A Farm Boy’s Christmas, 1898
Written by Wilfrid Jury
The Christmas spirit started in November with practice on Tuesday and Friday night at the church for the Sunday school concert, one of the highlights of going to Sunday school. If you could sing or play the mouth organ, [jaw] harp or tin whistle, fine – otherwise you took part in a dialogue or gave a recitation. If you were lucky you got a ride there in a buggy, more often walked, hoping it would snow so you could get the cutter out soon. Skating wasn’t possible until Christmas, if you were lucky enough to have it cold enough by then to freeze the pond.
After the Sunday school concert Christmas preparations were in full swing. The house took on the Christmas smell – mince meat being prepared, the plum pudding mixed (everyone took turns stirring it) seeding raisins, shelling nuts, polishing cutlery. Getting the house straightened up for the big event.
Then came the Saturday before Christmas when all of us went to London.
My most vivid recollection was the time we went to London in the cutter [a light horse-drawn sleigh]. I had saved enough to buy Mother, Dad and my sister Irene a present, a whole dollar and a half. After we finished the chores, we all got dressed up. The bricks we put in the oven the night before were put on the floor of the cutter on top of the sheepskin rug to keep our feet warm for the two hour drive to London. It was cold even under the woolen horse blanket with the buffalo robe over it. By the time we reached Cameron’s side road I was cold in the pit of my stomach. By the time we got the horse put up at the Morken Hotel (now the Mayfair) my feet, cased in a tight pair of Sunday shoes, were numb. My fingers had the hot ache. The bricks were carried into the hotel and placed on the hot water register in preparation for the trip home. Father went in the bar and had a hot drink of rum while I stood over a register, gradually thawing out. Mother and Irene had disappeared. […]
My first visit was to the Market House. On the way there through the Market I saw many of our neighbours standing beside their sleighs, selling butter and eggs, or potatoes covered with horse blankets to keep them from freezing, or a load of hay or wood. The Market House was filled with butcher shops – carcasses of beef, sheep, calves and pigs. The flanks and sides of beef were artistically decorated with ferns and flowers skillfully carved. They were hung from large iron hooks. It was a very impressive display. At George Morris’ stall hung the first prize steer from the Toronto Winter Fair. For years our Christmas roast of beef was a choice cut from it […].
Then I was off, up the Market Lane and along Dundas Street to see the window displays. Smallman and Ingram’s* (Simpson’s) had a wonderful array of toys and Christmas presents.
I was on my way to Gurds gun store then to Billy Brock’s gun shop. They both knew me from carrying the minnow pail for them when they weren’t fishing with Dad but I wasn’t wasting any of my Christmas money on percussion caps. After going up Dundas Street as far as McCormacks Biscuit Factory (where the Armouries now stand), I crossed the street but first I went to Chapman’s butcher shop to see Tom Timbrell an old friend of Dad’s.
After I had crossed the street I didn’t know anyone until I came to the dentist, Dr. Solon Woolverton’s office. He had the largest collection of Indian relics in London. My, how I envied him and his knowledge of the use of the artifacts he had collected. I went home more determined than ever to have a good collection of my own.
After that my next stop was the Oak Hall clothing store. The only thing I knew about that store was when Mother bought me a suit there, they gave me a baseball bat. By the time I got to Talbot Street I crossed Dundas, passed the City Hotel (now Belvedere) and went into Ed Platt’s store. It was there Dad often left me when I came to London with him. Mr Platt had shown me how to fold drug powder papers and put in the powder already weighed out.
I never liked being left at G. B. Coxes hide store. It was smelly and cold in winter. Only thing, he had a cute small dog that liked me. Right across the street was Charlie Cowan’s seed and feed store. […]
I was told to get my hair cut and given 15 cents and again warned to be back at 3:00 p.m. It was time now to get my Christmas presents. I’d pretty well made up my mind what to get. I went to the corner of Dundas and Richmond to Clark’s tobacco store. There was a large display of pipes from 25 cents and up. I got Mr Clark to pick me out a 50 cents pipe for Dad. Next I went to Smallman and Ingrams and got Mother a 50 cents hair comb. I had 50 cents left to get Irene a book.
Then I was off to the barber shop, Many Finch’s not far from the Morken Hotel. When I went to pay him he wouldn’t take the 15 cents, of course he was married to Dad’s first cousin and they used to visit us in the summertime. I went back uptown and bought myself a pencil box. When I got back to the hotel I was there first.[…]
Christmas was on Tuesday that year. Monday afternoon Irene and I took my hand sleigh and went to the cedar swamp for a well shaped cedar. I still like the clean odour of a cedar. In the evening we popped corn and strung it for decoration on our tree. Mother had a kettle of red diamond dye and we pulled our string of popcorn through. It came out a brilliant red when it was dry. Our old large red paper bell was hung over the tree – everything was ready.
Nothing on or under the tree would be opened until Grandpa and Uncle John arrived and after we had dinner. Then we had the long awaited thrill of finding out what we had and how the gifts we gave pleased everyone.
The afternoon was spent playing crockinole. We kids cracked nuts, hazel nuts, walnuts and hickory nuts that we had gathered in the fall. Some one was sure to hit his fingers. I always wound up having to crack the nuts so it was actually me. […]
Then the real game of crockinole got underway until the sing song around the organ. Prayers about 10:30 p.m., with every one on their knees. We all helped Mother wash dishes. I took the last look at my spring skates that wouldn’t fit my shoes and there were no straps but I was happy. I got what I wanted. Dad was smoking his pipe. And by New Year’s the creek might be frozen when we went to Grandpa’s and I could get out and try my skates.