Balderson Cheese – Craving the Curd

Whenever a kid in Lanark County heard the word ‘Balderson’ spoken at their home, most of the time their thoughts turned to cheese.  The Balderson Cheese Factory was a short drive up the Lanark Road from our place, and they made the best cheese in the world.  People came from miles around to buy Balderson Cheese, curds, and butter, and our family was no different. Usually a visit to the cheese factory took place as part of a Sunday drive.

Balderson was a small hamlet situated about halfway between Perth and Lanark and was one of the earliest communities settled along with Perth.  Balderson, a suburb was also settled partly by soldiers, and partly by Scottish immigrants from Perthshire in the Scottish Highlands.  It was founded by Sergeant Balderson in June 1816.

When we spent time in Balderson during the 1960s and 1970s some of the family names were: Bell, Burns, Davidson, Devlin, Haley, Jones, Kennedy, King, McGregor, McIntyre, McTavish, Myers and Newman.

 

Balderson Cheese factory 1954

The ‘new’  factory, built after the 1929 fire

cheese curds

cheese curds

The Balderson Cheese Factory had already been operating for many decades by the time I first remember it.  The factory was established 1881.  It was formed by a group of dairy farmers of Lanark County.  They were known as the Farmer’s Cheese and Butter Association of Balderson. They decided to use the excess milk that they were each producing on their farms, build a factory, produce Cheddar cheese and sell it locally. They built a small, plain-looking, wood-frame building near the Balderson Corners crossroads.

Balderson Cheese factory

 

Loading dock Balderson Cheese factory

Balderson Cheese Factory – Loading Dock

In the early days, each dairy farmer would bring their milk by horse and wagon and drop it off at the factory.  Later, to become more efficient, special milk wagons were built and routes were established and workers from the factory would go from farm to farm picking up the milk.

Balderson 1905

‘The Perth Courier’, Sept. 20, 1962

 

Just twelve years after opening, the Balderson Cheese Factory was one of the twelve factories that contributed cheese to create the ‘Mammoth’ cheese for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The old timers said that it was six feet high and weighed over 20,000 lbs.

 

Mammoth cheese

In 1929, a fire burned the original factory and all that was left was the concrete floor.

Balderson rebuilt

‘The Perth Courier’, Sept. 13, 1929

 

Although Dad was familiar with the original factory, we had only seen the one that was rebuilt in 1930.  It was a plain-looking building and was built in a similar style to many of the other local cheese factories, in and around Perth.  There was a small sign outside and the inside they had a very small counter and sold three products: cheese –  yellow or coloured orange, cheese curds, and butter. You could buy mild cheese or old cheese, and Dad preferred the older ‘sharp’ cheese and liked to enjoy it with a slice of Mother’s homemade apple pie. The cheese was cut from rounds, wrapped in waxed paper and sealed with a piece of scotch tape.  There was one person working behind the counter that would get your cheese and ring it up on the cash register. Everyone else worked in the back.

Balderson Cheese factory cheese-maker

Cheese-Maker,  Balderson Cheese Factory

Dad would often know the person working behind the counter, and he’d ask if we could go back and watch them make the cheese.  Now, that was really interesting!  There was always a distinct smell in the factory, even at the front counter.  It smelled kind of like buttermilk, and the air always seemed very warm and humid.  It was behind the counter where all the magic took place.

Balderson 1962

‘The Perth Courier’, Sept. 20, 1962

 

There were huge metal vats, filled with heated milk.  I don’t know what they use now, but in those days, they added rennet to the milk to make it curdle.  Rennet was an acid which could be found in the fourth stomach of calves and was used for digestion.  When the rennet was added to the milk it curdled and formed into clumps.  The workers in the factory would walk around with long wooden paddles and stir the vats.  Some were newly curdling and were very easy to stir, others in later stages required quite a bit of muscle to stir because the curds were forming in large, heavy clumps.  In the last vat the salt was added and some of the curds were strained out and sold, but the remainder would be pressed into huge round wooden molds.  The molds were lined with cheesecloth so that the cheese wouldn’t stick when it was time to remove it.

