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Glanmore at Christmas

Glanmore, Christmas, Victorian decorations

Photography by Daniel Vaughan

A Victorian Fantasy (at a very real Belleville museum)

November 1898

Dear Cousin~

There is to be a ball at Glanmore just after Christmas, and I am to attend. This will be the first time I have seen this wonderful place, as I am finally out in Belleville society. I expect to have a jolly time as several other Alexandra College girls will be there. Naturally, I would hope to spend a few moments with Walter P (Father has indicated he approves.) I expect we will be relegated to the chaperone’s chair with either Mother or Aunt Phoebe at our elbow! Sigh. But I hope to have my dance card filled by admirers!

Of course, Father will escort Mother through a few dances in Glanmore’s grand double drawing room, before retreating to the male domain of the billiard room with Mr. Phillips the banker, and other financiers of the town, for port, cigars, and business! I’m sure the topic of the new steel-rolling mills will be debated; Father says the cricket fields will be the site. I wonder what Mr. Phillips, who I’ve heard enjoys cricket, thinks of the plan?

I wonder if we will meet young Jessie Patterson. She came to live with the Phillips two years ago but has been away at school in Quebec for two years. Such a peculiar story. I understand her father is a carpenter or some sort of labourer? The Phillips must have seen some great promise in the young lady; I suppose she will one day become mistress of Glanmore.

I’m hopeful there will be a musical program – the Phillips hold many such musical evenings. Perhaps Jessie might sing. I have heard she has a lovely voice. Belleville is such an important town for music. Just last week Mother and Father attended the Opera House (fancy, 14 years old already). A Toronto newspaper reported Belleville is considered one of the best show towns between Montreal and Toronto. The chap called our Belleville Opera House, “One of the most beautiful, convenient, and secure temples of amusement in the Dominion.” Imagine!

Mother has told me so much about Mr. and Mrs. Phillips’ home. They had it designed in 1882 by Kingston architect Mr. Thomas Hanley (but Father says he is actually from tiny Read, near Lonsdale!) on land which Mrs. Phillips, who is the daughter of Judge Dougall, inherited from her Bleecker grandmother. The Bleeckers, you know, are one of the founding families of Belleville.

The Phillips’ home is built in a style that became famous in Paris at the time of Emperor Louis Napoleon. It’s called Second Empire. There are several other homes in our town which resemble Glanmore. The Charles Street home of Mr. Graham, who operates refrigerated food warehouses, has the same curved slate roof with tall dormer windows, white brick walls, and lovely porches. Did you hear the coloured slates for Glanmore’s roof came from Vermont, New York, and Quebec? Such a splendid house. I heard Father telling Uncle Raymond it cost $7000 to build. Imagine!!

Mother has called on Mrs. Phillips several times. The first time, she was only able to leave her visiting card with the maid, in the reception room. Later that season, she was invited to tea with some of the ladies from St. Thomas Church. Mother described the wonderfully decorated and painted ceilings, the rich woolen carpets made in England, and the walnut staircase that rises from the center of the entrance hall, and then curves into two flights of stairs up to the second-floor landing. She described all the carvings and adornments of the elaborate fireplace mantels (I understand that at least one of them was made here in Belleville, by Messrs. Harris and Watson.) Father says there’s even a furnace in the cellar! Fortunately, he says there’s lots of Scranton coal in town, thanks to Mr. Stewart’s enterprise.

Mother has heard the dining room sideboard was made in Toronto by the best people – the Jacques and Hay company (although my brother says the name changed when Mr. Jacques retired 20 years ago.) Only a man working for Tickell and Sons Company on Front Street would know that! I cannot imagine that huge sideboard will ever be moved from the house, despite any changes in fortune which might befall Glanmore.

Mother couldn’t stop talking about the splendours of Glanmore! Father became quite vexed, and the topic was dropped.

Glanmore is quite far out of town, so we will have to hire a carriage. The Thomson family lives out that way. Mr. Thomson, who is with the Bank of Commerce, built about the same time, just across the street. With Mr. Phillips in banking also, one can’t help wondering if these men of vision see a future in development this far from town.

The house is splendid in any event, but the traditional Christmas trimmings will make everything so much more festive. The gaslight from chandeliers and the glow from fireplaces in every room will be enchanting and will make all us ‘ladies’ look quite grand.

