Rideau Ferry Inn – Those Hot Summer Nights!

Rideau Ferry Inn blog post image

Oh, those hot summer nights at the Rideau Ferry Inn!  The dancing, the laughter, stolen kisses, sneaking drinks in the parking lot, and the best live rock and roll around!

Its official name back then, was the Poonamalie Pavilion, but nobody called it that.  To my friends and me, it was simply the Rideau Ferry Inn; and you could find us there most weekend nights in the summer, socializing, laughing, and dancing the night away.

Situated along the clear, blue waters of the Rideau, the Rideau Ferry Inn has hosted many generations of tourists and boaters, providing sumptuous meals, comfortable accommodation, and lively entertainment.  Arguably, the highlight of the small settlement of Rideau Ferry, our former teenage haunt, wasn’t the original structure at this location.  The original building was actually a home.

The original structure was a house built in 1853 by Archibald Campbell.  Archibald married Elizabeth Buchanan, a preacher’s daughter.  Her father was the Reverend George Buchanan, and was one of the early Presbyterian ministers of Beckwith Township, serving the congregation at Franktown.

Their daughter, Helen Buchanan Campbell, married John Coutts.  As her parents were aging, and needed assistance, the couple moved in with them in 1870.  During that time, John made some additions to the home, and when he was finished, they not only had ample room for themselves, but had more than enough room to accommodate guests.  They began to rent rooms in the house to summer tourists, who were traveling by boat ,along the mighty Rideau waterways.


As the years went by, their home became known as ‘Coutts House’, and eventually, had the reputation of being a very fine hotel.  In 1893 a three-storey addition was built at the back of the house.  A large dining room was added to the first floor. The second and third floors had fifteen hotel rooms each, and an indoor bathroom.

Rideau Ferry Coutts House 1889

After 1905, the building was rented to a series of business men. During the 1920s and 30s, regattas became popular, and Coutts House held canoe races, and rowboats races. The Coutts family also sponsored competitions for sailboats, and it was the site of many grand daytime celebrations, and intimate evening affairs, for the wealthy travelers, visiting in the summer.

In 1947, Doug Wallace, native of Osgoode bought Coutts House, tore it down, and built a new structure with wood framing, and grey granite blocks.  It was a two-storey building, and the second floor featured a large dance area, with seating on three sides.

By the 1960s, the building had become known as the Rideau Ferry Inn, and during this time, became licensed for liquor sales.  Up until that time people would smuggle in their own booze, particularly in the roaring twenties when rum-running along the Rideau had its hey-day.

Rideau Ferry Bridge

It was in the 1970s, that I first heard the tales about the popular night spot, and all the good times that were had at the Rideau Ferry Inn.  There were stories told up and down the halls of the Perth High School – stories of summer romances with cottagers staying at seasonal properties nearby, or the ultra-cool teens that traveled by boat along the Rideau, with their parents.  There was also talk of the teenage kids from the States, and their hip clothing and accessories; styles that would take years to reach our little communities near Perth.  There were lots of accounts at our high school of the talented rock bands that performed, and of the nights spent dancing to the top hits played by edgy disc jockeys.  I couldn’t wait to go and see it for myself.

Paul Tarle Band

photo: L.  Steve Francis, Mike McPherson, Brian Jones, and seated – Paul Tarle.

The main house-band at ‘The Inn’ in the early 1970s was the Paul Tarle Band – and we showed off our cool dance moves, as we listened to their popular rock classics.

Dance 1970s

One of the best parties of our steamy Lanark County  summers was the annual Rideau Ferry Regatta. Beautiful, sleek, boats from all over, competing for the sought-after prizes, and the prestige of being ‘Number 1’ on the big lakes.

Boat Show Rideau Ferry

Regattas were all about hot sun, cold beers, the cool, clear waters of the Rideau Lakes, and beautiful boats all around us.

Rideau Ferry Inn 1982

We’ll never forget the annual regattas, or the great music at the Rideau Ferry Inn. Bands like ‘Sammy Seaman’ and his group kept us up until the wee hours.  Some nights it was ‘Woody Herman and the Young Thundering Herd’, and other evenings we were entertained by the ‘Paul Chabot Band’.   Occasionally, instead of live bands at the ‘Inn’, there was a ‘Disco’ dance provided by a local disc jockey, by the name of  ‘Sounds Great’.

