A.W. Playfair was born at
Playfairville, Lanark County, Ont. on May 26, 1850; the son of John and
Elizabeth Playfair and brother of George and John. He married Agnes
Morrow of Maberley, Ont., in 1871.
In 1880, the Playfairs settled on a homestead in Otenaw near what is
now the town of Baldur.
A.W. was a farmer and upon retiring the family moved into Baldur where
A.W. assumed the position of undertaker. The hearse was kept in a barn
in town and their grandchildren used to play in it. A.W. also picked up
the mail at the train with his wheelbarrow and delivered it to the post
office. The grandchildren were treated to ice-cream cones after the
mail was picked up.
When the municipality of Argyle was organized in 1881, the Honourable
John Norquay appointed A.W. a commissioner to swear in the first
council of the new municipality.
In 1883, he was, himself, elected to the council, a responsibility he
filled many times over a period of the next 30 years.
A.W. was an ardent supporter of the Methodist, and then the United
Church in which he held many lay offices. He was a generous contributor
to the Bible Society, Wesley College and the Children's Aid Society. He
was an active member of the Canadian Order of Foresters.
Adapted from Come into our Heritage, page
The Evolution of the Undertaker
Early undertakers tended to work as builders, joiners and carpenters,
skills that translated to coffin-making at times of
death in the village. This was often the case even in the early 20th
century. The family would inform their doctor first to
certify a death, and then the local 'layer out'—usually a woman—would
help carry out the 'last offices', attending to the needs of both
bereaved and deceased. They would call on the local clergyman to
attend, and summon the undertaker to take measurements for a bespoke
coffin, made in haste from sanded and polished hardwood, and sealed
inside with wax and bitumen to avoid leakage.
The undertaker would return to the house to deliver the coffin,
sometimes having to remove a window as the door was too
narrow. The deceased, clothed in their best nightdress or Sunday suit,
would then rest in the front parlour until the
funeral, usually held three or four days after death.
Gradually, the function of the undertaker was assumed in many small
towns by the local furniture dealer, who have expert
knowledge of carpentry.a dn access to find woods and hardware. And by
the early 20th century local furniture makers
would be called upon to "undertake" difficult and emotional tasks for
the family when handling a death. Because these
skilled tradesmen were pioneers who moved into areas needing furniture,
they also "undertook" the task of preparing the dead by constructing
These early furniture makers, who often hung out a shingle that read
"Furniture Maker and Undertaker" would be called upon by a family to
measure the deceased, and further fashion a six- board coffin for which
the body would be laid out in for a one-night vigil that gave family
and friends a chance to pay respects. The purpose for the one to three
day vigil gave the deceased a chance to awake from a coma or show
indications of life. Within 24 to 48 hours of death, the coffin would be
carried to the village burial ground and interred in a final resting