Groundhog Blues in Lanark County


January always seemed like the longest month on the calendar. It was still cold and dark when February arrived, and there were so many months ahead before we could ride our bikes to DeWitt’s Corners, or Christie Lake.

Each year, we  waited patiently for Groundhog Day.  Would he see his shadow? Would there be an early spring, or would there be another two months at least of these cold, grey days?

Punxsutawney Phil had predicted the onset of spring since 1890 in Pennsylvania, and his Canadian counterpart Wiarton Willie began his annual forecast in the 1950s. At our house we listened closely to both forecasts, hoping that at least one of these rodents would offer some hope of an early spring.

So, we had two possible groundhog predictions, and two different radio stations. There was CJET in Smiths Falls, and Mother would often tune in and listen to Hal Botham after we’d left for school, while she did her ironing. CFRA was her usual early morning station and we’d often hear Ken ‘General’ Grant shouting, “Forward Ho!” as we ate our puffed wheat, before walking down the lane to wait for the school bus.

I could tell that Mother was also growing weary of the long, cold days of winter and if the ‘General’ didn’t report the prediction she wanted to hear then she’d likely turn the dial to CJET hoping that Hal Botham would have another version of the groundhog’s forecast. If it was cloudy, and the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, we’d have an early spring. By the first week of February we didn’t want to hear any other forecast. Six more weeks of winter would be enough to bear, without the possibility of the season being any longer!

When I came downstairs for breakfast that Groundhog Day morning so long ago, Mother had already set up the old ironing board and was busy ironing a linen tea-towel. I asked her if she’d heard the groundhog’s prediction yet, and she didn’t look up, but continued to iron. “It’s just a myth, just folklore”, she said, and she folded the tea towel neatly, and started on the next one.


“So, he saw his shadow?” I asked. “Yes they both did.” she responded somberly, still not looking up from her work, and folded the next tea-towel.

I sat quietly at the old kitchen table, ate my bowl of puffed wheat, drank my orange juice, and took my cod liver oil capsule without even being asked. Six more weeks would mean spring starting sometime in the middle of March…….or would it be even longer?

I finished my breakfast, put my dishes in the old porcelain sink, pulled on my boots and coat, grabbed my wool hat, mitts and lunch pail, and headed out the door.


As I trudged down the long, snowy lane-way to the Third Line, I felt defeated. It was sad how a couple of groundhogs that we didn’t even know could make Mother and I feel so depressed. I didn’t even understand how they could have seen their shadows that morning, because it wasn’t sunny outside at all. I couldn’t see my own shadow, and that meant that our local groundhogs wouldn’t be able to see theirs either.


I didn’t really know where Wiarton was located in Ontario, and didn’t have a clue about Pennsylvania, but I was sure that none of the groundhogs in Lanark County saw their shadows on that cloudy, grey morning in February. Maybe the other groundhogs were wrong! Maybe there would be an early spring after all! Maybe the snow would be gone soon, and I could ride my bike up to Christie Lake again. I had to stay positive. I had to keep hoping. I had to…

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

(an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line
ISBN 978-0-9877026-3-0)

book cover edited resized LC Comfort (1)

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists
Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society
Author of : “Lanark County Christmas”, “Lanark County Comfort”, “Lanark County Collection”, “Lanark County Calling”, “Lanark County Classics”, “Lanark County Connections”, “Lanark County Calendar”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Kid”, & “Recipes & Recollections”
available at local stores or email:

January 6th – Irish Women’s Little Christmas


Little Christmas

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

Irish Toddy

1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar

Boiling water

1 measure of Irish Whiskey (Bushmills or Jameson)

3 cloves

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:

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

Author of : “Lanark County Christmas”, “Lanark County Comfort”, “Lanark County Collection”, “Lanark County Calling”, “Lanark County Classics”, “Lanark County Connections”, “Lanark County Calendar”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Kid”, & “Recipes & Recollections”

available at local stores or email:

Christmas at the Stafford House

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.

