At 85... Lem has lived through history and loves it

By Shirley Ruth May
for the Tribune

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WELLAND — Lem Hogue's grandmother was known in the 1930s as the neighborhood doctor. She knew how to keep everyone well.

Hogue, at 85, knows how to keep well, too, but it isn't through herbs. He keeps himself healthy and happy through creatve pursuits. He is a working artist, historian, lecturer and budding author.

I painted before I went to kindergarten," he says. "I was the second oldest in a family of eight boys and was considered a sissy because I helped my mother with the housework. She needed someone to help her and if she'd shown my older brother Bill a dustcloth he'd have had a fit.

"As a reward for helping her with housework my mother gave me paints mustard and cocoa and bluing. My canvases were the cardboard seperaters in the boxes of shredded wheat.

"Eventually," he says, "I took an I.C.S. course in art and graduated to oils and canvas boards."

Hogue has a picture on his easel at all times. Almost every spare moment — when he isn't writing — he paints. He has canvases hanging in many Ontario cities. He even has a 10-foot mural in Sunset Haven, where he worked for nearly 16 years as an art instructor.

Hogue's work as a historian came by chance.

"I lived history," he says simply, "as well as loved it.

"My grandfather was a barn framer and a wooden bridge builder. I heard history_from him. My dad was a blacksmith in Marshille (long before it was called Wainfleet) when cars were just beginning. I was born in 1904 and so my own memory goes back a long way.

When I was a boy my brothers and I could go right up the feeder canal — it was clean and fairly deep then — to Port Maitland and on out to Lake Erie. I've seen a lot of history in the making.

"As a historian I was especially interested in the very first Welland Canal.

"Do you know that a private company from England built the first canal? It was dug by hand — 51 miles from one lake to the other. The locks had wooden sides. They built a stump dam at Bear's Claw Rapids Dunnville), dug a ditch down to Port Robinson and crossed the ChippawaRiver.

"The Chippawa River was used for transportation then,'' he says, "and they couldn't close it off, so they built a 12-foot high wooden aquaduct and that was the start of Welland.

"I have a daughter who is a teacher and she asked me to go to her school and talk to the children about the aquaduct. The principal heard me speak and asked if I'd talk to his class. Other schools soon followed suit. Eventually, I built a wooden model to demonstrate my talk. I even did a painting of it. The teachers began telling me that I should write down the things I had learned as well as the things I remembered. Writing a book was the logical next step.

"I began my book four years ago and I'm still working at it. If anything happens that I don't get it finished, my heirs will probably give what I do have finished to the library."

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