CAROL BENNETT McCUAIG reviews “Lanark County Connections”

Carol's blog with dogArlene Stafford-Wilson has done it again! Lanark County Connections: Memories Among the Maples, the latest in her series of popular memoirs, is a book that is sure to delight her many fans. It is a mixture of childhood memories and carefully researched local history.

The author has written this book as a tribute to the founding families who settled in the townships of the Perth Military Settlement whose bicentennial will be celebrated in 2016. The anniversary is of special interest to her family because her ancestor, Tobias Stafford, arrived in Drummond Township in 1816. In this new collection of reminiscences she continues to reconstruct the rural Ontario of her childhood, taking the reader along for the ride.

An interesting part of the social history of Lanark County concerns the many local dance halls of the 1950s to the 1970s. Arlene takes a close look at these and in particular the Antler Lodge at Rideau Ferry. Her account is sure to provoke a burst of nostalgia in those who were there! “To many, the charming, rustic Lodge was the unforgettable backdrop for their first kiss, their first dance, and for some, their first love,” she suggests. This chapter recalls some of the big names in Ottawa Valley country music in the decades following the war. What became of them all? Where are they now?

The author notes that in 1957 a meeting held at the Antler Lodge resulted in the Ferry Road Telephone Company voting to let the Bell Telephone Company convert North Elmsley Township to dial service. Remembering the days when I shared a 28-household party line in Lanark County, I know that the people who lived there must have many a tale to tell of their experiences back then.

There is a fascinating chapter about the family who built the historic Matheson House, now the Perth Museum, but that is not all! Something strange and wonderful happened to the young Arlene when her mother took her to the grand opening of the museum in 1967. What was that all about? You will have to read the book to find out more!

The chapter entitled Quilting Queens of Lanark County is as much a glimpse into the lives of rural women half a century ago as it is an account of the art of quilting in Lanark County. And the superstitions associated with the craft are delightful. You’d better not begin a quilt on a Friday or you may not live to complete it! “From my vantage point, under a sturdy wooden quilt frame, I learned much more than how to make a fancy cover for a bed,” Arlene recalls, harking back to her childhood. I, too, can remember sitting under a table, hidden by the cloth, taking in all sorts of information not intended for a child’s ears! Perhaps this image will evoke interesting memories for others too.

Perth’s Stewart Park is a lovely place in which to take a peaceful walk. Have you ever wondered about the origin of its name? This book supplies the answer in the form of a heartfelt tribute to Jessie Henderson Stewart, who gave the land to the town. This was someone whose life is an inspiration to all women, and her story is well worth reading.

For me, a valuable part of the book is the way it brought to the surface numerous memories of my own. As a journalist I interviewed a number of the people mentioned by the author, including Walter Cameron and Garnet Hazard.

And then there are various references to married women, who, prior to the advent of the women’s movement of the 1970s, were always referred to under their husbands’ names. Woe betide the unwary newspaper editor who recorded a woman as, for example, Mrs. Mary Jones, instead of Mrs. Donald Jones. Heated words would be exchanged and an apology published the following week!

Even for readers who have no Lanark County connections of their own, the book may well spark recollections of another time and place. Meanwhile, those of us who have lived there will pounce on the many references to those who have gone before us. “I knew her!” we may say excitedly, recalling incidents that are amusing, or happy, – or perhaps otherwise!

To quote Arlene, there is “nothing quite as good for the soul as a day or two, far away from the busy world, discovering the back roads in Lanark County”. Why not join her, as she shares some of her memories among the maples? I think you’ll be glad you did.

Book Launch: Saturday, September 26th noon – 3pm, The Book Nook, Perth, Ontario.   http://www.staffordwilson.com

Review byCarol McCuaig former weekly newspaper editor, author of sixty three books, including “In Search of Lanark”, historical novels, regional histories, commissioned works and books geared to helping people who are researching their Lanark and Renfrew County (Ontario) roots.