Many years after our frequent teenage visits to the Rideau Ferry Inn, the building was purchased by Elmer and Eva Purdon.  It was still ‘the’ place at that time to host fancy wedding receptions, or 50th wedding anniversary celebrations.

Because we’d had so many good times at the Rideau Ferry Inn, it was a terrible shock for my friends and I when we heard about the fire in February of 1986, that destroyed our former dance hall.  The fire started on the top floor, where the dances had been held for so many years.  The ground floor was also destroyed in the fire, and that is where the kitchen, the large dining room, and bar were located.

My friends and I drove down to Rideau Ferry a few days after the fire.  I don’t think it was so much out of curiosity, but more out of disbelief.  Could it be true, that the place where we’d passed so many of our happy youthful hours was really gone? There were so many memories of friendships, dancing, and all of the special evenings we spent at the Rideau Ferry Inn.

We drove up to where the Inn had stood, and looked around. No one said a word.  I think that as we stared at the charred foundation of the building, each of us was recalling our own versions of the times spent there, in our youth.  They were such innocent, awkward, magical, teenage times. We sat there for a few more moments, still silent, and then drove away, back up the Ferry Road toward Perth.

The building may be gone, but our fond memories of the Rideau Ferry Inn will remain with us forever.  We will always remember the music, the friends, and the good times. Those long summer nights, when the stars seemed to shine a little brighter, the sunsets glowed a little softer.  The peaceful, pristine, waters of the Rideau Lakes made a perfect backdrop for those innocent days of our youth, when life stretched out ahead of us…..so full of promise, and our dreams for the future.

Lake Life sunset


An excerpt from – ‘Revelry and Rogues on the Rideau’  – ‘Lanark County Chronicle’ available in local book stores, or online. ISBN 978-0-9877026-23

LC Chronicle from web


Local Names:

Although there were lots of tourists and visitors in the summer, they were only there for a few short weeks at most. We became acquainted with many of the folks who lived year-round at Rideau Ferry, and some of the local names at that time were: McLean, Donaldson, Buchanan, Gemmill, Frost, Sewell, Coutts, Gallagher, Beveridge, McKay, Wills, McVeety, Millar, Tully, Oliver, Dettrick, Bethune, Purdon, Hitchcock, Fitzgerald, Hall, Gould, Irving, Joynt, King, McCue, Wallace, McKay and Campbell.


Join the author on a steamy hot summer night, park your car outside the Rideau Ferry Inn in the ‘passion pit’,  duck as the beer-bottles fly, and the action heats up outside.  Hear some of the top bands from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s play some classic rock and roll along the peaceful shores of the Rideau – read about it in the new book, released September 2020:

“Lanark County Collection: Winding Our Way Down Memory Lane”

LC Collection cover

available at The Book Nook, and Spark Books, in Perth, and Mill Street Books in Almonte.

Also online at http://www.staffordwilson.com

photos:  Perth Historical Society, Carol-Ann McDougall, Perth Remembered, Vintage Smiths Falls and Perth, The Perth Courier, Georgia McNally, Vintage Race Boat Shop, and from private collections.

For boating on the big lakes  – Rideau Ferry Marina


book cover edited resized LC Comfort (1)

Arlene Stafford-Wilson


Lanark County Dance Halls 1950s, 60s & 70s

Antler Lodge Opening Dance

Antler Lodge image for book 3

First kiss, first drink, maybe even a first love, were some of the memories made at the old style country dance halls in Lanark County in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Close to home, these community halls opened their doors on the May long weekend, and became the backdrop for cottage crushes and summer romances. With wooden floors polished to a high shine, and the snack-bars stocked with crowd-pleasing favourites, local bands entertained the crowds into the wee hours.

Some were neighbourhood musicians, and many were bands from out of town, but most used a single microphone and one or two small amplifiers.   Parking lots became passion pits, and offered privacy for underage drinking, and occasional brawls.

Music echoed across the big lakes and rivers, keeping cottagers awake, and causing parents to wonder what was going on down at the dance hall. Whether you preferred country, big-band or rock and roll there were venues to suit every taste and style.


