Lanark Sweaters: Soft as a Kitten

Each year, in the late summer, thoughts at our house turned to all the rituals associated with going back to school.  This included inspecting last year’s clothing, shoes and boots, gathering up pencils and erasers for the inevitable homework that would take place at the big kitchen table, and checking to see if the old lunch pails were still intact.  Some articles would be passed down to younger members of the family, and some things would have to be purchased new.

 

kitten logo

Glenayr Kitten Logo

It was usually on a Saturday, the first or second week in September, that we made the annual trip to Lanark, to buy a couple of new sweaters at the Kitten factory outlet, and a new pair of shoes, maybe some new snow boots, at Gus Quinn’s store.

 

We drove down the Third Line, turned at Glen Tay, and headed up Highway 7, toward Lanark. The village of Lanark was a nice easy drive from our house – about twenty minutes or so.  I suppose we could have done it in a bit less time, but Mother was never one to let Dad go over the speed limit; she was very strict about that and said that the laws were there for a reason.  Dad would sometimes say that  he ‘had’ to speed a bit, to burn the carbon off of his spark plugs, but Mother never fell for that, and she’d just give him ‘the look’, and he’d be back under the speed limit in no time.

 

After about ten minutes had passed, we’d be driving into Balderson.  Sometimes Mother would stop and get some curd for us kids, and some old sharp cheese for Dad, but that was usually on the way back home from Lanark, so it wouldn’t spoil in the heat.   We all knew the story of the giant cheese, made in Balderson, in 1893, for the World’s Fair in Chicago.  The old timers said that it was six feet high, and weighed over 22,000 lbs.  It was mostly butter and cheese that was produced there, when we were kids, and people would drive for miles around, even up from the States, because it was so good.

Kitten mill along the Clyde

The former buildings of the Glenayr Kitten Mill, along the Clyde River, Lanark, Ontario

Another ten minutes or so and we’d be driving into Lanark.  It was a pretty little village, built along the Clyde River.  Mother said that it had been named for Lanarkshire in Scotland, and had been settled back in the 1820s, mostly by Scottish weavers and farmers.

Dad grew up on the family homestead, on the 11th concession of Drummond Township, not far from Lanark, and he often visited his Aunt Stacia, who owned a home in Lanark Village, right along the Clyde.  Dad said that the Caldwell Woollen Mill, in Lanark, was a big employer back in the early days, but the building had been destroyed by fire.   He said that there had been another huge fire in the late fifties, that destroyed many of the old original buildings in Lanark, and over 100 people had lost their homes.

 

Caldwell mills Lanark Ontario

Caldwell Woollen Mills, Lanark – Perth Remembered

After passing many of the homes and businesses along the main street, we finally arrived at 44 George Street, at the Glenayr Kitten Outlet.   The business was started in 1944, by the Markle family, from Toronto, and Derek, son of the founder worked there as the superintendent of the mill.  Some of the wool was already spun onto cones when it arrived from Scotland, and was knitted by circular machines. In 1951 they began to produce sweaters under the ‘Kitten’ label.

new industry

‘The Ottawa Citizen’, 1953

 

All kinds of sweaters were made at the Kitten mill, knitted with orlon, angora, mohair, lamb’s wool, or pure cashmere.  There were a number of different styles– pullovers, cadet style, cardigans, ski styles, crew necks many different colours, zip front, turtleneck, six button, eight button cardigans, and alpine styles.

Glenayr Kitten also manufactured pantsuits, skirts, blazers, blouses and slacks.

Kitten 1953 photo Mary Graham

Mary Graham, Lanark, Ontario

 

kitten yellow sweater

Buttercup yellow cardigan sweater from the Glenayr Kitten Mill, c.1970s

kitten yellow sweater tag

Label from the yellow sweater

 

Kitten ad Ottawa Citizen Aug 4 1977 p 67

Ad, 1978, ‘The Ottawa Citizen’

Kitten suit 1970s

kitten suit 1970s tag

Blue sweater suit, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark, Ontario

Kitten photo assembling sweater July 11 1978 p 19

Workers at the Glenayr Kitten Mill stitch sweater pieces together

kitten 1960s sweater orange

kitten 1960s orange sweater tag

Terra-cotta orange short-sleeved sweater, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark

 

Kitten bus trip 1982 Oct. 19 1982 p 63

The Kitten Mill stores were a popular tourist attraction, and visitors traveled by motor-coach from Ottawa, Kingston, and the U.S.