In Search of the Red Dragon: The Welsh in Canada” received the Ninnau Award for its contribution to North American Welsh culture.

In 1997 she received an Achievement Award from the Ontario Heritage Foundation, for her body of work in recording regional history.

http://carolmccuaig.ca/   Website: Carol Bennett McCuaig

photo:  courtesy – website of Carol McCuaig

Paranormal Perth: Garden Ghosts on Gore Street

Ghost in the garden

Paranormal Perth: Garden Ghosts on Gore Street:        A chill that travels down your spine, the unexplained feeling of dread, or a sudden drop in temperature, are physical signs that many have experienced in a haunted locale. How do places become this way? Why do spirits linger in certain buildings, or even in certain rooms?

Some say that the history of a building is almost always a primary factor. When a building is very old, and has a long history of human habitation, naturally the chances increase dramatically that someone over the years has experienced strong negative feelings in that space.

In 2016 Perth, Ontario will mark 200 years since the first settlers established the town, and many of the beautiful limestone buildings date back into the early 1800s. Some of these historic old buildings have changed hands many times over the years, like the present Perth Museum on Gore Street.

Some may not realize that the Matheson family occupied the impressive stone manor as their family home for almost a century. When the last family member died in the house in 1929, the building became the elegant Birkacre Tea Room from 1930-38, operated by William and Jessie Kinloch. From 1938-46 the building was called The Vanity Fair, a posh restaurant owned by Clifford and Alice Carr. The Perth-Upon-Tay Legion bought the building in 1947, and it was their meeting place until 1967, when it became the Perth Museum.

The Matheson family, original owners of the mansion, were wealthy and prominent in the community. They hosted many parties and social gatherings in the beautiful gardens behind the house. Of the seven daughters in the family, only one married; and the other six girls remained at home, lavishing much time and energy tending the lush garden at the back of the property.

garden ghost 3Garden ghost 2

Although some paranormal researchers say that violence or sorrow may cause a spirit to feel bound to the world, until justice is rendered, this is not always the case. Some say it can be the strong attachment to a particular location, and that spirits may return to a place where they spent their happiest times. It’s been said that these feelings of contentment, of the person never wanting to leave, can seep into a place, either in the walls of a building, or the soil of the ground itself, and leave a certain ghostly energy or impression. Researchers claim that ghosts tend to stay in places that they considered to be their own during their former lives, and areas that were once very closely linked to themselves as a living human being.

——————

Have you ever experienced signs of paranormal activity?

Disappearance and re-emergence of objects in the house

Finding unidentified objects in the house

Appearance of unexplained marks around the house, e.g. scratch marks on the walls, odd marks on cupboards or walls

Hearing weird sounds or sounds of doors closing or opening, banging, laughter, walking, speaking, etc. in the absence of any source

Sudden changes in temperature

Lights or electronic equipment going on or off repeatedly or not working without any reason

Mobile phones not working

Cats or dogs whining or barking unnecessarily

Feeling a presence in the house

Feeling of being watched

Seeing ghosts

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Until it is proven, we may only speculate that some spirits never leave old stone buildings like Matheson House in Perth. Do the spirits of the lovely daughters who tended their gardens so faithfully in life still roam the lush property behind the Perth Museum? Do they still gather flowers and tidy the weeds as they did in the past, preparing for the lavish garden parties where they entertained the Who’s Who of Lanark County?

Matheson House garden 2Matheson House garden 1

Take a trip into the past and meet the family who lived in this historic building, learn about the elegant Birkacre Tea Room, the posh restaurant known as the Vanity Fair, and the Perth-Upon-Tay legion members who passed their days and nights in this building, long before the time when it became the popular Perth Museum.

