Mattawa’s Annie’s Park has been on many minds these past months. The Town dedicated money to help fix it up with a new fence, gazebo, and some new seating, and the organizers of Voyageur Days are using the park as a venue for some daytime concerts—all of which are free to watch.
See: Mattawa begins improvements at Annie’s Park
See: Voyageur Days releases Annie’s Park line-up
The little park nestled on Main Street next to Scott’s Discount Store is getting much attention, and there is clearly a push to encourage residents to enjoy the area, a point not lost on Judith Duval-Thorne, a relation of Annie McLeod—the Annie of Annie’s Park.
“She was my grandmother’s sister, but we all called her Aunt Annie” Duval-Thorne said, who shared her stories of her great aunt. She was young when she spent most of her time with Annie, but she has fond memories of visiting the house that once stood at the current park site. She also had help remembering some of the details thanks to the genealogical work of her uncle Dalton Wilson.
Duval-Thorne lived in Sudbury at that time, but she would visit Mattawa to spend time with her great aunt and play with her cousins Jack and Dan Wilson. “We had lots of fun in that house, and fond memories,” of the family. When she moved to Mattawa many years later, “I wanted badly to live in that house, but we couldn’t because it wasn’t up to snuff.”
“It would have been nice to restore” the home, but that wasn’t in the cards. When Annie moved out to live with family, the house was boarded up, and eventually the building was destroyed by fire. “I don’t know what happened,” Duval-Thorne said, “but it went fast.”
The two buildings on each side of the house are still there today, but when Duval-Thorne was visiting the building on the right (facing the property from Main Street) was a dressmaker’s shop owned by Annie’s mother, who used to work for Henry Morgan in Montreal, so she would “bring the latest fashions into her store” for the ladies of Mattawa. On the left was an ice cream parlour, that Duval-Thorne recalled as Dee-Dees, “but I can’t remember” as she was only a kid at the time.
The McLeod house had been a fixture in the community for decades. Annie and her husband, Norman McLeod moved in soon after they married in 1922. Norman was a WWI veteran. He enlisted in the 159th battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and fought on the front lines. The war took a toll. “I think he was gassed” while fighting, Duval-Thorne figured, “so his health was not good.”
Annie McLeod, formerly Annie Walters before those wedding bells rang, was a nurse, who received her education in Montreal, where the Walters were from. She “devoted most of her life to the care of Norman,” her great-niece recalled, doing her best to make him comfortable.
The house was “unique inside,” Duval-Thorne remembered. The front faced Main Street, and when you entered the front door, if you turned right, you would enter a barbershop, the owner of which rented space from the family. Turn left and you would enter Annie’s and Norman’s living room—“very tiny, and I remember it being dark”—and this is where you would often find “Uncle Norman, sitting in his rocking chair in front of the window watching people walk by.”
There was a small bedroom off the living room, and a small dining room as well. “And if you can believe it, the shower was right off of the dining room, I can remember that” Duval-Thorne said. The kitchen was in the back, and from there “a secret staircase” led upstairs to “the flat upstairs where my aunt and uncle lived.” That was Uncle Clayton Wilson, who later took Annie into his home in Mattawa to live out the rest of her days. The couple moved to the flat in 1956, and rent was $5 per month.
That flat in the upper left side of the house had a small bedroom, a “little living room, and a kitchenette.” Duval-Thorne and her cousins would squirt passerby’s with their water guns through the small holes at the bottom of the apartment’s window frame, and then duck down before being spotted. “I’ll never forget that” she said, “just little kids getting into mischief.”
On the right side of the second floor was another small apartment, where the barber lived. Out back there was the outhouse—no toilet in the house—and a large shed for a horse and buggy. Overall, “it was a really cool little house.”
Norman died in May 1961, at the age of 79, and Annie lived as a widow until she passed away in 1985. She was born in Montreal in 1895 but spent her adult life mostly in downtown Mattawa. “Every day she would be out walking up and down main street,” Duval-Thorne said, always “happy and greeting people. She loved kids, so everybody knew her, and she was really involved with the United Church.”
She was well-loved within the town, so much so local poet Sandra Glabb penned a piece to detail “the legend of Annie McLeod / They all called Annie ‘Mattawa’s Mom.’” She continued to describe “a small grey-haired lady out for a stroll” who had lived on the street so long it was as if she had always been a part of the community—“some say one hundred” years—Glabb wrote.
And with the park, her memory carries on today. “I know the building’s not there, but it’s a nice memory of Aunt Annie for us,” Duval-Thorne said. “It’s a nice place where you can stop and pause.” Perhaps Glabb’s poem sums it up best: “In gleams of sunlight, she can still be seen / When the moon glows at night, her spirit sill reigns / She loved it so well, a landmark became / Now you know Annie’s Park is not just a name.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca