Clear Recollections: Memoirs of Percy Nobbs

New book another example of local history saved from oblivion

BY BILL TIERNEY, special to the Montreal Gazette; June 16th, 2015

It’s amazing when you think of it, this place we live in, the West Island. There are a lot of very talented people among us, but everyone is so subdued, muted even. We are the essence of casual.

You can hardly tell who our celebrities are. Of course, it might be one of the effects of our winter, and the memories of the long, cold months that keep us from being more extrovert about our successes. But the fact is people are so low-key you can miss their charisma as you go about your business.

So, there I was walking down the street by my house in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue when a world-class tenor and neighbour, Manrico Tedeschi (look him up, then listen and admire him), pulled up in his Honda and wound his car window down. He was listening to an operatic audio tape. He turned down the volume and burst into a line or two from Verdi‘s Otello, an opera that he sang back in 2008 with the Opera di Roma under the direction of the great conductor, Ricardo Muti.

Tedeschi is gearing himself up for an extensive tour of America. His voice is just about holding up, he says, doubtfully.

The Honda rocks with the rich tones of his voice. Just an ordinary West Islander, but with a voice.

A little later, I get a discreet, even apologetic, note from West Island publisher Judith Isherwood, a longtime neighbour and former community activist, who was probably more responsible than anyone else for getting me involved in local politics back in the 1980s.

Isherwood publishes books under the name of Shoreline Press. And when I say books, I mean books –125 books since 1991. Just look at the list online.

Yes, 125 books. Count them: 125. That’s nearly 10 titles a year.

Her latest project, and they are all passionate projects for Isherwood, is the memoirs of a Montreal architect, angler, fencer, teacher, father and general all-around modern Renaissance personality Percy Nobbs. Clear Recollections: Memoirs of Percy Nobbs was launched last Sunday at the Greenwood Centre for Living History in Hudson, the centre was once Nobbs’s family home. Percy’s daughter, Phoebe, bequeathed the house to Canadian Heritage of Quebec.

In case you don’t know about the Greenwood Centre for Living History (and I didn’t before this latest Shoreline publication), you can find photos of the house and information about visiting times (June to August) online. For $10 you can take part in a private tour of the house and gardens and “afterwards one can enjoy tea and baked goods out on the porch overlooking the garden.” Sounds idyllic to me, a step back into the early 20th century.

Percy Nobbs was a Scotsman (of “pure lowland Scots descent,” he himself proudly claims) but his early years were spent between Scotland and Russia, where his family was in business. His memories of pre-revolutionary Russia are fascinating. He was present at the post-coronation celebrations of Tsar Nicholas II and witnessed the Khodynka tragedy. His descriptions of the lethal stampede of over half a million Russian peasants has the freshness of recent reporting.

He emigrated to Canada at the age of 28 and began a distinguished career as a teacher at McGill University. Later, as a practicing architect, his firm designed, for example, the McCord Museum building on Sherbrooke Street.

Nobbs had strong opinions on many things, but three passions dominated his life: in his earlier life he was a keen sportsman, a good amateur boxer and later a world-class fencer, winning an Olympic silver medal in 1908. Architecture (teaching it, practising it) was his chosen profession, but his really dominant passion was hunting and fishing. He was an expert fisherman and fished all over the world. His descriptions of hunting expeditions are very fresh.

The story of how the book came into existence is about intelligent people who love local history. Nobbs himself wrote his memoirs on his typewriter, but these stories were later organized and prepared for publication by a number of volunteer editors, starting with Renée Cyr in 2013. Cyr took on the transcription as a winter project. Margaret Waller waded in to help with the challenge. And, finally, Karen Molson became the last editor working with the publisher to source and edit the photographs and research captions and historical footnotes.

Now that’s a low-key story about deeply passionate people. That’s how local history is saved from oblivion.

The book is available at the Greenwood Centre in Hudson, at Clio Bookstore in Pointe-Claire and at or It costs $25. And it’s a good read.

Greenwood’s busy 18th season offers something for everyone

BY TERRY O'SHAUGHNESSY, special to Your Local Journal, May 28th, 2015

To some, Greenwood’s most famous Hudson personality is the late Phoebe Nobbs Hyde who donated the Greenwood property to the Canadian Heritage of Quebec (CHQ), creating the unique community space that it is today. But there are other Greenwood personalities who figure not only in local history but who are notable in Montreal’s history, even to the national level.

Percy Nobbs is one such figure, and Greenwood’s opening season which just got underway for another year will feature a very special event: the publication and launch of Clear Recollections: Memoirs of Percy Nobbs on Sunday, June 14 at 2.30 p.m. with its editor Karen Molson and publisher Judy Isherwood of Shoreline Publications.

A silver medal winner at London’s 1908 Olympics (in a fencing display event), and the architect of what is now Montreal’s McCord Museum and several McGill University buildings, Nobbs lead a fascinating life of travel, academia, creativity and a work ethic that even today reveals itself in all the buildings he designed in a long life that began in Scotland, found its way to London, then Montreal—and finally to Greenwood when he married Phoebe’s mother Mary Cecilia Shepherd whose family owned the property.

But that’s not the only exciting event at Greenwood this season.

On Monday, June 15 Greenwood’s StoryFest is thrilled to be hosting Montreal Gazette political cartoonist Terry Mosher, a.k.a. AISLIN, at its pre-StoryFest event at Hudson’s St. James’ Church Hall at 7.30 p.m. Mosher will talk about the importance of humour, and include a discussion of current events like the Je suis Charlie movement. There will be a book signing and a chance to chat with Mosher on what is sure to be a fascinating evening. Tickets: $20.

But there are many other events to look forward to in the meantime.