At the rear of the old factory, double walls were built two feet thick, with sawdust packed inside as insulation to keep the cheese cool as it cured.  After the cheese was strained and pressed into molds it was stored in the curing room. The whey, the liquid that was strained from the cheese, was stored in big tanks.  In the old days the whey was returned to the farmers to use as feed, but later when tighter government regulations were introduced the whey was dumped.  Each cheese was waxed, boxed, weighed, molded, inspected, cooled, turned and shipped. The cheese was regularly inspected by Government inspectors and the stock turns over every ten days. The cheese remained in the curing room until it was shipped.

Balderson cheese vat of curd and whey

Vat of Curd and Whey

 

Cheese making was an art form in Balderson and their Master Cheese Maker when I was a kid, was Omar Matte. Mr. Matte had begun making cheese when he was fifteen working for his father in St. Albert.  By the 1960s he had been making cheese for 27 years. In those days, Mr. Matte would mold 120 tons of cheese per year and most was shipped to the Sanderson Grading Station in Oxford where it went on to foreign markets. Ten tons of cheese on average was sold locally in the Balderson area. Over 100 tons of cheese and 9,000 pounds of butter produced yearly by the mid 1960s and sold all over North America.

There were many Master Cheese Makers before him – Chris J. Bell of Perth, James Somerville of Boyd’s, Walter Partridge of the Scotch Line, James Prentice of Perth, Charles Gallery of Perth, Robert Lucas of Jasper and Percy George of Christie Lake.

 

Balderson Cheesemakers

1881-1887  W. Brown

1888-1891  J. Milton 1888-1891

1892-1901  W.D. Simes

1902-1904  E.E. Haley

1905-1911  J.M. Scott

1912-1917  T.K. Whyte

1918-1921  M. Haley

1922-1929  A. Quinn

1930  G. Spencer

1931-1937  P. Kirkham

1937-1939  J.L. Prentice

1939-1941  C.J. Bell

1941-1942  J. Somerville

1943  W. Partridge

1944-1955  C. Gallery

1956-1958  R. Lucas

1959-1960  P. George

1961-1966  O. Matte

1966-1974  Y. Leroux

1975-1980  L. Lalonde

1980  N. Matte

As the years passed by, the cheese gained tremendous popularity, news of the product spread, and the little business was bought by a large company.  After many decades the Balderson Cheese business has changed hands many times.

You can still find Balderson cheese today, and many types and grades of cheese available in all of the major supermarkets.

I smile whenever I see the Balderson name and think of the little hamlet outside of Perth. I remember our Sunday drives to the old cheese factory, and how they made the best curd in the world!

 

cheese curd 2kid eating cheese curd

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com

(story is an excerpt from  ‘Lanark County Kid: My Travels Up and Down the Third Line’ ISBN: 978-0-9877026-16)

LC Kid

available in local book stores: The Book Nook & Other Treasures, and  ‘Bookworm’ in Perth, Mill Street Books in Almonte
Vintage Photos: ‘Perth Remembered’
Newsclippings: ‘The Perth Courier’

The Stafford House

 Stafford House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Watson:

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

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

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

 

Stafford House in 1947

Stafford House – c. 1947

 

Early History of Stafford House

The Land

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

The Original Owners of Stafford House

– Isabella Thompson Miller & Andrew Burns Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Brick House

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

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

A Wedding!

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

Calvin United Church December 20140001

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

Sudden Death of Andrew Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two More Weddings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ernest Miller Drowns

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

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

                                                    Arlene Stafford-Wilson

 

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

Ernest Miller drowns 1931

 

 

Nina Miller Stewart

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

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

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

1936 New Owners of the house – Thomas and Clara Carberry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom and Clara remained in the house for ten years.

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

 

 

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

Judy Tim Jackie Roger at the fence

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

 

Jackie Ronnie Judy Arlene

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

Audry in front of the house

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

Judy and Arlene at the front steps

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

 

Staffords Jackie Tim Roger Judy Arlene

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

Judy near the spruce tree

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

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

old back porch

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

new back porch

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

Judy at the front door

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

new garage

 

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

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

Judy Jackie and Arlene apple orchards

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

Judy in the apple orchard

Judy Stafford in the apple orchard

 

Arlene in the apple orchard

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

Judy and Arlene in the orchard

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

 

1967 Christmas

 

the old house

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

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

tracks back the side road

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

creek-behind-the-house0001

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

Stafford Christmas tree

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

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

Calvin United Church brightened

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

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

Christmas House Tour

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

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

http://www.staffordwilson.com