Ottawa Valley Poltergeist

spooky forest

The Haunting Begins

This eerie tale began in the autumn of 1889, on a farm, owned by George Dagg, and his wife, Susan, located in Clarendon, 10 kilometers from Shawville, Quebec.

George and Susan had three children at that time, Eliza, age 4, Mary, age 3, and baby John.  The Dagg family had also taken in a young girl, 11-year old Dinah.  Like many orphans from the U.K. at that time, she was brought to Canada, and these children were often placed in farm homes, where they could help out.

When Dinah was present, there were often unexplained, spontaneous fires — eight occurring in a single day.  Objects  – a water jug, butter tub and wash basin ‘flew’ around the property controlled by an “invisible agency.” Stones were thrown through windows, a harmonica played on its own, and an empty rocking chair, rocked back and forth.

Family members and neighbours heard a deep gruff voice, sounding like an old man, in the house and outdoors,  and the voice answered questions, and was heard by all.


It all began on September 15, 1889…..

Dagg # 1

“The Philadelphia Inquirer”, Jan. 13, 1890, p.6

Who Broke the Glass?

Dagg # 2


“Oh, Grandmother, see the big black thing pulling off the bedclothes.”


Dagg # 3

“The Philadelphia Inquirer”, Jan. 13, 1890, p.6


The Dagg Family Consulted with The Witch of Plum Hollow

Dagg # 4


Percy Woodcock, of Brockville, a well-known artist, and student of Psychology, began to investigate the strange occurrences at the Dagg home…..


Dagg# 5

Percy Woodcock.pngPercy Woodcock, 1879


Was it the farm-hand, Dean?


Dagg # 6

“The Dunn County News”, Menomonie, Wisconsin, Oct. 25, 1889, p.6


Some claimed it was Dinah…

Dagg # 15

“The Ottawa Journal”, Nov. 29, 1889


Dinah Burden McLean, the adopted orphan from Scotland, taken in by the kindly Dagg family, was blamed for the disturbances, and eventually was sent away to Fairknowe Home, in Brockville.  Fairknowe Home was an orphanage, and at the time Dinah was sent there, it was called The National Orphan Homes of Scotland, and later the building housed a division of the Brockville Children’s Aid.

Fairknowe Home

 Fairknowe Home for Orphans, Brockville, Ontario

Fairknowe children

Children at Fairknowe Home, Brockville, late 1890s

(a section of the Old Brockville cemetery has a large monument with the names of the children who died at Fairknowe Home)


Dagg # 16


“He claims to be a discarnated being who died twenty years ago, aged eighty years; that he gave his name to Mr. George Dagg and to Mr. Willie Dagg, forbidding them to tell it.”


Seventeen farmers and community leaders, including local politicians and clergymen, signed  witness statements to the unusual sightings, and voices heard at the Dagg farm, in the fall of 1889.

Dagg # 18


Seventeen people witnessed the disturbances of the Poltergeist, and signed a statement to that effect…


“To whom it may concern:

We, the undersigned, solemnly declare that the following curious proceedings, which began on the 15th day of September, 1889, and are still going on, on the 17th day of November, 1889, in the home of Mr. George Dagg, a farmer living seven miles from Shawville, Clarendon Township, Pontiac County, Province of Quebec, actually occurred as below described.

1st, That fires have broken out spontaneously through the house, as many as eight occurring on one day, six being in the house and two outside; that the window curtains were burned whilst on the windows, this happening in broad daylight whilst the family and neighbours were in the house.

2nd, That stones were thrown by invisible hands through the windows, as many as eight panes of glass being broken; that articles such as waterjug, milk pitcher, a wash basin, cream jug, butter tub and other articles were thrown about the house by the same invisible agency; a jar of water being thrown in the face of Mrs. John Dagg, also in the face of Mrs. George Dagg, whilst they were busy about their household duties, Mrs. George Dagg being alone in the house at the time it was thrown in her face; that a large shelf was heard distinctly to be played and was seen to move across the room on to the floor; immediately after, a rocking chair began rocking furiously. That a washboard was sent flying down the stairs from the garret, no one being in the garret at the time. That when the child Dinah is present, a deep gruff voice like that of an aged man has been heard at various times, both in the house and outdoors, and when asked questions answered so as to be distinctly heard, showing that he is cognizant of all that has taken place, not only in Mr. Dagg’s family but also in the families of the surrounding neighbourhood. That he claims to be a discarnated being who died twenty years ago, aged eighty years; that he gave his name to Mr. George Dagg and to Mr. Willie Dagg, forbidding them to tell it. That this intelligence is able to make himself visible to Dinah, little Mary and Johnnie, who have seen him under different forms at different times, at one time as a tall thin man with a cow’s head, horns and cloven foot, at another time as a big black dog, and finally as a man with a beautiful face and long white hair, dressed in white, wearing a crown with stars in it.

John Dagg Portage du Fort, PQ.; George Dagg, Portage du Fort, PQ; William Eddes, Radsford, PQ; William H. Dagg Port. du Fort; Arthur Smart, Port. du Fort; Charles A. Dagg, Port. du Fort; Bruno Morrow, Port. du Fort; Benjamin Smart, Shawville, PQ.; William J. Dagg, Shawville, PQ.; Robert F. Peever, Cobden, Ont.; Robert H. Lockhart, Port. du Fort; John Fulfrid, Port. du Fort; George H. Hodgins, Shawville; Richard F. Dagg, Shawville; George Blackwell, Haley’s, Ont.; William Smart, Portage du Fort; John J. Dagg, Portage du Fort.”


Curiosity-seekers came by the wagon-load, from neighbouring towns and villages, along with the media, to witness the Dagg Poltergeist

Dagg # 19

The Dagg house, below, as it appeared before the additions

Dagg # 3


Attested by Scores of Credible Witnesses

Dagg # 13

“The  Times”, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Jan. 14, 1891, p.3


“The man left with Dinah, and she was never heard from again….”

Dagg # 4Dagg # 5

Charlie Harris, of R. R. # 2, Shawville,  was hit on the head by the Poltergeist

Dagg poltergeist # 2


“It” threw water in Mrs. Dagg’s face…..

Dagg # 6


The Dagg House 2017


Dagg # 7

Charlene Lombard, lived in the former Dagg home in 2017. Photo: Darren Brown, “The Ottawa Citizen”

Noted by the Lombard family  – a strange sound of crawling and scratching in the attic, solely focused above the original house.

Dagg # 8

Dagg house, with ‘new’ addition (added after George and Susan Dagg occupied the home)


Eliza Jane, age 4, the Dagg’s daughter, died mysteriously, during the time of the poltergeist’s visit.

Dagg # 10


Grave of Eliza Dagg, daughter of George and Susan Dagg.  She passed away in a mysterious accident, during the time of the poltergeist on the family farm.  (local lore is little Eliza was playing near a cauldron of soap, her clothing caught fire, and she burned to death)

Dagg # 11

Protestant Cemetery of Portage du Fort, Outaouais, Quebec


After the Poltergeist

After the disturbances of 1889, the lives of George Dagg and his family returned to normal, for the most part.  George became one of the most prominent farmers in the region, and served as a Councillor for Portage from 1918-1922.  Popular, and well-respected, he ran for Mayor in 1922, and was elected.  He served as Mayor of Portage for 16 years, right up until his death, in 1938.


George Dagg obit May 30 1938 Ottawa Citizen

“The Ottawa Citizen”, May 30, 1938, p.2


Dagg # 9

Protestant Cemetery of Portage du Fort, Outaouais, Quebec


Dagg # 17

“The Ottawa Citizen”, Nov. 18, 2014,
(Venetia Crawford, author and historian, with the Pontiac County, Quebec, Archives)


Dagg # 12

The Dagg house, as it appeared in 2014


Did it vanish for good, or did it return?

