Pakenham Five-Span Bridge


Five-Span Bridge

Original Bridge was Wooden

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

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

O’Toole and Keating of Ottawa

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

Building the Bridge

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

Limestone Quarry

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

Massive limestone blocks cut from the local quarry

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

Five 40-Ft Arches

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

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

Postcard – 1910

Detail of the arch construction

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

Details from the placque at the bridge site

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

photo: Lanark County Tourism

Restoration in 1984

“The Almonte Gazette”

July 25, 1984, “Almonte Gazette”

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

Oct. 31, 1984, “Almonte Gazette”

Nov. 21, 1984, p. 1 “Almonte Gazette”

Total Cost

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

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

2007 Flag

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

In the Movies

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

Seven Wonders of Lanark County

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

The bridge is located at 4916 Kinburn Side Road.

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

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

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

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

available at local stores or email:

Allan House & Cecil Hotel Perth

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

Allan House

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

photo: Middleville Museum, c. 1900

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

Dodds Grocery Store

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

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

Hotel Sold

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

Hotel Cecil

Death in the

Laundry Room

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

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

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

1972 Fire

Residents Escape

In Night Attire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firemen Injured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

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

available at local stores or email:

January 6th – Irish Women’s Little Christmas


Little Christmas

Nollaig na mBan (pronunciation Null-ug na Mon) is ‘Women’s Little Christmas’ or the Feast of the Epiphany as it is more commonly known—marking the end of the 12 Days of Christmas, a Christian feast day celebrating the the visit of the Three Kings or Wise Men to the baby Jesus in his manger in Bethlehem, with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Taking Down

the Decorations

Women’s Little Christmas Eve is the day when some will add the wise men to their nativity displays. This would be the final decoration added in the home, done on January 5th, and at the end of the day on January 6th, these, and all of the other decorations would be taken down. Some Roman Catholic families chose to keep their tree up until February 2nd, according to the traditions of Candlemas, which marks the presentation of Jesus at the Temple.

The Burning

of the Holly

In ancient times, in more modest Irish homes, holly was the only decoration used, and so it was taken down from the mantle, and burned on January 6th for good luck. It was symbolic to leave the holly up until Women’s Little Christmas.

Holly was thought to have important spiritual attributes, and the Druids believed it could guard against dark witchcraft and evil spirits. The Irish believed that its spikes could capture evil spirits and prevent them from entering a house. Holly placed around the home was thought to be a safe haven for the little people, who traditionally guarded the house from more sinister forces.

It was a tradition if holly was the first evergreen plant to be brought into the house at Christmastime, then the man would have the upper hand and rule the roost for the coming year. For that reason, women usually instructed that the ivy be collected first, then the holly. The timing of taking down the holly was very important. Once brought inside it must not be discarded or taken down until after 6th of January. Throwing out a symbol of good fortune too soon could mean that you were looking for trouble.

Visiting with Friends

and Neighbours

Women’s Little Christmas, on January 6th each year, was the day that women rested and relaxed after a busy season of cooking and festivities. In rural and small-town Catholic Ireland, women gathered in each other’s homes, or down at the local pub, for a few hours of fun, while men looked after the home and the children. As all were seated, a pact was made, to leave the worries and cares of the old year, outside the door. 

Some women stayed in their neighbourhood, and did rounds of visiting in the afternoon. Fruit loaf and tea, or a shot of something stronger, served at someone’s house, and was the day that women did something for themselves, and had a rest after all of their Christmas work.

….And what would a Women’s Little Christmas be without a nice warm Irish Toddy to finish the day?

Irish Toddy Recipe

Irish Toddy

1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar

Boiling water

1 measure of Irish Whiskey (Bushmills or Jameson)

3 cloves

1 slice or wedge of lemon

You may use any whiskey you desire, or for an authentic Irish toddy, use Bushmills or Jameson Irish Whiskey

Add sugar, and dissolve in a splash of the hot water.

Add the whiskey, cloves (if desired) a slice of lemon, and fill up with boiling water.

It is customary to give a New Year’s toast on Women’s Little Christmas, with an Irish blessing:

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

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

available at local stores or email:

Lanark County Scottish New Year – Hogmanay

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

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

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

Hogmanay Traditions

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

First Footing

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

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

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

The first-footer should be dark complexioned,

and their name begins with straight, not curvy letters.

First Footing Rules   

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

They should be male and dark-haired.

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

They should bring whiskey, coal, and black bun.

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

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

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

Torchlight Parade

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

Scottish Black Bun

Black Bun recipe:

Pastry Case

3 c flour  

1/2 tsp baking powder

6 Tbsp lard

6 Tbsp butter

1 pinch salt

Cold water


2 ¾ c seedless raisins  

2 Tbsp brandy

1 Tbsp milk

2 ¾ c  currants  

1/3 c chopped almonds

1 pinch black pepper  

¼ c mixed peel

1 ½ c flour  

1/3 c brown sugar  

1 tsp allspice  

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 large egg beaten


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

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

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

Brush the top with milk to create a glaze.

