Perth Library – Heart of the Town

Although there was a reading room established on the main street of Perth in the 1800s, which featured current newspapers, books and periodicals, it wasn’t until the beginning of the twentieth century that a formal library building was constructed.

With the help of a large donation from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, along with municipal and private funds, a library was built and opened to the public on Dec. 30th,1907.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie 1835-1919

(Carnegie was a self-made steel tycoon, philanthropist, and one of the wealthiest people of his time. A great believer in the value of libraries, he donated money to build a total of 2,509 Carnegie libraries between 1883 and 1929)

Perth library opening

“The Perth Courier”, Dec. 27, 1907, p.4

Perth library old days

The Perth Library, in its early days – Ontario Archives

Perth received $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie, which was spent solely on the building.  Money for furnishings and books had to be raised locally by donations.

Perth library money from Carnegie

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Oct. 28, 1907, pg. 12

The Perth Library was one of five libraries in Ontario that was built using grants from American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Constructed from local rock and brick, the library was an impressive three story building gracing Gore Street near the Tay River canal.

No Smoking Rule – Jan. 1908

Perth library no smoking

“The Perth Courier”, Jan. 3, 1908, p.4

Perth library post card

The Perth Public Library, shortly after it was built, 1907

Catalogues Listing all books at the Perth Library – 15 cents each

Perth library catalogues 1908

“The Perth Courier”, Jan. 17, 1908 p.4

New Books Purchased in Feb. 1908

Songs of a Sourdough

“Songs of a Sourdough”, by Robert Service

Sir Walter Scott Fair Maid of Perth

“The Fair Maid of Perth”, by Sir Walter Scott

Perth library new books

“The Perth Courier”, Feb. 14, 1908, p. 1

Waverly Sir Walter Scott

One of the books purchased for the Perth Library in 1908

Perth library 1970s

The Perth Library, 1970s

The Fire

At at 7:15 p.m on Thursday, January 3rd, 1980, flames tore through the building. It was said at the time that the fire likely began in the basement.

“Shaking their heads in disbelief, Perth’s residents, both young and old, gazed yesterday at the gutted remains of their historical public library.”

For over four hours a team of about 50 fire-fighters fought in freezing temperatures, and poured thousands of gallons of water into the building, through smashed windows and doorways.

Perth police constable, Bob Carnrite, said, “The cause of the fire is a mystery.” 

Water soaked books smoldered in the gutted building and nothing could be saved. Over 62,000 books along with paintings, antiques, maps and historical documents were lost.

Perth library fire fighting

“The Perth Courier”, Jan. 9, 1980

Diana Cleland, head Librarian, said, “It’s almost impossible to place a value on the loss.  It never ceased to amaze me the types and numbers of people who used the library.  Some came in every day to read, or play records.  To them, it was a meeting place.”

perth library firefighters

The Perth Courier”, Jan. 9, 1980

I recall the eerie sight of the building, familiar to so many of us, appeared like an ice castle because of the frigid temperatures, and the tremendous amount of water used to fight the fire.

“Every child is talking about it today.”, said Eve Dodge, Supervisor of the Perth Daycare Center.  “Because of all the programs held there and their frequent contact, the library was a very important part of their lives.”

It was a devastating loss to the town of Perth having been one of the loveliest buildings on the main street for so many decades.

“For this town, the library was the heart of the community.”

It also meant job loss for Assistant Librarians, Susan Mackey, and Fay Cunningham.

Perth library after fire 1980

“Ottawa Journal”, Jan 5, 1980

Artist, Dorothy Renals, said she felt sick about the fire.  “I had a very personal feeling for that library.  As an artist, I helped choose art books over the years and was in there at least twice a week to do research for my own paintings.”

Harold Jordan, Inspector withe the Ontario Fire Marshall’s Office visited the site once the blaze was extinguished, and sifted through the ruins.

“I haven’t formed any conclusions yet”, Jordan said, “I’m considering every possibility.  There are some indications the fire may have started in the basement, but I have no information at the moment which points the cause at anything other than accidental.  Our minds are still open.”

The inspection showed that no fuses in the library had blown, and that the fire had started in the basement.

Secretary Treasurer, Ivey Mather, said, the investigation continues….

The Perth Public Library Board immediately began to find a temporary location for a public library.

The Board was offered space above the River Guild, and at St. James’ Hall, and even at the old Bell Telephone building.

“We could be back into circulation by next week.”, said Board Chairman, Bernard Elliot.

Perth library loss - Editor

“The Perth Courier”, Jan. 9, 1980, p.2

Other local libraries donated books and these were housed temporarily in the basement of McMartin House, and plans were quickly put into place to establish a new library.

Perth library PDCI

The present library, on the corner of Herriott and Drummond Streets, was opened on December 16th, 1981.

Perth library official opening

Photo:  Lanark MPP Doug Wiseman cuts the ribbon.  Library Board Members: Wes Barber, Bernard Elliot, and Ivy Mather.

