Ferguson Falls and the Stumble Inn

Photo: “A History of Drummond Township”, by John Ebbs, 1999, p. 21.

Stumble Inn of Ferguson Falls

“It was a little shack very close to the old Mississippi, just across the bridge, coming down from the church; probably not room for more than twelve Irishmen at a time, if they could get along, and if that didn’t work, some would be out in yard ,or in the river.”

Thomas Joseph Stafford (1921-2018)

A view of the Stumble Inn from the Mississippi River

“The Stumble Inn was operated by Billy McCaffrey. He was a very, very, short man, with a curved back. His bar was located right beside the river, when you crossed the old bridge, across the Mississippi River, coming down from the Catholic church. I remember it around 1927 to early 1930s. The horses were stabled across the road in an open shed at Charles Hollinger’s, the auctioneer. We walked across the bridge up to church for mass. After mass the Catholic brethren would stop in at the Stumble Inn. You could get a shot of something for the trip home. There was also a lot of Poker played there, which was frowned on in the community. There were also lots of ghost stories told there.”

quote from 2012 by Thomas Stafford (1921-2018) 

Thomas Stafford, son of Thomas Patrick Stafford and Margaret Doyle Stafford

“There would be music at the Stumble Inn. There was always music where the Irish gathered. I remember Jimmy (Richards) playing the fiddle. I spent quite a few days at Richards’ visiting with your dad ,Tib (Tobias Stafford). Clara (Richards Carberry) would feed us cookies. Jimmy thought we were a pain in the ass, I think. Peter (Stafford) was a great fisherman of mud pouts from the old Mississippi. In Ferguson Falls they were all related, either before or after they arrived in Canada from Wexford.”

(quote from Thomas ‘Tom’ Stafford 1921-2018)

(James ‘Jimmy’ Richards was Dad’s uncle on his Mother’s side. Clara Richards, Dad’s aunt, was Jimmy’s sister. Clara Richards married Thomas ‘Tom’ Carberry, a descendant of one of the ‘Seven Irish Bachelors’ of Ferguson Falls. The Richards homestead was next door to the Stafford homestead on the 11th concession of Drummond Township. Dad’s parents – Anastasia ‘Stacy’ Richards married Michael Vincent ‘Vince’ Stafford – the boy next door) Peter Stafford was Dad’s brother) ‘Wexford’ refers to County Wexford, Ireland. Jimmy Richards played his fiddle at the Stumble Inn on a regular basis. His fiddle was passed down to Dad, then to me.)

Billy McCaffrey, owner of The Stumble Inn

William Henry ‘Billy’ McCaffrey, (1869-1940), was the son of Joseph McCaffrey, and Ellen McGarry McCaffrey. Billy’s ancestor, Thomas McCaffrey was the first settler and resident of the village of Ferguson Falls, arriving in 1815.

Billy’s mother, Ellen McGarry McCaffrey:

Ellen McGarry McCaffrey 1837-1917

Ellen McGarry McCaffrey and her husband, Joseph McCaffrey had ten children:

  1. Mary McCaffrey 1861-1944 – was a tailor
  2. Julia Ann McCaffrey 1863-1944
  3. Thomas McCaffrey 1866-1913. Thomas married Margaret Doyle and they lived on the McCaffrey homestead on the 8th concession of Drummond Township. Thomas died age 46 of tuberculosis
  4. Peter McCaffrey 1867-1895 – died age 28 of dropsy
  5. Wm. Billy McCaffrey 1868-1940 – saddler by trade, owned a hotel in Ferguson Falls, and later, owned the Stumble Inn
  6. Margaret McCaffrey 1874-1917 died age 43 of pernicious anemia
  7. Loretta McCaffrey 1872-1941 was a dressmaker
  8. Gertrude McCaffrey 1875-1918 died age 38 of pernicious anemia
  9. Josephine McCaffrey 1877-1931 trained as a nurse and worked in New York, died age 52 of cerebral hemorrhage
  10. Teresa McCaffrey 1879-1935, married Martin Sylvester Grace. Their children: Harold Francis Grace, Ursula Grace Kehoe Bent, Helen Grace Butterworth, Kathryn Grace Daley, and Reverend Sister Anna Gertrude.
Ellen McGarry McCaffrey, daughter of Peter McGarry, niece of pioneers Elizabeth McGarry Stafford and Tobias Stafford

After operating his successful and much-loved community gathering spot, the Stumble Inn, Billy passed away in 1940.

“The late Mr. McCaffrey was a man of sterling qualities, and possessed the good-will and esteem of all who knew him.”

Billy McCaffrey’s obituary from “The Perth Courier” Aug. 2, 1940, p.3
Billy’s and some of his siblings, St. Patrick’s cemetery, Ferguson Falls

Ferguson Falls

(sometimes written as Ferguson’s Falls, or Fergusons Falls, depending on the era)

Originally known as Milford, Fergusons Falls was renamed in honor of the early settler Captain Ferguson when a post office was established there. This was the closest village to the Stafford farm and was a source for supplies, postal services, blacksmith services, social activities, and later St. Patrick’s Church.

Thomas McCaffrey was the first settler coming in 1815. McCaffrey was a close friend of Tobias Stafford and Betsy (McGarry) Stafford. Thomas was one of the witnesses to their marriage ceremony in St. John’s Church in Perth. He also signed his name as witness to one of Tobias’ later land transactions, and was present at the baptisms of some of the Stafford children.