See if you can remember these local favourites:

Bill Hannah and the Nightingales

Bill Munro and his Country Rockets

CFRA Happy Wanderers: Ken Reynolds, Ward Allen, Bob King, Vince Lebeau, Lynn Strauff, Marie King

Country Harmony Boys

Country Hoppers: Garry ‘Gizz’ Watt, Fred ‘Pappy’ Ryan, Paul ‘Hiker’ Gurry, Larry ‘Dooley’ Protheroe

Country Rhythm Kings

Don Gilchrist and his Dancers

Family Brown: Tracey, Lawanda, Joe & Barry Brown, Dave Dennison, Ron Sparling

Fred Paquin’s Orchestra (featuring Don Cochrane)

Jerry Badour and His Westernaires

Kenny Jackson’s Valley Cruisers: Harry Adrain, Raymond Donaldson, Gary Barr

Lee Miller’s Orchestra

Lockwood’s Orchestra

Mac Beattie and the Melodiers: Reg Hill, Garnet Scheel, Gaetan Fairfield, Bob Whitney

Mallen’s Melodiers

Mississippi Ramblers

Mississippi River Boys

Riders of the Southern Trails

Ron McMunn and his Country Cousins

Symington’s Orchestra

Tex Montana’s Cowboy Band

Top Hats


Valley Ramblers

Wilson Sisters

…and the dance halls where they entertained us:

Antler Lodge

Antler lodge poster

Balderson Hall

Bolingbroke ABC Hall

ABC Hall Bolingbroke

ABC Hall – Bolingbroke

Carleton Place Town Hall

Carleton Place Town Hall 1930s

Carleton Place Town Hall – 1930s

Fallbrook Orange Hall

Franktown Centennial Hall

Centennial Hall Franktown

Franktown Hall

Franktown Centennial Hall

Maberly Community Hall

Maberly community hall

Maberly Community Hall – interior

McDonald’s Corners Agricultural Hall

McDonald's Corners Hall

McDonald’s Corners Agricultural Hall

McDonald's Corners dance

May 5, 1960,p.4 “The Perth Courier”

Perth Town Hall

Perth Town Hall vintage photo

Perth Town Hall – vintage photo

Rideau Ferry Inn

Rideau Ferry Inn

Rideau Ferry Inn

Lanark Village – Stanley Lodge

Stanley Lodge Lanark

article on Stanley Lodge – “The Perth Courier”, Feb. 7, 1957 p.10

Watson’s Corners Community Hall

Watson's Corners dance

“The Perth Courier” May 5, 1960, p. 4

Wemyss Orange Hall

Wemyss orange hall

Westport Scott’s Ballroom

Scott's ballroom Westport

Scott’s Ballroom in Westport, Bedford Street

Scott's ballroom poster

White Hall

Don White:  “The Mississippi River Boys started playing in White, in 1956 or 1957. The dances in White were every Saturday night from late April or early May, depending upon the weather, and running until the end of deer hunting. The season finished with the Deer Hunters Ball. Back then you couldn’t play past midnight on Saturday so the dance was from 9 to 12. I remember working the door (25 cents admission) starting in 1958. I began playing drums with the band in Lanark, on New Years Eve, 1958.”

Mississippi River Boys at the White Hall, Highway 511, mid- 1960s  (below)  photo: courtesy of Don White

Left to Right: Ed White, Don White, Doug White, George Fyfe, Walter Cameron, Eleanor White

Mississippi River Boys White Hall Hwy 511

book cover edited resized LC Comfort (1)

Take a trip down memory lane, back to the old style country dance halls, and the folks who kept us dancing until the wee hours, in the story called  “Antler Lodge:  Dosey-Doe Along the Rideau”   from the book  “Lanark County Connections – Memories Among the Maples”

LC Connections

Antler lodge quote

photos of Antler Lodge, used with permission – Graeme Hoatson Beattie


Book Review, by ‘The Lanark Era’ Sept. 8, 2020

Book review The Lanark Era Sept 8 2020 part 1

Book review The Lanark Era Sept 8 2020 part 2

LC Collection cover

lanark Era ad Sept 8 2020

“The Lanark Era”, Sept. 8, 2020

Books - seven


2020 Book Review: “Inside Ottawa Valley”

Inside Ottawa Valley banner Sept 2020

Inside Ottawa Valley 2

Arlene Stafford-Wilson photo Inside Ottawa Valley

Arlene Stafford-Wilson has penned another book in her Lanark County Collections series.

