Homecoming

“Hearts glowed in friendship, forged over decades,

and the Spirit of Christmas entered the house, and walked among us.”

Christmas House Tour 2014 neighbourhood gals0001

For some people it’s the music of the season, the smell of the turkey, or the glittering gifts sitting under the tree; but for me it was a special visit to the house where I grew up, a homecoming, after a long absence of twenty-two years.

It doesn’t really seem that long ago since our father passed away in 1992, and our mother moved to town. I almost half expected to see him coming from the garage, carrying a tangled mess of Christmas lights, asking me if I’d hold the ladder steady, while he fastened the wire clamps onto the big spruce tree at the front of the house.

When I first heard from Wendy Parker, the current owner of our former home, that it was to be part of a Christmas House Tour, my thoughts turned back to days gone by, of the heavenly smells of Mother’s baking, bright cards in the mailbox at the end of the lane, and special concerts and plays at Calvin Church. There would be eight houses in total on the Christmas House Tour, and the event was sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women, and the money raised would help support education in the community.

Kevin and I arrived early that afternoon, with ample time to visit some of my old, familiar haunts. We drove first to Christie Lake, a place I knew well, the bridge at Jordan’s, where I’d jumped many times into the cool, clear waters. Hot days spent riding bikes with friends on the Third Line, and when that bridge was finally in sight it was like seeing an oasis in the middle of the desert. What a welcome sight it was! And even on this cold, December day, the lake appeared as serene and as lovely as it always did, calm and blue, waiting patiently for cottage season, and the laughter of little ones, the parties and music of the older ones, and a place of peace and serenity for the eldest ones.   We drove along the shore, and then headed back up the Third Line.

Jordan's Christie Lake0001

A visit home would not be complete without making a stop at the church where our Mother brought us every Sunday. This was where we celebrated baptisms, witnessed weddings, and met for comfort after funerals. This was the setting for the Strawberry Socials, Easter Sunday white gloves and hats, the lighting of the advent candles and Christmas Eve. The church stands proudly on Cameron Side Road, looking solid as ever, a place for meeting neighbours, friends, a place for worship, a place for solitude, and a shelter from the storms and turmoil of the outside world.

Calvin United Church December 20140001

We headed back to the Fourth Line and rounded the curve, up to the railroad tracks. There were many strolls along these tracks to the duck pond, watching the beavers at play, seeing the ducks return year after year, raise their babies, and leave at the end of the season.   Memories of sitting under the big tree along the tracks with my brother Roger as we patiently placed a penny each on the rails, sat back, waited for the train to go by, then retrieved our flattened pennies. Many hours in my youth were spent waiting for trains, listening to the sounds of the lonely whistles, and hearing the rumbling and chugging down the tracks as they headed for Perth.

Tracks back the side road0001

This way to the duck pond0001

Tree near the tracks0001

We continued up the side road to the little creek and as soon as I spotted it, I remembered scooping up the tadpoles in my sand pail, and then pouring them into a big glass pickle jar to set on the window ledge in my bedroom. Every spring it was a ritual to catch some of these quick, black tadpoles, or pollywogs, as we called them, and watch them for hours, swimming contentedly in the jar, until we dumped them back into the creek.

Creek behind the house0001

Lowlands behind the house0001

The lowlands, across from the creek were still flooded, and ice was already beginning to form. It was back on these lowlands that we all learned how to skate; not on a flat, pristine ice surface in an arena, but through the weeds, and over the bumps, and up and down the imperfections of a farmer’s field. The fact that our skates were old hand-me-downs was the least of our worries!

Field back the side road0001

We drove up the side road to the laneway and parked the car. As we walked up the lane, the slopes and curves of the land were as familiar to me as if I’d never left, and we made our way to the door and knocked.

