Chaplin’s Dairy – Milk Route

Bottle cap – used to seal the glass milk bottles at Chaplin’s Dairy

“Did the milk taste better

from a bottle?”

Whether it was homogenized, skim, or buttermilk, yes, it all tasted better from a glass bottle than it does from a carton, or a plastic bag. My all-time favourite product from Chaplin’s Dairy was their chocolate milk, which came in a pint-sized glass bottle, sealed with the same cardboard cap. On a hot lazy summer day there was no better sight than seeing Dad walking across the yard with his milk carrier, and a couple of pints of Chaplin’s rich, creamy chocolate milk.

Milk carrier – room for 8 quart bottles

Along with the quarts of whole milk, 2% milk, skim milk, and the pints of chocolate milk, Chaplin’s also produced buttermilk, whipping cream, and through the late 1960s, sold Beep brand grape juice and orange drink.

Stafford House

It was an early start to the work day when Dad left our house in the morning, and drove his car to Glen Tay. Once at Chaplin’s Dairy he made several trips in and out of the building, loading up the truck, preparing for the drive to Perth.

The Stafford house, 3rd Line of Bathurst, 1947, where Tim and Audry Stafford settled after the war. The property was purchased from Tim’s aunt and uncle, Clara (Richards) Carberry and Tom Carberry

One of Dad’s perks of delivering milk door to door in Perth every day was receiving all of the kind and thoughtful gifts from his customers. He was always late getting home on Christmas Eve because along with the cards and gifts he was given, everyone along his route wanted to stop and chat for a minute or two and wish him a Merry Christmas. He arrived home carrying stacks of envelopes with Christmas cards, and in each card was a one or two dollar bill. Some customers gave him boxes of assorted chocolates, chocolate-covered cherries, or peppermint patties. He was also given many packs of cigarettes as a gift, and if they weren’t his brand, MacDonald’s Menthol, and in later years, Kool, and Craven M, he traded them at Murray Dowdall’s Service Station in Glen Tay.

December 19, 1968, p. 4, “The Perth Courier”

Tools of the Trade

Two of the things that Dad was often seen with were his change pouch and his black notebook. The black pouch held small bills and coins, so that he could make correct change for the customers when they paid. The small black notebook had a leather cover, and had slips of paper marked with lines, columns, and the heading, ‘Chaplin’s Dairy’, and a black carbon paper underneath, then a plain paper copy under that. On the top copy, he wrote the customers name, address, order, and amount due, which copied the order through the carbon paper onto the plain sheet below – the dairy’s copy.

Stafford Christmas 1964, left to right: Roger, Arlene on Judy’s knee, Audry, Tobias ‘Tib’, Tim, and Jackie

Tobias ‘Tib’ ‘Tim’ Stafford and Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, 25th wedding anniversary 1968

Chaplin’s Dairy

The dairy was founded by Delbert Chaplin in the early 1900s, and his brother Edgar Chaplin worked with him in the business. The Chaplin family owned a large 300 acre farm at R.R 4 Perth. At first he operated the business from their farm, but later in 1935 he constructed the Chaplin’s Dairy building at Glen Tay corners.

For over 25 years, from 1950 – 1976, our Dad, Tobias ‘Tib’ ‘Tim’ Stafford, delivered milk for Chaplin’s Dairy.

Where did he go on a typical day, who were his regular customers, and what was it like driving around with him in the big pink and white delivery truck?

My brothers, Tim and Roger, at different times over the years, worked as ‘Helpers’, on the milk route. What are their recollections of those days delivering milk for Chaplin’s Dairy?

Tim’s recollections

of the Milk Route:

When he and Dad were loading up the truck early in the morning he recalls that Cameron Chaplin was there as well, loading up his truck at the same time.

There was a big walk-in cooler where they stored the milk, and there was another area where the buttermilk was stored by the big sink.  It was Don Blair’s job to rinse out the buttermilk bottles and they often came back with some buttermilk hardened on the bottom of the bottle so it was all the more difficult to get those bottles clean.

After they loaded up the milk truck, their first stop was at Glen Tay delivering to the houses by the train station. After that, they went back on the 3rd Line, headed to Perth, and made a few residential deliveries along the way.

