Jeff Green | Jun 18, 2015

(Many readers of the Frontenac News will know that for 13 years Wilma Kenny has been covering South Frontenac Council just about each week for us at the Frontenac News. Each week she attends the Tuesday night meetings and then crosses the street to her house and writes them up, often working until after midnight. Wilma has a lifelong history in Sydenham and Loughborough Township and we sat down to talk about the village and some of her experiences)

Wilma Kenny grew up in Sydenham, on a 50-acre farm just outside the village.

“I guess you would call it a subsistence farm. We grew all our own food, anyway. Dad was a beekeeper and he always worked out because the farm couldn't support us. He worked in the mines and then in the mill, until it burned down and after that he did shift work,” she said when interviewed earlier this year in the home that she shares with her husband Cam.

The home, which is attached to the former Mill property, was owned by the Anglin family until the 1970s.

The mill had been used as a grist mill, a sawmill and a veneer mill. The veneer was used to make cheese boxes for Sydenham and surrounding communities which all had cheese factories at one time, serving the small dairy farms that dotted the landscape.

Wilma's grandfather was a cheese maker. She tells one family story about a day when her mother fell into a tank of milk. “Grandfather pulled her out, boots and all, and marched her home to grandmother to dry her off. Then he went right back and turned the milk into cheese. He wasn't going to throw away all that milk.”

She remembers the sight of the mill burning, which she saw from outside the farmhouse where she lived. Someone from down the lake told her later that it completely lit up the sky.

“The wind must have been blowing the other way because this house is right next door to it,” she said.

In the 1950s she attended Sydenham Public School (later renamed Loughborough Public School) and then Sydenham High School. She recalls, in retrospect, that the 1950s and 60s were not kind to the village of Sydenham.

“I think with the changes to the economy, the proximity to Kingston, the end of the mills and cheese industries, Sydenham was hurting in those years. Everyone who had any money was living outside of town and the town suffered.”

In the mid-1960s, Wilma left for Queen's University, and eventually met her future husband, Cam. They made their way to Toronto and Vancouver and back to Kingston and both became trained social workers.

Cam took a job in Inuvik as a manager of social services, and, now a family of four, the Kennys lived up north for four years. When they came back to Sydenham, the old mill house was up for sale and they bought it.

“It had been neglected but it was not in bad shape,” she recalls.

As they restored it, Cam and Wilma took great care to maintain the character of the building and that is evident in the feel of the house to this day. They found it had certain unique properties. There were taps that were no longer attached to anything, which they determined had been attached to a holding tank on the roof. Rather than a cistern, the tank was fed by water that came from the intake to the dam that powered the mill, and then was gravity-fed through the house.

There was also electrical equipment in the basement of the house, because the water also powered a turbine to produce power, which Frank Anglin sold to village residents.

“They used to run it in the evenings and Monday morning to power washing machines, but I think they did not run it during the day. I'm not sure why they did it that way, but that's what I've been told,” said Wilma.

One of the reasons they came back to Sydenham was because a job was available that suited Wilma's skill set and interests. In the late 1970s, St. Lawrence College was hiring someone to do community development in Sydenham.

Wilma took on the job, which included, in part, helping and working at The Triangle, a community newspaper that was already up and running, and served Storrington, Loughborough and Portland Townships. She also worked with groups in Perth Road and in other parts of the township to organize and establish services.

By the time the funding for the job dried up she had taken an interest in seniors' housing.

“I felt very strongly that seniors needed housing in Sydenham. So we did a survey through the township to gauge interest and need. We showed enormous need and we got the funding. Using the township as a flow through, we set up a not-for profit corporation and got one building built, and then a second.

“The first building was called Meadowbrook, and had 25 units. We had property for the second one but could not find the funding. At that time I was back at the School of Urban Planning at Queen's and Chaviva Hosek, who was the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing for Ontario, came to speak at the school. I knew the professors and got myself invited to the reception afterwards. I brought our administrator with me, and we talked to her and presented her a letter. Twenty-four hours later we had the funding for Maple Ridge, which has 30 units.”

There are a certain number of low market rent units and a certain number of subsidized units in the two buildings, which have been a great success over the years.

“There are two things about them that are important for the community. One is they are located within the village so people can walk to anything, and the second is that a lot of the people who moved into them came from large houses in the village, which they did not need anymore. Young families moved in to the houses and instead of making the village older, it made the village younger.”

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