Kevin at the Christmas House Tour0001

Christmas House Tour sign0001

Garage - Christmas House Tour0001

Stafford House 20001

Stafford House0001

When the door opened and we stepped inside, the home was beautifully decorated for the season. Wendy’s elaborate table was laid out with her mother’s china and cutlery with festive accents fit for a holiday gathering. The whole house in fact, was lovely and bright, adorned with reds and greens and touches of gold and shimmer. As we walked through the rooms, one by one, they were warm and inviting, and almost made me forget that something was missing – the smell of fresh baked bread, a permanent aroma in our house as Mother baked daily for a family of seven.

There was a lovely display arranged on a table in the den, an album of our Stafford family photos and copies of ‘Lanark County Kid’ and ‘Lanark County Chronicles’. I thought that they looked very much at home in this well cared-for house, so lovingly maintained and obviously cherished.

Perkins' house from window0001

Stafford family photos0001

Sunset from kitchen window0001

Perhaps what made the house seem so much like home, after so many years away, were the familiar faces, friends and neighbours, who came to share the memories, of the things that once were; and to celebrate a new Christmas season, content and happy in each other’s company. Though Wendy’s is the newest face among us, it’s as if she’d been with us all along. Wendy is a gracious hostess, and we all had a wonderful time chatting about the house, and catching up on the news in the neighbourhood.

I walked through the house, room by room, and the memories of the past lurked playfully around every corner.   The house seemed to remember me, and the walls and ceilings surrounded me with love, and kept me warm and safe once again.  It was a special day, and a rare treat to be back home.

………….

Heartfelt thanks to Wendy and to the members of the Canadian Federation of University Women, for making our visit possible, and many thanks also to old friends and neighbours Margery Conboy, Beverly Ferlatte, Betty Miller, Eleanor Paul and her lovely daughter Heather for joining us on our trip down memory lane!

As I continue to bask in the glow of our visit to the old house, I will leave you with this quote from Thomas Wolfe:

“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day we come home again.”

……..

 

 

This story –   in memory of Betty Miller  (1934-2015) – “gone, but not forgotten”

betty-miller

……..

http://www.staffordwilson.com

The Stafford House

 Stafford House

When the book “Recipes and Recollections” was first published in 2011, most people could only dream of visiting its magical setting. As the book gained popularity beyond the local region, it’s likely that many readers had no idea where such places as Glen Tay or DeWitt’s Corners were located. They may have even wondered, “Is it a real place?”

Perched on a gentle hill, a short drive west of Perth, Ontario, the ‘Stafford House’ has become known as one of the area’s most celebrated fictional houses. It is one of the best examples of a building associated with a Canadian author, Arlene Stafford-Wilson, who used the farmhouse as both the inspiration, and the setting, for her popular books.

Built in 1906, the two-storey house, a warm and welcoming residence, was home to the Stafford family for almost 50 years.

Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford, and his wife Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, met during WWII, at the Number 8 Bombing and Gunnery School, in Lethbridge, Alberta.  They married in 1943, shortly before Tib was shipped overseas, to serve in Bournemouth, England.  Their first child, Timothy, was born in Lethbridge in 1944, and their second, Judy, in 1945.

When the war ended, Tib brought his young family back to his native Eastern Ontario. Born and raised on the 11th concession of Drummond Township, he spent his youth on the homestead of his namesake, native of southern Ireland, and an early pioneer settler to the region.

With the help of a Veteran’s grant, Tib and Audry purchased the ‘Stafford House’, from Tib’s aunt and uncle, Thomas Carberry, and Clara (Richards) Carberry.

George Watson started out in Perth after WW2 ended by working as an electrician’s helper at McVeety’s Electrical.  He then hired on to Ontario Hydro as a lineman when the company was first established in town.

Susan Watson:

“Dad recognized your Dad out in the county coming along the road with a big wagon.  He was pleased to see him, having known him in the Air Force in Lethbridge, where my Dad was a pilot for the Ferry Squadron and your Dad was a frame mechanic and your Mum was a fitness instructor.  My Dad and your Mum were both Westerners so they were a threesome of friends.

