Pakenham Five-Span Bridge


Five-Span Bridge

Original Bridge was Wooden

Like many other bridges in those days the original structure was built of wood, and the elements of heat and cold, freezing and thawing took their toll.  The old wooden bridge needed frequent and costly repairs and it was decided that it would be a good time to construct a more durable bridge. 

The Pakenham Township Counselors initially considered using iron which was popular at the time, but since the iron bridges were floored with wood they decided instead to build a stone bridge which would be longer lasting and more economical to repair.  Plans were drawn for a five arch bridge, and a call for tenders was issued.

O’Toole and Keating of Ottawa

O’Toole and Keating of Ottawa won the bid, with an agreement to construct the bridge for $13,000.  Ads were placed in local papers including the ‘Almonte Gazette’ and ‘The Perth Courier’ looking for bridge carpenters.  They were offered an hourly wage of between $2.25 and $2.50, depending on experience, and a foremen would be hired at $3.00 per hour.

Building the Bridge

The work began on August 23, 1901 and was completed on October 23rd, an impressive seven weeks ahead of their proposed time limit.  Seventy local men were employed.  A steam-drill was used in the local quarry and a total of four sixty-foot mast derricks were used. It is believed that the quarry was located nearby.

Limestone Quarry

The bridge was constructed from limestone rock. The largest limestone block in the bridge is about 9 feet long and about 2 and a half feet square, weighing over 5 tons. Limestone is an ideal material for this type of construction because it is resistant to heating and thawing, does not deteriorate when road salt is used, and is easier to mine than other similar types of rock.

Massive limestone blocks cut from the local quarry

In the early 1900s there were an abundance of stone-cutters and mason who were skilled in cutting and shaping the limestone required for the bridge.

Five 40-Ft Arches

The finished bridge was 268 feet long with five forty-foot arches and was said to be the only one of its kind on the continent.  James Connery, Township Clerk, John Smith – Reeve, John Shaw, Michael Connors, William Shaw and Adam Millar – Pakenham Township Councillors all played their part in the planning and execution of the new structure. 

Mr. Robert Surtees of Ottawa prepared the blueprints and was the Engineer in charge of construction. William McDowall was the Inspector of the work, and Joseph Murphy of Arnprior was the book-keeper in charge of the budget while the work was in progress.  George Quackenbush, local photographer, provided area newspapers with photos of the finished project. 

Postcard – 1910

Detail of the arch construction

A view of the historic Pakenham bridge – the only one of its kind in Canada

Details from the placque at the bridge site

“Anyone who’s been to Pakenham will tell you that the awesome sight of this mighty river swelling and surging under the historic five-span bridge will remain forever etched in your memory. “

photo: Lanark County Tourism

Restoration in 1984

“The Almonte Gazette”

July 25, 1984, “Almonte Gazette”

The bridge was restored in 1984. The stones were carefully removed and cataloged, before being reinstated into their original position. A bed of reinforced concrete was set underneath the stones for additional strength.

Oct. 31, 1984, “Almonte Gazette”

Nov. 21, 1984, p. 1 “Almonte Gazette”

Total Cost

The cost to build the bridge in 1901 was $15,400, including the construction of a temporary bridge for use during the project.

The 1984 restoration of the bridge cost $380,000. Of this, $150,000 was paid by the NCC (National Capital Commission, and $25,000 by the Ontario Heritage Foundation.

2007 Flag

Pakenham amalgamated with Almonte and Ramsay to form Mississippi Mills in 1998. The bridge was chosen as one of the principal symbols for their flag in 2007.

In the Movies

The 2020 Christmas movie, “Fatman”, (starring Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins and Marianne Jean-Baptiste) features a driving scene filmed on the Pakenham bridge.

Seven Wonders of Lanark County

Designated as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Lanark County’, the Pakenham Bridge will continue to delight visitors and residents alike, with its breathtaking vistas, and rich history.

The bridge is located at 4916 Kinburn Side Road.

For a story set in Pakenham and the nearby Five-Span bridge:

“Lanark County Classics: A Treasury of Tales from Another Time – featuring the story, “Perils in Pakenham” Story features many local family names.

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:

Mother’s Farmhouse Pancakes

Christmas had come and gone for another year, and by early January we were back in our classrooms at Glen Tay Public School. Frigid, gray mornings were spent shivering at the end of the long lane, waiting for the big orange school bus to come rattling up the Third Line.


Even though the winter solstice had passed, the days in Lanark County were still short and dark for the most part. The cold months that were still to come stretched out ahead of us like the long, heavy, trains that thundered and chugged down the tracks, back the side road, near the Fourth Line.

This way to the duck pond0001

Winter in the country sometimes looked barren and lifeless. The soft green grass and fragrant flowers were almost forgotten, as they lay dormant under the heavy blanket of snow. The massive, frozen, white shroud seemed to conceal every trace of life that had ever existed in our yard.


