By Eric Morse —
Cabbagetown is becoming a source and setting for biographical fiction. John McAree’s biographical novel Cabbagetown Store, which launched at the Ben Wicks Pub on Parliament St. last summer, now has a charming prequel.
Polly of Bridgewater Farm: An Unknown Irish Story (Cabbagetown Press, 2009) by Catharine Fleming McKenty, held its own Canadian launch at “the Wicks” on Dec. 5, following a Montreal launches in September and in Dromore, County Tyrone in Ulster in late November.
Together the two novels paint a picture of Cabbagetown lives stretching over more than a century.
According to the publisher: “Polly Noble Fleming Verner was born in 1837 on a farm near the old coach road from Dromore to Enniskillen. Dromore was then a tiny village of two streets nestled among the ancient drumlin hills of County Tyrone in Ulster, Northern Ireland. At age ten, Polly and her family left their homeland in the midst of the Great Famine to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Canada.”
In 1850, the surviving members of the family settled in Toronto. At seventeen, Polly married a young tailor, John Verner. Soon they opened a small grocery store in Cabbagetown at 283 Parliament St, as told in Cabbagetown Store’).
“One after another,” the publisher continues, “a dozen children who had lost their mothers landed on their doorstep. This is the unknown Irish part of her story that none of those children knew.”
Author Catharine Fleming McKenty, is the granddaughter of four-time mayor of Toronto R.J. Fleming and the great-niece of Aunt “Polly” Noble Verner, who ran the Cabbagetown Store in Toronto during the late 1800’s.
Now resident in Montreal with her author-broadcaster husband Neil McKenty, she grew up on her grandparents’ farm, “Donlands,” just outside the Toronto city limits. She attended Bishop Strachan School, where she won scholarships in French and German. Following her degree in English at Victoria College, University of Toronto, she spent four winters as a volunteer in the mining area of post-war Germany with an international group of young people involved in reconstruction. Later she followed a career in writing and publishing.
In 2002, McKenty set to find the Fleming family farm in Northern Ireland, where the Corey family welcomed her and shared their knowledge of the old Irish ways. She did much of her research in the Omagh Public Library, The Ulster American Folk Park, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, and Linen Hall Library, Belfast.
McKenty read several gentle and poignant selections from the work at the launch. She was accompanied by the book’s illustrators Darek and Elzbieta Wieczorek, who have added charm and grace to an already delightful 240-page narrative with pencil drawings in a manner this correspondent found hauntingly reminiscent of the original illustrations to Winnie the Pooh by E. H. Shepard.
Cabbagetown Press, the book’s publisher, is a spinoff enterprise of the Cabbagetown-Regent Park Museum. Carol Moore-Ede, the museum’s chief curator and chair, told The Bulletin that McKenty had donated funds to the museum, and the museum in turn decided to start a publishing arm to bring the many stories of the area before the public.
Polly is their first publishing effort but they intend to proceed farther into educational material once time becomes available. Currently most available resources are going into the uploading of about 2,000 items onto Artifacts Canada, a virtual museum that is part of the Canadian Artifacts Heritage Network.
The Cabbagetown/Regent Park Museum is located on the grounds of Riverdale Farm in the original zookeeper’s cottage. Normal hours of operation are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum is closed until mid-February, but Polly is available by contacting Moore-Ede via e-mail at email@example.com or by calling (416) 816-4994.
Arrangements are also being made for e-sales: check the museum’s website at crpmuseum.com for the latest information.