January 6th – Irish Women’s Little Christmas


Little Christmas

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

Taking Down

the Decorations

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

The Burning

of the Holly

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

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

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

Visiting with Friends

and Neighbours

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

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

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

Irish Toddy Recipe

Irish Toddy

1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar

Boiling water

1 measure of Irish Whiskey (Bushmills or Jameson)

3 cloves

1 slice or wedge of lemon

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

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

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

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

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

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

available at local stores or email: lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com


Letters to Santa from Perth!

santa letters 2

Letters to Santa

as published in:

The Perth Courier

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

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

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

Christmas 1

Christmas 2

Writing the letter to Santa

Sometimes we needed help from an older brother or sister

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

Christmas 3

Sent to the North Pole

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

Letters to santa at the mailbox

Christmas 4

Christmas 5

Christmas 6

Christmas 7

Christmas 8

Christmas 9

Christmas 10

Christmas 11

1981 Letters to Santa

from “The Perth Courier”

Christmas 12

Christmas 13

Christmas 14

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

These ones are from Glen Tay:

Christmas 15

This young boy even admits

to being a little bit bad!

Christmas 16

Christmas 17

Christmas 18

Christmas 19

Christmas 20

Christmas 21

1983 Letters to Santa

Christmas 22

Christmas 23

….and from the kids

at Drummond Central:

Christmas 24

Christmas 25

…and some more letters to Santa

from Glen Tay:

Christmas 26

…and little Debbie even included

a lovely sketch for Santa:

Christmas 27

1984 letters to Santa

Christmas 28

Christmas 29

Christmas 30

1983 letters to Santa

from the Perth Daycare Centre

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

Christmas 31


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

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


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

cookies and milk for Santa

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

Santa under the tree

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

Beautiful Crissy

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


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

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

Always believe in the magic of Christmas!

Santa and the reindeer flying

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

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


Homecoming: Stafford House

“Hearts glowed in friendship, forged over decades,

and the Spirit of Christmas entered the house,

and walked among us.”

Christmas House Tour 2014 neighbourhood gals0001

l to r: Wendy Parker, Margery Conboy, Arlene Stafford-Wilson, Beverly Ferlatte, Betty Miller, Eleanor Paul, Heather Paul

I’ll be home for Christmas,

if only in my dreams…..

For some people it’s the music of the season, the smell of the turkey, or the glittering gifts sitting under the tree; but for me it was a special visit to the house where I grew up, a homecoming, after a long absence of twenty-two years.

It doesn’t really seem that long ago since our father passed away in 1992, and our mother moved to Perth. I almost half expected to see him coming from the garage, carrying a tangled mess of Christmas lights, asking me if I’d hold the ladder steady, while he fastened the wire clamps onto the big spruce tree at the front of the house.

When I first heard from Wendy Parker, the current owner of our former home, that it was to be part of a Christmas House Tour, my thoughts turned back to days gone by, of the heavenly smells of Mother’s baking, bright cards in the mailbox at the end of the lane, and special concerts and plays at Calvin Church. There would be eight houses in total on the Christmas House Tour, and the event was sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women, and the money raised would help support education in the community.

Christie Lake

Kevin and I arrived early that afternoon, with ample time to visit some of my old, familiar haunts. We drove first to Christie Lake, a place I knew well, the bridge at Jordan’s, where I’d jumped many times into the cool, clear waters. Hot days spent riding bikes with friends on the Third Line, and when that bridge was finally in sight it was like seeing an oasis in the middle of the desert. What a welcome sight it was! And even on this cold, December day, the lake appeared as serene and as lovely as it always did, calm and blue, waiting patiently for cottage season, and the laughter of little ones, the parties and music of the older ones, and a place of peace and serenity for the eldest ones.   We drove along the shore, and then headed back up the Third Line.

Jordan's Christie Lake0001

The bridge at Jordan’s Cottages – at Christie Lake – a place where we often swam as children, on hot summer days, jumping off the bridge into the cool, clear water.

Calvin Church

A visit home would not be complete without making a stop at the church where our Mother brought us every Sunday. This was where we celebrated baptisms, witnessed weddings, and met for comfort after funerals. This was the setting for the Strawberry Socials, Easter Sunday white gloves and hats, the lighting of the advent candles and Christmas Eve. The church stands proudly on Cameron Side Road, looking solid as ever, a place for meeting neighbours, friends, a place for worship, a place for solitude, and a shelter from the storms and turmoil of the outside world.

Calvin United Church December 20140001

Calvin United Church, Cameron Side Road, Tay Valley Township, Lanark County, Ontario

Railroad Tracks

We headed back to the Fourth Line and rounded the curve, up to the railroad tracks. There were many strolls along these tracks to the duck pond, watching the beavers at play, seeing the ducks return year after year, raise their babies, and leave at the end of the season.   Memories of sitting under the big tree along the tracks with my brother Roger, as we patiently placed a penny each on the rails, sat back, waited for the train to go by, then retrieved our flattened pennies. Many hours in my youth were spent waiting for trains, listening to the sounds of the lonely whistles, and hearing the rumbling and chugging down the tracks as they headed for Perth.