Evenings after school were spent shoveling, pushing, and lifting the snow, from one pile to another. Week after week more snow fell, and it blew and drifted back into the paths that we’d made.


I was always cold, always shivering, cold face, cold hands, cold feet on the floors of the old house. Even with layers of tattered, wool blankets on the bed, the icy drafts snuck into my room, and the windows were coated in a heavy layer of frost. The wood stove in the kitchen eventually died out over night, and my glass of water on the bed-side table was frozen like a miniature hockey rink by morning.


The turkey sandwiches, so delicious on Boxing Day, began to lose their luster, as the first few days of the new month found us eating the leftovers from the enormous Christmas bird. Turkey soup. Turkey pot pie. Turkey casserole. Would it ever end? Endless stacks of sliced turkey were stored in the old chest freezer for those daily turkey sandwiches, dressed with mustard, salt and pepper, staring up at me from my lunch pail at school.


One morning that same January, before heading off to work, at Chaplin’s Dairy in Glen Tay, Dad requested, ever so politely, that we have eggs for supper that evening. Eggs were one of Dad’s favourite meals, any time of day. He liked them fried, over easy, boiled, scrambled, any way at all, and that was his request for supper. My fingers were crossed that Mother would comply and take a break from her relentless production of turkey leftovers.


What a treat it would be to have a nice, light supper after so many heavy meals, rich baked goods, and endless servings of turkey! After Dad left that morning, Mother decided that she would indeed make fried eggs and pancakes for supper, so she began to assemble her ingredients. Hopefully she had everything she needed, or one of us would be making a long, cold trek down to Cavanagh’s store in DeWitt’s Corners.


Mother began her preparations on the old kitchen table. I breathed a sigh of relief, welcoming a change from the endless turkey leftovers. On that cold winter’s evening, so long ago, when Dad returned from work, we had the very best cure for a January Turkey Hangover.



Audry Stafford’s  Farm-style Buttermilk Pancakes

3 cups all purpose flour

3 Tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of cinnamon

3 cups buttermilk

½ cup milk

3 eggs   (Mother always used large eggs)

1/3 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Our Mother, being a prize-winning baker at the Perth Fair, had a few good tricks for making her pancakes light and fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

First, let your buttermilk, milk and eggs sit out for a full hour before making the pancakes. By allowing them to reach room temperature the pancakes will rise higher and fluffier.

Use real butter, don’t substitute with margarine, or the flavour will not be as good.

Make sure that your baking powder is fresh to give as much lift and height possible to the pancakes.

Use real buttermilk. If it’s not possible to use real buttermilk, you can sour some regular milk by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to each cup of milk. The recipe will still work, but the flavour will not be nearly as rich as using real buttermilk. We always had a quart of buttermilk in the fridge because Dad liked to have a small glass at night before bedtime. Buttermilk is low in fat and very high in protein.

What is Buttermilk?

In case you don’t know, buttermilk is the fluid remaining when the fat is removed when cream is churned in to butter. When I was a kid, farmers separated the milk from the cream on the farm, and shipped cans of cream to cheese factories once or twice a week. The cream would be used to make cheese and butter. Today, cultured buttermilk is produced by adding lactic acid to pasteurized whole milk and adding a touch of salt.

Don’t forget – Mother always warned us not to stir the pancake batter too much. Over-stirring will cause the pancakes to be flat, not fluffy. Just stir ever so slightly, don’t worry about the lumps of flour, just combine the wet and dry ingredients together gently with a wooden spoon or spatula; don’t over-mix.


Use a large bowl and combine your flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

In another large bowl, combine your eggs, buttermilk, milk, melted butter and vanilla.

The wet and dry ingredients should be kept separate until you are ready to make the pancakes.

Next, heat a lightly oiled frying pan at medium-high heat. To test the temperature you can add a drop of water to the center of the pan, and it should bead up and sizzle.

When the pan is ready, you can mix the wet and dry ingredients. Remember, just mix very lightly, and don’t worry about the lumps. Never over-stir. This is very important.

Scoop up the batter with a ladle and use about half a cup for each pancake. When one side is golden, flip it over with a spatula and cook the other side. Add more oil to the pan as required.

This recipe will make a dozen 5-inch pancakes.

If you have any leftover pancakes, you can let them cool, place waxed paper between them and freeze.

Top the finished pancakes with salted butter and some Lanark County Maple syrup. For a fancy look you can sift a bit of icing sugar on top.

lanark-county-maple-syrup    maple-syrup

If you’re having eggs with your pancakes, like we did, fry them up in a little bacon grease for added flavour. Mother always poured her leftover bacon drippings into a small container and kept it in the fridge. Use it for frying eggs, onions, and home-fries, and make an old fashioned country-style meal.

So cure your January turkey hangover, enjoy some fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes!


