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Among Old Autumn Leaves by Mel Robertson, from The Burford Times

Robertson, Mel, Author
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Item Type:
From the 1970s through the 1980s, Mel Robertson wrote many articles for the Burford Advance and Burford Times on the history of Burford Township. This clipping contains the article Among Old Autumn Leaves describing fall seasons in Burford in the early 1900s. The article may not have been republished.

Newspaper clippings donated by Liz (Robertson) Brown; reprinted with permission from The Burford Times.
Date of Original:
October 5, 1988
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.0834 Longitude: -80.49968
Provided by Liz Brown
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Protected by copyright: Uses other than research or private study require the permission of the rightsholder(s). Responsibility for obtaining permissions and for any use rests exclusively with the user.
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The Burford Times
Recommended Citation:
Robertson, Mel. (1988, Sep. 28 & Oct. 5). Among Old Autumn Leaves. Burford, Ontario: The Burford Times.
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Full Text


Among Old Autumn Leaves

A "Weeks Ago special by Mel Robertson

When we think of the days before TV, VCRs. Automobiles. Jet travel and All-Terrain Vehicles we tend to think that when Fall came our forebears wrapped themselves in old horse blankets and waited for Christmas. What happened when Kate Scrimgeur had recited her last monologue, when Dr. Johnston had told his last Chairman joke, when Charlie Kelly's last kerosene torch had gone out and when the last girl had been kissed behind the lilacs'"' when the organizers of garden parties say Whew and relax with a good cup of tea7 Not a bit of it! They set their minds to organizing indoor events that would brighten those Fall days that poets called the saddest of the year1: when it became dark right after supper and too cold to sit on the grass. So if you think that there was nothing doing in Burford Township let us examine the events that took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Since society was much more church-minded in the early days it is natural that the Fall would be

ushered in with Rally Days at local churches and Sunday schools. These were special Sunday events designed to gather "the toilers in the fields" back to church. The papers were full of notices advertising rallies of one sort or another. On Sept. 10th, 1886 New Durham Methodist Church announced a Fall Rally Day concert featuring Mr. Fred Utter of Woodstock. Mr. Utter's particular talent was not mentioned but the New Durham correspondent said that he would fill the church On Oct. 3rd, 1909 Fairfield Methodist Epworth League held a Rally Day that was ad-—dressecf by Mr. G-ecrge-Wedlake of Brantford and the Scotland Congregational church rally day drew 127 people. In Mt. Zion the evangelist team of Mr. &-Mrs. Nelson of Forest and Mr. & Mrs. Baldwin of Picton filled the church for a week while in Kelvin the Methodists called people back with a Shredded Wheat concert featuring the London Harper's Orchestra. Local clergy were much demand as guest speakers. On Sept. 14th, 1886 the Rev. J.S. Williamson, chairman of the Norwich District Methodist church, came to Burford and gave a sermon on "Fox Hunting" and in 1909 a great Methodist

inter-church Rally went on for several weeks with all ministers exchanging pulpits and a Burford male choir of 40 traveling about to liven the services.

Most of these Rallies had good results but there were a few exceptions. On Sept. 14th, 1886 the Hatchley Rally was interrupted by young men who stood outside and talked loudly during the prayers, and in Harley the area was infested with crooked salesmen trying to sell Bibles. In this scam suckers were required to sign a contract for the purchase of a large, beautiful Bible at a bargain price The salesmen, who always pretended that they were struggling theological students, would then work a flim-flam whereby the purchaser was either required to pay more, or did not receive the Bible that had been advertised.

Exchange of clergymen also had its hazards. On Oct. 1th, 1886 the Rev. T.S. Howard of Burford Methodist church lost his shawl while returning one Sunday night from a guest appearance at Etonia. he suffered a chill as a result and Mr. Windsor, the headmaster of Burford Public school, had to take the Burford services for several weeks.