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

Cool in the tin and then on a wire rack. 

A First-Footer kisses every woman in the household

Auld Lang Syne

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

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

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

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne

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

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

New Year’s Morning

Saining the House

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

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

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

Scottish New Year’s Blessing

Happy New Year!

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

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

available at local stores or email:

Christmas at the Stafford House

Judy:   “Christmas Day in those days, as now, was a joyous occasion, but we knew that there would not be many presents because our parents couldn’t afford them, but there were second-hand sleighs or toboggans, and gifts that were hand-made or hand-sewn.” 

Roger: ” I remember waking up and being able to see our breath Christmas morning. I remember moving wood, both at home and at school (S.S.#4 Bathurst), as both were heated with wood. Neither had running water. Water was pumped into a pail, and brought inside for drinking and cooking.”

Judy Stafford (standing) Audry Stafford seated, front row, left to right – Jackie Stafford, Roger Stafford and Tim Stafford

Arlene:  “One year Aunt Nellie Rutherford sent us a beautiful Christmas ornament.  It was made of brass and had a circular base, with a brass rod that extended up from the base.  Attached to the rod about halfway down were four angels with tiny rods hanging beneath each, and two bells extending out to the sides. On the base were holders for four small candles, and when you lit the candles the angels began to go around in a circle faster and faster, and their tiny rods would strike the bells and ring very softly.  That was one of my favourite decorations.  I also liked the little cone-shaped paper angels that hung on the tree, and the metal birds with tails made of real feathers that clipped onto the branches.”

Roger: “I can also remember Mom and the girls putting the Christmas cards on strings and hanging them up for decorations. I can remember cutting up Christmas cards from the year before to make the tags for gifts. And there were the bells on the doors. I remember one on the door to the hall and I believe one on the front door. “

Jackie:  “I think that at one time almost everything hung on the tree was homemade.”

Tim Stafford with Arlene Stafford

Tim: “I was not able to sleep Christmas Eve.  I had been warned several times that Santa would leave only potatoes in my stocking if I didn’t sleep.  When I actually did get potatoes in my stocking when I was eight or nine years old I was in shock.”

Judy: “Oh yes, I certainly did get potatoes in my stocking…a very clear message on Christmas morning, and it was probably on more than one occasion.  I wasn’t very surprised either!  We were usually threatened and she always carried through. The only candy I remember getting in my stocking was hard candy, and there was always an orange in my stocking – that was a rare treat as fresh, imported fruit wasn’t usually seen at other times of the year.  Soda pop would also be purchased, but only at Christmas.”

Jackie:   “Mother would put our stockings at the end of our bed when she thought we were asleep, and sometimes we were.  If we had been bad we would have a potato in our stocking, along with a piece of fruit and a bit of candy.”

Roger: “I can also remember getting a potato in my sock one year. Mother had warned me that Santa put potatoes in bad boys’ socks. It shouldn’t have been any surprise to me.”

Judy Stafford and Tim Stafford

Judy: “We received what we considered very expensive gifts from our Uncle Jack Rutherford in Alberta, and were allowed to choose one gift to open on Christmas Eve, and we usually chose his.  There was no ripping off of gift paper – the parcels had to be carefully unwrapped and ribbons, if any, had to be handed over to Mother before they could get mixed up with the discards and boxes, which would be thrown in the cook-stove to burn.”

Arlene Stafford and Judy Stafford

Arlene: “I was always excited to go to Calvin Church, on Christmas Eve. During the service I would usually be whispering to my friends Susan and Jane Munro, who sat in the pew in front of us, until Mother would give me ‘the look’ and then I would try to be quiet.  It wasn’t easy being quiet because I knew so many of the kids there. Looking around the church I saw lots of my friends from school – Patti Jordan, Jutta and Judy Siebel, and Barb Patton.  George Jordan and I were in the same grade, Steve Scott, Harold Closs and Bobby Miller were a grade ahead of me, and then there were the older girls who were a little bit farther ahead in school like Janice Jordan, Karen Jordan and Maxine Closs. After church was over, I would see my friends outside and we’d be talking excitedly about what gifts we were hoping to find under the tree the next morning.”  

Jackie Stafford and Tim Stafford in front of the Stafford House

Judy:   “Parcels from the West, or also known as the ‘hand-me-down box’, would arrive from our Aunts in Alberta, twice a year, with our cousins gently worn clothing – every summer a box of winter clothes, and every winter, just before or right after Christmas, a box of summer clothes arrived.  This was always an exciting time when we would crowd around Mother as she opened the box, and decided who would get what, and if any of the clothing had to be altered to fit us.  I remember a lot of the dresses being brown which was not my favourite colour, but I imagine they were practical as they would not show the dirt.  Mother also made dresses and blouses and skirts – shirts for the boys.  I remember a lovely lilac plaid summer dress Mother made for me, and an identical one in pink plaid for Jackie.  Our shoes were purchased from a factory outlet store in Lanark, and we made that trip a couple of times a year to buy shoes for school. “

Tobias ‘Tim’, ‘Tib’ Stafford checking the Christmas lights on the spruce tree

Roger:   “Dad always put lights up outside, usually on the spruce tree near the door. I often watched the northern lights dancing, or heard the whistle of the train at the crossing back of the house, or the sound of the train itself on a cold winter night. I guess those are a couple of the reasons that cities have no attraction for me.”