Note:   To discover   “10 Things You May Not Know About Maple Syrup”, and for a listing of the top maple syrup producers in Lanark County:  10 Things You May Not Know About Maple Syrup


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:

Allan House & Cecil Hotel Perth

Dining staff at the Allan House Hotel – Second from the right -Anne Trainor (Kerr), her sister is in the middle. Lizzie Trainor (Menagh), daughters of Michael Trainor and Mary Laughney, c. 1900, Photo: courtesy of Shirley (Kerr) Scott

Allan House

The building was erected in 1845 by John McCallum. In its glory days, Allan House was the largest hotel in Perth, with fifty well-appointed rooms. Owner and operator, Andrew Robinson, was known for his hospitality and he offered free buggy rides to the train and stages.

photo: Middleville Museum, c. 1900

William McEwen operated the horse-drawn taxi which departed from the Allan House every day except Sunday. The fare was thirty-five cents to Balderson and sixty-five cents to Lanark.

Dodds Grocery Store

Dodds Grocery Store was located in the same block as the Allan House Hotel.

Photo: shows Matilda Dodds, age 23, in 1905, the year she married Norman Dodds. Matilda ‘Tillie’, was the daughter of Edward Donnelly and Mary Ann Palmer. The photo was taken he year she was married to Norman, born on the Scotch Line, son of Thomas Dodds and Margaret Munro. Norman and Tillie had one child, Dorothy, born a year after their marriage.

Hotel Sold

The popular Allan House Hotel was sold in the fall of 1911 to Mr. Fitzgerald of Almonte, and the name was officially changed on November 1, 1911 to the ‘Hotel Cecil’

Hotel Cecil

Death in the

Laundry Room

Just a few days before Christmas – one month after the Fitzgerald brothers took over the hotel, tragedy struck, when Rose O’Neil collapsed suddenly, while working in the laundry room of the hotel, and died. She was a daughter of Francis O’Neil of Burgess Township.

Dec. 22, 1911, p. 1, “The Perth Courier”

There were several fires in the building over the years – in 1920, in 1924, and in 1972.

1972 Fire

Residents Escape

In Night Attire

“It was a miracle that no one was killed or seriously injured in the $250,000 fire which swept through the stone building on Gore Street E., near the Town Hall, early Monday morning.

The business and apartment block, owned by Leslie Campbell of Ottawa, was purchased by him just twelve months ago.

The two-storey apartment building, along with a penthouse, was occupied by elderly people, who came to near-panic when the alarm sounded and they found the stairs and halls were filled with smoke.

One lady was carried down from a verandah on the back of a fireman, while another was rescued from a second-storey window. The remainder were led through the smoke by police and firemen and lost all their furniture and private possessions.

Gerald Dean, who was driving south on Gore Street at 3:30 a.m. noticed smoke drifting across the street. He turned on Market to the rear of the premises and saw that the tinsmith’s shop was a mass of flames.

He immediately ran over to the police station and notified Constable Dulmage, who was on duty at the time.

The Constable handed Dean the fire extinguisher while he sounded the fire alarm.

On returning to the scene of the fire, he found the windows of the tinsmiths’s shop were broken, probably due to the intense heat. At that time, he said the blaze seemed to be confined to that one area.

The fire department was on the scene very quickly and Mr. Dean decided to go home to bed, as he thought it was only a small fire.

When he woke at 7 a.m. he was amazed to see the whole building gutted.

In an interview, he said he saw nothing that would indicate how the fire had started.

Firemen from Smiths Falls, Almonte, and Lanark, along with the rural township firemen, helped to quell the blaze.

Four businesses, Thomas Hardware, Avco Finance, a coin laundry and a recently-renovated Eaton’s order office were gutted by the fire. All the contents and records were completely destroyed.

Constable Dulmage went to the Gore Street entrance of the building to arouse the residents on the second floor along with Robert Scobbie of Perth, who had heard the fire alarm and came to help.

The Constable said, “I could see the doors of the apartments when we climbed the stairs and entered the corridor. We banged on the doors and the elderly residents, unaware of the fire, came out in their night attire.

“We led them down the stairs and the smoke was so thick we had to feel our way to safety.”

The residents were then directed to the Town Hall where their relatives were notified and came to give them shelter in their homes.

“To make sure no one was left in the buildings, Scobbie raced back into the smoke-filled apartments for a final check.”

As conditions grew worse, he (Scobbie) found himself stranded and had to make his way out of the building by smashing a window on the second floor.

The brave young man was rescued by Constable Dulmage who heard the crash of glass and placed a ladder up to the window.

The Salvation Army officers were at the scene very quickly to serve hot drinks and sandwiches to the firemen. Nelson King, a local merchant, also served hot coffee during the early hours of the morning.

Firemen Injured

Two firemen, Deputy-Chief David Bell and Ron Jenkins, were taken to hospital for treatment after being cut by flying glass when an explosion took place at approximately 5:45 a.m., in the Avco offices. This is believed to have been caused by combustion building up in the offices, which ran the width of the buildings.

