Nollaig na mBan(pronunciation Null-ug na Mon) is ‘Women’s Little Christmas’ or the Feast of the Epiphany as it is more commonly known—marking the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, a Christian feast day celebrating the the visit of the Three Kings or Wise Men to the baby Jesus in his manger in Bethlehem, with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Taking Down the Decorations
Women’s Little Christmas Eve is the day when some will add the wise men to their nativity displays. This would be the final decoration added in the home, done on January 5th, and at the end of the day on January 6th, these, and all of the other decorations would be taken down. Some Roman Catholic families chose to keep their tree up until February 2nd, according to the traditions of Candlemas, which marks the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.
The Burning of the Holly
In ancient times, in more modest Irish homes, holly was the only decoration used, and so it was taken down from the mantle, and burned on January 6th for good luck. It was symbolic to leave the holly up until Women’s Little Christmas.
Holly was thought to have important spiritual attributes, and the Druids believed it could guard against dark witchcraft and evil spirits. The Irish believed that its spikes could capture evil spirits and prevent them from entering a house. Holly placed around the home was thought to be a safe haven for the little people, who traditionally guarded the house from more sinister forces.
It was a tradition if holly was the first evergreen plant to be brought into the house at Christmastime, then the man would have the upper hand and rule the roost for the coming year. For that reason, women usually instructed that the ivy be collected first, then the holly. The timing of taking down the holly was very important. Once brought inside it must not be discarded or taken down until after 6th of January. Throwing out a symbol of good fortune too soon could mean that you were looking for trouble.
Visiting with Friends and Neighbours
Women’s Little Christmas, on January 6th each year, was the day that women rested and relaxed after a busy season of cooking and festivities. In rural and small-town Catholic Ireland, women gathered in each other’s homes, or down at the local pub, for a few hours of fun, while men looked after the home and the children. As all were seated, a pact was made, to leave the worries and cares of the old year, outside the door.
Some women stayed in their neighbourhood, and did rounds of visiting in the afternoon. Fruit loaf and tea, or a shot of something stronger, served at someone’s house, and was the day that women did something for themselves, and had a rest after all of their Christmas work.
….And what would a Women’s Little Christmas be without a nice warm Irish Toddy to finish the day?
Irish Toddy Recipe
1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar
1 measure of Irish Whiskey (Bushmills or Jameson)
1 slice or wedge of lemon
You may use any whiskey you desire, or for an authentic Irish toddy, use Bushmills or Jameson Irish Whiskey
Add sugar, and dissolve in a splash of the hot water.
Add the whiskey, cloves (if desired) a slice of lemon, and fill up with boiling water.
It is customary to give a New Year’s toast on Women’s Little Christmas, with an Irish blessing:
Judy: “Christmas Day in those days, as now, was a joyous occasion, but we knew that there would not be many presents because our parents couldn’t afford them, but there were second-hand sleighs or toboggans, and gifts that were hand-made or hand-sewn.”
Roger: ” I remember waking up and being able to see our breath Christmas morning. I remember moving wood, both at home and at school (S.S.#4 Bathurst), as both were heated with wood. Neither had running water. Water was pumped into a pail, and brought inside for drinking and cooking.”
Judy Stafford (standing) Audry Stafford seated, front row, left to right – Jackie Stafford, Roger Stafford and Tim Stafford
Arlene: “One year Aunt Nellie Rutherford sent us a beautiful Christmas ornament. It was made of brass and had a circular base, with a brass rod that extended up from the base. Attached to the rod about halfway down were four angels with tiny rods hanging beneath each, and two bells extending out to the sides. On the base were holders for four small candles, and when you lit the candles the angels began to go around in a circle faster and faster, and their tiny rods would strike the bells and ring very softly. That was one of my favourite decorations. I also liked the little cone-shaped paper angels that hung on the tree, and the metal birds with tails made of real feathers that clipped onto the branches.”
Roger: “I can also remember Mom and the girls putting the Christmas cards on strings and hanging them up for decorations. I can remember cutting up Christmas cards from the year before to make the tags for gifts. And there were the bells on the doors. I remember one on the door to the hall and I believe one on the front door. “
Jackie: “I think that at one time almost everything hung on the tree was homemade.”
Tim Stafford with Arlene Stafford
Tim: “I was not able to sleep Christmas Eve. I had been warned several times that Santa would leave only potatoes in my stocking if I didn’t sleep. When I actually did get potatoes in my stocking when I was eight or nine years old I was in shock.”
Judy: “Oh yes, I certainly did get potatoes in my stocking…a very clear message on Christmas morning, and it was probably on more than one occasion. I wasn’t very surprised either! We were usually threatened and she always carried through. The only candy I remember getting in my stocking was hard candy, and there was always an orange in my stocking – that was a rare treat as fresh, imported fruit wasn’t usually seen at other times of the year. Soda pop would also be purchased, but only at Christmas.”
Jackie: “Mother would put our stockings at the end of our bed when she thought we were asleep, and sometimes we were. If we had been bad we would have a potato in our stocking, along with a piece of fruit and a bit of candy.”
Roger: “I can also remember getting a potato in my sock one year. Mother had warned me that Santa put potatoes in bad boys’ socks. It shouldn’t have been any surprise to me.”
Judy Stafford and Tim Stafford
Judy: “We received what we considered very expensive gifts from our Uncle Jack Rutherford in Alberta, and were allowed to choose one gift to open on Christmas Eve, and we usually chose his. There was no ripping off of gift paper – the parcels had to be carefully unwrapped and ribbons, if any, had to be handed over to Mother before they could get mixed up with the discards and boxes, which would be thrown in the cook-stove to burn.”
Arlene Stafford and Judy Stafford
Arlene: “I was always excited to go to Calvin Church, on Christmas Eve. During the service I would usually be whispering to my friends Susan and Jane Munro, who sat in the pew in front of us, until Mother would give me ‘the look’ and then I would try to be quiet. It wasn’t easy being quiet because I knew so many of the kids there. Looking around the church I saw lots of my friends from school – Patti Jordan, Jutta and Judy Siebel, and Barb Patton. George Jordan and I were in the same grade, Steve Scott, Harold Closs and Bobby Miller were a grade ahead of me, and then there were the older girls who were a little bit farther ahead in school like Janice Jordan, Karen Jordan and Maxine Closs. After church was over, I would see my friends outside and we’d be talking excitedly about what gifts we were hoping to find under the tree the next morning.”
Jackie Stafford and Tim Stafford in front of the Stafford House
Judy: “Parcels from the West, or also known as the ‘hand-me-down box’, would arrive from our Aunts in Alberta, twice a year, with our cousins gently worn clothing – every summer a box of winter clothes, and every winter, just before or right after Christmas, a box of summer clothes arrived. This was always an exciting time when we would crowd around Mother as she opened the box, and decided who would get what, and if any of the clothing had to be altered to fit us. I remember a lot of the dresses being brown which was not my favourite colour, but I imagine they were practical as they would not show the dirt. Mother also made dresses and blouses and skirts – shirts for the boys. I remember a lovely lilac plaid summer dress Mother made for me, and an identical one in pink plaid for Jackie. Our shoes were purchased from a factory outlet store in Lanark, and we made that trip a couple of times a year to buy shoes for school. “
Tobias ‘Tim’, ‘Tib’ Stafford checking the Christmas lights on the spruce tree
Roger: “Dad always put lights up outside, usually on the spruce tree near the door. I often watched the northern lights dancing, or heard the whistle of the train at the crossing back of the house, or the sound of the train itself on a cold winter night. I guess those are a couple of the reasons that cities have no attraction for me.”
Judy: “Nothing these days will ever replace the sound of the train whistle as it passed back at the tracks around midnight every night, or the sounds of the sleigh runners cutting through the snow on a crisp winter’s night.”
Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, in the kitchen, preparing some Christmas treats
Mother’s Chocolate Fudge
2 Tbsp. butter
2 c. miniature marshmallows
1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 2/3 cups of sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (if desired)
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix butter, milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat..
Stir in marshmallows, chocolate chips, vanilla and walnuts.
Pour into an 8-inch buttered pan. Cool. Cut into squares. Makes 2 lbs.
Tim: “My favourite Christmas food – Chocolate fudge with walnuts.”
Roger: I certainly remember all the toffee and fudge Mom used to make at Christmas. Mother also baked many specialty cookies for Christmas. As Christmas approached mother would review her stock in the freezer only to find much of our favourites had disappeared. I can remember holding the door while one of my siblings with longer arms would lean in and load up on treats from the freezer. I was never averse to a sweet bribe.”
Arlene Stafford making a snowman
Jackie: “When I was a kid, Mother bought her Christmas candy through the catalogues – Sears and Eaton’s and bought medium size boxes of licorice all-sorts; bridge mixture; and the cinnamon candies. I think she probably bought other types as well but I remember the ones I liked. She hid them in the bedroom, and then, closer to Christmas, in the pantry somewhere, and she would go in there now and then with an empty bowl, and magically come out with a bowl of one of those candies. A great treat because we rarely had that kind of ‘bought’ candy.”