Kitten ad Oct 15 1988 p 192

Kitten Mill ad, ‘The Ottawa Citizen’, 1980s

 

kitten 1960s purple sweater

kitten purple sweater tag

Violet, long-sleeve, collared sweater, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark

Kitten 1993 ad with model

Blazer and matching slacks, Glenayr Kitten Mill, 1990s

 

Kitten Glenayr sweater 1

Peach popcorn knit, Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark

 

Kitten label

Rumours of Closure – 1992

Kitten article part 1 closing 1992

Kitten closing article 1992 part 2

‘The Ottawa Citizen” – 1992Kitten David Markle 1992 photo plant closing

 

 

kitten pale blue sweater

Aqua, fine, combed-wool, long-sleeve Glenayr Kitten sweater, Lanark, Ontario

kitten pale blue tag

The Kitten Mill Remained Open

Kitten 1993 mill stays open article

1993, ‘The Ottawa Citizen” – Kitten Mill Stays Open

 

Kitten 1996 customers flock article part 1

Kitten 1996 customers flock article part 2

 

kitten jpg

Kitten 2000 David Markle obit part 1

Kitten 2000 David Markle obit part 2

 

 

Kitten Mill Lanark Museum 1

Display at the Lanark Museum, Lanark, Ontario

 

Kitten Mill Lanark Museum 2

Storyboard display highlighting some of the former staff of the Glenayr Kitten Mill,
(Lanark Museum)

 

Kitten Mill Lanark Museum 3

Many items from the glory days of the Glenayr Kitten Mill, Lanark Museum

 

I think one of the things that attracted my frugal Mother to the Kitten outlet, was the fact that they sold ‘seconds’.  They sold some sweaters that had small defects – without labels, and sold discontinued colours, ends-of-lines, and clearance items.  The ‘seconds’ usually sold for between $4.50 and $12.00 at that time, so was very appealing when you were buying back-to-school clothing for a large family.

 

After a busy afternoon in Lanark, we’d head back home, with our  new sweater ‘seconds’, ready for the new school year.  Looking back, we were lucky to live such a short drive from the Kitten Mill, because the sweaters there really were lovely.  Mother always found a way to add on the missing button, or to mend the seam that was beginning to unravel, so that you couldn’t tell that it was a second.  Most of my Kitten sweaters lasted for years, because they were so well made, and were knitted with such high-quality yarns.

 

Sometimes during our visits to Lanark, I’d see huge, sleek, modern buses, pull up out front, and forty or fifty people got off the motor-coach, to shop at the outlets.  I think many of them came all the way from Kingston or Ottawa. We didn’t realize it at the time, but people in the cities had already figured out that in our little corner of the world, folks had crafted their products with skills, passed down over generations, and they took great pride in what they manufactured.

 

Every spring, around the middle of March, we’d see city folks, suddenly appear around the Perth area, because they knew that the best tasting maple syrup came from Lanark County. It was also no secret that the finest tasting cheese in the world was made at the modest, little, factory in Balderson, and, if you wanted the highest quality sweaters, at a good price, and ‘soft as a kitten’, there was only one place to get them, and that was the village of Lanark.

 

(This story is dedicated to the people who worked at the Glenayr Kitten Mill.  Many families had more than one member working at the Mill, and some worked for two or three decades, or more. Thank-you for producing the beautiful, cozy, sweaters, that kept us warm on those chilly days. You won’t be forgotten.

Thanks also to the Markle family, who provided work for the village of Lanark, and who kept their prices fair, so even those with a modest income could afford to purchase one of their high quality sweaters.)

 

 

Kitten reunion 2018

A reunion for former staff at the Glenayr Kitten Mill, was held in 2017 at the Lanark Museum

 

 

This story is an excerpt from – ‘Lanark Sweaters – Soft as a Kitten’  – from the book, “Lanark County Kid: My Travels up and down the Third Line”  ISBN: 978-0-9877026-16

LC Kid

http://www.staffordwilson.com

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’

Life Lessons at Carl Adams’ on the Tay

Carl Adams

If I hadn’t been completely convinced that our Mother loved us, I might have questioned why she would have chosen Carl Adams’ swimming hole as a good place to teach us all to swim.   Mother would drive us back there, two or three times a week, during the summer; usually after supper, and always at least an hour after we’d eaten – that was the rule.  She said that it was dangerous to swim right after you’d eaten, and that you could get cramps, and possibly even drown.  Of course, I’ve learned since then, that you can swim right after you eat, without either suffering cramps or drowning, for that matter, however, that was Mother’s rule and there was no point in arguing.  So, whether we were at Silver Lake, for a picnic, Christie Lake for a quick dip, or Carl Adams’, for a swimming lesson – Mother always wore her watch, and no one could even so much as wade around in the shallow water, near the shore, until the full sixty minutes had passed.