Tracks back the side road0001

Railroad crossing, on Perkins’ Road, near the 4th Line, Bathurst (Tay Valley Township), Lanark County

This way to the duck pond0001

A view from the railroad tracks, near the 4th line, Bathurst Township (Tay Valley  Township)

Tree near the tracks0001

The gentle slope, under the tree, near the railroad tracks, where Arlene Stafford and her brother, Roger Stafford, often sat on the hot summer days, placing a penny or two on the tracks, and waiting for the trains to go by, and then retrieving the flattened pennies.

The Creek

We continued up the side road to the little creek and as soon as I spotted it, I remembered scooping up the tadpoles in my sand pail, and then pouring them into a big glass pickle jar to set on the window ledge in my bedroom. Every spring it was a ritual to catch some of these quick, black tadpoles, or pollywogs, as we called them, and watch them for hours, swimming contentedly in the jar, until we dumped them back into the creek.

Creek behind the house0001

The little creek, on Perkin’s road, not far from the Stafford House, where the Stafford children collected tadpoles in jars, on warm spring afternoons.

Lowlands behind the house0001

The lowlands, behind the Stafford House, where all the Stafford children learned how to skate

The Lowlands

The lowlands, across from the creek were still flooded, and ice was already beginning to form. It was back on these lowlands that we all learned how to skate; not on a flat, pristine ice surface in an arena, but through the weeds, and over the bumps, and up and down the imperfections of a farmer’s field. The fact that our skates were old hand-me-downs was the least of our worries!

Field back the side road0001

We drove up the side road to the laneway and parked the car. As we walked up the lane, the slopes and curves of the land were as familiar to me as if I’d never left, and we made our way to the door and knocked.

Kevin at the Christmas House Tour0001

Kevin Wilson, at the base of the laneway, leading up to the Stafford House

Heritage Perth

Christmas House Tour

Christmas House Tour sign0001

Heritage Perth Christmas House Tour 2014

An ad for the Heritage Christmas House Tours, 2014

The Garage

Garage - Christmas House Tour0001

The garage, built by Tobias ‘Tib’, ‘Tib’ Stafford, and eldest son, Tim Stafford, in 1964.

Stafford House

Stafford House 20001

The Stafford House, view from the driveway, at the east side of the property

Decorated for

the Season

Stafford House0001

When the door opened and we stepped inside, the home was beautifully decorated for the season. Wendy’s elaborate table was laid out with her mother’s china and cutlery with festive accents fit for a holiday gathering. The whole house in fact, was lovely and bright, adorned with reds and greens and touches of gold and shimmer. As we walked through the rooms, one by one, they were warm and inviting, and almost made me forget that something was missing – the smell of fresh baked bread, a permanent aroma in our house as Mother baked daily for a family of seven.

Photo Album

There was a lovely display arranged on a table in the den, an album of our Stafford family photos and copies of ‘Lanark County Kid’ and ‘Lanark County Chronicles’. I thought that they looked very much at home in this well cared-for house, so lovingly maintained and obviously cherished.

Perkins' house from window0001

A view to the east, with the former home of Chris and Leanore Perkins framed in the wreath

Stafford family photos0001

Margery Conboy, (front), with Wendy Parker, viewing photos of the Stafford family when they lived in the house

Sunset from kitchen window0001

A view to the west, at sundown


Perhaps what made the house seem so much like home, after so many years away, were the familiar faces, friends and neighbours, who came to share the memories, of the things that once were; and to celebrate a new Christmas season, content and happy in each other’s company. Though Wendy’s is the newest face among us, it’s as if she’d been with us all along. Wendy is a gracious hostess, and we all had a wonderful time chatting about the house, and catching up on the news in the neighbourhood. We discovered a few years ago through Ancestry DNA that Wendy is a cousin, through the Irish McGarry family who settled in Drummond Township in 1816.


I walked through the house, room by room, and the memories of the past lurked playfully around every corner.   The house seemed to remember me, and the walls and ceilings surrounded me with love, and kept me warm and safe once again.  It was a special day, and a rare treat to be back home.



Heartfelt thanks to Wendy and to the members of the Canadian Federation of University Women, for making our visit possible, and many thanks also to old friends and neighbours Margery Conboy, Beverly Ferlatte, Betty Miller, Eleanor Paul and her lovely daughter Heather, for joining us on our trip down memory lane!

The Afterglow

As I continue to bask in the glow of our visit to the old house, I will leave you with this quote from Thomas Wolfe:

“But why had he always felt so strongly the magnetic pull of home, why had he thought so much about it and remembered it with such blazing accuracy, if it did not matter, and if this little town, and the immortal hills around it, was not the only home he had on earth? He did not know. All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day we come home again.”


In Memory

This story –   in memory of Betty Miller  (1934-2015) – “gone, but not forgotten”



(Heritage Perth Christmas House Tour 2014)

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

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

books available at local stores or email: lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com


Time for Christmas Baking!

A Mouse

In the Cupboard?

“I think a little mouse has been in my cupboard!”, Mother would say mischievously. Of course I knew exactly who the ‘mouse’ or ‘mice’ were that had been sampling the baking supplies in the kitchen cupboard, above the old porcelain sink. I was the ‘main’ mouse, and loved to sneak a little taste of the walnuts, coconut, and cherries, that Mother stored for her Christmas baking. My brother, Roger, was the other mouse in the house. He would sneak handfuls of chocolate chips from her baking cupboard after school, and scurry away into the living room.


coconut                   cherries

Luckily, on those days, so long ago, there were still enough ingredients so Mother could add yet another type of cookie onto her list, and into the oven!

date squares   chocolate chews

Stacks of cookies and squares had been accumulating in the old chest freezer since the cooler fall air blew in from the north, along the Third Line.

toffee   chocolate fudge

Christmas Baking

Mother was knee-deep into her Christmas baking, and as the weeks flew by, there was an ever-growing supply of shortbread, sugar cookies, chocolate chews, date squares, fudge, and toffee, piling up, in preparation for the big day.