The old-timers say that the poltergeist vanished, and appeared like a streaking flame, as it finally left the Dagg farm, after three long months, of troublesome behavior.


Dagg # 14


Dagg # 20

The Dagg House, as it appears today.  Local people and curiosity seekers still drive by this property, and local teens have been known to walk through the yard at night, on a dare.


Would You Dare to Visit at Night?

Dagg # 20

More on the Dagg Poltergeist:

A movie about the Dagg Poltergeist, was produced by the National Film Board, and the story was published in a book by R.S. Lambert in 1955:

Exploring the Supernatural: The Weird in Canadian Folklore

1955. R.S Lambert’s book Exploring The SupernaturalThe Weird In Canadian Folklore was published, which includes a chapter of what took place at the farm in 1889.


The Ghost that Talked

The Dagg poltergeist was the subject of 1957 National Film Board movie, “The Ghost That Talked.”

“In the fall of 1889 a mysterious presence took up residence in the Dagg farmhouse in Pontiac county, Québec. This dramatization based on the first-hand report by Canadian artist Percy Woodcock shows that ghosts and poltergeists are as common in Canada as in the Old World.”

March 10th, 195730 min.


Fairknowe Home

For more information on Fairknowe Home, orphanage in Brockville:  “The Village, A History of Quarriers” , by Anna Magnusson, 1984.



Perth’s Haunted Hospital

GWM hospital Perth

It wasn’t until I worked at the Perth hospital kitchen in the 1970s, that I began hearing stories about the ghosts that haunted their halls at night.

Although I was born in the Great War Memorial Hospital, and years later would attend high school just a block away, no one had ever mentioned the legends surrounding the original owners of the building, or how that family had been cursed.

Curious to find out more, I began to ask around town.  Being a small town where everyone knew someone, who knew something; it didn’t take long before I spoke with someone, who knew someone else, who’d seen something unusual at the old hospital.  I began to write down some of the stories about the building on Drummond Street that I thought, had always been a hospital.  I discovered that it hadn’t started out as a hospital at all.

The story begins with a Judge John Malloch, a prominent citizen of the early days in Perth, who decided in 1858 to build an opulent stone house on Drummond Street.  His home had all of the bells and whistles.  There were 17 rooms, along with two large halls that were each ten feet wide.  There was a solid walnut staircase, a large library, and a fine polished marble mantelpiece.   In those days, it was considered by many, to be one of the finest homes in all of Eastern Ontario.  The Judge named the home Victoria Hall, for the reigning Queen at that time.

GWM Victoria Hall

Description of Judge Malloch’s home, Victoria Hall, ‘The Perth Courier’, May 9, 1984, p.21

Judge Malloch had ordered many luxurious materials and finishes for his home, some from a distance, and he often became impatient because his building supplies didn’t arrive on time.  One of his suppliers had promised delivery on a certain date and the materials did not arrive when needed. This caused a critical delay in construction.  Workers were not able to proceed, and the setback cost the Judge a great deal of money.  When the material finally arrived, the Judge was so annoyed that he refused to pay.

The supplier became extremely agitated, because even though he admitted that he was very late, he stressed to the Judge that he had delivered the supplies as agreed, so he felt that he should be paid. The supplier argued at length with the Judge, but Malloch stood firm and refused to pay. In the heat of the argument the supplier cursed the Judge.  He went on to say that the Judge’s entire family would be cursed for as long as they lived in that house.

GWM 1920s

“The Perth Courier”, Nov. 10, 1982, p. 26

Years later, some would say that it was the curse, and some said that it was merely coincidence, that caused the Malloch family members to suffer ill health.  Some even succumbed to death prematurely.   The old Judge watched as they passed one by one, and he was left all alone in the large stately house.

GWM original building

Home of Judge John Glass Malloch, photo:  Perth Remembered


Fifteen years after the house was built, the old Judge died, and the once elegant Victoria Hall was left vacant.

Judge Malloch 1873 Dec 12 Perth Courier

“The Perth Courier”, Dec. 12, 1873.


The only time the house was occupied was when distant family members would open the home for the summer season, stay briefly, then leave the house empty and dark for the remainder of the year.

It was during this time, when the house was left vacant, that locals passing by at night often noticed figures walking the halls or staring out the windows.  Victoria Hall became known as the Haunted House of Perth.

ghost in window

Some said they saw what looked like a thin, sickly. old woman, standing at the window, staring down at Drummond Street below.  Others claimed that they saw the ghost of the old white-haired judge, walking up and down the long halls, as if he was searching for something or someone.

John Malloch grave Elmwood

Grave of Judge John Malloch, Elmwood Cemetery, Perth, Ontario


The Perth hospital, in the former Victoria Hall, opened in 1923.   On Armistice Day in 1924 the town of Perth dedicated the hospital as a tribute to the men and women who served in World War I, and proclaimed that it would be known as the Great War Memorial Hospital.

GWM dedication 1924

“The Perth Courier”, May 9, 1984, p. 21


By the time I was hired to work part-time in the hospital kitchen in 1976, there had been many additions, although by that time, the number of beds had been reduced.  The provincial Ministry of Health imposed bed closures in the obstetrics ward in 1973 and local mothers had to travel to Smiths Falls to have their babies.

I recall that this was a heated issue at the time, and three years later, when I worked in the kitchen, it was still a topic of great discussion.  The other topic, which I overheard many times discussed by the staff, were the ghosts that walked the halls at night.

Being a fairly level-headed person, I was inclined to take the ghost stories with a grain of salt, and went about my usual tasks.  I’d been hired part-time to work in the evenings, to deliver trays of food to the patients, after school, and on weekend mornings, to help out with the breakfast preparations.

I recall the first day of work, when I went inside the hospital, and asked one of the staff in the lobby if they could tell me how to get to the kitchen.  I got directions, and headed down the elevator to the lower level.  When I arrived one of the other part time girls, Darlene Dowdall, took me on a tour of the kitchen, and introduced me to the staff.  Dorothy Erwin was the kitchen supervisor.  She said she’d be happy to answer any questions, and welcomed me to the kitchen.  A few years later, Dorothy’s daughter Ruth, married my brother Roger, but that’s another story.

Next, Darlene brought me over to meet the cook.  His name was Wayne Clapp, and he had a quick smile, and was joking around with Leonard ‘Lenny’ Parsons, the dishwasher.  Wayne was preparing a beef stew, and he showed me the walk-in refrigerators.  I couldn’t believe the size of those things.  They were huge.

The next person I met in the kitchen was the baker, and her name was Gladys Thomas.  She had a warm personality and very kind eyes. The day I met her she was busy making some vanilla pudding.  She had a double-decker bake-oven, mounted on the wall behind her, and an enormous mixer for puddings and cakes.

Leonard Parsons, who I’d met earlier, came breezing by and asked if I’d like to start work by helping him wash some of the pots and pans.  Darlene said she’d catch up with me later, and I followed Leonard into the dish-washing room.

Mike, the evening dishwasher, poked his head in the door and with a nervous look on his face, told Leonard that ‘Miss Bosch’ was coming.  Leonard explained that Miss Gabriela Bosch was the head of the kitchen, the ‘big’ boss, and she would often drop by for a surprise inspection to make sure that everything was done just so.

He had barely finished his sentence when a very tall, dark-haired lady, wearing a white lab coat, poked her head into the doorway, said hello, and asked how everything was going.  She was taller than average, and seemed very serious, and I wondered if that’s why the two men had seemed so nervous.