Read more about it in “Matheson House: Perth’s Grand Lady of Stone”, one of the stories in the new book, ‘Lanark County Connections – Memories Among the Maples’. The book launch is September 26th at The Book Nook in Perth, or visit the Perth Chapter, Ottawa International Writer’s Festival at the Crystal Palace, Perth on October 3rd.

http://www.staffordwilson.com

Matheson house for blog Matheson House living room

(some photos courtesy of the Perth Museum)

Lanark County Dance Halls 1950s, 60s & 70s

Antler Lodge Opening Dance

Antler Lodge image for book 3

First kiss, first drink, maybe even a first love, were some of the memories made at the old style country dance halls in Lanark County in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Close to home, these community halls opened their doors on the May long weekend, and became the backdrop for cottage crushes and summer romances. With wooden floors polished to a high shine, and the snack-bars stocked with crowd-pleasing favourites, local bands entertained the crowds into the wee hours.

Some were neighbourhood musicians, and many were bands from out of town, but most used a single microphone and one or two small amplifiers.   Parking lots became passion pits, and offered privacy for underage drinking, and occasional brawls.

Music echoed across the big lakes and rivers, keeping cottagers awake, and causing parents to wonder what was going on down at the dance hall. Whether you preferred country, big-band or rock and roll there were venues to suit every taste and style.

See if you can remember these local favourites:

Bill Hannah and the Nightingales

Bill Munro and his Country Rockets

CFRA Happy Wanderers: Ken Reynolds, Ward Allen, Bob King, Vince Lebeau, Lynn Strauff, Marie King

Country Harmony Boys

Country Hoppers: Garry ‘Gizz’ Watt, Fred ‘Pappy’ Ryan, Paul ‘Hiker’ Gurry, Larry ‘Dooley’ Protheroe

Country Rhythm Kings

Don Gilchrist and his Dancers

Family Brown: Tracey, Lawanda, Joe & Barry Brown, Dave Dennison, Ron Sparling

Fred Paquin’s Orchestra (featuring Don Cochrane)

Jerry Badour and His Westernaires

Kenny Jackson’s Valley Cruisers: Harry Adrain, Raymond Donaldson, Gary Barr

Lee Miller’s Orchestra

Lockwood’s Orchestra

Mac Beattie and the Melodiers: Reg Hill, Garnet Scheel, Gaetan Fairfield, Bob Whitney

Mallen’s Melodiers

Mississippi Ramblers

Mississippi River Boys

Riders of the Southern Trails

Ron McMunn and his Country Cousins

Symington’s Orchestra

Tex Montana’s Cowboy Band

Top Hats

Travelons

Valley Ramblers

Wilson Sisters

…and the dance halls where they entertained us:

Antler Lodge

Balderson Hall

Bolingbroke ABC Hall

Carleton Place Town Hall

Fallbrook Orange Hall

Maberly Agricultural Hall

McDonald’s Corners Agricultural Hall

Perth Town Hall

Rideau Ferry Inn

Lanark Stanley Lodge

Wemyss Hall

Westport Scott’s Ballroom

Take a trip down memory lane, back to the old style country dance halls and the folks who kept us dancing until the wee hours in the new release –

“Lanark County Connections – Memories Among the Maples”

The book launch takes place on Saturday, September 26th from 9am to 12 noon at The Book Nook, 60 Gore Street, Perth. Or pick up your copy on Saturday, October 3rd at the Perth Chapter, International Writer’s Festival at the Crystal Palace, Perth, Ontario from 9 am to 1 pm.

For more information: 613-267-2350    thebooknook@bellnet.ca

http://www.staffordwilson.com

photo of Antler Lodge, used with permission – Graeme Hoatson Beattie

Book Review – OTTAWA LIFE MAGAZINE

Ottawa Life Magazine reviewLanark County Connections small book cover

“Lanark County Connections – Memories Among the Maples”

In her latest collection of short stories, Ottawa author Arlene Stafford-Wilson remains loyal to the past; faithfully reconstructing the rural Ontario of her childhood. She has crafted these stories, once again set in Lanark County in the 1960s and 70s, with attention to detail; so that people and places, lost and gone in the real world, remain alive on the pages.