The hookup for electricity in the 1940’s was a mere 35 amps.  People needing more had 50 amps but that was rare.  Your house had the 35.  Wiring the house was fairly straightforward except for all those bats in your attic and their guano everywhere up there.

In 1948, when we moved to a new wartime house on South Street, your Dad was our milkman!”

 

Stafford House in 1947

Stafford House – c. 1947

 

Early History of Stafford House

The Land

The southwest half of Lot 14, Concession 3, of Bathurst Township, was a Crown Grant, deeded to John Wilson. These ‘crown grants’ were given to loyal soldiers, who served in the British Army. John Wilson, a gunner, with the Royal Artillery, served for 11 years, and 107 days.  Wilson, his wife, and two children were ‘located’ on the property, on September 20th, 1816. The land was officially deeded to John Wilson, on June 20th, 1820.

The Original Owners of Stafford House

– Isabella Thompson Miller & Andrew Burns Miller

Isabella Thompson Miller (1850-1928) born in North Gower, Ontario, was the daughter of Gilbert Thompson and Agnes Callandar.   She was the fifth child of seven, and remained on the family farm in North Gower, until the age of 28, when she married Andrew Miller.

Andrew Miller (1850-1909), was born in Bathurst Township, the son of William Miller and Margaret Burns.  He was the youngest of nine children, and laboured on his parents farm until the age of 28, when he married Isabella Thompson.

Late in the fall of 1896, Andrew and Isabella Miller both age 46, purchased the land where Stafford House stands today, and they moved into a house, built by one of the previous owners.  It is not known at this time, if this was the original dwelling built by the Wilson family.

Unless a settler was of independent means, the early homes built in Eastern Ontario, in the early nineteenth century, were almost always built with logs, cut while clearing the property, due to cost and convenience.  It is quite likely that the existing house, when the Miller family purchased the farm,was constructed of logs:

“Few habitations can be more rude than those of the first settlers, which are built of logs, and covered with bark or boards…. The most that an emigrant can do the first year, is to
erect his habitation, and cut down the trees on as much ground as will be sufficient to plant ten or twelve bushels of potatoes, and to sow three or four bushels of grain.”

MacGregor, J. – 1832,  British America. 2 vols. Blackwood,  Edinburgh

As settlement progressed in Eastern Ontario, and more land was cleared and put into agricultural production, owners often replaced existing log homes with improved structures of frame, brick, or stone.

The Red Brick House

The Miller family, built the existing red brick home, in 1906, ten years after purchasing the property.

When the house was completed, after much excitement and anticipation, Andrew Miller, his wife, Isabella, their three children moved in: Andrew and Isabella were both 56 years old, and their children John, age 25, Ernest, 20, and Nina, 17 years old.

A Wedding!

The house was just 2 years old, when Isabelle and Andrew Miller’s son Sterling, married his sweetheart Jessie, on 8 Sep 1908.  Jessie Graham, was the daughter of John Graham and Jean Hastie.  They were married in Calvin United Church, a short drive from home, on Cameron Sideroad.  Calvin United Church, a fairly new building at that time, was built in 1896, 10 years before the Miller’s completed construction on the house. 

Calvin United Church December 20140001

Calvin United Church, built in 1896, Bathurst Township (Tay Valley Township)

Sudden Death of Andrew Miller

Sadly, Andrew Miller lived less than three years in their brand new home.

It was said that Andrew, age 59, showed no signs of illness, and had worked, as usual, in the barn all day, with no complaints, according to his obituary, published in ‘The Perth Courier’:

“After partaking of tea in the evening, he read for a while and then lay down on the lounge, and slept for about an hour.  Awakening from this sleep, he went out to the stable to see to the horses, which is a usual thing for some of the men in the family to do.  Returning, he again read until about 11:30, when he retired.  Mrs. Miller, being partly asleep, did not notice anything until his deep breathing caused her to call to him.  Receiving no answer, she gave him a slight shake, and finding him not moving she proceeded to light the lamp, and gave the alarm to her daughter (Nina), who proceeded to her parent’s bedroom and received the terrible shock that the vital spark had fled.”