One of the other part time girls Heather Bell, came in and asked me if I could help her fill up the pop machine in the cafeteria.  I recognized Heather from school.  There were two Heather Bells, one with dark hair, but this was the blonde one, and she went by Heather ‘N.’ Bell so people would know which was which.  Heather had a quick sense of humour, and she was a lot of fun to work with that evening.  We joked around as we carted in the cases of pop and slotted them into the machine.

I spotted Bill Farrell coming into the cafeteria from the kitchen and he was holding a mop and pushing a bucket on wheels. He was tall and lanky and had a big smile for everyone.  I recognized him from Perth High School, and he came over and introduced himself.  He and Heather began joking around about some of the good time they’d had with the kitchen gang since they’d started working there and I knew for sure that there would be some fun times ahead.

Another girl from school Joy Hurren, worked behind the counter in the cafeteria, and she asked me if I’d like to help her fill some dishes with pudding.  We spent about an hour doing that, and when we finished, we began to shut everything down for the night.

As we turned off the lights in the cafeteria, I heard an odd sound like someone moaning coming from inside the kitchen, but when I pushed the door open there was no one there.  Joy just shook her head and seemed to think nothing of it; so, neither did I.

On my second night I worked with Joy’s younger sister Jennifer Hurren. She and I had been assigned the job of delivering supper to all of the patients.  There were huge metal racks on wheels called carriers and every six inches or so there was a slot that held a tray of food.

The trays were already set with the evening meals.  The dinner plates each had a metal cover to keep the food hot, and some of the trays had pots of tea or glasses of tomato juice or apple juice.  Ethel Scott was working that evening putting the meals together. I recognized her because I went to school with her daughters, Judy, Thelma, and Patsy. Ethel was checking to make sure that the meals on the trays matched what the patient had checked off on their order slip.

Once we’d loaded the trays on the carrier, Jennifer and I rode up in the elevator, and stopped on the first floor.  The big metal carrier was on wheels, so we pushed it along the hallway and stopped by each room.  We made sure to check the slip of paper and match the name with the nameplate on the bed and then we set the tray down.  Some of the patients were sleeping, but most were awake and happy to see us, and we chatted for a couple of minutes and then went onto the next room.  There was one lady at the end of the hall who didn’t get a tray that night.  Her room number wasn’t on the list.  I thought to myself that she must have already eaten her supper earlier in the evening.

As the months passed by, I realized that the staff members in the hospital kitchen were a great bunch to work with.  There were many jokes shared and stories told while we worked, and every so often someone would mention the ghosts that had been seen in the halls over the years.  Well, I’d been up and down those halls many, many, months, and the only folks that I’d seen other than the nurses, were from the Hospital Auxiliary.

The ladies of the Hospital Auxiliary were a dedicated group and sometimes we’d see them in the halls. They’d be upstairs on the floors late at night delivering evening snacks to the patients.  They called it the ‘Tea and Toast Brigade’ and brought around hot buttered toast with jam or jelly, and tea or juice to the patients, to provide a little late-night nourishment.  Along with offering some cheer and a snack these ladies raised a tremendous amount of money for the hospital.  They ran a little gift shop on site, and were also in charge of the Candy Stripers – young girls who volunteered to help out with small jobs around the hospital.

I saw quite a few of the ladies from the Hospital Auxiliary like Miss N. Burke, Mrs. Vi Wilson, Mrs. L. Crothers, Mrs. B Watson, Mrs. K. Frizell, Mrs. S. Folkard, Mrs. E. Rilley, Primrose Paruboczy, Harriet Halliday, and Mary McDougall.  They were tireless workers, and it was very clear that they really cared about the patients and the hospital.

I also saw many of the local doctors while delivering the trays of food each evening.  Many of them looked exhausted as they made their rounds, but they were always friendly and had a few kind words for us as we wheeled our food carrier down the halls.  I remember Dr. Holmes and Dr. David Craig tending to their patients; and also Dr. J.A. Kidd, Dr. R. McLean and Dr. Tweedie.

Dr Tweedie

Doctor James Tweedie, 1930-2014

We walked those halls on each floor of the hospital two or three nights each week, wheeling our meal carrier up and down, unloading the trays, chatting with the patients and the hard-working nurses.  We dropped the trays off, came back later, picked up the empty trays, and brought them down to the kitchen.

I worked evenings in the hospital kitchen for almost two years.  I heard many accounts during my time of staff members seeing apparitions.  I thought that they must be imagining things, because I’d walked those halls at night countless times, I never encountered any ghosts at the GWM Hospital.

After graduating from PDCI, I worked two more months at the hospital kitchen, then headed off to college.  I treasured the friendships formed there, and the building itself was impressive; particularly the original section of Victoria Hall, which at that time was used for administration.  Being a keen student of history, it was interesting to learn about the early days, and also the many expansions and transitions that had taken place over the years.

On my last shift, there was a little gathering in the kitchen, and everyone wished me good luck in college. We loaded the trays in the carrier one last time, and headed into the elevator, and up to the second floor to deliver the evening meals.  As we made our way to the end of the floor and emptied the carrier, a nurse walked by, and I stopped her, and asked a question that had been on my mind since I started working there.

“Sorry to bother you, but I’ve always wondered why the lady in the last room on the right never eats her supper at the same time as the other patients?”

The nurse gave me a puzzled look and said, “That’s just a utility room.  We use it for storage.  There hasn’t been a patient in there for years.”

I felt the blood drain from my face and a shiver ran down my spine, as I looked at her in disbelief, and then looked back down the hall toward the room.  Was it possible that I had imagined the pale, slender lady with the snow-white hair, in the faded blue robe?  Maybe she was from one of the other rooms …but why did she stand in front of the room at the end of the hall each evening?

The girl I was working with said, “Come on!  We’ve got two more floors of meals to deliver tonight.”

The nurse had already started walking back to her station, and my co-worker was pulling the carrier down the hall toward the elevator.   I finished my shift that evening, and hung up my smock in the change room for the last time.

I left out the side door that last night as usual, and headed up the curved pathway.  Once I reached the sidewalk on Drummond Street, I looked back at the building where I’d worked the past two years.  Suddenly it looked different, almost eerie, and I recalled what the nurse had said that night.

Who was that small, frail lady with the snow-white hair that I’d seen so many times?  She never ate supper with the others. We never brought her a dinner tray. Was it my imagination? Was it just a coincidence?

Or, perhaps, this really was the ‘Haunted House of Perth’.

ghost in woods


(This story is an excerpt from “Ghosts and Gastronomy in Perth”, from “Lanark County Chronicle: Double-Back to the Third Line”  ISBN 978-0-987-702623)

LC Chronicle from web

‘Witching’ or ‘Dowsing’ for Water

“The Well’s Run Dry!”

I often wonder what went through our Mother’s mind, when Dad informed her that there was no indoor plumbing in the farmhouse, on the Third Line of Bathurst, where they would be living, after the war.

They purchased the farm from Dad’s aunt and uncle, partly with the help of a Veteran’s Grant, in 1946, when Dad returned from overseas.  With two babies in diapers, I can’t imagine that my Mother was very happy at the prospect of drawing water from a well, with a hand-pump, a hundred yards from the house.  There was a big cement cistern in the basement as well, which collected rain water, but that was just for washing, not drinking.

Water was often in short supply, and almost every year by summer’s end, the well was running dry.  When Dad worked for Chaplin’s Dairy, in Glen Tay, he brought water home from the dairy at  night, in big metal milk cans, to hold us over, for a while.

Drilling a well was an expensive project to undertake.  People paid by the foot, and we’d all heard the horror stories about a neighbour or acquaintance, who had paid for drilling but had not ‘hit’ water in the process.

I’m not sure if it’s still done, but the practice in those days, back in the 1950s and 1960s, was to hire a ‘Switcher’, or ‘Diviner’, who would walk the property, and use a method called ‘Dowsing’. In fact, this was such a common practice at the time that I recall this technique being called by a few different names:  Witching,  Switching, and Divining, depending on who you were talking to.