Judy:  “Nothing these days will ever replace the sound of the train whistle as it passed back at the tracks around midnight every night, or the sounds of the sleigh runners cutting through the snow on a crisp winter’s night.”

Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, in the kitchen, preparing some Christmas treats

Mother’s Chocolate Fudge

2 Tbsp. butter

2 c. miniature marshmallows

1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips

2/3 cup evaporated milk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 2/3 cups of sugar

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (if desired)

1/2 tsp. salt

Mix butter, milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat..

Stir in marshmallows, chocolate chips, vanilla and walnuts.

Pour into an 8-inch buttered pan. Cool. Cut into squares. Makes 2 lbs.

Tim:  “My favourite Christmas food –    Chocolate fudge with walnuts.”

Roger:  I certainly remember all the toffee and fudge Mom used to make at Christmas. Mother also baked many specialty cookies for Christmas. As Christmas approached mother would review her stock in the freezer only to find much of our favourites had disappeared. I can remember holding the door while one of my siblings with longer arms would lean in and load up on treats from the freezer. I was never averse to a sweet bribe.”

Arlene Stafford making a snowman

Jackie:  “When I was a kid, Mother bought her Christmas candy through the catalogues – Sears and Eaton’s and bought medium size boxes of licorice all-sorts; bridge mixture; and the cinnamon candies.  I think she probably bought other types as well but I remember the ones I liked.  She hid them in the bedroom, and then, closer to Christmas, in the pantry somewhere, and she would go in there now and then with an empty bowl, and magically come out with a bowl of one of those candies.  A great treat because we rarely had that kind of ‘bought’ candy.”

Roger:  “I also remember that Mother would always buy some grapes and Christmas oranges for a special treat at Christmas.  It makes me feel very lucky to be able to go buy any type of fruit all year long.”

Jackie Stafford with niece, Andrea Ryan, eldest daughter of Judy Stafford Ryan

Jackie:   “Christmas Eve was always an interesting time.  Dad would be late from work, delivering milk for Chaplin’s Dairy, and Mother would usually let us eat at the usual time as she was never sure when Dad would turn up.  When he did come home, he was tired and he had a bag of stuff with him.  While he ate his warmed up dinner Mother would open all of the presents he got from his customers.” 

Arlene:  “Dad used to get five or six boxes of chocolates from his customers.  I was always hoping that he would get a box of chocolate covered cherries.  They were my favourite.”

Roger:  “I remember Dad bringing home Christmas cards from his customers in Perth, on the milk route, and Mom opening them up and taking the cash out to put towards a summer holiday.

Jackie:   “On Christmas Eve Dad’s customers would often give him money – usually $1 or $2 dollars and Mother would have little piles of bills.  Sometimes they would know his brand of cigarette and those were great, but the Export A and Players were traded at his favourite store, if possible.  I would love those because we would get the empty tins and I would love to put my crayons in one and some little bits in pieces in another. He also got single packs of cigarettes and they were often his brand.”

Judy Stafford and Jackie Stafford

Judy:   “I remember that Mother didn’t like anyone in the kitchen when she was cooking, and when we were older and came home at Christmas, she would post a list of duties for each of us on the refrigerator.”

Jackie Stafford, Arlene Stafford, and Judy Stafford

Jackie: ” One Christmas, there was a toboggan under the tree for me. Tim already had one, which was a good size, but mine was smaller, and perfect for me. We couldn’t wait to get outside and try it. In those days, there was a lovely hill to the right of the house, part of the land surrounding the barn. We would slide down the hill, and if you went through the gap you ended up in the next field.”

Roger: “I can remember one year, that Uncle Jack Rutherford, sent Jackie and I, aluminum snow-shoe-shaped sliders. We used to try to slide down the hill near the barn, standing up. We seldom succeeded.”

Judy: “We skated and tobogganed. We went down the hill in the field beside the house, and over a low fence, and that caused a few accidents!”

Tim: “In the early part of the winter, if there was a cold snap and not too much snow, the creek would freeze over and I would skate to school (S.S. #4 Bathurst), passing all through the farms, and coming out at the bridge just south of the school. On days when the ice was too thin, I would arrive home soaked to the knees, and Mom would have to dry all of my clothes as best she could on the wood-stove oven door, as there was no clothes dryer then. The skates I used were Dad’s, with extra socks in them.”

Jackie: “We skated until our feet were so cold that we could not get our skates off, so when we were small, we just walked home in them. Mother would get the skates off, and we would sit in front of the open oven door to thaw out our feet.”


Jackie Stafford, and niece, Andrea Ryan, in the front yard, Korry’s farm in the background.