(an excerpt from the obituary of Andrew Burns Miller, ‘The Perth Courier’, February 26, 1909 p. 1.)

The medical examiner determined that on Feb 21, 1909, Andrew died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

At the time that Andrew Miller passed away, his son, Sterling, and his wife, lived two miles from the homestead, also on the 3rd concession of Bathurst Township, and his son, Ernest, and daughter, Nina, were still living at home.

Two More Weddings

In the years that followed, two more weddings were celebrated in the Miller family.  First, Ernest, then Nina’s weddings:

Ernest Miller’s Wedding – 6 years after the house was built

On Sept 4, 1912, Ernest Miller age 26, married May White, of Almonte, daughter of George White and Elizabeth Hossie.  They had two sons, Andrew ‘Gordon’ Miller, born 1913, and John ‘Jack’ Miller, born 1920.

Nina Miller’s Wedding – 13 years after the house was built

Oct. 22nd 1919, Nina, age 30,  married Bill Stewart, age 29, son of  Nicholas Stewart and Mary Ann Robertson, of Bathurst.  Nina and Bill had two sons – Andrew ‘Andy, in 1920, and Kenneth ‘Ken’, in 1922.

Death of Isabella Miller – 22 years after the house was built

Isabella ‘Bella’ Miller passed away, at home, on October 5th, 1928, at age 78.  The funeral was held at home, officiated by D.B. Gordon, of Calvin United Church, then to Elmwood Cemetery in Perth.  Pallbearers were Norman and John Wallace, Edwin and Harvey Miller, her nephews, George Korry, and James Scott.

After his mother, ‘Bella’, passed away in 1928, Ernest, age 42, was head of the household, and continued to farm the land.  His sons Andrew ‘Gordon’ Miller moved to Sudbury, and worked as a smelter, and younger son, John ‘Jack’ Miller moved to Toronto.

Ernest Miller Drowns

“I recall at a very young age, my mother and I were in the basement of the old house, and I was asking questions about who lived there before us.  She said that she believed it was a Miller family, and that one of their children had drowned.  

Mother and Dad didn’t live in the house until 1946, and so it was likely either one of the neighbours who told her this, or perhaps Dad’s aunt and uncle, who owned the home after the Miller family.” 

                                                    Arlene Stafford-Wilson

 

Tragedy for the Miller Family: Nov 9th, 1931, Ernest Miller, age 45, Accidental Drowning in Green Lake

Ernest Miller drowns 1931

 

 

Nina Miller Stewart

– Just three years after the accidental drowning of her brother, Ernest, on April 6 1934 – Nina died suddenly, of cardiac failure, , at the age of 45.

Of the original Miller family – only the eldest brother, Sterling, survived.  Sterling lived to age 82, and passed away in 1962.  Sterling spent his life farming on the 3rd concession of Bathurst, 2 miles from the family home.  His wife Jessie predeceased him in 1950.  At the time of his death, Sterling was survived by his late sister Nina’s sons, Andrew and Ken Stewart, of the Perth area, and his late brother Ernest’s two son’s, Andrew ‘Gordon’, of Sudbury, and John ‘Jack’ Miller of Toronto.

After so much tragedy in the Miller family, the house was sold, and ownership changed from the ‘Estate of Ernest Miller’ to Thomas Carberry.

1936 New Owners of the house – Thomas and Clara Carberry

Tom Carberry, and Clara Richards Carberry, grew up in the Ferguson Falls area, attended the same schools, and also were members of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic church.

Tom was the son of Michael Carberry and Bridget Lynch Carberry.  Tom’s grandfather, James Carberry, was a member of the group that came to be known as ‘The Seven Irish Bachelors’.  The seven young men came from Ireland together in 1820, and made a pact that they would work together, and each would help the other become successful. They also agreed that if they failed, they would return to southern Ireland.  They were: John Quinn, Patrick Quinn, Terrence Doyle, James Power, John Cullen, William Scanlon, and James Carberry.