Roger: “I also remember that Mother would always buy some grapes and Christmas oranges for a special treat at Christmas. It makes me feel very lucky to be able to go buy any type of fruit all year long.”
Jackie Stafford with niece, Andrea Ryan, eldest daughter of Judy Stafford Ryan
Jackie: “Christmas Eve was always an interesting time. Dad would be late from work, delivering milk for Chaplin’s Dairy, and Mother would usually let us eat at the usual time as she was never sure when Dad would turn up. When he did come home, he was tired and he had a bag of stuff with him. While he ate his warmed up dinner Mother would open all of the presents he got from his customers.”
Arlene: “Dad used to get five or six boxes of chocolates from his customers. I was always hoping that he would get a box of chocolate covered cherries. They were my favourite.”
Roger: “I remember Dad bringing home Christmas cards from his customers in Perth, on the milk route, and Mom opening them up and taking the cash out to put towards a summer holiday.
Jackie: “On Christmas Eve Dad’s customers would often give him money – usually $1 or $2 dollars and Mother would have little piles of bills. Sometimes they would know his brand of cigarette and those were great, but the Export A and Players were traded at his favourite store, if possible. I would love those because we would get the empty tins and I would love to put my crayons in one and some little bits in pieces in another. He also got single packs of cigarettes and they were often his brand.”
Judy Stafford and Jackie Stafford
Judy: “I remember that Mother didn’t like anyone in the kitchen when she was cooking, and when we were older and came home at Christmas, she would post a list of duties for each of us on the refrigerator.”
Jackie Stafford, Arlene Stafford, and Judy Stafford
Jackie: ” One Christmas, there was a toboggan under the tree for me. Tim already had one, which was a good size, but mine was smaller, and perfect for me. We couldn’t wait to get outside and try it. In those days, there was a lovely hill to the right of the house, part of the land surrounding the barn. We would slide down the hill, and if you went through the gap you ended up in the next field.”
Roger: “I can remember one year, that Uncle Jack Rutherford, sent Jackie and I, aluminum snow-shoe-shaped sliders. We used to try to slide down the hill near the barn, standing up. We seldom succeeded.”
Judy: “We skated and tobogganed. We went down the hill in the field beside the house, and over a low fence, and that caused a few accidents!”
Tim: “In the early part of the winter, if there was a cold snap and not too much snow, the creek would freeze over and I would skate to school (S.S. #4 Bathurst), passing all through the farms, and coming out at the bridge just south of the school. On days when the ice was too thin, I would arrive home soaked to the knees, and Mom would have to dry all of my clothes as best she could on the wood-stove oven door, as there was no clothes dryer then. The skates I used were Dad’s, with extra socks in them.”
Jackie: “We skated until our feet were so cold that we could not get our skates off, so when we were small, we just walked home in them. Mother would get the skates off, and we would sit in front of the open oven door to thaw out our feet.”
Jackie Stafford, and niece, Andrea Ryan, in the front yard, Korry’s farm in the background.
Jackie: “When we were old enough Dad would let us go with him to get the Christmas tree. As we got older we would sometimes have already selected a few possible trees for Dad to look at. In the early years we walked back to the bush and brought the tree back on Tim’s toboggan. I was always half frozen by the time we got back home.”
Jackie Stafford, pulling niece, Andrea Ryan, on a sled, on the side road, near the house.
Roger: “I can remember trying to find a nicely shaped tree that wasn’t too big, and then getting home and finding it was still too large to go in the house. At one time I can remember Dad nailing a large board to the bottom of the tree to stand it up. That was before we had a Christmas tree stand. I can remember Mom having us check the stand for water to make sure the tree wasn’t drying out too fast. I can also remember all the needles falling off when the decorations were being taken off the tree, and the tree was taken out through the kitchen to the yard. I can remember Mom using some of the boughs cut off to make a wreath.”
Back row: Roger Stafford, cousin Gail Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Judy Stafford, Arlene Stafford. Front row: cousin Peter Stafford, Tim Stafford
Tobias ‘Tim’, ‘Tib’ Stafford, his sister-in-law, Aunt Pat Stafford, and his brother, Peter ‘Pete’ Stafford
Jackie: “In those days Mother made popcorn, and we strung it on string, and used that as a garland on the tree.”
Roger: “I can also remember stringing popcorn for decorations.”
L to R: Roger Stafford, Arlene Stafford, Judy Stafford, Audry Stafford, Tobias ‘Tim’ Stafford, Tim Stafford, Jackie Stafford
Jackie: “Mother bought coloured craft paper, and we cut out strips of paper and glued them together to make a circle, and then a circle within the previous circle, and on and on, until we had a string long enough to go from the corners of the living room to the light fixture in the center of the ceiling. We usually did them red, green, etc.”
L to R: Judy Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Tim Stafford, Roger Stafford
Arlene: “Board games, and card games were a favourite on Christmas night, after dinner. Everyone gathered in the kitchen, and Mother brought us bowls of fudge, taffy, cookies, and sweet squares. We played Rummy, Monopoly, and sometimes Crokinole, until the wee hours. Mother always bought soft drinks at Christmas, sometimes cola, orange, or root beer. That was the only time of the year we had pop in the house.
Tobias ‘Tim’ ‘Tib’ Stafford and Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, 1968
Judy: “Before the day was out, our Mother would iron the Christmas paper and ribbon, which would be carefully tucked away until next year. To this day, I cringe when I see anyone rip off gift paper with no thought of re-using it. We often made our own Christmas wrapping paper in those days, using cut-up brown paper bags, and drawing pictures on with crayons, and tying up the gifts with binder-twine. We were always appreciative of what we received, because wealth to us was being happy and healthy, with loved ones around to share the joy.”
The Stafford siblings, with their spouses: Back row- Roger Stafford, Sam Wharton, Kevin Wilson, Tim Stafford, Jim Ryan. Front row: Ruth (Parks) Stafford, Jackie Stafford Wharton, Arlene Stafford-Wilson, Marian (Salemink) Stafford, and Judy Stafford Ryan.
…..and so we’ve come to the end of our Christmas visit to the Stafford House. If you had spent Christmas Day with us you would have never guessed that we didn’t have very much money. Our dinner table was overflowing with food – a huge platter of turkey, bowls heaped with stuffing, a basket piled high with soft homemade dinner rolls, steaming mashed potatoes, gravy, cheese, and pickles, and that was just the main course.
For dessert there was homemade Christmas fruit cake, shortbread, chocolate chews, cherry balls, gumdrop cookies, almond cookies, shortbread, sweet squares, chocolate fudge with walnuts, homemade toffee, licorice all-sorts, bridge-mixture, mixed nuts, and boxes of assorted chocolates.
The Stafford house was filled with laughter, and multiple lively conversations. There were chiming bells attached to the front door and hall door, and Christmas cards displayed, framing every doorway and covering every flat surface in the living room. A fragrant fresh-cut spruce tree graced the corner of the living room, proudly displaying our homemade ornaments, and a few precious glass balls that Mother had saved over the years. Our opened gifts were nestled under the tree, along with the remnants of our stockings from that morning.
By the evening, Mother would be resting on the couch, and Dad would be lounging in his lazy-boy chair. They often discussed the events of the day, while sharing a box of chocolates Christmas night – she preferring the hard toffee centers, and Dad enjoying the soft creams, which worked out very well indeed, over their many Christmases together.
You would have found the Stafford children in the kitchen, playing cards, or board games, sharing a dish of fudge, a bowl of nuts, and some homemade cookies. We’d often be sporting the paper crowns from the Christmas crackers we’d pulled at dinner time. You would have heard genuine shrieks of laughter, and some friendly jabs, many hilarious jokes from Roger, and witty remarks from Tim, with his dry sense of humour. You’d likely hear the girls scolding the boys for some of their occasional off-colour comments, followed by more laughter, and a few groans, as we all complained about how much food we’d consumed, all the while everyone agreeing how delicious it was.
As Christmas Day wound down for another year, one at a time, people began to trail off to bed, weary from the fresh cold air and outings during the busy day, and stuffed full of our Mother’s delicious food.
We hope you enjoyed hearing our stories about growing up, at the Stafford house, and the ways we spent Christmas Day. The sights and sounds and smells from our childhood Christmas are something we carry with us every day. They lift our spirits in times when life seems cold, and harsh, and unforgiving. We need only to close our eyes and we are back on the Third Line, walking up the lane, through the yard, and entering the bright, warm kitchen. We are home again.
Quotes and stories from Tim Stafford, Judy Stafford Ryan, Jackie Stafford Wharton, Roger Stafford, and Arlene Stafford-Wilson, and the recipe for Audry Stafford’s Chocolate Fudge, are excerpts from, “Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen”
The Irish brought their Christmas traditions when they settled in Lanark County, in the earliest times. Our ancestor, Tobias Stafford, came in 1816, from County Wexford, Ireland, and married Elizabeth, ‘Betsy’ McGarry, who came from Mullingar Parish, County Westmeath, Ireland.
