You may know Jean Clulee as the driving force behind the development of the Doug Melanson Park, which was named in honour of the much-loved caretaker of the former Milton Elementary School.
The park, which is located at 126 Brunswick St., is on a parcel of land formerly overseen by the Milton Improvement Society – keeper of the trees in Milton for more than 100 years.
After demolition of the former school, Clulee, who lives near the site, volunteered to create a committee to build a park.
“I loved the parks I had seen in Europe with pathways, beautiful trees, and benches that were designed for the whole family and thought it would be nice to add such a park to our town,” she says.
The committee agreed to raise $50,000 to match the town’s contribution.
It not only raised the money, but members also planted, dug, watered, and weeded for five years.
People came to love the little park that was developing, she says, and were “hugely generous” with money and time. Contractors took the project “under their wings” and were kind in their quotes, often adding extras at no cost.
Clulee says it has been the most wonderful project she’s ever been involved in, even though it turned out to be much more work than realized. She’s learned a “massive amount” about trees and has a whole new respect for the importance of green spaces in our town.
It was a beautiful sunny day in August 2019 when the park opened and the great-grandchildren of Doug Melanson unveiled the sign. Clulee says more than a 100 people watched and remembered their days as students or teachers.
She noticed that when the COVID restriction lifted in the spring, children and parents seemed to flock there for relief.
“We were dizzily excited when we saw residents walk on the paths, sit on the benches and even more so when children played on the little play mounds, or slid on them in the snow,” she says.
“It was successful beyond our wildest dreams, although it is not perfect,” she adds.
“It’s truly a park built on the love people had for this kind and generous man and the love they have for their schools and community,” she says.
Clulee participated in our Q&A:
Q: Where were you born?
I was born in Ormstown, Quebec in the Chateauguay Valley, just southwest of Montreal and equally close to the New York border.
Q: What’s your favourite place in the world?
I would be unable to choose between the beauty of the everchanging Rocky Mountains, the red maples in the sugar bushes of Quebec, and the ocean coastline of Nova Scotia. All places I have lived.
Q: Who do you follow on social media?
My main interest is politics and world events, so I follow a lot of news stories. I try to keep up to date on the local events and follow a younger family group on Facebook to keep up on the latest weddings and new additions to the clan.
Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
My university studies were for my first profession in teaching. I met my in-laws for the first time one day before we married. I’m not sure they knew that their only son was marrying a girl from Quebec who had grown up on a farm and knew how to show cattle at the local exhibition.
Q: What’s been your favourite year and why?
When I turned 40 and was struggling with it, my neighbour told me that the 40s were the best years. You are young enough to enjoy life but old enough to know what was truly important. I think she was right.
Q: What was the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Moving from Calgary 35 years ago to Yarmouth with four children under 15 years. What saved us was the YMCA and, in particular, the pool. Our children all knew how to swim but only one of them was a typical “team-sport” child. For the others, becoming part of the swim team was a way to participate in a group activity and use a skill they had learned. Today I wonder what a family arriving in Yarmouth will find for their non “team” children to do if there is no funding to keep our pool active, and would a family even consider moving here if we cannot offer a swimming pool for their family members?
Q: Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
At the age of 22, with four years of teaching under my belt, I travelled with a colleague via train to New York then by ocean liner to South Hampton to travel and teach. Teaching salaries did not cover the costs so we moved on to the continent, as it was known then, and toured much of Europe working as deck hands and painting boats. We boarded with a family to study French. This was an experience that in the future allowed me to see the world through quite different eyes and opened my mind to many opportunities.
Q: What is your greatest indulgence?
Travelling. It is such a privilege to visit other countries and cultures. When these places pop up on the news or in a novel, one feels a wonderful connection to them and identifies more with the joy or suffering of the people. With no travel this year I find myself reliving these experiences through photographs.
Q: What is your favourite book or movie?
I never have an answer for that, but I am thinking of rereading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I love the apparent civility of the inside of the hotel against all the hints of the horrors of Russian history happening outside. I just watched Casablanca for the 10th time. Such wonderful acting against the tensions of the war.
Q: How do you like to relax?
In good weather my go-to place is the garden where I can relax and get exercise at the same time, but in the winter, I like to sit by the fireplace and read. Yoga is my weekly escape from the world.
Q. What are you reading or watching right now?
I am currently reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Bootstraps Need Boots, the fight to end poverty in Canada, by Hugh Segal.
Q: How would you describe your personal fashion statement?
With COVID I think I have totally lost any fashion sense, which is quite liberating. I still enjoying following the trends and colours, but my new lifestyle does not offer many opportunities to wear them. I still like to keep a few statement pieces in my closet, like a great scarf or jacket to pull out when needed.
Q: What is your most treasured possession?
The paintings we have collected over the years. In particular, two paintings by Denise Comeau which I remind my husband must come with me to the senior’s home in case I no longer remember.
Q: What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
I am very grateful for the good health genes I inherited and the unspoken example from both my parents that I could achieve whatever I wanted.
Q: What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
I began thinking of people I would like to have serious conversations with, but given the year, I long for a dinner with a brilliant funny couple from England we met on a cruise, friends from our first year here and great friends from Calgary. I just want to laugh a lot, reminisce on better times and rehash the insanity in this world with like-minded people.
Q: What is your best quality and what is your worst quality?
I think my best quality is being able to see a job through to the end. My worst quality is not knowing when to quit and speaking before I think.
Q: What’s your biggest regret?
Not taking more time off from my work when I was in business.
Meet your Neighbour is a regular feature that profiles area residents. Want to suggest someone who should be featured? Email your idea to Scott Doherty.