Terrance O’Reilly resides in a small but comfortable log home on an acreage near the town of Eaganville.
He owns the only monument business in the Upper Ottawa Valley. A thick-set man, almost six feet in height, Terrance has the brawny arms, calloused hands and broad shoulders of a person used to strenuous physical work.
His eyes twinkled as he smoothed down his thin tongue of black hair.
“I may be a little sparse on top, but by gorrah,” he explains as he points to his splayed size 12 boots, “no one can say I don’t have broad understanding!”
As we sat down outside his workshop, I asked Terrance how he came to be a stone carver.
“About 40 years ago, my da had a sawmill near the Bonnechere River. In winter, we’d go into the woods to cut trees. Come early spring when the ice left, we’d haul those logs to the river where they’d be floated downstream to the mill.
“One spring, my da hired two men—brothers they were. They was real good with the peavey hook and agile on them logs. One day, those two was workin’ on those logs, when one of the fella’s slipped off and those logs rolled right over him! It was terrible—first tragedy we’d had.
“Well, a few days later, the other brother, he came to me said he’d seen me do a lot of whittling and carving and since he couldn’t afford to send his brother’s body home, would I carve him a stone?
“So that’s how I got started and that’s how I got my little dog Bobby,” he said pointing to a Skye terrier curled up on his house steps.
“You see, one afternoon about four years ago, I was workin’ in a cemetery settin’ a stone when I hears a kinda’ moaning coming from one of the graves. Now, I don’t believe in ghosts, not for a moment, but that sound sure made the hairs rise on the back of my neck. When I heard it again, I walked over to the area where I thought it was coming from.
“Curled up beneath one of the grave stones was a little mite of a dog. He was dirty, thin and shaking. I picked him up in my arms and brought him home. I fed him, cleaned him up and he’s been my little companion ever since. I call him Bobby after the famous Scottish Greyfrier’s Bobby.”
I asked Terrance what had been his most unusual and challenging carving.
Without hesitation he replied, “the Las Vegas dancing girl. Yep, that sure was a strange one. A very pretty lady visited my shop one day. Said she once lived in the area. She brought a photo of herself as a dancing girl and asked if I could carve it on a marble stone. Well, I took a look and said I could do the form but I’d hafta’ make the detail simple. She said a simple form would be okay. D’you know it took me a good six months of carving?
After I notified her that the project was completed, she arrived here a couple of weeks later along with a van and driver to have that stone trucked back to Las Vegas. Before she left, she told me that she’d danced to her husband’s tune all her married life and now she would dance on his grave forever.”
I asked Terrance if he’d developed a philosophy of life.
Terrance gazed out across his spaded garden to the sun-dabbled woods. “My da always said: ‘Treat the world and the people in it with respect and don’t take more than your share’.”