Gerry B's Book Reviews

Christmas in Ontario: Heartwarming Legends, Tales, and Traditions, by Cheryl MacDonald

It’s sure to get you into the Christmas spirit




Story blurb: “Every year, he put on the red Santa suit. Every year, there were more sick and needy children to attend to. And every year, as word of his activity spread, Jimmy [Lomax] collected more money and gifts to distribute.” This book will be especially fascinating for all readers interested in history and human interest stories. Christmas is a time for celebrating with friends and family and for sharing stories, memories, and good cheer. This compilation brings to life the very best holiday stories from across Ontario. From the early days of exploration to the modern day, and from heartwarming inspirational tales to dangerous escapades, this is a collection to treasure for many years to come.

About the author: Cheryl MacDonald has been writing on historical topics for nearly 30 years. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines, including The Beaver and Maclean’s, and she has written a number of books, mostly relating various aspects of southern Ontario history.

Cheryl holds history degrees from the University of Waterloo and McMaster University and is currently pursuing graduate studies. A grandmother of two, she lives on a large rural property close to Lake Erie and about 90 minutes west of Niagara Falls.


 Review by Gerry Burnie

Christmas is about cherished memories and traditions, and while Canada has no unique Christmas traditions, per se, it does have a long history of events and experiences that are unique in their own way. “Christmas in Ontario by Cheryl MacDonald [Altitude Press: Amazing Stories Series, 2004] is a collection of these heart-warming stories which can be shared by the whole family. For example:

“On Christmas Eve 1668, a 14-year-old girl lay fighting for her life at La Jeune Lorette, near Quebec City. Théresèse was a member of the Huron, a nation that had been pushed out of their traditional homelands near eastern Georgian Bay by the Iroquois. To comfort herself, as well as to mark the approaching holiday, she sang Jesous Ahatonhia, a carol which described the birth of Christ in a setting that closely resembled the Ontario wilderness.

“While there is no definite proof, traditional accounts claim the carol was written by Father Jean de Brébeuf (1593-1649). A French missionary, Brébeuf was a skilled linguist who eventually wrote a Huron grammar and dictionary, so it is highly plausible that he translated the Christmas story into the Huron language.”

Jean de Brébeuf was martyred at Ste.Marie Among the Hurons, a Jesuit mission on the shores of Georgian Bay on March 16, 1649, making Jesous Ahatonhia, or “The Huron Carol” the oldest carol written in North America.

Another early recollection comes from Catharine Parr Trail who, reluctant to part with her sister at the end of Christmas Day, she accompanied her home through the woods around Peterborough, Ontario, (c. 1830s) and recorded the event as follows:

”Just as we were issuing forth for our moonlight drive through the woods, our ears were saluted by a merry peal of sleigh bells, and a loud hurrah greeted our homely turn-out, as a party of lively boys and girls, crammed into a smart painted cutter, rushed past at full speed. They were returning from a Christmas merry-making at a neighbour’s house, where they too had been enjoying a happy Christmas, and long the still woods echoed with the gay tones of their voices, and the clear jingle of their merry bells, as a bend in the river-road, brought back on the breeze to our ears.”

One of my favourites took place at a German prisoner of war camp, in 1917. Shortly before Christmas, the prisoners received an invitation to a Christmas party.

“At the time they were skeptical—after three years surrounded by barbed wire and bayonets, they had little reason to trust their captors. But more fromcuriosity then anything else, they accepted the invitation.

When they awoke on Christmas morning, two surprises greeted them. First, all the guards were unarmed. And secondly, right in front of the guardhouse was a huge Christmas tree, dripping with tinsel and dozens of presents.The prisoners were asked to gather round the tree Then the camp commandant spoke, telling the men how much he regretted that war had taken them so far away from home and family at Christmas, and how he hoped that the gulf between the two warring nations would eventually disappear after peace.”

Then a small gramophone began playing “Silent Night” and the commandant commenced to remove small presents from the tree, passing them out to each man.

If you are looking to get into the Christmas spirit this year, this collection of “heartwarming legends, tales, and traditions” has the right ingredients.

Anyone remember the “Cabbage-Patch Kid” craze?

December 19, 2010 - Posted by | Canadian content, Canadian historical content, Historical period, Non-fiction

1 Comment »

  1. Very informative article… Looking forward for more articles on your blog

    Comment by Andrew Pelt | February 18, 2011 | Reply

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