Audry (Rutherford) Stafford 1919-2007, Tobias ‘Tim’ ‘Tib’ Stafford 1918-1992

…..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”

Available at:

The Book Nook & Other Treasures

Spark Books and Curios –

Mill Street Books –

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

Author of : “Lanark County Christmas”, “Lanark County Comfort”, “Lanark County Collection”, “Lanark County Calling”, “Lanark County Classics”, “Lanark County Connections”, “Lanark County Calendar”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Kid”, & “Recipes & Recollections”

available at local stores or email:

Irish Christmas in Lanark County

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.

St. Patrick’s Church

Ferguson’s Falls

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

Advent Candles

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.

Soaking Fruit

in Whiskey

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

burning 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 .

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

Off to Church

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


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

Fiddling Time

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.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

Author of : “Lanark County Christmas”, “Lanark County Comfort”, “Lanark County Collection”, “Lanark County Calling”, “Lanark County Classics”, “Lanark County Connections”, “Lanark County Calendar”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Kid”, & “Recipes & Recollections”

available at local stores or email:

September Dreams: Flying South With the Birds

“Where are the birds going?”, I asked, squinting up at the bright September sky, from my vantage point in the vegetable garden. Sitting cross-legged, between two rows of tomato plants, the earth still warm from the late summer sun, shielding my eyes with my hand, straining to see the last few stragglers as they flew over Korry’s barn, and out of sight. It was the second flock I’d noticed that day, another noisy procession, in a big ‘v’ shape, flying from behind the house, over our yard, and across the Third Line.

Korry’s farm

“They’re heading south.” Mother responded, without looking up. She was busy filling her plastic mixing bowl with tomatoes; picking the softest, reddest ones, and leaving the hard, little, green ones on the vines. She was on a mission these past few days to harvest as much as we could from the garden, and preserve it all in glass mason jars, before the frost hit.

hands holding tomatoes

“Why are they going south?”, I questioned.

I was always asking questions, and wondered to myself what it was like to be grown up and have all the answers, and to understand how everything worked in the world.

Mother stopped for a moment and set her bowl on the ground, realizing that I wasn’t going to be satisfied with a short answer. She went on to explain that when the snow came and covered the ground, that the birds wouldn’t be able to find any food, so they had to fly south where it was sunny and warm all the time.

Sunny and warm all the time? With no snow? Why doesn’t everyone go there?

I had so many questions that I didn’t even know where to begin. While I was busy thinking my way through this new information, Mother had picked up her bowl and moved to the next row.

I got up, dusted the dirt from my clothes and ran into the house. If the birds were going south today, then so would I. I ran up the back stairs where we kept the suitcases. I picked up a small one that would be easy for me to carry and lugged it up the main stairs to my bedroom. I grabbed some tee shirts and shorts out of my drawer and placed them in the suitcase.

old suitcase 1

What else should I pack? I would need some food for the trip. I ran downstairs and into the pantry and took a cookie tin off of the shelf. I grabbed a brown paper bag out of the drawer and placed four chocolate chip cookies inside. I took one of the new mason jars from the shelf in the pantry, filled it with milk, twisted the lid on tightly and put it into my suitcase. I was ready to go south.

cookies and milk

I carried my little brown suitcase out to the garden, over to where Mother was working, and announced that I would be going south with the birds. I suppose that after having raised four children before me, she’d heard it all, and she merely nodded, smiled and kept on working.

The two flocks of geese that I’d seen that day seemed to be coming from the side road behind the house, so I decided that I’d head back there, find a flock that was ready to leave and join them. The fact that I didn’t know how to fly hadn’t really registered in my five-year-old mind at that point and I hurried down the lane, turned left and headed down the dirt road, toward the Fourth Line.

country road

I passed the little creek where I’d watched the tadpoles in the spring. I set my suitcase down and peered past the opening of the culvert. There was hardly any water passing through at all; not like the wide stream that rushed through just a few months before. There was only a narrow trickle running under the dirt road and out the other side of the big metal pipe into the lowlands.


No wonder the birds were leaving. The water was drying up, the wild flowers were turning to seed and the sun was sliding down behind Mitchell’s barn a little earlier each evening.