This week on Friday, May 29 the Greenwood Singers will present Songs for a Midsummer Night at St. Mary’s Church at 7:30 p.m., with a reception to follow at Greenwood. Tickets: $25 (includes concert and reception).

Sunday, May 31 will see Concert on the Lawn at Greenwood with an afternoon of traditional music from Scotland to New England with Will Woodson and Eric McDonald at 2:30 p.m.

Then on Saturday, June 6 StoryFest for Kids will take part in the ELAN Arts Alive! weekend in Hudson, highlighting children’s author Sara O’Leary and her new book This is Sadie, as well as other fun things to do. The first show will run from 10 a.m. to 12 noon; the second show from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tickets $5/person; $20/family.

Greenwood’s Home and Garden Tours start June 1 and run until Labour Day. Drop by between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. for fascinating tours of the historic home and garden, and stay for tea on the porch overlooking the Lake of Two Mountains.

And that just gets the season started!

You might want to catch Greenwood’s screening of
Still Alice

BY BILL YOUNG, special to the Montreal Gazette, May 19th, 2015

Chances are you’ve read, or know about, the best-selling novel Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Now, it’s time to see the movie.

On Monday, May 25, at Hudson’s Village Theatre, the Greenwood Centre for Living History will launch the latest edition of its Movies and More series with afternoon and evening screenings of Still Alice, each to be followed by an informal discussion period.

Much like other recent Movies and More offerings, including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and last-year’s sold-out Gimli Glider, Still Alice is one of those rare, beautifully crafted and impeccably presented movies that lingers long after the projector is turned off and the lights go on.

For Still Alice doesn’t just tell a story (although it does that with charm and grace); it introduces us to an absorbing, difficult life situation, and with such compassion that we cannot help but become fully engaged.

The movie-version of Still Alice closely follows the book, apart from small details — the setting has shifted to New York City and Columbia University, for example — and I suspect readers will be delighted with the respectful way director Richard Glatzer lets the narrative unfold.

The story revolves around Alice Howland, age 50, a sophisticated university professor who at the beginning of the film learns she has become afflicted with early onset familial Alzheimer’s, the rarest form of the disease. Early onset Alzheimer’s typically occurs before age 65, moves rapidly through its various stages, and can be passed from one generation to the next.

Of course, the horror of Alzheimer’s lies in the way it affects those parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. It is irreversible. There is no known cure.

With little preliminary fanfare, the film traces the arc of Alice’s deterioration from the moment she first suspects something is wrong in her brain, to the point where mind and memory have essentially ceased functioning.

But this is not a bleak film. As one critic who calls it “warm and passionate” noted, the filmmakers “tackle a subject where a restrained, understated approach is the best insurance against sloppy sentimentality. It pays off handsomely.”

Still Alice features a cast drawn from Hollywood’s A-list — Alec Baldwin, Kirsten Stewart, Kate Bosworth and the brilliant Julianne Moore as Alice in an Oscar-winning tour-de-force.

“Were it not for Moore’s superbly controlled performance,” another reviewer wrote, “the film might have come off as maudlin and predictable. But credit the filmmakers for trusting Moore’s instincts to give Alice a graceful balance between moments of powerful despair.”

The crux of the narrative in both book and movie lies in the title. When is Alice no longer still Alice? Is there an obvious moment, a telling sign? Or does Alice simply fade away, unannounced, leaving behind nothing of her former self?

How the film responds to these questions, and what it leaves for the viewer to ponder are the very elements that set its tone and give it strength.

Undoubtedly, that tone was influenced by a real-life drama that played out in parallel on the Still Alice set when the film was in production. Director Glatzer was himself suffering through the final stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease, reduced to communicating with just one finger using a text-to-speech app on his iPad. He died in March of this year, short days after Moore was handed her Academy Award.

Hudson’s historic Greenwood celebrates opening of 2015 season

BY TERRY O'SHAUGHNESSY, special to Your Local Journal, April 30th, 2015

The year 1732 was notable for many things. George Washington was born that year, as was Bach and Haydn. Voltaire had a new play on stage in Paris while Benjamin Franklin was firing up his publishing career in the colonies south of here. Though not as widely-known as these events was also a notable local happening: in 1732: Hudson’s Greenwood began its life as a home.

This Sunday, May 3, will mark the annual opening celebration of the almost 300-year old house and property when its Annual General Meeting (AGM) gets underway at St. Mary’s Church Hall at 2 p.m.

Greenwood’s Executive Director Audrey Wall is extending a warm invitation to everyone to attend.

“As is customary, our AGM agenda will include a recap of last year’s season, a word from Canadian Heritage of Quebec (CHQ), some delectable tea and treats courtesy of our wonderful volunteers, lovely music from the Kitchen Ceilidh and a few hints about our exciting season to come,” said Wall.

“But foremost on our agenda Sunday is a very special item: a heartfelt tribute to the late Fred Henshaw.”

As first cousin to the late Phoebe Hyde, Fred Henshaw was very much connected to life at Greenwood and his death earlier this year will sadly mean a much-regretted empty chair at Greenwood said Wall.

“Fred is greatly missed and we are so happy that the Henshaw family will be making such a special tribute to him at our AGM on Sunday.”

Greenwood will be celebrating its 283rd year alongside an important anniversary: the 150th birthday of the Town of Hudson.

“We will also be saluting Hudson’s birthday this Sunday as the 150th celebrations get underway,” added Wall. “And we will be announcing some very exciting upcoming events for Greenwood and StoryFest. We are really looking forward to the exciting season ahead.”

Greenwood’s AGM will be held at 2 p.m. this Sunday, May 3, at Hudson’s St. Mary’s Church Hall located at 273 Main Road. All are welcome.

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