One of my favourite types of cookies that Mother made, and tucked away in the freezer for Christmas, were the peanut butter balls. Once thawed, they were as sweet and tasty as the day they were made. They don’t require a lot of fancy ingredients, and they look festive and elegant on any Christmas dessert plate.

Make them now, and stash them in your freezer! Hopefully, the ‘mice’ in your house will leave a few for Christmas!


Peanut Butter Balls

1 c of peanut butter
1 c of rice crispies
½ c chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp of melted butter
1 c icing sugar
Desiccated coconut

Mix together the peanut butter, nuts, rice crispies, butter and vanilla, and roll into balls.
Drop the balls into a mixture of thin icing
Roll in coconut
Place on a sheet of waxed paper, and let them set

For variety,  Peanut Butter Balls may be dipped in melted chocolate, mixed with sprinkles, M & Ms, or decorated with bits of pretzels and candies for a festive holiday look!

peanut-butter-balls-dipped-in-chocolate  peanut-butter-balls-with-holiday-sprinkles

peanut-butter-balls-chocolate-chips-and-sprinkles  peanut-butter-ball-reindeer

Enjoy this traditional Christmas treat now, or freeze for the holidays!

little kid and cookies

Mother’s Farmhouse


What would a Christmas sweets plate be without some melt-in-your-mouth homemade Shortbread Cookies!

whipped shortbread


Shortbread Cookie Recipe

1/2 c  corn starch

1/2 c  icing sugar

1 c  all purpose flour

1 c  soft butter

Mix dry ingredients.   Blend-in butter, until soft dough is formed.  Chill for 1/2 hour.  Shape into balls 1 inch in diameter.  Flatten with fork.  Decorate with cherry slices.

Bake in slow oven at 300 degrees F, for 20 – 25 minutes, until light golden.


Be sure to leave some Christmas cookies for Santa!

Santa and cookies

Who was the lady behind all of those melt-in-your-mouth Christmas cookies?

Audry Stafford competed in local fairs in Lanark County for many decades, and won so many prizes in the baking divisions that eventually she was asked to become a Judge.

In the years that followed, she judged baking at fairs, large and small, across the county, and throughout Eastern Ontario.

Mother with birthday cake

photo:  Audry Stafford with Tib Stafford, in their farmhouse kitchen, on his birthday, July 15, 1990, Third Line, Bathurst Township, Lanark County, Ontario.


Bake something special for your friends and family this Christmas season, for some crowd-pleasing treats, and some wonderful Christmas memories! A small tin of your homemade cookies makes a low-cost gift, and will be cherished by friends because it comes from the heart.

Recipes in this story are from “Recipes and Recollections: Treats and Tales from our Mother’s Kitchen”
93 of Audry’s prize-winning recipes are assembled in a book “Recipes and Recollections”, along with stories from her five children, about growing up in rural Eastern Ontario, spanning the years from the 1940s through to the 1980s.
Photo on cover of “Recipes and Recollections” –  Tim Stafford and Judy Stafford, 1947 (background – Audry Stafford’s handwritten recipe)



Recipes and Recollections book cover sept 2012


Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

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

available at local stores or email: lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com


First Snowfall of the Season

First snowfall John McQuarrie

(photo of Stafford House:  “Perth: Spirit of Place”, John McQuarrie, p.143)

The first snowflakes of the season fluttered down softly, carried gently by the light breezes, back and forth across my path, until they finally touched the earth, and vanished. The very first snowfall of the year seemed magical, and we gazed up in wonder as if we’d never seen the fragile white crystals before.

It had been many, many months since the last few signs of snow had disappeared late in the spring, and I wondered to myself if these first light flakes of the new season would stay on the ground. Almost in unison with the first snow, the merchants of Perth began to decorate their windows for Christmas, and up and down Gore Street there were signs that Christmas was coming.


James Brothers, Stedman’s, and Beamish had bright lights and shiny garlands in their windows, and Shaw’s always had a festive window display.

kids Christmas store window


James Brothers Hardware store, at the corner of Gore and Foster St., Perth, Ontario
(photos of James Brothers Hardware and Shaws of Perth from ‘Perth Remembered’)


Shaws, on Gore Street, in Perth, ON

A walk down to Haggis’ candy store was not to be missed, as Mrs. Nee’s colourful candy canes, creamy Christmas fudge, and salty nuts were temptingly displayed.

Sophia Nee candy cane

(photo of Sophia Haggis Nee in front of her shop at 60 Gore StreetE., Perth, Ontario)

The Perth Apothecary always had a beautiful Christmas window with all of their lotions and potions packaged so beautifully, ready to place under the tree.

girl at store window   Christmas store window

Something for the girls and guys, from the Perth Apothecary, Gore St., Perth

Charlie gift set Old spice gift set

Perth Apothecary

“The Perth Courier”, Dec. 9, 1976. p.11

First Snowfall of the year, at the Stafford House


The Stafford House – 1973 (photo: Stafford family collection)

The signs of the season weren’t visible only in the town of Perth. The first snowfall in the country meant bringing out our sleds, our flying saucers, and our winter toys!

