A owner of a farm of any size- even when it was only a clearing in the bush – looked for good production. With our modern farming practices, production of commodities in Ontario now feeds millions of people here and abroad.
In 1851 the government of the day held an AGRICULTURAL CENSUS: 1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. This important undertaking give us a view into the production information of the time. This record from Archives Canada was taken from the Ancestry.ca website. The information is spread over 4 pages for each farmstead with 56 columns of information. Columns 2 & 3 give the Concession and Lot numbers; – current owners of those acreages will be interested in what was under production in 1851 – 16 years before Confederation. The whole Westmeath Township 1851 Agricultural Census enumerates four pages of settler farms. These “occupier” names on these four pages are seen here.
An excellent website chronicling the hardships and hard work of establishing a farm in the wilderness is The Dalziel Barn and its Farm section under “Working…”; working to clear land; working to build a cabin; working to grow grain; working to raise livestock.
The farmers took their produce and livestock to the train stations to sell onto the wider market. Prices were established at those rail heads and then published; keeping the farmers up-to-date on farm produce prices.
The farmers were always watching for new farm equipment and the advertisers sometimes used names of locals as used in this whippletree ad.
Westmeath Township had a lot of good farm land; but many parts of Renfrew County – including Westmeath Township – had stretches of marginal or poor land. Also many of the settlers had no background or aptitude in farming and land sales for taxes were common. The families were moving on, hopefully to a better life.
Our correspondent from 1892, “Vigilent” , was travelling through the Township at a time of great expansion of the farming community. The Government Road mentionned is the present Beachburg Road.
Agriculture was the biggest industry in Westmeath Township by the early 1900’s and always there was a push for improvement and innovation.
Changes in transportation resulted in innovations of how produce from the farm was sent to market. From Evelyn Price’s 1984 Book:
“The milk was drawn from the nearby farms in 30 gallon milk cans with horse drawn wagons. These wagons were so designed to carry 24 cans, which were rolled from the farmer’s milkstand (at the farm gate) to the same level of the wagon platform. The milkman would have to roll these cans at a tilting angle on the wagon, with the can balances at the level of safety for such a proceeding Milk was gathered six days per week in the summer and provision was made for each farmer to store an adequate supply of ice in the winter months to provide refrigeration for their “milky” product. Sour milk was not accepted but was promptly returned to the farmers.”
“Changing trends in the dairy industry led to a more modern way of conveying milk from farm to processing plant. This new method was introduced in Westmeath when Brum’s Dairy, Pembroke, initiated bulk tank pick-up from three farmers – Demsond McGonegal, Merril McGonegal, Perretton, and Henry Metcalfe, Beachburg. This meant a high initial expenditure to become equipped for this service but proved to be the modern method of hauling milk in the sanitary aluminum bulk tank trucks.”
To make it easier for farmers to increase production, the provincial Ministry of Agriculture produced courses where farmers could learn about the latest methods and products. Westmeath Township young farmers were always willing to participate and keep up with agricultural technology ad advancements.
A READY MARKET. The farming community of the township had a ready market for its produce, in the lumber camps of the Ontario Algonquin Highlands and Eastern Quebec Laurentians. The men and horses working in the camps needed to be provisioned. The summer crops had a ready market. Tons of hay, bushels of oats, flour, meats salted in barrels or dried, vegetables like potatoes and beans, groceries, all fed the men their meals and the horses their fodder. Cattle were driven up to the camps and then slaughtered on site. The farmers signed contracts with the lumber companies included transporting the items to the camps.
The article below is written by one of the local farmers John Gervais of LaPasse, and is a wonderful description of his memories of loading up and travelling to the camps up the Black River. The scale and numbers of teams and sleighs is very large.
Nowhere has rural innovation been more prominent than in how we grow our food crops, tend the farm animals and cultivate the land. Plant and livestock breeding has leaped forward, leaving most of us who don’t work in the agriculture industry, unaware of the great advances.
Selective breeding for desired traits has been practiced by man for hundreds of years; since near the beginning of human civilization. Once the science of genetics became better understood, breeders used what they knew about the genes to select for specific desirable traits.
“Plant breeding is the art and science of changing the genetics of plants in order to produce desired characteristics. Plant breeding can be accomplished through many different techniques ranging from simply selecting plants with desirable characteristics for propagation, to more complex molecular techniques.
“International development agencies believe that breeding new crops is important for ensuring food security by developing new varieties that are higher-yielding, resistant to pests and diseases, drought-resistant or regionally adapted to different environments and growing conditions.”