Edgar Hamm witching 2017

Edgar Hamm calls it ‘Witching’, but some call it ‘Dowsing


In many cases, a drilling company either had someone on staff, or knew a person with this skill, and brought them along to assist in finding the best spot to drill, where the water was closest to the surface.

The Thompson brothers, Jerry and Connie drilled our well, although I don’t recall who they hired to walk the land with the willow branch to detect the water.

“I remember when a new well was drilled, and when the men came with the dowsing stick. I can’t recall when they called it – I think a divining stick or rod, but it was used to find water.  

I was there, and asked if I could try it.  The men seemed amused, but he told me what to do.  I can’t remember if I felt anything or not, but when he found the water, it seemed to pull him and the stick almost down to the ground.” 

Jackie Stafford Wharton

I recall in those days they used a willow branch, and fashioned it so that it had two short ends, and one long end.  Willow was used, because it was supposed to create the strongest ‘pull’ to the water.  I’ve also heard that peach branches, or hazel branches conduct water in the same way.

divining rod from book

The divining rod: A history of water witching, with a bibliography Water Supply Paper 416 (1917)


The practice of dowsing, goes back to the 15th century in Europe, where it was used not only to find water, but to detect metals as well.

Divining rod in Britain 18th century

Divining Rod, 18th century Britain

Dowsing or Witching was used extensively during the building of the railroad, to find drinking water for the crew, along the route.


Water witching

Water-witching, 1907


Farmers have used water-witching for generations, to determine the best place to dig their wells, and to find a source of drinking water for their cattle in a pasture.


Divining rod 1942

George Casely uses a hazel branch to find water on his farm, 1942


The practice continues to be used today, in some cities in Canada.  Metal rods are used instead of the old-fashioned tree branches.

City of Ottawa diviner 2017

CBC News, 

“The city (Ottawa) says it still routinely uses the age-old detection technique, also known as dowsing or water witching.

“Definitely the other technology works more consistently,” said Quentin Levesque, manager of what’s known as the city’s “locates group.”

“Should they have difficulties or troubles using the other equipment, the divining rod is there as well.”

The practice involves walking slowly over an area while holding one of the L-shaped rods in each hand. When the two rods cross, that’s supposed to signify the diviner is standing over water.”

Some Call it ‘A Gift’

Can anyone use divining rods, or a willow switch to find water?

Some say it is a gift, and only those with this natural, intuitive, sensing ability can detect water.  Some say that it doesn’t necessarily pass from father to son, or down through the family.

Some people claim that dowsing is a psychic ability, and some scoff and say that it is a learned ability, and that anyone can be trained to do it.

Whether it’s a gift, or something that can be learned, it’s still being practiced today by some, to pinpoint sources of water.

Were my parents happy when the well-witcher located the water in our yard, and the Thompson brothers drilled our well?  They sure were!

Was it mystical or magical or other-worldly, when our Mother turned on the tap in the old house, and drinking water gushed out for the first time?

I’m sure to her, it was.

Audry in front of the house

Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, in front of the old house, c. 1965

story is an excerpt from “The Well’s Run Dry”, in ‘Recipes & Recollections: Treats and Tales from our Mother’s Kitchen, ISBN 978-0-9877026-0-9

R and R bookmark image




Walter Cameron: Forging in Fallbrook

“When you are young, keep company with the old;

When you are old, keep company with the young;

In this way, you never get too far to one side.”

                                               Walter Cameron


Walter 1958


Sometimes we look at a painting or sculpture, and we wonder what inspired the craftsman to create such a masterpiece.  For one local artist, Walter Cameron, this is not the case. Walter was born and raised in one of the most picturesque spots in the country.  Like many communities in Lanark County, Fallbrook is situated near several rivers and streams, and in fact, is named after the Fall River, that flows right through the community.

Fallbrook sign

Although some would argue that the autumn is the prettiest time of year in Fallbrook, I would have to say that the spring, just after the snow melts, and nearby Bolton Creek, and neighbouring rivers of the Clyde, and the Mississippi, show their true spirit.  It’s the fast, powerful force of the waters around Fallbrook, in the early part of the spring, that reminds us how this water powered the mills back in the old days.   At one time in Fallbrook, there was a carding mill, a shingle and saw mill, two wooden mills, and a grist mill, harnessing the energy from the rivers to produce goods.

In the years to come, however, it may not be the mills that are remembered, it will be the blacksmith shop. Walter’s father, James Lockland Cameron, came to Fallbrook from Lachute, in 1888, and set up his blacksmith trade, in a small wooden structure, built by the founder of Fallbrook, William Lees, in 1865.  Alongside the blacksmith shop, his father built a woodworking shop, and in its busiest time, employed five men. They built sleighs, cutters, and buggies in the wood shop, and made ploughs in the blacksmith shop before there were motorized farm tractors.

Walter’s father – James Lachlan Cameron, passed away in March, 1950, age 95:

James Lachlan Cameron obit 1950

“The Perth Courier”, March 23, 1950, p. 3


At the height of the blacksmithing business, Walter once estimated that they were using 100 pounds of horse nails in a month. He began to work for his father in the shop in 1912, at the age of 17. He worked at the trade for many years, but as the horseless carriage became increasingly popular, the blacksmith trade began falling off, by 1935. He carried on with his trade as long as he could, but finally retired in the 1940’s, when cars became ‘king.

“In 1925, he married the former Isobel Blair, of Brook.  They have a son, Graham Cameron, who works with the Department of National Defence, in Ottawa.”

“The Ottawa Journal”, Dec. 14, 1957, p. 17


Maybe it wasn’t a complete loss when Walter retired from his ‘smithy’ shop, because it meant that he had some spare time on his hands.  Although whittling objects from wood had always been a hobby of his, he began working more seriously on his wood carvings in 1956.

Walter Cameron 1957 Dec 14 Journal

‘Ottawa Journal’, Dec. 14, 1957, p. 17

Walter Cameron 1957 pt. 2

Walter's father was a blacksmith

Walter 1958

May, 1958, Walter makes tiny shoes to fit his carved horses

By the early 1960s, Walter was already becoming well known for his wood carvings.  He carved mostly cows and horses, but also did carved bulls and deer.  He began to make a name for himself, and was asked by Upper Canada Village, to carve some animals for them to display at the park.  Considering all of the intricate detail in the carvings, it was surprising that he used a simple jack-knife to do most of his work.  He loved to study the animals that he carved, and he and his wife attended all of the local fall fairs, where he sat for hours, observing the animals.

Walter Cameron stupid Silas 1966

“The Ottawa Journal”, Sept. 3, 1966, p. 37

Walter 3 generations 1966

“The Ottawa Journal”, Sept. 3, 1966, p.37


Walter's son carving 1966

“The Ottawa Journal”, Sept. 3, 1966, p.37

Many people in the area were busy in 1966 with ‘Centennial Projects’, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of confederation in 1967.  Walter’s project was to remember the Ox, and the contribution made, by this humble animal, to the early days, when the pioneers settled the area.  The back of his ox-shoe plaque reads:

“Oxen played an important role in developing the early Canadian frontier.  These slow-moving, stalwart animals, which were a common sight around the time of Confederation, required individual shoes, for each half of the cloven hooves.   This shoe has been hand-forged, by Walter Cameron, in his Blacksmith shop, at Fallbrook, Ontario, which he and his father operated, for some 90 years.   Eleven Canadian woods have been selected, to display these shoes, symbolic of the Canadian scene, of a century ago.”    Walter Cameron

Walter 60 years in trade 1972

“The Ottawa Journal”, June 12, 1972, p.5

Walter's carved spoons 1973

“The Ottawa Journal”, Oct. 27, 1973, p. 34

Walter with dairy cattle 1973

“The Ottawa Journal”, Oct. 27, 1973, p. 34


He carved every fall, and through the months of long winter evenings, in their home, near the blacksmith shop.  He always used good basswood, and some of his pieces were extremely intricate and complex.  He once carved a small wooden box frame, and inside was a round ball, which could be rotated. It was carved from one block of wood.  He also made wooden chains, also carved from one piece of wood. Of course carving cows and horses were his main artistic pursuit.