The new building was constructed, at a total cost of $800,000.

(the original library in 1907 was built for $13,000)

Perth library official opening part 2

“The Perth Courier”, Dec. 16, 1981, p. 1,

The ‘new’ Perth Library:

Perth library new

The ‘new’ Perth library is located at 30 Herriott St, Perth, Ontario – a beautiful setting, along the Tay River.

Perth library new from the Tay side

note:  The original Perth Library building was purchased by G.W. McMillan, a local contractor, for $26,000. It has been beautifully restored, and is now known as the McMillan Building.  On Jan. 27, 1981, the building was designated a ‘Heritage’ structure, by the province of Ontario.

McMillan building

The McMillan Building, Perth, Ontario, 2004

Meet the dedicated staff of the Perth Public Library, who worked there in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and beyond. Discover the tragedy, scandal, and unstoppable spirit that made this place ‘the heart of the town’.

The story, “Perth Library: Heart of the Town”, is one of the stories in –

“Lanark County Collection: Winding Our Way Down Memory Lane”

(available at The Book Nook in Perth, Ontario, Spark Books & Curios Perth, Ontario, and Mill Street Books in Almonte, Ontario)


or online at:

Lanark County Collection cover 20 02 21

8 books Arlene Stafford-Wilson

book cover edited resized LC Comfort (1)

January Feast at Mother’s Birdfeeder

Blue Jay

There was nothing fancy about the rickety old wooden bird feeder in the orchard behind the house. Our father was not going to win any awards for his design, that’s for sure. The bird feeder was constructed of five short pieces of wood, cut from an old weathered plank, and consisted of a floor, a roof, and three side walls. The pieces were nailed together, and mounted on a two by four, hammered into the ground, about twenty feet from the back kitchen window.

It was Mother who requested that the feeder be built one winter. It had been a brutally cold January, and snowy too. The winds from the north seemed particularly harsh that year, and it had been weeks since I’d ventured up the Third Line to visit my friends at DeWitt’s Corners. I’d been outside a few times helping with the shoveling, and even slid down our neighbour Chris Perkins’ hill on my toboggan a couple of times, but it was just too cold to stay outside for very long.

Because of the heavy snow and frigid temperatures, Mother had been very concerned that the birds wouldn’t be able to find food and would perish. Once Dad had finished putting up the bird feeder, Mother went to straight to work preparing something she thought would be hearty and filling for her feathered friends.

She brought out the heavy, well-worn, cast iron frying pan from under the sink, went straight to the old refrigerator, and picked up her bowl of bacon drippings. Every time Mother cooked bacon she poured the leftover drippings into a melamine bowl, and stored it in the fridge. She used the drippings to add flavour whenever she fried eggs, and for frying onions to have as a side dish with supper.


While the bacon drippings were heating up in the pan, Mother brought out a heavy plastic bag where she stored old crusts of bread, and she began to break them into crumbs. She rubbed them against the palm of her hand over a mixing bowl, until they were in fine pieces, like the crumbs for Christmas stuffing. Next, she brought the bowl of crumbs over to the frying pan and poured them in, a bit at a time, and stirred them with a wooden spoon, until they were coated in bacon drippings.


She scraped the crumbs back into the mixing bowl, and set it on the kitchen table to cool, while she put on her boots and coat. She grabbed the bowl and headed out the door into the back porch, and out to the new feeder in the orchard. Dad might not have built a fancy-looking feeder, but he had placed it at just the right height so that Mother could easily lay her bacon-coated crumbs inside.

Mother came back in the kitchen, took off her coat and boots, and we waited patiently by the window. I pushed back the curtain, and pulled up a couple of kitchen chairs so we could watch. By this time Dad had put away his tools, had come in from the garage, and was making himself a cup of coffee. He warned me not to make any sudden movements in front of the window, or I would scare the birds away, so I sat there quietly and we waited.

Less than fifteen minutes passed when we saw our first ‘customer’. We were all excited, and even Dad, who hadn’t seemed particularly interested at first, was over by the window to watch the show. The first bird at the feeder was a blue jay. He had a little blue ‘hat’ and wings, and a big round white belly. There was a blue and white pattern on his back and he had a lovely, long tail with many different shades of blue all the way to the tip. His eyes and his beak were shiny and black, and he pecked away eagerly at the crumbs in the feeder for several minutes.

blue-jay-1 blue-jay-2

He continued to peck at the crumbs, looked around nervously, pecked again and then looked straight at us with his big black eyes as if to say ‘thank-you’, then he flew away through the orchard and over the back field, heading toward the train tracks.