If you garden or have field crops look through this 1898 seed catalogue: 1898 Seed Catalogue
Comparing those end of century varieties of seeds to today’s, the innovation in the plant breeding industry has been intense and the farm community constantly studies and improves the yields and disease resistance from the vast choice available. The 2013 selection of seed catalogues for comparison is lengthy.
A Westmeath Township farmer has brought back to Renfrew County two of the top awards from the Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec Seed, Feed, and Forage Show. Larry Reaburn, of R.R. #1, Westmeath, won the Raymond H. Kemp Memorial Award for being the Grand Champion show person with the most points at the fair.
He also brought home the Lanark County Farmers’ Mutual Fire Insurance Company Special for winning the highest amount of prize money in registered and certified seed classes. Larry won first and second place for certified oats, a first for certified barley, a first for buckwheat in an open class, and a fourth for spring wheat in an open class. He also had entries in corn, red clover, and an open oats class. Larry farms 390 owned and 100 rented acres, of which 200 acres are in cereal grains, 140 acres in corn, and 100 acres in red clover.
-Taken from the Cobden Sun, March 1985
For some plants in our diet such as Canola, now a common cash crop for township farmers, their transformation through breeding, took decades to complete and is a Canadian success story.
Weather Conditions are always central to the life of farm production – good, bad, or indifferent the weather must be taken into account.
It has been reported that an historical event took place in Westmeath Township on the Sixth Line. Larry Raeburn ploughed 30 acres of ground on Jan. 13th, 1975 and Harry McBride shelled 20 acres of corn on Jan. 13th and 14th. These are extremely rare occurrences for this time of year.
-Taken from the Pembroke Observer, Thurs. Jan. 30, 1975. Westmeath Tweedsmuir book
An aside: There is absolutely nothing innovative about a Canadian winter snowstorm. However, no section on agriculture can ignore weather stories such as this:
A severe winter snowfall visited our area on January 25, 1979. In the morning, much to their surprise, residents woke to this horrible white sight. To make it worse it all happened overnight. As we are now in Metric Calculations, the amount was 50 cm. or 20 inches.
The snowfall created many problems and immediately people thought of their roofs. By this time many roofs had already gone in and before farmers were allowed time to clean their roofs many had gone down. From all estimated reports, from 50 to 60 buildings in the Pembroke, Westmeath and Beachburg areas were victims of the storm. This is a heavy loss and a few farmers had more than one building damaged and some cattle killed. No insurance will be collected, as farmers were not covered for this type of loss, the premiums would just be too high. One thing is certain when the farmer rebuilds, he will take into account the type of structure he will choose. The engineers will also have to improve their designs, as many of the newer buildings were the ones to succumb to the snowfall.
At this time of writing, it is hoped there will be financial assistance from the Ontario Government; but it appears that the only assistance coming will be a provincial grant of one dollar for every dollar raised through public subscription by a local committee appointed by municipal councils. This will be a mere drop in the bucket as too many farmers needing help are located in a small area and the residents could not begin to raise an amount to make the effort worthwhile.
Beyond this area, people are financially unsympathetic to our needs. Meanwhile farmers are plugging away at the damage, trying to get things back to normal. Following the snowstorm record-breaking cold temperatures occurred which makes it very difficult to do any carpentry work. Consequently the farmer is asking himself, “What have I done to deserve this treatment?”
-Westmeath Tweedsmuir Book 1979
Animal Husbandry has also been practiced for thousands of years, since the first domestication of animals. Selective breeding for desired traits was established as a scientific practice by Robert Blakewell during the British Agricultural Revolution in the 18th century.
Beef Cattle: Bakewell was also the first to breed cattle to be used primarily for beef. Previously, cattle were first and foremost kept for pulling ploughs as oxen. Also they were kept as the “milch” cow for the household to use to make butter, cheese and fresh milk for that household’s usage. As more and more farmers followed Bakewell’s lead, farm animals increased dramatically in size and quality.
Township farmers improved their herds one animal at a time and would often “loan- out” a particularly well-bred sire to other farmers; thereby raising the overall stock. By 1928 good cattle grazed on many township farms. STANLEY, a Shorthorn bull born and bred by Wilfred Lamothe and purchased by Garnet Bromley in 1928 was one such animal in the Bromley Line-LaPasse area.
Size Matters: In 1700, the average weight of a bull sold for slaughter was 370 pounds (168 kg). By 1786, that weight had more than doubled to 840 pounds (381 kg). Compare the size to today’s slaughter weight from Wiki Answers:
“The average slaughter weight for a cow, be she beef or dairy, is around 1400 to 1600 lbs. Young cattle that are raised for beef, such as steers (castrated males) and heifers that are not suitable as breeding females, then they typically would be slaughtered when they are around 1400 lbs at 18 to 24 months of age.