Fire Chief, Jack Andison said, “We were very fortunate to stop the fire from spreading to the attached apartment building. We had problems in fighting the fire due to some old wooden buildings being adjacent to the destroyed portion.”, he said.

The Chief said that the Perth Utilities bucket truck had played an important part in keeping the fire under control, as it was used to lift firemen and hoses to the roof of the building so water could be poured down from an overhead position.

Later, the Almonte Fire Department came to their assistance with an aerial ladder.

At about 6 a.m., the Chief explained, flames were shooting from the second and third storey windows, and the fire spread through the attic and into the tar and gravel roof of the building.

According to a report, the tinsmiths’s shop, owned by Roy Kilpatrick, was securely locked

by Clyde Emerson as he left the building at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. He was believed to have been the last person in the tinsmith’s shop.



The fire is believed to have been caused by an electrical ‘short’.

The staff of the Ottawa Gas Co. was called to the scene and turned off the feeder line to the Coin Wash at 6:30 a.m. All pipes were found to be undamaged and intact.

In an interview with Mr. Campbell, the owner of the building, he said he was called to the fire early in the morning and the gutting of the building was a complete shock to him.

“At the present time,”, he said, “I cannot make any decision with regard to re-building. But I will definitely clean everything up as soon as possible.” The building is believed to be insured for $100,000.

Perth Town Council will be sending letters of citation to Constable Richard Dulmage and local resident, Robert Scobbie for the parts they played in rescuing the apartment tenants.

Letters of citation will also be sent to the local police department, Public Utilities Commission, fire department, and the three other fire departments which responded to the emergency.

Considerable smoke and water damage was done to the adjoining building, which houses DiCola Fuels, New Style Shoppe, and Haggis Candy Store.

All these stores are closed at present for clean-up operations.”

Thursday, November 30, 1972, “The Perth Courier”


Plagued by fires in 1920, 1924, and 1972, there are still some who will recall the most recent blaze that completely gutted the building, and caused damage to the nearby stores.

Although the 1972 fire was tragic, it was also a night of heroes and bravery, and people who acted with courage, going above and beyond, and this story is dedicated to them.

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:

Lanark County Ice Storm 1998

5 Days of Freezing Rain…

On January 4, 1998, the freezing rain began, lasting five days, and Eastern Ontario and Southern Quebec were hit with over 100 millimetres of ice pellets. This storm became one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history.

The heavy layers of ice coated tree branches which fell on hydro-electric lines, and soon almost 4 million people were without power, some for days, and many for several weeks.

Maple syrup bushes, some that had been part of family enterprises for generations suffered devastating damage as young trees toppled from the weight of the ice, and branches on older established trees snapped and fell to the ground.

Over half a million people, including seniors in long-term care, were forced from their homes into make-shift local shelters operating on emergency power backup. In some remote areas of Eastern Ontario, the O.P.P. went door to door, providing transportation to shelters making sure that none of the elderly were left to fend for themselves in the cold and the dark.

A state of emergency was declared in Ontario and Quebec, calling on the Canadian Armed Forces to assist in clearing the roads of tree branches and debris, aid in moving stuck vehicles, helping stranded families and assisting in the restoration of power and providing basic necessities. 

Power Outages

“I can’t really believe what all that ice did to our trees”, said Mrs. Conboy, “Our whole property looks like one big brush pile....”

“Many people living outside of Perth were not able to return to their homes, and are staying at the Civitan Hall”

People Flocked to Shelters

Layers of ice coated the power lines

“Days?, Weeks? How Long? Even the Chairman of Ontario Hydro didn’t know.”

“Lanark reeve, Larry McDermott closed the village liquor store, saying it’s too dangerous a time to let people drink.”

Jan. 14, 1998, p. 2 “The Ottawa Citizen”

“Harold Jordan of the Lanark County Fire Service said firefighters have found at least two people ‘semi-delirious’…”

“…severe ice storm that has left millions of Canadians without electrical power.”

Branches snapped and trees fell

“Mrs. Congreves lives on a remote country road in Lanark Highlands Township with her husband and three young children.”

(story continued below)

“Their home was warmed by a wood stove, which also served to heat their food and boil water.”

Jan. 16, 1998, p. 41 “The Ottawa Citizen”

“The main roads were clear but some back roads were still closed due to fallen branches.”

“About 90% of Eastern Ontario’s maple trees have been damaged…”

“Many trees were bent like candy-canes.”

“Last night was the first night I got more than four hours’ sleep.”

“Fire Chief, Dave Smith, performed these same tasks in the Tatlock, French Line and County Road 511 area.”

“This courageous group of young men and women deserves our gratitude for the excellent job done.”

…And then came the floods

in the spring of 1998

April 3 1998 p. 40, “The Ottawa Citizen”

“On Wednesday it was running under the bridge in the village of Lanark, but by the next morning the bridge was flooded.”