I continued to walk until I reached the railroad tracks. I hadn’t seen one flock of geese since I left home. I climbed the grassy hill beside the tracks, dragging my suitcase until I reached the top and sat down, leaning against the big maple tree, shaded from the sun.

I decided to eat the lunch that I’d packed, and I unzipped my suitcase, and pulled out my bag of cookies, and jar of milk. I finished the cookies, drank the milk, and put the containers back in my case.

little girl with suicase

I leaned against the tree and waited. I saw a few birds darting in and out of the trees nearby, a couple of squirrels, and even a curious chipmunk sitting up on his hind legs, staring at me for a few seconds before scampering away. I didn’t see any geese; not one goose, let alone a flock of geese. Maybe I was too late. Maybe they’d already left. Maybe that was the last flock going south that we saw from the garden today. I sat there and waited…and waited…and waited.

I heard a voice in the distance calling, “Co-boss! Co-boss!”. It was a familiar sound that I heard each evening around seven o’clock, when our neighbour, Chris Perkins, on the next farm, gathered his herd from the pasture, and brought them back to the barn for milking.

cattle at sunset

The sun was sinking lower in the sky, and I knew it would be dark soon. I didn’t want to be outside all night by myself so I picked up my little brown suitcase and climbed down the hill, back up the side road, up the lane, and into our yard, just as the last sliver of red sun was disappearing below the horizon.

country sunset

I opened the old wooden door that led into the kitchen, and set my suitcase down on the rubber mat. Mother heard me come in and called from the living room, “Are you hungry? I kept your supper warm in the oven.” I felt defeated. I didn’t want to tell anyone that I had failed to meet up with a flock of geese and join them on their trip south. The birds had all left for the season, and I was stuck here with the cold and snow. They would have sunny days and warm weather, and I would be walking on chilly floors in the drafty old house, too cold to play outside.

Looking back on that day, so many years ago, I realize that I was wrong about a couple of things. I realize now that I was wrong to think that I could simply pack a suitcase, and join with a group of birds in their southern migration. The second thing was thinking that it was better to be grown up and understand how the world works.

Yes, we grow older and ‘wiser’, but in doing so we lose much of our innocence. We stop believing that anything is possible, and replace our enthusiasm with all of the reasons why we can’t do something.

At this time of year, when the days grow shorter, and the geese fill the skies overhead with their familiar chorus, I like to remember a little girl who packed her bag, and left the security of home, ready to join the flock on their journey. That little girl didn’t tell herself that she couldn’t fly, or that the birds might not want her to come along. She made up her mind, grabbed her bag, and headed back the side road.

Geese flying

Remembering that day, makes me wonder what each of us could accomplish if we stopped listening to the grown-up voice telling us all the reasons why we can’t do something.

What if, even once in a while, we listened to the voice of the child inside of us telling us that we can!

Flying Geese by Stephen Mackey


Illustration:  “Flying Geese” by Stephen Mackey

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Late August at the Train Tracks

“Summer was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness”

Charles Dickens

Considering the amount of time we spent playing at the train tracks near the 4th Line, it’s a miracle that none of us was ever hurt.  Sometimes we’d take giant steps on the railway ties, spaced a little too close for a normal stride, all the while surrounding ourselves with that distinct scent of linseed oil used to preserve them. I preferred to walk on the shiny steel rails and test my balance, although the laws of gravity often won that battle, and I’d fall, stumbling onto the coarse gravel below. Although our parents never told us not to play on the tracks, I imagine they were counting on the fact that we’d have enough common sense to head for the ditch if we saw the green signal light come on, or heard the whistle off in the distance. None of us had any intention of playing chicken with a train.