Most cattle are not slaughtered on a weight basis: they are slaughtered based on what their body condition or grade is. An animal that is raised for the purpose of making steaks and roasts out of it has to be graded as preferably Choice or Prime. Choice/Prime animals are not on the verge of being considered overweight or obese, since typically no rib or spinal bones should be showing, and the animal must have a round, plump rear and appear thick in the ribs and barrel. Thus, for example, if a Charolais steer weighs 1400 lbs and only grades as Select or lower as far as appearances are concerned, he has to be kept longer on feed until he appears to have reached that Choice or Prime grade. As a result, he may weigh 1800 lbs by the time he is slaughtered.
“Consumers will have to get used to paying $2.00 per pound for hamburg and these high prices are expected to stay with us until 1982. Increase in the price has been caused by shortage of beef cattle, especially stockers.
“Beef prices seem to be determined by a seven year cycle. The lowest point in the cycle was the years 1975-1977 when prices hit rock bottom. Several full time beef farmers did not survive the last slump and many sold out because they could not hang on for another year until prices went up again. While the beef farmers operating costs have been increasing every year, the farmers’ real income has been decreasing because of the low cost of beef. But farmers in the last two months have been leaving the sale barn with smiling faces because of the higher prices. Stockers in February 1978 sold for 45¢ to 55¢ per pound, but have been increased by 100% to 95¢ and $1.10 per pound.
“Steers, (slaughtered for prime cuts of beef), sold for 40¢ to 45¢ per pound in 1978 and now are selling for 82¢ per pound and cows sold for hamburg in 1978 at 35¢ to 40¢ per pound are now selling for 56¢ to 65¢ per pound. Higher prices are sure to stay with us until 1982 because most farmers have not yet started to rebuild their herds.
“To replace one head of cattle requires an investment of $500 and farmers are not yet ready to take that risk. It takes over two years to get an animal ready for sale and there is no guarantee that the price will be high when it comes time to sell.
“On Tuesday March 6, 1979 a local farmer Norris McMullen made history at the Cobden Sale Barn when a 10-day-old calf sold for $2.00 a pound. The calf weighed 120 pounds, bringing the price to $240.00. That is a record high and Mr. Mc Mullen said it was a far cry from five years ago when beef was experiencing a slump and it was lucky to get $2.00 per calf or worse, many farmers disposed of their calves at home as it didn’t pay to have them sent to the sale barn.”
-Westmeath Tweedsmuir Book 1979
Horned cattle could protect themselves if needed from predators and in draught oxen the yolk in the harnessing required horns so the animal couldn’t back out. In small animals the horn could work as an easy handhold.
Polled cattle are those that are born without any buds that grow into horns. Instead they have in the middle of the top of their heads a knobby area that is called a poll, thus the reason that hornless cattle are called “polled.” Polled is a genetic trait that is used in a lot of cattle today, and is a trait to be taken advantage of when the offspring has a horned sire or dam. Now most cattle are polled as horns have no useful purpose.
Sometimes when predators are determined to fine dine at the farm, as in this case from September 1933, human ingenuity is required: First Bear Poem
Dairy Cattle: The quantity and quality of milk production by the pure bred dairy cow can be tweaked with specialized genetic breeding to increase her performance. Blood lines are all important and immaculate records are kept. Canadian dairy cattle are world leaders and the Canadian Holstein cow is in demand throughout the world.
Imported from Europe in the 1880s, we have made the breed our own. Artificial insemination (A.I.) for Holsteins began in 1935 at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa and Upper Ottawa Valley dairy producers have kept pace with the growth and excellence of the breed.
The use of A.I. meant that a farmer could buy the best in blood line mating opportunities for his cows and gradually over time the herd would be improved.
Township farmers during the 1960’s to 1990’s, like the McBride’s on the Seventh Line (Pleasant Valley Road): Arndell and his sons Harry and Izett, and his grandson Gordon, all had good pure-bred dairy herds. Jack Wright on the Sixth Line (Lookout Road) and the O’Brien Farm (Westmeath Road), also had excellent herds. Others known for their good herds included George and Eileen Brown on the Sixth Line (Lookout Road) and Ozzie and Delmer Bennet from Ross Township.
As the township herds improved, the need for a dairy facility to process the fluid milk was demanded. This included a requirement to ship milk all year round to meet the fresh bottled milk market. A group of local farmers became investors in the Pleasant View Dairy at the east end of the town of Pembroke. Bob Burns was the owner-operator of the dairy and some of those who invested in, and had fluid milk contracts with the company were John Graham, Clyde Brown, Arndell McBride, Jack Wright, Earl Cotnam and James McBride.