Christmas, in those times was a far more religious, and far less commercial holiday than it is today. Priests traveled from larger centers, like Perth, to smaller communities, and people gathered at one of the larger neighbourhood homes to hear mass, and to celebrate the birth of Christ. In 1856, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church was built, on a gentle hill, overlooking the Mississippi River. Finally, the locals had their own church, not just to mark religious holidays, but also a place to witness baptisms, weddings, and to seek comfort at the funerals of their dearly departed.
St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1856, Ferguson Falls, Ontario
One of the early Christmas traditions at St. Patrick’s Church was the lighting of the Advent Candles.
Four candles were set up at the front of the church, and one was lit at each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.
1st Sunday of Advent
The first candle was lit with a sermon on being watchful and alert, waiting for Christ’s arrival:
“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Matthew 24:42
2nd Sunday of Advent
On the second week, the next candle was lit, with a sermon focusing on making preparations for the birth of Christ:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ Matthew 3:3
3rd Sunday of Advent
On the third Sunday of Advent, after the lighting of the third candle, the sermon focused on St. John the Baptist, and the foretelling of Jesus coming to earth:
“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.” Luke 3:16-17
4th Sunday of Advent
Week four of Advent was the lighting of the fourth candle, and a reflection on the unwavering faith of Mary and Joseph, and a call to those who believed in what was to come:
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:45
Thomas Stafford’s Family
Thomas Stafford, the youngest son of Tobias and Betsy, was just 10 years old when St. Patrick’s was established, and so, he attended the church as a child, and throughout his entire life, with his own children, as he remained on the ancestral Stafford property, on the 11th concession of Drummond Township.
Family of Thomas Stafford, his wife, Mary (Carroll) Stafford, seated with their eldest son, Peter in the middle row. Back row – Ann Stafford, Mary Stafford (local schoolteacher in Ferguson Falls), Thomas Patrick Stafford, and Julia Stafford (who married William Quinn), front row – Margaret Stafford, Anastasia ‘Stasia’ Stafford, and Michael Vincent ‘Vince’ Stafford, (my grandfather, named for his uncle, Rev. Father Michael Stafford, the Apostle of Temperance), photo taken 1896.
In the weeks before Christmas, dried fruits were soaked in whiskey and rum, and more alcohol was added each day as the fruit became plump and full. A large, square piece of fresh clean cloth was dipped in hot water, and rubbed with flour to make it waterproof. After two weeks of soaking, the fruit was added to a traditional cake batter, and this ‘pudding’ was tied in the cloth sack, boiled for one hour, and then hung in the pantry to ripen.
Christmas puddings were hung in cloth sacks to ripen
An Irish pioneer’s Christmas pudding
Back in their homeland, the Irish decorated with sprigs of holly, ivy, and other evergreens native to Ireland like Arbutus, and Yew. Once in Canada, they used the native Eastern Ontario greenery – like spruce, pine, and cedar.
Small branches of spruce and cedar were brought into the home, and laid along the mantle
A spruce tree was cut from the surrounding forests, and brought into the house about a week before Christmas. White candles were attached to the tree, and lit in the evenings leading up to Christmas.
I recall our Dad saying that he was nervous when they lit the candles on the family tree because so many house fires were caused by this practice in the Ferguson Falls area, around Christmastime, when he was a young lad.
Shiny Christmas ornaments that we know today were very rare in the early days, and most of the decorative glass ornaments were imported from Germany, were very expensive, and only available in larger towns, like Perth, or Carleton Place. Often, the ladies of the family made homemade ornaments to hang on the tree, and some were made using needle-craft, like tatting, or crochet.
Lace Christmas ornaments were hand-crafted by the early settlers
Some of the more affluent families purchased ornaments imported from Europe
Precious and costly ornaments, imported from Europe
Bloc na Nollag – the burning of the Yule Log
The cold dark days and nights of the winter solstice were known as “Yule” in Ireland, and most of northern Europe. Burning the “Bloc na Nollag” (Nollag pronounced ‘null-egg’), was an old Irish tradition that continued through the generations, and was common to the Irish who settled in Eastern Ontario. The men of the family dragged home the largest log they could find. After dusting off the snow, the log was placed whole at the back of the fire. This large log was supposed to last for the entire 12 days of Christmas. A small piece of the log was saved to use as kindling for the lighting of the next year’s yule log .
A Candle in the Window on Christmas Eve
All through Ireland a candle is lit and placed in the window on Christmas Eve. This tradition was brought to Canada by the settlers, and was a symbol of welcome to the Holy family. It is thought that this custom originated with the tradition of lighting the way for all travelers on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It is a tradition for the eldest person in the family to light the candle in the window on Christmas Eve.
A candle lit in the window on Christmas Eve, lighting the way for the Holy Family
An orange in the Christmas stocking
According to Dad, they hung simple stockings, sometimes wool socks, without decoration, on Christmas Eve, and in the morning, the stocking would hold a few pieces of hard candy, a small toy usually made of wood, and always a lovely, ripe, Christmas orange. He said that fresh fruit was scarce when he was growing up in the 1920s, and it was a very special thing to receive a fresh juicy orange on Christmas morning.
A simple stocking with a precious fresh orange was a treat in the 1920s, in Drummond Township
On Christmas morning, the family got dressed up in their best clothing, hitched up the horses to the cutter, and headed to St. Patrick’s Church.
All of the families in the area donated a bit of money to the local priest, and presented it to him with thanks, at the end of the service. The custom came from Ireland and was known as the ‘priest’s box’, even though the settlers used an envelope, or folded paper together and sometimes painted colourful designs on the outside.
Envelope for a special Christmas donation for the local priest
Irish Christmas Dinner
Many of the traditional foods from Ireland were not available to the Canadian pioneer settlers, so they made a few substitutions when needed. Although goose was the traditional bird cooked for Christmas dinner in Ireland, the settlers sometimes roasted a duck, chicken, or turkey, instead. The clove-studded baked ham was a tradition brought from the old country, and cooked in our ancestor’s homes. Stuffing was made of bread crumbs spiced with sage, onion, salt and pepper. Potatoes were always a favourite daily staple, and they were usually roasted in the fat of the duck or chicken. Roasted carrots were served, along with gravy made with the poultry drippings. The plum pudding was boiled again on Christmas Day, then a whiskey or rum sauce was poured on the top and it was lit at the table, at the end of the Christmas meal, and served as dessert.
Traditional Irish Christmas dinner with ham, turkey, stuffing, carrots, potatoes, gravy, and Brussels sprouts
Clove-studded baked ham
roasted potatoes and carrots
After dinner, the leftover food was put away, the dishes washed, and chairs were moved close to the fire, placed in a semi-circle. This was a time for music! Fiddles were played, and traditional Irish songs from the old country were sang around the fire. Stories were told of Christmas’ past, and jokes were shared, generous glasses of whiskey were poured, and the dancing of a little ‘jig’ to go along with the music was common.
The merriment went on into the wee hours, and it was a tradition for the youngest in the family to leave the home’s door unlatched, before going to bed, to give shelter to any travelers who may pass by. When the story-tellers and the musicians grew weary, and the last soul in the house finally retired to bed, it was their task to make sure that the Christmas candle was still lit in the window, to help guide the Holy Family through the long, dark, night.
And so, the traditions and customs of our Irish ancestors were passed down through the generations, from the very first settlers, to the present day. The special Christmas foods, the hanging of the stockings, the lighting of the candles for Advent, the singing of songs, the fiddling, the whiskey, the story-telling, and the lone candle in the window, lighting up the dark, cold, December night.
So, I’ll leave you with a traditional Irish Christmas blessing, and hope that you will pass along some of your own family’s customs to the next generation, from your grandparents, to your parents, to you, and onto your children, and their children. Peace be with you and yours this holy Christmas season.
This is the house where it all began. It is the place that became the setting for so many stories, so many books; the idyllic backdrop where canopies of Lanark County sugar maples dominated the peaceful grounds surrounding the house.
The home had been in the family since 1936, when Dad’s aunt and uncle, Thomas and Clara Carberry purchased the property, but it truly became the Stafford house, when Mother and Dad returned from the war in 1946.
Audry stared down thoughtfully, her hands cradling the pink and white china tea cup. Was the war really over?, she wondered. It had been so many months, that turned into years, with those dark uncertain clouds hanging over their heads. All they seemed to hear in those days was bad news; news of young lives lost in battles far away. Could it be true? Could they finally get on with their lives now, and spend time together as a family? She’d read about the victory celebrations, and seen photos in the newspapers of the ticker-tape parades, but it wasn’t until she heard from her husband; it was the news that she’d been waiting for…he’d be boarding a ship bound for Canada. He was coming home.
They met at the #8 Bombing and Gunnery School, in Lethbridge, Alberta. She was a pretty young Air Force Corporal, from Edmonton, and he, a dashing young Sergeant from Lanark County. Mother was drawn to his handsome face, and neat appearance. She claimed that she could spot him across the parade square on the base because the crease of his pants was so crisp.