This one, “Winding Our Way Down Memory Lane,” will be released Saturday, Sept. 12. She will be at a book signing at The Book Nook and Other Treasurers in Perth from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Ottawa author, with deep roots in Lanark County, has readers travel through the 1960s and 1970s with a fun trip to the Port Elmsley Drive-In, a visit to the Rideau Ferry Inn and even a stop at the Stumble Inn in Ferguson Falls.

Preserving history is Stafford-Wilson’s other passion, as she’s a genealogist. Writing books about stories from her own past is a way for her to combine both loves of writing and genealogy. Her last book about the stories of Lanark County was released two years ago.

LC Collection cover

Inside the pages of this latest book, Stafford-Wilson shares some homespun goodness with one of her mother’s famous recipes. So famous, she said, that her mother was a red ribbon winner at the Perth Fair. The writer remembers: “There was something peculiar in the pantry … in a glass jar that seemed to have a life of its own,” alongside the “collection of shotguns and rifles leaning up against the corner by the window.”

“Memory Lane” shares how water was found by dowsing. Stafford-Wilson explains what this method is and how it was used to find water every time by the local well drillers.

Another detailed yarn is one highlighting the history of the Perth library. From its humble beginnings, to a devastating fire, and how it rose from the ashes like the phoenix to become the mainstay it is today in the heart of Perth.

Who remembers the Stumble Inn at Ferguson Falls? “At one time, there were three hotels,” the author writes. In the early 1900s, loggers would “come to spend their pay on drinks and a good time.”

In this chapter, Stafford-Wilson writes about the seven Irish bachelors who came to clear land in Ferguson Falls. Find out about Patrick Quinn, John Quinn, James Carberry, William Scanlan, Terrence Doyle, John Cullen and James Power — who declared a solemn pact to help each other establish themselves. Here is where the Quinn Settlement was born.

Another local hot spot was the Rideau Ferry Inn, where “nearly every well-known rock band in the country performed during the 1960s and ‘70s in the 472-seat Poonamalie Room,” Stafford-Wilson writes. Many people also enjoyed the country music played at the nearby Antler Inn.

Parking lot fights were regular occurrences, Stafford-Wilson notes. “We saw more than a few bloody noses … there was often far more wild behaviour outside than inside.”

A fun read was learning about the Port Elmsley Drive-In, and how in the 1970s, Friday nights were for gleaming sports cars ripping up Roger’s Road in Perth. High school boys would race the quarter-mile track timed with a stopwatch “borrowed” from the high school.


Which one was the fastest between Kenny Moore’s green fastback Mustang, Craig Cullen’s black Camaro or Steve Richardson’s big sleek Plymouth.

Stafford-Wilson writes: “These races were followed by a tour around town complete with burnouts and smoke shows,” and the occasional ticket was issued by the police for unnecessary noise.

It was the next night that this same group of people would head to the drive-in to show off their hotrods.

There is a lot of history about the drive-in and how it closed on opening night in 1953 after rain washed out the fresh gravel and all 50 cars had to be towed out, which took most of the night and into the next morning. The theatre closed for a week until the ground dried out.

These short vignettes will leave you wanting more stories from days gone by.

For those families mentioned throughout the book, in true genealogist fashion, Stafford-Wilson has alphabetized names in an index for easy reference.

Call The Book Nook and Other Treasurers at 1-613-267-2350 to reserve a copy, or preorder your copy at thebooknookperth.com/product-category/books/adult-books/local-authors-adult/.

Laurie Weir 2020


Book launch for “Lanark County Christmas” fall of 2022

$24.99 – available at The Book Nook, Perth, Ontario, Spark Books, Perth, Ontario, Mill Street Books, Almonte, Ontario, or email: lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com

“Lanark County Christmas” – 10th book by the author

Arlene Stafford-Wilson, Sept. 24, 2022 at The Book Nook, 60 Gore St. E., Perth, Ontario

poster for LC Collection website

2020 New Book – “Lanark County Collection”

Arlene in front of Book Nook Sept 12 2020

Arlene Stafford-Wilson, at the book launch for “Lanark County Collection: Winding Our Way Down Memory Lane”, at The Book Nook, Perth, Ontario, on September 12, 2020.