In the 2010’s, big players in dairy herd production in the area are the Whitmore’s on the Beachburg Road, the Klasis on Grant Settlement Road and Nagers on LaPasse Road. The tradition of fine herds with leading edge automation and husbandry continues.
Some days things just don’t go to plan and every farmer who raises livestock will tell a tale of one ornery critter – this tale by John and Beth Wright, (their Dad was Jack Wright), tells of such a critter that Arndell McBride owned. The Wild Cow of West Sturgeon Mountain
The modern era was revolutionizing the old way of hands-on processing of milk products including separating milk and churning the cream for butter and cheese. This was initially done in the home or the milk house on the farm. Later that process would move out of the home to small cheese factories or local dairies.
This excellent booklet from the Agriculture Museum has pictures of all the apparatus used in processing butter, cheese and pasteurized milk.
Greenwood Cheese by the Luckey Brothers and at Pleasant Valley Cheese Making Industry
By the 1920s the small local cheese factories which handled the output of the farmers from a couple of miles radius, were closing and moving to larger centres. The Pleasant Valley Cheese Factory at the Eight Line and Proven Line corner (Hawthorne and Desjardins Roads) was one example. William E. Jackson was the cheese maker at Pleasant Valley for several years.
The Pleasant Valley Cheese Factory was situated on a one-half acre lot on the south west corner of Lot 16, Concession 9, on what was known as the Thomas Poff farm. This lot was registered on December 14, 1892, as being sold to Mr. Clarke from Mr. Fraser. Mr. Clarke built the factory and operated it for three years. Then he sold it to Mr. James Holmes Bromley on January 3rd, 1895, who in turn sold the factory to Mr. Wm. Jackson on February 18, 1896. Mr. Jackson operated the factory until February 4th, 1904 when he sold it to Frank and Allan Singleton. They operated it there until 1920. Then the factory was torn down and the equipment taken to Beachburg to enlarge the Beachburg Creamery, operated by the Singletons.
Other cheese makers during these years were Mr. Edward Nesbitt, Mr. Albert Parks, Mr. Thompson, Mr. Tennant, Mr. Doyle, Mr. Childerhose, Mr. Lloyd Brown, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Thomas Hudson.
Cheese from this factory was shipped to many parts of the province. It was taken by horse-team and wagon to the railway station in Cobden and shipped from there. There was no station in Beachburg at that time. One wagon load would be shipped out one week and two wagon loads the next week. Some of the men who hauled the cheese to Cobden were: Mr. W.A. McMullen, Mr. Harry McBride Sr., and Mr. Samuel Jeffrey. These farmers made some extra cash this way. On their return trip they would bring back barrels of salt and colouring used in making the cheese.
Mr. Arndell McBride can remember Mr. Ed (Teck-Hughes) Davis of Golden Lake telling him about supplying the round wooden cheese boxes used. They were made of elm wood. Each week a cheese was cut and the farmers in the area came and bought their supply of cheese.
Compiled and submitted by Russell and Arndell McBride, March 1976, Westmeath Tweedsmuir Book.
Evelyn Moore Prices’ “History of the Corporation of Westmeath Township” on page 61 continues the story of the demise of these small factories in the Township. She includes the story of the students of the Pleasant Valley School (S.S. No. 5) located on the next corner, running down to the factory at lunch hour to get some fresh cheese curds.
When Mr. Clyde D. Brown of Westmeath sold his dairy herd in Winchester in late February, Ontario auction history was made. The price of $30.25 was bid for the No. 1 Milk Quota, believed to be one of the highest prices for a milk quota in Ontario at a public auction. The purchasers of the highly valued quota were Maydon Cobourn, Navan; Smith Brothers, Landsdowne and Cornelias Peldervaart, also of Landsdowne.
The 48 head herd sold for a total of $25,835 and general average of $538. The 28 milking females averaged $594. The eight bred heifers $478; and the seven open yearlings $346. Five heifer calves averaged $295. and seven babies went at $212. each.
The highest price was paid for Chemdale Rockman Colleen Leader, a bred heifer sired by Seiling Rockman out of Very Good Lassie Leader Dam. She went for $900. The heifer was bought by John Marriott of Langley B.C. Mr. Marriott was the biggest single purchaser at the sale; he bought 11 head for $4,290.
-Taken from Pembroke Observer, Feb. 1979. Westmeath Tweedsmuir Book.
This easy- to- use website will give the basic facts about the production levels of farm commodities in Ontario.