Train Tracks – Perkins’ Side Road, Tay Valley Township

My brother, Roger, and I, visited the train tracks often, and in a summer ritual that went on for years, we’d each place a penny on the rails, and then sit back under a tree near the tracks, and wait for the train. Two country kids, with no particular plans for the day, and no knowledge of the train schedule, content to sit and wait, for as long as it took, to get our prize, of two flattened pennies. We had no idea at the time that we were learning an important skill that would come in handy later in life, called patience.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson and Roger Stafford, giving a bath to Mike, the family pet, at the Stafford house

The gentle slope under the tree near the tracks, where we sat and waited for the train

It’s sad to say, but kids today couldn’t duplicate this little pastime of ours even if they wanted to. There aren’t many pennies to be found these days, and even fewer kids without a mobile phone which they’d likely use to check the train schedules, removing altogether the element of surprise. After sitting under that tree for what often seemed like hours we were so excited to finally see a train come barreling down the tracks. Once the train had passed by, we’d climb down from our perch, and scramble around to find our pennies sometimes scattered in the gravel, or in the grass nearby, and never on the rails where we’d left them.

I always thought late August was the prettiest time to sit by the tracks, surrounded by the Black-Eyed-Susans, the willowy hay, and the milkweeds. There was something magical about the soft sweet scents of late summer, when the leaves overhead were their greenest, the vibrant wildflowers were at their peak, and the boisterous heatbugs buzzed and sang their songs of the season. The sun streamed down like a warm hug from above, beckoning us to play another game, wander farther down the dusty side road, and dream another dream, on those blissful childhood summer days.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Chaplin’s Dairy – Milk Route

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

“Did the milk taste better

from a bottle?”

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

Milk carrier – room for 8 quart bottles

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

Stafford House

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

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

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

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

Tools of the Trade

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

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

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

Chaplin’s Dairy

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

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

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

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

Tim’s recollections

of the Milk Route:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger’s memories

of the Milk Route:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note from Roger:

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

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

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

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

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

1969 – Perth Junior Farmers

Tour Chaplin’s Dairy

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

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

1977 – Chaplin’s Dairy Sold

“Chaplin Brothers Bid Farewell to Family Business –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1974 – Processing Milk Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1982End of Home Delivery

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

The Milkman Cometh No More

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

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

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

March 27, 1982

Last Day of Milk Delivery

in Perth

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s pretty significant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was no choice but to cease and desist.”

Chaplin’s Dairy For Sale

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

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

To read more about Chaplin’s Dairy:

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

Available in stores and online.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Mother’s Farmhouse Preserves


From Mother’s Country Garden

Hamburger Relish and Strawberry Preserves

During the summer months, Mother was busy with her preserves, and we could never be sure which of the many delightful aromas we’d encounter in the old kitchen.  It might be fresh tomatoes stewing and simmering away, or the sharp scent of the chili sauce.  If the cucumbers were ready in the garden, we’d smell dill, or onions, or sweet mustard boiling on top of the stove.  My favourite scents were the berries – raspberries, strawberries and sometimes strawberry-rhubarb.

Mother in the kitchen 1

Mother, busy in the kitchen, at Stafford House

Preserving the fruits or vegetables from the garden was a necessary task in the summer months with so many hungry kids in our house.  Jars were filled, labelled, and stored in the pantry, in neat rows on shelves, and the extras lined up along the floor.  Pickles, vegetables and jams were a welcome sight mid-winter, when the fresh crops from the garden were a faded memory.

The Spirit of Summer Brought Back to Life

Imagine coming down the stairs on a cold winter morning, walking across the chilly floor, a layer of ice on the inside of the windows and then seeing a mason jar of homemade jam in the middle of the kitchen table.  It was as though the spirit of summer was brought back to life after its long wait in the pantry.  The toast would pop up, and the jam would be spread generously, on the thick slices of homemade bread.  The berries, picked at their peak of perfection, tasted sweet and fresh, and were a temporary escape from the harsh weather that lay waiting, outside the kitchen walls.

The preserves at our house were never complicated, and the ingredients were basic.  There was no extra money for fancy additions to the recipes, so they contained only things at hand.  Because of their simplicity, they retained the true flavour of the vegetable or fruit, and it was as though the essence of the harvest was captured and frozen in time, in those precious little jars.


