FARMING IN LAIRD 1874-1991
Compiled by Les Daniel
Free Grants and Homesteads
Algoma was a vast territory of unsettled country in Upper Canada, some areas of which were being presented for settlement, if one had the determination to wrestle a home from this virgin land. Following the survey in 1859, the Huron Robinson Treaty had reserved much of the land for the many Bands of Members of the First Nation. The townships of Laird, Meredith and Macdonald were part of the Garden River Reserve, and were available for purchase and settlement in conjunction with the Indian Lands Act. The Free Grants and Homesteads Act listed other townships in this area as having free grants of land.
Under this act, the locatee, a single man over eighteen, or the head of a family i.e. the male head or sole female head having a child or children under eighteen years of age, was entitled to a grant of 160 acres of land, and could purchase an additional 160 acres at the rate of .50 cents per acre. It would appear however, that in the Township of Laird and Macdonald, since it was Indian Land, there was a purchase price payable to the Garden River Band.
As an example of this, an original deed which now forms part of the Laird Tweedsmuir Book shows the purchase of 79 acres of land, more or less, by John Booth in the Township of Macdonald, for the sum of $39.50, payable to the Garden River Band. The deed is dated 20th April 1912.
Once application had been made for a tract of land, the locatee, as he was called, was given five years from the date of location to complete his settlement duties before he was granted a letter of patent.
Their duties were as follows: (1) to have at least 15 acres cleared and under cultivation, and of the 15 acres, 2 acres at least to be cleared and cultivated each year during the five years; (2) to have built a habitable house at least 16′ by 20′ in size; (3) to have actually and continuously resided upon and cultivated the land for five years after location. For additional land purchased under this act, the same conditions would apply except for the residence requirements.
The Hard Years – Settlement
March 7th, 1891 was the inaugural meeting of the Laird Council, but the first farm in the township was located 17 years prior to that with the coming of Mr. Thomas Lapish in 1874.
Large tracts of land at a permissible price were a strong motivational force and land records indicate a steady stream of families moving into the area from that year. Most of the very early residents located on land adjacent to the Bar River, and in the area close to Port Findlay. There were strong reasons for this; there were no roads and apart from the use of sleighs in the winter, all freight had to be hauled in scows or barges. Because of this, although some of the basic implements such as plows were brought into the township by boat to Port Findlay, the cost of such implements was beyond the means of the early farmers and almost all the work was done by hand. The completion of the Canadian Railroad in 1887 brought a greater influx of settlers to the area and also made the availability of implements much easier.
During these hard years land was being cleared, tilled and planted, homes were being built and forage and shelter obtained for the stock. Early records indicate a much greater emphasis on sheep, pigs, poultry and crops such as potatoes, peas and beans than you will find today. Families were self-sustaining and local industries such as a grist mill and a cheese factory were necessary to process the home produce. Grist mills were operated from time to time by such men as Ralph Evoy, D.R. Brodie, H. Chappell and A. Hounslow, but this was in later years. Every family took time in the early spring to go syruping. The maple syrup and maple sugar thus obtained was the main source of sugar for many of the early settlers. Game was also sought in or out of season as a means of augmenting the larder. The cost of ammunition and its scarcity soon made a marksman of a young boy, as he would have to face the wrath of his parent if he arrived home empty-handed, having wasted his shot.
Long hard days! Up before daylight, milking and tending the stock: out to the field to clear land, plant, cultivate or harvest and whilst the man was thus occupied, the lady of the house was doing the laundry, picking fruit, putting up preserves or tending the vegetable garden. No microwave oven, no handy stove, no detergent, no Bounce! In many cases the housewife would have to render down lard, add some wood ash to make the soap which would later be used to wash clothes. In the evenings, after prayers and the children were in bed, clothes had to be made or mended and tools had to be repaired or sharpened for the following day.
Until the railroad made the availability of implements easier, all work was hand done. Grain was broadcast by hand; do you remember the hopper slung around the neck and a saucer in each hand? The crop was then cut with a sickle, scythe or cradle and the grain separated by means of a hand flail. In John Evoy’s diary of 1876, he mentions cutting hay in a meadow. Since he himself did not settle here until 1877, one can only assume that he must have been cutting wild hay from an abandoned beaver meadow.