Walter wooden chains 1966

Walter recognized 1975


Walter horseshoe nails 1966


His favourite tool is a 60-year old, Henry Boker, Jackknife.  He observed that any boy in the early 1900s, who possessed a Henry Boker jackknife, was the envy of all his friends.”


Walter at the forge

Walter at the century-old forge in Fallbrook

One of his most interesting carvings, was a wooden miniature replica of the old blacksmith shop.  It was complete with human figures, and depicted a horse, being shod.  In order to forge the tiny horseshoes he had to first make miniature tools. The replica shows his father, seated on a nail keg, and nearby seated on a box is Walter’s son Graham, as a little boy.  Also depicted in the scene is his favourite grey horse, being shod by Walter himself, with a tiny farrier’s hammer in his hand.

Walter stone wheel 1971

“The Ottawa Journal”, Aug. 14, 1971, p.43

Walter's anvil 1971

“The Ottawa Journal”, Aug. 14, 1971, p.43


Walter Cameron horseshoe 1971

“The Ottawa Journal”, Aug. 14, 1971, p.43

Over the years, Walter became a local legend around Lanark County.  He’d been featured on many different television programs in the 1970s and 1980s, such as: “Kingston Calendar”, “Four for the Road” “This Land”  and “From Now On”. He was a frequent guest speaker at the Perth Museum, and he also gave tours of his blacksmith shop to both locals and tourists.

Walter quote 1975 pt 2

quote by Walter Cameron

Walter shoeing a horse 1984

Putting the final touches on the horseshoe


Walter’s shop became a regular stop, on what was known as ‘Byway Tour No. 3’, and it wasn’t unusual for over 200 people to visit, during busy weeks.  There was even talk at one time of the National Museums of Canada buying all of Walter’s carvings, and turning his old blacksmith shop into an historical site.  Over the years, thousands of people visited Walter in his shop. Often in the summer, there were bus loads of people coming to see his blacksmith shop. Walter never charged, although it took a great deal of his time. At one time he even had a sign posted with his opening hours each day.

Walter 1984

By the time I met Walter, he was in his late 70s, and had reduced his opening hours to 9-11 a.m., and 2 – 5 p.m., daily. He was always firm about closing his place after the middle of August, so that he and his wife could attend local fairs – in Perth, Almonte, and Richmond.  He said that he would sit and watch the horses and cows, and make sketches for his future wood carvings.

Walter was always keenly interested in passing on his knowledge of the blacksmithing trade to the younger generation. He often spoke at the local schools, and brought samples of both his tools of the trade, as well as his wood carvings.

I spoke with Walter, at the Perth High School, in May 1974. There was an Arts and Crafts Exhibit in the Resource Center of our school.  I asked him about his carvings, and the drawings that he worked on, before he sat down to carve a new piece.  He was a kind man, and eager to share his knowledge with those of us in the younger generation.

Many other local artists attended, set up displays of their work, and were there for the full day, to answer questions from the students.  Along with Walter, were local Sculptor John Matthews, potter Marion Sinn, and the ladies of St. Paul’s United Church worked on a quilt.  Other artists there were Dorothy Moffatt, Mrs. M.E. Forrester, Jill Lewis, Pat McGonegal, Miss C. Rice, Mrs. Meuser, Frank DeLaute, Vernon MacPherson, and Mrs. O. Scott.

Walter at PDCI

Walter Cameron, April 1974, at the Perth High School

Walter quote 1975

quote by: Walter Cameron, March, 1975


I could see by the way Walter smiled, and patiently answered question after question from the students that day, that he really enjoyed spending time with young people, and sharing his knowledge.  He was fascinating to listen to, and told us that he had hung around the blacksmith shop as a young lad, and he used to watch the men and listen to the old stories.  He talked about the old days, when cars were first driven on the roads, and they would hear one coming, the men in the shop would all stop working, and go out to watch. He told us that it was the opposite in the 1970s.  People were used to cars, and when they heard a horse go by, they would run outside to watch.


Walter and anvil

Walter's apron


Walter carvings 1979

“The Ottawa Journal”, June 16, 1979, p. 44


Walter replica of blacksmith shop 1975

“The Ottawa Journal”, Mar. 24,  1975, p.2

Walter's son Graham 1975

“The Ottawa Journal”, Mar. 24,  1975, p.2


Walter's son singing 1979


Walter at his mantel 1975

“The Ottawa Journal”, Mar. 24,  1975, p.2


Over the decades, thousands of people visited Walter in his shop, and his reputation as an artist and storyteller grew.  To ensure that his story reached a wider audience, Audrey Armstrong, a neighbour of Walter’s, wrote a book about him in the spring of 1979 – “Walter Cameron, the Blacksmith of Fallbrook”. She tells in her book how he came from the time of the horse and buggy, carried through his life the memories and knowledge of the lost art of blacksmithing, and chose to share it with others.

Walter Cameron Audry Armstron 1979

Audrey Armstrong, author, and neighbour, with Walter Cameron 1979

Walter Blacksmith of Fallbrook 1979

Audrey Armstrong’s book, “The Blacksmith of Fallbrook”, Musson Book Company; First Edition edition (1979), ISBN 978-0773710306, 96 pages, paperback.

Blacksmith of Fallbrook snippet

An excerpt of the book review by  Henry Heald, ‘The Ottawa Journal’, June 16, 1979, pg. 44:


A man who appreciated prose and poetry, Walter Cameron read and memorized many of Longfellow’s poems

Walter was an admirer of Longfellow, and his poetry, and often recited his work to visitors, as part of the tour of his blacksmith shop:

Walter's visit to poet's home 1979

(from an article by Dave Brown, in ‘Brown’s Beat’, may 19, 1979, pg. 27, ‘The Ottawa Citizen’.)

Walter Cameron lived a long life, and even on his 90th birthday, over sixty people turned out at his blacksmithing shop, to watch him shoe a horse.  His hands were still strong, and his mind was as clear as ever.  As usual, he answered questions, and shared a bit of his own philosophy of life, as he often did. He loved people, and wanted to share his knowledge and talents with them.  In her book about Walter, Audrey referred to him as “Lanark’s Living Legend”. Walter truly was a living legend.

Walter Cameron age 88 1982

Walter Cameron, age 88, in June, 1982

“On his 90th birthday, a crowd gathered, to watch the old master shoe a horse.”


Walter's obit

“He was a great teacher, and instructor, recalled his son, Graham. “An old, Scottish-style man, who was very exacting.”


Many of Walter’s carvings were auctioned off in the summer of 1987, by local auctioneer, Charles Hollinger

Walter's carvings Charles Hollinger

Charles Hollinger, Auctioneer, at the Walter Cameron estate auction, August, 1987

“Hundreds turned up to bid on his beautiful carvings.”


Walter's carvings auction 1987

“The Cameron family donated one of Walter’s best-known works, a carved miniature blacksmith shop, to the Perth Museum, and kept a few carvings and mementos for themselves.”


Walter's carving

carving by Walter Cameron

Walter Cameron often said his favourite quote was by Ghandi:  “My life is my message.”