Jackie:  “When we were old enough Dad would let us go with him to get the Christmas tree.  As we got older we would sometimes have already selected a few possible trees for Dad to look at.  In the early years we walked back to the bush and brought the tree back on Tim’s toboggan.  I was always half frozen by the time we got back home.”

Jackie Stafford, pulling niece, Andrea Ryan, on a sled, on the side road, near the house.

Roger:  “I can remember trying to find a nicely shaped tree that wasn’t too big, and then getting home and finding it was still too large to go in the house. At one time I can remember Dad nailing a large board to the bottom of the tree to stand it up. That was before we had a Christmas tree stand. I can remember Mom having us check the stand for water to make sure the tree wasn’t drying out too fast. I can also remember all the needles falling off when the decorations were being taken off the tree, and the tree was taken out through the kitchen to the yard. I can remember Mom using some of the boughs cut off to make a wreath.”

Back row: Roger Stafford, cousin Gail Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Judy Stafford, Arlene Stafford. Front row: cousin Peter Stafford, Tim Stafford

Tobias ‘Tim’, ‘Tib’ Stafford, his sister-in-law, Aunt Pat Stafford, and his brother, Peter ‘Pete’ Stafford

Jackie:   “In those days Mother made popcorn, and we strung it on string, and used that as a garland on the tree.”

Roger:  “I can also remember stringing popcorn for decorations.”

L to R: Roger Stafford, Arlene Stafford, Judy Stafford, Audry Stafford, Tobias ‘Tim’ Stafford, Tim Stafford, Jackie Stafford

Jackie:  “Mother bought coloured craft paper, and we cut out strips of paper and glued them together to make a circle, and then a circle within the previous circle, and on and on, until we had a string long enough to go from the corners of the living room to the light fixture in the center of the ceiling.  We usually did them red, green, etc.”

L to R: Judy Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Tim Stafford, Roger Stafford

Arlene: “Board games, and card games were a favourite on Christmas night, after dinner. Everyone gathered in the kitchen, and Mother brought us bowls of fudge, taffy, cookies, and sweet squares. We played Rummy, Monopoly, and sometimes Crokinole, until the wee hours. Mother always bought soft drinks at Christmas, sometimes cola, orange, or root beer. That was the only time of the year we had pop in the house.

Tobias ‘Tim’ ‘Tib’ Stafford and Audry (Rutherford) Stafford, 1968

Judy: “Before the day was out, our Mother would iron the Christmas paper and ribbon, which would be carefully tucked away until next year.  To this day, I cringe when I see anyone rip off gift paper with no thought of re-using it.   We often made our own Christmas wrapping paper in those days, using cut-up brown paper bags, and drawing pictures on with crayons, and tying up the gifts with binder-twine.  We were always appreciative of what we received, because wealth to us was being happy and healthy, with loved ones around to share the joy.”

The Stafford siblings, with their spouses: Back row- Roger Stafford, Sam Wharton, Kevin Wilson, Tim Stafford, Jim Ryan. Front row: Ruth (Parks) Stafford, Jackie Stafford Wharton, Arlene Stafford-Wilson, Marian (Salemink) Stafford, and Judy Stafford Ryan.

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

…..and so we’ve come to the end of our Christmas visit to the Stafford House. If you had spent Christmas Day with us you would have never guessed that we didn’t have very much money. Our dinner table was overflowing with food – a huge platter of turkey, bowls heaped with stuffing, a basket piled high with soft homemade dinner rolls, steaming mashed potatoes, gravy, cheese, and pickles, and that was just the main course.

For dessert there was homemade Christmas fruit cake, shortbread, chocolate chews, cherry balls, gumdrop cookies, almond cookies, shortbread, sweet squares, chocolate fudge with walnuts, homemade toffee, licorice all-sorts, bridge-mixture, mixed nuts, and boxes of assorted chocolates.

The Stafford house was filled with laughter, and multiple lively conversations. There were chiming bells attached to the front door and hall door, and Christmas cards displayed, framing every doorway and covering every flat surface in the living room. A fragrant fresh-cut spruce tree graced the corner of the living room, proudly displaying our homemade ornaments, and a few precious glass balls that Mother had saved over the years. Our opened gifts were nestled under the tree, along with the remnants of our stockings from that morning.

By the evening, Mother would be resting on the couch, and Dad would be lounging in his lazy-boy chair. They often discussed the events of the day, while sharing a box of chocolates Christmas night – she preferring the hard toffee centers, and Dad enjoying the soft creams, which worked out very well indeed, over their many Christmases together.

You would have found the Stafford children in the kitchen, playing cards, or board games, sharing a dish of fudge, a bowl of nuts, and some homemade cookies. We’d often be sporting the paper crowns from the Christmas crackers we’d pulled at dinner time. You would have heard genuine shrieks of laughter, and some friendly jabs, many hilarious jokes from Roger, and witty remarks from Tim, with his dry sense of humour. You’d likely hear the girls scolding the boys for some of their occasional off-colour comments, followed by more laughter, and a few groans, as we all complained about how much food we’d consumed, all the while everyone agreeing how delicious it was.