The bird feeder was a success! Dad was smiling, knowing that his efforts had been worthwhile. Mother was pleased that her very first ‘customer’ had enjoyed his meal, and hopefully would bring his friends back to dine as well, and keep in good health during the cold spell.

snowstorm bluejays

Mother’s birdfeeder would remain in the old orchard for many decades. The construction was basic, the feed was always the same – bacon grease and breadcrumbs, and over the years thousands of birds would dine at the feeder while we watched from the kitchen window. Blue Jays were always her favourites, although I saw a few handsome red Cardinals and many Black-Capped Chickadees over the years as well.

chickadee   winter-bird-cardinal

On these harsh, frigid, January days, when the winds are relentless, and the snow piles up around us, I think of our small feathered friends back on the Third Line. I wonder if the old feeder is still standing in the orchard, and if anyone thinks to put out a few crumbs and some drippings for our beautiful, hungry, winter birds. In the stark, white landscape they provided a welcome splash of colour, and their songs gave us hope through the long, silent winter.


book cover edited resized LC Comfort (1)

Arlene Stafford-Wilson


“January Feast at Mother’s Bird Feeder”

is an excerpt from  “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”

(available at The Book Nook, 60 Gore St. E., Perth, Ontario, Spark Books & Curios 76 Foster Street, Perth, Ontario, Mill Street Books 52 Mill Street, Almonte, Ontario, and online at



8 books Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Carleton Place Old Days

First Known

as Morphy’s Falls

July 14, 1928, p. 32, “The Ottawa Citizen”

Town Hall

The town hall was built in 1897

Morphy’s Falls

(continued below)


July 14, 1928, p. 32, “The Ottawa Citizen”

Morphy, Coleman, Bolton

July 14, 1928, p. 32, “The Ottawa Citizen”

Main Street

Methodist Church

Carleton Place Methodist Church

“In 1830 a post office was first established and Caleb Bellows was the first Postmaster.”


“Nobody in Carleton Place at the present time (1928) can tell who gave the name Carleton Place…”

William Pattee

Opened New Bridge

When the new ‘Central’ bridge opened in Carleton Place, in 1928, the honour of the official ‘opening of the bridge’ went to Carleton Place’s oldest citizen, 86 year old William Pattee.

Dec. 5, 1928, p. 3, “The Ottawa Citizen”

Central Bridge

Under Construction

Carleton Place Orange Lodge – established in 1830, closed in 2015, after 185 years.

High School

Carleton Place High School – original building

Home of R. C. Patterson

The Dam

July 14, 1928, p. 32, “The Ottawa Citizen”

I hope you enjoyed our trip down memory lane,

in our visit to Carleton Place in the good old days!

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

January 6th – Irish Women’s Little Christmas


Little Christmas

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

Irish Toddy

1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar

Boiling water

1 measure of Irish Whiskey (Bushmills or Jameson)

3 cloves

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:

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Lanark County Ice Storm 1998

5 Days of Freezing Rain…

On January 4, 1998, the freezing rain began, lasting five days, and Eastern Ontario and Southern Quebec were hit with over 100 millimetres of ice pellets. This storm became one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history.

The heavy layers of ice coated tree branches which fell on hydro-electric lines, and soon almost 4 million people were without power, some for days, and many for several weeks.

Maple syrup bushes, some that had been part of family enterprises for generations suffered devastating damage as young trees toppled from the weight of the ice, and branches on older established trees snapped and fell to the ground.

Over half a million people, including seniors in long-term care, were forced from their homes into make-shift local shelters operating on emergency power backup. In some remote areas of Eastern Ontario, the O.P.P. went door to door, providing transportation to shelters making sure that none of the elderly were left to fend for themselves in the cold and the dark.

A state of emergency was declared in Ontario and Quebec, calling on the Canadian Armed Forces to assist in clearing the roads of tree branches and debris, aid in moving stuck vehicles, helping stranded families and assisting in the restoration of power and providing basic necessities. 

Power Outages

“I can’t really believe what all that ice did to our trees”, said Mrs. Conboy, “Our whole property looks like one big brush pile....”

“Many people living outside of Perth were not able to return to their homes, and are staying at the Civitan Hall”

People Flocked to Shelters

Layers of ice coated the power lines

“Days?, Weeks? How Long? Even the Chairman of Ontario Hydro didn’t know.”

“Lanark reeve, Larry McDermott closed the village liquor store, saying it’s too dangerous a time to let people drink.”

Jan. 14, 1998, p. 2 “The Ottawa Citizen”

“Harold Jordan of the Lanark County Fire Service said firefighters have found at least two people ‘semi-delirious’…”

“…severe ice storm that has left millions of Canadians without electrical power.”

Branches snapped and trees fell

“Mrs. Congreves lives on a remote country road in Lanark Highlands Township with her husband and three young children.”

(story continued below)

“Their home was warmed by a wood stove, which also served to heat their food and boil water.”

Jan. 16, 1998, p. 41 “The Ottawa Citizen”

“The main roads were clear but some back roads were still closed due to fallen branches.”

“About 90% of Eastern Ontario’s maple trees have been damaged…”

“Many trees were bent like candy-canes.”

“Last night was the first night I got more than four hours’ sleep.”

“Fire Chief, Dave Smith, performed these same tasks in the Tatlock, French Line and County Road 511 area.”