April 3, 1998 p. 40, “The Ottawa Citizen”
April 3, 1998, p. 41, “The Ottawa Citizen”

“Flower Station, Joe’s Lake, The French Line, Dateman’s Bridge and Bow Lake have been cut off by the water flowing over the bridges.”

April 3, 1998, p. 41, “The Ottawa Citizen”

“She got out on Wednesday, before the water rose around the walls of her house.”

“For three days, raging flood waters turned the residents of Flower Station into stranded castaways.”

April 5, 1998, p. 18, “The Ottawa Citizen”

“Rugs were floating, a rocking chair bobbed and the refrigerator heaved as the main floor of the two-storey house became part of the Mississippi.”

Flood Map April 5 1998

April 5, 1998, p. 18, “The Ottawa Citizen”

“Dave Willoughby paddles a boat over his front yard…”

Barb and John Baker

The Dean Family

Joe Paul

Shawn and Preston Laming

Debbie Caldwell


Recovery was slow but steady, and gradually the damages caused from the ice storm and the floods that followed later that spring were restored. Many years passed before Lanark County’s maple trees fully recovered and operations in sugar bush businesses eventually returned to normal levels of production.

Stories of the ice storm have been told and re-told, and many of us have vivid memories of those days when ice coated everything outdoors, when our power was out, and in the coldest month of the year there was no heat nor light.

Many of us will also remember the special moments during those darkest times, when neighbours helped neighbours, and strangers became friends.

The days and nights of the ice storm and the spring floods of 1998 were some of the worst times that any of us had ever experienced, but we could also say that these challenges of a lifetime brought out the best in us all.

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:

Lanark County Scottish New Year – Hogmanay

Among the earliest settlers to Lanark County were Scots who came from Glasgow and Lanarkshire, after the Napoleonic war. These immigrants settled mostly in the townships of Dalhousie, Lanark, North Sherborooke and Ramsay. In 1820, approximately 400 families arrived in Lanark County, bringing their skills in cotton weaving, carpentry, blacksmithing and shoe-making. Many of these Scots also brought their traditions from the old country, and one of their most beloved was their New Year’s known as Hogmanay.

Many of these Hogmanay traditions were brought to Scotland by the Vikings in the early 8th and 9th centuries. In some parts of Scotland, like Shetland, the Viking influence remains strong, and New Year is still called ‘Yules’, derived from the Scandinavian word for the midwinter festival of Yule.

Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and was banned in Scotland for around 400 years, from the end of the 17th century to the 1950s. This was because of the Protestant Reformation movement, when it was believed that Christmas was a Catholic feast, and should be banned.

Hogmanay Traditions

It was customary to clean the house, and take out the ashes from the fire. It was also a requirement to clear all your debts before “the bells” sound midnight, the underlying belief was to clear out the remains of the old year, and have a clean slate to welcome in a young New Year.

First Footing

First Footing refers to the first person to cross your threshold after midnight on New Year’s Eve. They must be dark-haired, which is an ancient tradition going back to the days of the Viking invasions, when a fair-haired person could mean trouble for your household.

They must be bearing gifts, and specifically – a half-bottle of scotch whisky, a generous piece of black bun, a few pieces of coal. The whisky and black bun is to ensure that the home has food and drink in the coming year, and the coal is symbolic that the home will be warm in the year ahead.

Once the first footer crosses the threshold (and they can be turned away if they are light-haired), they are led through the entire home. When the tour is finished they place the coal on the fire, offer whiskey to the family, and the black bun is sliced and shared. Next, they kiss every female in the home, and wish them all the best in the new year.

The first-footer should be dark complexioned,

and their name begins with straight, not curvy letters.

First Footing Rules   

The first footer brings all the luck, good or bad, for the year ahead.

They should be male and dark-haired.

They may not be doctors, members of the clergy or grave-diggers, and must not have eyebrows that meet in the middle.

They should bring whiskey, coal, and black bun.

A first footer may claim a kiss from every woman present.

If your First Footer doesn’t meet all the requirements, then the household is heading for an unlucky year.

A toast is made by the First-Footer before he leaves – ” A good new year to all and many may you see”

Torchlight Parade

Fire also plays a special role in Hogmanay customs, and originates in the pagan traditions of the pre-Christian Celts. In modern times, the annual Torchlight Procession in Edinburgh continues with thousands marching through the city center carrying blazing torches.

Scottish Black Bun

Black Bun recipe:

Pastry Case

3 c flour  

1/2 tsp baking powder

6 Tbsp lard

6 Tbsp butter

1 pinch salt

Cold water


2 ¾ c seedless raisins  

2 Tbsp brandy

1 Tbsp milk

2 ¾ c  currants  

1/3 c chopped almonds

1 pinch black pepper  

¼ c mixed peel

1 ½ c flour  

1/3 c brown sugar  

1 tsp allspice  

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 large egg beaten


Grease an 8-inch loaf tin. Blend the lard and butter into the flour and salt and mix in cold water to make a stiff dough. This will be used to line the tin. Roll out the pastry and slice into six pieces to fit the bottom, top and all four sides of the tin. Press into the tin, pressing the overlapped sections to seal.

