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On The Opeongo Line

The poem, On The Opeongo Line, was written by Tom Devine who came from Renfrew.  Set around the turn of the last century,  Devine’s “story teller”, “from up-the-line”, was a delivery person who made his rounds on a horse-drawn cart.  The quality of his poem is in the story it tells.  The stories of drinkers, fighters and lovers are laid out in highly descriptive verse. The Opeongo Line starts near Farrell’s Landing at Castleford, north-east of Renfrew, and winds its way west and north towards Algonquin Park.

Plaque on the opeongo line

Opeongo Line Plaque

provided by Bryan McKay
On The Opeongo Line
by Tom Devine

On the Opeongo Line I drove a span of bays
One Summer, once upon a time for Hoolihan and Hayes.
The road was rough; the hours long; the pay, scarcely a wage;
The stopping places, none too good; but work was then the rage.
How time has slithered nonchalantly to another page!
On the Opeongo Line I walked beside the load
As, pulling hard, the team went up the winding mountain road;
“Whoa, lads,” I cried, from time to time, with kindliest intent
And wedged a stone behind a wheel, so steep was the ascent.  
On the Opeongo Line I used to light a match
By scratching my anatomy adjacent to a patch;
Then, weatherwise, I’d face the breeze that somehow always lurks
In handy places at such time, to give the flame “the works.”
They turn the trick by lighter now – when the contraption “perks.”  
On the Opeongo Line when shantymen were dry,
On hands and knees they drank their fill from spring or brook hard by
And got up feeling fine and fit to keep on mowing hay
Or cradling grain or picking stones until the Judgment Day.
They boil the water nowadays to steam the pep away.  
On the Opeongo Line the tongue of man was prone
To wander off in broguish mood down bypaths all its own;
The rules of English grammar it treated with disdain,
As well became its ancestry – an ancient Celtic strain,
Now, fore and aft, slang rules the roost, pert as a weather vane.  
On the Opeongo Line they trotted out Shank’s mare
To go from anywhere at all and back to anywhere;
A mile or ten, or twenty-five, to them was just a walk,
To make in less time if they could, and that without a balk.  
On the Opeongo Line, not so much for the news
As for the editorials, profane, profound, profuse,
Men took the party organ and read it by the clock;
For editors were then indeed, bellwethers in the flock.
The news now comes by radio, as does the poppycock.  
On the Opeongo Line the drinker drowned his grog
Behind closed doors and tight-drawn blinds and chewed cloves to befog
The “sleezy,” “sniffy” nose that whiffs the embryo of glee
A mile away and labels it rank insobriety.  
On the Opeongo Line the song of long ago
Was the come-all-ye setting for the fate of young Munroe;
It never lacked an audience; it filled the tender eye;
It caused the old maid’s heart to heave the next thing to a sigh.
Now jazz attempts to harmonize the discords of the sty.  
On the Opeongo Line the parish priest was boss,
And for a project, by and large, was never at a loss.
He put the women in their place; the men, he stood on ear;
He taught the growing girls and boys the wrath of God to fear.  
On the Opeongo Line the fiddle’s merry ring
Across the moonlit clearance meant a square dance in full swing,
A truth of which the countryside was wholly unaware,
Though lass and lad for miles around were no place else but there.  
On the Opeongo Line men wore boots greased with lard,
A white stiff-bosomed shirt, without a collar, soft or hard,
A black suit with black hat, to match, when in their Sunday best;
Yet so attired, held themselves no better than the rest.  
On the Opeongo Line around election time,
Outstanding gents, from Bark Lake down, considered it no crime
To keep the tens and twenties if they gave the two’s away,
That Grit and Tory sent along to limber up the fray.
The buckoes now keep everything and not a cent they pay.  
On the Opeongo Line the folks at Fergus Lea
Played forty-five and euchre, too, with artful strategy;
The same was true of Dacre, yet often time the packs,
Were held together by the spots, so worn were the backs.
It’s contract bridge they play today, and the quacks outnumber cracks.  
On the Opeongo Line Ted Casey fought Ned Stack,
From Kerr’s to Kitts’s at Barry’s Bay, and almost halfway back,
By then, they both were tired out and took a breathing spell;
“Shake on it, Ned,” said Ted. Said Ned, “Hurrah for Brudenell.
” Today they exercise at golf, which is, perhaps, as well.  
On the Opeongo Line when Blue Mick Kelly died,
Dan Burke asked Katie Dolan at the wake to be his bride,
But Katie, in true Shamrock style, refused to be heart-bound
Till she had time to look Dan up and find out what she found.
They dash up to the altar now and later look around.  
On the Opeongo Line the loon called from the Lake;
The ducks flew low above the reeds; the trout leaped high to take
The daring fly that came its way; the oat fields drew the deer;
The partridge drummed along the road for all the world to hear.
Now must the squirrel crack a nut, with paw cupped to an ear.  
On the Opeongo Line, that Nature might defy T
he hand of man to match her art, she wrought in earth and sky
A perfect setting for Lake Clear, whose crystal waters spread
In island-dotted splendour where Plaunt’s Mountain rears its head.  
On the Opeongo Line, O Sun, make bright the day;
O Moon, in cloudless luster light the night along the way;
Now that the bays are dead and gone and grim old age is mine,
A Phantom team and teamster start from Renfrew, rain or shine –
Aye, dreaming I go teaming on the Opeongo Line.
On The Opeongo Line
Article Name
On The Opeongo Line
The poem, On The Opeongo Line, was written by Tom Devine who came from Renfrew. Set around the turn of the last century.
Publisher Name
Mysteries of Canada

Written by

Author of Mysteries of Canada

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