Nollaig na mBan(pronunciation Null-ug na Mon) is ‘Women’s Little Christmas’ or the Feast of the Epiphany as it is more commonly known—marking the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, a Christian feast day celebrating the the visit of the Three Kings or Wise Men to the baby Jesus in his manger in Bethlehem, with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Taking Down the Decorations
Women’s Little Christmas Eve is the day when some will add the wise men to their nativity displays. This would be the final decoration added in the home, done on January 5th, and at the end of the day on January 6th, these, and all of the other decorations would be taken down. Some Roman Catholic families chose to keep their tree up until February 2nd, according to the traditions of Candlemas, which marks the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
The Burning of the Holly
In ancient times, in more modest Irish homes, holly was the only decoration used, and so it was taken down from the mantle, and burned on January 6th for good luck. It was symbolic to leave the holly up until Women’s Little Christmas.
Holly was thought to have important spiritual attributes, and the Druids believed it could guard against dark witchcraft and evil spirits. The Irish believed that its spikes could capture evil spirits and prevent them from entering a house. Holly placed around the home was thought to be a safe haven for the little people, who traditionally guarded the house from more sinister forces.
It was a tradition if holly was the first evergreen plant to be brought into the house at Christmastime, then the man would have the upper hand and rule the roost for the coming year. For that reason, women usually instructed that the ivy be collected first, then the holly. The timing of taking down the holly was very important. Once brought inside it must not be discarded or taken down until after 6th of January. Throwing out a symbol of good fortune too soon could mean that you were looking for trouble.
Visiting with Friends and Neighbours
Women’s Little Christmas, on January 6th each year, was the day that women rested and relaxed after a busy season of cooking and festivities. In rural and small-town Catholic Ireland, women gathered in each other’s homes, or down at the local pub, for a few hours of fun, while men looked after the home and the children. As all were seated, a pact was made, to leave the worries and cares of the old year, outside the door.
Some women stayed in their neighbourhood, and did rounds of visiting in the afternoon. Fruit loaf and tea, or a shot of something stronger, served at someone’s house, and was the day that women did something for themselves, and had a rest after all of their Christmas work.
….And what would a Women’s Little Christmas be without a nice warm Irish Toddy to finish the day?
Irish Toddy Recipe
1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar
1 measure of Irish Whiskey (Bushmills or Jameson)
1 slice or wedge of lemon
You may use any whiskey you desire, or for an authentic Irish toddy, use Bushmills or Jameson Irish Whiskey
Add sugar, and dissolve in a splash of the hot water.
Add the whiskey, cloves (if desired) a slice of lemon, and fill up with boiling water.
It is customary to give a New Year’s toast on Women’s Little Christmas, with an Irish blessing:
It’s the New Year, and that means time for reflecting on the past, and also time for setting our family history goals for the year ahead. The world seems to spin by faster each season, and while this may be frustrating at times, each year also brings some new and positive changes for genealogists.
It didn’t seem all that long ago that my own genealogy involved a great deal of letter writing in order to make connections with long lost cousins and fellow researchers, some as far away as England. Weeks would pass by as we exchanged photos and family histories by ‘snail-mail’. It definitely wasn’t a very speedy process, but in many instances, it was all we had.
Long days were spent at libraries and archives, hunched over dusty old documents, and sitting in dimly lit rooms, scanning reel after reel of sometimes out-of-focus microfilms, only to find after a day’s work that nothing pertained to our own family research.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and now we have access to countless genealogical resources at our fingertips; including the ability to connect with our fellow researchers at a distance through Facebook and email. What once took weeks, even months of letter writing, is now reduced to a few quick strokes on a keyboard. The next generation may look back on our era and the incredible advancements in our ability to communicate, and say that in the late 1990s we entered the ‘space age’ of genealogical research.
Setting Genealogical Goals & Using New Tools
Write down your genealogical goals
Choose your top 3 goals, and set a definite time frame for yourself to accomplish these
Look at your tree, and evaluate what you’ve already found. Which area of the tree needs the most work?
Once you’ve chosen a branch to work on, focus on one aspect at a time – like digitizing all the photos you have from this branch of the family, then move to the next.
Set a specific date for a research trip – perhaps a visit to a cemetery where you’d like to take some photographs
Make a list of ancestors that you’d like to research, and specific records that you’re looking for, like birth, or marriage, and stroke them off the list once you’ve finished
Review your DNA matches. If you’ve uploaded your DNA, check on the site once a month for new cousin matches, contact them, and add them to your tree
Spend 15 minutes each week organizing papers and records
Share at least one story about your parents or grandparents with your nieces and nephews
Learn how to use one new research tool this year
With technology evolving so quickly as the years pass by, one of our most important genealogical goals should be to take advantage of some of these new research tools.
Family History Online Databases
While online family history databases like http://www.ancestry.ca and familysearch.org are by no means perfect, they do offer us access to a tremendous number of records from all over the world. They provide us with the ability not only to view digitized images of documents like original census records, but to print them as well, or save them for future use.
Now, instead of sitting for hours documenting our research in pencil as we did in the past, we can use our smart phones to instantly capture and store images from archives, libraries and field trips to cemeteries.
Another research technique that has evolved is the essential task of preserving family stories. Interviewing older relatives used to be a bit awkward, and involved either hastily scribbling notes or using a bulky cassette recorder. We can use a smart-phone or tablet to record our conversations, and provide instant playback. This is ideal for recording family stories, or memories from people who may have been put off by the presence of a tape recorder.
Lugging around heavy books and stacks of binders has also become a thing of the past. Laptops are becoming lighter, easy to carry, and have increasingly large storage capacities, perfect for replacing all of those bulky binders.
Perhaps one of the most exciting new enhancements to genealogical research is the way science can now compare our DNA to thousands of other samples in the database to determine kinship. The Wall Street Journal says “DNA Testing, the hottest tool in genealogy, is helping more people open doors to their past.” DNA Test Kits may be obtained from many DNA Testing companies like ’23 and Me’, ‘Ancestry’, ‘Living Heritage’, or ‘My Heritage’ to name a few. Many will provide a free analysis, so that you can find out the percentages of ethnicity that you have from each country. Others will even match you from a database, and connect you with cousins around the world. Perhaps you’ll trace your roots back to an interesting historical figure, a Hollywood star, or even British royalty!
Online Learning Sites
Yet another way that people are able to share their knowledge and experience with millions are through sites on the internet like http://www.youtube.com. While the younger folks tend to use this site to listen to the music or watch movies, genealogists can use the site to educate themselves and enhance their research skills. There are some fantastic instructional videos on estimating the dates of old photographs, or researching ancestors in other parts of the world, or new records and resources that are available to Canadian researchers.
There are many sites available where you can post a message that will be seen by thousands of other genealogists, and also view some interesting discussions among people researching the same family surname, like Genforum – https://www.genealogy.com/forum/
Researching Cemeteries and Memorials
You can search, browse, and find cemetery records of your ancestors, and many have photos as well. There are millions of records from all over the world. Just type in your ancestor’s surname to begin the search: https://www.findagrave.com/ , another similar site is Billion Graves – https://billiongraves.com/
Clearing the Genealogical Roadblocks
As time goes by, more and more genealogical roadblocks have been removed, and some types of research that once seemed almost impossible are now within our grasp. For those of us who remember Alex Haley’s book ‘Roots’ which documented the search for Haley’s African ancestors, we learned that many records were either destroyed or non-existent. The Mormon Church has released a database of 72,000 bank accounts opened by former slaves, after the Civil War, and these records could potentially help millions of their descendants trace their families back to Africa. These particular sets of bank records are significant not just because they date back to 1865, but because of the scarcity of detailed records of black families that are available from that era. To begin your search of these records: http://www.familysearch.org.