“This courageous group of young men and women deserves our gratitude for the excellent job done.”

…And then came the floods

in the spring of 1998

April 3 1998 p. 40, “The Ottawa Citizen”

“On Wednesday it was running under the bridge in the village of Lanark, but by the next morning the bridge was flooded.”

April 3, 1998 p. 40, “The Ottawa Citizen”
April 3, 1998, p. 41, “The Ottawa Citizen”

“Flower Station, Joe’s Lake, The French Line, Dateman’s Bridge and Bow Lake have been cut off by the water flowing over the bridges.”

April 3, 1998, p. 41, “The Ottawa Citizen”

“She got out on Wednesday, before the water rose around the walls of her house.”

“For three days, raging flood waters turned the residents of Flower Station into stranded castaways.”

April 5, 1998, p. 18, “The Ottawa Citizen”

“Rugs were floating, a rocking chair bobbed and the refrigerator heaved as the main floor of the two-storey house became part of the Mississippi.”

Flood Map April 5 1998

April 5, 1998, p. 18, “The Ottawa Citizen”

“Dave Willoughby paddles a boat over his front yard…”

Barb and John Baker

The Dean Family

Joe Paul

Shawn and Preston Laming

Debbie Caldwell


Recovery was slow but steady, and gradually the damages caused from the ice storm and the floods that followed later that spring were restored. Many years passed before Lanark County’s maple trees fully recovered and operations in sugar bush businesses eventually returned to normal levels of production.

Stories of the ice storm have been told and re-told, and many of us have vivid memories of those days when ice coated everything outdoors, when our power was out, and in the coldest month of the year there was no heat nor light.

Many of us will also remember the special moments during those darkest times, when neighbours helped neighbours, and strangers became friends.

The days and nights of the ice storm and the spring floods of 1998 were some of the worst times that any of us had ever experienced, but we could also say that these challenges of a lifetime brought out the best in us all.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

January Blues – Feeling Stuffed Like a Turkey?

Christmas had come and gone for another year, and by early January we were back in our classrooms at Glen Tay Public School. Frigid, gray mornings were spent shivering at the end of the long lane, waiting for the big orange school bus to come rattling up the Third Line.


Even though the winter solstice had passed, the days in Lanark County were still short and dark for the most part. The cold months that were still to come stretched out ahead of us like the long, heavy, trains that thundered and chugged down the tracks, back the side road, near the Fourth Line.

This way to the duck pond0001

Winter in the country sometimes looked barren and lifeless. The soft green grass and fragrant flowers were almost forgotten, as they lay dormant under the heavy blanket of snow. The massive, frozen, white shroud seemed to conceal every trace of life that had ever existed in our yard.


Evenings after school were spent shoveling, pushing, and lifting the snow, from one pile to another. Week after week more snow fell, and it blew and drifted back into the paths that we’d made.


I was always cold, always shivering, cold face, cold hands, cold feet on the floors of the old house. Even with layers of tattered, wool blankets on the bed, the icy drafts snuck into my room, and the windows were coated in a heavy layer of frost. The wood stove in the kitchen eventually died out over night, and my glass of water on the bed-side table was frozen like a miniature hockey rink by morning.


The turkey sandwiches, so delicious on Boxing Day, began to lose their luster, as the first few days of the new month found us eating the leftovers from the enormous Christmas bird. Turkey soup. Turkey pot pie. Turkey casserole. Would it ever end? Endless stacks of sliced turkey were stored in the old chest freezer for those daily turkey sandwiches, dressed with mustard, salt and pepper, staring up at me from my lunch pail at school.


One morning that same January, before heading off to work, at Chaplin’s Dairy in Glen Tay, Dad requested, ever so politely, that we have eggs for supper that evening. Eggs were one of Dad’s favourite meals, any time of day. He liked them fried, over easy, boiled, scrambled, any way at all, and that was his request for supper. My fingers were crossed that Mother would comply and take a break from her relentless production of turkey leftovers.


What a treat it would be to have a nice, light supper after so many heavy meals, rich baked goods, and endless servings of turkey! After Dad left that morning, Mother decided that she would indeed make fried eggs and pancakes for supper, so she began to assemble her ingredients. Hopefully she had everything she needed, or one of us would be making a long, cold trek down to Cavanagh’s store in DeWitt’s Corners.


Mother began her preparations on the old kitchen table. I breathed a sigh of relief, welcoming a change from the endless turkey leftovers. On that cold winter’s evening, so long ago, when Dad returned from work, we had the very best cure for a January Turkey Hangover.



Audry Stafford’s  Farm-style Buttermilk Pancakes

3 cups all purpose flour

3 Tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of cinnamon

3 cups buttermilk

½ cup milk

3 eggs   (Mother always used large eggs)

1/3 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Our Mother, being a prize-winning baker at the Perth Fair, had a few good tricks for making her pancakes light and fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

First, let your buttermilk, milk and eggs sit out for a full hour before making the pancakes. By allowing them to reach room temperature the pancakes will rise higher and fluffier.