Corporal Audry Rutherford, W.D. Royal Canadian Air Force
Tobias ‘Tim’ Stafford & Audry Rutherford, on a date in Lethbridge, Alberta
In those days, relationships on the military base developed quickly by necessity, never knowing when someone would be deployed to serve elsewhere. Within a few months of their budding romance, the orders came that Dad was to be shipped overseas, to serve at the RAF base in Bournemouth, England. They quickly made plans to marry. Mother would remain on the base, and continue her duties as a Corporal, and Airforce Physical Education Instructor.
On their wedding day, July 12, 1943
Home At Last
There was an unmistakable sense of hope and optimism beaming from every deck on that grey hulking warship as it left the English port, bound for Halifax. It seemed that every man aboard had a permanent smile on his face, a joke to tell, and precious well-worn photos to show the others; of faces they’d be seeing soon, after so many dark and lonely years.
He longed for home. He missed the rugged Canadian landscape; the tall pines, the colourful sugar maples, and the crystal clear lakes and rivers that dotted the Ontario landscape of his youth. Most of all he missed…her. He could almost see her face above the dark rolling waves of the north Atlantic, as the ship sailed closer to their base in Halifax. The constant ache in his heart whenever he thought of her, gradually easing into a sense of purpose. The nervous dread and unsettling fears of war were behind him now, and he had a wife, and two young children to provide for.
The Stafford House
“My Aunt Clara and Uncle Tom own a beautiful property. They said we can come and stay with them until we get settled. I know you’ll be very happy there; I promise. It’s a red brick house, built on a gentle hill, surrounded by lovely shade trees. There are lots of bedrooms, plenty of space for a growing family. There’s even an apple orchard behind the house. When the kids are older we can send them apple-picking, and you could bake us some pies!”, he grinned.
Clara and Tom were approaching retirement age by the time the young Stafford family moved in with them. Clara didn’t drive, and wanted to move to Perth, so that she could get around a bit easier. Maybe it was time for her nephew and his young family to take over the property….
Some Help for the Veterans
Over one million Canadians served in WWII, and in 1944, the Department of Veterans Affairs was created to assist soldiers returning from duty. Their mandate was to ease the way back to civilian life, after so many years of war. The Veterans’ Land Act was one of the programs established so that veterans were eligible for loans to buy land, livestock, and equipment. Over 30,000 Veterans obtained land for farming through this program.
….and so, the young Stafford family was able to purchase the beautiful property from Aunt Clara and Uncle Tom….
Tim Stafford & Judy Stafford, in the driveway at Stafford House
….and many years later, this 1947 photo was featured on the cover of a book…
Tim and Judy Stafford, featured on the cover of “Recipes & Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen”
…and then there were 3
Judy Stafford, baby Jackie Stafford, and Tim Stafford, 1948, at the Stafford House
The family settled in, and bit by bit, it grew in size. Jackie was born, then Roger, and finally Arlene, and the family was complete.
Judy Stafford, Tim Stafford, Jackie Stafford, and Roger Stafford in 1958
Arlene Stafford in the apple orchard, behind the Stafford House
Many years later, the Stafford House, the picturesque yard, and the woodlands surrounding the property would be the inspiration and the setting for many stories and books.
From the early days of spring and the young buds on the trees, gathering sap, and the house filled with the sweet scents of maple, as the sap boiled in a huge pot on the old stove. The shy tulips and daffodils nudging their way out of the cold ground, and the songbirds returning after a long, cold winter.
Summer was filled with the fresh scents of hay, and the rattling, rumbling tractors and wagons parading up and down the Third Line. Trips to Carl Adams’ swimming hole, and Christie Lake on the steamy hot days, and the nightly spectacles of tiny black bats swooping and sailing through the tall maple branches, followed by the sounds of the bullfrogs in the lowlands, and the crickets lulling us to sleep.
Fall was all about colour, from one end of the yard to the other, and as far as the eye could see; spectacular shades of orange, red, and yellow, and the scents of wood-smoke and the sweet ripe apples hanging low in the orchard.
The year always finished the same way, with the magical weeks leading up to Christmas. It was a busy, bustling, time, for baking, stringing lights, mailing cards, repairing broken ornaments, practicing for Christmas concerts, and most of all, waiting for Santa….
Arlene Stafford, Mike, the family dog, and Roger Stafford
…and so, these were the early years at the Stafford House; the weeks and months after the war. They were the busy years, and years of adjustment. They were the years after two young soldiers met on an airbase in faraway Lethbridge, and fell in love, in such uncertain times.
It was because of their love, their hope for the future, and their sense of optimism that the family grew and prospered at the Stafford House. It was where we developed a strong work ethic, a respect for others, and where we learned about the importance of honesty, integrity, and faith.
Today, on Remembrance Day, I will think of these two soldiers, who possessed both the courage and the optimism to forge ahead with their love and their commitment, even in the darkest days, when the world was at war, and for this, I will be forever grateful.
Lest We Forget
‘Poppies’ – watercolour painting, by Jackie (Stafford) Wharton, 2020
Long before the days of fast-paced living, our family had a weekly ritual, known as the Sunday drive. It always took place after church, following the noon-time meal. Families were large in those days, and Mother wanted to make sure that everyone had a hearty lunch before heading out into the country. Looking back, it seems like a curious thing to do, when you already live in the country, to drive to another part of the country, but it wasn’t uncommon in those days.
The Staffords, getting ready for a Sunday Drive: left to right, Roger Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Tim Stafford, Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford (Dad), Arlene Stafford, missing from the photo: Judy Stafford who was taking the photo, and Audry Stafford (Mother), who was likely making one last trip to the pantry to pack some cookies for the ride.
Home, the starting point for our drive, was the Third Concession of Bathurst Township, some called it the Third Line, or the Christie Lake Road. After we’d all climbed into the car, we often headed straight to Balderson, to pick up a bag of squeaky curd for the trip. We almost always visited Ferguson Falls, where Dad grew up, and Lanark was another familiar stop along the way. There was sometimes a debate in the car at this point about whether to travel up toward Calabogie. Mother often protested, saying that all those hills, twists, and turns on the back-roads made her stomach queasy. With a twinkle in his eye, and a promise to take it slow, more often than not, Dad headed up the road toward Clyde Forks and Flower Station.
The landscape around Flower Station was a spectacular sight to behold in the autumn, when the colourful maple leaves were at their peak. Gold, red, green, and orange, in every direction, as far as the eye could see; just like a postcard. Small in size, but big in heart, it was one of the tiny hamlets that sprung up in the late 1800s, during the heydays of the nearby mining operations; and the Kingston and Pembroke ‘K & P’ Railroad stopped daily, bringing mail, and supplies.
The village was named for Roswell Pettibone ‘R.P.’ Flower, Governor of New York, who financed this section of the railway. At the height of the mining operations in the late 1880s, there were three boarding houses, two general stores, a church, a school, and a railroad station. Postmaster, Gilbert White, operated the post office, and sold general merchandise, out of his residence.
Thomas Miller’s General Store – 1905
Albert ‘Abbie’ McGonegal
Tragic Loss Follows Dance
at Flower Station
Joseph Lalonde Walks 15 Miles
in 1942 to Recruiting Center
‘Granny’ Jennie Crawford Majaury
Jackson Siblings Die Within
Hours of Each Other
Maud Bradford Hart
Calvan McGonegal Wins
James Brothers Fishing Trophy
Cardinal, Lalonde, & Kells
Take Top Spots
Minnie McGonegal Ferguson
Party for Wilfred Jackson
Reeve Henry McGonigal
Follows in his Father’s Footsteps
Mrs. Eldon Majore
Peace of Mind in the Country
Stranded by Floods
Irene (Gemmill) Crosbie
90th Birthday Party
Don and Marlene Love
Met at a Sugar Camp
Winnifred Closs – 1916-2008
Extraordinary Local Writer
As the lumber business tapered off, and the mining operations slowed down, the K & P railway never saw the volumes of traffic they had anticipated in the beginning. By late in the 19th century, the railroad was experiencing financial difficulties, and by 1894, the company, operating at a loss, went into receivership.
The Canadian Pacific Railway, ‘CPR’ began to buy up shares, and by 1901, owned 83% of the shares, and had replaced many of the top executives with their own. The C.P.R. officially gained control of the K & P Railroad in 1913.
By the 1930s, passenger service declined and they began to operate ‘mixed trains’ of passenger cars and some freight cars. By the late 1950s, only freight cars remained. The last ‘through’ train ran on December 29, 1961. As time passed, in the 1960s, the smaller, less profitable stations along the railway line were closed, including Flower Station.
K & P Trail
The original route of the K & P is being converted, in sections, to a recreational walking and biking path, known as the “K & P Trail”
Take a Sunday Drive
Visit Flower Station
The tradition of the Sunday drive at our house went on for as long as I can remember. Mother occasionally scolding Dad because he was over the speed limit, and he always countered with the same excuse – that he needed to burn the carbon build-up off of his sparkplugs.