 

It was always exciting to hear that we’d be going to Carl Adams’; especially on one of those hot summer days, when the upstairs of the house was stifling hot.  Mother would announce that we were going to have a swimming lesson, and she’d grab her purse, and head for the garage.  That was my cue to run upstairs, and change into my bathing suit, and get a towel.  I’d also bring an extra one for Mother to sit on, because she liked to spread a towel out, on the flat rocks near the water, so she could offer some suggestions on improving our swimming technique.

 

I’d be changed in seconds, towels in hand and taking the stairs down, two at a time, and by that time Mother would have backed the car out of the garage, and be waiting, parked under the tall maple trees, that shaded our lawn.  We’d drive out of the yard, and down the lane, turned right, headed toward DeWitt’s Corners, windows rolled down, taking full advantage of the warm summer breeze, blowing into the car.

 

Usually at that time of year we’d see at least one hay wagon on the road, as we drove up the Third Line.  The hot, dry weather was ideal for cutting and baling the hay, and our neighbourhood farmers would be taking full advantage.   It wasn’t unusual to get stuck behind a tractor, which was bad for two reasons – one, now we had to slow down and weren’t getting much of a breeze blowing through the hot car, and two – I couldn’t wait to get to the swimming hole, and this would be greatly impeding our progress.   Sometimes, they’d pull off to the side so we could get by, but usually we’d just have to follow along behind, at a snail’s pace, until they’d turned off the road, and into a field.

 

If the road was clear, we’d be at DeWitt’s Corners in no time, and then we’d turn left up the dirt side road, past Clifford and Florence Munro’s. After a couple more turns on the dusty backroads, we’d arrive, and pull over by the flat rocks, under the trees.

 

It was a pretty spot, that’s for sure, with tall, graceful trees along each side of the rocks, framing that popular little section of the Tay River.  People in Bathurst Township had been using that little swimming hole for years, and it showed.  The broad, low rocks near the shore provided a natural seating area, the maple and willow trees offered welcome shade for spectators, and the cedar bushes all around gave off a fresh woodsy scent.  This time of year, we’d hear the heat bugs in full force, and see the shiny dragonflies, swooping effortlessly above the water.

 

Sometimes we’d see a couple of empty beer bottles, or empty chip bags, or cigarette packs, piled on the rocks – souvenirs left behind by teenagers, parked there the night before.   Occasionally we’d see the charred evidence that someone had built a little campfire; likely to cook a hot dog or two, or maybe toast some marshmallows.  Once in a while, there might even be a toy, or a towel abandoned on the shore, forgotten by one of the neighbourhood kids.

 

After we’d parked, Mother would grab the towels, and spread one out on the rocks and settle down.  Sometimes she’d bring a book or a magazine, or some crocheting to work on, but most of the time she’d just sit back, and watch us swim. Occasionally, Dickie Patterson, a local bachelor, would be riding by on his bicycle, and he’d stop, and sit, and chat, with Mother for a while, catching up on the local news. He lived up at Christie Lake, but we’d often see him riding, either on the Third Line, or on one of the backroads, such as these.

 

By the time Mother had settled down on her towel, I was already getting my feet wet, and assessing the temperature of the Tay River.  Most of the time, it felt pretty warm near the shore, because the water was so shallow, and I’d gradually wade into the first few feet of the river, and then I’d begin to feel the power of the current pulling at my legs.

 

Now, back to my original question, of why Mother would have brought us here, to learn how to swim.  Yes, it was in close proximity to our house; closer than Christie Lake, but here’s where the other questions arise.  There is, as I mentioned, a fairly strong current, in this part of the Tay River.  By the time I was in up to my knees I could feel it tugging at me.  Now, in order to remain in roughly the same section of the river, you had to start moving against the current, otherwise it would pull you down.  Once you were in all the way up to your neck, you had to start kicking or paddling at a pretty good pace, against the current, because the minute you stopped, you would be swept down the river.   Oh, and let’s throw one more wrench into this picture, for good measure –   remember the nice flat rocks up on the shore?  Well those nice flat rocks – Canadian Shield, I suppose, well, they extend right out into the water – except that the ones in the water were coated, in slippery, green moss.