Other early Ferguson Falls residents were John and Patrick Quinn, Patrick and Martin Doyle, James Carberry, James Power and William Scanlon. Two Stafford girls married into the Quinn family. The Hollinger family was also among the first settlers. By 1857, Ferguson Falls was booming. John Doyle was the Innkeeper, James McCaffrey was listed in the business directory as a Wagon Maker, and John & Michael McCaffrey were the local Blacksmiths. John Stafford, Tobias Stafford and Elizabeth McGarry’s son, was the area Shoemaker, and would later open a shoe store in Almonte, then in Perth. There was also a saw-mill, and a grist mill owned by Robert Blair and a hotel owned by Charles Hollinger.

Some history of Ferguson Falls:

1884 Farmers’ and Business Directory
1904 Business Directory for Lanark County

1916 Farmers’ and Business Directory for Lanark County

A note on the local school:

“In 1894 Miss Mary Stafford taught, and then in 1901-1909 Miss Maggie Doyle of Drummond Twp (who later married Thomas Patrick Stafford).

In 1901 the teacher’s salary was $240.00 dollars a year. In 1905 it was $250.00. 1943-1946 Miss Mary Phelan of Lanark was the teacher. Her salary was $1000.00 a year and she had 9 pupils.”

(quote from Gail McFarlane, taken from the Tweedsmuir history of Ferguson Falls)

S.S. # 15 Drummond Township School, class of 1928-29, with our cousins, Thomas ‘Tom’ Stafford (1921-2018) , Patricia ‘Pat’ Stafford, and Nora Stafford, (children of Thomas Patrick Stafford and Margaret ‘Maggie’ Doyle Stafford) Original photo at the Lanark Museum.
“The Perth Courier”, August 10, 1934 part 1 of 3
“The Perth Courier”, August 10, 1934 part 2 of 3
“The Perth Courier”, August 10, 1934 part 3 of 3
“The Perth Courier” Sept. 13, 1962, p.3
“The Perth Courier” Sept. 13, 1962, p.3
“The Perth Courier” Sept. 13, 1962
James ‘Jimmy’ Phelan (pronounced Whelan) Local lore says his lost love wanders in Ferguson Falls, along the Mississippi River at night, searching for Jimmy. The Phelan farm backed directly onto the Stafford homestead on the 11th concession of Drummond Township. Tim Doyle of Lanark village is said to have written the song.

Ballad of Jimmy Whelan

All alone as I strayed by the banks of the river
Watching the moonbeams as evening drew nigh
All alone as I rambled, I spied a fair damsel
Weeping and wailing with many a sigh.

Weeping for one who is now lying lowly
Mourning for one who no mortal can save
As the foaming dark water flow gently about him
Onward they speed over young Jimmy’s grave.

She cries, “Oh, my darling, please come to me quickly
And give me fond kisses that oft-times you gave
You promised to meet me this evening, my darling
So now, lovely Jimmy, arise from your grave.”

Slowly he rose from the dark, stormy waters
A vision of beauty more fair than the sun
Saying “I have returned from the regions of glory
To be in your dear loving arms once again.”

“Oh, Jimmy, why can’t you tarry here with me
Not leave me alone, so distracted in pain.”
“Since death is the dagger that’s cut us asunder
Wide is the gulf, love, between you and I.”

“One fond embrace, love, and then I must leave you
One loving farewell, and then we must part.”
Cold were the arms that encircled about her
Cold was the body she pressed to her heart.

Slowly he rose from the banks of the river
Up to the heavens he then seemed to go
Leaving this fair maiden, weeping and mourning
Alone on the banks of the river below.

(local Irish legends told of the ‘gates of glass’, where one could pass between this world and the next, through the water of a lake or river, at dusk)

“The Perth Courier” continued from article above
“Perth Courier” article – continued
“Perth Courier” article continued
“The Perth Courier” – article continued
“The Perth Courier” – article continued
“The Perth Courier”, Sept. 13, 1962, p3, end of article

A Return to Our Roots in 2012

Archives Lanark celebrated their 10th Anniversary in October of 2012, at the Ferguson’s Falls Community Hall.  There were local dignitaries from Drummond Township, and Doug Bell made a presentation of a 200 year old artifact, – an original settler’s trunk from pioneer Sutton Frizzell, and his land documents that were found in the trunk. 

Sutton Frizell’s trunks presented by Doug Bell to Archives Lanark
Sutton Frizell, one of the first elected Councillors in Drummond Township in 1850, along with Thomas McCaffrey, Murdock McDonald, Patrick Dowdall, and John Thompson

There were also displays showing some highlights of the work that the Archives has done, and the variety of resources available for local researchers. 

Ferguson Falls Community Hall, Oct. 12, 2012
Archives Lanark 10th Anniversary – Arlene Stafford-Wilson at the book-signing table
Archives Lanark 10th anniversary 2012 – entertainment by ‘Memory Lane’, Mark Labelle on guitar on far left, Leo Scissions on guitar, with Heather Johnston on fiddle, and Jack Greer on banjo. (thanks to Stacey Horne, Arlene Quinn, and others who provided the names of the band members)
Archives Lanark 10th anniversary – with Elaine Morrow, from DeWitt’s Corners

Archives Lanark 10th anniversary 2012, with Lanark County Genealogical Society members,
Arlene Stafford-Wilson (left) and Irene Spence (rt)
Archives Lanark 10th Anniversary in 2012, with Lanark County Genealogical Society President Janet Dowdall (left) , and LCGS member, Arlene Stafford-Wilson
Arlene Stafford-Wilson at the Authors Corner, Ferguson Falls Community Hall, October 2012

Autumn in Ferguson Falls

quote from “Lanark County Connections: Memories Among the Maples”

Picturesque Ferguson Falls, along the Mississippi River

Stafford family Sunday drives in the 1960s and 1970s began on the Third Line of Bathurst, often involved detours though Balderson and Lanark village, but they always seemed to end up at Ferguson Falls. Our father was born and raised on the 11th concession of Drummond Township, on the ancestral Stafford farm, settled by pioneer, Tobias Stafford in 1816. Our ancestor spent his first year on what became known as Stafford Island on the Mississippi River before building a home.

