The Cloverdale School Christmas Tree

Welcome to Memories of Christmas, a series that explores the holiday celebrations around the municipality of St. Andrews as told by the folks who remember them.

Today we discover Gordon Norquay’s memories of Cloverdale School’s beautiful – but dangerous- Christmas Tree tradition in the 1920s. Read on and enjoy his evocative writing…

Cloverdale school, Class of 1905. See someone you recognize? Email us at

In our younger days at school, the most important event of the year was “the Christmas Tree” as it was called. We looked forward to that from year to year. About the latter end of November the teacher would start working on the Christmas concert. There would be several plays and inbetween there would be some songs and recitations. She did a marvelous job in getting shy little girls and sometimes stubborn little boys to play their parts well. Some of the plays were long and she always seemed to be able to pick the right boy or girl for a particular character. The end result was that after about four weeks she would have a group of girls and boys who were all eager to go all out to put on a show that would please their teacher and their parents.

By the 1910s, candleholder clips such as the ones pictured here replaced hanging pendulums and hot wax as the popular way of attaching candles to Christmas trees. These clips included a pin or clasp to hold the candle in place, a drip cup and usually a spring-powered clamp to grip the branch. Many models also had a ball-in-socket swivel mechanism to adjust the candle.

The Christmas “Tree” was something else again. It was a large spruce tree cut and hauled from what was called the “Pines”, now part of Birds Hill Park, the day before the concert. It stood about twelve feet tall, and it was a beautiful tree and always reached the ceiling. Electric power had not reached Cloverdale yet, so we would clamp dozens of candles all over it and light them up.

Every child received a present and most of the smaller sized gifts were just set on the branches of the tree. The bigger gifts we just set on the floor. The tree looked so pretty wit the candles all lit and presents around it. Then Santa Claus would appear ringing the bells and soon he would be handing out the presents, also candy and apples. Everybody would go home tired but happy. The Teacher would know that all her hard work and effort was worthwhile.

Looking back now, I often think of all those candles burning on that tree and the school packed with children and their parents. The thought scares me today. However, the frost was still in the tree so I suppose there was little danger of it catching fire.

Cloverdale School, 1936

Read more of Gordon’s story in Beyond the Gates of Lower Fort Garry, available for purchase in the gift shop.