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.

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

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