There were often bags of squeaky curd, and sometimes a stop for ice cream cones, or a cold bottle of Pure Spring pop. Once in a while there was pushing and shoving in the back seat, met by a stern glance backwards from Mother.
No matter where those winding back roads in Lanark County led us, there was always beauty around every corner; with crystal-clear lakes and streams, quiet spots for a picnic, trails and paths beckoning us to come for a stroll.
Maybe one of these Sundays, you’ll venture out to Flower Station. Travel north on highway 511 past Hopetown to Brightside. Turn west on Waddell Creek Road to the French Line. Proceed north on the French Line Road to Joe’s Lake, then west on Flower Station Road to Flower Station.
Be sure to walk or hike the beautiful K&P Trail in the village of Flower Station. Head north past Flower Station, to Round Lake and Clyde Lake or, walk south, past Widow Lake to join Clyde Forks Road. Be prepared to enjoy the unspoiled forests, the sounds of nature, breathe in the pristine air, and spend a tranquil day in one of Lanark County’s special gems – Flower Station.
Discover some fascinating stories about Lanark County back-roads tours, like “Mills, Mines, and Maples: Touring the Back Roads of Lanark County in the book, “Lanark County Connections: Memories Among the Maples”
Read about a WWII war-time encounter overseas, with a young soldier named Jim, from Flower Station, in “A Grand Era in Lanark”, from “Lanark County Classics: A Treasury of Tales from Another Time”
The warm spring sun flooded the playground that June afternoon at Glen Tay Public School. Only two weeks of classes remained for the year, when I first heard about the lost boy, from my teacher, Mrs. Conboy. One of my friends had seen the story on the evening news, and asked our teacher if she thought they’d ever find the little boy…..
Many decades have passed since the young Adrian McNaughton disappeared near Calabogie, Ontario. Police call it a cold case, but promised they’ll never stop looking.
It was June 12, 1972, when five-year-old Adrian was on a fishing trip with his father, his father’s friend, and his three siblings, at Holmes Lake. Holmes Lake is about an hour’s drive from Lanark village, half an hour from Burnstown, and around a 15 minute drive from Calabogie.
Adrian wandered away from the area where everyone was fishing. He was last seen playing near the shoreline, wearing a blue jacket and brown shorts.
He was wearing a blue nylon jacket, brown shorts, an orange-striped shirt, and rubber boots.
Divers Search Holmes Lake
Father Seeks Help from Psychics
Psychics Point to Clyde Forks
Psychics were consulted and advised the McNaughton family that Adrian was taken to, or somehow ended up in Clyde Forks, a forty-minute drive from Holmes Lake.
What visions and impressions led the clairvoyants to the small village of Clyde Forks in Lanark County? What did they find there? Discover the fascinating details of this decades-old cold-case.
“Mystery in Clyde Forks”,
a story from “Lanark County Classics: A Treasury of Tales from Another Time”
“It was a little shack very close to the old Mississippi, just across the bridge, coming down from the church; probably not room for more than twelve Irishmen at a time, if they could get along, and if that didn’t work, some would be out in yard ,or in the river.”
Thomas Joseph Stafford (1921-2018)
“The Stumble Inn was operated by Billy McCaffrey. He was a very, very, short man, with a curved back. His bar was located right beside the river, when you crossed the old bridge, across the Mississippi River, coming down from the Catholic church. I remember it around 1927 to early 1930s. The horses were stabled across the road in an open shed at Charles Hollinger’s, the auctioneer. We walked across the bridge up to church for mass. After mass the Catholic brethren would stop in at the Stumble Inn. You could get a shot of something for the trip home. There was also a lot of Poker played there, which was frowned on in the community. There were also lots of ghost stories told there.”
quote from 2012 by Thomas Stafford (1921-2018)
“There would be music at the Stumble Inn. There was always music where the Irish gathered. I remember Jimmy (Richards) playing the fiddle. I spent quite a few days at Richards’ visiting with your dad ,Tib (Tobias Stafford). Clara (Richards Carberry) would feed us cookies. Jimmy thought we were a pain in the ass, I think. Peter (Stafford) was a great fisherman of mud pouts from the old Mississippi. In Ferguson Falls they were all related, either before or after they arrived in Canada from Wexford.”
(quote from Thomas ‘Tom’ Stafford 1921-2018)
(James ‘Jimmy’ Richards was Dad’s uncle on his Mother’s side. Clara Richards, Dad’s aunt, was Jimmy’s sister. Clara Richards married Thomas ‘Tom’ Carberry, a descendant of one of the ‘Seven Irish Bachelors’ of Ferguson Falls. The Richards homestead was next door to the Stafford homestead on the 11th concession of Drummond Township. Dad’s parents – Anastasia ‘Stacy’ Richards married Michael Vincent ‘Vince’ Stafford – the boy next door) Peter Stafford was Dad’s brother) ‘Wexford’ refers to County Wexford, Ireland. Jimmy Richards played his fiddle at the Stumble Inn on a regular basis. His fiddle was passed down to Dad, then to me.)
Billy McCaffrey, owner of The Stumble Inn
William Henry ‘Billy’ McCaffrey, (1869-1940), was the son of Joseph McCaffrey, and Ellen McGarry McCaffrey. Billy’s ancestor, Thomas McCaffrey was the first settler and resident of the village of Ferguson Falls, arriving in 1815.
Billy’s mother, Ellen McGarry McCaffrey:
Ellen McGarry McCaffrey and her husband, Joseph McCaffrey had ten children:
Mary McCaffrey 1861-1944 – was a tailor
Julia Ann McCaffrey 1863-1944
Thomas McCaffrey 1866-1913. Thomas married Margaret Doyle and they lived on the McCaffrey homestead on the 8th concession of Drummond Township. Thomas died age 46 of tuberculosis
Peter McCaffrey 1867-1895 – died age 28 of dropsy
Wm. Billy McCaffrey 1868-1940 – saddler by trade, owned a hotel in Ferguson Falls, and later, owned the Stumble Inn
Margaret McCaffrey 1874-1917 died age 43 of pernicious anemia
Loretta McCaffrey 1872-1941 was a dressmaker
Gertrude McCaffrey 1875-1918 died age 38 of pernicious anemia
Josephine McCaffrey 1877-1931 trained as a nurse and worked in New York, died age 52 of cerebral hemorrhage
Teresa McCaffrey 1879-1935, married Martin Sylvester Grace. Their children: Harold Francis Grace, Ursula Grace Kehoe Bent, Helen Grace Butterworth, Kathryn Grace Daley, and Reverend Sister Anna Gertrude.
After operating his successful and much-loved community gathering spot, the Stumble Inn, Billy passed away in 1940.
“The late Mr. McCaffrey was a man of sterling qualities, and possessed the good-will and esteem of all who knew him.”
(sometimes written as Ferguson’s Falls, or Fergusons Falls, depending on the era)
Originally known as Milford, Fergusons Falls was renamed in honor of the early settler Captain Ferguson when a post office was established there. This was the closest village to the Stafford farm and was a source for supplies, postal services, blacksmith services, social activities, and later St. Patrick’s Church.
Thomas McCaffrey was the first settler coming in 1815. McCaffrey was a close friend of Tobias Stafford and Betsy (McGarry) Stafford. Thomas was one of the witnesses to their marriage ceremony in St. John’s Church in Perth. He also signed his name as witness to one of Tobias’ later land transactions, and was present at the baptisms of some of the Stafford children.
Other early Ferguson Falls residents were John and Patrick Quinn, Patrick and Martin Doyle, James Carberry, James Power and William Scanlon. Two Stafford girls married into the Quinn family. The Hollinger family was also among the first settlers. By 1857, Ferguson Falls was booming. John Doyle was the Innkeeper, James McCaffrey was listed in the business directory as a Wagon Maker, and John & Michael McCaffrey were the local Blacksmiths. John Stafford, Tobias Stafford and Elizabeth McGarry’s son, was the area Shoemaker, and would later open a shoe store in Almonte, then in Perth. There was also a saw-mill, and a grist mill owned by Robert Blair and a hotel owned by Charles Hollinger.
Some history of Ferguson Falls:
A note on the local school:
“In 1894 Miss Mary Stafford taught, and then in 1901-1909 Miss Maggie Doyle of Drummond Twp (who later married Thomas Patrick Stafford).
In 1901 the teacher’s salary was $240.00 dollars a year. In 1905 it was $250.00. 1943-1946 Miss Mary Phelan of Lanark was the teacher. Her salary was $1000.00 a year and she had 9 pupils.”
(quote from Gail McFarlane, taken from the Tweedsmuir history of Ferguson Falls)
Ballad of Jimmy Whelan
All alone as I strayed by the banks of the river Watching the moonbeams as evening drew nigh All alone as I rambled, I spied a fair damsel Weeping and wailing with many a sigh.
Weeping for one who is now lying lowly Mourning for one who no mortal can save As the foaming dark water flow gently about him Onward they speed over young Jimmy’s grave.