As Christmas Day wound down for another year, one at a time, people began to trail off to bed, weary from the fresh cold air and outings during the busy day, and stuffed full of our Mother’s delicious food.

We hope you enjoyed hearing our stories about growing up, at the Stafford house, and the ways we spent Christmas Day. The sights and sounds and smells from our childhood Christmas are something we carry with us every day.  They lift our spirits in times when life seems cold, and harsh, and unforgiving.  We need only to close our eyes and we are back on the Third Line, walking up the lane, through the yard, and entering the bright, warm kitchen.  We are home again.

Quotes and stories from Tim Stafford, Judy Stafford Ryan, Jackie Stafford Wharton, Roger Stafford, and Arlene Stafford-Wilson, and the recipe for Audry Stafford’s Chocolate Fudge, are excerpts from, “Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen”

Available at:

The Book Nook & Other Treasures

Spark Books and Curios –

Mill Street Books –

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

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

available at local stores or email:

Irish Winter Solstice

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

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

Winter Solstice

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

Oak King v.s. Holly King

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

Dark vs Light

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

Evergreen, Yule Log,

Mistletoe, Red & Green

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

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

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

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

The Longest Night

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

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

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

Winter Solstice Today

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

Newgrange, photo: Irish Central

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

Newgrange, Co. Meath, Ireland

Triple spiral carving, illuminated once a year at Newgrange

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

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

Winter Solstice 2022

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

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

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

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

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

available at local stores or email:

It’s a Wonderful Life – The Real Story

Opened December 1946

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

The Movie Lost Money

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

“The Greatest Gift”

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

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

Philip Van Doren Stern (1900-1984)

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

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

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

Jimmy Stewart

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

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

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

Early Life

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

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

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

It’s a Wonderful Life

The Story

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

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

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

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

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

A Christmas Tradition

Watching the film became a Christmas tradition for many families.

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

Jimmy Stewart’s ‘real’ family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

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

available at local stores or email:

Letters to Santa from Perth!

santa letters 2

Letters to Santa

as published in:

The Perth Courier

We’ve all written them –  letters to Santa Claus.  Whether we lived out in the country, in a village, a town, or even a city, we all sat down with a sheet of paper and a pen, and wrote to jolly old St. Nick, asking for that special toy, dreaming that we’d find it under our tree on Christmas morning.

“The Perth Courier” began to publish some of these letters to Santa, and for many years, in the month of December, we could discover what the local children were hoping to receive, from the man in the red suit.

Here are some of the best letters, and maybe you’ll even see your own!

Christmas 1

Christmas 2

Writing the letter to Santa

Sometimes we needed help from an older brother or sister

to make sure that our letters were written as clearly as possible!

Christmas 3

Sent to the North Pole

We also had to make sure that we wrote the correct address for the ‘North Pole’ and walked it down the lane, and set it carefully in the mailbox!

Letters to santa at the mailbox

Christmas 4

Christmas 5

Christmas 6

Christmas 7

Christmas 8

Christmas 9

Christmas 10

Christmas 11

1981 Letters to Santa

from “The Perth Courier”

Christmas 12

Christmas 13

Christmas 14

…..and some of the letters were from rural kids. 

These ones are from Glen Tay:

Christmas 15

This young boy even admits

to being a little bit bad!

Christmas 16

Christmas 17

Christmas 18

Christmas 19

Christmas 20

Christmas 21

1983 Letters to Santa

Christmas 22

Christmas 23

….and from the kids

at Drummond Central:

Christmas 24

Christmas 25

…and some more letters to Santa

from Glen Tay:

Christmas 26

…and little Debbie even included

a lovely sketch for Santa:

Christmas 27

1984 letters to Santa

Christmas 28

Christmas 29

Christmas 30

1983 letters to Santa

from the Perth Daycare Centre

Many of us recall the column called ‘The Private Eye’, and some of the interesting tidbits of news from around Perth that was published each week.  In December of 1983, some of the wee tots at the Perth Daycare Centre wrote to Santa, and the Private Eye had a few favourites!

Christmas 31


Another letter to Santa found in a battered old shoe box, many years ago, written by a little girl, who only wanted one thing for Christmas…

Dear Santa:  I live on the Third Line, not far from Christie Lake.  We live in a red brick  house, between Glen Tay and DeWitt’s Corners.  I hope you can see it from the sky on Christmas Eve.  It’s right across the road from George and Merle Korry’s farm, and between Perkins’ and Mitchell’s farms.  I have been very good.  I got a sticker this year from my Sunday School teacher, Betty Miller, for good attendance, and I try to be good at home, and sometimes I help my mother in the kitchen, and help Dad outside when he needs me.  I would like a Beautiful Crissy doll please.  She has long red hair and an orange dress.  Please bring a Davey Crocket hat for my brother Roger, new skates for Judy and Jackie, and some books for my brother Tim.  I will leave some carrots for your reindeer.   


Always remember to leave a nice snack for Santa.  It’s a long night, and he works very hard.

cookies and milk for Santa

…….and guess what the little girl found under her tree Christmas morning?