Use real butter, don’t substitute with margarine, or the flavour will not be as good.

Make sure that your baking powder is fresh to give as much lift and height possible to the pancakes.

Use real buttermilk. If it’s not possible to use real buttermilk, you can sour some regular milk by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to each cup of milk. The recipe will still work, but the flavour will not be nearly as rich as using real buttermilk. We always had a quart of buttermilk in the fridge because Dad liked to have a small glass at night before bedtime. Buttermilk is low in fat and very high in protein.

In case you don’t know, buttermilk is the fluid remaining when the fat is removed when cream is churned in to butter. When I was a kid, farmers separated the milk from the cream on the farm, and shipped cans of cream to cheese factories once or twice a week. The cream would be used to make cheese and butter. Today, cultured buttermilk is produced by adding lactic acid to pasteurized whole milk and adding a touch of salt.

Don’t forget – Mother always warned us not to stir the pancake batter too much. Over-stirring will cause the pancakes to be flat, not fluffy. Just stir ever so slightly, don’t worry about the lumps of flour, just combine the wet and dry ingredients together gently with a wooden spoon or spatula; don’t over-mix.


Use a large bowl and combine your flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

In another large bowl, combine your eggs, buttermilk, milk, melted butter and vanilla.

The wet and dry ingredients should be kept separate until you are ready to make the pancakes.

Next, heat a lightly oiled frying pan at medium-high heat. To test the temperature you can add a drop of water to the center of the pan, and it should bead up and sizzle.

When the pan is ready, you can mix the wet and dry ingredients. Remember, just mix very lightly, and don’t worry about the lumps. Never over-stir. This is very important.

Scoop up the batter with a ladle and use about half a cup for each pancake. When one side is golden, flip it over with a spatula and cook the other side. Add more oil to the pan as required.

This recipe will make a dozen 5-inch pancakes.

If you have any leftover pancakes, you can let them cool, place waxed paper between them and freeze.

Top the finished pancakes with salted butter and some Lanark County Maple syrup. For a fancy look you can sift a bit of icing sugar on top.

lanark-county-maple-syrup    maple-syrup

If you’re having eggs with your pancakes, like we did, fry them up in a little bacon grease for added flavour. Mother always poured her leftover bacon drippings into a small container and kept it in the fridge. Use it for frying eggs, onions, and home-fries, and make an old fashioned country-style meal.

So cure your January Turkey Hangover, enjoy some fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes, and have a Happy New Year!


Note:   To discover   “10 Things You May Not Know About Maple Syrup”, and for a listing of the top maple syrup producers in Lanark County:  10 Things You May Not Know About Maple Syrup


book cover edited resized LC Comfort (1)

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Lanark County Scottish New Year – Hogmanay

Among the earliest settlers to Lanark County were Scots who came from Glasgow and Lanarkshire, after the Napoleonic war. These immigrants settled mostly in the townships of Dalhousie, Lanark, North Sherborooke and Ramsay. In 1820, approximately 400 families arrived in Lanark County, bringing their skills in cotton weaving, carpentry, blacksmithing and shoe-making. Many of these Scots also brought their traditions from the old country, and one of their most beloved was their New Year’s known as Hogmanay.

Many of these Hogmanay traditions were brought to Scotland by the Vikings in the early 8th and 9th centuries. In some parts of Scotland, like Shetland, the Viking influence remains strong, and New Year is still called ‘Yules’, derived from the Scandinavian word for the midwinter festival of Yule.

Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and was banned in Scotland for around 400 years, from the end of the 17th century to the 1950s. This was because of the Protestant Reformation movement, when it was believed that Christmas was a Catholic feast, and should be banned.

Hogmanay Traditions

It was customary to clean the house, and take out the ashes from the fire. It was also a requirement to clear all your debts before “the bells” sound midnight, the underlying belief was to clear out the remains of the old year, and have a clean slate to welcome in a young New Year.

First Footing

First Footing refers to the first person to cross your threshold after midnight on New Year’s Eve. They must be dark-haired, which is an ancient tradition going back to the days of the Viking invasions, when a fair-haired person could mean trouble for your household.

They must be bearing gifts, and specifically – a half-bottle of scotch whisky, a generous piece of black bun, a few pieces of coal. The whisky and black bun is to ensure that the home has food and drink in the coming year, and the coal is symbolic that the home will be warm in the year ahead.

Once the first footer crosses the threshold (and they can be turned away if they are light-haired), they are led through the entire home. When the tour is finished they place the coal on the fire, offer whiskey to the family, and the black bun is sliced and shared. Next, they kiss every female in the home, and wish them all the best in the new year.

The first-footer should be dark complexioned,

and their name begins with straight, not curvy letters.

First Footing Rules   

The first footer brings all the luck, good or bad, for the year ahead.

They should be male and dark-haired.

They may not be doctors, members of the clergy or grave-diggers, and must not have eyebrows that meet in the middle.