Mix the raisins, currants, almonds, peel and sugar together. Sift in the flour, add the spices and baking powder, then mix together with the brandy and most of the egg. Add enough milk to moisten.

Place the filling into the lined tin and top with the pastry lid, sealing the edges. Lightly score the surface with a fork.

Brush the top with milk to create a glaze.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 325F 2-3 hours. Test with a skewer which should come out clean; if not, continue baking.

Cool in the tin and then on a wire rack. 

A First-Footer kisses every woman in the household

Auld Lang Syne

Immediately after midnight it is traditional to sing Robert Burns‘ “Auld Lang Syne”. Burns published his version of this traditional New Year’s song in 1788, although it is said the original was written 80 years before that.

To sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ the traditional Scottish way, a circle is formed and hands are joined with the person on either side of you. At the beginning of the last verse, everyone crosses their arms across their chest, so the right hand reaches out to the neighbour. When the song ends, everyone rushes to the middle, still holding hands.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,

We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

New Year’s Morning

Saining the House

There is a Scottish highland custom of saining (blessing) the house and and the livestock, and is still practised today, mostly in rural areas. The ritual involves the drinking of water believed to be magic which must be sourced from a river ford that’s said to be crossed by both the living and the dead. Next is the burning of juniper branches, enough to fill the house with smoke, and is believed to cleanse the house and drive away evil spirits.

After these two rituals are completed, the windows and doors are opened to let in fresh, New Year air, and a wee nip of whisky is taken before indulging in a hearty Scottish breakfast.

“Out with the Old, and in with the New!”

Scottish New Year’s Blessing

Happy New Year!

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:

Perth’s New Year’s Babies 1947-1987


No birth has been as widely documented, or made as public through the media, than the first birth in a new year.  It’s not clear when the tradition of announcing the arrival of a town or city’s first baby began across Lanark County.

In the early 1940s, “The Perth Courier” began to mention the ‘New Year’s baby’ in their listings of social and community events, but it was not until January 1947 that this venerable newspaper started to showcase  the area’s newest resident with a feature story, and often a photograph of baby and mother.

In the January 2nd 1947 edition of “The Perth Courier” for the very first time, there was a long list of prizes to be supplied by local merchants, and instructions to new parents, on how to claim the title of “Perth’s First Baby of 1947”:

“All the parents need to do to secure all these good things for Perth’s first baby of 1947 is to give the Courier a statement of the time and date of the arrival, signed by the doctor or attending nurse.  The Courier will then provide a statement to the parents, which will enable them to pick up the merchandise.  News of the arrival must reach the Courier by Monday, January 6th to qualify.”

In honour of those special New Year’s babies born in Perth, four decades of announcements follow, from “The Perth Courier”, beginning in 1947 through to 1987:


1947 – Ronald Gilchrist  –  Snow Road


1948 – Audrey McCurdy  –  Lanark, Ontario


1949 – Robert Frank –

Canonto, North Frontenac


1950 – Diane Egge  –  Perth, Ontario


1951 – baby ‘Dustin’,  Perth, Ontario1951-baby


1952 – baby ‘Foley’  – Balderson, Ontario


1953 – baby ‘Thomas’, Balderson, Ontario


1954 –  baby ‘Mooney’,  R.R. 1,  Perth, ON


1955 –  baby  ‘Bell’,   Perth, Ontario


1956 –  baby  ‘Dickson’ , Perth, Ontario


1957 –  baby ‘Young’  R.R. 2, Maberly, ON


1958 – baby ‘St. Pierre’,  Sharbot Lake, ON


1959 –  baby ‘Fielding’,  Perth, ON


1960 – baby ‘Kerr’,  Perth, ON


1961 – baby ‘Cordick’,  Perth, ON


1962 –  baby ‘Daoust’,  Perth, ON


1963 –  Heather Pratt, Clarendon, ON


1964 –  baby ‘King’  R.R. 5, Perth, ON


1965 –  Sheldon Barr,  R.R. 1,  Perth, Ontario


1966 –  Heather Paul,  Perth, ON


1967 –  baby ‘Murphy’ , Perth, ON


1968 – Diane Haughian, Perth, ON


1969 –  baby ‘Cameron’   R.R.5, Perth, ON


1970 – Eric Brousseau,  Perth, ON


1971 – Tammie Adam, McDonald’s Corners


1972 – Peter Alexander,  R.R. 5, Perth, ON


1973 –  Matthew Lowery,  Parham, ON


1974 – baby ‘Blackburn’, R.R. 1  Maberly


1975 –  Gregory Young, R.R. 4, Perth, ON


1976 –  Erica Labelle, R.R. 2  Lanark, ON


1977 – Duncan Campbell, R.R. 1, Lanark, ON


1978 – baby ‘Gardiner’ , R.R. 5, Perth, ON


1979 – Christa Rintoul, Clayton, ON


1980 – Trevor Tysick,  Lanark Road


1981 –  Nicole Moore, R.R. 4, Perth, ON


1982 – Liam Ryan, Elgin  ON


1983 – Natalie Lowery,  Perth  ON


1984 – Jennifer Campbell, R.R. 4  Perth, ON


1985 – Wayne Drysdale, R.R. 4, Perth


1986 – Victoria McMunn, Perth, ON


1987 – Jennifer Roy ,  Perth, ON



These babies, began their lives as tiny celebrities in the community, lavished with many gifts from local merchants, some would say had a lucky start to life.

