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We Made Baldur


Undertaker A.W. Playfair



Back Row: Ethyl, Etta and Minnie. Front Row: Andrew W, and Agnes, taken on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1922.

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 600.
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 caskets.

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 place.

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