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AMONG FRIENDS: Christmas at the Carmichael-Stewart House

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.
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. - Rosalie MacEachern

here 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 Carmichael-Stewart 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 rosaliemaceachern4@gmail.com.

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