Judy and Arlene with sled

Judy Stafford (with Mike, the family dog),and Arlene Stafford, at the Stafford House, 1963

Out in the country, we turned on our outdoor lights on December 1st, and even though the lane was long, we could see Dad’s handiwork as we drove up the Third Line, coloured lights draped round and round the spruce tree.

Dad putting up Christmas lights

Tobias ‘Tib’ Stafford, attaching Christmas lights onto our spruce tree, at the Stafford house, Third Line, Bathurst Twp. , Lanark County  – c. 1970s

Dad took great pride in his annual Christmas display, though it was a far cry from the elaborate decorations on the more stately homes in Perth. It’s strange how, as a child, the lights on your own home, no matter how modest; seem brighter, and more magical than all the rest.


That first, delicate snowfall of the year falls so silently, whispers so softly, and serves to remind us that Christmas is on its way. It’s time to gather the boxes of decorations from the attic, and time to test our outdoor displays. There are Christmas cards to prepare for mailing, and special foods and drinks to assemble for the big day.

Whenever I see that first snowfall, and the lights and displays all around, I am reminded of our own humble spruce tree on the Third Line, and the weeks of preparation that followed, leading up to the most glorious time of the year.


Christmas mailbox

Arlene Stafford-Wilson at the creek behind Stafford House
Arlene Stafford-Wilson at the creek, where we skated as children, in the lowlands behind the Stafford house.
“First Snowfall of the Year”, an excerpt from ‘Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”  ISBN  978-0-9877026-30

L C Calendar book cover

Photo of the Stafford house from John McQuarrie’s book, “Perth: Spirit of Place”

At the Book Launch for “Lanark County Calendar”

Lanark County Calendar Book Launch 2013 Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Arlene Stafford-Wilson and Leslie Wallack, owner of The Book Nook and Other Treasures, at the book launch for “Lanark County Calendar”

Book Review:

Carol Bennett McCuaig reviews “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line:

Lanark County Calendar

“This memoir by Arlene Stafford-Wilson is, to paraphrase the poet Keats, ‘a thing of beauty and a joy forever.’ This is my favourite among the books by this author. Her latest memories of a happy childhood spent on the Third Line of Lanark County’s Bathurst Township are sure to please her host of fans.

The book has its appeal on several levels. Schoolchildren will enjoy Arlene’s accounts of what it was like to be a child in the in the not-so- olden days, especially if the book is read to them by a teacher or grandparent. How will today’s youngsters view a little girl who played with a skipping rope, enjoyed board games with the family, and waxed autumn leaves to preserve their colour, with never a computer in sight? And how many may have heard the lonesome sound of a train whistle. or have woken up on a winter morning to find their drinking water turned to ice beside the bed?

Any child will surely understand the author’s dismay at being scammed by a carnie at the fair, after investing a whole two dollars in a game of skill designed to cheat the customer. Some things never change.

Present and former residents of Bathurst who find themselves mentioned in the book will no doubt set off on their personal trip down memory lane as a result. Who knows? The thrill of discovery may encourage them to record their own memories for posterity and we shall all be the richer for it.

As for me, I found myself identifying with Arlene’s Mother, who occupies a special place in the author’s heart. I was a country wife and mother in Lanark County in that same era and Mrs. Stafford’s daily round was familiar to me. Cooking, cleaning, baking, washing, ironing, gardening, making jam, maple syrup, pickles and preserves. Sewing, knitting, mending. Entering home craft articles in the fall fair. Working to make Christmas a magical time for the family and filling in for the Easter Bunny. Most of all, trying to make a quarter do the work of a dollar.

The author gives us a glimpse into a vanished era. When did you last attend church on Easter Sunday complete with white gloves and, if you were lucky, a new hat? Your mouth will water when you read about the wonderful homemade treats produced by Bathurst Township housewives for the delight of small ghosts and goblins at Hallowe’en. Nobody worried back then that the offerings might be tampered with, and what fun the youngsters had while contriving costumes from whatever materials that came to hand. No child in those days dreamed of wearing expensive store-bought outfits that would be abandoned after one evening’s wear. Modern-day parents could learn a thing or two from reading this book.

And who can forget the delight of cleaning the batter from the baking bowl when something delectable was being prepared for the oven, as the author did? Back then nobody worried about getting salmonella poisoning from raw eggs and somehow we all survived the experience.

Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line is definitely a book for everyone. When you reach page 136 you will find yourself looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to the next book in the series. 

In the meantime, as Arlene says, ‘We need only to close our eyes and we are back on the Third Line, walking up the lane, through the yard and entering the bright, warm kitchen. We are home again.”

Book review written by Carol McCuaig November 11, 2013

Carol McCuaig photo

Carol Bennett-McCuaig (1938-2018) was a former weekly newspaper editor who became a prolific and respected author. She earned two degrees from the University of Waterloo, one in History and the other in Religious Studies. She wrote sixty three books, including regional histories, commissioned works and books geared to helping people who are researching their Lanark and Renfrew County (Ontario) roots, and a long list of historical novels. One of her histories, In Search of the Red Dragon: The Welsh in Canada, received the Ninnau award for its contribution to North American Welsh culture. In 1997 she received an Achievement Award from the Ontario Heritage Foundation, for her body of work in recording regional history. She was a life member of Heritage Renfrew, and a past president of the North Lanark.


Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists
Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society
Author of : “Lanark County Christmas”, “Lanark County Comfort”, “Lanark County Collection”, “Lanark County Calling”, “Lanark County Classics”, “Lanark County Connections”, “Lanark County Calendar”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Kid”, & “Recipes & Recollections”
Books available at:
The Book Nook & Other Treasures, and Spark Curios and Books, in Perth, and Mill Street Books in Almonte, and email: lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com

Thanksgiving at the Stafford House

Stafford girls framed


at the Stafford House

Everyone came home…..if they could. By the mid-1970s Tim and Roger were both in the O.P.P., which meant they weren’t always able to be there for family holidays. Judy and Jackie were busy with their careers, and I was at the Perth High School, trying to figure out what I’d do when the time came for me to try my luck in the world.

The setting was postcard-perfect. A big red brick farmhouse, with enormous maple trees displaying their kaleidoscope of fall colours. At the back of the house a dozen McIntosh apple trees stood, branches hanging low, loaded with ripe red fruit. By October it was warm in the daytime, and cool enough at night for local farmers to fire up their wood stoves. The rich scent of wood smoke drifted across the fields and was the perfect fall incense.

As we gathered together, the old house was filled once again with our pockets of conversation in the kitchen and living room. Dad and the boys were always talking about cars, and Mother discussed her menu with us, assigning our jobs – “fill up the pickle dish”, “pour the tomato juice into the small glasses”, “fold the napkins….diagonally across”.

In the evening after the meal there were games – sometimes cards, or maybe Monopoly. There were jokes and laughter, and unguarded conversations sprinkled with the news of the day, and our hopes for the future.

Stafford family card game cropped

left to right – Judy Stafford, Jackie Stafford, Tim Stafford, & Roger Stafford (the kitchen at Stafford House)

Mother’s homemade stuffing was a holiday favourite. (recipe below) This old family recipe was her mother’s. Granny Rutherford’s father owned a butcher shop – the Canterbury Meat Company, in Huddersfield, England, and savory ground sausage meat was the key ingredient to their traditional stuffing, along with dried bread crumbs and seasonings.

Canterbury Meat Company, 15 Market Street, Huddersfield, England, 1906

Traditional Sausage Dressing

There were lots of Thanksgiving favourites – the homemade pumpkin pie baked in Mother’s light, flaky pastry, the farm-fresh buttery mashed potatoes drizzled with velvety seasoned gravy, smooth buttered turnip, and light homemade rolls, fresh from the oven.

There would be many decades of Thanksgivings at the Stafford House on the 3rd Line of Bathurst. The setting was always the same – the sturdy welcoming red brick house, a spectacular backdrop of maple leaves in orange, red and yellow, as far as the eye could see. The sounds were always the same – the pots and pans clanging and clattering in the kitchen, Dad’s soft melodic voice sharing a joke or story with the boys, and the girls talking about the latest fashions, or a dreamy new movie star. The unforgettable scents of autumn were the same outside – the dried leaves on the ground, and the sweet McIntosh apples hanging low on the trees behind the house. Inside the scent of turkey filled the air for hours, along with the aroma of the sausage meat, and the homemade rolls baking in the oven.

Those special Thanksgivings still live in our hearts and in our minds – the times when we were all together, back in the old house, enjoying a special meal made with love for all to share, the warm smiles and the laughter, walking through the yard, under the colourful sprawling maples. We were home again.


Stafford house modern version

Stafford House

Granny Rutherford’s

Sausage Dressing:

1 lb of sausage meat

2 eggs

1 cup hot milk

7 cups bread crumbs

1 c chopped celery

2 Tbsp chopped onions

1 Tsp salt

4 Tbsp parsley

1/2 tsp of poultry seasoning

Method: Fry meat until brown, drain off fat, add the eggs, hot milk, and the rest of the ingredients

Mother stuffed the turkey cavity, and any extra stuffing was wrapped in aluminum foil and baked in the oven.


Granny Rutherford’s sausage dressing recipe from: “Recipes & Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen” ISBN 978-0-9877026-09, page 49.

Recipes-recollections-cover Aug 26 2020

(kids featured on the cover of the book: Tim Stafford and Judy Stafford, photo taken in 1947)

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists

Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society

Author of 10 books: “Lanark County Christmas”, “Lanark County Comfort”, “Lanark County Collection”, “Lanark County Calling”, “Lanark County Classics”, “Lanark County Connections”, “Lanark County Calendar”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Kid”, & “Recipes & Recollections”

available at local stores or email: lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com


Irish Graveyards

Drawing: Rory O’Shaughnessy, “Ireland Reaching Out”

Irish Graveyards

Some of the older Irish graveyards date back to medieval times, and often there are structures or ruins of the old churches around which the graveyard and parish evolved. Commonly known as graveyards, burial grounds or cemeteries – the word “cemetery” was adapted by the early Christians from the Greek word “koimerterion” meaning sleeping place or dormitory.

There are a small number of seventeenth-century tombstones, also known as tapered grave-slabs and also some mural plaques found at a number of Irish graveyards. This type of monument was more commonly placed by the wealthy members of the parish and are likely to be located at the residences of the various religious orders. It was not uncommon for many people to have a simple stone or a cross, (not inscribed) marking their grave.