There are several sites available where vintage family photos may be uploaded and enhanced. One of these is MyHeritage:
Of all the new research tools available to genealogists, I must admit that the one that I find the most exciting is a project called Ireland Reaching Out. It was founded in south-east Galway by tech entrepreneur Mike Feerick. The idea is that instead of waiting for people to trace their roots back to Ireland, local communities, largely through volunteer efforts, are trying to find descendants of those who emigrated. Ireland Reaching Out, also called Ireland XO has promised to help with genealogical research at no cost. Volunteer community teams, who are trained in local genealogy, are also prepared to meet with you and guide returning migrants to places of genealogical interest specific to their family. To contact Ireland Reaching Out with your queries: http://www.irelandxo.com
Did your ancestor come from a non-English-speaking country? You’ll likely need to research some foreign-language records and websites, and may even need to communicate in that language with library or archive staff. In the past it was necessary to learn at least the basics of the language and spend time looking up phrases in a foreign-language dictionary or if the budget allowed, hire someone to translate for you.
Now, you can get a basic translation instantly with free online tools. These automated translations aren’t perfect, but most are good enough to provide basic communication. Type ‘Google Translate’ into your web browser, and then enter the phrase you’d like to translate.
Some New Tools in the New Year
So, now that the New Year is upon us, perhaps we can kick our research up a notch and take it to the next level with some of the cutting edge tools available today. With all of the technology on hand, surely we can streamline some of our old fact-finding techniques, and expedite our research a bit.
As for myself, I may not have tried all of the new gadgets yet, but I’d sure like to see if the Ireland XO project can help me with my research. I’ve been trying to locate my ancestor Tobias Stafford’s family in County Wexford for longer than I’d care to admit. Tobias traveled to Canada in 1816, and settled in Lanark County; but who did he leave behind in the old country?
With the help of Ireland Reaching Out, and a few new high tech gadgets – maybe THIS will be the year that I make that connection!
One of our family’s favourite dishes at Christmas, is Granny Rutherford’s Sausage Dressing. It is savory, rather than spicy, and seasoned lightly with sage and onions. It was a perfect complement to Mother’s juicy, flavourful, roast turkey, and always graced the table of our childhood Christmas dinners. In our Granny’s youth, in England, it was more common to stuff a goose than a turkey, but her sausage dressing works well for either.
It was no surprise that Granny, (Dorothy Woolsey Rutherford) was skilled in making such a delicious dressing – after-all, her parents owned two butcher shops, – both popular in providing the residents of Huddersfield, England, with the finest selection of meats and savories, perfect for a traditional Christmas feast.
Stuffing or Dressing?
Some say ‘stuffing’, and some call it ‘dressing’, and that seems to depend on your origins. In some regions in Canada, the term ‘stuffing’ refers to something that is stuffed into a cavity, and ‘dressing’ is something cooked alongside, in a separate pan. In the United States, the southerners are more likely to say dressing, and in the northern states ‘stuffing’ is the most common term.
In the records of previous generations in England, the term ‘dressing’, originated in the 1850s, when the upper-class Victorians thought that the word ‘stuffing’ was too crude. It was around the same time that the term ‘dark meat’ was used to refer to poultry legs and thighs.
Dorothy Woolsey Rutherford, (Granny Rutherford), born in Lincoln, Nottinghamshire, England, 1893
Canterbury Meat Company, 15 Market Street, Huddersfield, England
Granny Rutherford grew up in the family business. The Canterbury Meat Company, was one of two locations in Huddersfield England, owned by William Henry ‘Harry’ Woolsey, and his wife Mary Jane Foster Woolsey. The family, (including my grandmother, Dorothy Woolsey) lived upstairs, above the store.
William Henry ‘Harry’ Woolsey (1856-1921)
William Henry ‘Harry’ Woolsey, Dorothy’s father, came from a family of jewelers. His parents W.H. Woolsey Sr., and Eliza Hunt Woolsey, owned the W.H. Woolsey Jewelry store, in Grantham, England. In 1878, he opened his own store, and conducted business for many years.
Ad for the opening of Wm. Woolsey Jr.’s jewelry store, in Grantham, 1878.
A gold watch, signed by his father, William Woolsey, from his jewelry shop.
Mary Jane (Foster) Woolsey (1852-1909)
From the Jewelry Business to Butcher Shops
Mary Jane Woolsey, Dorothy’s mother, came from the Foster family. The Foster butcher shops were well-established over the generations, and so, when William Henry ‘Harry’ married Mary Jane Foster, he left the jewelry business, and opened two butcher shops in Huddersfield, England.
Woolsey-Foster marriage announcement, “The Grantham Journal”, Dec. 27, 1879
It was as a young lady, during the time she lived with her family, above one of the butcher shops, that Dorothy perfected her recipe for savoury sausage dressing.
Arlene Stafford, Granny Rutherford (Dorothy Woolsey Rutherford) Audry Rutherford Stafford, at the Stafford House
…And so the tradition continues, and the recipe was passed down through the generations, from its origins in Huddersfield, England, in Granny’s family’s butcher shop, down to my mother, and from her, down to us.
Granny Rutherford’s Sausage Dressing:
1 lb sausage meat
1 c milk
7 c breadcrumbs
1 c chopped celery
2 Tbsp chopped onions
1 tsp salt
4 Tbsp parsley
Method: Fry sausage meat until brown. Drain off fat. Add eggs, hot milk, and the remaining ingredients. Stuff into the clean cavity of the poultry of your choice. You may bake additional dressing in tin foil in the oven.
Whether your family calls it stuffing or dressing, it’s a delicious part of Christmas dinner, enjoyed by many, around the world. Try Granny Rutherford’s Sausage Dressing, and bring the taste of old-world Victorian England to your own Christmas table!
Recipe for Granny Rutherford’s Sausage Dressing, from “Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen”,
Judy: “Christmas Day in those days, as now, was a joyous occasion, but we knew that there would not be many presents because our parents couldn’t afford them, but there were second-hand sleighs or toboggans, and gifts that were hand-made or hand-sewn.”
Roger: ” I remember waking up and being able to see our breath Christmas morning. I remember moving wood, both at home and at school (S.S.#4 Bathurst), as both were heated with wood. Neither had running water. Water was pumped into a pail, and brought inside for drinking and cooking.”
Judy Stafford (standing) Audry Stafford seated, front row, left to right – Jackie Stafford, Roger Stafford and Tim Stafford
Arlene: “One year Aunt Nellie Rutherford sent us a beautiful Christmas ornament. It was made of brass and had a circular base, with a brass rod that extended up from the base. Attached to the rod about halfway down were four angels with tiny rods hanging beneath each, and two bells extending out to the sides. On the base were holders for four small candles, and when you lit the candles the angels began to go around in a circle faster and faster, and their tiny rods would strike the bells and ring very softly. That was one of my favourite decorations. I also liked the little cone-shaped paper angels that hung on the tree, and the metal birds with tails made of real feathers that clipped onto the branches.”