Of a more pleasant note

(continued on pg. 10)


by Mel Robertson

(continued from pg. 3)

was the Rally Day at Bur-ford Congregational church on Sept. 19th, 1910. This was conducted by children and was considered to be such a break from the principle that "children should be seen but not heard" that considerable publicity was generated. Almost equal astonishment was created on Oct. 8th when the Bur-ford Baptist Fall Rally included sermons by the Rev. C.W. Rose of Park Baptist in Brantford and the Rev. Mr. Tippett of Bur-ford Congregational church. The visit of Mr. Rose did not, of course, create the astonishment but rather the appearance

of Mr. Tippett for in 1910 it was almost unheard of for clergymen of other denominations to be guest speakers in churches that were not their own. However, Mr. Tippett's appearance in the Baptist church can be readily understood as he was a very popular young clergyman whose many contributions to the local community shone so brightly in the old Burford papers that I personally wish that I had known him. Burford Baptist Fall Rally work was active in another field (excuse the pun), for on Sept. 7th, 1911 the Baptist Bible School refused to admit the onset of Fall by holding an outdoor rally in

Benson Rutherford's grove that drew over 100. On the musical side Fall adjustments began to be made. In the early 1900s the Burford and Scotland Citizens bands put aside the summer uniforms in which they played at garden parties and donned the more sober hues they wore at church services. Musicians such as Andrew Messecar, Fred Day, Alfred Eddy, John Malcolm, John Moore, Dan Smith, Alf Smallman, W. Muirhead, John Hammond, B. Stuart and others offered their services to the many small orchestras such as the Burford Symphony, Smallman's orchestra,

Eddy's orchestra and "General" Middleton-Smith's orchestra (I don't know if the title "general" was a military one or a nickname).

With the end of the brass-band season, violins began to appear and many parents set their minds to getting violin training for their children. The popularity of violin and piano training for children in the early days may seem strange in the electronic 1980s but we must remember that in the 1880s and early 1900s family unity and class distinction was much stronger than it is now. Parents felt that a boy's ability to play an instrument was an asset to "getting along in the world and that girls would be much more desirable as guests and prospective wives if they added music to their other domestic skills. Consequently early Burford papers had a considerable number of notices from people offering music lessons. One such was that of Professor Carpenter who lived south of the Burford Masonic Hall who, on Sept. 28th, 1886, announced that he had a number of first-class violins for sale or rent and that he was prepared to give lessons in the violin, piano and organ. Other teachers offering lessons were Miss A. Clark (late organist Chapter House London. Eng.) who in October, 1886 advertised that she had opened a studio at Mrs. R. Balkwill's, and Miss Pearl Tucker of Norwich whose

newspaper notice of Sept. 2nd, 1910 informed prospective pupils that she would start classes in piano and theory at Mrs. J. Jull's home on Sept. 16th. Other young ladies including my mother, enrolled at the Brantford Conservatory of Music.

String music played a considerable part in the entertainment of the late 1800s and early 1900s and such capable violinists as Ed Standing. Mrs. A.D.C. Luard. Alfred Apps, Margery Cavan and others were kept busy supplying music for the many ingenious events that took place throughout the Township. A good example of such an event was the Thanksgiving Social of Oct. 31st, 1910 which took place at Mrs. Pollard's home (now Manley Beam's residence) on King St. East in Burford where for the admission price of 20 cents for adults and 15 cents for children one could enjoy the music of the Smallman orchestra, take part in games, visit a Mystery room, have your fortune told and fill up with as much food as you wished to consume. Later reports show so many people turned out that all could not be admitted. Similar events took place all over the township.

Square dancing, round dancing and "fancy1 dancing began as soon as the weather was cool enough to enjoy it and every public hall in the township began to jiggle to the pound of dancing feet and the sounds of the fiddle. Many Burford Township people were skilled "old-Time" fiddlers but since I do not have much information about individuals this will have to wait. Papers of the time gave little space to square-dancing. Apparently local editors felt that since everyone was familiar with the square-dance scene they would concentrate their editorial attention on the more unusual "round and "fancy" dancing.

One such series of dances was announced on Nov. 10th. 1910 when the Burford Bohemian Club

reported that a committee! consisting of Messrs. C. Freeman, C.E. Stewart, J. Bogue and Reginald Grey had arranged for a series of weekly dances in the Burford Barnea Hall. Admission was to be by invitation only and music would be supplied by Messrs. E. Barton and E. Seattle of Brantford. Unfortunately, the "Advance" does not give much information about the "Bohemian Club" but from the artyfarty name of "Bohemian" we must assume that it consisted of local "swingers". The term "Fancy dancing" was applied to rather formal dances where such steps as the schottische, The Dashing White Sergeant, The Lancers, and the Two-Step were performed These were popular with the many young English immigrants. Most people were not adept at "fancy1 dancing", although one Burford couple who bragged that they could out-weigh any other family in -the county were reputed to be the most light-footed.