Tomb Types

Like many things in life, the type and construction materials implemented in a tomb were often a reflection of a family’s wealth or position in the community. Some types of tombs were more historic in nature and were unique to a specific time in history when that particular type of tomb was in fashion.

Altar Tomb – A rectangular, raised tomb, commonly used by early Celts

Bale Tomb – Resembles a chest tomb, with a rounded top

Barrel Tomb – Has a curved top which may or may not extend to the ground

Chest Tomb – Resembles a large trunk or container

Hip Tomb – A rectangular box with a hip roof added to the top.

Table Tomb – Appear to be a stone table, and normally supported by 6 legs

Pedestal Tomb – A tomb placed on a pedestal

Family History

For family historians, a search through a graveyard can be a rewarding experience if you’re lucky enough to find the markers you’re looking for.  In some cases grave markers with names of families who no longer live in the community might be found. Some of the families left the area because of mass-emigration, death through famine, or changes in the political, religious or social evolutions in the community.  These events can provide challenges for local genealogists searching for the gravestones of a particular family.

Yew Tree

The yew tree is a common sight in an Irish graveyard. The ‘tree of death’, or Yew, is a slow-growing, long-living tree, common in many parts of Europe. An older yew will often hollow out in the center, then send down a shoot which begins the growth of a new tree, or a tree within a tree. The ancient Druids worshipped the tree, and often buried their dead beneath a yew. When the newly-converted Christians in Ireland began to bury their dead, the bodies were often added to existing pagan cemeteries, which always had at least one yew tree on the grounds. The Christian clergy eventually incorporated the planting of the yew and its ability to generate new life, as a symbol of the resurrection.

Wrought Iron

Markers and Fences

At one time wrought iron was a common material used throughout Ireland, and many grave markers and fences surrounding tombs were created by talented local blacksmiths. The old English term ‘wrought’ is the past tense of a Medieval word meaning ‘to work’, and in this case the white-hot metal was forged with a hammer.

Wrought iron fences were built around individual graves or family tombs.

Some families chose a stone curbing around a tomb.

Ledger Stones

A ledger stone was a flat stone and had an inscription about the deceased, and often displayed symbols related to their profession, their religion, or their affiliations to a group. These stones were sometimes placed on the top of Chest Tombs.

Grave Symbols

Memorial stones may help us with our family history research through their unique individual markings. Some have vocational symbols, depicting the type of work done, or a family coat of arms, or perhaps a Masonic symbol indicating lodge membership.  In the case of a Masonic Lodge symbol further information may be found in the local or national lodge records.

Gravestone with Masonic Order Symbols


Obelisk markers are usually found on family burials or those of people of high social status, and they also tend to stand out more in the cemetery and are easily located. The advantage of the shape is that it provides four engraving surfaces, rather than just one, as in a standard headstone. The shape and height also relates back to the Celtic pagan worship of the sun god. In more modern times this shape was favoured by familes wanting to display their wealth or power.

Celtic Cross

The religious denomination of the deceased can often be established through the types of religious symbols used on their memorial. Usually, resurrection symbols are more frequently associated with Catholic memorials while mortality symbols are used more commonly on a Protestant grave marker.

A symbol of Christianity, the Celtic cross first appeared in the 8th century. Legends say that Saint Patrick introduced the Celtic Cross to Ireland and that the circle within the cross symbolizes the pagan sun, or the old beliefs, and the cross represents the conversion to Christian beliefs by the early Irish Celtic people. The circle was a powerful symbol to the ancient Irish people, and it was considered a sign of strength and many rituals were performed while standing in a circle. Several ancient monuments, such as Stonehenge were constructed in a circle, because the unbroken formation was believed to hold magical powers. It’s been thought that St. Patrick incorporated the circle within the cross knowing it was a meaningful symbol to the Celts.

Catholic Grave Symbols:

The letters “IHS” may be engraved on a cross. These letters represent – Iesus Hominem Salvator (Jesus Saviour of Mankind). The Greek letters Alpha and Omega can also appear on a gravestone to symbolize the beginning and the end.

“IHS” carved in the centre of the cross

Protestant Grave Symbols:

One of the most common symbols on Irish Protestant (and some Catholic) gravestones is a simple three letters: “R.I.P.”, in Latin: “requiescat in pace“, in English: “Rest in peace”. The letters represent a longer prayer which is:

Eternal rest grant unto him,
And let perpetual light shine upon him;
Rest in peace.”

The Clasped Hands

In the eighteenth-century there was a “Great Awakening”, when Protestantism began to change their focus to salvation and a personal relationship with God. The symbol of the clasped hands were often accompanied with words: “farewell”,  “goodbye,” and “until we meet again.” The carved hands were almost always portrayed as right hands and they represent a husband and wife sharing a last handshake. One hand is usually flat and loose, its fingers extended, which may be interpreted as either a final embrace, or the deceased leading the living to follow them.

Many of the Irish Protestant graves have what was known as “mortality symbols”, which were thought to remind people that life is fleeting, and to seize the day. The skull and crossbones are probably the oldest mortality symbols found in Irish graveyards. Often an hour glass is combined with the skull and crossbones symbols to signify time running out, or sometimes a winged death’s head also indicating that life is short.

This is the gravestone of a man who was a wood-cutter, and bears the symbol of a Forrester with an axe in his hand, as well as Adam and Eve beside the Tree of Life.