Thomas Carberry was born at Ferguson Falls, and farmed on the family homestead in his early years.  In 1931, he sold the farm, and he moved to California. Tom had two sisters living in California, Esther ‘Essie’ Carberry Diericx in San Francisco, and Bridget Carberry Zanetti, living in Mountain View, California.

During his years in Mountain View, Tom purchased a fruit farm and operated the business for several years before returning to Canada.

When he returned to Lanark County, in 1936, he purchased the farm on the third concession of Bathurst Township, from the estate of the late Ernest Miller.

Clara Richards, Tom’s wife, was the daughter of Thomas Richards, and Catherine McKittrick. Thomas Richards, farmer, was also a superintendent of schools for the Township of Drummond.  Catherine McKittrick, wife and mother, was said to have skin so fair that she resembled a porcelain doll.

Thomas Carberry and his wife, Clara Richards Carberry lived in the red brick home, and took great care of the surrounding property.  It was during the time they  lived there that Tom’s knowledge of cultivating fruit trees led to the planting and tending of an apple orchard behind the house.  Although the climate was not as favourable as in California, Tom and Clara tended their trees with care, and each fall had a nice crop of McIntosh apples, perfect for pies, applesauce, and snacks.

Tom and Clara remained in the house for ten years.

When their nephew, Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford, returned from the war, with his wife, Audry, and two young children, Tim, and Judy, Tom offered to sell them the home and land.

 

 

This traditional, rural home would become the backdrop for many well-loved books: “Lanark County Kid”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Calendar” and “Recipes and Recollections” “Lanark County Classics” “Lanark County Connections”, and “Lanark County Calling: All Roads Lead Home.

Judy Tim Jackie Roger at the fence

Along the fence, at the west side of the property, 1958 – l to r – Judy Stafford, Tim Stafford, Jackie Stafford, and Roger Stafford

 

Jackie Ronnie Judy Arlene

l to rt. at the bottom – Arlene Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Ronnie Waterhouse (our cousin) Judy Stafford – this shows the location of the old barn. When the barn was torn down in 1961 it was replaced with the white wooden garage, built by Tib and his sons. Still standing today.

Audry in front of the house

Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, standing on the sidewalk, facing west

Judy and Arlene at the front steps

This view shows Judy (Stafford) Ryan (left) and Arlene Stafford-Wilson (rt), along the sidewalk. This was the entrance used the most by the Stafford family.  The area between the sidewalk and the brick wall was used as a flower bed; with brightly coloured tulips in the spring, and then with bright annuals in the summer, like marigolds and petunias.

 

Staffords Jackie Tim Roger Judy Arlene

The Stafford children standing on the sidewalk, facing west, in 1962: l to r – Jackie Stafford, Tim Stafford, Judy Stafford, Arlene Stafford, front: Roger Stafford

Judy near the spruce tree

Judy (Stafford) Ryan, 1964, standing near the steps, on the west side of the house. The spruce tree to her right is mentioned often in the stories leading up to Christmastime. As this tree grew larger over the years, Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford strung brightly coloured lights on the branches. He used small aluminum pie plates behind each light, to act as reflectors, and the modest display could be seen from the Third Line.

The Stafford House, is valued both for its good aesthetic, and functional architecture. Its farmhouse design, places it firmly in Canadian vernacular building traditions of the earliest part of the 20th century. It is of an appealing, sturdy type, very common to many areas of eastern Canada. The interior of the house boasts a classic, traditional design, featuring good craftsmanship, and durable materials.

old back porch

Arlene Stafford, and Roger Stafford, washing his beloved dog, Mike
(the original back porch, accessed through the kitchen on the inside)

new back porch

Arlene Stafford with Jackie Stafford – Building materials can be seen on the lawn as the new back porch had just been completed.   Inside access was through the kitchen.  There were outside steps up to the landing. The clothesline, where Mother stood to hang clothing and bedding, attached to the new back porch, can also be seen in the photo.