In the earliest days of the settlement, priests would travel to these small communities, and Sunday mass would be held in someone’s home. Once St. John’s Church in Perth was built, the pioneers travelled by horse and buggy, or horse and cutter, to attend services, until 1856, when St. Patrick’s Church was established, along the river.

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, and my brother, Roger Stafford, in Ferguson Falls

…And so, we returned again and again to Ferguson Falls on our Sunday drives; to the pretty village in Drummond Township. We listened to our father’s accounts of the glory days of the Prestonvale ball team, and the long walks to school in snowstorms. We always stopped at St. Patrick’s church, and walked up and down through the rows of the graves of our ancestors. Dad’s parents were buried there, and his grandparents, and the oldest ones, who had come from Ireland. The old families were all connected by marriage – Quinn, McKittrick, Richards, Carberry, Carroll, Ryan, McCaffrey, and the rest; and he pointed to the headstones as we walked through the rows.

There were always stories of the infamous Stumble Inn, across the bridge from the church, and the card-games, and the drinking, and the fighting. We heard about Billy McCaffrey and how he sold whiskey at all hours of the day and night from his modest establishment. We learned of the Hollinger family and the generations of local auctioneers, and their busy hotel that catered to loggers. The loggers danced in their spiked boots and old Charlie Hollinger had to replace the floors once a year. We heard about the McEwen family and visited their popular maple shack in the spring. We heard the local names over and over: Blair, McFarlane, Horricks, Rathwell, Cullen and Kehoe.

We learned that the Irish Roman Catholics were a devoted bunch, loyal to their church, but also possessed an entirely different belief system that included ghosts and fairies, and the little people. We heard about Jimmy Whalen, a neighbour to the Stafford family, and how his lover could still be seen late at night walking along the banks of the Mississippi River, searching for her long lost Jimmy.  We listened to stories about the lumber wars in the old days between the McLaren and Caldwell families, and the yearly cattle drives to Carleton Place.

The Sunday drive always ended the same way, with a visit to Lloyd and Evelyn Dickenson’s store for an ice cream cone and a bottle of Pure Spring pop.  Dad and Lloyd talked about the old days, and walked together along the shore, near the cottages, recounting tales of catching bullfrogs, and fishing in the river.

I miss our drives to Ferguson Falls, and stopping for a bag of curd at the Balderson Cheese Factory along the way, visiting the graves of our ancestors, walking where they walked, and hearing the stories of the good old days.  Dad, and his cousin Tom are gone now, but their stories live on. I often wonder if they told the same stories again and again so that we would remember; remember the place where the ancestors settled, remember the customs and legends from the old country, remember so that we could tell their stories, of this special place, called Ferguson Falls.

The old families of Ferguson Falls: Badour, Bennett, Blair, Byrne, Byrnes, Carberry, Closs, Craig, Cooke, Cullen, Cunningham, Cuthbertson, Dickenson,  Donnelly, Doroway, Doyle, Ebbs, Ferguson, Finlayson, Forrest, Giles, Gommersall, Grey, Haley, Harrington, Hartney, Hicks, Hickey, Hogan, Hollinger, Horricks, Ireton, Keefe, Kehoe, Kenny, Little, McCaffrey, McEwen, McFarlane, McGarry, McIntyre, McIlquham, McLaughlin, McLenaghan, McNaughton, Montgomery, Moran, Moulton, Murphy, Murray, Nagel, Neville, O’Connor, O’Keefe, O’Sullivan, Phelan, Poole, Power, Price, Quinn, Rathwell, Robinson, Rothwell, Richards, Ruttle, Ryan, Scanlon, Spence, Stafford, Sullivan, Traill, Tullis.

For more information on Ferguson Falls and St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church: https://arlenestaffordwilson.wordpress.com/2012/07/06/st-patricks-church-fergusons-falls-lanark-county/

For Thomas Stafford’s account of the “Cattle Drives in Ferguson Falls” in “Lanark County Chronicle: Double Back to the Third Line”

For the legend of Jimmy Whelan, – “The Ghost of Ferguson Falls” – “Lanark County Calling: All Roads Lead Home”

The story of “The Stumble Inn of Ferguson Falls”, from the book “Lanark County Collection”

Books available at:

The Book Nook in Perth, Ontario


Spark Books in Perth, Ontario


Mill Street Books in Almonte, Ontario


Arlene Stafford-Wilson

For more information about the author and the books:


Ghost of Ferguson’s Falls

James (Jimmy) Phelan (pronounced Whelan)

Who is the Ghost

of Ferguson’s Falls?

The old-timers said that her name was Mary, a good Catholic girl, from Ferguson’s Falls, who lived just down the hill from the church; but there’s no one left around anymore who knew her. They say she died at home, alone in her bed, a photo of Jimmy clutched in her hands. She never married, although there was always an abundance of interested young lads eager to spend time with tall willowy Mary, a porcelain-pale beauty, with flowing red hair, and the face of an angel.

Mary’s fate, you see, was sealed, the night she heard that her Jimmy was gone forever, drowned in the cold autumn waters of the Mississippi River. Her handsome young log-driver, killed in a log jam. Jimmy was her one true love, and she never got over his death, and couldn’t accept the fact that they’d never be together again.

Gates of Glass

It wasn’t long after Jimmy’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Church, that Mary began to walk along the banks of the river, sometimes in broad daylight, but mostly at night. Some say she was hoping to meet up with him again, and that she believed in the old Irish legends of the ‘gates of glass’. It was one of the beliefs brought from the old country – when the river was still and smooth, that spirits could pass between the two worlds, from our world to the world beyond, and back again. It was believed that the water became a portal, and the Irish called it the gates of glass.