Laird Township is a fine mix of arable land and forest. The forest cover was much greater than it is today. This benefited the farmer in many ways, it provided the logs with which to build a home, fencing for the livestock and a ready source of fuel. This same forest, however, provided for a very viable logging industry lending in turn to the establishment of a large number of sawmills in the area. The loggers lived in camps in-and-around the township. These men had to be fed and their horses had to be supplied with grain, hay and straw. The provision of hay, grain and meat to these camps was a real source of income to those who were able to produce more than they could use.
There was a continuous growth in population from 1874 but undoubtedly, the greatest factor effecting change was the advent of the railroad. Communications were increasing and implements were much more readily available.
Here are some sample prices courtesy of Implement and Tractor:
Land clearing continued and the railroad provided the farmer with yet another means of income – pulpwood! The softwood which was piling up on the farms could be shipped via the railroad to the pulp mill in the Soo. A cheese factory was established and built in MacDonald Township on what is now the farm of Louis Holmberg, and now surplus milk from old Betsy could be brought to the cheese factory and processed into cheese or butter.
These are excerpts from a journal which has been given to the Laird Historical Society. There is no indication of who might have originally owned this ledger but it was found in the possessions of the late Alex Stewart.
Name of Patron: James Montgomery
One 30 Gal. milk can . . . . . . . . . . . . . $4.15
18 lb. cheese @ .09 1/4 cents . . . . . . $1.67
3,468 lbs milk@ .39 cents per cwt . . . $15.47
Name of Patron: Thomas Myrray
One 30 gal. Milk can . . . . . . . . . . . . . $4.15
32 1/2 lb cheese @ .09 1/4 cents . . . $3.00
2,099 lb milk @ .39 cents per cwt . . . $8.08
Inflation was setting in even in 1900.
Name of Patron: Joseph Bradshaw
66 1/2 lb cheese @ .10 cents . . . $6.65
5,001 lb milk @ .50 cents per cwt . . . $25.00
The actual date when this factory was built is unknown, however, we do know that it was managed by A. J. Wagg of the Guelph Agricultural College who was assisted by Ernest Evoy and Fred Newman. In 1912, the abandoned cheese factory was bought by James Collings and was used to build his home.
One year following the inauguration of the Laird Municipal Council, a Fall Show was sponsored by the Laird Branch Agricultural Society. In 15 years, despite the fact that land had to be cleared and homes built, the community was able to stage an agricultural show. This was a tremendous accomplishment considering the lack of communication. This, the first of many fairs, was held in and about the Orange Hall located opposite the Knox Presbyterian Church on the Government Road. This hall was purchased by Stonewall Chappell in 1925 and moved to his farm where it was used as a granary. This farm is now owned by the Krohn family.
There’s an amusing story that Jack Krohn relates:
“Prior to buying his own farm, Jack was hired by Hugh Henry on the Government Road and Jack was living on the old Richards place at the end of the Riley Road. Going home from work Jack would walk down the Lake George Road and then south through the right of way which is a continuation of the Haldenby Road, through the bush and then home. This night it was pitch black and Jack, with a pail of milk in hand, was walking through the bush on the trail when he stumbled over “something”. When he fell, he put out a hand to break his fall, but his hand landed on a very strange, soft object. Quoting Jack, he didn’t know what it was and he didn’t stop to find out. The milk pail went one way and he went the other, never stopping until he got home. Retracing his steps the following morning, Jack found his milk pail along side the spot where a sheep had been sleeping. Needless to say, Jack felt a little “sheepish”.
However, back to the fair:
1892 Fall Fair Officers:
Dan Alton – President
Wm. Murray – V.P.
Wm. Hollingsworth – Treasurer
Jos. Bradshaw – Secretary
Directors from Laird
Wm. McBain, Wm. Bruce, Thos. Murray
Admission was free to members; Adults .15 cents; Children .10 cents.
The programme for this event again forms part of the Tweedsmuir Book and the various classes are very similar to those which are held in today’s fairs.
The membership fee then was $2.00; and what is it today? – $2.00
The fair continued at its original location until 1925 when it moved a short distance north on the Government Road to property adjacent to the Wilson Sawmill close to the river where it continued until 1957. Unfortunately, in 1958, because of a real lack of interest the fair was discontinued.
In 1974, the fair was reinstated and held in a corner of the Henry Goertzen farm. That year Roger Fremlin was President and the fair continued to be held in Henry’s field until land was purchased on Lake George Road. After land had been acquired a great deal of building and development took place and the fair flourished. Over the next few years, several arenas were added in addition to two excellent ball fields and the N.S.A.S. sponsored several major attractions such as the R.C.M.P. Musical Ride, the Carlsberg Show Team and many musical attractions. Unfortunately, interest is again declining.
