Where two or three are gathered…

Photography by Daniel Vaughan

Rednersville’s Reverend Maurice McLeod

Connections grow throughout a life lived long and fully, strands weaving a complex and beautiful fabric. Those celebrated six degrees of separation diminish to two, to one. A chat with the affable Reverend Maurice McLeod unveils a multilayered tapestry: connections to church, community, history, architecture, horticulture, his fellow human beings.

A little house in Rednersville figures large in the story. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Reverend Maurice and wife Norma’s arrival at the Manse, an 1861 red brick cottage in the historic village. Reverend McLeod assumed his responsibilities as United Church minister for the Rednersville/Albury pastoral charge in 1966. The couple purchased the home in 1982, when the Manse committee identified the need for costly work. The McLeods made structural repairs, then restored the heritage interior as a home for their collection of antiques and family treasures. And their community.

Many bits of area history are built into the home. Reverend Maurice recalls uncovering its three layers of brick, and the 1861 Napanee newspaper in the walls, passing as insulation. They fashioned the built-in dining room cupboard from doors from the old Picton hospital, and a door rumoured to be from Mrs. Simpson’s tavern in Belleville was added at the back of the house. Reverend McLeod is especially proud of the elegant burled walnut desk, built in 1840 in London, England. It graces his formal study with its shelves of leather-bound books, decorative objects, and antique chairs.

Norma and Maurice christened their home Dunvegan Cottage after the McLeod castle in Scotland; the McLeod flag hangs at the back door.

These days Reverend McLeod and his cat Nelson spend most of their time in the cozy den created from the former woodshed. From his comfy chair with its crocheted afghan the Reverend surveys his domain with its well-used fireplace and wide windows overlooking a tangled garden and the Bay of Quinte beyond. Earthy treasures abound: orchids and antique lamps, bookshelves overflowing with photos, china, glassware, curios, paintings, and framed family photos, a grandfather clock, well-loved wing chairs, an antique daybed, piles of books, and British drama DVDs.

“The garden is not the way it used to be,” bemoans the former garden club member. It was once a showplace, included in garden tour guides. He checks the bookshelves for Places to Visit in Prince Edward County, without success. “My daughter Sheila cleans up once in a while, takes me a month to find things again. ” The gardens are a magical place, a maze of perennials and flowering shrubs, luxurious with the textures of hostas and ferns. A bench beckons under ancient black locusts, paths wander among sunny beds and secluded green spaces. The garden is lush and wild, kept in line by the hard-working Janice.

The former Manse was included in The Settler’s Dream, that definitive 1984 work on Prince Edward County’s built heritage. Researcher/writer Tom Cruikshank recalls his research assignment. “My job was to knock on random doors and interview whoever answered about local history, buildings, and families. Someone at South Bay called the cops on me and another in Bongard’s Corners shooed me away so fast. Most people were more hospitable, and the most hospitable of all were Maurice and Norma McLeod. They welcomed me into their parlour, gave me tea, told me anecdotes, introduced me to neighbours, and showed me an archive of old photos.”

The Reverend reminisces about the close associations formed during the creation of the book. “A lot of Settler’s Dream took form in this room,” he recollects. He had met Tom Cruickshank on a guided walk in Picton; Tom Kuglin, curator at Macaulay House museum, was a friend through museum channels. “TC and TK, as we called them,” were at the Manse often for dinner. The Reverend recalls restoration architect Peter John Stokes fondly. Mischievously, he recounts their reconnection at the museum’s 20th anniversary celebration, when they monopolized each other’s company and, “People were ready to shoot us!”

Reverend McLeod modestly attributes the Manse’s inclusion in the book to, “Lots of gin and tonic, and plenty of persuasion.” The Manse’s long history, its architectural detail and the heritage designation plaque at the front door would belie that theory.

Reverend McLeod also remembers Jeanne Welbanks Minhinnick, author of At Home in Upper Canada. He assisted her with sourcing artifacts for Upper Canada Village. He recalls taking, “A couple of loads of stuff down,” and attending the opening dedication in 1961.

In a Living Library series, Maurice McLeod would be a history book. He speaks fondly of a goodly number of heritage-minded folks, a veritable historical who’s who: Lois Wishart, Carolyn Love, Dr. Ethel Dempsey, Gerry Boyce, Judge Carroll Anderson (who signed Norma’s citizenship papers, and whose father baptized Maurice,) John and Diane Brisley (County and Quinte Living Spring 2014) are but a few of the names that pop up.