When they got to Perth they delivered to a couple of locations that took longer than others because the owners or staff at these businesses always invited them in for a chat.  At the Perth Hotel they always invited Dad and Tim in for a coffee, they insisted, and it was non-negotiable.  Another place they were always invited in was Burchell’s.  Scott Burchell was often busy loading up his own delivery truck with windows and doors, and at that time he was also Mayor of Perth. Regardless of how full his day was, he always wanted to chat.

Another stop each morning was at Dad’s Aunt Clara (Richards) Carberry at 85 Sherbrooke Street. Every day she made an oven full of buttered toast and kept it warm for them until they arrived and served it with tea, and peanut butter for Tim. That was around 8:00 or 9:00 each morning, after they finished delivering up and down Gore Street and the side streets. After that, they headed up Gore Street toward Charlie Donaldson’s service station.

They always pulled over at McGlade’s Gas Station for lunch. It was at the corner of Gore Street and Highway 43, and they parked outside and ate the lunch our mother packed, which was two scrambled egg sandwiches on homemade bread, and four homemade chocolate cookies. She also sent a thermos of tea for Dad. Once they’d finished eating what Mother had sent with them Dad headed into McGlade’s and bought two chocolate bars – one for each of them for dessert.

After they finished eating, Dad liked to visit Benny K’s and Hoffman’s stores and poke around the vast assortment of merchandise and see what they had for sale.

In the afternoon they delivered up and down the side streets in Perth, up the Scotch Line, and back into town. The last house on the north side of Church Street was also a place where their customers wanted to chat, so that stop also took longer than most. 

That house on Church Street was the last stop in town, then they headed out Highway 7 toward Glen Tay. They always delivered to Cleroux’s store and garage and they also spent time chatting with them, then the last place they stopped before the dairy was Murray Dowdall’s Service Station at the corner of Glen Tay across from the railroad tracks. They often saw Don Blair and Ted Cordick at Murray’s, stopping by for a chat.  (Hillis Conroy owned the station before Murray) Each night at Murray’s, Dad bought a Toronto Star and a brick of butterscotch ripple ice cream to bring home for Mother and us kids.

Back at the dairy, they unloaded their empty carriers and empty bottles.

Tim also mentioned that one day he was with John Chaplin on his route (he was practising the route for when John was on vacation) and they stopped at Ryder’s on Highway 7.)  Mr. Ryder told John that the buttermilk he’d purchased from him had turned sour, so in response, John took the cap off and proceeded to drink the entire bottle bottle of buttermilk to prove that it was fresh.

Tim also did John’s cottage run which was to Christie Lake, and was only done in the summer. When Tim did John’s route, his helper, Don Lindsay and he, had lunch at the Bright Spot, and their meal was paid by the Dairy.  The Bright Spot was owned by the Turcott family and Muz McLean worked the cash.

In the spring, Chaplin’s Dairy also sold maple syrup from the milk trucks, which was produced on Andrew Korry’s maple bush. Korry’s farm was across the road from us. Andrew’s daughter, Orpha, was married to John Chaplin.

April 14, 1955, p. 6, “The Perth Courier”

(The Bright Spot was a diner located at 84 Gore Street E., in Perth, during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1969, Tony Noonan bought the restaurant, renaming it Noonan’s, then Tony’s son took over, and named it Peter’s Family Fare. Today is it’s known as Peter’s Restaurant and Bakery, owned by Chelsea and Mitch Fowler)

Roger’s memories

of the Milk Route:

“It has been a couple of years, but this is the way I remember the route.

After we left the dairy our first stop was at Nick and Doreen Webbers at Glen Tay, then up to Jack Dowdall’s on the crossroad, then we went down the south side of the train tracks to what they called the station house (it was torn down years ago) I can remember the boys that lived there were Jerry and Clause and that they were a  German family, but I can’t remember their last name. We then backtracked to the crossroad and went East on Hwy 7.

We stopped at O’Gormans, Roger’s Auto Body, the house on the East side of Cleroux’s and then at the house by the pond. We then went into Perth with a stop on Drummond St and then down to Burchell’s. The remainder of the route was basically on the South side of the Tay River. We went out the Rideau Ferry Rd to McClenahan’s  (she taught at the high school and they ran the planing mill) and out the Scotch Line as far as Watts.