The annals of 1900 mention yet another industry flourishing in the area. In Isbester, Louis Garnett had built a sawmill and store and was specializing in the production of one piece “oak knees” which were used for making prows in the old wooden vessels. Louis must have made money from this venture, as he was the first one in Laird to own a horseless carriage.
In 1901 there is the first mention of mechanization on the farm. An article in the Sault Star mentions the purchase of Threshing Equipment by Montgomery and Hurley from Messrs. Becking and Lloyd, Pressing and Threshing Machines, of Sylvan Valley. In the same edition it further states that P.D. McDonald of McLennan is now the agent for the Deering Ideal Threshing Equipment.
One of the latest ventures of the Laird L.A.C.A.C. (Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee) is to establish an agricultural museum and acquire many of the implements which were used in these early years, refurbish them and have them operating once again. Last summer a threshing machine was obtained from the Palmer family and may be seen at the fairgrounds. This is a ‘Waterloo” model and is belt driven by a tractor. The very early models of course, were horse operated.
The “thresher”, or hay press or buzz-saw were pulled by horses from farm to farm and were then “set-up” ready for work. The machine was blocked so it couldn’t move and a trench was then dug from the machine to a horse operated windlass. This trench had to be deep enough to accommodate a belt, which connected the two. A bridge had to be laid over the trench, so that the horse which was ”yoked” to the windlass would walk in a circle turning the windlass, thus driving the machine. The tail of the horse would have to be braided to prevent its catching in the machinery as it plodded around and around. Later models would be operated by a stationery steam engine or a gasoline operated “one lunger”.
Over the years several farmers would do custom work in this way, amongst them being Wes Taylor, Nain Rivers and Russell Hurley, with steam operated threshing machines: Tom Murray and Vic Catling had the gas operated models and Carson Tomlinson and Henry Chappell used a “one lunger” on their ”Buzz Saws”.
In 1901, the Sault Star started to publish weekly listings of farm produce. Here is a sample from that first list:
Cows $2.25 – $2.75 per cwt.
Mutton $0.05 1/2 – $0.08 lb.
Calves $0.06 – $0.07 lb.
Hay $10.00 – $12.00 per ton
Eggs $0.15 per doz.
Beef $0.06 – $0.0625 lb.
From this list the price of hay, looking at the other prices when compared with today’s market, would appear to be unduly high. Could this be because of a very ready market in the many logging camps of that period?
Wool was a very important commodity and continued to be an important source of income for Laird farmers until wolves started to take their toll. The wool from the sheep was baled in the same hay press that was previously mentioned and shipped from Port Findlay by boat. These bales were very heavy reaching weights of 500 lbs.
Apparently, one wool buyer argued the weight of the bales. It was agreed between the buyer and shipper to cut the wire ties on a bale when it reached the dock at Port Findlay, and then the wool could be weighed on a grain scale. If there was indeed 500 lbs of wool in a bale, the buyer could put it back together or vice versa. The farmer got his money and waved goodbye to the buyer standing in a sea of wool on the old Government Dock.
So, agriculture was growing as an Industry and the farmers of Laird were contributing to this growth. In 1902, a deputation from Bar River approached the “purser” of the Sault Star agitating for the establishment of a Farmer’s Market.
It is difficult to determine just when the production of fluid milk for the dairies in the Soo started. But, indeed it did! Although the supply of hay and grain for the logging industry continued well into the present era, there was an early swing to dairying. Because the only form of transportation was the railroad, only a few, those living in close proximity to the trains, could take advantage of this market. Amongst the very early milk shippers were the Brodies, Evoys, Chappells, Alex Stewart and Alex Gunn. Eventually however, this shipping of milk would lead to another farm-based industry.
Before I talk about this, however, let me digress for a moment to talk about a very unique individual. If ever there is an Agricultural Hall of Fame established in Laird, this man should be one of the first inductees, and I’m talking about the late Stinson Archibald. “Stennie” arrived in the township in 1927, and went to work in Murphy’s Blacksmith Shop. In 1929, he took up permanent residence in the house built by James Collings where he resided until his untimely death in 1967. He was a man with little formal education, but a consummate craftsman. There was nothing he couldn’t fix and there wasn’t a farmer now resident in the community that wasn’t indebted to Stennie at one time or another.