Santa under the tree

…..the doll she asked for in her letter to Santa!

Beautiful Crissy

A reminder to all of us that Christmas Wishes really do come true!


L to R:  Jackie Stafford, Arlene Stafford, and Judy Stafford – 1963 at the Stafford house, 3rd Line of Bathurst Township, Lanark County

…and whether you’re young, or not-so-young, whether you write a letter to Santa, or just look up into the clear winter sky, and wish on a star, 

Always believe in the magic of Christmas!

Santa and the reindeer flying

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

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

Irish Christmas in Lanark County

The Irish brought their Christmas traditions when they settled in Lanark County, in the earliest times. Our ancestor, Tobias Stafford, came in 1816, from County Wexford, Ireland, and married Elizabeth, ‘Betsy’ McGarry, who came from Mullingar Parish, County Westmeath, Ireland.

St. Patrick’s Church

Ferguson’s Falls

Christmas, in those times was a far more religious, and far less commercial holiday than it is today. Priests traveled from larger centers, like Perth, to smaller communities, and people gathered at one of the larger neighbourhood homes to hear mass, and to celebrate the birth of Christ. In 1856, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church was built, on a gentle hill, overlooking the Mississippi River. Finally, the locals had their own church, not just to mark religious holidays, but also a place to witness baptisms, weddings, and to seek comfort at the funerals of their dearly departed.

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1856, Ferguson Falls, Ontario

Advent Candles

One of the early Christmas traditions at St. Patrick’s Church was the lighting of the Advent Candles.

Four candles were set up at the front of the church, and one was lit at each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.

1st Sunday of Advent

The first candle was lit with a sermon on being watchful and alert, waiting for Christ’s arrival:

“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” Matthew 24:42  

2nd Sunday of Advent

On the second week, the next candle was lit, with a sermon focusing on making preparations for the birth of Christ:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’ Matthew 3:3

3rd Sunday of Advent

On the third Sunday of Advent, after the lighting of the third candle, the sermon focused on St. John the Baptist, and the foretelling of Jesus coming to earth:

“I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.” Luke 3:16-17

4th Sunday of Advent

Week four of Advent was the lighting of the fourth candle, and a reflection on the unwavering faith of Mary and Joseph, and a call to those who believed in what was to come:

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Luke 1:45

Thomas Stafford’s Family

Thomas Stafford, the youngest son of Tobias and Betsy, was just 10 years old when St. Patrick’s was established, and so, he attended the church as a child, and throughout his entire life, with his own children, as he remained on the ancestral Stafford property, on the 11th concession of Drummond Township.

Family of Thomas Stafford, his wife, Mary (Carroll) Stafford, seated with their eldest son, Peter in the middle row. Back row – Ann Stafford, Mary Stafford (local schoolteacher in Ferguson Falls), Thomas Patrick Stafford, and Julia Stafford (who married William Quinn), front row – Margaret Stafford, Anastasia ‘Stasia’ Stafford, and Michael Vincent ‘Vince’ Stafford, (my grandfather, named for his uncle, Rev. Father Michael Stafford, the Apostle of Temperance), photo taken 1896.

Soaking Fruit

in Whiskey

In the weeks before Christmas, dried fruits were soaked in whiskey and rum, and more alcohol was added each day as the fruit became plump and full. A large, square piece of fresh clean cloth was dipped in hot water, and rubbed with flour to make it waterproof. After two weeks of soaking, the fruit was added to a traditional cake batter, and this ‘pudding’ was tied in the cloth sack, boiled for one hour, and then hung in the pantry to ripen.

Christmas puddings were hung in cloth sacks to ripen

An Irish pioneer’s Christmas pudding



Back in their homeland, the Irish decorated with sprigs of holly, ivy, and other evergreens native to Ireland like Arbutus, and Yew. Once in Canada, they used the native Eastern Ontario greenery – like spruce, pine, and cedar.

Small branches of spruce and cedar were brought into the home, and laid along the mantle

A spruce tree was cut from the surrounding forests, and brought into the house about a week before Christmas. White candles were attached to the tree, and lit in the evenings leading up to Christmas.

I recall our Dad saying that he was nervous when they lit the candles on the family tree because so many house fires were caused by this practice in the Ferguson Falls area, around Christmastime, when he was a young lad.

Shiny Christmas ornaments that we know today were very rare in the early days, and most of the decorative glass ornaments were imported from Germany, were very expensive, and only available in larger towns, like Perth, or Carleton Place. Often, the ladies of the family made homemade ornaments to hang on the tree, and some were made using needle-craft, like tatting, or crochet.

Lace Christmas ornaments were hand-crafted by the early settlers

Some of the more affluent families purchased ornaments imported from Europe

Precious and costly ornaments, imported from Europe

Bloc na Nollag

burning the Yule Log

The cold dark days and nights of the winter solstice were known as “Yule” in Ireland, and most of northern Europe. Burning the “Bloc na Nollag” (Nollag pronounced ‘null-egg’), was an old Irish tradition that continued through the generations, and was common to the Irish who settled in Eastern Ontario. The men of the family dragged home the largest log they could find. After dusting off the snow, the log was placed whole at the back of the fire. This large log was supposed to last for the entire 12 days of Christmas. A small piece of the log was saved to use as kindling for the lighting of the next year’s yule log .