I expect the house to be sumptuously decorated; I have heard that Mrs. Phillips is an artist, so she will have the best of taste. Doubtless she will have garlands strung from the corners of the rooms out to the chandeliers, and I expect to see evergreens over paintings and the doorways – perhaps with tiny flags of our great Empire.

I hope the kissing ball of evergreens, holly, and herbs will hang in the doorway, where visitors and hosts will greet each other. Shocking, but I wonder if a certain young man might seize the opportunity?

Our dear Queen and her much-mourned Albert have influenced our taste in so many ways. What would Christmas be without a lovely spruce tree, a German idea Albert brought with him to England? I expect Glanmore’s Christmas tree will be topped by the Union Jack, a tradition everyone adopted way back in 1848 when an illustration appeared in the newspapers, of the royal family around their tree topped with a flag. No angels for us, like those Americans! And of course, the Phillips, being well to do, will have some of those precious glass ornaments brought all the way from Germany, along with the candles on the tree.

Likely there will be a feather tree somewhere in the drawing room, or on the dining room table. Did you know that these little trees made of goose quills were being hand-made in Germany way back in 1845, and England adopted the idea because there were too many real trees being cut down for Christmas? As if there could ever be too few trees in Canada!

Father and Frank will chop down a Christmas tree along the Old Trent Road and Mother and I will adorn it with greeting cards (popular since Mother was a girl) and handmade gifts. My presents are all decorated with new stitches I learned from handiwork on display in the Ladies’ Department at the fair. At St. Thomas’ youth group we girls are making scrap tree ornaments from colourful paper labels we collected from Ritchies on Front Street.

At Glanmore, we may see one of those rare red poinsettias from far-away Mexico, now being imported. Imagine the distances they will travel – by donkey cart, steamship, and locomotive, to help us celebrate in chilly Canada.

Mother says that Mrs. Phillips will have to hire another maid and perhaps a butler for the occasion. She knows the family keeps few servants, Mrs. Phillips managing with a maid of all work, and a cook. It is becoming harder to find servants everywhere. We hear Mackenzie Bowell is currently looking for a maid. Many homes are taking in those poor London street urchins, as some call them, which the good Dr. Barnardo is bringing over to the Marchmont Home here in Belleville and training them as domestics and farm hands. I hope that people are good to these small immigrants; I expect one day many will look back proudly of their origins as ‘home children.’

Think of it! In two years, we will be entering a new century. Belleville has seen such progress this decade, with the waterworks, the telephone, and electricity. Now imagine – a bridge is being planned over the Bay of Quinte. They say it will be the longest in the province! Soon a visit to you in Rednersville will be so simple – not like on the steamer, which leaves at such inconvenient times.

But for now, we will enjoy 1898. It will be a gay winter. Captain Sewell’s covered skating rink will be open soon on Pinnacle Street. It promises to be a wholesome place, with heated ladies’ dressing rooms, so Mother may accompany us. Then there are at-homes and musical programs being planned, card parties, balls, and church socials. There will be performances at the Opera House, balls at the Russell Hotel, and our famous military ball in the Odd Fellows Hall. I expect the winter will fly by.

Next spring, we hope to take in a performance of the Kilties Band, which is being organized by Mr. Power. They have highland dancers and pipers, and a drum major who is over seven feet tall!

And did I tell you this in my last letter? A number of Belleville people drove out to Sidney for the fair in the fall. My chum Miss Johnson won the “best lady rider” ribbon there? Of course, she was the only entry!

Must close. Mother and Susan are readying to go out. Frank will drive us to Front Street for a few Christmas treats: some raisins for baking at Hanley’s, ‘macaroonies’ at Charles Clapp’s store, and oranges and cranberries at Wallbridge and Clarke. And Collip the florist has tulips and narcissus bulbs for winter forcing. I will bring two cents for your postage stamp – perhaps I can get one of those new Imperial stamps.

I would like to look in at Miss Hill’s millinery shop near O’Brien’s Hotel, and I believe Mother wants to have another peek at a Wedgewood tea set at Strouds. She has been dropping hints to Father about it.

Frank is calling, must hurry. The pace of life is so fast in 1898. Can’t imagine we can ever be any busier than this! I promise to write soon after the Glanmore Ball.

Affectionate hugs to you and your dear parents

Your Cousin, Millie

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