She cries, “Oh, my darling, please come to me quickly And give me fond kisses that oft-times you gave You promised to meet me this evening, my darling So now, lovely Jimmy, arise from your grave.”
Slowly he rose from the dark, stormy waters A vision of beauty more fair than the sun Saying “I have returned from the regions of glory To be in your dear loving arms once again.”
“Oh, Jimmy, why can’t you tarry here with me Not leave me alone, so distracted in pain.” “Since death is the dagger that’s cut us asunder Wide is the gulf, love, between you and I.”
“One fond embrace, love, and then I must leave you One loving farewell, and then we must part.” Cold were the arms that encircled about her Cold was the body she pressed to her heart.
Slowly he rose from the banks of the river Up to the heavens he then seemed to go Leaving this fair maiden, weeping and mourning Alone on the banks of the river below.
(local Irish legends told of the ‘gates of glass’, where one could pass between this world and the next, through the water of a lake or river, at dusk)
A Return to Our Roots
Archives Lanark celebrated their 10th Anniversary in October of 2012, at the Ferguson’s Falls Community Hall. There were local dignitaries from Drummond Township, and Doug Bell made a presentation of a 200 year old artifact, – an original settler’s trunk from pioneer Sutton Frizzell, and his land documents that were found in the trunk.
There were also displays showing some highlights of the work that the Archives has done, and the variety of resources available for local researchers.
Autumn in Ferguson Falls
Stafford family Sunday drives in the 1960s and 1970s began on the Third Line of Bathurst, often involved detours though Balderson and Lanark village, but they always seemed to end up at Ferguson Falls. Our father was born and raised on the 11th concession of Drummond Township, on the ancestral Stafford farm, settled by pioneer, Tobias Stafford in 1816. Our ancestor spent his first year on what became known as Stafford Island on the Mississippi River before building a home.
In the earliest days of the settlement, priests would travel to these small communities, and Sunday mass would be held in someone’s home. Once St. John’s Church in Perth was built, the pioneers travelled by horse and buggy, or horse and cutter, to attend services, until 1856, when St. Patrick’s Church was established, along the river.
…And so, we returned again and again to Ferguson Falls on our Sunday drives; to the pretty village in Drummond Township. We listened to our father’s accounts of the glory days of the Prestonvale ball team, and the long walks to school in snowstorms. We always stopped at St. Patrick’s church, and walked up and down through the rows of the graves of our ancestors. Dad’s parents were buried there, and his grandparents, and the oldest ones, who had come from Ireland. The old families were all connected by marriage – Quinn, McKittrick, Richards, Carberry, Carroll, Ryan, McCaffrey, and the rest; and he pointed to the headstones as we walked through the rows.
There were always stories of the infamous Stumble Inn, across the bridge from the church, and the card-games, and the drinking, and the fighting. We heard about Billy McCaffrey and how he sold whiskey at all hours of the day and night from his modest establishment. We learned of the Hollinger family and the generations of local auctioneers, and their busy hotel that catered to loggers. The loggers danced in their spiked boots and old Charlie Hollinger had to replace the floors once a year. We heard about the McEwen family and visited their popular maple shack in the spring. We heard the local names over and over: Blair, McFarlane, Horricks, Rathwell, Cullen and Kehoe.
We learned that the Irish Roman Catholics were a devoted bunch, loyal to their church, but also possessed an entirely different belief system that included ghosts and fairies, and the little people. We heard about Jimmy Whalen, a neighbour to the Stafford family, and how his lover could still be seen late at night walking along the banks of the Mississippi River, searching for her long lost Jimmy. We listened to stories about the lumber wars in the old days between the McLaren and Caldwell families, and the yearly cattle drives to Carleton Place.
The Sunday drive always ended the same way, with a visit to Lloyd and Evelyn Dickenson’s store for an ice cream cone and a bottle of Pure Spring pop. Dad and Lloyd talked about the old days, and walked together along the shore, near the cottages, recounting tales of catching bullfrogs, and fishing in the river.
I miss our drives to Ferguson Falls, and stopping for a bag of curd at the Balderson Cheese Factory along the way, visiting the graves of our ancestors, walking where they walked, and hearing the stories of the good old days. Dad, and his cousin Tom are gone now, but their stories live on. I often wonder if they told the same stories again and again so that we would remember; remember the place where the ancestors settled, remember the customs and legends from the old country, remember so that we could tell their stories, of this special place, called Ferguson Falls.
It just wasn’t Easter weekend until the old house was filled with the rich aroma of Mother’s home-baked Hot Cross Buns! It was a long-standing tradition at our home on the Third Line of Bathurst, although legends say that these mouth-watering buns were made long before any of us were around.
It was way back, in the twelfth century, that an Anglican monk at St. Albans Abbey, first made these buns, marked each with a cross, and distributed them to the poor on Good Friday.
Hot Cross Buns were an Easter tradition at the Stafford house, along with a juicy baked ham, creamy scalloped potatoes, and of course, velvety chocolate Easter eggs.
Stafford House, Third Line of Bathurst, Lanark County -1975
Mother, a keen competitor in the local fairs for many decades, was eventually asked to become a Judge, and her prize-winning baking was a daily treat at our house.
Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, at the old house, on the Third Line, in 1964
Mother’s Farmhouse Hot Cross Buns
1 c milk
2 1/2 tsp sugar
2 pkt yeast
2 tsp salt
2 eggs (beaten)
3/4 c cold water
7-7 1/2 c flour
1/4 c shortening
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c warm water
1/2 tsp allspice
1 c raisins
(1 c chopped peel and 1 c currants if desired)
Mix as for yeast dough, but mix spices with the flour
Stir in the raisins (currants, and peel)
Knead 5 minutes
Let rise until doubled
Divide dough into pieces about 1 1/2″ diameter shape, and place 1 1/2″ apart on a greased baking sheet
Let rise to double
Bake at 350 F
After 15 minutes, remove from the oven and brush with glaze (2 Tbsp water and 2 Tbsp sugar)
Return to oven and finish baking. Brush again with the glaze, and cool
When cool, make a cross on each bun with white icing
Serve with softened creamery butter, or homemade preserves if desired.
Be prepared for the sweet scents of cinnamon and fresh baked bread to fill your home, bringing memories of Easters past, and maybe beginning a new tradition in your family!
Wishing you a very Happy Easter, from our house, to yours!
For more of Mother’s Farmhouse recipes:
Over ninety of Audry’s prize-winning recipes – “Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from our Mother’s Kitchen”, ISBN 978-0-9877026-09
It doesn’t seem that long ago……….back in the 1960s and 1970s, when we couldn’t wait for that magical night in October – Hallowe’en!
The days grew shorter, crisp air blew in from the north, and an eerie silence hung over our yard, as the last few geese left for the season. Darkness crept up our lane-way each evening, shortly after the school bus dropped us off, and bare branches cast long shadows across the Third Line.
In the days leading up to the big event, we watched ‘The Great Pumpkin’, and if we felt brave enough, maybe a horror movie or two, just to put us in the spirit.
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown”, released Oct. 27, 1966
Who could forget Janet Leigh’s blood-curdling scream in the movie ‘Psycho’, or Jessica Tandy running for her life, in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie ‘The Birds’ ?
“Pyscho”, release date, June 16, 1960 – (with Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, and Janet Leigh)
“The Birds”, release date – March 28, 1963, starring: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The living room always fell silent at our house, during Ichabod Crane’s encounter with the Headless Horseman, in ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’…..
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, original release 1949, by Walt Disney Productions
Sometimes, we’d listen to some music, to put us in the Hallowe’en mood!
“One-eyed, one-horned, flyin’ purple people eater”
“The Purple People Eater”, by Sheb Wooley, released in 1958
“He did the mash, he did the monster mash,
The monster mash, it was a graveyard smash!”
“Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett, released August 25, 1962. The BBC banned the record from airplay in 1962, stating that the lyrics were too morbid.
The Ouija Board was released by Elijah Bond, on July 1, 1890, as an innocent parlour game. The name was a combination of the French and German words for ‘yes’. The boards enjoyed a heyday in the 1920s, and have remained popular through the years. They have been criticized by some religious denominations, and as recently as 2001 were burned by fundamentalist groups in New Mexico.
No Ouija Boards at the Stafford House !!
Our Mother would NOT allow us to bring a Ouija board into the house!
One year, Mary-Jane Murphy, a friend who lived in Perth, invited some of the members of our 4H Club to visit her, and try out the Ouija board in her basement rec room.
I recall some of us almost jumped out of our skin that same night, when a candle flickered in the middle of our ‘session’!
Did something make the candle flicker, or was it just our breath, from a lot of giggling teenage girls?
Some of our favourite t.v. shows had Hallowe’en ‘specials’:
“The Munsters”, first episode: September 24, 1964
The Addams Family
“The Addams Family”, first episode, Sept. 18, 1964
Preparations were made weeks in advance – deciding what we would wear for Hallowe’en. Anyone familiar with the late fall weather in Lanark County, knows that our costumes had to be loose enough to fit over our fall jackets. I remember a few Hallowe’en nights when there was snow on the ground, which meant clunking around in a big pair of boots all night.