Roger: “I can also remember Mom and the girls putting the Christmas cards on strings and hanging them up for decorations. I can remember cutting up Christmas cards from the year before to make the tags for gifts. And there were the bells on the doors. I remember one on the door to the hall and I believe one on the front door. “
Jackie: “I think that at one time almost everything hung on the tree was homemade.”
Tim Stafford with Arlene Stafford
Tim: “I was not able to sleep Christmas Eve. I had been warned several times that Santa would leave only potatoes in my stocking if I didn’t sleep. When I actually did get potatoes in my stocking when I was eight or nine years old I was in shock.”
Judy: “Oh yes, I certainly did get potatoes in my stocking…a very clear message on Christmas morning, and it was probably on more than one occasion. I wasn’t very surprised either! We were usually threatened and she always carried through. The only candy I remember getting in my stocking was hard candy, and there was always an orange in my stocking – that was a rare treat as fresh, imported fruit wasn’t usually seen at other times of the year. Soda pop would also be purchased, but only at Christmas.”
Jackie: “Mother would put our stockings at the end of our bed when she thought we were asleep, and sometimes we were. If we had been bad we would have a potato in our stocking, along with a piece of fruit and a bit of candy.”
Roger: “I can also remember getting a potato in my sock one year. Mother had warned me that Santa put potatoes in bad boys’ socks. It shouldn’t have been any surprise to me.”
Judy Stafford and Tim Stafford
Judy: “We received what we considered very expensive gifts from our Uncle Jack Rutherford in Alberta, and were allowed to choose one gift to open on Christmas Eve, and we usually chose his. There was no ripping off of gift paper – the parcels had to be carefully unwrapped and ribbons, if any, had to be handed over to Mother before they could get mixed up with the discards and boxes, which would be thrown in the cook-stove to burn.”
Arlene Stafford and Judy Stafford
Arlene: “I was always excited to go to Calvin Church, on Christmas Eve. During the service I would usually be whispering to my friends Susan and Jane Munro, who sat in the pew in front of us, until Mother would give me ‘the look’ and then I would try to be quiet. It wasn’t easy being quiet because I knew so many of the kids there. Looking around the church I saw lots of my friends from school – Patti Jordan, Jutta and Judy Siebel, and Barb Patton. George Jordan and I were in the same grade, Steve Scott, Harold Closs and Bobby Miller were a grade ahead of me, and then there were the older girls who were a little bit farther ahead in school like Janice Jordan, Karen Jordan and Maxine Closs. After church was over, I would see my friends outside and we’d be talking excitedly about what gifts we were hoping to find under the tree the next morning.”
Jackie Stafford and Tim Stafford in front of the Stafford House
Judy: “Parcels from the West, or also known as the ‘hand-me-down box’, would arrive from our Aunts in Alberta, twice a year, with our cousins gently worn clothing – every summer a box of winter clothes, and every winter, just before or right after Christmas, a box of summer clothes arrived. This was always an exciting time when we would crowd around Mother as she opened the box, and decided who would get what, and if any of the clothing had to be altered to fit us. I remember a lot of the dresses being brown which was not my favourite colour, but I imagine they were practical as they would not show the dirt. Mother also made dresses and blouses and skirts – shirts for the boys. I remember a lovely lilac plaid summer dress Mother made for me, and an identical one in pink plaid for Jackie. Our shoes were purchased from a factory outlet store in Lanark, and we made that trip a couple of times a year to buy shoes for school. “
Tobias ‘Tim’, ‘Tib’ Stafford checking the Christmas lights on the spruce tree
Roger: “Dad always put lights up outside, usually on the spruce tree near the door. I often watched the northern lights dancing, or heard the whistle of the train at the crossing back of the house, or the sound of the train itself on a cold winter night. I guess those are a couple of the reasons that cities have no attraction for me.”
Judy: “Nothing these days will ever replace the sound of the train whistle as it passed back at the tracks around midnight every night, or the sounds of the sleigh runners cutting through the snow on a crisp winter’s night.”
Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, in the kitchen, preparing some Christmas treats
Mother’s Chocolate Fudge
2 Tbsp. butter
2 c. miniature marshmallows
1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 2/3 cups of sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (if desired)
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix butter, milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat..
Stir in marshmallows, chocolate chips, vanilla and walnuts.
Pour into an 8-inch buttered pan. Cool. Cut into squares. Makes 2 lbs.
Tim: “My favourite Christmas food – Chocolate fudge with walnuts.”
Roger: I certainly remember all the toffee and fudge Mom used to make at Christmas. Mother also baked many specialty cookies for Christmas. As Christmas approached mother would review her stock in the freezer only to find much of our favourites had disappeared. I can remember holding the door while one of my siblings with longer arms would lean in and load up on treats from the freezer. I was never averse to a sweet bribe.”
Arlene Stafford making a snowman
Jackie: “When I was a kid, Mother bought her Christmas candy through the catalogues – Sears and Eaton’s and bought medium size boxes of licorice all-sorts; bridge mixture; and the cinnamon candies. I think she probably bought other types as well but I remember the ones I liked. She hid them in the bedroom, and then, closer to Christmas, in the pantry somewhere, and she would go in there now and then with an empty bowl, and magically come out with a bowl of one of those candies. A great treat because we rarely had that kind of ‘bought’ candy.”
Roger: “I also remember that Mother would always buy some grapes and Christmas oranges for a special treat at Christmas. It makes me feel very lucky to be able to go buy any type of fruit all year long.”
Jackie Stafford with niece, Andrea Ryan, eldest daughter of Judy Stafford Ryan
Jackie: “Christmas Eve was always an interesting time. Dad would be late from work, delivering milk for Chaplin’s Dairy, and Mother would usually let us eat at the usual time as she was never sure when Dad would turn up. When he did come home, he was tired and he had a bag of stuff with him. While he ate his warmed up dinner Mother would open all of the presents he got from his customers.”
Arlene: “Dad used to get five or six boxes of chocolates from his customers. I was always hoping that he would get a box of chocolate covered cherries. They were my favourite.”
Roger: “I remember Dad bringing home Christmas cards from his customers in Perth, on the milk route, and Mom opening them up and taking the cash out to put towards a summer holiday.
Jackie: “On Christmas Eve Dad’s customers would often give him money – usually $1 or $2 dollars and Mother would have little piles of bills. Sometimes they would know his brand of cigarette and those were great, but the Export A and Players were traded at his favourite store, if possible. I would love those because we would get the empty tins and I would love to put my crayons in one and some little bits in pieces in another. He also got single packs of cigarettes and they were often his brand.”
Judy Stafford and Jackie Stafford
Judy: “I remember that Mother didn’t like anyone in the kitchen when she was cooking, and when we were older and came home at Christmas, she would post a list of duties for each of us on the refrigerator.”
Jackie Stafford, Arlene Stafford, and Judy Stafford
Jackie: ” One Christmas, there was a toboggan under the tree for me. Tim already had one, which was a good size, but mine was smaller, and perfect for me. We couldn’t wait to get outside and try it. In those days, there was a lovely hill to the right of the house, part of the land surrounding the barn. We would slide down the hill, and if you went through the gap you ended up in the next field.”