The symbols of the skull and the hourglass were known as ‘mortality symbols’, and were a reminder that a lifespan is brief. The hourglass, crossbones, bell, and skull are frequently seen together on 18th-century gravestones. The bell symbolized the church bells that rang to call the people to a funeral. These symbols were more commonly used on Protestant grave stones.

Some gravemarkers were engraved with rhymes or messages:

“Remember me as you pass by,

As you are now so once was I,

As I am now you soon must be,

Prepare for death and follow me.”

Burial Records

Note that burial records, also known as ‘plot books’, as well as maps of Irish graveyards are usually more recent in origin. The majority of records of historic graveyards in Ireland go back no further than the early twentieth century, with only a few dating to the nineteenth century.

A page from the burial records of Mount St Lawrence Cemeter, County Limerick

Local History

When possible, it may be best to find someone with local knowledge to identify individual family plots. While a local historian may not be able to confirm all individuals buried in the grave they may be able to assist with other important information such as where the family lived and what other families they are related to within that parish. Local guides and historians may be able to trace back people and events over a long period of time, so should never be overlooked as a source of information.

If you have Irish ancestry, Irish graveyards and their markers can provide a wealth of information for those researching their family history. From the ancient pagan symbols, to the more modern symbols and markers used today, the gravestones represent a physical link back to our forebearers, and they provide us with clues to who they were, and how they lived.

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member: Lanark County Genealogical Society

Association of Professional Genealogists, APG


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

Money in the Cake!

One of the highlights of celebrating a birthday at the Stafford house was finding money in our cake. Our mother carefully wrapped quarters, dimes, and nickels in small squares of waxed paper, and she inserted them in between the layers of the cake.

Once the two layers of cake were baked and cooled on the racks, Mother would ice the bottom layer, and then place the coins wrapped in waxed paper on top of the icing, before adding the second layer, so that they were sandwiched in between the two layers.

After the money was placed between the layers, Mother iced the cake as usual, along the sides, and the top.

We all loved Mother’s chocolate cake, but for her birthday each year, Judy preferred Mother’s banana cake with chocolate icing.

Judy (Stafford) Ryan at the Stafford house, Third Line of Bathurst, 1960s

Mother’s Farmhouse

Banana Cake

1/2 c. shortening

1 1/2 c sugar

2 eggs

1 c mashed ripe bananas

2 c flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 sour milk

1 c walnut pieces chopped

Mix batter, and spoon into 2 layer pans, and bake for 30 minutes at 325 degrees.

Cool when baked, ice first layer, and add coins wrapped in waxed paper, finish with your favourite icing.

When those cool fall winds blow, and the leaves are showing of their firey reds, brilliant oranges, and sunny yellows, our family remembers Judy’s birthday, each year, on October 3rd, and the excitement of finding those dimes and nickels hidden in her banana birthday cake!

Happy Birthday Judy!

Audry Stafford’s Banana Cake recipe from:

“Recipes & Recollections: Treats and Tales from Our Mother’s Kitchen”

(available at: The Book Nook, Perth, Ontario, Spark Books, Perth, Ontario, and lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com)

Arlene Stafford-Wilson


Book Review, “Lanark County Christmas”

Just in time for holiday gift giving, Arlene Stafford-Wilson has released another fall reading classic, “Lanark County Christmas — Memories of a Yuletide Past.”

As in previous books that have showcased local families from Lanark County, and lists them alphabetically in an appendix for easy reference, this local author and genealogist includes many familiar names. But this time, there is a twist on her storytelling.

She offers chapters to others to tell their own personal tales of their Christmases in Lanark County. It’s a warm-cozy-hot chocolate-by-the-fire kind of book that is sure to have your own memories bubble to the surface.

More than 50 vignettes are shared by the sons and daughters of families who have settled in Perth and the surrounding area. They have brought to life their own holiday traditions.

From the 1940s to the 1980s, this classic will be one to pass down from generation to generation.

Who remembers making a Christmas wish list from the Eaton’s catalogue? Martha Craig does.

Dave Crosbie shares his memories of Christmas concerts at SS No. 1 in Lavant, or the Thurlow School.

Sleigh rides through the countryside — especially through the maple bushes of Lanark County — were popular among those who shared their Christmas memories, as was hunting for the perfect tree, shortbread and other Christmas cookie baking and, of course, watching the Perth Santa Claus Parade.

Christmases were spent with family — that is the common thread of all these heartwarming stories. Whether they came to Lanark County, or Lanark County visited from afar, the tradition of loved ones spending time together never fades.

Stafford-Wilson sets the stage with her own family memories. Her ancestors, who arrived here from Ireland in the 1800s, brought with them the tradition of Christmas cake, among other traditions.

“ … dried fruits were soaked in whiskey and rum, and more alcohol was added each day, as the fruit became increasingly plump and full,” she writes. “In preparation for ripening the cake, large square pieces of fresh clean cloth were dipped in hot water, then rubbed with flour to render them waterproof.”

Learn about the burning of the Yule log and its significance to Ireland. Wool socks were hung by the fire, and usually a toy made from wood and a ripe orange were discovered inside them on Christmas morning.

Stafford-Wilson said her father shared that it was a rare treat to get fruit when he was growing up, and an orange at Christmas was a juicy treat.

“The traditions and customs of our Irish ancestors were passed down through generations,” she writes, “from the very first settlers to present day.”

