AT RANDOM: The valley of my ancestry

Reporter reconnects with roots in Ottawa valley

G’day, g’day, and how are youse?” That was the greeting as I stepped into a store while on vacation in Ontario last month to pick up some mandatory bug spray and SPF 50 sunscreen.

It was music to my ears, and much more welcoming than the buzz of those darn, chomp-you-to-death deer flies.

With the letter A enunciated as “Ah,” and their own unique brand of slang, those from my other favourite valley –– the Ottawa Valley –– sure have a funny way of speaking.

No guff! It must be the “skeeters” or the “sauce” that makes ‘em talk so funny, and that ain’t some Calabogie nonsense.

Located west of the nation’s capital along the Ottawa River, and bisected by the mighty Madawaska, where paddlers go to catch class one to four rapids, as well as the Opeongo Indian Trail, the valley is a unique part of this country.  And it holds a special place in my heart as it is where my maternal ancestry comes from.

In fact, the area of Brownley Township east of Eganville, is named Bulgers Corners after my  grandfather’s family.

A merchant, my great-grandfather Michael Bulger, whose parents hailed from Ireland (there are rumours that we may be related to the notorious Whitey Bulger, the second most wanted, and recently captured, man on the FBI’s most wanted list) and great-grandmother Mary Jane Breen opened one of the first general stores in the area.

Ran for years by my great-auntie, who used to lead me lovingly by hand to the penny candy jar, the store closed over a decade ago, with all the antiques, including vintage 1920s Coca Cola posters, sold by auction.

However, the building still stands, as does the old one-room schoolhouse across the road that is still owned by my family and rented out. It was there, that my great-great grandfather Daniel Bulger served as one of the first school trustees from Ireland.

In fact, my second cousin still has the 1855 school ledger in her possession.

Then there’s the old gingerbread-style late-19th century  house on the property where my grandfather and his brothers and sisters grew up.

To my delight, it still looks the same –– with the red brick exterior, side verandah, and attached carriage house, where my mom used to be taken by horse and buggy for rides around the county roads.

Inside, it has been lovingly updated in Asian decor by my cousin, who has turned it into an artist and meditation retreat –– a haven surrounded by lush gardens and history.

I remember spending time with all four of my great aunties, including Sister Irene, the oldest living Grey Sister of the Immaculate Conception, who later died in Pembroke at the ripe age of 102. A lovely lady, she was not shy to imbibe the occasional dram of whisky while playing a rousing game of euchre.

Their spirit was certainly felt when there lying on the dining room table, where hours of those card games were played and fought over, stacks of old photos, ledgers, merchant bills, and all sorts of memorabilia left over from the store and house were waiting for me.

“Help yourself,” said my cousin.

Impossible to go through it all, I managed to sneak away with a few clippings from the now 109-year-old newspaper The Eganville Leader, some old music books, as well as pictures of the store, and one slightly sepia copy of my grandfather in his Christening gown.

And that was just a visit to my grandfather’s side. My grandmother’s folk come from Deacon near Killaloe, with the mystifying Golden Lake, which actually gleams gold at sundown, as a backdrop. The stories from there are best left for another chapter, when hopefully I can say g’day to the valley again.

– Kristin Froneman is the arts editor at The Morning Star. She writes a rotating column for the newspaper.