Roger: “I can remember one year, that Uncle Jack Rutherford, sent Jackie and I, aluminum snow-shoe-shaped sliders. We used to try to slide down the hill near the barn, standing up. We seldom succeeded.”
Judy: “We skated and tobogganed. We went down the hill in the field beside the house, and over a low fence, and that caused a few accidents!”
Tim: “In the early part of the winter, if there was a cold snap and not too much snow, the creek would freeze over and I would skate to school (S.S. #4 Bathurst), passing all through the farms, and coming out at the bridge just south of the school. On days when the ice was too thin, I would arrive home soaked to the knees, and Mom would have to dry all of my clothes as best she could on the wood-stove oven door, as there was no clothes dryer then. The skates I used were Dad’s, with extra socks in them.”
Jackie: “We skated until our feet were so cold that we could not get our skates off, so when we were small, we just walked home in them. Mother would get the skates off, and we would sit in front of the open oven door to thaw out our feet.”
Jackie Stafford, and niece, Andrea Ryan, in the front yard, Korry’s farm in the background.
Jackie: “When we were old enough Dad would let us go with him to get the Christmas tree. As we got older we would sometimes have already selected a few possible trees for Dad to look at. In the early years we walked back to the bush and brought the tree back on Tim’s toboggan. I was always half frozen by the time we got back home.”
Jackie Stafford, pulling niece, Andrea Ryan, on a sled, on the side road, near the house.
Roger: “I can remember trying to find a nicely shaped tree that wasn’t too big, and then getting home and finding it was still too large to go in the house. At one time I can remember Dad nailing a large board to the bottom of the tree to stand it up. That was before we had a Christmas tree stand. I can remember Mom having us check the stand for water to make sure the tree wasn’t drying out too fast. I can also remember all the needles falling off when the decorations were being taken off the tree, and the tree was taken out through the kitchen to the yard. I can remember Mom using some of the boughs cut off to make a wreath.”
Back row: Roger Stafford, cousin Gail Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Judy Stafford, Arlene Stafford. Front row: cousin Peter Stafford, Tim Stafford
Tobias ‘Tim’, ‘Tib’ Stafford, his sister-in-law, Aunt Pat Stafford, and his brother, Peter ‘Pete’ Stafford
Jackie: “In those days Mother made popcorn, and we strung it on string, and used that as a garland on the tree.”
Roger: “I can also remember stringing popcorn for decorations.”
L to R: Roger Stafford, Arlene Stafford, Judy Stafford, Audry Stafford, Tobias ‘Tim’ Stafford, Tim Stafford, Jackie Stafford
Jackie: “Mother bought coloured craft paper, and we cut out strips of paper and glued them together to make a circle, and then a circle within the previous circle, and on and on, until we had a string long enough to go from the corners of the living room to the light fixture in the center of the ceiling. We usually did them red, green, etc.”
L to R: Judy Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Tim Stafford, Roger Stafford
Arlene: “Board games, and card games were a favourite on Christmas night, after dinner. Everyone gathered in the kitchen, and Mother brought us bowls of fudge, taffy, cookies, and sweet squares. We played Rummy, Monopoly, and sometimes Crokinole, until the wee hours. Mother always bought soft drinks at Christmas, sometimes cola, orange, or root beer. That was the only time of the year we had pop in the house.
Tobias ‘Tim’ ‘Tib’ Stafford and Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, 1968
Judy: “Before the day was out, our Mother would iron the Christmas paper and ribbon, which would be carefully tucked away until next year. To this day, I cringe when I see anyone rip off gift paper with no thought of re-using it. We often made our own Christmas wrapping paper in those days, using cut-up brown paper bags, and drawing pictures on with crayons, and tying up the gifts with binder-twine. We were always appreciative of what we received, because wealth to us was being happy and healthy, with loved ones around to share the joy.”
The Stafford siblings, with their spouses: Back row- Roger Stafford, Sam Wharton, Kevin Wilson, Tim Stafford, Jim Ryan. Front row: Ruth (Parks) Stafford, Jackie Stafford Wharton, Arlene Stafford-Wilson, Marian (Salemink) Stafford, and Judy Stafford Ryan.
…..and so we’ve come to the end of our Christmas visit to the Stafford House. If you had spent Christmas Day with us you would have never guessed that we didn’t have very much money. Our dinner table was overflowing with food – a huge platter of turkey, bowls heaped with stuffing, a basket piled high with soft homemade dinner rolls, steaming mashed potatoes, gravy, cheese, and pickles, and that was just the main course.
For dessert there was homemade Christmas fruit cake, shortbread, chocolate chews, cherry balls, gumdrop cookies, almond cookies, shortbread, sweet squares, chocolate fudge with walnuts, homemade toffee, licorice all-sorts, bridge-mixture, mixed nuts, and boxes of assorted chocolates.
The Stafford house was filled with laughter, and multiple lively conversations. There were chiming bells attached to the front door and hall door, and Christmas cards displayed, framing every doorway and covering every flat surface in the living room. A fragrant fresh-cut spruce tree graced the corner of the living room, proudly displaying our homemade ornaments, and a few precious glass balls that Mother had saved over the years. Our opened gifts were nestled under the tree, along with the remnants of our stockings from that morning.
By the evening, Mother would be resting on the couch, and Dad would be lounging in his lazy-boy chair. They often discussed the events of the day, while sharing a box of chocolates Christmas night – she preferring the hard toffee centers, and Dad enjoying the soft creams, which worked out very well indeed, over their many Christmases together.
You would have found the Stafford children in the kitchen, playing cards, or board games, sharing a dish of fudge, a bowl of nuts, and some homemade cookies. We’d often be sporting the paper crowns from the Christmas crackers we’d pulled at dinner time. You would have heard genuine shrieks of laughter, and some friendly jabs, many hilarious jokes from Roger, and witty remarks from Tim, with his dry sense of humour. You’d likely hear the girls scolding the boys for some of their occasional off-colour comments, followed by more laughter, and a few groans, as we all complained about how much food we’d consumed, all the while everyone agreeing how delicious it was.
As Christmas Day wound down for another year, one at a time, people began to trail off to bed, weary from the fresh cold air and outings during the busy day, and stuffed full of our Mother’s delicious food.
We hope you enjoyed hearing our stories about growing up, at the Stafford house, and the ways we spent Christmas Day. The sights and sounds and smells from our childhood Christmas are something we carry with us every day. They lift our spirits in times when life seems cold, and harsh, and unforgiving. We need only to close our eyes and we are back on the Third Line, walking up the lane, through the yard, and entering the bright, warm kitchen. We are home again.
Quotes and stories from Tim Stafford, Judy Stafford Ryan, Jackie Stafford Wharton, Roger Stafford, and Arlene Stafford-Wilson, and the recipe for Audry Stafford’s Chocolate Fudge, are excerpts from, “Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen”
The Irish brought their Christmas traditions when they settled in Lanark County, in the earliest times. Our ancestor, Tobias Stafford, came in 1816, from County Wexford, Ireland, and married Elizabeth, ‘Betsy’ McGarry, who came from Mullingar Parish, County Westmeath, Ireland.