In 1932, D.E. (Elvie) Brodie, started hauling the milk cans to the Soo by truck. Although Elvie lived in Macdonald, he was a very integral part of farmers in Laird. At various times Elvie operated a grist mill, was the agent for Pioneer Animal Feeds, ran a gas station, contracted the milk run, finally operating a very successful school-bus service until he retired and left the area.
In the south end of the Township dairy farmers such as Roger Ableson, Jack Junor, Louis Zelonko and Jussila took their milk to the Ohman farm on the highway, where it was picked up by the Algoma Co-op truck and taken to the Soo. At the other end, Jim Haldenby and Stennie both assisted Elvie with the milk haul, picking up the cans from the farms in the morning and returning the empties to the village at night. In the winter, the farmer had to meet the truck at the end of the plowed road. Jim could always be relied upon to pick up different things in town for the farmers during his return trip.
Jim and Stennie were an institution!
Eventually of course, milking techniques changed and with the evolution to bulk storage you now find an uncommunicative stainless steel tank truck picking up the milk.
How can you learn something which is none of your business from a tank truck?
The Good Years – The Family Farm
There came a time on most farms when the land was cleared, production was increased and, eventually, surpassing the needs of the family.
The local market was good; the dairies could handle most of the milk produced and as a result farmers could specialize to some extent to meet the demands of the various different outlets for farm produce.
All of this meant a little more money in the farmer’s pocket. At the same time during this period, although communications were improving and travel was less complicated, the farms were operated as a family unit. Sons and daughters helped out at home or went to work on neighbouring farms. There was a great community spirit. Weddings, dances, card parties were all opportunities to get together and get caught up on the local happenings.
Granted, farming was still hard work, but gradually farmers were able to acquire more mechanical help in the way of implements and major pieces of equipment would be purchased, co-operatively, or one farmer would purchase it outright and then contract out his services. This was the case with threshing machines and hay presses.
These were the days before the self-propelled combine or baler. In the fall, the threshing machine and hay press were in great demand and the farmers would move from farm to farm helping the neighbours. And those meals! Whilst the men were labouring in the fields or barn, the ladies were preparing the soup, meats and pies for the noon hour meal.
In 1911, the first Agricultural Representative, Mr. A.S. Smith was appointed in the District of Algoma. With this appointment, the farmer was now able to take advantage of evolving technology – new varieties of oats, barley, potatoes and peas were made available. In 1916, a drainage machine was operating in the Township. The Bar River flats were an old lake bottom, and the area around the present Rydal Bank Road was very fertile, but badly in need of some form of artificial drainage. Mr. J.M. MacIntosh took over from A.S. Smith in 1919, and remained in the capacity of Ag. Rep. until his retirement in 1965. On January 25, 1925, the first short course in agriculture was held in Laird, with an enrollment of 28. A Junior Farmers’ Group was formed in 1931, which actively sponsored clubs such as the Garden Club, the Potato Club, and, later, Calf Clubs. These were the forerunners of the 4H Clubs. These clubs encouraged the youngsters on the farm to become interested in modern farming methods.
In reading the memoirs of J.M. MacIntosh, one item in particular caught my attention: “At the annual meeting of the Bruce Mines Agricultural Society, in January 1930, the possibility of holding a Plowing Match in Algoma was discussed, and a committee formed to secure members.” Over one hundred members were secured, and a meeting was held on January 31st to organize a Plowman’s Association. A plowing demonstration was held in September conducted by Mr. Clarke Young.
Our first Plowing Match was held in October 1930, with 26 entries and over 700 in attendance. This item refers to the first plowing match in Algoma, but once again Laird is ahead of the pack.
In 1909, a plowing match was held on the farm of John Armstrong, and the trophy for best plowman was awarded to William Bruce. This farm now belongs to Tom Ableson, and is located on the Government Road, just south of the Rydall Mill Road.
The formation of co-operatives and associations was the order of business during this period. Here are but a few:
1929: A co-operative creamery formed in Bruce Mines.
1930: Algoma milk producers formed.
circa 1940: A co-operative formed to operate a portable seed cleaning plant.
1944: Algoma District Agricultural Committee was formed with Mr. Phil Barkley from the North Shore Agricultural Society being the representative from Laird Township. Several matters of importance to the local farmer were discussed, amongst them being:
(a) The need for hydro-electric power to all farms
(b) The need for a residential veterinary surgeon
(c) The need for Artificial Insemination for herd improvement.