Yule Log

A Candle

in the Window

on Christmas Eve

All through Ireland a candle is lit and placed in the window on Christmas Eve. This tradition was brought to Canada by the settlers, and was a symbol of welcome to the Holy family. It is thought that this custom originated with the tradition of lighting the way for all travelers on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. It is a tradition for the eldest person in the family to light the candle in the window on Christmas Eve.

A candle lit in the window on Christmas Eve, lighting the way for the Holy Family

An orange in the

Christmas stocking

According to Dad, they hung simple stockings, sometimes wool socks, without decoration, on Christmas Eve, and in the morning, the stocking would hold a few pieces of hard candy, a small toy usually made of wood, and always a lovely, ripe, Christmas orange. He said that fresh fruit was scarce when he was growing up in the 1920s, and it was a very special thing to receive a fresh juicy orange on Christmas morning.

A simple stocking with a precious fresh orange was a treat in the 1920s, in Drummond Township

Off to Church

On Christmas morning, the family got dressed up in their best clothing, hitched up the horses to the cutter, and headed to St. Patrick’s Church.

All of the families in the area donated a bit of money to the local priest, and presented it to him with thanks, at the end of the service. The custom came from Ireland and was known as the ‘priest’s box’, even though the settlers used an envelope, or folded paper together and sometimes painted colourful designs on the outside.

Envelope for a special Christmas donation for the local priest


Christmas Dinner

Many of the traditional foods from Ireland were not available to the Canadian pioneer settlers, so they made a few substitutions when needed. Although goose was the traditional bird cooked for Christmas dinner in Ireland, the settlers sometimes roasted a duck, chicken, or turkey, instead. The clove-studded baked ham was a tradition brought from the old country, and cooked in our ancestor’s homes. Stuffing was made of bread crumbs spiced with sage, onion, salt and pepper. Potatoes were always a favourite daily staple, and they were usually roasted in the fat of the duck or chicken. Roasted carrots were served, along with gravy made with the poultry drippings. The plum pudding was boiled again on Christmas Day, then a whiskey or rum sauce was poured on the top and it was lit at the table, at the end of the Christmas meal, and served as dessert.

Traditional Irish Christmas dinner with ham, turkey, stuffing, carrots, potatoes, gravy, and Brussels sprouts

Clove-studded baked ham

roasted potatoes and carrots

Fiddling Time

After dinner, the leftover food was put away, the dishes washed, and chairs were moved close to the fire, placed in a semi-circle. This was a time for music! Fiddles were played, and traditional Irish songs from the old country were sang around the fire. Stories were told of Christmas’ past, and jokes were shared, generous glasses of whiskey were poured, and the dancing of a little ‘jig’ to go along with the music was common.

The merriment went on into the wee hours, and it was a tradition for the youngest in the family to leave the home’s door unlatched, before going to bed, to give shelter to any travelers who may pass by. When the story-tellers and the musicians grew weary, and the last soul in the house finally retired to bed, it was their task to make sure that the Christmas candle was still lit in the window, to help guide the Holy Family through the long, dark, night.

And so, the traditions and customs of our Irish ancestors were passed down through the generations, from the very first settlers, to the present day. The special Christmas foods, the hanging of the stockings, the lighting of the candles for Advent, the singing of songs, the fiddling, the whiskey, the story-telling, and the lone candle in the window, lighting up the dark, cold, December night.

So, I’ll leave you with a traditional Irish Christmas blessing, and hope that you will pass along some of your own family’s customs to the next generation, from your grandparents, to your parents, to you, and onto your children, and their children. Peace be with you and yours this holy Christmas season.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

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

available at local stores or email:

Merchants of Perth 1960s and 1970s at Christmastime

We wrote letters to Santa, placing them carefully in our mailbox on the Third Line, we circled gifts in the Sears Wishbook, practised our parts for the Nativity play, and if we were lucky we would visit Perth with Mother, and see the beautifully decorated stores along Gore Street and Foster Street, at Christmastime!

Merchants of Perth at Christmastime


















































































For delicious home-made candy-canes, stop by Haggis’ Candy store!

Haggis Candy cane











































































Sawdon’s Appliances


Scott’s Chicken Villa


Shaw’s of Perth



Siddall’s Furniture


Lanark Santa Claus Parade


Small Brothers


Somerville Farm Supplies


Smith’s Radio


Soper Theatre, Smiths Falls


Stan Cleroux Real Estate


Stan Tufts Delivery




Santa Claus Parade


Clarence Stanzel Plumbing & Heating


Street Travel Service


Sullivan Sanitation


Tay-Towne Cleaners


Tay Valley Sports


Tayside Bakery


Teak Hair Fashions


The Mill Store


The Valley Book Shop


J.A. Thomas Optometrist


Thornbury’s Pharmacy


Tim’s Texaco


Town and Country Restaurant


Han van Pelt


Vanderspanks’s Store




Hope you enjoyed our visit to Perth in the 1960s and 1970s!