I wonder where these New Year’s babies are today, and if lady luck has followed them throughout their lives?

As they used to say in the 1960s, “You’ve come a long way baby!”


Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member – Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member – Lanark County Genealogical Society

for books: The Book Nook in Perth, Ontario, Spark Books Perth, Ontario, Mill Street Books in Almonte, Ontario


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 Winter Solstice

The Irish who came to Lanark County brought their religious beliefs, some Protestant, but many were Roman Catholic, coming to the new world to escape the English oppression, so widespread at that time in Ireland.

Along with their reverence for God, and their deeply held religious beliefs, they also brought traditions known as ‘the old ways’, customs that had been practiced by the Celts for thousands of years, and passed down in their families.

Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice occurs on December 21st, and is the shortest day and the longest night of the year.

Oak King v.s. Holly King

According to Celtic legends, the solstice marks a great battle each year between the Oak King, who represented the light and summer, and the Holly King who represented the dark and winter. Each year on December 21st, the Oak King would finish victorious at the winter solstice, and daylight would slowly return to the island until it was time to do battle again on June 21st, at the summer solstice.

Dark vs Light

The winter solstice marked the battle between darkness and light, life and death, beginnings and endings. In some Celtic legends the seasonal darkness of the winter solstice was known as ‘the Dream-time’, when Nature invites us to dream, reflect, and feel peace in the darkness, and hope for the rebirth of the earth as the days grow longer. The Celts believed that all beginnings take place in the dark. Like the seeds sown in autumn, they germinate underground through winter before appearing as new green shoots in spring.

Evergreen, Yule Log,

Mistletoe, Red & Green

Many of our Christmas traditions, have Celtic origins. The Celts brought evergreen boughs inside their homes to remind themselves of life, in the cold dark winter. Springs of Holly and Ivy were brought inside to decorate the house in the darkest days, a symbol of hope, as these plants remained green throughout the darkness, just as the people would once again be bright and hopeful as the days grew longer.

Mistletoe was brought into the home as a symbol of fertility, and was brought as a gift to young couples in hopes that their union would be fruitful, and that the family would continue through the generations to come.

The old Celts decorated the evergreens with candles and reflective objects. This was their call to Nature to amplify and increase the natural energy and light of the living green boughs. These were the beginnings of what would become today’s reflective balls placed on the tree, along with tinsel and silver and gold decorations.

Today’s red and green decorations have their roots in Celtic traditions. The red of the holly berries symbolized the bright strength of blood and life, and the green was life everlasting.

The Longest Night

In ancient times the Celts sat outside on the longest night of the year, wrapped in blankets and animal skins, huddled around a bonfire, waiting for the light to appear. Old familiar stories were told, again and again, each year around the fire – some of bravery, and some told of traditions past down through the ages.

Many hours later, a glow was seen along the horizon, as the first shaft of light breaks through the dark – winter has broken, and the summer shall return.

Music begins, and old songs are sung, and the feast is prepared. Men go into the woods and bring back a large oak ‘Yule’ log, in honour of the Oak King, who is victorious, and will bring back the light and the summer to their lands.

Winter Solstice Today

Today, many Irish mark the Winter Solstice at Newgrange, a pre-historic monument in County Meath, Ireland, five miles west of Drogheda. It is a large tomb constructed c. 3200 B.C., and is older than Stonehenge.

Newgrange, photo: Irish Central

Once a year, as the sun rises at the Winter Solstice, it shines directly along the long passageway, and lights the inner chamber and the carvings inside, lasting approximately 17 minutes.

Newgrange, Co. Meath, Ireland

Triple spiral carving, illuminated once a year at Newgrange

A lottery is held each year to determine the sixty people who will be allowed to witness the phenomenon on the morning of the Winter Solstice from inside Newgrange. Winners are permitted to bring a single guest. 

People gather outside Newgrange each year to witness the Winter Solstice sunrise

Winter Solstice 2022

Winter Solstice is on Tuesday, December 21, 2022 at 4:47 p.m., in Eastern Ontario.

Take a moment to pause and remember some of the Celtic traditions practiced by your fore-bearers.

For all those with Irish blood flowing through their veins the Winter Solstice marks the victory of light over darkness, and signals a new start, a fresh beginning, as our days grow longer, brighter, and warmer.