(d) Stabilization of transportation costs e.g. the cost of transporting corn from Montreal to Sudbury was 17.5 cents, but from Sudbury to Thessalon was 22.5 cents. It doesn’t mention in the report what quantity of corn the 17.5 cents or 22.5 cents referred to, but doesn’t the complaint sound familiar?
As a direct result of this committee’s intervention a resident vet. Dr. Brisbane was acquired. His fees? For first call, he received $3.00, which included the cost of medicine, and for each additional treatment, $1.00 per animal. Dr. Brisbane travelled by car or train and during the winter, it was the farmer’s responsibility to meet Dr. Brisbane at the end of the plowed road, and convey him to and from the farm.
Needless to say, it wasn’t too long before the good doctor requested an adjustment upwards in his fees for services rendered.
From these humble beginnings, the township has now the services of four veterinary surgeons, and a very modem clinic on the Mink Point Road in Desbarats.
Circa 1945: Steel City Co-operative formed to operate a feed mixing plant in Sault Ste. Marie.
This co-operative started under the management of John McLelland, and operated as the Steel City Co-op until it was taken over by the United Co-operatives of Ontario. The original location was on Bay Street, but later it was moved to its location on Highway #17 E. in Echo Bay.
1947: The first plowing match in Bar River was held on the farm of Jack Fremlin.
1950: Artificial Insemination commenced in the district.
1950: Cattle Breeders Association formed.
1950: Algoma Co-operatives Live Stock Sales held its first Feeder Cattle Sale in Thessalon.
During this same era, outside factions far beyond the boundaries of Laird Township were heralding a change; a change which would ultimately dissolve the family farm and the close-knit rural community way of life.
The Difficult Years – Big Business
The Great Depression of the 1930’s which brought great hardship to so many affected rural Canada to a lesser extent. The family farm had always produced the basic necessities of life and it continued to do so during this period. Markets dwindled, but these early farmers never had had too much extra money, thus life continued despite the sagging economy. However, changes were taking place.
Hydro-electric power was available and electricity was gradually replacing the old oil lamps. Tractors were replacing the horse and larger and more efficient implements took much of the drudgery out of farming. Electricity permitted the use of milking machines, thus increasing the size of the herd, and the tractor allowed the farmer to till more land, increasing once again his production and hopefully his income.
But at what cost? Certainly, life was being made easier, but the advance in technology was making subtle changes to the family farm. Much of the “romance” was being eroded.
Where was the need to walk a male tractor from farm to farm for example?
Little mention of the horse on the farm has been made thus far. Most farms had at least one indispensable horse. Not only was it used for the heavy work of farming, it was the families’ means of transportation; it was used for delivering the mail, and, in town, was used as the motive power for every freight wagon.
In Thoroughbred racing, a stallion is syndicated. This means that up to 40 race horse owners can buy a share in the ownership of that stallion. With only one or two mares, a farmer did not need the full-time services of a stallion. As a result, a resident in the community would buy a stallion and basically syndicate its services. This meant that he would “walk” his stallion during the breeding season from farm to farm. Over a three-week period, he would complete a circuit so that he could re-service a mare that hadn’t caught the first time. This service was contracted out over the years by several residents e.g. George McCoy, Alex Wilson and Dunc Fremlin, just to mention a few.
When ”walking” a stallion, the handler would ride in a cart pulled by another horse and the stallion would be led behind. All the handler’s luggage for his three-week absence from home would be carried in the cart.
Jack Wilson, a bachelor was hired by Dunc Fremlin to handle the stallion. Bill and Guy, Dunc’s sons thought it was wasteful having horse pull the cart and the stallion led behind, why not have the stallion pull the cart?
They broke the stallion to pull the cart and off Jack set, with the cart pulled by the stallion to his first call at the Rivers’ farm. Mrs. Rivers, seeing Jack and the stallion coming down the road, got the mare out of the stable in readiness for the grand occasion. Unfortunately, to the chagrin and embarrassment of both Jack and Mrs. Rivers, the stallion committed the dreadful deed before Jack could get him unhitched from the cart, in fact, before Jack could even get off the seat in the cart.
Needless to say, this was the first and last attempt at pulling the cart with the stallion.
This particular service yielded yet another market for the farmer, and owner of the stallion. Remember every freight or service-related industry in the city relied upon the horse. The horse pulled the baker’s van, the butcher’s van and a large number of horses were required for the door-to-door delivery of milk. Yes, they did deliver milk door-to-door in those days!