This post is dedicated to the merchants of Perth, large and small.  Most work long hours to provide goods and services for the people in the area. Many sponsor local sports teams and community events.  As we fondly recall the merchants of days gone by, let’s shop locally this Christmas season, and support the artisans, craftspeople, and neighbourhood businesses in our community!


vintage photos of historical Perth buildings – Perth Museum
Merchant ads from “The Perth Courier”


Christmas Ads for these merchants included:

A & B Motors,  Acheson’s,  Aeroquip, Albert Gale,  Alice’s Beauty Salon,  Allen’s Bakery,  Anna Mosl,  Andy’s Window Cleaning,  Antiques Vandenbosch,  Balderson Cheese,  Bank of Montreal,  Barrie’s Meats,  Ralph G. Barker,  Barr Motor Sales,  Beamish,  Ben Barbary’s,  Benny K’s.,  Bert Fournier,  Blair & Sons,  Boles Grocery,  Boyd Real Estate,  Brankin Fuels,  Bright Spot,  Brown Shoe Company,  Burchell Supply,  Burns Jewellers,  Cameo Beauty Shoppe,  Cameron Shoe,  Canadian Tire,  Caribou House,  Carolynne’s  Beauty Salon,  Carson Farm Supply,  Carson Realty, Cavanagh’s,  Cavers Jewellery, Chaplin & Code Hardware,  Chaplin’s Dairy,  Circus Surplus Store,  Cleanrite Cleaners,  Conway’s Menswear,  Co-op,  Cooper’s Furniture,  Couch’s Taxi, County Motors,  Craig Motor Sales, Glenn Crain Ltd.,  D. & K. Fabric,  Darou and McIntosh,  Dicola Fuels,  Dixie Lee Chicken,  Dodds & Erwin,  Drummond Centre Telephone Co.,  J.D. Duncan,  E-Z Clean Coin Wash,  E.B. Code and Son Insurance,  E.L. Darou Insurance,  East End Grocery,  Echlin Motor Sales, Farrell’s Store,  Franklin Fence & Furniture,  Frank’s Barber Shop,  Friendly T.V. – Klaas Van Bergen,   Hazel & Eric Fuller Store,  General Insulating,  Girdwood’s,  Golden Triangle Upholstery,  Todd Greig Accountant,  G.W.M. Gift Shop,  H & M Centre,  Holiday Take-Out,  T.M. Hansen Plumbing,  Healey Transportation,  Henderson’s Red and White,  Hodgson & Son,  Hoffman & Son,  L. Huddleston,   HY Fund Studio,  I.D.A.,  I.G.A.,  International Silver,  J.& J. Plumbing,  Jack & Jill, Jack Snow,  James Brothers Hardware, Ken Hannah Minnows,  Ken Hughes, Kerr & Duncan,  Kitten Mill,  Leach Tire Center,  Levine’s,  Lightford’s,  MacPhail Tractor Sales,  Maximilian Restaurant,  McLean Noonan,  McNamee Plumbing,  McTavish Motor Sales,  McVeety Electric,  Mill Fab,  Minute Man,  Montgomery Chiropractor,  Moss Motors,  Nelly’s Shoe Store,  D.M. Nisbet Fina,  Nixon Planing Mill,  Noonan’s,  Central Tire Supply – VanDusen’s,  Oakes’ Bakery,  Orok’s Hardware,  Pant Barn,  Perkins Bowling Alley,  Anne Patterson Laundromat,  Pattenick’s,  Perth Blue Wings,  Perkins Motors,  Perth Television,  Perth Apothecary,  Perth Banks,  Perth District Co-op,  Perth Fire Department,  Perth Flower Shop, Perth Hotel,  Perth  Motors,  Perth Pinto,  Perth Planing Mill,  Perth Tea Room,  R.T. Parks & Sons,  Robinson’s Beverages, Reed’s Smoke Shop,  Reliable Cab,  Revere Hotel,  Reward Shoe Stores,  Rolly’s Restaurant,  Rubino’s,  Russ Ellis,  Ryder’s Restaurant,  Sawdon’s Appliance,  Scott’s Chicken Villa,  Shaw’s of Perth,  Siddall’s,  Small Brothers,  Somerville Farm Supplies,  Smith’s Radio,  Soper Theatre,  Stan Cleroux Real Estate,  Stan Tufts Delivery Service,  Stedman’s,  Stanzel Plumbing  Street Travel,  Sullivan Sanitation,  Tay-Towne Cleaners,  Tay Valley Sports,  Tayside Bakery,  Teak Hair Fashions,  The Mill Store,  The Valley Book Shop,  J.A. Thomas Optometrist,  Thornbury’s Pharmacy,  Tim’s Texaco,  Town and Country Restaurant,  Van Pelt Cabinet Maker,  Vanderspank’s General Store,  Wayfare Restaurant, Rideau Ferry Inn.


Arlene Stafford-Wilson

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