Christmas, in those times was a far more religious, and far less commercial holiday than it is today. Priests traveled from larger centers, like Perth, to smaller communities, and people gathered at one of the larger neighbourhood homes to hear mass, and to celebrate the birth of Christ. In 1856, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church was built, on a gentle hill, overlooking the Mississippi River. Finally, the locals had their own church, not just to mark religious holidays, but also a place to witness baptisms, weddings, and to seek comfort at the funerals of their dearly departed.
St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1856, Ferguson Falls, Ontario
One of the early Christmas traditions at St. Patrick’s Church was the lighting of the Advent Candles.
Four candles were set up at the front of the church, and one was lit at each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
1st Sunday of Advent
The first candle was lit with a sermon on being watchful and alert, waiting for Christ’s arrival:
“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Matthew 24:42
2nd Sunday of Advent
On the second week, the next candle was lit, with a sermon focusing on making preparations for the birth of Christ:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ Matthew 3:3
3rd Sunday of Advent
On the third Sunday of Advent, after the lighting of the third candle, the sermon focused on St. John the Baptist, and the foretelling of Jesus coming to earth:
“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.” Luke 3:16-17
4th Sunday of Advent
Week four of Advent was the lighting of the fourth candle, and a reflection on the unwavering faith of Mary and Joseph, and a call to those who believed in what was to come:
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:45
Thomas Stafford’s Family
Thomas Stafford, the youngest son of Tobias and Betsy, was just 10 years old when St. Patrick’s was established, and so, he attended the church as a child, and throughout his entire life, with his own children, as he remained on the ancestral Stafford property, on the 11th concession of Drummond Township.
Family of Thomas Stafford, his wife, Mary (Carroll) Stafford, seated with their eldest son, Peter in the middle row. Back row – Ann Stafford, Mary Stafford (local schoolteacher in Ferguson Falls), Thomas Patrick Stafford, and Julia Stafford (who married William Quinn), front row – Margaret Stafford, Anastasia ‘Stasia’ Stafford, and Michael Vincent ‘Vince’ Stafford, (my grandfather, named for his uncle, Rev. Father Michael Stafford, the Apostle of Temperance), photo taken 1896.
In the weeks before Christmas, dried fruits were soaked in whiskey and rum, and more alcohol was added each day as the fruit became plump and full. A large, square piece of fresh clean cloth was dipped in hot water, and rubbed with flour to make it waterproof. After two weeks of soaking, the fruit was added to a traditional cake batter, and this ‘pudding’ was tied in the cloth sack, boiled for one hour, and then hung in the pantry to ripen.
Christmas puddings were hung in cloth sacks to ripen
An Irish pioneer’s Christmas pudding
Back in their homeland, the Irish decorated with sprigs of holly, ivy, and other evergreens native to Ireland like Arbutus, and Yew. Once in Canada, they used the native Eastern Ontario greenery – like spruce, pine, and cedar.
Small branches of spruce and cedar were brought into the home, and laid along the mantle
A spruce tree was cut from the surrounding forests, and brought into the house about a week before Christmas. White candles were attached to the tree, and lit in the evenings leading up to Christmas.
I recall our Dad saying that he was nervous when they lit the candles on the family tree because so many house fires were caused by this practice in the Ferguson Falls area, around Christmastime, when he was a young lad.
Shiny Christmas ornaments that we know today were very rare in the early days, and most of the decorative glass ornaments were imported from Germany, were very expensive, and only available in larger towns, like Perth, or Carleton Place. Often, the ladies of the family made homemade ornaments to hang on the tree, and some were made using needle-craft, like tatting, or crochet.
Lace Christmas ornaments were hand-crafted by the early settlers
Some of the more affluent families purchased ornaments imported from Europe
Precious and costly ornaments, imported from Europe
Bloc na Nollag – the burning of the Yule Log
The cold dark days and nights of the winter solstice were known as “Yule” in Ireland, and most of northern Europe. Burning the “Bloc na Nollag” (Nollag pronounced ‘null-egg’), was an old Irish tradition that continued through the generations, and was common to the Irish who settled in Eastern Ontario. The men of the family dragged home the largest log they could find. After dusting off the snow, the log was placed whole at the back of the fire. This large log was supposed to last for the entire 12 days of Christmas. A small piece of the log was saved to use as kindling for the lighting of the next year’s yule log .
A Candle in the Window on Christmas Eve
All through Ireland a candle is lit and placed in the window on Christmas Eve. This tradition was brought to Canada by the settlers, and was a symbol of welcome to the Holy family. It is thought that this custom originated with the tradition of lighting the way for all travelers on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It is a tradition for the eldest person in the family to light the candle in the window on Christmas Eve.
A candle lit in the window on Christmas Eve, lighting the way for the Holy Family
An orange in the Christmas stocking
According to Dad, they hung simple stockings, sometimes wool socks, without decoration, on Christmas Eve, and in the morning, the stocking would hold a few pieces of hard candy, a small toy usually made of wood, and always a lovely, ripe, Christmas orange. He said that fresh fruit was scarce when he was growing up in the 1920s, and it was a very special thing to receive a fresh juicy orange on Christmas morning.
A simple stocking with a precious fresh orange was a treat in the 1920s, in Drummond Township
On Christmas morning, the family got dressed up in their best clothing, hitched up the horses to the cutter, and headed to St. Patrick’s Church.
All of the families in the area donated a bit of money to the local priest, and presented it to him with thanks, at the end of the service. The custom came from Ireland and was known as the ‘priest’s box’, even though the settlers used an envelope, or folded paper together and sometimes painted colourful designs on the outside.
Envelope for a special Christmas donation for the local priest
Irish Christmas Dinner
Many of the traditional foods from Ireland were not available to the Canadian pioneer settlers, so they made a few substitutions when needed. Although goose was the traditional bird cooked for Christmas dinner in Ireland, the settlers sometimes roasted a duck, chicken, or turkey, instead. The clove-studded baked ham was a tradition brought from the old country, and cooked in our ancestor’s homes. Stuffing was made of bread crumbs spiced with sage, onion, salt and pepper. Potatoes were always a favourite daily staple, and they were usually roasted in the fat of the duck or chicken. Roasted carrots were served, along with gravy made with the poultry drippings. The plum pudding was boiled again on Christmas Day, then a whiskey or rum sauce was poured on the top and it was lit at the table, at the end of the Christmas meal, and served as dessert.
Traditional Irish Christmas dinner with ham, turkey, stuffing, carrots, potatoes, gravy, and Brussels sprouts
Clove-studded baked ham
roasted potatoes and carrots
After dinner, the leftover food was put away, the dishes washed, and chairs were moved close to the fire, placed in a semi-circle. This was a time for music! Fiddles were played, and traditional Irish songs from the old country were sang around the fire. Stories were told of Christmas’ past, and jokes were shared, generous glasses of whiskey were poured, and the dancing of a little ‘jig’ to go along with the music was common.
The merriment went on into the wee hours, and it was a tradition for the youngest in the family to leave the home’s door unlatched, before going to bed, to give shelter to any travelers who may pass by. When the story-tellers and the musicians grew weary, and the last soul in the house finally retired to bed, it was their task to make sure that the Christmas candle was still lit in the window, to help guide the Holy Family through the long, dark, night.
