had driven to get him.

I said, “No, Dad, we’re parked the other way.”

Dad look confused.   He said, “There are only airplanes out there.”

I said, “That’s how we are getting back to Cold Lake.”

Dad again, looking confused, said, “Okay.  I see the planes, but where is the pilot?”

“I’m the pilot, Dad.”

“Can you fly one of these things?”

Of course, by this time I had logged over 2, 000 flying hours.  I replied to my Dad, “I think I can.”  This didn’t appear to reassure him.

So we boarded the plane and he said, “Its raining a bit – can you fly in the rain?

“Yes”, I replied.  “It’s raining here, Dad, but the sun is shing in Cold Lake”.

He inquired,  “How do you know?”

“Dad, when I filed the flight plan back in Cold Lake, I had to find out the weather.”

He seemed to be getting that maybe I knew what I was doing and the “theory” of me flying was quickly turning to “reality”.

We put Dad in the back seat.  Jamie was in the right seat.  I had never flown from the right seat before and I didn’t want to start then. About 1/2 way there he remarked that I only had one engine.  He was also quite concerned that it has been raining and there were puddles all over.   ” What if the engine stops?”, Dad inquired again with concern.

“You look for a dry spot and try to land there.” I assured him.

The rest of the flight seemed to settle him and he almost appeared to enjoy the flight.  I think he may have actually been impressed.  Imagine, a farm-boy from New Lowell flying to Cold Lake!  I guess he wasn’t too impressed, though,  when I let Jamie take over and fly the plane for a while.

When we approached Cold Lake, I put on the headsets and called the tower  to let them know we were arriving. It was rather late in the day – there were no airplanes flying.  There was no answer from the tower.  I called them again.  There was no answer.  I thought, what the heck is going on?  I knew the emergency procedure for no radio was to circle over the oil tank.  This maneuver must have scared the pants off my Dad  since he was looking out the back seat at the wing as it rose when the plane tilted as we circled the oil tank.   Finally, the controller finally looked out the window and saw us, gave us quick permission to land, which we prepared to do.

Later, we discovered later that the controller and his assistant had been playing chess and had the radio turned down low so they could concentrate.

Dad had some great tales to tell when he got home to New Lowell about his great adventure in the sky.

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George Duff’s Great Adventure

George Duff’s Great Adventure.

Categories: New Lowell | Leave a comment

Filtering with the Forces

Not very long after I got home to New Lowell, Paula joined me.  We were married and one month later we went to Montreal on our honeymoon. Much to my chagrin and protest, although I understood, Paula went back to stay with her parents for while.   She wanted to see them and her father needed her help with the book-keeping for his brick-yard.

After a year (yes, one year!), she came east and she joined me and we began the first of our very numerous moves across Canada.  Our first move was to North Bay Regional GMC Headquarters Filter Centre.  It was here that we called in to report on activity for aircraft.  It was a little bit like air traffic control – like radar control – but we were not the radar part.  It was our job to identify aircraft for civilian activity.  We’d plot the activity on this big plotting table that showed the route, speed, height and general details of the aircraft that the field observers would call in to us.   (note from Stacey:  I had troubles piecing this one together and so forgive me if I have not painted a very clear picture of GMC.  I will clarify with Dad next time I see him)

Second move:  Paula and I ended up back in New Lowell where I built our first home on the land I had purchased previously from Don Duff.  It was a little home with one bedroom but it just fine for us.  .  I put cupboards in the kitchen and grandma called them tractor cupboards because they were built so strong – I had used what I had in from the store.   The house still stands on the main street beside Don and Lou Duff’s big red-brick house.  This was a little different than the “civilized” existence Paula was used to living with her parents who had done very well in the coal, brick, and construction business.  But we were very happy.

Paula’s parents eventually came to visit to stay and we’d stay up all night playing Canasta.  They couldn’t understand why it was so hard to get up in the morning!

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