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How was a reception organized in St. Patrick in the 1870s?
Very simply and naturally! Let me describe my first Canadian entertainment, held in St. Patrick, near Rivière-du-Loup.
It was summer 1872. My husband, Lord Dufferin, had just been named governor-general. An army of mosquitoes had greeted us in Ottawa… The heat there was unbearable! Prime Minister John A. Macdonald advised us to move to the cooler air of St. Patrick, and three days later, we were here!
At the end of July, I organized a reception. After lunch, Lady Harriet Fletcher, the wife of Lord Dufferin’s military secretary, came to help me, with her children and their governess.
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Our rented house was hardly equipped for fancy receptions! We had to make do with thick earthenware cups and borrowed soup bowls and finger bowls from the neighbours. For decorations, we had no ornaments or cultivated flowers at all. We did our best with what was at hand, making bouquets from ferns, wild roses, and red berries and placing them in wall brackets and on tables. Even the chimney piece was adorned with moss, fir branches, and brightly coloured flowers. These arrangements took us the whole morning and brought us great amusement.
We had to do everything by ourselves, without even an aide-de-camp to help. We took the bed out of the bedroom next to the drawing room and put tables in there for serving tea, coffee, iced milk, champagne, and cakes. Beside the house, there were chairs and a croquet set. It was a splendid day!
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The first guests came at about four o’clock. The second carriage contained three priests with French names. They had no cards with them. I’d asked Howell, our English manservant, to announce people when they arrived, and some laughed when the poor man, unable to repeat the priests’ names, asked them to write them down on a piece of paper to help him!
Playing croquet, sitting talking on the lawn, admiring our improvised decorations, and eating the light repast ... the time flew by. As the reception was ending, in sight of many of the visitors, my neighbours’ servants came to fetch the things I’d borrowed, and it was very funny to see the cups, soup bowls, and chairs being carried out to their lawful owners. I had asked people from four to six, and, like Cinderella, they rushed off when the hour struck.