And so, the traditions and customs of our Irish ancestors were passed down through the generations, from the very first settlers, to the present day. The special Christmas foods, the hanging of the stockings, the lighting of the candles for Advent, the singing of songs, the fiddling, the whiskey, the story-telling, and the lone candle in the window, lighting up the dark, cold, December night.
So, I’ll leave you with a traditional Irish Christmas blessing, and hope that you will pass along some of your own family’s customs to the next generation, from your grandparents, to your parents, to you, and onto your children, and their children. Peace be with you and yours this holy Christmas season.
Listen to a recording of the interview on Lake 88, as’In Focus‘ Host, Lynda D’Aoust, talks with special guest, author, Arlene Stafford-Wilson, as they discuss Arlene’s latest book in the Lanark County series: “Lanark County Collection: Winding Our Way Down Memory Lane”
Click on the link below to listen to a recording of the Lake 88 Interview from December 4 2020:
“Lanark County Collection: Winding Our Way Down Memory Lane”
“Travel back in time to the 1960s and 1970s, as the author invites you to come along on this journey through rural Eastern Ontario. Visit the Rideau Ferry Inn, a much-loved dance hall, where rock and roll was king. Watch in wonder as a water-witcher dazzles you with their mysterious abilities to locate the best spot to dig a country well. Spend the evening at the infamous Stumble Inn in Ferguson Falls, known for its bootleg whiskey and legendary fighting among the Irish villagers. Meet the dedicated staff of the Perth Public Library, and discover the tragedy, scandal, and unstoppable spirit that made this place ‘the heart of the town’. Visit a rural farmhouse and discover the secrets behind the art and science of sourdough. Spend a hot summer night at the Port Elmsley Drive In, meet some fascinating people, and find out what happens behind the scenes, while you watch a movie under the stars.”
Other books in the series, by Arlene Stafford-Wilson:
“Hearts glowed in friendship, forged over decades,
and the Spirit of Christmas entered the house,
and walked among us.”
l to r: Wendy Parker, Margery Conboy, Arlene Stafford-Wilson, Beverly Ferlatte, Betty Miller, Eleanor Paul, Heather Paul
For some people it’s the music of the season, the smell of the turkey, or the glittering gifts sitting under the tree; but for me it was a special visit to the house where I grew up, a homecoming, after a long absence of twenty-two years.
It doesn’t really seem that long ago since our father passed away in 1992, and our mother moved to town. I almost half expected to see him coming from the garage, carrying a tangled mess of Christmas lights, asking me if I’d hold the ladder steady, while he fastened the wire clamps onto the big spruce tree at the front of the house.
When I first heard from Wendy Parker, the current owner of our former home, that it was to be part of a Christmas House Tour, my thoughts turned back to days gone by, of the heavenly smells of Mother’s baking, bright cards in the mailbox at the end of the lane, and special concerts and plays at Calvin Church. There would be eight houses in total on the Christmas House Tour, and the event was sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women, and the money raised would help support education in the community.
Kevin and I arrived early that afternoon, with ample time to visit some of my old, familiar haunts. We drove first to Christie Lake, a place I knew well, the bridge at Jordan’s, where I’d jumped many times into the cool, clear waters. Hot days spent riding bikes with friends on the Third Line, and when that bridge was finally in sight it was like seeing an oasis in the middle of the desert. What a welcome sight it was! And even on this cold, December day, the lake appeared as serene and as lovely as it always did, calm and blue, waiting patiently for cottage season, and the laughter of little ones, the parties and music of the older ones, and a place of peace and serenity for the eldest ones. We drove along the shore, and then headed back up the Third Line.
The bridge at Jordan’s Cottages – at Christie Lake – a place where we often swam as children, on hot summer days, jumping off the bridge into the cool, clear water.
A visit home would not be complete without making a stop at the church where our Mother brought us every Sunday. This was where we celebrated baptisms, witnessed weddings, and met for comfort after funerals. This was the setting for the Strawberry Socials, Easter Sunday white gloves and hats, the lighting of the advent candles and Christmas Eve. The church stands proudly on Cameron Side Road, looking solid as ever, a place for meeting neighbours, friends, a place for worship, a place for solitude, and a shelter from the storms and turmoil of the outside world.
Calvin United Church, Cameron Side Road, Tay Valley Township, Lanark County, Ontario
We headed back to the Fourth Line and rounded the curve, up to the railroad tracks. There were many strolls along these tracks to the duck pond, watching the beavers at play, seeing the ducks return year after year, raise their babies, and leave at the end of the season. Memories of sitting under the big tree along the tracks with my brother Roger as we patiently placed a penny each on the rails, sat back, waited for the train to go by, then retrieved our flattened pennies. Many hours in my youth were spent waiting for trains, listening to the sounds of the lonely whistles, and hearing the rumbling and chugging down the tracks as they headed for Perth.
Railroad crossing, on Perkins’ Road, near the 4th Line, Bathurst (Tay Valley Township), Lanark County
A view from the railroad tracks, near the 4th line, Bathurst Township (Tay Valley Township)
The gentle slope, under the tree, near the railroad tracks, where Arlene Stafford and her brother, Roger Stafford, often sat on the hot summer days, placing a penny or two on the tracks, and waiting for the trains to go by, and then retrieving the flattened pennies.
We continued up the side road to the little creek and as soon as I spotted it, I remembered scooping up the tadpoles in my sand pail, and then pouring them into a big glass pickle jar to set on the window ledge in my bedroom. Every spring it was a ritual to catch some of these quick, black tadpoles, or pollywogs, as we called them, and watch them for hours, swimming contentedly in the jar, until we dumped them back into the creek.
The little creek, on Perkin’s road, not far from the Stafford House, where the Stafford children collected tadpoles in jars, on warm spring afternoons.
The lowlands, behind the Stafford House, where all the Stafford children learned how to skate
The lowlands, across from the creek were still flooded, and ice was already beginning to form. It was back on these lowlands that we all learned how to skate; not on a flat, pristine ice surface in an arena, but through the weeds, and over the bumps, and up and down the imperfections of a farmer’s field. The fact that our skates were old hand-me-downs was the least of our worries!
We drove up the side road to the laneway and parked the car. As we walked up the lane, the slopes and curves of the land were as familiar to me as if I’d never left, and we made our way to the door and knocked.
Kevin Wilson, at the base of the laneway, leading up to the Stafford House
An ad for the Heritage Christmas House Tours, 2014
The garage, built by Tobias ‘Tib’, ‘Tib’ Stafford, and eldest son, Tim Stafford, in 1964.
The Stafford House, view from the driveway, at the east side of the property
When the door opened and we stepped inside, the home was beautifully decorated for the season. Wendy’s elaborate table was laid out with her mother’s china and cutlery with festive accents fit for a holiday gathering. The whole house in fact, was lovely and bright, adorned with reds and greens and touches of gold and shimmer. As we walked through the rooms, one by one, they were warm and inviting, and almost made me forget that something was missing – the smell of fresh baked bread, a permanent aroma in our house as Mother baked daily for a family of seven.
There was a lovely display arranged on a table in the den, an album of our Stafford family photos and copies of ‘Lanark County Kid’ and ‘Lanark County Chronicles’. I thought that they looked very much at home in this well cared-for house, so lovingly maintained and obviously cherished.