Recipes passed down through the generations.  Photo: Arlene Stafford-Wilson, Granny Rutherford, Audry Rutherford Stafford in front of Stafford House, 1967

Mother’s Farmhouse Strawberry Jam

The Strawberry Jam recipe that follows contains only three ingredients – strawberries, sugar and lemon juice.  It is simple to make, and will keep for a year if stored in a cool place.  It also doesn’t require any fancy ‘gear’ to make it.  We had no special pots or kitchen ‘machines’ at home, and yet year after year, Mother managed to dozens of prizes at the local fairs, with her simple recipes.

What you’ll need:

2  pounds of fruit – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, etc.

4 cups of white sugar

One quarter of a cup of lemon juice


Before you get started, boil your mason jars for ten minutes, and let them dry upside down on a towel.

Crush the berries with a potato masher in a saucepan, then add the sugar, and lemon juice

Stir over low heat to melt sugar, then, bring to a full, rolling boil for two minutes

Pour into jars, leaving a half inch of space at the top, and screw lids on tightly

Place filled jars in a deep pot until water is one inch over the top, and boil for five minutes

Remove, apply a label if desired, store in a cool, dark place for up to one year.

Hamburger relish

Hamburger Relish

4 c ground cucumbers

1/2 c ground red sweet peppers

3 c ground celery

4 Tbsp. salt

2 c white vinegar

1 1/2 c ground green sweet peppers

3 c ground onion

1 Tbsp mustard seed

2 1/2 c. white sugar

1 Tbsp. celery seed

(sprinkle vegetables with salt, and let stand for 2 hours)

Drain well

Bring juice to a boil

Stir in Vegetables and bring to a boil

Simmer for 10 minutes

Fill into mason jars

Enjoy the sweet taste of summer, all year round!

Mother and Dad 45th wedding anniversary

Mother and Dad, summer of 1988, with Korry’s farm in the background

stafford-house Perth Ontario

Stafford House, Tay Valley Township, Lanark County, Ontario, Canada

More Recipes

(recipes from “Recipes & Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen)
ISBN 978-0-9877026-09
available in local stores, or online


photo: kids on the book cover – Tim Stafford and Judy Stafford Ryan, from 1947

Bustling With Bats – Summer Nights in the Country


As the fiery red July sun sank low on the horizon, finally disappearing behind Mitchell’s barn, the first bats of the summer evening swooped low, along the maple trees in our yard.  Their small, dark, shadowy figures glided effortlessly, along the lowest branches, and dotted the skies over the clothesline, at the side of the old house.

stafford-house dusk

Stafford House, Bathurst Township, (Tay Valley) Lanark County


The little brown bats returned to our yard every spring, and the mothers produced just one baby each year, around the middle of June.  By the end of July, the babies took their first flights, as they were weaned off of their mother, and began to eat insects.

bats baby

Although some people were afraid that the bats would fly into their hair, they made a high frequency sound that bounced back, and prevented them from colliding with anything – other than the mosquitoes they feasted on nightly.

Because they were nocturnal creatures, we never saw them in the daytime, as they hung upside down, under the eaves of the roof, or sought shelter in the attic, above the kitchen.  Around sunset each summer evening, they begin to soar around the yard, swooping and gliding, along the branches, seeking out the bloated mosquitoes that dined on us, as we sat outside in the evening.

bats tree

Mother and Dad didn’t mind sharing our yard with the bats. Our parents sat on their lawn chairs, enjoying a plate of homemade oatmeal cookies; Dad with a coffee in hand, and Mother with her lemonade.

lawn chairs

The summer days were hot, often humid, and the only form of air conditioning in the old house was to open a window, and hope for the best.  Sitting outside under the big maple trees in the evening was a nice way to cool down, and reflect on the events of the day.  We’d glance down the lane, watch the cars going by on the Third Line, and one at a time, turn on their headlights for the night.

country road night

The crickets and bullfrogs were in full chorus by then, as more and more bats appeared, and the sky became a dark cloak, shrouding their movements in secrecy.  Small flashes of light moved along the front garden, as the fireflies began their nightly parade, competing with the bats for our attention.