For those who felt that it was sinful to dance or who did not have the knack for it. there were clubs and societies of every sort. None of these clubs and societies seemed to exist 'just for the fun of it", for in Victorian and Edwardian times people felt that recreational time should be devoted to spiritual or

improving activities such as the Praying Bands and Penny readings that existed all over the township. The term "Praying Bands needs no explanation but for those who are not familiar with the term "Penny Reading", it was an evening in a church basement or a public hall where for the admission price of one cent you could spend the evening listening to someone read from the classics, from a highly moral novel or a book of sermons. Penny readings did not appear to have any committees to run them bu/ Praying Bands were well organized. One of the best was the Etonia Praying Band which on Oct. 14th, 1886 announced its Fall re-organization with leaders being F.C. Baker, B. McLeod and J. Hess

Other forms of what could be considered "improving" societies were the Literary Societies, the Debating Societies and the Dramatic Clubs. Almost every community had one or the other, or all three.

An early example of a local Literary Society was the Salem group that met on Oct. 7th, 1886 and elected the following executive: president Tom Cameron, vice president Luther Harley, 2nd vice president Miss Beattie, secretary Tom Taylor, treasurer Miss Chrysler. Also active was the Fair-field Literary Society which on Sept. 10th, 1886 collaborated with the local Sons of Temperance to draw a large crowd to a spelling match, literary Societies tended to close

(continued next week)

(continued from last week)

and re-open at frequent intervals. One such club was the Burford Literary Society which, like the Burford Board of Trade, had many deaths and resurrections. A typical reorganization was reported on Oct. 21st, 1909 when the society was revived under the grand name of "The Burford Literary & Mutual Improvement Society". Activities included debating and on Nov. 4th the Burford Court House (lower floor of the Masonic Hall) was packed with people who came to hear a debate on "Resolved that Ontario offers more opportunities than the West." The affirmative was taken by Messrs. R. Lattimer and W. Hamilton and the negative by Messrs. Dickie & Olmstead. In addition to the debate, the Society Entertainment Committee

of Misses Muir & Stafford and Messrs. Fornari, Walker and Hamilton presented a program of music and elocution. Other officials were secretary W. Hamilton, ushers Freeman and Stuart, and doorkeeper H. Charles.

It is interesting to note that whereas people were anxious to join Literary Societies or to attend their entertainments, they were not interested in Libraries and reading. Burford Public Library, for example, had such difficulty in keeping going that on Nov. 18th, 1910 the "Advance editor pleaded for 10i men to give $10 each to keep the library open. The money was not forthcoming but the Library struggled on in a room behind a store in the Harbottle Block (east of the post office). This was most inconvenient as readers had to go through

the store to get to the library and the storekeeper had to act as an unpaid librarian.

Debating Societies flourished at almost every community in the township. They served a dual purpose for not only did they provide entertainment but also they were a place where young men who aspired to political office could hone their public-speaking ability. As soon as Fall came Debating Societies gathered to, debate on what subjects; they would debate. These; subjects varied and were-far-ranging. For example,1 the topic, "The Pen is Mightier than the Sword" was bound to create a heated argument in a community where almost every man belonged to the militia. Other topics were "Women have contributed more to World Progress than men", "The Church has contributed more to

'World Progress than the School", "There are more advantages to staying Burford than going to the North-West", "The advantages & Disadvantages of the Single Tax", etc. Many of the debating topics reflected the growing desire for women to have more of a say in running things.

(continued from pg. 3)

However, one debate that the Burford Society held on Sept. 23rd, 1910 had an entirely different tone. The subject was "The Use and Abuse of Strikes", and William Disher discussing "The Abuse of Strikes". No final victor was declared and it was concluded that all strikes should be settled by arbitration. This debate had considerable impact locally since strikes were rare and women were not supposed to have opinions about them. Indeed, ideas about strikes were so strange that marriage

counseling in "Doctor Books" of the day even warned women that young men with certain facial features were more apt to go on strike than others.

Dramatic clubs

flourished throughout the Township although some churches and some people tended to "look sideways" at them if there was any undue kissing and embracing involved in the plays they presented. One popular play was "The Last loaf" which appears over and over in early newspapers. Like "The Mouse-Trap" in England this play seemed to go on

forever. The Fall season was spent by Dramatic clubs in deciding which plays would be put on during the winter. Rehearsals began but plays were seldom put on until winter set in and since this article covers Fall activities I will leave it at that. Dramatic clubs were not for everyone but they did serve as a way for shy people to overcome their shyness and for others to improve their public-speaking ability. This was important for in the early days one never knew when they would be asked to give a speech. Garden

parties, afternoon teas, concerts, etc. always included several speakers and no event was considered to be complete without at least an hour of oratory.