“Lanark County Collection:

Winding Our Way Down Memory Lane”

“Travel back in time to the 1960s and 1970s, as the author invites you to come along on this journey through rural Eastern Ontario.  Visit the Rideau Ferry Inn, a much-loved dance hall, where rock and roll was king.  Watch in wonder as a water-witcher dazzles you with their mysterious abilities, as they locate the best spot to dig a country well.  Spend the evening at the infamous Stumble Inn, in Ferguson Falls, known for its bootleg whiskey, and legendary fighting among the Irish villagers.  Next, meet the dedicated staff of the Perth Public Library, and discover the tragedy, scandal, and unstoppable spirit that made this place ‘the heart of the town’. Visit a rural farmhouse, and discover the secrets behind the art and science of sourdough.  Spend a hot summer night at the Port Elmsley Drive In, meet some fascinating people, and find out what happens behind the scenes, while you watch a movie under the stars.  Join the author, as you wind your way down memory lane.”

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1:   The Mysterious Ways of the Water-Witcher

Chapter 2:   Hot Summer Nights at the Rideau Ferry Inn

Chapter 3:   Perth Library – Heart of the Town

Chapter 4:   Mother’s Farmhouse Sourdough

Chapter 5:   The Stumble Inn of Ferguson Falls

Chapter 6:   Port Elmsley Drive-In – Showcase of the Golden Triangle

Chapter 1

The Mysterious Ways

of the Water Witcher

water witcher

In the first story we find ourselves sitting on the cool grass on a hot day, in the 1960s, watching in wonder as a dowser walks through the yard, in search of the best spot to dig a country well.  You’ll meet our local drilling crew, Jerry Thompson and Connell ‘Connie’ Thompson, of Althorpe, and our dowser, Jack Dowdall, from Glen Tay, as they work their magic to find a source of water the old fashioned way.

Thompson Drilling

According to Jerry Thompson, “Jack believed heart and soul in dowsing”, and he was known to be as skilled and as accurate as they come.

My sister, Jackie, curious about the mystery of dowsing, asked the men if she could try it herself.

“I remember when a new well was drilled, and when the men came with the dowsing stick. I can’t recall what they called it – I think a divining stick or rod, but it was used to find water. 

I was there and asked if I could try it.  The men seemed amused, but the Dowser told me what to do.  I can’t remember if I felt anything or not, but when he found the water, it seemed to pull him and the stick almost down to the ground.”      

 Jackie Stafford Wharton


Come back to the farm in the 1960s, meet Jerry and Connie Thompson, and Jack Dowdall, and spend the day as they search for water with an apple switch.


Chapter 2

Hot Summer Nights

at the Rideau Ferry Inn

Rideau Ferry Inn Sept 2020

In the second story, we head to the Rideau Ferry Inn, on a warm summer evening, in the 1970s, to hear some live rock and roll, enjoy a few drinks, and dance the night away along the peaceful lake-shore.  Visit the parking lot, also known as the passion pit, and watch a standoff between the boys in blue from P.D.C.I., and the lads in red from the Smiths Falls High School. Meet some of the bands who entertained us on those endless summer nights: “The Stampeders”, “The Five Man Electrical Band”, “The Paul Tarle Band”, Edward Bear, the “Cooper Brothers”, “Too Cold to Hold”, “Eight Seconds”, “Metagenesis”, “The Crayons”, and many, many more.  Watch the summer romances unfold, as the cottagers and the kids from neighbouring towns visit for the evening.