Ferguson’s Falls, autumn, along the river

Mary’s walks along the river went on for many years. They say she was quite a sight at times, in her long flowing dressing gown, often late in the evening, to avoid the questions and the prying eyes, searching for a quiet place where the water was still, hoping to open the gates of glass and reunite with her beloved.

A Letter from

Christopher Forbes

From a letter written in 1923, by Mr. Christopher Forbes, of Perth, Ontario:

“The Phelan family live in this district.  The name is pronounced ‘Whalen’, locally.  James’ brother, Thomas, whom I knew intimately, died a few years ago.  Regarding the James Phalen tragedy, John Smith of Lanark Village, an old timer and singer of the ‘come all ye’ type, wrote the words which I now enclose.  He sings the Jim Whalen song with much pathos, and with that peculiar dropping off of the last word from a singing tone to a speaking voice.  This style of finishing a song is used by sailors and shanty-men.

I was fortunate in meeting an old shanty foreman, Peter McIlquham, well known on the Mississippi River for over half a century, who told me he was present at Jim Whelan’s death.

It happened 45 years ago (1878), at King’s Chute, on the Mississippi River.  Whalen was a river-man under ‘Old Quebec’, a French-Canadian, whose real name was Edward Leblanc.  McIlquham was also a foreman on the river at this time.  Both rafts of longs had come out of Crotch Lake by the river-men.  McIlquham came to assist Old Quebec putting over King’s Chute.  A dangerous and difficult jam formed in the Chute.  ‘Old Quebec’, McIlquham, and Phalen were close together when the jam shifted, and precipitated Phalen into the water.”

May 26, 1876, p. 3, “The Perth Courier”

Gravestone of Jimmy Phelan, and his parents, James Phelan, and Margaret O’Brien Phelan, St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Ferguson’s Falls

The sign as you enter the village

St. Patrick’s Church and cemetery, Ferguson’s Falls, Ontario

The Ballad

of Jimmy Whelan

September 20, 1962, p. 8, “The Perth Courier”


Jimmy Whelan

Like the tale itself, there are two different authors given credit for writing the song – Tim Doyle, of Drummond Township, and John Smith, of Lanark. There was also more than one ballad composed, and the latter, “Lost Jimmy Whelan”, was written about his beautiful young lover, as she wanders beside the Mississippi River, at night, searching for Jimmy.

Lost Jimmy Whelan

All alone as I strayed by the banks of the river,
Watching the moonbeams as evening drew nigh,
All alone as I rambled, I spied a fair damsel
Weeping and wailing with many a sigh.

Weeping for one who is now lying lowly,
Mourning for one who no mortal can save.
As the foaming dark water flow gently about him,
Onward they speed over young Jimmy’s grave.

She cries, “Oh, my darling, please come to me quickly,
And give me fond kisses that oft-times you gave.
You promised to meet me this evening, my darling,
So now, lovely Jimmy, arise from your grave.”

Slowly he rose from the dark, stormy waters,
A vision of beauty more fair than the sun,
Saying “I have returned from the regions of glory
To be in your dear loving arms once again.”

“Oh, Jimmy, why can’t you tarry here with me,
Not leave me alone, so distracted in pain.”
“Since death is the dagger that’s cut us asunder,
Wide is the gulf, love, between you and I.”

“One fond embrace, love, and then I must leave you;
One loving farewell, and then we must part.”
Cold were the arms that encircled about her;
Cold was the body she pressed to her heart.

Slowly he rose from the banks of the river,
Up to the heavens he then seemed to go
Leaving this fair maiden, weeping and mourning,
Alone on the banks of the river below.

Although she’s been gone for many decades, some say they still see Mary, late at night, strolling along the Mississippi River, in Ferguson’s Falls, searching for Jimmy.

Along the Mississippi River, the Stumble Inn, Ferguson Falls – a spot where Mary’s been sighted numerous times over the years

She’s often seen in a long white gown, her fiery red hair cascading down her back, and sometimes she appears to be almost gliding ever-so-lightly along the shores. Is she still searching for that smooth calm water, that portal between the worlds of the living and the dead, to reunite with her Jimmy through the gates of glass?

Will this beautiful apparition in her flowing white gown forever be known as the Ghost of Ferguson’s Falls?

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Read more about the life and death of Jimmy Whelan, and the stories of the beautiful young lady who walks along the river at night searching for her long lost lover.

“Lanark County Calling: All Roads Lead Home”

ISBN: 978-0-987702661

Available at, The Book Nook, Perth, Ontario, Spark Books, Perth, Ontario, Mill St. Books, Almonte, or contact: lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com


A Beautiful Day, So It Is

fred and ethel0001

“It’s a beautiful day outside, so it is.”

“So it is.”   –     It was an expression we heard often, spoken in our father’s even, melodic tones, with a hint of an accent, faded over the past three generations, since his great-grandfather left southern Ireland.

There were many lively expressions, and old customs, that surfaced from time to time, reminding us that our father had grown up in an isolated area, populated mostly by Irish and Scottish immigrants . It was a close community, where the Roman Catholics married other Roman Catholics, whose families had also come from the old country. The traditions of story-telling and singing, fiddle-playing, and hard-drinking were tempered with an absolute and unwavering devotion to family, and to the church.

He grew up in a rural area where the dead were waked in the home. He recalled one particular wake where the deceased, an uncle, was laid out on the dining room table, as was the custom. The drinking had commenced long before the funeral took place in the tiny, packed, St. Patrick’s Church in Ferguson’s Falls. Some would claim that they drank to help deal with their grief, at the loss of their dearly departed. Dad said that some used any excuse to drink. Before the wake was over that night, Dad, a young boy, would see two men pour whiskey down the dead man’s throat.