A view to the east, with the former home of Chris and Leanore Perkins framed in the wreath
Margery Conboy, (front), with Wendy Parker, viewing photos of the Stafford family when they lived in the house
A view to the west, at sundown
Perhaps what made the house seem so much like home, after so many years away, were the familiar faces, friends and neighbours, who came to share the memories, of the things that once were; and to celebrate a new Christmas season, content and happy in each other’s company. Though Wendy’s is the newest face among us, it’s as if she’d been with us all along. Wendy is a gracious hostess, and we all had a wonderful time chatting about the house, and catching up on the news in the neighbourhood.
I walked through the house, room by room, and the memories of the past lurked playfully around every corner. The house seemed to remember me, and the walls and ceilings surrounded me with love, and kept me warm and safe once again. It was a special day, and a rare treat to be back home.
Heartfelt thanks to Wendy and to the members of the Canadian Federation of University Women, for making our visit possible, and many thanks also to old friends and neighbours Margery Conboy, Beverly Ferlatte, Betty Miller, Eleanor Paul and her lovely daughter Heather, for joining us on our trip down memory lane!
As I continue to bask in the glow of our visit to the old house, I will leave you with this quote from Thomas Wolfe:
“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day we come home again.”
This story – in memory of Betty Miller (1934-2015) – “gone, but not forgotten”
This is the house where it all began. It is the place that became the setting for so many stories, so many books; the idyllic backdrop where canopies of Lanark County sugar maples dominated the peaceful grounds surrounding the house.
The home had been in the family since 1936, when Dad’s aunt and uncle, Thomas and Clara Carberry purchased the property, but it truly became the Stafford house, when Mother and Dad returned from the war in 1946.
Audry stared down thoughtfully, her hands cradling the pink and white china tea cup. Was the war really over?, she wondered. It had been so many months, that turned into years, with those dark uncertain clouds hanging over their heads. All they seemed to hear in those days was bad news; news of young lives lost in battles far away. Could it be true? Could they finally get on with their lives now, and spend time together as a family? She’d read about the victory celebrations, and seen photos in the newspapers of the ticker-tape parades, but it wasn’t until she heard from her husband; it was the news that she’d been waiting for…he’d be boarding a ship bound for Canada. He was coming home.
They met at the #8 Bombing and Gunnery School, in Lethbridge, Alberta. She was a pretty young Air Force Corporal, from Edmonton, and he, a dashing young Sergeant from Lanark County. Mother was drawn to his handsome face, and neat appearance. She claimed that she could spot him across the parade square on the base because the crease of his pants was so crisp.
Corporal Audry Rutherford, W.D. Royal Canadian Air Force
Tobias ‘Tim’ Stafford & Audry Rutherford, on a date in Lethbridge, Alberta
In those days, relationships on the military base developed quickly by necessity, never knowing when someone would be deployed to serve elsewhere. Within a few months of their budding romance, the orders came that Dad was to be shipped overseas, to serve at the RAF base in Bournemouth, England. They quickly made plans to marry. Mother would remain on the base, and continue her duties as a Corporal, and Airforce Physical Education Instructor.
On their wedding day, July 12, 1943
Home At Last
There was an unmistakable sense of hope and optimism beaming from every deck on that grey hulking warship as it left the English port, bound for Halifax. It seemed that every man aboard had a permanent smile on his face, a joke to tell, and precious well-worn photos to show the others; of faces they’d be seeing soon, after so many dark and lonely years.
He longed for home. He missed the rugged Canadian landscape; the tall pines, the colourful sugar maples, and the crystal clear lakes and rivers that dotted the Ontario landscape of his youth. Most of all he missed…her. He could almost see her face above the dark rolling waves of the north Atlantic, as the ship sailed closer to their base in Halifax. The constant ache in his heart whenever he thought of her, gradually easing into a sense of purpose. The nervous dread and unsettling fears of war were behind him now, and he had a wife, and two young children to provide for.
The Stafford House
“My Aunt Clara and Uncle Tom own a beautiful property. They said we can come and stay with them until we get settled. I know you’ll be very happy there; I promise. It’s a red brick house, built on a gentle hill, surrounded by lovely shade trees. There are lots of bedrooms, plenty of space for a growing family. There’s even an apple orchard behind the house. When the kids are older we can send them apple-picking, and you could bake us some pies!”, he grinned.
Clara and Tom were approaching retirement age by the time the young Stafford family moved in with them. Clara didn’t drive, and wanted to move to Perth, so that she could get around a bit easier. Maybe it was time for her nephew and his young family to take over the property….
Some Help for the Veterans
Over one million Canadians served in WWII, and in 1944, the Department of Veterans Affairs was created to assist soldiers returning from duty. Their mandate was to ease the way back to civilian life, after so many years of war. The Veterans’ Land Act was one of the programs established so that veterans were eligible for loans to buy land, livestock, and equipment. Over 30,000 Veterans obtained land for farming through this program.
….and so, the young Stafford family was able to purchase the beautiful property from Aunt Clara and Uncle Tom….
Tim Stafford & Judy Stafford, in the driveway at Stafford House
….and many years later, this 1947 photo was featured on the cover of a book…
Tim and Judy Stafford, featured on the cover of “Recipes & Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen”
…and then there were 3
Judy Stafford, baby Jackie Stafford, and Tim Stafford, 1948, at the Stafford House
The family settled in, and bit by bit, it grew in size. Jackie was born, then Roger, and finally Arlene, and the family was complete.
Judy Stafford, Tim Stafford, Jackie Stafford, and Roger Stafford in 1958
Arlene Stafford in the apple orchard, behind the Stafford House
Many years later, the Stafford House, the picturesque yard, and the woodlands surrounding the property would be the inspiration and the setting for many stories and books.
From the early days of spring and the young buds on the trees, gathering sap, and the house filled with the sweet scents of maple, as the sap boiled in a huge pot on the old stove. The shy tulips and daffodils nudging their way out of the cold ground, and the songbirds returning after a long, cold winter.
Summer was filled with the fresh scents of hay, and the rattling, rumbling tractors and wagons parading up and down the Third Line. Trips to Carl Adams’ swimming hole, and Christie Lake on the steamy hot days, and the nightly spectacles of tiny black bats swooping and sailing through the tall maple branches, followed by the sounds of the bullfrogs in the lowlands, and the crickets lulling us to sleep.
Fall was all about colour, from one end of the yard to the other, and as far as the eye could see; spectacular shades of orange, red, and yellow, and the scents of wood-smoke and the sweet ripe apples hanging low in the orchard.
The year always finished the same way, with the magical weeks leading up to Christmas. It was a busy, bustling, time, for baking, stringing lights, mailing cards, repairing broken ornaments, practicing for Christmas concerts, and most of all, waiting for Santa….
Arlene Stafford, Mike, the family dog, and Roger Stafford
…and so, these were the early years at the Stafford House; the weeks and months after the war. They were the busy years, and years of adjustment. They were the years after two young soldiers met on an airbase in faraway Lethbridge, and fell in love, in such uncertain times.
It was because of their love, their hope for the future, and their sense of optimism that the family grew and prospered at the Stafford House. It was where we developed a strong work ethic, a respect for others, and where we learned about the importance of honesty, integrity, and faith.