They should bring whiskey, coal, and black bun.

A first footer may claim a kiss from every woman present.

If your First Footer doesn’t meet all the requirements, then the household is heading for an unlucky year.

A toast is made by the First-Footer before he leaves – ” A good new year to all and many may you see”

Torchlight Parade

Fire also plays a special role in Hogmanay customs, and originates in the pagan traditions of the pre-Christian Celts. In modern times, the annual Torchlight Procession in Edinburgh continues with thousands marching through the city center carrying blazing torches.

Scottish Black Bun

Black Bun recipe:

Pastry Case

3 c flour  

1/2 tsp baking powder

6 Tbsp lard

6 Tbsp butter

1 pinch salt

Cold water


2 ¾ c seedless raisins  

2 Tbsp brandy

1 Tbsp milk

2 ¾ c  currants  

1/3 c chopped almonds

1 pinch black pepper  

¼ c mixed peel

1 ½ c flour  

1/3 c brown sugar  

1 tsp allspice  

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 large egg beaten


Grease an 8-inch loaf tin. Blend the lard and butter into the flour and salt and mix in cold water to make a stiff dough. This will be used to line the tin. Roll out the pastry and slice into six pieces to fit the bottom, top and all four sides of the tin. Press into the tin, pressing the overlapped sections to seal.

Mix the raisins, currants, almonds, peel and sugar together. Sift in the flour, add the spices and baking powder, then mix together with the brandy and most of the egg. Add enough milk to moisten.

Place the filling into the lined tin and top with the pastry lid, sealing the edges. Lightly score the surface with a fork.

Brush the top with milk to create a glaze.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 325F 2-3 hours. Test with a skewer which should come out clean; if not, continue baking.

Cool in the tin and then on a wire rack. 

A First-Footer kisses every woman in the household

Auld Lang Syne

Immediately after midnight it is traditional to sing Robert Burns‘ “Auld Lang Syne”. Burns published his version of this traditional New Year’s song in 1788, although it is said the original was written 80 years before that.

To sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ the traditional Scottish way, a circle is formed and hands are joined with the person on either side of you. At the beginning of the last verse, everyone crosses their arms across their chest, so the right hand reaches out to the neighbour. When the song ends, everyone rushes to the middle, still holding hands.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

New Year’s Morning

Saining the House

There is a Scottish highland custom of saining (blessing) the house and and the livestock, and is still practised today, mostly in rural areas. The ritual involves the drinking of water believed to be magic which must be sourced from a river ford that’s said to be crossed by both the living and the dead. Next is the burning of juniper branches, enough to fill the house with smoke, and is believed to cleanse the house and drive away evil spirits.

After these two rituals are completed, the windows and doors are opened to let in fresh, New Year air, and a wee nip of whisky is taken before indulging in a hearty Scottish breakfast.

“Out with the Old, and in with the New!”

Scottish New Year’s Blessing

Happy New Year!

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Drummond Pioneer Irish Boxty

potato pancakes

Drummond Pioneer Irish Boxty

Many of the early settlers in Lanark County, arrived in 1816, like our pioneer ancestor, Tobias Stafford.  He came from County Wexford, married the lovely Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ McGarry, from County Westmeath, and after a year spent living on Stafford Island, built a home on lot 10, 11th concession of Drummond Township.

One of the recipes brought from their native southern Ireland, was for Irish Boxty.  It was a simple dish, made with ingredients on hand. In those days, it was a very long trip by horse and buggy to Perth, for supplies.  Many of the early recipes relied on staples, ingredients available in the cupboard, at home.

As some may already know, the Irish love their limericks, and poems, and there is a little rhyme about Boxty, that was often recited with a wink and a smile.  Although it is not very politically-correct in these times, it gives us a glimpse into the things of the past, that were popular in the early days:

“Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty in the pan,
If you can’t make boxty,
You’ll never get your man”


Recipe for Boxty/ Irish Potato Cakes

2 c mashed potatoes

1 Tbsp flour

2 Tbsp milk

1 Tbsp grated onion

1 egg, beaten


Mix all ingredients together, shape into patties, and fry in a greased pan, until golden brown.  (salt and pepper to taste)  Serve with eggs, breakfast meats, and hot buttered toast.

boxty breakfast


(enjoy with a cup of hot Irish breakfast tea, or hot black tea, as our parents did)

irish breakfast tea

This old recipe, in its simplicity, may not be diverse enough for the modern palate, and some may wish to add spices or vegetables into the mix.

Mother and Dad enjoyed plain food that wouldn’t upset their stomachs, and this certainly fits the bill.

and…never to be forgotten, the ritual that always came before any meal at the Stafford home, was the grace:

“Heavenly Father,

Bless this food to our use,

and us, for thy service”


Irish shamrock


For more information on the early Irish settlers of Drummond Township, and St. Patrick’s church:

St. Patrick’s Church, Drummond Township

book cover edited resized LC Comfort (1)

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

This recipe is from “Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from our Mother’s Kitchen”  ISBN: 9780987-7026-09


Perth’s New Year’s Babies 1947-1987


No birth has been as widely documented, or made as public through the media, than the first birth in a new year.  It’s not clear when the tradition of announcing the arrival of a town or city’s first baby began across Lanark County.