In the years that followed, he continued to witness the destructive powers of alcohol abuse, as it fueled conflicts, tearing families apart, and caused children to abandon their education in order to support themselves. Determined not to repeat the past, he would not tolerate the presence of alcohol in his own home. This remained unchanged from the early days of dating my mother, through the five decades that would follow, until his death.

A mild natured man, reflective at times, he was hard-working, and steadfast. A farmer’s son, he loved nature, and frequently called us to come and admire the bright night sky, or a hovering hummingbird in the yard. He loved his family, and smiled proudly as we left the nest one by one, to try our luck in the world. When one of us drove away, down the lane, after a visit home, he would stand out in the yard, and wave at the car until it eventually went out of sight. In keeping with his personality, he was not a demonstrative man, and expressed his love for us in a quiet, reserved way.

An avid reader, he cherished the written word, and regularly devoured the epic novels of James Michener, with some westerns by Zane Grey thrown in for good measure. He would be pleased that all five of his children became insatiable readers, and his grandchildren as well, as the passion for prose continues down through the generations.

As the hot, sultry, days of July are upon us once again, I remember this man, who was our father. He worked tirelessly to provide for us and put food on our table. He shared his wisdom with us, and cautioned us, “everything in moderation” and “always think for yourself, or someone else will do it for you”. He was the role model who gave us a strong work ethic, and reminded us to “always keep your word.”

Today, on his birthday, I recall many July 15ths when we celebrated together. I remember the jokes and the laughter, familiar faces gathered around the weathered old picnic table, and our mother beaming, making her way across the lawn, carrying his chocolate layer cake, candles lit….

It’s a beautiful day to remember our Dad,……so it is.


This post in memory of Tobias ‘Tib’, ’Tim’ Stafford
July 15, 1918 – July 18, 1992

(photo: at Stafford House-   l to r:   Tobias  “Tib” “Tim” Stafford, Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, their eldest son,Tim Stafford (standing), seated – Ethel (Burlingame) Rutherford, Fred Rutherford (Mother’s aunt and uncle from Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence County, New York.)  (Home of Christopher ‘Chris’ and Leanore Perkins and family can be seen in the distance.)

stafford house after WWII colourized

Photo at Stafford House – taken at the front of the house, picnic table in front of Mother and Dad’s bedroom window, on the front lawn, facing the Third Line of Bathurst Township.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson


Dad: A Father’s Day Tribute

Tobias ‘Tib’ ‘Tim’ Stafford – 1918-1992

In the quietest moments, without trying to teach, life’s lessons unfolded and we were imprinted forever with a strong work ethic, the power of a kind word, and the value of integrity….

Who was he? What was he like? These are the questions that might be asked by curious grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and their children in the years to come. His descendants will walk this earth, long after our time has passed, when those who knew him in this life are themselves just a memory, a grainy photo in someone’s dusty old album, or a name that’s mentioned from time to time when family members gather together.

His ancestors came to Canada in 1816 and settled in Drummond Township, not far from Ferguson Falls. Both sides were from southern Ireland, and both Roman Catholics, weary of the treatment of their kind by the British, and longing for freedom and the opportunity to thrive and prosper.

Dad was the youngest son, of a youngest son, of a youngest son of the pioneer settler, he was named for.

He attended school in Prestonvale, and played ball on the local team, and the Innisville team were their greatest rivals.

Church attendance was non-negotiable and held at St. Patrick’s each Sunday without fail.

photo: 1896, family of Thomas Stafford & Mary Carroll Stafford (seated in the middle) Thomas was the youngest son of pioneer settler Tobias Stafford and Elizabeth McGarry, 11th concession, Lot 10, Drummond Township. Seated in the front is Dad’s father, Michael Vincent ‘Vince’ Stafford.

(back row: Anne, Mary, Thomas Julia, middle row: Margaret beside her father, and Peter beside his mother, Anastasia seated beside Vince in the front row)

1932 Prestonvale Ball Team

The Prestonvale ball team in 1932, Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford seated 2nd from the end, wearing a tie.

(other players unknown, but may be some of the same players as the 1934 team below)

Prestonvale Baseball Team 1934

Back row: Bob McEwen, Mansell Horricks, Henry McFarlane, Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford, Roy McEwen, Dawson Horricks

Front row: Ossie Rothwell, Billy Tullis, Lloyd Horricks, John Dickenson

St. Patrick’s Church, Ferguson Falls, Ontario – where Dad and his family attended services

He enlisted in WWII, in the R.C.A.F., where he met our mother, while they were both stationed at the No. 8 Bombing and Gunnery School in Lethbridge, Alberta. They married in 1943, and he was posted overseas in Bournemouth, England.

Stafford House

1946 – Dad was discharged from the Royal Canadian Air Force, and he, Mother, and their two babies, Tim and Judy, moved to the home they would occupy for the next 50 years – the Stafford House.

By the 1960s, the family had grown! Left to right – Roger Stafford, Arlene on Judy’s lap, Mother – Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, Dad – Tobias ‘Tib’, ‘Tim’ Stafford, Tim Stafford, and Jackie Stafford.

Dad farmed the land for some years, then the cattle became ill with tuberculosis and had to be destroyed. He hauled milk to local cheese factories, spent some years working on the railroad, a couple of decades delivering milk for Chaplain’s Dairy in Glen Tay, then finished his workdays at Wampole Pharmaceutical on Hwy 7, in 1983, when he retired.

1968 – their 25th wedding anniversary

1988 – 45th Wedding Anniversary – with Korry’s farm in the background

What was he like?