Walter in Inside Ottawa Valley

“Graham Cameron (Walter’s son),  and David McCormick,  present Walter Cameron’s wood carving tools to Keith Kerr, Reeve of Tay Valley Township”

“The Perth Courier”, July 11, 2013


Although he passed from this life, late in November, of 1986, Walter Cameron left a legacy, not only of his beautiful carvings, but the stories that he shared with many of us, and we are all the richer for having known, “the Blacksmith of Fallbrook”.


Early families of Fallbrook:  Ashby, Bain,  Blair, Buffam, Ennis, Donaldson, Foley, Keays, Playfair, McKerracker, Smith and Wallace


“Walter Cameron: Forging in Fallbrook”, an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Kid: My Travels Up and Down the Third Line’, ISBN:978-0-987026-16

LC Kid

Lanark Sweaters: Soft as a Kitten

Each year, in the late summer, thoughts at our house turned to all the rituals associated with going back to school.  This included inspecting last year’s clothing, shoes and boots, gathering up pencils and erasers for the inevitable homework that would take place at the big kitchen table, and checking to see if the old lunch pails were still intact.  Some articles would be passed down to younger members of the family, and some things would have to be purchased new.


kitten logo

Glenayr Kitten Logo

It was usually on a Saturday, the first or second week in September, that we made the annual trip to Lanark, to buy a couple of new sweaters at the Kitten factory outlet, and a new pair of shoes, maybe some new snow boots, at Gus Quinn’s store.


We drove down the Third Line, turned at Glen Tay, and headed up Highway 7, toward Lanark. The village of Lanark was a nice easy drive from our house – about twenty minutes or so.  I suppose we could have done it in a bit less time, but Mother was never one to let Dad go over the speed limit; she was very strict about that and said that the laws were there for a reason.  Dad would sometimes say that  he ‘had’ to speed a bit, to burn the carbon off of his spark plugs, but Mother never fell for that, and she’d just give him ‘the look’, and he’d be back under the speed limit in no time.


After about ten minutes had passed, we’d be driving into Balderson.  Sometimes Mother would stop and get some curd for us kids, and some old sharp cheese for Dad, but that was usually on the way back home from Lanark, so it wouldn’t spoil in the heat.   We all knew the story of the giant cheese, made in Balderson, in 1893, for the World’s Fair in Chicago.  The old timers said that it was six feet high, and weighed over 22,000 lbs.  It was mostly butter and cheese that was produced there, when we were kids, and people would drive for miles around, even up from the States, because it was so good.

Kitten mill along the Clyde

The former buildings of the Glenayr Kitten Mill, along the Clyde River, Lanark, Ontario

Another ten minutes or so and we’d be driving into Lanark.  It was a pretty little village, built along the Clyde River.  Mother said that it had been named for Lanarkshire in Scotland, and had been settled back in the 1820s, mostly by Scottish weavers and farmers.

Dad grew up on the family homestead, on the 11th concession of Drummond Township, not far from Lanark, and he often visited his Aunt Stacia, who owned a home in Lanark Village, right along the Clyde.  Dad said that the Caldwell Woollen Mill, in Lanark, was a big employer back in the early days, but the building had been destroyed by fire.   He said that there had been another huge fire in the late fifties, that destroyed many of the old original buildings in Lanark, and over 100 people had lost their homes.


Caldwell mills Lanark Ontario

Caldwell Woollen Mills, Lanark – Perth Remembered

After passing many of the homes and businesses along the main street, we finally arrived at 44 George Street, at the Glenayr Kitten Outlet.   The business was started in 1944, by the Markle family, from Toronto, and Derek, son of the founder worked there as the superintendent of the mill.  Some of the wool was already spun onto cones when it arrived from Scotland, and was knitted by circular machines. In 1951 they began to produce sweaters under the ‘Kitten’ label.

new industry

‘The Ottawa Citizen’, 1953


All kinds of sweaters were made at the Kitten mill, knitted with orlon, angora, mohair, lamb’s wool, or pure cashmere.  There were a number of different styles– pullovers, cadet style, cardigans, ski styles, crew necks many different colours, zip front, turtleneck, six button, eight button cardigans, and alpine styles.

Glenayr Kitten also manufactured pantsuits, skirts, blazers, blouses and slacks.

Kitten 1953 photo Mary Graham

Mary Graham, Lanark, Ontario


kitten yellow sweater

Buttercup yellow cardigan sweater from the Glenayr Kitten Mill, c.1970s

kitten yellow sweater tag

Label from the yellow sweater


Kitten ad Ottawa Citizen Aug 4 1977 p 67

Ad, 1978, ‘The Ottawa Citizen’

Kitten suit 1970s

kitten suit 1970s tag

Blue sweater suit, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark, Ontario

Kitten photo assembling sweater July 11 1978 p 19

Workers at the Glenayr Kitten Mill stitch sweater pieces together

kitten 1960s sweater orange

kitten 1960s orange sweater tag

Terra-cotta orange short-sleeved sweater, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark


Kitten bus trip 1982 Oct. 19 1982 p 63

The Kitten Mill stores were a popular tourist attraction, and visitors traveled by motor-coach from Ottawa, Kingston, and the U.S.

Kitten ad Oct 15 1988 p 192

Kitten Mill ad, ‘The Ottawa Citizen’, 1980s


kitten 1960s purple sweater

kitten purple sweater tag

Violet, long-sleeve, collared sweater, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark

Kitten 1993 ad with model

Blazer and matching slacks, Glenayr Kitten Mill, 1990s


Kitten Glenayr sweater 1

Peach popcorn knit, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark


Kitten label

Rumours of Closure – 1992

Kitten article part 1 closing 1992

Kitten closing article 1992 part 2

‘The Ottawa Citizen” – 1992Kitten David Markle 1992 photo plant closing



kitten pale blue sweater

Aqua, fine, combed-wool, long-sleeve Glenayr Kitten sweater, Lanark, Ontario

kitten pale blue tag

The Kitten Mill Remained Open

Kitten 1993 mill stays open article

1993, ‘The Ottawa Citizen” – Kitten Mill Stays Open


Kitten 1996 customers flock article part 1

Kitten 1996 customers flock article part 2


kitten jpg

Kitten 2000 David Markle obit part 1

Kitten 2000 David Markle obit part 2



Kitten Mill Lanark Museum 1

Display at the Lanark Museum, Lanark, Ontario


Kitten Mill Lanark Museum 2

Storyboard display highlighting some of the former staff of the Glenayr Kitten Mill,
(Lanark Museum)


Kitten Mill Lanark Museum 3

Many items from the glory days of the Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark Museum


I think one of the things that attracted my frugal Mother to the Kitten outlet, was the fact that they sold ‘seconds’.  They sold some sweaters that had small defects – without labels, and sold discontinued colours, ends-of-lines, and clearance items.  The ‘seconds’ usually sold for between $4.50 and $12.00 at that time, so was very appealing when you were buying back-to-school clothing for a large family.


After a busy afternoon in Lanark, we’d head back home, with our  new sweater ‘seconds’, ready for the new school year.  Looking back, we were lucky to live such a short drive from the Kitten Mill, because the sweaters there really were lovely.  Mother always found a way to add on the missing button, or to mend the seam that was beginning to unravel, so that you couldn’t tell that it was a second.  Most of my Kitten sweaters lasted for years, because they were so well made, and were knitted with such high-quality yarns.


Sometimes during our visits to Lanark, I’d see huge, sleek, modern buses, pull up out front, and forty or fifty people got off the motor-coach, to shop at the outlets.  I think many of them came all the way from Kingston or Ottawa. We didn’t realize it at the time, but people in the cities had already figured out that in our little corner of the world, folks had crafted their products with skills, passed down over generations, and they took great pride in what they manufactured.


