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  • Ontario, Canada

Rural Electrification

From Wikipedia: “Rural electrification is the process of bringing electrical power to rural and remote areas. Electricity is used not only for lighting and household purposes, but it also allows for mechanization of many farming operations, such as threshing, milking, and hoisting grain for storage. In areas facing labor shortages, this allows for greater productivity at reduced cost.”

During the mid-1940’s the excitement of electricity coming to each farm had the children fascinated and enthralled watching the long lengths of wires strung out across the fields with the promise of power at the flick of a switch.  The battery radios now could be replaced with new electric sets and “The Happy Gang” and ” Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins” would never fade as the battery ran down.

The larger towns like Pembroke had electricity already. Indeed Pembroke Hydro was in the forefront of bringing power to the people.  But the farms on the side-roads of Westmeath Township were waiting their turn.  Installers like Lennox McLaughlin and the Daoust brothers from Ottawa were in demand. Andy Leblanc and his brother Frank also went into the hydro installation business.

Family after family waited for their turn after doing the paperwork:  Electric Application Card

When electricity finally was installed, farm work would never be the same again. The first electric machine bought was usually a well water pump to replace the old gas-powered one.  Now the cattle could have water at any hour of any day.  The danger of a fire  from a kerosene lamp was extinguished when electric lights were put in the barn – night watch with a sick animal, or other tasks after dark, had electric bulb illumination.

A huge event for the farm family was the replacement of the outhouse with a new indoor bathroom and flush toilet. This was particularly appreciated in the winter months.   Indoor plumbing needed the water pressure the electric water pump provided. Now with a water heateradded, the bathers could luxuriate and soak in lovely hot water.

Another big electric innovation came in refrigeration. Gone were the blocks of ice in sawdust, cold cellars and ice houses. After an animal was butchered, the meat packages were wrapped and put into the rental locker for storage at Bennie’s Store in Beachburg.  A family outing to Beachburg Village on a Saturday night to pick up your next week’s meat from the locker was commonplace. With electricity, now the farm family could buy a deep freeze and store their produce at home.

Milk producers could now cool the fluid milk waiting for pick-up.  Even the hard work of milking the cows now could be mechanized; milking machines were a huge jump forward.  Within a few years, milk pipelines going directly from the milking machines on the udder of the cow, to a bulk refrigerated tank were the norm.  The stainless steel tank had paddles constantly stirring the incoming milk to speed cooling.  The smell of bleach was the new odour in dairy farms and high standards of cleanliness at each stage of the operation were now required.

The cost of electrification in the mid-1940s of an average sized farming operation, to fully service the main barn, side buildings and house was around $1,900.00. For some farm families that was too much money and they couldn’t immediately sign-up. But within a few years every homestead was electrified.

Electrification as a Source of Romance

As well, when you talk about electrification of the township, Legault Electric, out of Ottawa,  was one company who wired my parent’s house and most of the Village of LaPasse.  It turned out my husband’s father William Wilfred Legault,  (son of the company owner – Aldege Legault), married Madeleine Leblanc.  I then married the eldest son, Ronald Legault, who was also my 2nd cousin once removed.  Too much of the same blood but fortunately we all turned out ok, at least I think we did. “ writes Sue Lacroix who remembers electricity coming to the LaPasse area and sparking things up in more ways than one.