In the early 1940s, “The Perth Courier” began to mention the ‘New Year’s baby’ in their listings of social and community events, but it was not until January 1947 that this venerable newspaper started to showcase  the area’s newest resident with a feature story, and often a photograph of baby and mother.

In the January 2nd 1947 edition of “The Perth Courier” for the very first time, there was a long list of prizes to be supplied by local merchants, and instructions to new parents, on how to claim the title of “Perth’s First Baby of 1947”:

“All the parents need to do to secure all these good things for Perth’s first baby of 1947 is to give the Courier a statement of the time and date of the arrival, signed by the doctor or attending nurse.  The Courier will then provide a statement to the parents, which will enable them to pick up the merchandise.  News of the arrival must reach the Courier by Monday, January 6th to qualify.”

In honour of those special New Year’s babies born in Perth, four decades of announcements follow, from “The Perth Courier”, beginning in 1947 through to 1987:



1947 – Ronald Gilchrist  –  Snow Road



1948 – Audrey McCurdy  –  Lanark, Ontario



1949 – Robert Frank –

Canonto, North Frontenac



1950 – Diane Egge  –  Perth, Ontario




1951 – baby ‘Dustin’,  Perth, Ontario1951-baby




1952 – baby ‘Foley’  – Balderson, Ontario




1953 – baby ‘Thomas’, Balderson, Ontario



1954 –  baby ‘Mooney’,  R.R. 1,  Perth, ON



1955 –  baby  ‘Bell’,   Perth, Ontario



1956 –  baby  ‘Dickson’ , Perth, Ontario



1957 –  baby ‘Young’  R.R. 2, Maberly, ON



1958 – baby ‘St. Pierre’,  Sharbot Lake, ON



1959 –  baby ‘Fielding’,  Perth, ON



1960 – baby ‘Kerr’,  Perth, ON



1961 – baby ‘Cordick’,  Perth, ON



1962 –  baby ‘Daoust’,  Perth, ON



1963 –  Heather Pratt, Clarendon, ON



1964 –  baby ‘King’  R.R. 5, Perth, ON



1965 –  Sheldon Barr,  R.R. 1,  Perth, Ontario



1966 –  Heather Paul,  Perth, ON



1967 –  baby ‘Murphy’ , Perth, ON



1968 – Diane Haughian, Perth, ON



1969 –  baby ‘Cameron’   R.R.5, Perth, ON



1970 – Eric Brousseau,  Perth, ON



1971 – Tammie Adam, McDonald’s Corners



1972 – Peter Alexander,  R.R. 5, Perth, ON



1973 –  Matthew Lowery,  Parham, ON



1974 – baby ‘Blackburn’, R.R. 1  Maberly




1975 –  Gregory Young, R.R. 4, Perth, ON



1976 –  Erica Labelle, R.R. 2  Lanark, ON



1977 – Duncan Campbell, R.R. 1, Lanark, ON



1978 – baby ‘Gardiner’ , R.R. 5, Perth, ON



1979 – Christa Rintoul, Clayton, ON



1980 – Trevor Tysick,  Lanark Road



1981 –  Nicole Moore, R.R. 4, Perth, ON



1982 – Liam Ryan, Elgin  ON



1983 – Natalie Lowery,  Perth  ON



1984 – Jennifer Campbell, R.R. 4  Perth, ON



1985 – Wayne Drysdale, R.R. 4, Perth



1986 – Victoria McMunn, Perth, ON



1987 – Jennifer Roy ,  Perth, ON



These babies, began their lives as tiny celebrities in the community, lavished with many gifts from local merchants, some would say had a lucky start to life.

I wonder where these New Year’s babies are today, and if lady luck has followed them throughout their lives?

As they used to say in the 1960s, “You’ve come a long way baby!”


Finding the Spirit of Christmas in Lanark County


The glass felt cold as I pressed my face against the kitchen window, and watched the snowflakes falling softly on the spruce tree beside the old house. The Christmas lights were wrapped ‘round and ‘round the tree, and the soft colours shone on the snow-covered branches below.


It was Christmas Eve, the most magical night of the year, and I was bursting with anticipation. Santa was coming tonight, and would surely be leaving some wonderful gifts under the tree in the living room. I had been very good all year, and had written a letter asking for a lovely new doll with long red hair and big blue eyes. I stared up at the night sky, white with snow and wondered where Santa was? Was he in Lanark County yet, or was he delivering his toys to children in other parts of the world, along his route? Hal Botham, on CJET radio, said that Santa’s sleigh was spotted up north, so I was sure that he must be on his way to the Third Line!

