Merry Christmas …

From the pages of the The Black Robe’s Vision (Vol. I)


“By July 1884, the telephone instruments had been shipped from London, England, to Edmonton. Meanwhile, St. Albert and Edmonton people were busy cutting and peeling the twenty-one foot poles….During the period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve 1884, the general public was invited to listen in on the experimental phone call made on the new line.”  P.77


“Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Albert cathedral was largely attended as is customary, parties coming from all parts of the district.  The musical part of the service was much superior to what could be reasonably expected in this far away corner of the world. His Lordship, Bishop Grandin, said mass.  Rev. Père Lestac preached a short sermon in French and Cree languages and read a chapter in English. Edmonton Bulletin – Dec. 29, 1883” P.83


“Christmas time was celebrated by first going to Midnight Mass, usually in a sleigh box, where stones which had been heated were placed among the robes which kept the whole family warm.  Harness bells were not forgotten by the teamster and as the horses trotted those bells could be heard ringing for miles. When they returned from their time of prayer “Kookum” always had a turkey ready to carve and everyone had a big breakfast which included mince pies.” P.107


“Then, one morning, mother woke up to find the barn was on fire.  Dad and my brother Joe had time to get the horses out, but a trunk containing our best clothes, which had been stored in the nearby granary because the house was so small, was lost in the fire. It was Christmas morning. I had hung my stocking up but Santa did not come.”  P.167


“On Christmas Eve, the tree was set up and oranges, apples and doughnuts were tied to the tree along with candles and tinsel.  All those who could walk up the hill went to Midnight Mass which was the main celebration.  The younger children stayed home in bed.  After Midnight Mass we would have the reveillon with tourtières, doughtnuts and coffee.  On Christmas day we had turkey with all the trimmings.” P.182


“One Christmas Eve, we woke to find the hotel on fire. We were lucky to escape, but were only dressed in our nightgowns with some blankets to spare. We took refuge at the Prince home….” P.187


“One of the most exciting times for the boys was Christmas. Grandmother made a special Christmas pudding steamed in cheesecloth.  The boys had the special duty to ensure that the stove was continuously fueled to ensure that the water would not stop boiling. On Christmas evening, rum was poured over the pudding, all the lights extinguished and the dessert ceremoniously set afire.”  P.231


“Everyone enjoyed…the annual school Christmas concert and house parties with music provided by gramophones and neighbourly musicians.”  P.235


“The homesteaders were kind and friendly and made sure that no one was ever alone over Christmas. Gifts were small, usually home made, but given with love, and on the “Big Day,” the tables groaned under an abundance of food grown at home and goodies prepared by energetic housewives.” P.242


“Christmas concerts were the highlight of the year, and all the children participated…our teachers achieved almost the impossible in both effort and originality to make successful performances.”  P.300


“Highlights of their lives included the ‘never-to-be-forgotten’ Christmas concerts at the school where, starched and dressed in their best, the children of the district performed for an audience of adoring parents. Santa would visit with gifts and candy and, of course, the delicious ‘Japanese orange’ in red candy bags. Simple as these treats might be by today’s standards, they were truly a luxury during the Depression. Christmas Eve would find the family attending Midnight Mass at their parish church in Villeneuve. How delightful to ride through the sparkling snow listening to the jingle bells on the horses and finally seeing the lights of St. Peter’s Church come into view!”  P.386


“Attending Midnight Mass was an unforgettable occasion.  The horses were readied, an early supper was served and bricks heated in the oven were wrapped in old cloths for our feet.  With plenty of fresh straw in the bottom of the sleigh box and numerous blankets and robes… set out the three and a half miles to the Church on the hill….The driver would have the horses and sleigh at the church door. By this time, after having stood for several hours covered with horse blankets and tethered at the hitching posts, they were anxious to get going. Once we were all tucked in once again, but this time with not so warm blankets, we were off in a cloud of snow, bells ringing and runners squeaking on the snow. It was a tired, cold and weary bunch that arrived home in the wee hours of the moonlit morning. Hot drinks of tea or chocolate and a light lunch was available and we gathered around the heater to absorb some of its warmth while we admired our gifts under the newly erected Christmas tree.  The gifts were not wrapped but lay open for everyone to see – small dolls with straw filled bodies and painted papier-maché legs and arms for the younger girls, maybe hockey sticks or a puck for the boys, some powder or rouge for the older girls, socks or mitts for the older boys, a pair of new stockings for mother, a pair of home knitted socks for father.  But then it was time for bed and we all sank into a contented sleep.  Tomorrow’s dinner would have to be started early – turkey, tourtières (meat pie) and all that goes with Christmas finished off with mincemeat pie.” P.405


Reprinted fromThe Echoes, Vol. XXVI, No. 3, December, 2008; St. Albert Historical Society