A seasonal trip back in time

The covered bridge leading into O'Hara's, decked out for the season in Christmas lights.

The covered bridge leading into O’Hara’s, decked out for the season in Christmas lights.

The warm glow of kerosene lamps lit the pathway into the mill.

The warm glow of kerosene lamps lit the pathway into the mill.

I wrote last week that the main reason for our visit to the Manse over the weekend – aside from the need to check in on it, having been away for almost a month – was to attend the Christmas at the O’Hara Mill event. This takes place every year over a weekend in December, when the public is invited to come to the O’Hara Mill Conservation Area just north of Madoc and see what Christmas might have been like in pioneer times. The O’Hara homestead, a beautifully preserved log building, and other buildings on the site are open, fires are roaring in the fireplaces and outdoors, musicians perform, kerosene lamps light the pathways, and hot chocolate, cider, cookies and chestnuts roasted on an open fire are served.

The view from the covered bridge, looking down to the pretty waterfall below the dam. Note more Christmas lights on the building at the left, which I believe is the site's functioning sawmill (though it wasn't functioning for the Christmas event).

The view from the covered bridge, looking down to the pretty waterfall below the dam. Note more Christmas lights on the building at the left, which I believe is the site’s functioning sawmill (though it wasn’t functioning for the Christmas event).

It was all really quite magical, and the only thing missing was some snow on the ground. Raymond and I both took lots of photos but were disappointed with how most of them turned out. It may have been the time of day we were there, just as dusk was falling, but we didn’t really capture as we would have liked the warm glow of the firelight and how cozy it made one feel inside enjoying the music and the Christmas treats while looking out at a darkening raw day.

The Whystle Dawgs, Bob Leonard and Jim Fowler, performed songs and told interesting stories about them. For instance, did you know that the venerable CC Rider, performed by everybody under the sun, was originally a song about a circuit-riding minister? Neither did we.

The Whystle Dawgs, Bob Leonard and Jim Fowler, performed songs and told interesting stories about them. For instance, did you know that the venerable song C.C. Rider, which has been performed by everybody under the sun, including Elvis, may have originally been a song about a circuit-riding minister? Neither did we.

This is now a great photo, but it gives you a sense of how the firelight and candles cast their warm and welcoming glow against the gathering darkness indoors and out – just like in the old days.

This is not a great photo, but it gives you a sense of how the firelight and candles cast their warm and welcoming glow against the gathering darkness indoors and out – just like in the old days.

The picture above, for instance, is a perfectly nice one (by Raymond, who takes much better photos than I do) of Bob Leonard and Jim Fowler, The Whystle Dawgs, performing inside the O’Hara homestead, but the flash of his camera has made it look as if it was bright as day in there. In reality the only light was the cozy glow given off by the big fireplace and by the makeshift lamps (preserving jars filled with paraffin wax with probably twine added for a wick, I believe) in the windows. Inside the old building you really did get a sense of what it would have been like to be a pioneer family living in that house – of how that humble but solidly constructed building was the only barrier between your family and the harshness of the outside elements. And you could almost imagine the original inhabitants indoors on a raw winter night, sitting by the fire as we were, perhaps spinning tales or singing songs, enjoying the warmth and the safety of home. And celebrating the joy of Christmas, even in a harsh and often unforgiving land.

3 thoughts on “A seasonal trip back in time

  1. I hear so many people talking about Christmas at O’Hara. We’re a bit grinchy, so have passed it up to date, but the place itself and the dedication of volunteers like Peter Sporring, are inspiring. I love your photo of candles at the window.

    • Thank you so much, Gordon! It is such a pleasure to try to convey to the wider world the special little place that the Queensborough area is, and it’s so nice to hear that people like it. Of course, it is very obvious what is missing from my blog (at least on the days when I don’t have Raymond’s photos, which are not bad at all): the kind of fantastic photographs that the great Gordon Beck could be making of all these places and sights I’m writing about!

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