Rideau Ferry Inn 2 Sept 2020

Chapter 3

Perth Library:  Heart of the Town

Perth Library

Our next stop is the Perth Public Library, where we’ll learn about a tragedy, a scandal, and what really happens behind the circulation desk.  Meet the librarians, from the very earliest days of the institution, like Harriet ‘Hattie’ Nicol, and come along for Hattie’s first ride in a motor-car. We’ll meet all of the librarians from 1907 to present day, like Flora MacLennan, Doris Stone, daughter of the publisher of the local paper in Perth, George McCulloch, Caretaker, Vera Sanderson, Natalie Flett, Helen Garrett, Connie Ebbs, Marilyn Tufts, Joan Mitchell, and Diana Cleland. We’ll meet the courageous  librarians who were there the night of the fire, on January 3rd, 1980 –  Faye Cunningham, working that evening, and Susan Snyder, who came to witness the fire as soon as she heard the news; and read their personal accounts of the tragedy and the aftermath.  We’ll also hear from Fire Inspector, Harold Jordan, and his thoughts as to the cause of the fire, and some speculations from folks around town. We’ll meet Sharon Coreau, a librarian who worked there in the 1970s, and hear her impressions and memories of the people, the staff, and the old stately building on Gore Street. From the ‘new’ location, on Herriott Street, we’ll meet Elizabeth Goldman and Erika Heesen, learn about the path which led them to their roles as Head Librarians in Perth, and how technology evolved and changed the library over the years. Read about a shocking scandal in the 1970s, how a brave young librarian challenged the Board, and find out why an entire Board was fired one fateful year.  Meet the Board members, the librarians, the after-school staff, the students, the caretakers, and the volunteers who made the library ‘the heart of the town’. These stories and more, of this well-loved, and cherished institution.


Chapter 4

Mother’s Farmhouse Sourdough

sourdough Klondike

Prospectors baking sourdough bread during the Klondike Gold Rush

photo: Parks Canada

Discover the fascinating story of sourdough, and meet a feisty adventurous girl who grew up out west, in the big city, and the baking secrets that she brought to Lanark County. Learn about the early prospectors in the days of the Klondike Gold Rush, and how they carried their sourdough starter in a small sac, on a cord around their necks or a pouch tied to their belts. Find out why these wise old prospectors were given the nickname of ‘sourdoughs’. Spend the afternoon in an old farmhouse pantry, and watch in wonder as the sourdough concoction bubbles away on the pantry shelf.  Discover the art and the science, and one of the baking secrets that won countless prizes at the local fairs, year after year!

Chapter 5


The Stumble Inn of Ferguson Falls

stumble inn black and white

In this story, we head to Ferguson Falls, on a warm summer’s eve in the 1930s, and spend the night at the infamous Stumble Inn.  We’ll meet our host for the evening, Billy McCaffrey, sit at the gnarled wooden table, enjoy a few shots of whiskey, then take cover when the fights break out among the Irish villagers! We’ll hear the locals tell their fascinating tales passed down to them through the generations, and listen to the soulful Irish music played on the fiddles and the tin flutes. Come along with us, back to the early days in Ferguson Falls, sample the whiskey, listen to the music, sing some songs, and maybe we’ll even see a ghost or two!!


Chapter 6

Port Elmsley Drive-In

Showcase of the Golden Triangle

port elmsley drive in black and white

In our final story, we’ll visit the Port Elmsley Drive In, on a steamy, hot summer evening. We’ll meet Laura Williams, daughter of founder Bill Williams, and hear about the earliest days of the Drive In.  Join Laura as she works tirelessly in the ‘Potato Shack’, with local girls, Sandra and Cathy Polk, peeling hundreds of potatoes in preparation for an all-nighter’s tasty french-fries.  Meet the gang at the concession stand  – Cathy O’Grady, Bonnie O’Grady, Dawn Polk, Pam Polk, Susan Polk, Lorraine ‘Bunny’ Van Dusen, Violet Van Dusen, Cindy Van Dusen, Susan Van Dusen, Mary Benson, John Benson, and Glen Hart, to name a few.  Meet former owner, Jan Stepniak, and hear about the night when American rock band, “The Byrds” played under the stars.  Witness the excitement on a summer’s evening when local farmer, Bill Beveridge’s sheep and cattle get loose, and wander among the parked cars. Join the nervous movie-goers on another fateful evening when a skunk wanders through the crowd with a Pepsi cup stuck on his head. Come along for some adventures at the Port Elmsley Drive-In, meet the talented staff who worked there over the years, and discover what really happens behind the scenes at this much-loved local treasure!

LC Collection cover

Come along on these adventures, back to the 1960s and 1970s, as we wind our way down memory lane!


“Lanark County Collection: Winding Our Way Down Memory Lane”, is the 8th book in the series:

Books - seven

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autumn in the country

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warm familiar scents

Crystal-palace 2

air was fresh and crisp


Ottawa International Writer’s Festival

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Ottawa International Writer’s Festival – Perth Chapter

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