Dad was soft-spoken, and for the most part was even-tempered and easy to get along with. His family was very important to him and he enjoyed spending time together at Christmas, birthdays, and other special occasions. He kept his cars in immaculate condition and loved to take us all for Sunday drives into the country. He enjoyed nature and called us over to see a hummingbird flutter, or a sun-dog in the sky. He loved to hear the birds calling, high up in the maple trees, and didn’t mind the bats swooping around on hot summer evenings. He took great pride in the appearance of his lawn and enjoyed cutting it and trimming the long grass.

Ready for a Sunday Drive – L to R: Roger, Jackie, Tim, Dad, Arlene

How do I remember him on Father’s Day?

He was the slayer of dragons who hid in the dark corners of my room at night. He was the one I ran to during thunderstorms, who distracted me from my fears by showing me his watch with the hands that glowed in the dark. He was a night-time story-teller and a bed-time book-reader. He was the tour-guide on Sunday drives, and the local historian on trips to the cemetery. He believed that everyone deserved a treat – every day, and he brought home chocolate bars, tucked into his lunch pail, for each one of us, every evening. He was a great believer in common sense and had a surprisingly simple solution for almost every problem. He showed us how a man treats a woman he loves as he joked around and also complimented our mother as though they were still dating. He got up each day, dressed neatly, and went off to work, and I never heard him complain about his job, although I’m sure there were times that he could have.

And so as we pause today to thank the fathers of the world, some who are still here, and as we also remember those who are no longer with us, I will finish with a quote that reminds me of this quiet, thoughtful man who we called, “Dad”:

“He didn’t tell me how to live,

He lived, and let me watch him do it”

Clarence Buddington Kelland


Irish Hallowe’en in Lanark County

Irish Hallowe'en in Lanark County

Hallowe’en was observed by the Irish settlers in Lanark County, in the earliest times, beginning in 1816, after their arrival in Drummond Township. At that time, it was not a holiday centered around children collecting candy, but instead, marked a spiritual night when the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest, allowing spirits, good and evil, to pass through.

The celebration of All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en originated in Ireland, with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, (pronounced sow-win (sow sounds like cow). The Druids, the high-ranking members of the Celts, built enormous bonfires, and everyone in the community, young and old, gathered around. The Celts wore simple costumes, consisting of animal skins, to hide themselves from evil spirits, and believed that on that special night, they had the ability to tell each other’s fortunes.


Samhain marked the end of the harvest, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. The Celts believed that on October 31st, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

When the evening’s celebrations around the fire were over, each family brought a small torch from the bonfire, and used it to re-light their hearth fires at home, believing that it would protect them during the coming winter.


Lanark County Irish Hallowe’en

There were many ancient customs, traditions and even food, associated with the early Irish settlers to Lanark County, each year, on October 31st.  Although many of the pioneers were Roman Catholic, a handful of customs from the times of the Celts still remained. Some of the traditions were centered around the idea that everyday people were able to predict fortunes on this special night. A traditional Irish fruit loaf was baked, which held specific symbols that were believed to predict each person’s fate. (recipe below)

A large part of the evening was the telling of ghost stories.  Some of the early settlers were not able to read nor write, so the story-telling was a way to pass down their traditions and beliefs, so that the next generation would remember them.

On Hallowe’en, after dusk, when the last light had faded from the sky, it was customary light a few candles, push back most of the furniture against the walls, and sit around the hearth. The lady of the house would serve the fruit loaf, with butter, jam, and tea, shots of whiskey for the grown-ups, and the telling of the ghost stories would begin…..

lanark county banshee

This is a story that was told in the 1930s in Perth, by Jimmy McNamee, our father’s cousin, about the night his parents Mary Quinn, and Maurice McNamee, heard a Banshee, while they were walking down a dirt road, coming from a house party.

Legends say that the cry of the Banshee foretells of a death, and the old timers claimed that only those with pure Irish blood running through their veins, could hear the cry of the Banshee.  

Some of the Irish settlers said that the Banshees were withered, scowling old women, but many said the Banshees were pale, fair-skinned beauties with red flowing hair, who could bewitch men with their charm.  It was said that each family had its own Banshee, and that they followed the people who left Ireland, across the ocean, to their homes in the new world.

Not long after they were married, in the late 1860s, Maurice, and his wife Mary, were coming home after a dance at a neighbour’s house.  They were walking down a bush road when they heard a cry unlike anything human they had ever heard.  It was half sobbing, half moaning cry, as though someone was in distress.

Mary Quinn McNamee said, “Maurice, can that be a Banshee?”

Still fairly close to the neighbour’s house, they decided to turn around and go back, and tell the others what they’d heard.  During the short walk back to the house they heard the cry a second time, and just before they reached the front door of the house, they heard it again.

After reaching the house, they told the neighbour and the rest of the guests what they’d heard, and everyone came outside to listen, but the cries were not repeated.

Three days later a man died accidentally in the bush close to the house where the dance was held……

ghost of ferguson falls

Many stories were passed down over the years about Jimmy Whelan’s tragic drowning, and his beautiful young lover, who still walks at night, along the shores of the Mississippi River, searching for her beloved Jimmy. This story was told and re-told in the area of Ferguson Falls, particularly at the infamous Stumble Inn, operated by Billy McCaffrey.

The Phelan family (this family pronounced their name as Whelan), had a farm along the 11th concession of Drummond Township, backing onto the Stafford farm.  The two farms were separated by the Mississippi river. My great-grandfather, Thomas Stafford, was a friend of Daniel Phelan, younger brother of Jimmy, so he knew the family well. It was well-known in the area that of all the children in the family, Jimmy, was his father’s favourite, and in the father’s will, Old Man Phelan even singled him out, referring to him as “his beloved Jimmy”.