Anyone who did not feel like joining a debating club, a Literary Society, a Praying Band, a dramatic society, a Mutual Improvement group or a Bohemian club had a great variety of other organizations to choose from. If you were from "The Old Country" you could join the Overseas Club which established a Bur-ford branch on Oct. 21st.

1910 with H.C. Wilson of

New Durham as president.

For women, the Institute flourished offering a good variety of topics for discussion. For example, the

Fall program of the Bur-ford branch listed the following items: "A Visit with a Happy Memory", "Helpful Hints along the Way" and "Pickles". In Princeton the autumn program featured "The Refining influence of Well-cooked and Well-served meals and "The Care of Carpets". Other branches of the Institute were equally active. In Burford the Board of Trade reopened on Sept. 23rd, 1910. The purpose of this rebirth was to promote the opening of a Penman Factory in the village and the acquisition of Ontario Hydro power. The Board also hoped to put pressure on the Police trustees to make Burford a square village by opening new streets. Membership was not confined to businessmen but was thrown open to everyone. Seventeen attended the first meeting but since this, and other meetings, were advertised as "Smokers" where men smoked cigars and ate cheese and crackers, one has to wonder if any women enrolled.

Other lodges, clubs and associations crowded every public hall and church basement in the township. Variety was the spice of life and from 1886 on the A.F. & A.M.. I.O.O.F..C.W.S..R.T.&T., B.Y.P.U.. A.Y.P.U.. W.C.T.U.. L.A.S.. L.O.L. W.O.W., S. of E.. E.P.L, C.G.S.. etc. used up most of the alphabet to advertise their meeting sin the

Advance and Times . There were organizations for all and if the vast array did not meet your requirements you could join the Dragoons and swank about in one of their new brass helmets. This ceremonial headgear came complete with a brass spike and plume. They cost $12 each and the Advance editor hoped that, in view of the exorbitant cost, styles would not change as often as the styles for women's hats.

Amid all the excitement that surrounded the Fall opening of so many organizations, preparations for Burford Fair (or Harley Show) moved steadily forward each Fall with Fair Day in either Burford or Harley, drawing from 6,000 to 8,000 every year. When not occupied by fair-goers the Fair Grounds were used with great frequency for Fall Political Rallies such as the great Conservative Fall Rally of Sept. 11th. 1911 which was honoured by the presence of the Hon. L Duff, Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Harry Cockshutt of Brantford and the Hon. J.H. Fisher.

Last but certainly not least, was the multitude of turkey and oyster suppers that filled church basements and public halls from mid-September until the end of October each year. From the number of

advertisements in the "Times" and "Advance" it would seem safe to suggest that anyone with a good horse and buggy, a good appetite and a spare $1.25 (25 cents per meal) could dine on either turkey or oysters almost every night of the week. Turkey suppers continue, of course, but on a less frequent scale. Oyster suppers are a thing of the past due to the cost, serving difficulties and a change in popular taste.

"Fall" activities began to fade around the first of November in the years I am describing. The first touch of snow or a heavy frost seemed to turn the minds of organizers toward entertainment with a Christmas flavour. However, the few months of autumn had shown that whereas there was an old song that said. "Nothing to do. Nelly darling", it certainly did not apply to Bur-ford Township.

Before closing, previous experience in writing articles of this nature obliges me to say that it was not my intention to record every event that took place in the years I sought to cover. This would have been a dull and impossible task due to the fact that most area correspondents of the time seldom described an event other than to say that it was enjoyable. My intention in writing this article was to try to create a feeling for n certain period of our local history and to show that our forebears were real people and not merely names in old newspapers and obituaries. If I have left out any events or misspelled any names I apologize.

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Among Old Autumn Leaves by Mel Robertson, from The Burford Times

From the 1970s through the 1980s, Mel Robertson wrote many articles for the Burford Advance and Burford Times on the history of Burford Township. This clipping contains the article Among Old Autumn Leaves describing fall seasons in Burford in the early 1900s. The article may not have been republished.

Newspaper clippings donated by Liz (Robertson) Brown; reprinted with permission from The Burford Times.