As the book begins, the reader is invited to step back in time to enjoy some carefree summer evenings at an old style country dance hall on the Rideau Lakes, known as Antler Lodge. Perth is the setting for another story, where the reader is transported back to an elegant mansion in the 1960s, where the secrets and scandals of its wealthy inhabitants are revealed. Also, in this collection, the author shares an eerie encounter on Gore Street, with a restless spirit, who walks the halls of their childhood home. In one of the more light-hearted tales, the author takes the reader on a laid-back bus tour, set in the 1970s, as it weaves its way through Drummond, Ramsay, Darling, and Dalhousie townships, on Lanark County’s back roads, meeting some delightful local characters, and visiting some lesser-known scenic gems.

The lives of ordinary people sing out from these historical stories, which take place over two decades of closely observed regional life. As in her previous books, the author weaves the names of local people throughout the stories, and includes each name in an index at the back. You may even find your own name in the book!

Book Launch for “Lanark County Connections”, is Saturday, September 26th 12 pm until 3 pm at The Book Nook at 60 Gore Street E. in Perth. On Saturday, Oct. 3rd, from 9 am until 1 pm Arlene will be showcasing her books at the Perth Chapter – Ottawa International Writer’s Festival at the Crystal Palace, Perth, Ontario.

(Author of “Lanark County Calendar”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Kid” & “Recipes & Recollections”)

http://www.staffordwilson.com

Winter Warriors

winter fence
Eastern Ontario winters are not for the faint of heart. They are bitterly cold. They are relentless…and, they are long. They are not for the casual skier wanting a fashionable romp down a pretty hill only to return to the safety and warmth of their faraway homes. They are not for the frivolous winter vacationer staying at a rustic lodge to photograph a deer or a moose, from the comforts of their cozy cabin windows.

These winter days are for hardy souls only; all others need not apply. These are for people prepared to use a heavy shovel and an ever-present snow brush on a daily basis. These are for people possessing the knowledge and necessary techniques for walking on different types of ice…without falling. Some ice is flat and smooth like a hockey arena. Some ice is snow-covered, just enough to make the hidden surface even more perilous. Some days the ice is black, unseen, undetectable, rendering the walker completely unaware of their vulnerability.

This is where you’ll find the stalwart souls who soldier on, through ice and snow, from October through April each year, month after long winter month. These are the people who listen to reports of schools closing, and distant cities shut down because of the ‘bad’ winter weather, as they trudge through the snow on their way to work because it’s ‘just another day’. These are the people, young and old who wade through snow, stroll on the ice, and drive on slick roads in freezing rain, for months each year. Before their school day or work day has even begun, they have shoveled their sidewalks, brushed off their cars, stepped gingerly on ice, trudged through resistant snow drifts, all of this while bitter cold winds sting any skin unprotected by cumbersome layers of clothing and boots.

These are the enduring rank and file, possessing rare perseverance, stamina and patience. They are dreamers and unflinching optimists. In the final unbending weeks of the coldest season they will study seed catalogues, plan gardens, visit boat shows, and envision themselves under clear, blue skies on calm, warm, July afternoons. They conjure endless images of cottages, muskoka chairs, hammocks, beer and barbecues. They dream of tulips and trilliums, green grass, and sunny days.

As the late winter unwinds its final few weeks in Eastern Ontario, perhaps the most anticipated signal to herald the new season for these enduring folks, will be the time-honoured, and always sublime, first taste of their beloved maple syrup. It spells the defeat, the finish, the finale, the wind-up, and the end-of-the-line for winter. It marks the beginning of spring, of brighter longer days, and the sweet, golden taste of victory for the hardy souls who have survived yet another long, cold Canadian winter.