As the summer season unfolded, there would be many nights like this.  We’d sit outside to cool down, after a long hot day, and we became the audience for the sunset performance of the small brown bats, and their aerial show.

Mother and Dad would eventually rise from their lawn chairs, and fold them up for the evening; carrying their empty cups, and the scattered crumbs remaining on the cookie plate.

cookie crumbs

The bats would continue their hunt for food long after we’d gone into the old house, gliding and darting in the yard, as we slumbered peacefully through the warm summer night.

sleeping child


(an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line, ISBN 978-0-9877026-30)

LC Calendar

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

A Lanark County Kid at Expo ’67

Expo 67

Throughout the entire year, in 1967, there were special events planned all across Lanark County, to help get everyone into the spirit of the 100th anniversary.  There was even a special flag created that year.

Expo flag

It was a stylized maple leaf made up of 11 triangles, representing the provinces and territories. I remember that the Lions Club was selling these flags in Perth, and one of the first places to hang one was at ‘The Perth Courier’ offices.   The grade eight students at Queen Elizabeth School went one step further, and constructed a three dimensional version of the flag.  They had a special ceremony at their school, with some local dignitaries – Rev. J. Gillanders did a devotional service. The Principal Miss Jean Blair was there, John Scott, Mayor Burchell, and Jack Wilson.

expo maple leaf

The Royal Canadian Mint issued new coins for the centennial year.  Each coin depicted a different Canadian animal – the back of the dollar coin had a Canada goose, the fifty cent piece was a wolf, and the back of the quarter was a lynx.  The Bluenose schooner on the back of the dime was replaced with a mackerel, the nickel featured a rabbit, and the one cent coin had a dove. It was also the last year that pure silver was used in our coins.

centennial coins


Mother and Dad decided that they would like to go to Montreal that year for the centennial celebration called ‘Expo ‘67’.  This was a kind of ‘world’s fair’, and was to be held in Montreal, Quebec, from April to October that year.  There were 62 nations in total that participated, and they each had displays and ‘pavilions’ set up to showcase their countries.  It was held on Ile Sainte-Helene, and Ile Notre-Dame, on an already existing island, and some ‘created’ islands as well.  There were likely many discussions back and forth between Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and the mayor of Montreal Jean Drapeau, to get everything just right. Canada would be hosting many nations of the world, as well as its own citizens celebrating their centennial.

Man and his world

Dad was delivering milk, door to door in Perth, working for Chaplin’s Dairy in Glen Tay at that time, and he would have his usual two weeks of vacation in July.

Chaplin's Dairy


It was decided that one of Dad’s vacation weeks would be spent at ‘Expo ‘67’, and Mother, who was the usual arranger-of-travels, began to look for accommodations. Mother read in the newspaper that there were families that lived close to the exhibition grounds in Montreal, who were renting rooms in their homes, and so she began making some phone calls, and writing some letters.  She found an English-speaking family who lived within walking distance to the Expo; they even had a little girl that was a couple of years younger than me, so that I would have someone to play with.  This seemed like an ideal choice.

Now came the tricky part……..  Dad did not like driving in heavy traffic.  He did not like driving in Quebec. He did not like driving on freeways.  Hmmm……Mother was going to be asking him to drive on busy highways, in Montreal, to probably what would be the most congested area for traffic in the entire country that summer.  This was going to be ‘interesting’.

The months passed by quickly, like they always do.  There were lots of celebrations going on all over Lanark County, and so, because it was such a busy year, I think that the time passed even faster than usual. The big week finally came.  It was time for Dad’s vacation.  The weather was hot and sunny, and we packed up the old Buick with our well-worn suitcases, and we drove down the lane, turned left onto the Third Line, and headed for Montreal.

Buick     suitcase open  suitcases closed


We crossed over at Glen Tay, and turned right onto Hwy 7, and headed east.  It wasn’t long before we saw the signs telling us how many miles it was to get to Ottawa.  Mother said we’d be passing by Ottawa on the Trans Canada Highway, and then continuing on to Montreal.