The dairies were very proud of their horses and wagons, and in some cases would insist that all their horses be the same colour e.g. Model Dairy had greys; Soo Dairy had blacks, and Palmer’s Dairy had chestnuts or sorrels.
Dunc Fremlin, because he kept a record of the type and colour of the mares which were bred in the district, was able to supply the dairies with their particular needs for many years.
And, talking about romance, another farmer spied his neighbour breaking land with a bull hitched to the plow, rather than his horse. Upon asking why the bull rather than a horse, his neighbour replied, “I thought I would show him that there’s more to life than just romance!“
Indeed, the romance was leaving the farm to be replaced by the need to operate in a much more business-like fashion in order to survive. During the Second World War, many of the young men and women left to serve in the armed forces. For many, this was the first time they had been away from the farm, and the experience had an irreversible effect on their outlook and their way of life. The sweeping technological changes that were introduced during the war, brought the same changes to civilian life following the cessation of hostilities.
Communications were drastically altered, television was making its debut, and the improvements to highways and modes of transportation meant a much wider range for marketing farm produce. Markets for farm commodities produced in Laird were now opening in the south. However, the reverse was also true and farmers in the south could now supply this area.
In addition to the local markets, there had been several merchants in the area buying produce and shipping to markets other than the Sault. Buyers such as Tony Mayo, Hany Bolls, Barrie Gibson, Ed Buchanan and Roy Chisholm all bought and shipped livestock, and Jim Granger and Hany Haldenby were buying stock and, in some cases, slaughtering the animals for direct sale to home owners.
Up to this time, the sale of fresh grown produce such as strawberries, potatoes, asparagus and garden vegetables was strictly local, and the area grower had had little or no competition from outside producers. Now, however, with the advent of refrigerated trucking, our local grower had to start competing on a Provincial or National Scale.
The family dairy farm was about to be delivered a severe blow. Four or five can quotas were commonplace, and the farmer was receiving about $4.00 for an 80 lb. can, less shipping charges. This income, coupled with additional monies received from the sale of strawberries, hay, grain, the odd 1/4 of beef, provided a good living. With this they could educate their children and provide some of the small luxuries of life. In the early 1950’s there were approximately 26 family farms shipping milk. Milk quotas were set by the dairies of which there were six in the Soo at that time: now there is only one and it is rumoured that that one could close and the only outlet for fluid milk would be in Sudbury.
In the 50’s however, the dairies could handle most of the milk produced, and in peak times the farmer was allowed to go over quota. In addition to the dairies in Sault Ste. Marie, there were also creameries in Bruce Station and St. Joseph’s Island. There was a regular pick-up of milk for these creameries from farmers who were milking only one or two cows. Many were only receiving their butter in return for the cream shipped, but to others the income derived from this added to their operating budget. Bill Larocque made the pick up for some time, but the service was discontinued in the mid 50’s, the last driver being Tom Ableson.
As well as the dairying, there were a large number of beef farms in the area, mainly in the southern half of the township. Khull, Gibson, Schoales, Larocque, McKinnon, Irwin, Bagler, Moore and Shellhorn were all names familiar to this industry. At the risk of possibly missing someone, and if I do, my apologies, here are some of the names of the families involved in mixed farming and dairying in those years: Keating, Montgomery, Rouleau, Rivers, Smith, Headrick, Tuckett, Reid, McIver, Swire, Fraser, Fremlin, Henry, Lapish, Taylor, Davidson, Junor, McCoy, Tomlinson, Wilson, Armstrong, Caldwell, Porchuck, Stewart, McDonald, Murray, Johnson, Gummerson, Shellhorn, Hollingsworth, Lidstone, McKay, Brown and Headley.
Several of the above specialized to some extent e.g. Hugh Henry grew strawberries, asparagus, vealed calves and shipped hay. Also growing strawberries were Warden Headrick, Dunc Fremlin, Phil Barkley, and later, Geordie Gibb. Potatoes were another big item in those days and fellows such as Albert Headrick, Warden Headrick, Jack Keating, Hugh Henry and Otto Shellhorn were all growers.