Jimmy Phelan

James ‘Jimmy’ Phelan, of Drummond Township

It was said that Jimmy possessed a spirit of wanderlust, and instead of working on the family farm, he was drawn to the excitement of living in a lumber camp, moving from place to place, along the river.  All winter long they cut and hauled tall white pine logs, to the Ottawa River’s nearest tributary, and in the spring, when the ice broke up, they floated the logs down the river. One year, the water on the Upper Mississippi was particularly high, and a dangerous jam formed. The jam shifted, and Jimmy and the foreman, both standing on floating logs, were knocked into the cold icy waters. The foreman was rescued, but they didn’t recover Jimmy’s body for over half an hour.  It was a terrible tragedy.

In the old days, the Irishmen would sit outside of Charlie Hollinger’s hotel, and one of the stories they told was about the ‘gates of glass’. They believed that at dusk, between the rising and the setting of the moon, when the waters were still, the veil between the world and the spirit world becomes very thin. It was said that spirits could pass from one realm to another through the still waters, and this was known as the ‘gates of glass’. 

Many years later, following the death of Jimmy’s former lover, people in Ferguson Falls began to see what appeared to be a misty image of a young woman, walking along the shores of the Mississippi. The old timers said it was the spirit of Jimmy’s beloved, trying to reunite with him.

woman in water

They say she still walks along the river at dusk, searching for Jimmy.

Ghosts of the Stumble Inn

Although there were three hotels at one time in Ferguson Falls, perhaps none had such a wild reputation as the Stumble Inn. The hotels in the village were popular with the locals, travelers, and the lumber crews who worked along the river. The difference between the larger hotels and the much smaller Stumble Inn was that the smaller bar chose to ignore the local laws for their operating hours, and so, alcohol could be purchased at almost any time, including Sundays. There was even a Sunday ritual among some of the male parishioners of the nearby St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic church – to stop by, before, or after services, for a wee nip of whiskey.

Stumble Inn

The Stumble Inn, Ferguson Falls

The longer business hours of the Stumble Inn were perhaps one of the causes of the legendary fighting that took place at this small establishment. More drinking, naturally led to more fighting. Apart from the fighting though, it was also a place where a young musician, like Dad’s uncle, Jimmy Richards, could bring their fiddle or flute, and were encouraged to entertain the patrons; and so, it also became known as a venue where the budding musicians of the area gained experience performing for the crowds. Along with the music, and the fighting, there was card-playing, gambling, and story-telling.

Billy McCaffrey, owner of the Stumble Inn, passed away in 1940, and most of the old musicians who played there are long gone. Some say that if you walk along the river near the Stumble Inn, on a warm summer’s eve, you can still hear the echoes of the music and the laughter – the spirits of the old gang who frequented the Stumble Inn.

(William Henry ‘Billy’ McCaffrey, owner of the Stumble Inn, was a cousin to the Staffords, through his grandfather, Peter McGarry, brother of our great-grandmother, Betsy McGarry Stafford.)

Little People of Westport

Michael McNamee and his family sailed from Warrenpoint, Ireland, on the ship, ‘Dolphin’.  According to stories passed down by Michael, the voyage took seven weeks, and he sailed in the company of Michael Stanley of Stanleyville, and Michael Cunningham, who settled in Perth.

It was a common belief at that time, when the Irish immigrants arrived in Canada, that their particular banshees, family fairies, and little people, came with them. 

Michael’s son, Maurice McNamee, and his helper, George Murphy, worked as charcoal burners on the west side of the hills, close to Westport.  They lit the wood, and covered it with a bed of sand so that the wood might be merely charred instead of being burned.  They sold the charcoal to local families, and it was used for cooking, to heal wounds, to ingest in the case of food poisoning, and to mix with ash to make cleaning products.

old fashioned charcoal made in a sand mound

One morning, Maurice and George returned to their work site, and found the sand they poured over the charcoal pit was covered with tiny foot-prints.  The prints were about two inches long, and were in the same shape as a human foot.  Both the marks of the heels and the ends of the toes were very clear, and the entire surface of the pit was covered with the footprints, as though some tiny folk had been dancing on the mound.

Maurice and George did not want to disturb the sand.  They wanted someone to come and see the prints to verify what they had found.  There was no camera in those days, and they had neither pen nor paper with them to draw a sketch of what they’d seen……


Maurice told the story often, and then his son, Jimmy McNamee, passed the story down to the locals in the Perth area.  Jimmy was a bit of a legend in the area for his story-telling skills, and often came to one of the hotels in Perth, and passed the old stories down to all who were interested. Our Dad heard that particular story from Jimmy in 1935, in Perth, and passed it down to us.

(According to Jimmy, ghost stories were not told at daytime activities like barn-raisings or at gatherings in broad daylight.  It was in the evening, gathered around the hearth, or a bonfire, that the stories were to be told by the old-timers, and passed down to the younger folk, from one generation to the next. Jimmy’s son, Sylvester, was married to Dad’s cousin, Bridget ‘Carmel’ Stafford)


Predicting Your Future Husband with an Apple Peel:

All of the young ladies present at the gathering carve a long single peel from an apple, and toss it over their shoulders. It is believed that the peel will fall on the floor in the shape of their future husband’s initials!

apple peel


Fortunes Told with Saucers

Another custom involved the placing of three saucers on the table. Salt is poured onto one saucer, the second saucer holds a ring, and the third saucer holds a small mound of earth.  Each person is blindfolded, and led around the table three times, and then places their right hand on one of the saucers. If they touch the saucer containing the earth it is a reminder that the time is not far off when they will be but a handful of graveyard soil; if they touch the saucer with the ring it means that a happy marriage will be theirs; and if they touch the salt they will cry tears in the next year.

three sauceers

Leaving a Path for the Fairies

Many believed that on Hallowe’en the fairies like to come in, and warm themselves at the fire. It is customary to move the furniture back toward the walls, and leave a clear path from the front door to the fireplace so the fairies will come in, sing and dance with the family, and tell them what the future holds.