We took Hwy 7 back to Cleroux’s, and then our final stop was Hillis Conroy’s / Murray Dowdall’s Service Station.
Our last delivery was at Korry’s across the road from our house. John’s wife Orpha was a Korry.

When we were young, Dad would return home with milk for Korry’s and one of us kids would take it across, and usually get a cookie from Mrs. Ethel Korry.

When I first started with Dad we worked out of a pickup truck and then a step van. Neither had refrigeration and freezing was always a concern in the winter. On Saturday we delivered two days worth of milk, so we had to go back to the dairy at noon, to pick up the second load.  Dad worked 6 1/2 days one week and 6 the second week with either half a Sunday off or a full day.

On every second Sunday he went in to work in the dairy processing milk as milk arrived at the dairy 7 days a week.

Everything was in glass bottles, Whole milk, Skim, Chocolate, Buttermilk, Table Cream and Whipped Cream.  Cartons came out about the time I stopped working with Dad (1967) People bought tickets, indicating what they wanted and they put them out in the empty bottles, so you knew what they wanted. Some people ran a bill, which Dad recorded in a book kept in the truck. He collected on those bills on Saturdays. We each wore a pouch which contained change and tickets. Saturday was a busy day because of the double delivery, the second trip to the dairy and doing collections. That is why all the routes had a helper on Saturdays. John’s son Gordon worked with him and Cameron’s son, Bob worked with his father.

The Summers were very hot and the winters were cold in the trucks as you were in and out all the time and with no air conditioning and poor heaters. It would still have been much quicker and more comfortable that using a horse and wagon.”

Note from Roger:

“Mom told me that after I was born, in February 1951, Dad picked her up in the milk truck to bring us home from the hospital. It had snowed and our side-road wasn’t plowed, so they had to walk in from the 3rd Line.

Dad worked at Wampole’s until he was 66 years old. I think after 10 years he was eligible for a small pension and some health benefits. That would mean that Dad left Chaplin’s Dairy when he was 56.”

(after being bed-ridden with pneumonia at the age of 55, Dad was advised by his family doctor to find a job working indoors, and so, his good friend, Nick Webber, referred him to a position with Wampole, where he worked until retirement)

Don Chaplin, ran the dairy farm that supplied a lot of the milk to the dairy. Don had two sons, Gary, and Grant, who worked on the farm with their father, and I believe they  also worked at the dairy, doing the lake route in the summer. There were number of local farmers who supplied milk to the dairy.

Chaplin’s Dairy sleigh, – Dairy Heritage Museum, Aylmer, Ontario

1969 – Perth Junior Farmers

Tour Chaplin’s Dairy

“The June meeting of the Perth Junior Farmers started with a tour of Chaplin’s Dairy, this being Dairy Month.  John Miller introduced Mr. Chaplin to the group.  Mr. Chaplin explained to the group the procedure taken to put out the homogenized, 2%, and the skim milk.  The machine that fills the bottles and caps them, and also where the chocolate milk is filled up in cartons and sealed was shown to the group.  Mr. Chaplin then showed the bottle washer. The machine washes, sterilizes, and rinses the bottles.  We also visited the cold storage room where the bottled milk is kept.  From the Dairy everyone went to the home of John Miller where we held the business part of the meeting.”

June 19, 1969, p. 14, “The Perth Courier”

1977 – Chaplin’s Dairy Sold

“Chaplin Brothers Bid Farewell to Family Business –

article from “The Perth Courier”, October 27, 1977, p.9

“The familiar pink and white trucks will still be there; – the friendly, courteous service will still be there, but the two men who kept the business going successfully for the last four decades will be gone.

John and Cameron Chaplin, former owners of Chaplin’s Dairy, sold their business this spring, ending a family ownership of close to 70 years.

“We’re going to miss it, alright”, said John, as he and his brother stood reminiscing in the cool atmosphere of the dairy’s grey cement interior.  “Retired now?  Well, more or less.  I’d rather think of us as being on holidays at the moment.”, he laughed.

Although the Chaplins feel they were “at the business long enough”, it won’t be easy breaking that routine they have followed for so many years. John and Cameron made the dairy’s deliveries ever since they started working in the milk firm – John some 42 years ago and Cameron about 30 years ago.  The last run was made by Cameron on September 17, 1977, just over a month ago.

John can remember when the price of the milk he sold was 5 cents a quart, back in 1935.  The going price today for a quart is .65 cents.

