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