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:

It’s a Wonderful Life – The Real Story

Opened December 1946

“It’s a Wonderful Life” opened in theaters across the country in December 1946. This much-loved family Christmas film was based on a short story called,  “The Greatest Gift”. The initial tickets sales were disappointing, and early reviews were mixed.

The Movie Lost Money

The original film did not make a profit, and actually lost money. It was only many years later when the film became part of  the ‘public domain’, it was allowed to be broadcast without royalty fees. It was during this re-release that television audiences made the film a yearly Christmas tradition in their homes.

“The Greatest Gift”

(the book that inspired “It’s a Wonderful Life”)

Philip Van Doren Stern began writing “The Greatest Gift” in 1939. Stern was a respected historian and was well known for his books and articles on the Civil War. He was born in a small town in Pennsylvania into a family of modest means, his mother Anne was a housewife and his father was a travelling salesman.

Philip Van Doren Stern (1900-1984)

“The Greatest Gift” was his first attempt at fiction. He wasn’t able to find a publisher, so Stern printed 200 copies and sent them to friends as Christmas gifts.

“The Greatest Gift”, by Philip Van Doren Stern, written 1939

One of these copies found its way to a producer at RKO Pictures, who offered to buy the motion picture rights. RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) Pictures, was an American film production and distribution company operating from 1929 to 1959. A Producer at RKO showed the story to actor, Cary Grant, who said he’d be interested in playing the lead role. During these talks, RKO sold the rights to Director Frank Capra’s movie production company, Liberty Films, for $10,000. It was Frank Capra who adapted the story for the big screen. 

Jimmy Stewart

Actor, Jimmy Stewart, played the lead character, George Bailey. Stewart was not sure if he wanted to accept the part. He had suffered some very traumatic experiences during WWII and for a while he considered giving up acting altogether, thinking that it was frivolous and not a worthwhile way to spend his life. When Stewart read the script, he was drawn to the story and agreed to do the film.

Photo: Jimmy with his parents and younger sisters, Mary and Virginia.

Jimmy Stewart’s family in 1918 – (young Jimmy is seated beside his father)

Early Life

James Maitland Stewart was born on May 20, 1908, in Indiana, Pennsylvania, the eldest child born to Elizabeth Ruth Jackson (1875–1953) and Alexander Maitland Stewart (1872–1962) Stewart’s father ran the family business, the J.M. Stewart and Company Hardware Store, which he hoped Jimmy would take over as an adult. Raised a Presbyterian, Jimmy was a devout church-goer for much of his life.

Stewart became the first major American movie star to enlist in the U.S. Army to fight in World War II. During the war he was promoted to the rank of Major following a mission to Germany, in January 1944. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross while he served as Deputy Commander, as well as the distinguished Air Medal. He was promoted to full Colonel in March of 1945, becoming one of the few rise from Private to Colonel in only four years.

Jimmy Stewart receiving a medal in 1944, for his service in WWII

It’s a Wonderful Life

The Story

The plot centered on Bailey, a forlorn man who was considering suicide and wished he had never been born. In the story Bailey meets his guardian angel, who grants him his wish. Bailey soon realized that if he were gone it would leave a gaping hole in the lives of all his family and friends. This was a turning point that brought a renewed love for life and joy in living.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” opened the first Christmas after WWII ended. Even though the movie ended on a high note, the film didn’t immediately resonate with audiences. “Our movie just got lost,” said Stewart.

After 1974, the copyright for the movie lapsed, and television stations could broadcast the film at no cost.

A whole new generation watched the film, and its popularity soared throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Over 80,000 people purchased a video cassette recording of the movie in 1986. In 1987, that number nearly doubled.

A Christmas Tradition

Watching the film became a Christmas tradition for many families.

Later in his life, Jimmy Stewart remarked that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was his favourite movie, of all the films made.

Jimmy Stewart’s ‘real’ family

Photo 1954: Jimmy Stewart with his wife, Gloria, and their children Ronald, Michael, Judy and Kelly

Jimmy married in 1949 to his sweetheart, Gloria Hatrick. He waited until he was in his forties to marry, and so he was known for a while as ‘the great American bachelor’.

They bought a home in 1951, raised their family, and lived there happily together until Gloria’s death in 1994. Jimmy passed away three years later, of a heart attack, at the age of 89, on July 2, 1997. President Bill Clinton commented that America had lost a “national treasure … a great actor, a gentleman and a patriot”

Stewart is remembered for portraying the “every-man” character in his movies. His virtuous on-screen persona along with his real-life devotion to his own family made him a lovable representative of the male ideal, and he was considered to be one of the best-loved figures in twentieth-century popular culture.

Five of Jimmy Stewart’s films —Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), The Philadelphia Story (1940), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Rear Window (1954), and Vertigo (1958)— are registered on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is considered to be one of the greatest Christmas-themed movies ever made.

Enjoy this much-loved movie with your family, and make it part of your own Christmas traditions!

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”

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