Judy at the front door

This photo of Judy (Stafford) Ryan, and the Stafford family pet, Mike,  shows how the entrance appeared in the early 1960s. This was the door commonly used by the family, not the more formal entrance at the center of the front of the house.  The outer door was replaced in the early 1970s with an aluminum-framed screen door.

new garage

 

Many aspects of the interior plan, finishes, and details, have been lovingly preserved, and its overall scale and materials, are enhanced by its setting in park-like grounds, surrounded by stately maple trees.

The author described the family home: “a big beautiful red brick house, smothered in tall maples in the front, and apple orchards at the back, was the magical home of my childhood”

Judy Jackie and Arlene apple orchards

1964 – Judy Stafford, Jackie Stafford, front – Arlene Stafford – to the rear Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford, in front of the apple orchard- the orchard was located behind the house.

Judy in the apple orchard

Judy Stafford in the apple orchard

 

Arlene in the apple orchard

Arlene Stafford gathers apple blossoms, in the easterly section of the apple orchard, behind the Stafford House – 1964

Judy and Arlene in the orchard

Arlene Stafford-Wilson (l) and Judy (Stafford) Ryan, in the west section of the apple orchard, behind the Stafford house, 1964.

 

1967 Christmas

 

the old house

The Stafford House, as it appeared from 1946-1992, while the Stafford family lived there.

Many are charmed by the beauty of the surrounding countryside, and the large and romantic woodland which drifts gently down the hillside, towards the railroad tracks, and the beloved duck pond, mentioned many times in Stafford-Wilson’s books.

tracks back the side road

Nearby, visitors can take a short walk, or a drive down the side road, and see the little creek where the Stafford children caught tadpoles in the spring.

creek-behind-the-house0001

In the cooler weather, visitors may walk along the fields, where the young Staffords carefully chose their Christmas tree each year in December.

Stafford Christmas tree

A Stafford family Christmas tree – fresh-cut from the woods behind the house. Standing at the rear – Judy Stafford, center, mother – Audry Stafford, l to r Jackie Stafford, Roger Stafford and Tim Stafford.   The television was placed along the front wall of the house. To the left of where the television was location, there was a ‘hall’ door, leading to the central outside door of the house, and to the vestibule and central staircase.  The chesterfield, which was a deep burgundy colour, was along the western wall.  The western wall ran parallel to the sidewalk.

View the rolling farmlands, stunning landscapes, and nearby tiny villages of Glen Tay, and DeWitts Corners. Take a short drive up Cameron Side Road, and you will see the charming red brick Calvin Church where the Stafford family attended, another landmark which is mentioned many times in Stafford-Wilson’s books.

Calvin United Church brightened

In 2014, for the first time, the Stafford House was open to the public, as part of the Heritage Perth Christmas House Tour. Special exhibits included photos from the private collections of the Stafford family showing the exterior and interior of the house as it was, when they lived there from 1946 – 1992. Included in the displays were some of the author’s Mother’s original hand-written recipes preserved, previously published in ‘Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from our Mother’s Kitchen”.

Organized by the Perth and District Canadian Federation of University Women, the Heritage Perth Christmas House Tour, featured 8 local homes including the Stafford House, transformed for the holiday season by gifted local decorators.

Christmas House Tour

As the Stafford House changed ownership over the years, sold to the Brady family, then sold by the Brady family to the Parker family, renovations have taken place, including the addition of a front porch, and many modifications to the interior, to modernize the home.

Details of John Wilson’s Crown Grant – “Transactions of Land Grants Made at the Military Depot, Perth, Lanark County 1816 – 1819″, taken from National Archives of Canada, MG9, D8-27, Vol. 1, Microfilm Reel #C 4651

http://www.staffordwilson.com