It was time to head to the attic, and find some discarded clothes!
Kids today, would not have been impressed with our costumes. They were homemade, and usually consisted of an old pair of pants, an old shirt, maybe some tattered sheets. No one in those days bought a pre-made costume, so we had to be creative.
Free Masks from Kellogg’s
In the 1950s and 1960s, Kellogg’s advertised free Hallowe’en masks on the back of their cereal boxes. All you had to do was cut out the mask, punch two holes in it, and add a rubber band or a string. These were all the rage! Especially the Tony the Tiger mask!
Sometimes, there were Hallowe’en parties at Glen Tay School, and we wore our costumes, and bobbed for apples.
Mother always helped us find a suitable sack for our candy, and we could choose between an assortment of her old pillowcases. It was always a good idea to bring at least two pillowcases – just in case it was a busy night!
The weeks passed by, and October 31st finally arrived!
After school, we ate supper quickly, and could barely contain our excitement!
Next, we watched out the window………………………………….and waited for dusk!
We donned our costumes, grabbed our pillowcases, and began the trek up and down the Third Line.
Some of the lanes were long. Very long. Very, very long. So, we often had a debate at the end of each lane, with our friends, and decided whether it would be worth the walk.
Up and down the Third Line we scampered, running up the long lane-ways, and along the dark country side roads.
Kids today, might be surprised to learn that people didn’t decorate their homes, nor did they have elaborate displays on their front steps, or in their yards.
Most people didn’t have any decorations at all, and the ones who did, usually had a single, jack-o-lantern, on their front porch.
In small, rural communities like ours, it wasn’t unusual to be invited inside, and whoever answered the door would try to guess who we were!
We’d stay inside for a few minutes, and might be asked how our parents were doing, or how things were going at school. Some people would even ask us to sing a song, or tell a joke, to earn our candy. It was all good-natured fun. Often, the person who answered the door would remind us to be careful crossing the roads, or ask us to say hello to Mother and Dad for them.
It’s true, we may not have had glamorous costumes, and the decorations were a little bit sparse in those days, but the homemade treats and goodies made up for that.
It was not uncommon to receive farm fresh apples, loose peanuts, homemade fudge, and Hallowe’en Kisses. There was no need to check the treats before eating them. We knew everyone, and they knew us. They were our neighbours, our classmates, our friends.
So….which house on our route the tastiest treats?
By far, hands-down, the best fudge on the Third Line was at Radford’s and Korry’s. Mrs. Radford’s fudge was legendary in the area, and Ethel Korry’s fudge was so creamy, and silky smooth! Sometimes Mrs. Korry and her daughter-in-law Merle, were still busy cutting the fudge into little squares when we arrived, and they’d wrap them, and place them in little bags for us.
(see Mrs. Radford’s fudge recipe at the end of the story!!!)
One of the best stops for trick-or-treating on the Third Line was the popular general store – Cavanagh’s – owned by Jim and Helen.
The Cavanagh’s were generous with their candy, and some of our favourite treats were the Pixie Stix, the Thrills, and the Gold Rush gum.
Kraft Caramels were a popular treat, and many of the neighbours would throw a handful into our pillowcases, along with some pumpkin teeth candies.
Our Mother often made caramel apples, with fresh apples from our orchard.
One of our favourite treats on Hallowe’en were Mother’s homemade caramel popcorn balls. She mixed freshly-popped popcorn, with the melted caramels, in a big metal pot, on top of the old stove. She shaped them into a ball, let them dry on a cookie sheet, and wrapped them in plastic, before handing them out at our front door.
Those were certainly nights to remember! – Long, dark, lanes in the country, our costumes made from discarded clothes, and our pillowcase sacks!
The cool fall air, and the tall, bare, maple trees that lined the dark roads, leading up to the farmhouses, all added an air of suspense, as we ran from house to house.
Homemade treats, fresh from our neighbour’s kitchens, couldn’t be beat.
We even had a little song that sang on Hallowe’en, and perhaps it will bring back some memories of those happy Hallowe’en nights, of our youth:
There weren’t many tricks…
There was no shortage of treats
Hope you enjoyed our trip back in time, to those magical Hallowe’en nights, along the Third Line!
As promised, a recipe for the best fudge on the Third Line.
Oh the Radford family’s lane was soooooo long! I have to admit that it wouldn’t have mattered to us kids if their lane was ten times as long, we would have gladly made the trek for a few precious pieces of Mrs. Radford’s homemade fudge!
Mrs. Radford’s Fudge:
(kindly shared with us – from Nancy (Radford) Tarle)
Mom’s Cream Candy
2 c brown sugar
½ c milk (any kind including Carnation)
¼ c butter
1 tsp vanilla
Boil the first two ingredients, stirring constantly on lowest heat required, to maintain low boil, until soft ball stage in cold water. Add butter and vanilla, (and nuts if desired). Beat until thick, with electric mixer, then finish beating by hand until no longer shiny, and begins to harden around sides of pot. Pour into pan.
A note of thanks to the families who lived along our ‘Hallowe’en route’. Thanks for always making us feel welcome in your homes, and thank-you for some of the best treats around!
And a big thanks to my Hallowe’en companions, who spent weeks in advance of the big night, planning our homemade costumes, and who trudged up long country lanes with me, giggling and laughing all the way, who dodged the occasional firecracker thrown at us in DeWitt’s Corners, and who will always be a part of these special memories – you know who you are…. Patti Jordan, Debbie Majaury, Jane Munro, and Susan Munro. Thank-you for all the good times.
For more memories of Hallowe’en in the 1960s and 1970s:
“Recipes & Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen”
Hallowe’en was observed by the Irish settlers in Lanark County, in the earliest times, beginning in 1816, after their arrival in Drummond Township. At that time, it was not a holiday centered around children collecting candy, but instead, marked a spiritual night when the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest, allowing spirits, good and evil, to pass through.
The celebration of All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en originated in Ireland, with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, (pronounced sow-win (sow sounds like cow). The Druids, the high-ranking members of the Celts, built enormous bonfires, and everyone in the community, young and old, gathered around. The Celts wore simple costumes, consisting of animal skins, to hide themselves from evil spirits, and believed that on that special night, they had the ability to tell each other’s fortunes.
Samhain marked the end of the harvest, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. The Celts believed that on October 31st, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
When the evening’s celebrations around the fire were over, each family brought a small torch from the bonfire, and used it to re-light their hearth fires at home, believing that it would protect them during the coming winter.
Lanark County Irish Hallowe’en
There were many ancient customs, traditions and even food, associated with the early Irish settlers to Lanark County, each year, on October 31st. Although many of the pioneers were Roman Catholic, a handful of customs from the times of the Celts still remained. Some of the traditions were centered around the idea that everyday people were able to predict fortunes on this special night. A traditional Irish fruit loaf was baked, which held specific symbols that were believed to predict each person’s fate. (recipe below)
A large part of the evening was the telling of ghost stories. Some of the early settlers were not able to read nor write, so the story-telling was a way to pass down their traditions and beliefs, so that the next generation would remember them.
On Hallowe’en, after dusk, when the last light had faded from the sky, it was customary light a few candles, push back most of the furniture against the walls, and sit around the hearth. The lady of the house would serve the fruit loaf, with butter, jam, and tea, shots of whiskey for the grown-ups, and the telling of the ghost stories would begin…..
This is a story that was told in the 1930s in Perth, by Jimmy McNamee, our father’s cousin, about the night his parents Mary Quinn, and Maurice McNamee, heard a Banshee, while they were walking down a dirt road, coming from a house party.
Legends say that the cry of the Banshee foretells of a death, and the old timers claimed that only those with pure Irish blood running through their veins, could hear the cry of the Banshee.
Some of the Irish settlers said that the Banshees were withered, scowling old women, but many said the Banshees were pale, fair-skinned beauties with red flowing hair, who could bewitch men with their charm. It was said that each family had its own Banshee, and that they followed the people who left Ireland, across the ocean, to their homes in the new world.
Not long after they were married, in the late 1860s, Maurice, and his wife Mary, were coming home after a dance at a neighbour’s house. They were walking down a bush road when they heard a cry unlike anything human they had ever heard. It was half sobbing, half moaning cry, as though someone was in distress.
Mary Quinn McNamee said, “Maurice, can that be a Banshee?”
Still fairly close to the neighbour’s house, they decided to turn around and go back, and tell the others what they’d heard. During the short walk back to the house they heard the cry a second time, and just before they reached the front door of the house, they heard it again.
After reaching the house, they told the neighbour and the rest of the guests what they’d heard, and everyone came outside to listen, but the cries were not repeated.
