Mattawa’s Annie’s Park has been on many people’s minds in recent months. The city has dedicated money to help fix it with a new fence, gazebo, and new seating, and Voyageur Days organizers use the park as a venue for daytime concerts, all free to watch.
See: Mattawa begins improvements at Annie’s Park
See: Voyageur Days unveils lineup for Annie’s Park
The small park tucked away on Main Street next to Scott’s Discount Store is getting a lot of attention, and there’s clearly pressure to encourage residents to enjoy the area, a point that Judith Duval-Thorne, a relative of Annie McLeod – Annie from Annie’s Park.
“She was my grandmother’s sister, but we all called her Aunt Annie,” said Duval-Thorne, who told her great-aunt’s stories. She was young when she spent most of her time with Annie, but she has fond memories of visiting the house that once stood on the current site of the park. She also had help remembering some details thanks to the genealogical work of her uncle Dalton Wilson.
Duval-Thorne was living in Sudbury at this time, but she was visiting Mattawa to spend time with her great aunt and play with her cousins Jack and Dan Wilson. “We had a lot of fun in this house and we have fond memories of it,” of the family. When she moved to Mattawa several years later, “I really wanted to live in this house, but we couldn’t because it wasn’t up to par.
“It would have been nice to restore” the house, but that wasn’t in the cards. When Annie moved out to live with her family, the house was condemned 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 either side of the house are still there today, but when Duval-Thorne visited the building on the right (facing the Main Street property) was a dressmaker’s shop owned by Annie’s mother, who worked for Henry Morgan. in Montreal, to “bring the latest fashions into her store” for the ladies of Mattawa. To the left was a glacier, which Duval-Thorne remembered as Dee-Dees, “but I don’t remember” because she was just a child at the time.
McLeod House had been an integral part of the community for decades. Annie and her husband, Norman McLeod, moved in shortly after their marriage in 1922. Norman was a veteran of the First World War. He enlisted in the 159th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and fought on the front lines. The war has taken its toll. “I think he was gassed” while he was fighting, Duval-Thorne reasoned, “so his health wasn’t good.”
Annie McLeod, formerly Annie Walters before the wedding bells rang, was a nurse who was educated in Montreal, where the Walters were from. She “devoted most of her life to Norman’s care,” her great-niece recalled, doing her best to put him at ease.
The house was “unique on the inside,” recalls Duval-Thorne. The facade 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 and Norman’s living room – “very small, and I remember it was dark” – and this is where you would often find “Uncle Norman, sitting in his rocking chair in front of the window watching people go by.”
There was a small bedroom next to the living room and a small dining room as well. “And if you can believe it, the shower was right next to the dining room, I remember that,” Duval-Thorne said. The kitchen was at the back, and from there “a secret staircase” went up to “the upstairs apartment where my aunt and uncle lived”. It was Uncle Clayton Wilson, who later took Annie home to Mattawa to live out the rest of her life. The couple moved into the apartment in 1956 and the rent was $5 a month.
This apartment at the top left of the house had a small bedroom, a “small living room and a kitchenette”. Duval-Thorne and his cousins would squirt passers-by with their squirt guns through small holes in the bottom of the apartment window frame, then duck before they were spotted. “I’ll never forget that,” she said, “just little kids messing around.”
On the right side of the second floor was another small apartment, where the barber lived. At the back there was the outbuilding – no toilet in the house – and a large shed for a horse and a buggy. All in all, “it was a really cool little house.”
Norman died in May 1961, aged 79, and Annie lived as a widow until his death in 1985. She was born in Montreal in 1895 but spent her adult life primarily in downtown Mattawa . “Every day she was walking down Main Street,” Duval-Thorne said, always “happy and waving to people. She loved children, so everyone knew her, and she was really involved in the United Church.
She was much loved in the town, so much so that local poet Sandra Glabb wrote an article to detail “the legend of Annie McLeod / They all called Annie ‘Mama of Mattawa'”. She went on to describe “a little gray-haired woman for a walk” who had lived on the streets so long it was as if she had always been part of the community – “some say a hundred years” – wrote Glabb.
And with the park, his memory lives on today. “I know the building isn’t there, but it’s a fond memory of Aunt Annie for us,” Duval-Thorne said. “It’s a nice place where you can stop and take a break.” Perhaps Glabb’s poem sums it up best: “In the rays of the sun she can still be seen / When the moon shines at night, her spirit reigns / She loved him so, a point of landmark became / Now you know Annie’s Park isn’t just a name.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works for BayToday, a Village Media publication. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.