Inside Ottawa Valley – review

Arlene Stafford-Wilson has recently launched a collection of memories in her latest book — Lanark County Calling, All Roads Lead Home — and a couple of the short stories may raise the little hairs on the back of your neck.

The Ottawa author, who grew up in Lanark County, has some fun with her latest novel.

“I’m trying to preserve a little bit of our local history, particularly from the 1960s and ‘70s, so the people and places will be remembered,” she said in an email.

Lanark County Calling highlights the entertaining times of the Ompah Stomp — a local field party that grew by leaps and bounds over the years — to a night at the movies at the Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls. She also tells the tale of the candy lady of Perth, Sophia Haggis, and the ghost of Ferguson Falls.

Keeping to the spirit of Halloween, the Witch of Plum Hallow, Mother Barnes, also makes a guest appearance in this latest book.

Stafford-Wilson’s generation heard first hand, the tragic stories of the Second World War, and these stories were passed down through word of mouth as many of the Irish and Scottish ancestors who founded this area did not know how to read or write, she said.

Each person has their own unique stories, and Stafford-Wilson’s accounts of her own history include stories of computer technology, mobile phones, rock ‘n’ roll and feminism.

For this book, she recorded memories of people, places and events familiar to those who have lived or visited here through the 1970s to present.

She begins with the Ompah Stomp; the local music festival that started in 1978 at a favoured picnic spot, Waitse’s Beach on Palmerston Lake. Some of the first entertainers were Neville Wells, Brenda and Roger Dunham, Gerry and Jan Williams, Bill and Sally Spingle, who owned the general store; and Val and Wayne Keareney, who owned the Trout Lake Hotel.

The stomp was hosted as a fundraiser for various clubs like the snowmobile club, for which $2,500 was generated during that inaugural stomp.

Next, readers will visit the Soper Theatre in Smiths Falls, where Stafford-Wilson writes that she was treated to a James Bond movie by her brother, Tim, and the lineup to get into the show stretched all the way down the block.

The author remembers the story through her father’s eyes, about Bert Soper, a Liberal MP, after whom the theatre was named. She writes about the stern-faced Walter Lackenbauer who tried to keep those in the lineup safe; to the concession stand pioneer, Violet Gariepy, who held the position for some five decades.

There is lots of history in this chapter that readers will remember, right up to May of 2013 when the theatre was demolished for a parking lot.

If you ever had a craving for sweets, a visit to the Haggis Candy Shop on Gore Street in Perth would have been a stop to make.

Meet Sophia Haggis in the next chapter, as the author remembers speaking with Sophia and how the woman was taught by her father to make candy. Sophia’s father came to Perth from Greece, opening his first candy store in Peterborough. How the family came to Perth is an exciting journey for the reader to experience. The Perth store was opened at 60 Gore St., the location of what is now The Book Nook and Other Treasurers.

Next the author writes about a couple ghostly experiences when she takes the reader on a journey to Ferguson Falls of Lanark County, then to Leeds and Greville’s Plum Hollow near Athens.

In Ferguson Falls, we learn — or revisit — the story of Jimmy Phalen (pronounced Whalen), a logger who drowned in the river and how, to this day, a girl walks along the shore of the Mississippi on moonlit nights looking for him.

Keeping with the ghostly theme, the author takes us to Plum Hollow where we learn about the famous psychic, Jane (or Mother) Barnes.

Stafford-Wilson writes about her own mother’s dabbling in tea leaf “reading,” which takes a turn to the tales of the Witch of Plum Hollow.

This book’s official launch took place Sept. 30 at The Book Nook and Other Treasurers. Her book is also available at The Book Worm in Perth, and Mill Street Books in Almonte.