No matter how you mark the holiday season, may you find a little Christmas gift in your stocking by this author — it’s sure to pique the interest of many families in Lanark County.

“Lanark Country Christmas — Memories of a Yuletide Past” is available at the The Book Nook and Other TreasuresSpark Books and Curios, both in Perth; Mill Street Books in Almonte; or by contacting the author via her website at staffordwilson.com. You can also email lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com.

Laurie Weir : Editor of the Smiths Falls Record News and Perth Courier. Twitter @ljweir or IG @weir_on

Irish Feast of Michael – September 29th

Celebrating St. Michael’s Day, on September 29th, is an old Irish custom going back to the earliest times of the Celts. It was the day to mark the end of the harvest. On this day each year farmers would count their animals and decide how many they could afford to keep and feed over the long winter ahead, and how many would have to be sold and sent to slaughter. It was also a tribute to honour the three archangels, Angel Michael, Angel Gabriel, and Angel Raphael.

The Autumn Wind blows open the gate
St. Michael for you we wait
We follow you, show us the way
With joy we greet this Autumn day
Good Morning, Good Morning, Good Morning!

Michaelmas, (pronounced “mick-el-miss”) or St. Michael’s Day, was also a day for traditional county fairs, and of job fairs, where farmers could hire winter labour, after the end of the harvest. Families gathered and spent the day together and then shared a feast of freshly baked bread, roast goose, potatoes, and a glass or two of beer or whiskey.

St. Michael’s Day marked the end of the fishing season, and the beginning of the hunting season, and a traditional goose dinner was served in Irish homes to mark the occasion. In many parts of Ireland, farmers gave gifts of geese to the poor, and they also sold their down and feathers on that day at the local fairs, to be used for mattresses and pillows.

Michaelmas Pie

It was a custom to bake a Michaelmas pie, and to hide a ring in the pie. Whoever got the piece with the ring would be married within the year. The pies were made with apples and blackberries, which were ripe and delicious in late September. According to old Irish folklore, at Michaelmas, the devil spits on the blackberries after September 29th, so that is the last day to eat them safely. Irish legends say, when St. Michael cast Satan from Heaven, the devil landed on the Earth in a patch of blackberry brambles and he returns each year to spit on the plant that tortured him.

Goose for the Feast

During the Middle Ages, St. Michael’s Day was a religious feast in most of western Europe, celebrating the end of the harvest. It was the custom to eat a goose on Michaelmas, and legend tells that this ritual was supposed to protect against financial need for the next year.

“He who eats goose on Michaelmas Day

shan’t money lack or debts to pay”

Predicting the

Winter Weather

The roasted goose was supposed to be eaten up by midnight on September 30th, and the breastbone was used to foretell the weather for the coming winter by holding it up to the light. A translucent breastbone meant that the winter ahead would be mild, while a thick cloudy breastbone meant it would be a long cold winter.

Potatoes and carrots were roasted in the goose fat, and a slice or two of Irish soda bread was served with the meal. Toasts were made to St. Michael, with Irish whiskey.

Recipe for Michaelmas Pie


12 oz plain flour, sifted

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

3 oz lard

3 oz chilled butter, diced

3 fl oz chilled water

pinch salt

2 lbs cooking apples

2 oz sugar

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground nutmeg

12 oz blackberries

1 egg, beaten


Pre-heat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare the pastry. Place the flour in a mixing bowl and stir in the cinnamon and salt. Rub in the butter and lard until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Form a well in the centre and add the water. Mix together using a wire pastry blender, then knead briefly, and place in a plastic bag in the fridge. Leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Peel and core the apples. Cut them and place them in a saucepan with the sugar, cloves and nutmeg. Cover with a lid and gently simmer for 5 minutes, until the apples have softened. Next, fold in the blackberries and remove the saucepan from the heat. Cool the mixture.

Take pastry from the fridge and roll out two thirds on a lightly floured surface. Line an 8-inch metal pie plate. Pierce the base of the pastry with a fork. Strain the fruit, and spoon the fruit mixture over. Roll out the remaining pastry and lay the pastry over the fruit. Brush the base with a little egg and seal the edge. Trim and crimp the edges. Brush the surface with the remaining egg and with a knife make slits in the top. Bake for 35 minutes. Serve hot or cold with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

Is there a ‘Michael’

in your family?

The devotion to St. Michael in Ireland was so great, that at one time almost every family had a child named Michael. In 1923, Michael was the most popular name for boys in Ireland. In Catholic households, families with no boys would often give the name ‘Michael’ as a middle name for their daughters. At one time, it was not unusual for nuns to have the name of Sister Michael.

St. Michael is the Patron Saint of grocers, soldiers, doctors, mariners, paratroopers, and police, and it’s his responsibility to escort the faithful to heaven at their hour of death. He is known as the protector of humanity, who inspires the qualities of courage, initiative and steadfastness.

Irish Ancestry

For those with Irish heritage, September 29th, or St. Michael’s Day, is a day that we may choose to observe some of the old ways of our ancestors. In North America we might cook a chicken instead of a goose, and may substitute with blueberries or raspberries in our Michaelmas pies.

Whether we celebrate with a traditional Michaelmas feast on September 29th, or just have a wee shot of whiskey and a toast to St. Michael, it’s a day to pause for a moment and remember our ancestors, and how they marked the end of the harvest, and the beginning of a new season.

Slainte! “To Your Health!”

Arlene Stafford-Wilson