Three days later a man died accidentally in the bush close to the house where the dance was held……
Many stories were passed down over the years about Jimmy Whelan’s tragic drowning, and his beautiful young lover, who still walks at night, along the shores of the Mississippi River, searching for her beloved Jimmy. This story was told and re-told in the area of Ferguson Falls, particularly at the infamous Stumble Inn, operated by Billy McCaffrey.
The Phelan family (this family pronounced their name as Whelan), had a farm along the 11th concession of Drummond Township, backing onto the Stafford farm. The two farms were separated by the Mississippi river. My great-grandfather, Thomas Stafford, was a friend of Daniel Phelan, younger brother of Jimmy, so he knew the family well. It was well-known in the area that of all the children in the family, Jimmy, was his father’s favourite, and in the father’s will, Old Man Phelan even singled him out, referring to him as “his beloved Jimmy”.
James ‘Jimmy’ Phelan, of Drummond Township
It was said that Jimmy possessed a spirit of wanderlust, and instead of working on the family farm, he was drawn to the excitement of living in a lumber camp, moving from place to place, along the river. All winter long they cut and hauled tall white pine logs, to the Ottawa River’s nearest tributary, and in the spring, when the ice broke up, they floated the logs down the river. One year, the water on the Upper Mississippi was particularly high, and a dangerous jam formed. The jam shifted, and Jimmy and the foreman, both standing on floating logs, were knocked into the cold icy waters. The foreman was rescued, but they didn’t recover Jimmy’s body for over half an hour. It was a terrible tragedy.
In the old days, the Irishmen would sit outside of Charlie Hollinger’s hotel, and one of the stories they told was about the ‘gates of glass’. They believed that at dusk, between the rising and the setting of the moon, when the waters were still, the veil between the world and the spirit world becomes very thin. It was said that spirits could pass from one realm to another through the still waters, and this was known as the ‘gates of glass’.
Many years later, following the death of Jimmy’s former lover, people in Ferguson Falls began to see what appeared to be a misty image of a young woman, walking along the shores of the Mississippi. The old timers said it was the spirit of Jimmy’s beloved, trying to reunite with him.
They say she still walks along the river at dusk, searching for Jimmy.
Although there were three hotels at one time in Ferguson Falls, perhaps none had such a wild reputation as the Stumble Inn. The hotels in the village were popular with the locals, travelers, and the lumber crews who worked along the river. The difference between the larger hotels and the much smaller Stumble Inn was that the smaller bar chose to ignore the local laws for their operating hours, and so, alcohol could be purchased at almost any time, including Sundays. There was even a Sunday ritual among some of the male parishioners of the nearby St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic church – to stop by, before, or after services, for a wee nip of whiskey.
The Stumble Inn, Ferguson Falls
The longer business hours of the Stumble Inn were perhaps one of the causes of the legendary fighting that took place at this small establishment. More drinking, naturally led to more fighting. Apart from the fighting though, it was also a place where a young musician, like Dad’s uncle, Jimmy Richards, could bring their fiddle or flute, and were encouraged to entertain the patrons; and so, it also became known as a venue where the budding musicians of the area gained experience performing for the crowds. Along with the music, and the fighting, there was card-playing, gambling, and story-telling.
Billy McCaffrey, owner of the Stumble Inn, passed away in 1940, and most of the old musicians who played there are long gone. Some say that if you walk along the river near the Stumble Inn, on a warm summer’s eve, you can still hear the echoes of the music and the laughter – the spirits of the old gang who frequented the Stumble Inn.
(William Henry ‘Billy’ McCaffrey, owner of the Stumble Inn, was a cousin to the Staffords, through his grandfather, Peter McGarry, brother of our great-grandmother, Betsy McGarry Stafford.)
Michael McNamee and his family sailed from Warrenpoint, Ireland, on the ship, ‘Dolphin’. According to stories passed down by Michael, the voyage took seven weeks, and he sailed in the company of Michael Stanley of Stanleyville, and Michael Cunningham, who settled in Perth.
It was a common belief at that time, when the Irish immigrants arrived in Canada, that their particular banshees, family fairies, and little people, came with them.
Michael’s son, Maurice McNamee, and his helper, George Murphy, worked as charcoal burners on the west side of the hills, close to Westport. They lit the wood, and covered it with a bed of sand so that the wood might be merely charred instead of being burned. They sold the charcoal to local families, and it was used for cooking, to heal wounds, to ingest in the case of food poisoning, and to mix with ash to make cleaning products.
One morning, Maurice and George returned to their work site, and found the sand they poured over the charcoal pit was covered with tiny foot-prints. The prints were about two inches long, and were in the same shape as a human foot. Both the marks of the heels and the ends of the toes were very clear, and the entire surface of the pit was covered with the footprints, as though some tiny folk had been dancing on the mound.
Maurice and George did not want to disturb the sand. They wanted someone to come and see the prints to verify what they had found. There was no camera in those days, and they had neither pen nor paper with them to draw a sketch of what they’d seen……
Maurice told the story often, and then his son, Jimmy McNamee, passed the story down to the locals in the Perth area. Jimmy was a bit of a legend in the area for his story-telling skills, and often came to one of the hotels in Perth, and passed the old stories down to all who were interested. Our Dad heard that particular story from Jimmy in 1935, in Perth, and passed it down to us.
(According to Jimmy, ghost stories were not told at daytime activities like barn-raisings or at gatherings in broad daylight. It was in the evening, gathered around the hearth, or a bonfire, that the stories were to be told by the old-timers, and passed down to the younger folk, from one generation to the next. Jimmy’s son, Sylvester, was married to Dad’s cousin, Bridget ‘Carmel’ Stafford)
Predicting Your Future Husband with an Apple Peel:
All of the young ladies present at the gathering carve a long single peel from an apple, and toss it over their shoulders. It is believed that the peel will fall on the floor in the shape of their future husband’s initials!
Fortunes Told with Saucers
Another custom involved the placing of three saucers on the table. Salt is poured onto one saucer, the second saucer holds a ring, and the third saucer holds a small mound of earth. Each person is blindfolded, and led around the table three times, and then places their right hand on one of the saucers. If they touch the saucer containing the earth it is a reminder that the time is not far off when they will be but a handful of graveyard soil; if they touch the saucer with the ring it means that a happy marriage will be theirs; and if they touch the salt they will cry tears in the next year.
Leaving a Path for the Fairies
Many believed that on Hallowe’en the fairies like to come in, and warm themselves at the fire. It is customary to move the furniture back toward the walls, and leave a clear path from the front door to the fireplace so the fairies will come in, sing and dance with the family, and tell them what the future holds.
Many bake a special cake for Hallowe’en called a Barmbrack. Inside the cake the baker places a match, a tiny piece of cloth, a ring, a thimble, and a button. The cake is cut into pieces, and given to those present at the gathering. The person who finds the match will have conflict in their life, whoever finds the piece of cloth will suffer from poverty, the person finding the ring will be the next to marry, the one who finds the thimble will not marry, and if a man finds the button he will be a bachelor forever.
Traditional Irish Barmbrack for Hallowe’en
2 ½ cups chopped dried mixed fruit
(raisins, apples, currants, cherries)
1 ½ cups hot brewed black tea
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ cup marmalade
1 tsp finely grated orange peel
Soak the dried fruit in the hot tea for 2 hours, then drain and gently squeeze out excess tea.
Stir the flour cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda together in a bowl
Beat the egg, and combine with the sugar, marmalade, orange zest, and tea-soaked fruit
Fold in the flour gently and pour into the pan.
Bake in a greased 9-inch Bundt pan at 350, for 1 hour, or until the top of the cake springs back. Allow to cool in the pan for 2 hours before removing.
Wrap the objects in waxed paper (thimble, ring, etc.) and press into the cake through the bottom before serving.
The loaf may be served with tea in the afternoon, after dark on Hallowe’en, or may be sliced, toasted and served with butter and jam for breakfast
And so, the spooky traditions of Hallowe’en were passed down through the generations, from the earliest Irish settlers in Lanark County, and on down through the years, from the old timers, to the young ones.
The ghost stories were told, and re-told, at night outside, around the Hallowe’en bonfire, or in the home around the hearth. Shots of whiskey were often served, or for the younger folks a cup of strong black tea, along with a slice of the traditional buttered fruit loaf.
As the evening progressed, and the whiskey took hold, there was always music, fiddling, flute-playing, singing of the old traditional songs, the telling of jokes, and many exaggerated tales of glory from days gone by.
Whether you spend your Hallowe’en in the traditional ways of our Lanark County Irish ancestors, or you have your own customs that you practice on this special night of the year, have a very happy and safe Hallowe’en, and be sure to watch out for the ghosts, and the little people!
For more Lanark County Irish Ghost Stories:
The story of Jimmy Phelan and the Ghost of Ferguson Falls, in its entirety, in “Lanark County Calling: All Roads Lead Home”.
For the complete story of the Banshees in North Burgess Township, and the Little People of Westport – “Lanark County Classics: A Treasury of Tales from Another Time”
For more information on The Stumble Inn of Ferguson Falls – “Lanark County Collection: Winding Our Way Down Memory Lane”