This year, 1991, there are only seven farms producing milk; but what a difference! Milking parlours, loose housing, bulk tanks, computerized rationing of feed, mechanized litter disposal system, automatic washing and sterilization of milking equipment and towering silos replacing the hay mow. Gone are the days when one stood knee deep in a manure pile forking the ”honey” onto a spreader or sleigh to be hauled out to the field by a team or tractor. Now the manure can be liquified and pumped out through large portable aluminum pipes and thus sprayed onto the fields. Yields are increasing and, in this regard, the dairy farmers In Laird are right up there with the best. Awards for high yields and herd improvement are commonplace and these seven; Headrick, Lamming, Tomlinson, Connolly, Vic Fremlin, Roger Fremlin and the Krohns are known and respected by dairymen throughout the province.
Just as with milk yields, although the climate is against the growing of cereal crops, Laird farmers are constantly trying new crops and varieties, and grain yields are excellent for this part of the country. As a matter of fact, until retiring from active farming this year, Harry Lapish was yielding spring grain as high as any one in Northern Ontario. Beef production is on the increase again, as can be seen if you visit the farms of Dick Beitz, Don Manchur, or Tom Ableson, and whereas at one time there were several strawberry patches around, today there is only Billy Palmer.
But again, what price is being paid for this success?
High equipment and interest costs, the increased costs in fuel, taxation and bureaucracy, are only a few of the factors which are adding to the difficulties in farming. Farming is now big business. The small family farm is gone, the mixed farm is gone, several herds, quotas and farms have been taken over and merged as one. In many areas hand usage is dictated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and The Ministry of the Environment is the constant watchdog. Transporting manure for spreading on the fields, one of the essentials for good land husbandry can now lead to a lawsuit. If spillage occurs on the road in the process, neighbours run to the Ministry of the Environment or the O.P.P. Pretty soon there will be a sizable market for Bovine diapers, apparently the release of gas by old Betsy is contributing to the greenhouse effect.
The days when a fellow from the Soo came down to buy a quarter of beef are gone. The Ministry of Health regulates the sale of meat, and only authorized slaughter houses may sell meat to the public. This has certainly cut into the farmers’ perquisites, but at least if you are going to Gabe Gregoire’s to buy your meat, you can be assured that you are buying a quality product, produced under stringent health regulated conditions.
These many factors have changed the agricultural scene and to my mind, anyway, not for the better. Gone are the days when after chores you went to Curry’s store to pick up the mail; when one could while away an hour over a Coke and a bar, catching up on the day’s events. Gone are the days when you had to talk Stennie into fixing a tire, and then paying 50 cents provided the air stayed in it for a couple of days. Gone are the card parties; the hockey games when the Bar River Wolves would play the Garden River Braves, or you would drive to Hilton, or Desbarats and freeze your feet standing on a snowbank to cheer for your team.
What would Tom Lapish, Wm. Ware, John Evoy, John Baldwin, John Armstrong and James Montgomery think if they could come back for a visit and see their Township as it is today? What a difference in just 117 years!
In conclusion, there is a true story which I have recounted many times, but which I think illustrates the stoicism of the Laird farmer:
This event took place when Vic Catling was pressing hay on the farm of the late Hugh Henry. My job was to pile the bales in the mow, after they came out of the press. These bales weighed about 120 lbs, and were raised by a system of blocks, the rope from the blocks being pulled by old “Doc”, a very patient horse led by Tom, Hugh’s son. Once the mow was filled the last couple of bales had to be very carefully placed, because of the lack of room. The height of the mow was about 20 feet at this point, and Tom and Doc were directly under me. When trying to place the last bale, it slipped and fell to the ground, hitting Tom on the shoulder and knocking him under the horse. Without stopping what he was doing, his dad, Hugh, pipe in mouth, crammed with “Old Chum”, and shooting sparks in every direction looked down at him and said, ”you best get out of there, Tom, that horse might stomp on you”.
A great number of people assisted in the compiling of this history, and to them my gratitude;
A very good friend Tom Henry; Kay Brodie, her preparation and custody of the Tweedsmuir Book has to be appreciated by all; Harry Lapish, Reg Lamming, Tom Ableson. Jack and Marion Krohn, all of Laird, and to Chet Mick, and Girlie Collings from MacDonald; to Jack Fremlin, a long-time farmer in Laird, now residing in MacDonald; to Judy Howe, the Agricultural Representative, and to Brenda and Cathy in the Agricultural Office for making available the memoirs of J.M. McIntosh; to Clayton, Ellis and Marjorie McDonald for their assistance in editing and lastly my father-in-law the late Clark Fremlin, who loved to tell a story.
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