Santa flying  Hal Botham

Supper was finished, and Mother was tidying up the kitchen. Soon, we’d be heading over to Calvin Church for their candlelight service. Every year we were allowed to open one present after returning from church, and then we had to head straight to bed, and go right to sleep, so that Santa could deliver our gifts.

When Mother was finished sweeping the floor, we put on our coats and boots, and headed outside. The old car was chilly, and the heater was blowing cold air. I shivered as we headed down the lane, and up the Third Line, toward DeWitt’s Corners.

snowy road

Everyone’s Christmas lights glowed on that night so long ago. The pine tree in front of Chris and Leanore Perkins’ house was decked out in blue lights, and Korry’s had red and green lights framing their front door. The Mitchell’s, Conboy’s and Scott’s all had lovely bright lights, and we passed by house after house, all aglow in their Christmas finest.  Then we slowed down, and turned up Cameron side road.

farmhouse-christmas-lights-1     farmhouse-christmas-lights-2

farmhouse-christmas-lights-3   farmhouse-lights-4

When we finally arrived at the church, there were only a few cars parked, and some people had already gone inside. The light coming from the little country church glowed softly against the cool white snow, and the delicate flakes continued to swirl around as we parked, and Mother shut off the engine. When I opened the car door the church yard was silent. The snow continued to drift down softly, and as I stood there I listened, but couldn’t hear a thing. We didn’t speak as we walked up to the church, and I’ll never forget how calm and peaceful it was that night as we walked up those well worn steps.

Calvin United Church

Calvin United Church, Cameron Side Road, Tay Valley Township, Lanark County

We sat in our usual pew, behind the Munro’s, in front of Johnston’s, and in the next little while familiar faces appeared again and again at the doorway of the church, filed in, and took their seats. Many stopped to chat on the way to their pews. They were our neighbours, our classmates from Glen Tay School, and our good friends. As I looked around at all of their faces I realized how special it was to be there that night, and to be a part of this close community.


When everyone was finally seated, and it seemed like the little church couldn’t hold even one more person, the sounds of the organ filled the air, and the old wooden pews creaked as everyone stood up at once. The song was a familiar one; we all knew the words, and our voices swelled in unison as we sang the ancient carol, “Si..lent night……., night………,  All is calm……., All is bright.”


On that special evening familiar carols were sung, and the story of the first Christmas was told once again.

And so, that was how Christmas unfolded out in the country. The days and months leading up to that evening were filled with anticipation. Trees were trimmed, and cards were mailed. Letters to Santa were written, and toys were circled in pen, in the Sears Christmas Wishbook. We rehearsed for Christmas concerts, and ran down the lane each day, bringing back handfuls of Christmas cards, adorned with stickers and seals. Cookies were baked, and invitations went out to family members and friends,to come and spend the day.

All of these things played their part leading up to the most special day of the year; but it was not until we sat in the pews of the small country church, and raised our voices, singing our favourite carols, that I knew for sure that the spirit of Christmas was among us.


I knew from an early age that the spirit of Christmas didn’t live in the beautifully decorated store windows in Perth, or under the brightly lit tree in our living room. I’m not sure if the Christmas spirit traveled up the Third Line, and down the Cameron side road like us, or if it came up Highway 7, and crossed at Gamble’s side road. I still don’t know how the Christmas spirit found us, in the little church……….all the way out in the country.


All I know is every year it appeared on Christmas Eve without fail. I could see it in the faces around me, I heard it as we sang the carols, and our voices rose high into the old wooden ceiling. It warmed our hearts, filled us with pure joy, and a profound sense of peace.


If you ever find yourself searching for the Christmas spirit, I’ll tell you where it is. Just drive out the Third Line on Christmas Eve, to the little country church on Cameron side road. It’s the small red brick church at the top of the hill. Go ahead inside, and then wait. You’ll feel it. It will be there. It’s always there; and even if you live far, far, away, you can take it home with you, keep it in your heart, and it will stay with you forever.

Merry Christmas!


Christmas banner 2

Some of the faces I remember on Christmas Eve at Calvin Church:

Calvin 1

Calvin 2

Calvin 3

Calvin 4

Calvin 5

Calvin 6

Calvin 7

Some are gone, none are forgotten.


mangerFor unto you


Calvin United Church was opened for worship in September of 1896, built on the property of Mr. John Cameron.  The first elected officers in the church were Andrew Gamble, William Scott, Andrew Palmer, George Miller, Andrew B. Miller, Andrew W. Miller, W.J. Palmer, John Jordan, Nichol Stewart, Alex Palmer and Sydney Miller. 


To learn more of the history of Calvin United Church, Cameron Side road,DeWitt’s Corners, Tay Valley Township, Lanark County:

History of Calvin United Church

“Finding the Spirit of Christmas in Lanark County”, an excerpt from “Lanark County Calendar:  Four Seasons on the Third Line”
ISBN:  978-0-9877026-30 available at The Book Nook, Perth, Spark Books and Curios, Perth, Mill Street Books, Almonte
and online:

L C Calendar book cover