McDades bring 'intimate' holiday tradition back to John Walter Museum

The McDades are bringing back their Candlelight Christmas to the John Walter Museum. Learn more about the museum and the event here.

Small audiences will enjoy concerts in 2 cozy homes built by Edmonton entrepreneur

Edmonton musician Terry McDade tunes up his harp for a Candlelight Christmas at the John Walter Museum. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Like a lot of holiday traditions, it's hard to pin down exactly when it all got started. 

"I think it's crowding 30 years," says Terry McDade, patriarch of the Edmonton Celtic musical clan The McDades

Once again this December, the members of the Juno award-winning folk band will host a series of Candlelight Christmas concerts Dec. 10-23 at the historic John Walter Museum.

The museum, located next to the Kinsmen Sport Centre at 9100 Walterdale Hill, features an interpretive centre and three homes constructed by carpenter and boat builder John Walter.

WATCH | 'It never gets old':

'It's a nice little step back in time'

4 months ago
Duration 1:45
Get a feel for the Candlelight Christmas concert series featuring The McDades at the John Walter Museum.

You can see more from the John Walter Museum on Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. Monday. 

"These old houses are just great, aren't they? Probably some of the oldest houses in Edmonton," says McDade, sitting with his harp in the original homestead built in 1875. 

The 500-square-foot wooden dwelling constructed by Walter doubled as Edmonton's first ferryboat office. Walter charged fares to move people, livestock and goods across the North Saskatchewan River before there were bridges.

Walterdale — the bridge, hill and former neighbourhood — were all named after the Scottish-born entrepreneur and politician who called Edmonton home for 50 years before his death on Christmas day in 1920.

John Walter was a boat builder, ferryman, entrepreneur and politician who arrived in Edmonton in June 1870 and made Edmonton his home until his death in 1920. (Supplied by City of Edmonton Archives (EA-10-1682))

"You get to step back in time when you come here. You're transported to a historical Christmas celebration," says Kaeleigh Stinnissen, an attractions program co-ordinator with the City of Edmonton.

Stinnissen gives tours and points to the original artifacts, photos and traditional decorations like wreaths, ribbons and sprigs of spruce now decking out the historic homes.

"It's very basic but it's quite lovely."

Stinnissen says the first house is "definitely the bachelor pad" of the buildings but it has its charms. 

"You've got the candles set up around the place; it lends itself to a very cozy atmosphere."

The original dwelling and a two-storey home Walter built in 1886 for his new wife Annie and sons John and Stanley are the concert venues. 

"The audience comes to each performance for about 45 minutes or so and then we stay put and the audience changes," says McDade. Refreshments are available during the intermission.

It's "unbelievably intimate," he says, with fewer than 50 tickets available at each concert.

"The feedback is heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking because multi-generations of people have come and some people are gone now," McDade says. 

The best part for McDade and his wife Danielle is the way the annual concert series brings together their own family — daughter Shannon Johnson and sons Solon and Jeremiah McDade.

Jeremiah and Terry McDade performing at a past Candlelight Christmas concert at the John Walter Museum. (Supplied by City of Edmonton)

"It never gets old, and it's because we love playing together and we love playing our Christmas repertoire."

The McDades are also performing Candlelight Christmas concerts at The Muttart Conservatory. They released their third album, The Empress, in November 2021.

The John Walter Museum is currently closed for drop-in visitors but available for school and group programs. It also hosts birthday parties and other events. 

The holiday tradition was cancelled due to COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021.

For more information on tickets for Candlelight Christmas shows, visit The McDades website.

WATCH | John Walter and the museum that bears his name:

John Walter Museum

4 months ago
Duration 2:11
Take a tour and learn more about the man and the museum.


Adrienne Lamb


Adrienne Lamb is the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. She served for several years as CBC Radio's national arts reporter in Edmonton. Prior to moving to Alberta in 2001, Adrienne worked at CBC in Ontario and New Brunswick. Adrienne is a graduate of Western University with a degree in English and Anthropology and a Masters in Journalism.