Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Drive on, gentlemen

Well-known to be among our many idiosyncracies at
THE EQUITY is our fascination with local history. What with the 150th anniversaries of Shawville and Bryson and the 140th of
THE EQUITY all being celebrated this year, there is no time like the present to learn a bit about our past.
History is about people. Unfortunately, almost by definition, the people who made history tend no longer to be with us. But on some very rare and special occasions, you get the opportunity to meet and talk with someone who had a hand in making this place what it is. Two weeks ago, we had just such an occasion.
It was when former Shawville veterinarian Roly Armitage drove over from his farm in Dunrobin to spend an hour chatting about old times with Shawville entrepreneur Mickey Hodgins. At the time, with only enough space left in the paper to publish a photo and a few words on the meeting, the result fell well short of reflecting the significant contribution these two gentlemen made to the local community back in the day, as they say. There is a great deal more that ought to be said about these two large figures of Shawville life than we can say here, but we’re going to make a start anyway.
Mickey Hodgins is well-known as the third generation of Hodgins to run the family business started by his grandfather W.A. Hodgins, known throughout the Pontiac to this day simply as W.A.’s.
Mickey recalls as a young lad working with his grandfather, buying eggs from local farmers through a barter system where flour or sugar were exchanged in payment as often as money. His grandfather would grade the eggs and Mickey would pack them for shipping by train from the Shawville station to Montreal.
Fast forward to the 1960s when anyone who knew him will remember Mickey as a very busy man, building W.A.’s into Pontiac’s first and only actual department store with groceries, homewares, clothing, hardware and building supplies all under one roof, and all under his management.
And, if all that wasn’t enough, he developed Pontiac’s first shopping centre with the construction of a row of storefronts across the parking lot for rental to other entrepreneurs, not to mention the construction of a subdivision just above the tracks in Shawville which was built at the rate of two houses per year by a crew of hard-working, highly-skilled Germans he hired from Ladysmith.
And you’ll still find Mickey working away with his children every day at the hardware store in the W.A. Hodgins building on Shawville’s Main Street.
Roly Armitage is a ‘vet’ in two senses of the word, both a veteran of World War II and also a former Shawville-based veterinarian serving the Pontiac. There are, of course, many war stories from his involvement in the liberation of Holland, such as the time in 1944 when he found two children hiding in a ditch. He rescued them and gave them refuge. An effort to track them down has led to the United States and a probable reunion with one of the children, now in her 80s, at the Armitage farm in Dunrobin in the coming weeks.
Back on the home front, not only attending to the needs of all manner of animals, Roly has always been a keen horseman himself. President of the Canadian Trotting Association, he trained horses at the Shawville Driving Club farm, just north of Yarm, along with other local notables by the name of Horner, Hobbs and Murray, among others. You could count on seeing him driving his own Standardbred very competitively in the lively roadster class at the fair, memorable for the speed and flying sand as the judge called ‘drive on, gentlemen’.
He once caught a lift with local pilot Iverson Harris to somewhere in northern Pontiac to attend to an ailing animal where he diagnosed Pontiac’s first case of rabies. As president of the Pontiac Agricultural Society he spearheaded the effort to build the agriculture hall on the Shawville fairgrounds.
Perhaps among his most notable achievements was something he and Mickey Hodgins did together. They were both on Shawville council in the early 1960s when Orla Young was mayor. Together they travelled by train, along with Ray Johnson, Pontiac’s Member of the Legislative Assembly, as it was called at the time, where they secured a grant from the Quebec government to install a system of sewage pipes in Shawville.
We could happily go on, but there’s only so much space on this page. So, we invite you to send in your memories of Mickey, Roly or any other of the many people who have made a difference in the life of your town or part of the Pontiac.
History is important. It is good to remind ourselves that the things we might take for granted, like a sewage system, were actually the result of the efforts of human beings who cared an awful lot about the community they lived in.
And it’s a real treat when you get to meet and talk with the history-makers in person.

Charles Dickson


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