And the two brothers recall when they used a horse and wagon for deliveries instead of the modern fleet of trucks the dairy uses  now.  It was a lot slower, but there weren’t many mechanical breakdowns.

In the earliest days of the dairy, started by Delbert Chaplin, John and Cameron’s father, milk was distributed with a pint or quart measure by the milkman, who simply ladled it out of milk cans into whatever container was left out on a front porch or stoop by the customer.

The birth of the dairy evolved from a large, 300-acre farm owned by the  Chaplin family at R.R. # 4, Perth.  Delbert Chaplin, a progressive man, set up a system so the farm could process its own milk produced by its Holstein cattle herd.

He erected a dairy building at Glen Tay in 1935, and the business flourished from there ever since.  It became a complete family enterprise.

John, Cameron, and a third brother, Don, worked with their father to turn out as many as 3,000 quarts of milk a day, during the dairy’s peak production years.  They distributed throughout the Perth and district area.

Although the sons took over the dairy operation in 1945, their father remained active in the firm for many years.  Don took on the responsibility of managing the farm which was producing about 1,200 pounds of milk daily in the early 1960s.

Chaplin’s Dairy also processed the milk supplied by five neighboring farms in order to keep pace with customer demand.

Buttermilk and chocolate milk also left the dairy house for sale.  Butter was produced too, but never enough to be sold.  The Chaplins had a large enough clan that they consumed it all easily.

With the passing of years, the Chaplin family, like everything else, spread out and began to disperse.  Life changed and in 1970, Don decided to sell the farm.

1974 – Processing Milk Ends

When John and Cameron finally gave up processing milk at the dairy in 1974 and turned strictly to distribution for Clark’s Dairies in Ottawa, Chaplin’s had been one of the very last small dairies still in the processing business.

“We had to quit.  We had to go with the changing of the times”, said John.  “There would have been too many changes to make in the dairy to keep up the operation.”

There was the change-over from glass bottles to paper cartons and plastic jugs.  As a processor, the dairy had washed and recylced its own bottles, but glass became more expensive and more scarce.

“When we became a distributor, the bottles went.  We got rid of the ones we had with no trouble by selling them to bigger dairies that still used them.”, recalled Cameron.  “But some people still miss them.  They think milk tastes better if it comes out of a glass bottle.”

The old bottle washer is still in the Chaplin’s Dairy building, but it’s rusty and old with disuse.  Most of the equipment for processing the brothers sold, with some pieces, says John, going as far as Newfoundland.

As a processor, the dairy would have also had to comply with ever increasing government regulations.  The business had never had any problems in the past, but things were not going to get any easier.  The Chaplins wanted to leave the operation with the knowledge they had put out the best milk on the market and at the best price.

One of the biggest factors in their decision to change was the rise in costs in everything from maintenance to distribution.

“Little businesses are fighting a losing battle”, say both John and Cameron.  “An operation has to be big nowadays, or it just won’t make it.  Look at the farmers.  If they are commercial, then they have to have a really large operation.”

Then there was also the problem of eventually converting to metric measurement.  Equipment would be obsolete, the expense of purchasing new machines, astronomical.

It was almost a matter of quit or go under.  The Chaplins decided to call it quits.

And they were happy with that decision.  Since going over to Clark’s the dairy has maintained its reputation for reliable delivery to its 1,000 present customers.  There are 12 runs made with a staff of four salesmen, and milk is brought in daily from Ottawa.

The dairy also offers a complete line of dairy products now, including juices, cottage cheese, and eggs.

The firms’ new owner, Bill McConachie, plans to extend the milk route to Smiths Falls since rising costs mean a bigger market has to be found.

Bill, who has worked for Clark’s for a number of years, used to bring the  milk from Ottawa by transport, but now uses his own truck.

He lives in Perth and has become a familiar face to residents who will no longer see either John or Cameron making the routes.  For the two brothers, the dairy will now hold only good memories.

“We want to thank everyone, all our customers, in Perth and the area, for their support all the years we were in business.”

John and Cameron said later, as they left the grey dairy building, “We hope they will do the same for Bill.”

1982End of Home Delivery

(excerpt from an article by Patricia Rivera, “The Milkman Cometh No More”, “The Perth Courier, March 31, 1982, p.2)

The Milkman Cometh No More

“It used to be a common sight – and sound – of early mornings: bottles clinking and dogs barking, as milkmen delivered milk, butter, and eggs to homeowners.