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com

 

Discover the history of maple syrup production in Lanark County, Eastern Ontario in ‘Taffy on the Tay’, an excerpt from Lanark County Chronicle – ISBN978-0-9877026-23

Visit the Perth Festival of the Maples Saturday April 25th:

http://perthchamber.com/chamber-events/festival-of-the-maples/

 

Homecoming

“Hearts glowed in friendship, forged over decades,

and the Spirit of Christmas entered the house, and walked among us.”

Christmas House Tour 2014 neighbourhood gals0001

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.

Jordan's Christie Lake0001

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 December 20140001

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 it headed for Perth.

Tracks back the side road0001

This way to the duck pond0001

Tree near the tracks0001

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.

Creek behind the house0001

Lowlands behind the house0001

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!

Field back the side road0001

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 at the Christmas House Tour0001

Christmas House Tour sign0001

Garage - Christmas House Tour0001

Stafford House 20001

Stafford House0001

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.

Perkins' house from window0001

Stafford family photos0001

Sunset from kitchen window0001

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.

Many thanks to Wendy and to the members of the Canadian Federation of University Women, for making our visit possible, and 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 men come home again.”

http://www.staffordwilson.com

200 Years of History in Tay Valley

Scribes, Minstrels and Storytellers were the ‘keepers of the history’, going back as far as ancient Egypt and even beyond. The stories of tribes and communities were painted on cave walls, sculpted in stone, or painstakingly illustrated on animal skin or parchment. Stories were passed from generation to generation, some gathered in circles around blazing fires, many told from father to son and from mother to daughter. The culture and the history were preserved, and tales of bravery and acts of courage were interspersed with accounts of the daily lives of the ancestors.

As preparations for the 200th anniversary of Tay Valley Township gain momentum, the group producing the book ‘At Home in Tay Valley’ gathered together all of the contributors this past Saturday November 22nd 2014 at the Tay Valley Township office on Harper Road. Some of the those present had written chapters for the book, and some had been interviewed, and their oral accounts had been recorded and transcribed for posterity. Regardless of the nature of their contributions, everyone present understood the importance of documenting the history of Tay Valley, and preserving it for future generations.

Deputy Reeve of Tay Valley Township Susan Freeman welcomed all of the contributors to the gathering, and spoke briefly about the 200th anniversary and some of the events that would be held as part of the celebration in 2016. Kay Rogers, the Editor of ‘At Home in Tay Valley’ read the names of all of the contributors to the book, and gathered everyone together for a group photo that will appear in the book.

As Kay said, no gathering in Tay Valley would be complete without some tasty treats, and everyone had the opportunity to mix and mingle while enjoying coffee, hot apple cider and a delightful assortment of cookies and squares.

We chatted with many former neighbours and long-time friends from Calvin United Church – Maxine and Keith Jordan, Alan Jordan, and former 4-H Club fellow member Ruth Miller-Baker. We were especially delighted to have a chance to visit with another dear friend Betty Miller who lit up the room with her ever-present smile and unstoppable cheerful spirit.   Another old friend Keith Kerr stopped by to say hello, and it was nice to see many other friendly faces from Tay Valley, particularly those from the former Bathurst Township.

We look forward to the publishing of the book with great anticipation, and are thankful that these stories and memories will be preserved in this unique collection. The books are scheduled for printing late in 2015 and forms for pre-ordering are available now. To pre-order your copy, please contact Kristine Swaren at 613-267-5353 ext 129 or email your request to: planning assistant (at)tayvalleytwp.ca.

http://www.staffordwilson.com

 

Contributors to book, ‘At Home in Tay Valley’

 

Susan Freeman, Deputy Reeve welcomes the contributors

Kay Rogers, Editor shows a sneak-peak of the book cover for ‘At Home in Tay Valley’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

with Kay Rogers, Editor of ‘At Home in Tay Valley’

Tay Valley Contributors 50001

Some dear neighbours and friends from Calvin Church – far left Betty Miller, 4th from the left Alan Jordan, Keith Jordan, Maxine Jordan and former 4H member Ruth Miller-Baker.