Dad didn’t like driving on the Queensway; not at all.  By the time we passed Bayshore I could see that he was getting a little ‘hot under the collar’.  By the time we got into Quebec, and were getting close to Montreal, I discovered for the first time in my life, that my father was bilingual. No, he couldn’t speak French.  He had grown up on the 11th Concession of Drummond Township after all, on a farm, in the 1920’s and 30’s. No, there wasn’t really any French being spoken up there.  No, the language that he started speaking, just outside of Montreal that day so long ago, was a completely new one – one that he likely wouldn’t want to be speaking when he dropped Mother off at Calvin Church on Sunday mornings.



Mother was giving him ‘the look’, and for once, it didn’t seem to be having any effect.  Apparently, from what I could gather, Dad was not too impressed by the skill level of the drivers in our neighbouring province of Quebec.

heavy traffic

Once we got into the downtown core of Montreal, we were trying to find the house where we’d be staying.  Dad got lost a couple of times before we finally arrived, and once again he demonstrated his fluency in a second language.  He would not, under any circumstances, stop and ask for directions, and Mother was frantically unfolding and re-folding the city map of Montreal. I sat quietly in the back seat, and hoped that we’d be there soon.

montreal map

We finally found the house, and pulled into their driveway.  They were very friendly people, and came right out to our car to greet us.  Their names were Jimmy and Vicki Irvine, and their little daughter Sharon was there beside them.  Jimmy helped Dad carry the luggage inside, and they showed us the room where we’d be staying, and I had a nice little cot on the floor, on one side of their room.

Mrs. Irvine was very kind, and she already had our supper on the stove.  She and Mother chatted in the kitchen, and Dad and Jimmy went back outside so Dad could have a smoke.  Sharon took me downstairs to their basement, and wow, their basement was really something!  She had more toys than I’d ever seen in my life, and right smack in the center of all of the toys was a spring horse!!  It was a plastic horse, set on a metal frame, and suspended by big heavy springs, and you could climb on its back, and either go up and down, or backwards and forward.  I loved it!  I was going to ask if I could have one of these for Christmas.  I thought to myself that there really wasn’t much chance of that happening, so I’d better enjoy riding it while we were staying here.

spring horse

We stayed with the Irvine family for the entire week.  We’d take the short drive to Expo ’67 each morning after breakfast, walk around, and see all of the different pavilions that were set up to showcase each country.  We even got a little paper ‘passport’ booklet, and a new stamp was added each time we visited another country’s pavilion. That was a pretty cool souvenir!

Expo passport

expo passport inside



Another souvenir from that trip was a little notepad with a red plastic cover, with the centennial maple leaf design on the front, and even better still, I was given three four-leaf clovers.  Mr. Irvine had a patch on his lawn where there were four-leaf clovers growing, and he picked three of them for me to press in my little notepad, before we left at the end of the week.

Expo notepad

4 leaf clovers


Mother and Dad kept in touch with the Irvine family for many years.  We never returned to Montreal, but they sent Christmas cards back and forth each year, for many years, until one year when Mother didn’t receive a card.  It had been many decades since our trip, and Mother wondered at the time if one of them had passed away.  The Christmas before that was the last time we would hear from them. It was sad to have lost our connection with the Irvine family.  Whenever we’d receive their Christmas card each year it always brought back the memories of Expo ’67, and of all of the centennial celebrations.

1960s christmas card


I fondly recall all of the special events in Perth that year, and in different parts of Lanark County.  When I think of the 100th anniversary of confederation, and of Expo ’67, I will always remember the Irvine family, and how they graciously opened their home to us, strangers from another province, that they welcomed us as if we were old friends, and made us feel a part of the big celebration going on in our country that year.

It serves to remind me, even today, that there are good folks everywhere, not just in our own back yards, but all across this great nation of ours.

canada 150



“Patriotism is not short, frenzied, outbursts of emotion,

but the tranquil, steady dedication of a lifetime.”  

                                                                       Adelai Stevenson




(story is an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Kid: My Travels Up and Down the Third Line”  ISBN 978-0-9877026-16)






Arlene Stafford-Wilson