Posted by: Cornwall Community Museum | December 8, 2017

Canadian Christmas

Santa Claus visits the Brookdale Mall, ca. 1970.  Woolco is in the background.

On December 16th from 1 pm to 4 pm, Mr. and Mrs. S. Claus will be at the Cornwall Community Museum.  Along with our special guests the museum will be holding a traditional Christmas sing-along, and book sale of local histories, such as the biography of Mary Mack.

Christmas has been celebrated in Canada since the arrival of the first Europeans.

In 1645, the “Jesuit Relations” recorded this midnight Mass at Quebec.

“The first stroke of the midnight mass rang at 11 o’clock, the 2nd, a little before the half hour; and then they began ti sing two airs ‘Venez mon Dieu,’ and ‘Chantons Noel.’  Monsieur de la Ferte sang the bass: St. Martin played the violin; there was also a German flute, which proved to be out of tune when they came to the church.  We had finished a little before midnight; they nevertheless sang the ‘Te Deum,” and a little later a cannon shot was fired as the signal of midnight, when mass began; the bread was blessed when the priest went to open his book.  This was the first bread blessed for several years, during which it had been stopped, on account of the precedence in its distribution which everyone claimed.  The renewal

Postcard ca. 1910.

of the custom was caused by the devotion of the toolmakers, whose devotion urged them to have it during midnight mass; and people’s minds were disposed to restore this custom.  Monsieur the Governor received the chateau (the piece of consecrated bread which is sent to the person who is to furnish the bread on the Sunday morning following): what was done to obviate the complications of the preferences claimed was, to order that after a portion had been given to the priest and to the governor, all the other’s should receive as they might come and chance to be in the church beginning now in the front, and now in the rear.”

“Monsieur the Governor had given orders to fire several cannon shot at the elevation, when our brother the sacristan should give the signal; but he forgot it, and thus there was no salute.”  The people received communion at the end of high mass; after which a low mass was said.

A rare aluminum postcard, circa 1900.

“There were four candles in the church in small iron candlesticks in the form of a bracket, and that is enough.  There were, besides two great kettles full of fire, furnished by the warehouse in order to warm the chapel; they were kindled beforehand, on the bridge.”

One hundred and seventy-five years later John Howison in “Sketches of Upper Canada,” recorded:

“When it was midnight, I walked out, and strolled in the woods…I was suddenly roused from a delicious reverie by observing a dark object moving slowly and cautiously among the trees.  At first I fancied it was a bear but a nearer inspection discovered an Indian on all fours.  For a moment I felt unwilling to throw myself in his way lest he should be mediating some sinister design against me; however on his waving his hand and putting his finger on his lips, I approached him, and notwithstanding his injunction to silence, inquired when he did there.”

“Me watch to see the deer kneel,” he replied.

“This is Christmas night and all the deer fall upon their knees to the Great Spirit, and look up.”

“The solemnity of the scene and the grandeur of the idea alike contributed to fill me with awe.”

A Supertest gas station in Cornwall illuminated to celebrate the season.

In 1872, the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava wife of the Governor-General wrote from Rideau Hall in Ottawa:

“Christmas Day – thermometer 20 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.  Proprieties out of the question – must go to church in sealskin turbans, and must undress when we get there, as we sit near the stove; so that when we leave, the amount of things to put on is frightful.  There are my cloak, and my cloud and turban and gloves”

“The Fred and D. have to be clothed; happily everyone in the church is equally busy muffling up.  D. you will be surprised to hear wears absolutely less than he used to in May at home, and scarcely seems to feel the cold at all.  Fred, too, bears it well, with the exception of his ears, about which he is decidedly nervous.  He is always feeling them and inquiring from passers-by whether they are frozen.  The children play in the snow as if it were hay, and enjoy themselves immensely.”

“Their nurse, Mrs. Halls, dislikes wrapping up, but has been consoled by a present of a pair of skates.  Their governess is learning too; she won’t wrap up, and I really fear some accident for her; nothing but frostbite will make her careful.”

“We arranged a Christmas tree, and this evening all the children of the family assembled for it.”

A Christmas tree in a Cornwall home, circa 1940.

“They came at 5, and the nine of them, with their governesses and nurses, were ushered into the room with great ceremony.  Hermie rushed at a doll. ‘There is my doll,’ and kissed it most fervently.  Of course they all got various presents, and the big ones dined with us, and afterward played blind man’s bluff, snap dragon, etc., etc.”

Paraphrasing a Newfoundland poem, I would like to wish:

Your pocket full of money, and your cellar full of beer.

I wish you all a merry Christmas and hope to see you in your museum on December 16th, this year!Admission to this event is free.

Info:  613 936-0280;



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