 

Just so you’ve got the whole picture – we’re here with Mother, because we don’t have our swimming abilities perfected yet – not even close.  She’s brought us to a section of the Tay where there’s a fairly strong current, that keeps trying to sweep us off our feet, and when we do manage to try and get our footing, the surface below is slippery, wet, moss, that offers no traction whatsoever.  Many times, I’d slip on the moss, and the river would start to pull me along, and I’d have to paddle and splash like a maniac, so I could get back to the place where I’d started.  I often wondered if I didn’t fight my way back to the clearing, against the current, if I’d keep being swept along down the river, and end up somewhere in Perth!

 

So, what was the point of learning to swim at Carl Adams’ swimming hole?  Did Mother bring us there because it was convenient, and a quick ride from our house?  Or, looking back now, was there a bigger lesson involved?  Sure, once we learned how to swim there, against the strong current of the Tay – everywhere else we swam after that, seemed easy.  No current?  No slippery rocks to contend with?  Swimming anywhere else after that, was a cinch.

 

Maybe learning to swim at Carl Adams’ was a metaphor for the struggles that we would face later in life.  We’ve all had days where we feel like we’re fighting against a strong current, and moments in our lives that seem to have us perching precariously, on a slippery rock.  At times we’re certain that if we gave up the fight for even a minute, we’d be swept away down the river.

 

Looking back now, we learned so much more than how to swim at that quiet, unassuming little spot along the Tay River.  Many, many years ago, at Carl Adams’, we discovered that if we kept chugging along, persevering, and made it past the rough spots, that eventually we’d end up  back at the little clearing, warmed by the sun, leaves fluttering softly overhead, Mother smiling from the shore, and us, feeling all the stronger for the struggle.

 

(an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Kid: My Travels Up and Down the Third Line’, ISBN: 978-0-987-7026-16)

 

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http://www.staffordwilson.com

 

Family History Tip: Researching and Remembering Our Veterans

Harry Stafford & James Traill

“We are the Dead.
Short days ago we lived,
felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
loved and were loved,
and now we lie in Flanders Fields.”

— John McCrae

 

Over 600,000 men and women enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the First World War, (1914-1918) as soldiers, nurses and chaplains. The CEF database is an index to those service files, which are held by Library and Archives Canada.

This free online searchable database includes over 600,000 men and women who participated in WWI (1914-1918) including soldiers as well as nurses and clergy:

WWI Canadian Forces Personnel Records

These service files contain the name, address, service number, name of the next of kin, their physical description , skin colour, eye colour and scars or identifiable markings, and the unit number and location where they signed up for service.

On this site you can find links to the soldier’s file, which contain medical and pay records, and encompass a more detailed personal history of the soldier, and includes the specific units where they served, after going overseas. The soldier’s full service records are not available online, however, they may be ordered for a fee from Library and Archives Canada.

Also available are links to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial if the soldier died while in service.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial

War Diaries – This is a link to the diaries of the unit, not to personal diaries, but of the records of day to day life in a particular unit. This will give you great insight to how your ancestor lived in times of war in their group as they trekked across Europe and participated in various battles – some successful and some not.

Canadian War Diaries

Using the resources and links mentioned in this article, I was able to search and locate cousin Harry Stafford’s enlistment papers, his detailed medical files, including x-ray images and comments from attending physicians, his pay statements, physical description, and name and address of his next of kin.

I was also able to find out about the specific battle where he was wounded and subsequent hospitals in Europe where he received treatment. The records also state his date and condition at discharge, and pay records of any amount owing.

Harry’s story begins with the 130th Battalion, Lanark and Renfrew Scottish Regiment which was the ‘130th also known as the ‘overseas’ Battalion, based in Perth, Ontario.

They began recruiting in the fall of 1915, in Lanark and Renfrew Counties.

Harry’s Story

Nine-year old Harry stood by the shore, and watched in horror as his eldest brother Wilfred struggled to the surface again and again, until he finally slipped out of sight into the deep blue waters of the Mississippi River near Lanark.

Harry and his brothers often played near the water, although none of them could swim. The four brothers stood on the shore that fateful day in July, and skipped stones on the surface of the water, just as they had so many times before.

Wilfred, two days shy of his thirteenth birthday, was the eldest of the four. He took great pride in showing his younger brothers how to pick the longest flattest stones. He coached them on how to hold the stones on their flat side, and throw them parallel to the water, so they would skip farther along the waves. Dick, at age ten, was beginning to get the hang of it. Harry and his twin brother Frank had turned nine two months before and were doing their best to keep up with the older boys.