Today, on Remembrance Day, I will think of these two soldiers, who possessed both the courage and the optimism to forge ahead with their love and their commitment, even in the darkest days, when the world was at war, and for this, I will be forever grateful.
Lest We Forget
‘Poppies’ – watercolour painting, by Jackie (Stafford) Wharton, 2020
Long before the days of fast-paced living, our family had a weekly ritual, known as the Sunday drive. It always took place after church, following the noon-time meal. Families were large in those days, and Mother wanted to make sure that everyone had a hearty lunch before heading out into the country. Looking back, it seems like a curious thing to do, when you already live in the country, to drive to another part of the country, but it wasn’t uncommon in those days.
The Staffords, getting ready for a Sunday Drive: left to right, Roger Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Tim Stafford, Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford (Dad), Arlene Stafford, missing from the photo: Judy Stafford who was taking the photo, and Audry Stafford (Mother), who was likely making one last trip to the pantry to pack some cookies for the ride.
Home, the starting point for our drive, was the Third Concession of Bathurst Township, some called it the Third Line, or the Christie Lake Road. After we’d all climbed into the car, we often headed straight to Balderson, to pick up a bag of squeaky curd for the trip. We almost always visited Ferguson Falls, where Dad grew up, and Lanark was another familiar stop along the way. There was sometimes a debate in the car at this point about whether to travel up toward Calabogie. Mother often protested, saying that all those hills, twists, and turns on the back-roads made her stomach queasy. With a twinkle in his eye, and a promise to take it slow, more often than not, Dad headed up the road toward Clyde Forks and Flower Station.
The landscape around Flower Station was a spectacular sight to behold in the autumn, when the colourful maple leaves were at their peak. Gold, red, green, and orange, in every direction, as far as the eye could see; just like a postcard. Small in size, but big in heart, it was one of the tiny hamlets that sprung up in the late 1800s, during the heydays of the nearby mining operations; and the Kingston and Pembroke ‘K & P’ Railroad stopped daily, bringing mail, and supplies.
The village was named for Roswell Pettibone ‘R.P.’ Flower, Governor of New York, who financed this section of the railway. At the height of the mining operations in the late 1880s, there were three boarding houses, two general stores, a church, a school, and a railroad station. Postmaster, Gilbert White, operated the post office, and sold general merchandise, out of his residence.
Thomas Miller’s General Store – 1905
Albert ‘Abbie’ McGonegal
Tragic Loss Follows Dance
at Flower Station
Joseph Lalonde Walks 15 Miles
in 1942 to Recruiting Center
‘Granny’ Jennie Crawford Majaury
Jackson Siblings Die Within
Hours of Each Other
Maud Bradford Hart
Calvan McGonegal Wins
James Brothers Fishing Trophy
Cardinal, Lalonde, & Kells
Take Top Spots
Minnie McGonegal Ferguson
Party for Wilfred Jackson
Reeve Henry McGonigal
Follows in his Father’s Footsteps
Mrs. Eldon Majore
Peace of Mind in the Country
Stranded by Floods
Irene (Gemmill) Crosbie
90th Birthday Party
Don and Marlene Love
Met at a Sugar Camp
Winnifred Closs – 1916-2008
Extraordinary Local Writer
As the lumber business tapered off, and the mining operations slowed down, the K & P railway never saw the volumes of traffic they had anticipated in the beginning. By late in the 19th century, the railroad was experiencing financial difficulties, and by 1894, the company, operating at a loss, went into receivership.
The Canadian Pacific Railway, ‘CPR’ began to buy up shares, and by 1901, owned 83% of the shares, and had replaced many of the top executives with their own. The C.P.R. officially gained control of the K & P Railroad in 1913.
By the 1930s, passenger service declined and they began to operate ‘mixed trains’ of passenger cars and some freight cars. By the late 1950s, only freight cars remained. The last ‘through’ train ran on December 29, 1961. As time passed, in the 1960s, the smaller, less profitable stations along the railway line were closed, including Flower Station.
K & P Trail
The original route of the K & P is being converted, in sections, to a recreational walking and biking path, known as the “K & P Trail”
Take a Sunday Drive
Visit Flower Station
The tradition of the Sunday drive at our house went on for as long as I can remember. Mother occasionally scolding Dad because he was over the speed limit, and he always countered with the same excuse – that he needed to burn the carbon build-up off of his sparkplugs.
There were often bags of squeaky curd, and sometimes a stop for ice cream cones, or a cold bottle of Pure Spring pop. Once in a while there was pushing and shoving in the back seat, met by a stern glance backwards from Mother.
No matter where those winding back roads in Lanark County led us, there was always beauty around every corner; with crystal-clear lakes and streams, quiet spots for a picnic, trails and paths beckoning us to come for a stroll.
Maybe one of these Sundays, you’ll venture out to Flower Station. Travel north on highway 511 past Hopetown to Brightside. Turn west on Waddell Creek Road to the French Line. Proceed north on the French Line Road to Joe’s Lake, then west on Flower Station Road to Flower Station.
Be sure to walk or hike the beautiful K&P Trail in the village of Flower Station. Head north past Flower Station, to Round Lake and Clyde Lake or, walk south, past Widow Lake to join Clyde Forks Road. Be prepared to enjoy the unspoiled forests, the sounds of nature, breathe in the pristine air, and spend a tranquil day in one of Lanark County’s special gems – Flower Station.
Discover some fascinating stories about Lanark County back-roads tours, like “Mills, Mines, and Maples: Touring the Back Roads of Lanark County in the book, “Lanark County Connections: Memories Among the Maples”
Read about a WWII war-time encounter overseas, with a young soldier named Jim, from Flower Station, in “A Grand Era in Lanark”, from “Lanark County Classics: A Treasury of Tales from Another Time”
The warm spring sun flooded the playground that June afternoon at Glen Tay Public School. Only two weeks of classes remained for the year, when I first heard about the lost boy, from my teacher, Mrs. Conboy. One of my friends had seen the story on the evening news, and asked our teacher if she thought they’d ever find the little boy…..
Many decades have passed since the young Adrian McNaughton disappeared near Calabogie, Ontario. Police call it a cold case, but promised they’ll never stop looking.
It was June 12, 1972, when five-year-old Adrian was on a fishing trip with his father, his father’s friend, and his three siblings, at Holmes Lake. Holmes Lake is about an hour’s drive from Lanark village, half an hour from Burnstown, and around a 15 minute drive from Calabogie.
Adrian wandered away from the area where everyone was fishing. He was last seen playing near the shoreline, wearing a blue jacket and brown shorts.
He was wearing a blue nylon jacket, brown shorts, an orange-striped shirt, and rubber boots.
Divers Search Holmes Lake
Father Seeks Help from Psychics
Psychics Point to Clyde Forks
Psychics were consulted and advised the McNaughton family that Adrian was taken to, or somehow ended up in Clyde Forks, a forty-minute drive from Holmes Lake.
What visions and impressions led the clairvoyants to the small village of Clyde Forks in Lanark County? What did they find there? Discover the fascinating details of this decades-old cold-case.
“Mystery in Clyde Forks”,
a story from “Lanark County Classics: A Treasury of Tales from Another Time”