Christ­mas at the Carmichael-Ste­wart House

The News (New Glasgow) - - PICTOU COUNTY - Ros­alie MacEach­ern

There was a time when an in­vi­ta­tion to a Carmichael fam­ily home was a fairly ex­clu­sive event.

How­ever, for three nights this Christ­mas sea­son, the doors are open to all.

Ev­ery­one with a han­ker­ing for an old-fash­ioned Christ­mas will be wel­comed at the Carmichael Ste­wart House, 86 Tem­per­ance Street in New Glas­gow. It will be the house with the old wooden sleigh, once owned by Gar­retts by the Bridge, parked out front. You will have to as­sume the horses are sta­bled in a nearby barn.

Com­ing through the front door you may no­tice the top hats, cloaks and muffs hung in the foyer but al­most im­me­di­ately, at­ten­tion goes to a sparkling Christ­mas tree in the cen­tre of the house. Its lights re­flect off bur­nished hard­wood and stained glass.

The first of the en­tre­pre­neur­ial Carmichaels came to Pic­tou County from Banff, Scot­land, but it was his son, James, who opened a store and be­gan ship­build­ing on the banks of the East River. The Carmichael homes of old were places where talk of ship con­struc­tion, mer­can­tile ven­tures and pol­i­tics abounded but on Dec. 12, 13 and 14, it will be all about Christ­mas mem­o­ries and mu­sic.

“It is a beau­ti­ful old home and it must have looked won­der­ful at Christ­mas so we’re try­ing to recre­ate a sense of Vic­to­rian Christ­mas,” said Susan MacIn­tosh, a new ad­di­tion to the mu­seum board.

John McMullen, a veteran mem­ber of the board, noted the sprawl­ing two-storey house dates back to 1880.

“James W. Carmichael built it for his son James Matheson Carmichael who lived there with his wife, Chris­tian, and their fam­ily. The house later went to their daugh­ter Maria Carmichael and her hus­band, Robert Ste­wart, who came from Prince Ed­ward Is­land and was a man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Carmichael busi­ness.”

Maria and Robert had no chil­dren. She died in 1959 and Ste­wart passed away a few years later. They left their stately home to the Town of New Glas­gow with a stip­u­la­tion that it be for pub­lic use. Within a year an his­tor­i­cal society was formed and has been op­er­at­ing the mu­seum since.

Carmichael-Ste­wart House re­ceives about 400 visitors each sum­mer but it is nor­mally shut­tered this time of year.

“We’re hop­ing to get more peo­ple to come in for Christ­mas, to see the house and sup­port the mu­seum,” said board mem­ber Bob MacPhee.

A few of the dis­plays of ar­ti­facts and mem­o­ra­bilia that nor­mally in­ter­est visitors will be cov­ered for the Christ­mas tours to make way for sea­sonal dec­o­ra­tions.

“Peo­ple will have to come back in sum­mer to see those,” said MacIn­tosh. “We’re show­ing off the house it­self, with its beau­ti­ful par­lours, its sun­room and the lovely stair­case. We’re try­ing to give peo­ple a sense of what it was like liv­ing there.”

When she started plan­ning the Christ­mas restora­tion, one of her first calls was to friend and for­mer co-worker Rachel Clark who has a love for all things old.

“I looked through what I’ve col­lected to see what would fit with Christ­mas in this house and I found a few things,” said Clark.

They in­clude an an­tique doll stroller and sev­eral an­tique dolls.

The evening tours will also in­clude sto­ry­telling by Fergie MacKay and car­ols by stu­dents at three New Glas­gow schools, one group each night.

When the Town of New Glas­gow heard about the Christ­mas plans afoot at Carmichael-Ste­wart House they de­cided to part­ner their Christ­mas lights bus tour with the mu­seum.

“On Dec. 13 our tour, which be­gins at Glas­gow Square, will then go to the mu­seum. Af­ter see­ing the lights around town, the bus will go to Christ­mas with the Carmichaels and Ste­warts. We’ve de­cided all pro­ceeds from the bus tour that night will go to the mu­seum,” said Ger­a­lyn MacDon­ald, di­rec­tor of com­mu­nity eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment for the town.

McMullen is hop­ing the event will raise much-needed funds for the mu­seum.

“We’ll have the added costs of keep­ing the heat and lights on for those three nights but ev­ery­thing else is do­nated so there is the po­ten­tial to make some money. We could cer­tainly use it be­cause the way museums op­er­ate in Nova Scotia our grants never cover our ex­penses.”

As part of the fundrais­ing, they will be sell­ing tick­ets on a Christ­mas cen­tre­piece do­nated by Zelda’s Flow­ers. James Lees, last sum­mer’s cu­ra­tor at the mu­seum, is or­ga­niz­ing a num­ber of univer­sity stu­dents who will be at­tend­ing in pe­riod cos­tume to sell tick­ets and serve re­fresh­ments.

MacIn­tosh said the event is def­i­nitely a trial run.

“We’re hop­ing it goes re­ally well but we won’t know un­til it hap­pens. If we get enough peo­ple, we’ll know bet­ter how to plan for next year.”

She is aware many lo­cal peo­ple have never been to CarmichaelSte­wart House.

“There is more here than peo­ple might think. There is the his­tory, but the gar­den out back is a lovely wed­ding venue. I was mar­ried there nine years ago and my daugh­ter was just mar­ried there and there have been other wed­dings. As a board we are cer­tainly look­ing at how we can make more use of the house and the prop­erty.”

MacPhee points out if the walls could talk, there would be won­der­ful sto­ries told about New Glas­gow and Christ­mas through the past nearly 140 years.

There is a $5 charge at Carmichael Ste­wart house with tick­ets avail­able at the door and at Big Al’s Con­ve­nience. Chil­dren un­der 12 are ad­mit­ted free. The open houses are from 6 to 9 p.m. The com­bined bus tour and visit to the mu­seum on Dec. 13 will cost $10.

Ros­alie MacEach­ern is a Stel­lar­ton res­i­dent and free­lance writer. She seeks out peo­ple who work be­hind the scenes on hob­bies or jobs that they love the most. If you know some­one you think she should pro­file in an up­com­ing ar­ti­cle, she can be reached at ros­aliemaceach­[email protected]


Christ­mas with the Carmichaels and Ste­warts, from Dec. 12-14, will take you into one of New Glas­gow’s finest homes and back to the Vic­to­rian era. Get­ting ready for the sea­sonal open houses are, from left, John McMullen and Bob MacPhee with Susan MacIn­tosh and Rachel Clark.

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