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.
“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 – c. 1947
Early History of Stafford House
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.
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, 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.”
Tragedy for the Miller Family: Nov 9th, 1931, Ernest Miller, age 45, Accidental Drowning in Green Lake
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.
Along the fence, at the west side of the property, 1958 – l to r – Judy Stafford, Tim Stafford, Jackie Stafford, and Roger Stafford
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 (Rutherford) Stafford, standing on the sidewalk, facing west
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.
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 (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.
Arlene Stafford, and Roger Stafford, washing his beloved dog, Mike
(the original back porch, accessed through the kitchen on the inside)
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.
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.
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”
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 Stafford in the apple orchard
Arlene Stafford gathers apple blossoms, in the easterly section of the apple orchard, behind the Stafford House – 1964
Arlene Stafford-Wilson (l) and Judy (Stafford) Ryan, in the west section of the apple orchard, behind the Stafford house, 1964.
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.
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.
In the cooler weather, visitors may walk along the fields, where the young Staffords carefully chose their Christmas tree each year in December.
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.
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.
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