Predictions from a cake

Many bake a special cake for Hallowe’en called a Barmbrack. Inside the cake the baker places a match, a tiny piece of cloth, a ring, a thimble, and a button. The cake is cut into pieces, and given to those present at the gathering.  The person who finds the match will have conflict in their life, whoever finds the piece of cloth will suffer from poverty, the person finding the ring will be the next to marry, the one who finds the thimble will not marry, and if a man finds the button he will be a bachelor forever.

Traditional Irish Barmbrack for Hallowe’en


2 ½ cups chopped dried mixed fruit

(raisins, apples, currants, cherries)

1 ½ cups hot brewed black tea

2 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp baking soda

1 egg

1 ½ cups sugar

¼ cup marmalade

1 tsp finely grated orange peel

Soak the dried fruit in the hot tea for 2 hours, then drain and gently squeeze out excess tea.

Stir the flour cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking soda together in a bowl

Beat the egg, and combine with the sugar, marmalade, orange zest, and tea-soaked fruit

Fold in the flour gently and pour into the pan.

Bake in a greased 9-inch Bundt pan at 350, for 1 hour, or until the top of the cake springs back. Allow to cool in the pan for 2 hours before removing.

Wrap the objects in waxed paper (thimble, ring, etc.) and press into the cake through the bottom before serving.

The loaf may be served with tea in the afternoon, after dark on Hallowe’en, or may be sliced, toasted and served with butter and jam for breakfast


And so, the spooky traditions of Hallowe’en were passed down through the generations, from the earliest Irish settlers in Lanark County, and on down through the years, from the old timers, to the young ones.

The ghost stories were told, and re-told, at night outside, around the Hallowe’en bonfire, or in the home around the hearth. Shots of whiskey were often served, or for the younger folks a cup of strong black tea, along with a slice of the traditional buttered fruit loaf.

As the evening progressed, and the whiskey took hold, there was always music, fiddling, flute-playing, singing of the old traditional songs, the telling of jokes, and many exaggerated tales of glory from days gone by.

Whether you spend your Hallowe’en in the traditional ways of our Lanark County Irish ancestors, or you have your own customs that you practice on this special night of the year, have a very happy and safe Hallowe’en, and be sure to watch out for the ghosts, and the little people!

country halloween

For more Lanark County Irish Ghost Stories:

The story of Jimmy Phelan and the Ghost of Ferguson Falls, in its entirety, in “Lanark County Calling: All Roads Lead Home”.

For the entire story of the Banshees in North Burgess Township, and the Little People of Westport – “Lanark County Classics: A Treasury of Tales from Another Time”

For more information on The Stumble Inn of Ferguson Falls – “Lanark County Collection: Winding Our Way Down Memory Lane”

Books available at:

The Book Nook in Perth https://thebooknookperth.com/shop/

Spark Books, in Perth https://sparkperth.ca/

Mill Street Books in Almonte – https://millstreetbooks.com/

Lanark County Genealogical Society – some good research links:


Irish Genealogy records:


Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

Author of 10 books: “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: lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com


Book Launch “Lanark County Calling”

Lanark County Calling:  All Roads Lead Home

Travel back in time, through Lanark County, and beyond, in this collection of stories. The adventure begins in Perth, Ontario, where you’ll meet trailblazer, Sophia Haggis, a local confectioner, also known as ‘the Candy Lady’. Next, sample some popcorn at the Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls, while you meet the folks who made sure your night at the movies went off without a hitch. Your next stop is Ferguson Falls, where you may encounter a ghostly apparition, searching for their lost love, along the shores of the Mississippi River.  Join the unforgettable party at one of the most popular country music festivals of our time – the legendary Ompah Stomp.  Meet the Witch of Plum Hollow, an Irish fortune-teller, who helped local police solve crimes. Come along on this captivating journey, through some of the most intriguing places in Eastern Ontario.

Saturday, September 29th,  12 noon – 3 p.m.

at The Book Nook and Other Treasures,

60 Gore St. E., Perth, Ontario

Book launch for blog


7th book in the series of Lanark County stories


Lanark County Calling - book cover Aug



Thanks to those who ‘pulled back the curtain’ for an insider’s glimpse behind the scenes at the Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls, Ontario:  Jan Stepniak, Gordon Evoy, Violet Gariepy, Scott Irvine Jr., and Tammy DeSalvo.


Special thanks to award-winning country music artist Neville Wells, and also to Marilyn Taylor Dunham for sharing their memories, stories, and special recollections of the legendary Ompah Stomp.


for poster


The Legendary Ompah Stomp

Visit this unforgettable party through it’s beginnings in 1978, through it’s glory days, up to the year 2000, its final year.

ompah stomp for blog


A Night at the Movies:  The Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls

Discover the history of this popular destination, and meet the fascinating folks who played key roles in this beloved movie theatre!

soper theatre for blog


Sophia Haggis – Perth’s Candy Lady

Meet trail-blazer Sophia Haggis  –   take a trip down memory lane and visit Sophia in the pretty town of Perth, and sample some of her mouth-watering confections.


haggis candy for blog


The Ghost of Ferguson Falls

Go back to the early days in Drummond township when the loggers came to town, sang their songs, spent their pay on liquor, and danced ’til they wore out the floorboards at Charlie Hollinger’s Hotel.  Meet local lad Jimmy, whose life ended all too soon.

lumber jacks


The Witch of Plum Hollow

Visit this pretty hamlet, and meet an interesting Irish lady with some special abilities.  Discover the people she helped, and the crimes she solved.

witch of p h for blog


Join us at the book launch on Saturday September 29th from noon to 3 p.m.

All are welcome.

See you there!


(lots of local names and familiar places in this collection of stories!)