Harry, the stronger and more athletic of the twins was trying to help his brother Frank as he struggled with the task. Frank had kyphosis which meant that he had a severe curvature of the spine. People in those days referred to Frank as a ‘hunchback’, but he was still able to do most things; although it might take him a little longer.

One of the boys had thrown his prized pocket-knife into the water by mistake, and Wilfred had gone into the water to retrieve it, slipped on a rock and fell into a deep hole, unable to swim, and drowned. The younger boys had raced back into Lanark to get help, but it was too late. By the time they had met up with the first grown-up it was already after five. Mr. Baker, the local tailor in Lanark hurried back to the spot, and pulled Wilfred’s lifeless body from the river.

Mr. Baker laid the body gently on the shore, and headed back to the Stafford home to deliver the news. Harry’s mother Mary (Murphy) Stafford was pregnant with her next child Carmel at that time, and both she and Harry’s father Peter were overcome with grief.

This would be Harry’s first, though not his last encounter with death at a young age. Two years later in the spring, his mother once again gave birth to twins – this time a boy and a girl – Rose Marie and Martin Wilfred, named for his late brother. The twins were born in the spring, and Harry’s parents were delighted to welcome the new babies into their growing family. Sadly, tragedy struck once again, and Harry’s new little brother Martin Wilfred, the weaker of the two passed away quietly, just seven weeks after his birth.

A few short years after the second tragic event in Harry’s family, war was declared in Europe. Canada was still under British rule at the time and as such would be expected to join in the war efforts overseas.

Within the next couple of years tales of the excitement and adventure on the front lines travelled back to Perth, and acts of heroism and valour were recounted in the local papers. Life on the farm, and the daily chores seemed mundane, compared with the glorified life of a soldier fighting for freedom.

The 130th Battalion, Lanark and Renfrew Scottish Regiment which was the ‘130th “Overseas” Battalion, CEF’ Based in Perth, Ontario, began recruiting in the fall of 1915 in Lanark and Renfrew Counties. When a recruitment officer arrived in the village of Lanark one winter, young Harry, just sixteen at the time lied about his age and signed up on the spot.

The Canadian Expeditionary Forces, as they were known, specifically recruited men between the ages of 18 and 45, so Harry claimed that he was born the same year as his brother Dick and was actually eighteen years old. They took him at his word, and Harry became an enlisted man on January 9th, 1916.

Harry, along with some local lads, was sent for basic training in Valcartier, Quebec and returned home for a brief visit before going overseas.

August 4 1916  – ‘The Perth Courier’

“Corporals Ronald Scott, William Strang and Jack Scott (McDonald’s Corners) and Privates Lance Affleck, Ralph Craig, John Kingston, Harry Stafford, Henry Barrie (Watson’s Corners), and Joseph Bennett (Fallbrook) of the 130th Batt., Valcartier, are home on a week’s furlough – their farewell visit before going overseas.” (Harry was 17 by then)

The 130th Battalion left the Halifax harbour and sailed for Britain on 23 September 1916. After two weeks at sea, arriving in Liverpool, England on October 6th, Harry and the other members of the unit were absorbed by the ’12th Reserve Battalion, CEF. Their prime function was to provide reinforcements for the Canadian Corps that were already fighting in the field.

After fighting bravely in both England and France, Harry found himself participating in one of the most significant campaigns in WWI. Known as the Third Battle of Ypres (or Passchendaele) this battle was remembered both for its tremendous loss of life and casualties and because of the horrendous conditions of the battlefield.

The siege of Passchendaele went on for over three months from July through November 1917. More than 4,000 Canadians died and over 12,000 were wounded. The battlefield consisted of flat, swampy lowlands, and when heavy rainfall pounded the fields that autumn, the ground became a sea of mud. The men had to struggle through the thick mud with very little cover, while German soldiers tore them to pieces with their machine guns.

By November the Canadians were finally beginning to win the battle and began to push the Germans back from their stronghold. It was on the 6th day of November 1917 that 18 year old Harry was wounded in the leg by German gunfire at Passchendaele.

Harry was dragged out of the line of fire, received basic care from one of the medics to stop the bleeding and was sent to a hospital in England. He was admitted two days later on November 8th.