The Reverend was a charter member of the Ameliasburgh 7th Town Historical Society. As president, he suggested collecting and printing the many topics that had been presented at meetings. The final product was the valuable 700-page local history 7th Town/Ameliasburgh Township published in 1984.

Reverend Maurice has seen Rednersville evolve from a rural hub to a bedroom community. “Rednersville was a going concern back then.” When Maurice and Norma arrived, the area was rural. “There were three dairy herds in the area, Anderson’s, Roblin’s, and Vandervelde’s. Almost everyone had an orchard.”

Before that, Rednersville had enjoyed the bustle of the Barley Days, Britain-bound ships loading at the Redner wharves. It was a self-sufficient village for years, but local businesses gradually disappeared. The canning factory burned. The bank, post office, and store closed. Now the old community is completely different. There’s no place for those informal meetings with one’s neighbours – no church, hall, store, post office. But new people can create new communities in new ways.

“When Bernard [Redner] left the village a few years back, I was the longest-established resident in the community.” A few years before, Tom Kuglin had moved to the Manse; Norma was in a nursing home by then. When Reverend Maurice observed that he no longer knew his neighbours, Tom suggested a New Year’s Day party. They circulated invitations, 40 strangers came, and left as neighbours.

“The old names are gone from the road: Post, Redner, Anderson, Wannamaker…” the Reverend sighs. Then he lists his recently-arrived neighbours: the Tinsleys, Grundys, Bennetts, Clemensons, Laptkes, Mortons down the road, Brenda and Bill Vella in the old Redner house (County and Quinte Living Spring 2016). “The key to community is just reaching out,he muses.

Bill Vella talks about the start of their friendship with Reverend Maurice. “When we first moved into the area Maurice invited us into his home for a get-to-know-you drink. He made Brenda and me feel very comfortable, and it has become Friday night practice to meet for what is always a spirited and fun conversation. On colder nights the fireplace is lit and makes his living room a very inviting place. The conversations revolve around quite varied topics; Maurice is so well informed about so many things. His positive attitude and energetic personality is very good for the soul.”

The Reverend still has his grandmother’s garden tea service. “It’s gotten to be that every Tuesday I do afternoon tea.” Mary next door, and Brenda when she’s in town, gather to enjoy Pfeffernuse and homemade banana bread.

Reverend Maurice McLeod was ordained in 1952, and transferred to Manitoba. ” Four churches and 110 miles of gravel road each Sunday. At that time, you had no choice; you signed for two years and went where they sent you. ” Churches in Winnipeg, then Marmora, followed.

The Rednersville pastoral charge was a pleasant accident. As chairman of Belleville Presbytery, the Reverend was in attendance at a meeting where ministers were assigned to churches. He was asked to suggest a reasonable salary for that church assignment. His suggestion was misinterpreted as agreement, and he found himself the new minister at Rednerville’s historic 1849 stone church and neighbouring 1898 red brick Albury church.

Reverend McLeod was a popular minister. He marvels: “I’m not even dead yet and I have three memorials – a window in Albury church and two trees.” June and Carl Reid, long time music ministers at Albury recall, “The genuine love, care, and support that he gave the church family.” The Reverend took a lively interest in the choir’s biannual production. During one HMS Pinafore year, the Reverend observed, from his pulpit-turned-stern-deck of the Pinafore, that it was the first time he had preached from a poop deck.

Friend and colleague Reverend Audrey Whitney recalls him as a, “Be yourself, kind, open, and inclusive,” sort of fellow, a contrast to the formal demeanour of many gentlemen of the cloth in long-ago 1960s and ’70s.

“The church wasn’t an arduous task so I had to find something else to do.” This explains Reverend Maurice’s long list of affiliations through the years, linking his love of gardening, history – and his fellow man. He is quietly proud of his role in the formation of the pastoral care program at Belleville General Hospital. In the refreshing days of 1970s ecumenical spirit, over coffee with Father Ken Stitt after hospital patient visits, concerns arose over needy patients without church affiliation. Out of this grew the pastoral care volunteer service, which flourished for many years.

Upon his retirement after 50 years in the ministry, the Reverend shared a favourite quote. “I am so in awe of the goodness of human beings and the constant love and guidance of God.” His many friends and colleagues would number him among the best of those good human beings.