Every spring, around the middle of March, we’d see city folks, suddenly appear around the Perth area, because they knew that the best tasting maple syrup came from Lanark County. It was also no secret that the finest tasting cheese in the world was made at the modest, little, factory in Balderson, and, if you wanted the highest quality sweaters, at a good price, and ‘soft as a kitten’, there was only one place to get them, and that was the village of Lanark.


(This story is dedicated to the people who worked at the Glenayr Kitten Mill.  Many families had more than one member working at the Mill, and some worked for two or three decades, or more. Thank-you for producing the beautiful, cozy, sweaters, that kept us warm on those chilly days. You won’t be forgotten.

Thanks also to the Markle family, who provided work for the village of Lanark, and who kept their prices fair, so even those with a modest income could afford to purchase one of their high quality sweaters.)



Kitten reunion 2018

A reunion for former staff at the Glenayr Kitten Mill, was held in 2017 at the Lanark Museum



This story is an excerpt from – ‘Lanark Sweaters – Soft as a Kitten’  – from the book, “Lanark County Kid: My Travels up and down the Third Line”  ISBN: 978-0-9877026-16

LC Kid

Mother’s Farmhouse Sourdough

sourdough biscuits.JPG

When the cool winds signaled the beginning of a new season, Mother’s thoughts always turned to baking her mouth-watering Sourdough creations.

She had a jar of ‘starter’ that she kept in the pantry.  She’d often scoop some of the mixture out to add to her recipes, and it gave them a distinct, classic, sourdough flavour.  Every week, without fail, Mother ‘fed’ the starter, by adding more flour, milk, and sugar.

sourdough starter

Sourdough ‘Starter’

A Jar of History

Each baker’s sourdough may have years of history, as the original batch is fed and re-fed each week, to keep it active.  Sourdough creates a very individual taste, unique to each baker, depending on how often the starter is re-fed, including rest-times, air temperatures, and humidity.


Sourdough goes back many centuries, and became popular in Western Canada, back in the days of the gold rush, in the Klondike.  Conventional leavenings, like yeast and baking soda, were not very reliable in some of the harsh conditions faced by the prospectors.


Miners and pioneer settlers often carried a small pouch of starter with them, so that they could bake bread in their less than ideal camps and shelters.

Mother used sourdough in place of yeast in many of her recipes, and it gave the food a wonderful, rich, flavour.  Sometimes she shared a little container of starter, along with some of her prize-winning recipes, with the local women in DeWitt’s Corners, Glen Tay, and Christie Lake.

In addition to feeding the sourdough each week, some of the starter needed to be scooped from the jar, or the mixture would bubble up, and overflow.   This seldom happened at the old farmhouse, where Mother baked almost daily.

Sourdough bubbling

Make the sourdough starter at least two days ahead, and don’t forget to feed it once a week!

Mother’s Sourdough Starter

(feed at least once a week to keep active)

2 c all purpose flour

2 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 c warm water

Mix in a non-metallic bowl

Cover with a tea towel and let stand at room temperature for two days

This becomes a spongy, bubbly mass, and develops a yeasty aroma

Refrigerate if desired, but not necessary, keeping the jar covered

Use starter for sourdough recipes

Once a Week: Add to the starter –

1 c flour

1 c milk

1/4 c sugar

Add to the starter, and stir well.

Be prepared to use it often, or if you want to stop using it for a while, cover, freeze, then thaw, and feed again when you want to resume.  Do not use for 24 hours after thawing.

sourdough biscuits complete

Sourdough Biscuits (Dad’s favourite!)

1 c sourdough (starter)

2 tsp baking powder

1 c flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 c vegetable oil

1/2 tsp baking soda

Mix well (until it comes away from the bowl)

Flour the board, and knead 12 times

Roll, and cut into biscuits

Allow to stand 15-30 minutes

Bake in middle of oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes

(Raisins may be added)

For more sourdough recipes:

Sourdough Pancakes, Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls, Sourdough Cheese Rolls, Sourdough Donuts, Sourdough Light Cake, Sourdough Coffee Cake, Sourdough Chocolate Cake, Sourdough Strudel Cake: 

 “Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from our Mother’s Kitchen”   ISBN 978-0-9877026-09
(available in local book stores, and online)


Chaplin’s Dairy in Glen Tay


Whenever I saw the big white and pink Chaplin’s Dairy truck pull into the yard, I had only one thing on my mind; and that was their delicious chocolate milk.  It came in small pint-sized glass bottles, and had a round, waxed cardboard cap on the top to seal it in. The cap had a little tab, so that you could pull it off of the bottle, and the pint bottle was the perfect size for small eager hands.  After the cap was off, I was just seconds away from tipping the bottle and tasting the richest, creamiest chocolate milk ever produced.

Chaplin's Dairy milk tab


Our Dad worked for Chaplin’s Dairy for decades.  He drove one of the big pink and white trucks, and had a regular ‘route’ of customers in Perth.  He used a big, black, metal carrier to transport milk from the back of the truck to the customer’s front door.  The carrier had eight slots, and each slot held a quart bottle of milk.  He also had a book of order slips. It was a small, thick pad of paper about three by six inches, stapled together at the end.  There was a top sheet that was numbered, a small sheet of carbon paper under that, and a blank sheet at the bottom.  On the top copy, Dad wrote the customer’s name, address, and what they had ordered, along with the total price and that was the customer’s copy.  Because each order was written on top of the sheet of carbon paper, the Dairy had a carbon copy underneath for their records.

Once in a while Dad would bring me to the Dairy and I was fascinated to see the many steps that the milk went through in order to end up on someone’s table.  It was fun to sit in the big truck so high up, and the ride was very different from our car at home.  The truck bounced up and down a lot more, and made a lot of noise, as we drove down the lane, and up the third line toward Perth.  It was neat to look outside, and see how much lower the other cars were on the road.  Every time we’d go over a bump or hill the truck would bounce again, and of course there were no seat belts in those days, so it was quite exciting.

We’d drive along until we could see Nick and Doreen Webber’s house at the corner, and we’d begin to slow down.  Just a bit past Webber’s house we turned right, and Chaplin’s Dairy was a small building on the right side of the road, just up from the corner at Glen Tay.

We’d park the truck, and I would follow Dad into the Dairy.  As soon as he opened the door I could see all of the steam in the air.  It was really, really, humid.  The inside of the building was grey and concrete and the floor was always wet.  Sometimes we’d see one of the Chaplin brothers Cameron or John, and they always wore big rubber boots and the steam rose up all around them.

Because the milk came in glass bottles in those days, a lot of the steam was produced from the big machine that they used to sterilize the bottles.  When the customers were finished with their milk, they would rinse their bottles (hopefully!), leave them on their doorstep for Dad, and he would bring them back to the Dairy that evening.   John or Cameron Chaplin would take the empty bottles and put them through the bottle washer.  The bottle washer washed, rinsed, sterilized, and then rinsed again, so the bottles were sparkling clean and ready for the next batch of milk.

The next machine filled the bottles, then capped them with the little waxed cardboard caps.  There was a large room toward the back of the Dairy, and that was a cold storage room, where the freshly bottled milk was kept.  Most of the time when I visited I saw them bottling homogenized, 2 per cent, skim, and chocolate milk. Sometimes, one of the Chaplins, would hand me a pint bottle of chocolate milk, right off of the filling machine.  I would gladly accept, and thought to myself that if Mother was here she would say that I was going to spoil my supper.  Dad never said anything though, because he knew how much I loved Chaplin’s chocolate milk.

Chaplin’s Dairy was a family business.  The dairy was started by Delbert Chaplin in the early 1900s, and his brother Edgar Chaplin also worked in the business. The Chaplin family owned a large 300 acre farm at R.R 4 Perth and Delbert demonstrated his ingenuity by setting up a method to process their milk from their Holstein herd.  At first he operated the business from their farm, but later in 1935 he built the Dairy building at Glen Tay corners.