Word of Harry’s injuries was sent to his parents, back on the farm, in Lanark:

” Mr. and Mrs. Peter Stafford received a telegraph from the Director of Records, Ottawa, on Friday, informing them that their son, Pte. Harry Stafford, 787104, had been wounded by gunshot in thigh and leg on Nov 6th, and admitted to No. 6 Field Ambulance Depot. Harry went overseas with the 130th Batt. in September, 1916, was transferred to another battalion for service in France, and has been through some severe engagements since crossing the channel. His many friends hope that Harry’s wounds are not serious.”

—-21 November, 1917, “The Lanark Era”

The medical care during WWI was a very complex set of institutions, which cared for wounded soldiers from the battlefield, as soon after injury as possible. The soldier was evacuated as quickly as possible for treatment, and provided care.

The Field Ambulance was a mobile unit equipped with horse-drawn ambulances. They brought soldiers from the battlefields to an Advanced Dressing Station located at the rear of the siege out of harm’s way.

After Harry was shot, the first day he was sent to the #6 Field Ambulance Nov 6 1917, and after a month’s time was transferred to the Pavilion General Hospital Brighton Nov 23 1917, for three weeks.

Harry’s condition was not improving, and he suffered infection after infection. He was transferred to the Military Convalescent Hospital at Woodcote Park, Epsom, England on Dec 22, 1917 and he remained there receiving treatment for four and a half months.

In March 1918 he was transferred to Bramshott Military Hospital, where he was treated for one month, with still no sign of improvement.

It was during this time that Harry received word from his parents at home that his brother Carl had enlisted in a month earlier, and like Harry had lied about his age in order to join the service.

On July 8th, 1918 Harry was admitted to the Granville Canadian Special Hospital in Buxton, Derbyshire, England.

In November of 1918 WW1 finally ended. Losses of human life by Canadians and the allies were in the thousands.

After six months of unsuccessful treatment at the Granville Hospital in England Harry was finally discharged on December 3rd, 1918.

His condition continued to deteriorate, and on December 23 1918 Harry embarked for Canada sailing on the S.S. Tunisian.

Due to his medical condition, Harry was discharged from the military at Ottawa, on February 5, 1919.

Jan 10 1919 Perth Courier:

“Pte. Harry Stafford, son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Stafford, Lanark, returned home Monday from overseas. He went overseas with the 130th Batt. In November 1917 he was wounded in the leg and latterly has been receiving hospital treatment in England.”

 

Harry Stafford newscliping

Harry’s condition never improved, and once again he was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital in Ottawa on February 4th, 1920. He developed a cold two days after being admitted, and his operation was postponed until Feb 9th. Pneumonia developed 12 hours following operation, and Harry died two days later. There was speculation at the time that he may have contracted the flu while in the hospital, and that it turned to pneumonia in his already weakened state.

The influenza pandemic of 1917-1920 was a global disaster, and was actually responsible for killing more people than WWI. It has been said that it was the most devastating flu epidemic in recorded world history.

Because of the close quarters and huge troop movements during the war it is possible that these two factors hastened the pandemic and likely increased transmission of the virus. Many soldiers’ immune systems were weakened by lack of proper nutrition, the stresses of combat and chemical warfare, increasing their susceptibility to any illness.

Feb 20 1920  –

“Died:  In St. Luke’s Hospital, Ottawa on Thursday February 12th, Harry Alphonsus Stafford, son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Stafford of Lanark, aged 20 years and 9 months.”

Because he died at St. Luke’s Hospital in Ottawa, Harry’s death was registered in the County of Carleton, Division of Ottawa. His official cause of death was listed as pneumonia.

Harry is buried at the Sacred Heart Cemetery, Lanark, Ontario

Harry's grave stone

 

Rest in Peace  Harry.   Our nation thanks you for your service.

 

They died that we might live

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War memorial Ottawa

Are you researching a Canadian Soldier? I invite you to share the names of the soldiers that you are researching in the comments field below and if you would like to be contacted by anyone researching the same families. You may be able to connect with someone researching the same family. Good luck with your search!

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(the above is an excerpt from a book on the life and military service of  Pte. Harry Stafford. The hard-cover book is available for research purposes at the Lanark Museum, 80 George Street, Lanark Ontario lanarkanddistrictmuseum@gmail.com, and at Archives Lanark, 1920 Concession 7 Road, Drummond Centre, Perth, Ontario adm.archiveslanark@bell.net)

Harry Stafford book

 

(photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada, Harry Stafford and Jimmy Traill, both of Lanark, Ontario)

poppy         Lest We Forget

 

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Link to: Canadian Soldiers of WWI

Link to Commonwealth War Graves

Link to Personnel Records WWI

Link to Names in Book of Remembrance

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http://www.staffordwilson.com