And even if contemporary milkmen had ceased delivering eggs and butter, and the cartons didn’t exactly jingle, there was a link to old times.

Now, however, home deliveries are ending, not only in Perth, but everywhere.

March 27, 1982

Last Day of Milk Delivery

in Perth

“It’s the end of an era”, says Bill McConachie, owner of Chaplin’s Dairy, which ceased making the delivery rounds here on March 27th, 1982.  “In Ottawa, the major dairies had stopped making house deliveries some time ago.  The writing was on the wall.  We could see a general, steady decline in home deliveries.”

When Mr. McConachie purchased the dairy five years ago, he estimates there may have been between 300-400 home customers.  But this year, that number was down to about 150 residences.

“It’s changing lifestyles.  Years ago, a mother was home all the time.  Home delivery was convenient, and it was a service they could pay for.  With the economic conditions today, mothers of young families have to work out of the home.”

So now they choose to drop by a store rather than have milk delivered to their doorstep – where it freezes in the winter and goes bad in the summer because no one’s on hand to take it in.

As well, chain stores are able to offer customers considerable savings on bagged milk packages.

“They (buyers) can find bargains where they’re saving a dollar on a bag.  In a younger family where they’re drinking a (3-liter) bag a day, they can save $7 or $8 a week.

“That’s pretty significant.

Older people, on the other hand, rarely buy large quantities of milk at a time, and since “you never get a deal on a quart of milk at the store”, they are inclined to “pay four cents more at the door than the store.”

Besides, for older people, home deliveries were always a tradition.

“Their lifestyle hasn’t changed that drastically.  They still expect the milkman at 8:00 a.m.  They set their watches by it.”, he says, commenting that calls from his home customers reflect that “None are terribly surprised – they are disappointed, perhaps – but not surprised.”

Mr. McConachie also admits that his favourite customers have usually been elderly, and he cites the Christmas gifts of home-baked cookies as an instance of how they’ve ingratiated themselves with him.

He says that in his business, you meet a real cross-section of the population, though for the most part he is usually dealing with women.

He’s had his favourites, and he’s had his tiffs, but he’s “never had a totally bad experience.”

Chaplin’s will continue to deliver milk to area stores, but face-to-face customer service has become a thing of the past.

There was no choice but to cease and desist.”

Chaplin’s Dairy For Sale

….And so it was, the end of an era, of home delivery service, of a friendly milkman arriving at your door with a metal carrier full of fresh milk and dairy products. For Dad, his days of delivering milk ended almost a decade earlier, after his bout of pneumonia, and his doctor’s orders to work indoors, not outside in the often bitterly cold winters of Eastern Ontario.

For those of us who knew John and Cameron, Don, Ronnie, and the helpers who worked on those long-ago milk routes, we will have our fond memories of that bustling business, that familiar grey cement building, with the ever-present steam rising up from the bottle cleaners, and some of the most delicious wholesome products ever produced, Chaplin’s Dairy, in Glen Tay.

To read more about Chaplin’s Dairy:

“Chaplin’s Dairy in Glen Tay”, from the book, “Lanark County Kid”

Available in stores and online.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

2 comments on “Chaplin’s Dairy – Milk Route

  1. Jackie Wharton says:

    This is great – have I read this before? – I enjoyed reading it. I’m pretty sure that I took that photo of mother and dad – I can’t remember what year but it is when Bob and I lived in the second house in Greely – so they might have been – 60-61 – around there – I put my finger over mother’s eyes and that is me!! What struck me was the shape of the jaw which I call square – I hadn’t realized it was her that had that shaped jaw – and the smile is mine as well – I do have a big nose but maybe not as big . . . . ha.

    Great photos of the dairy people.

  2. coldon12yen says:

    HI Arlene –

    I remember as a 9-12 year old riding the Chaplin’s milk truck with other friends around the Christie Lake route.

    Loved the memories your details brought.

    And I can’t get over that your Mom and Dad brought you home from the hospital in your Dad’s milk truck and then they had to walk in through unplowed snow.

    Such a different time period it was.

    And we were made better by it all.

    Colleen Greer Fraser, Christie Lake, still in summers.

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