Delbert Chaplin

1920  – Edgar Chaplin, (Uncle of John and Cameron Chaplin)

When Chaplin’s Dairy began to deliver milk from the new location at Glen Tay, the quarts of milk were just 5 cents each, and it was delivered by horse and wagon. The milk was not bottled at that time but was distributed to the customers from a large tank at the back of the wagon.  The customer would leave a container on their front step or front porch, and Delbert or Edgar would ladle the milk out of the larger can with a pint or quart measure.

The Chaplin farm was producing an average of 3,000 quarts of milk per day and John, Cameron and their brother Don processed the milk and delivered it in the Perth area.

Chaplin's early milk bottles

The demand for their milk increased, and they expanded, and made arrangements to have five neighbouring farms supply their business with additional milk.  They were also producing chocolate milk and buttermilk at that time.  They made butter as well, but only to supply their own families and it wasn’t for sale to the public.

Chaplin's truck

L to R: Gordon Chaplin, (Royce Frith seated in truck), Donald ‘Don’ Chaplin

By 1945 the sons had taken over the dairy farm and Don took on the responsibility of managing the farm, but their father continued to be active at the Dairy.   They continued to expand their business and operated for many decades.  They expanded their product line to include grape juice and orange juice.They were successful and respected in the community and were known for their high quality products throughout the Perth area.

Tim Stafford: ” When I turned nine, Mom told Dad that she could no longer put up with  me on Saturdays because of my bad behavior.  That’s the ‘how and why’ of me working with Dad, on the milk truck for Chaplin’s Dairy.

I wasn’t much help at first, but he gave me fifty cents and a chocolate bar purchased at McGlade’s service station, on Gore Street.

Later, when I got my driver’s license, John Chaplin hired me and another high school student, Don Lindsay, to do his milk route, and the Christie Lake cottage route, while he covered the other routes and the ‘inside’ workers for summer vacations.

We were making $25.00 a week, plus we were expected to eat at the restaurants we delivered to on a rotating basis.  The daily meal was paid for by Chaplin’s Dairy.  John Chaplin’s favourite restaurant was Wong’s Chinese, but Don and I preferred ‘The Bright Spot’, where Muz MacLean, Hillis Conroy’s son-in-law worked.  We usually ordered grilled cheese, french fries, and cokes.”

Chaplin's quart milk bottles

Quart milk bottles –  1960s


Roger Stafford“I am not positive, but I believe I was about 12 when I started working Saturdays and summers with Dad on the milk truck. The first Summer I worked with Dad, our brother, Tim, was working with Grant or Gary Chaplin.

They were delivering to the stores and restaurants in Perth, and to summer camps and cottages. They drove to Christie Lake to deliver to Cavanagh’s (general store) and the Lodges (Norvic Lodge and Arliedale Lodge) . I believe Tim had been Dad’s helper on the milk truck, prior to me starting to work with Dad.  

We used to be at the dairy by 7:00 a.m., and usually got home between 17:30 and 18:00 in the evenings. When I first started with Dad, we delivered milk out of the back of a pickup with a tarp over the glass bottles to protect them from the sun and cold.  Milk was 23 cents a quart bottle, and 25 cents for chocolate milk. We also had pints and half pints in glass bottles. Whipped cream and buttermilk were also carried on the truck. It was not long after I started that we used an enclosed truck to deliver out of. It was much easier, but it had no air conditioning, and a piss-poor heater. When I worked six days a week in the summer, I earned $6. for the week.”

In 1970 Don decided to sell the farm and a few years later in 1974 John and Cameron made the decision to stop processing the milk themselves and just be distributors.  In total, John worked for 42 years in the business and Cameron for 30. At that time Chaplins were one of the last small dairies that still processed their own milk.  They began to sell milk for Clark’s Dairies in Ottawa.  John felt that there were too many changes taking place at that time and that the cost would be too prohibitive to continue processing their own milk.

The milk industry in the 1970s was changing from glass bottles to paper cartons,although most customers preferred the taste of milk in glass bottles. The process of returning and washing the bottles was becoming too time consuming, and too expensive. The federal government was also insisting that businesses use the metric system.  This conversion would have meant purchasing new equipment because their milk was sold in pints and quarts, and they would have to begin selling in litres.

At the point in time when John and Cameron decided to sell the business, they had 1,000 customers, and a modern fleet of trucks, doing 12 runs per day, with four salesmen.  They also offered a complete line of dairy products which included cottage cheese, eggs and also several types of juice. Their last delivery was made by Cameron, on Sept. 17, 1977 and their milk at that time, was 65 cents a quart.

Chaplin’s Dairy was sold that year to Bill McConachie.  Bill was formerly a driver for many years who brought the milk from Ottawa.  His plan was to begin delivering milk to Smiths Falls, to increase his market.

It’s likely difficult for the younger generation to believe that milk was delivered door to door each day, or that it had no expiry date stamped on the bottle.  The milk was fresh from the cow either that day, or the day before, processed at Chaplin’s Dairy, and delivered right to your door step.  There was no need for an expiry date.  It’s also interesting that they managed to have a pretty successful recycling process of sterilizing the bottles and getting them back on the trucks by the next morning.  That was all accomplished without ‘blue bins’ and recycling plants.

Did the milk taste better in a glass bottle?  Yes, it did; and anyone who has drank it from a bottle will tell you the same thing.  We certainly drank enough of the stuff at our house to offer an opinion on that.  One of the benefits of having your father work as a milk man is that he brought home enough milk for the family, each night, in his milk carrier.  When you are raising five children, that’s a lot of milk.  We were fortunate to have had such fresh milk each and every day and we never ran out.

Chaplin's pint milk bottle

One Pint, glass milk bottle, 1960s

Although the work wasn’t easy, I believe that Dad enjoyed his customers in Perth, and the quick chats had each day.  Whenever Mother and Dad shopped at the IGA on Wilson Street, customers from his milk route would often come up to say ‘Hello’, and exchange a few words.  Dad was well liked, and at Christmas his customers showered him with gifts.  He received many, many boxes of chocolates, packs of cigarettes and one and two dollar bills in lovely Christmas cards.  He was always late getting home Christmas Eve, and part of the reason was that his customers took a few extra minutes to wish him a Merry Christmas, and give him their gifts.

We were fortunate to have grown up at a time when there were family businesses, producing high quality products, and selling them door to door.  At one time we had a milk man, an egg man- (Mr. Greer), and a bread man, delivering right to our door.

As the years passed by, many of the small family businesses have closed down, one by one, and in many cases our products are produced far away by people we don’t know. There are dates stamped on the products now telling us when they are destined to ‘expire’.  We often have no idea what processes are used to make some of the things that we eat, and so we purchase them on faith alone.  Gone are the days when we always knew what we were eating, and even knew the people that made the goods.

Now, we are left with the memories of Chaplin’s, our small, local dairy in Glen Tay. It was a place where we could stop by for a visit and be greeted by John, Don, or Cameron in their big rubber boots, clouds of steam rising all around them. With a big smile they’d pluck a pint of chocolate milk off of the line, and hand it to a little girl from down the road. Their products were made with pride and care, and they were confident that their customers would be satisfied.  For years, Chaplin’s Dairy was a well known business in our community, and their products were enjoyed in Perth and area homes for many, many decades.




(excerpts from ‘Lanark County Kid: My Travels up and down the Third Line’) 

LC Kid

Memories of working at Chaplin’s Dairy – my brothers Tim Stafford and Roger Stafford, excerpts from the book ‘Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from our Mother’s Kitchen’

R and R bookmark image

photos:  Stafford family collection,  Perth Remembered