By Keith Roulston
As I travel in Huron County I’m amazed at how many of the old farm houses have been demolished and replaced by modern structures. Sometimes, knowing the house was small or simply built, I’m not surprised. At other times, knowing a substantial house has been replaced, I find it sad.
Jill and I still live in the house we bought in 1975. Ours was a prosperous farm settlement predominated by the McGowan family who settled several farms in the neighbourhood in the mid-1800s. Most of the houses are built of brick and even stone and have survived.
Our house was far from the top of the line among the McGowans. We have a traditional yellow-brick house, smaller than many of the others but still substantial. A descendant of the McGowan clan bought the rest of the farm in the 1970s. Ours was one first of the lots subdivided by the county’s planning department after it was created.
Our house, though outwardly very similar to the house we bought is much different inside. The biggest change came 20 years ago when we inherited some money and had the original back kitchen and woodshed torn down and an architect-designed addition added. Unlike windows in the rest of the old house, the new room had many windows that make it a bright room that we spend much of our time in.
Our kitchen, designed in the days when the wood-fired range also warmed other rooms, originally had seven doors, including a door to the outside, a door to the back kitchen, doors to the pantry, an off-kitchen bedroom, the living room, the front hall and the basement. We’ve reduced these to five doors, allowing us more room to install cupboards – although still less room than many modern families would choose.
Changes to how we live inside this house, make me think of how a difference in sound changes with the way we live. We long ago abandoned heating by wood stove, which changed the sound-scape in the house. The clang of feeding wood into the woodstove has been replaced by the hum of our geo-thermal furnace, concentrating heat removed out of the ground to heat the house. It also heats plenty of water for our use
Pioneers used to keep water boiling on the stove to quietly keep humidity higher during the winter months. We have a humidifier,
As we use water, our pump in the basement keeps the water flowing from a deep well, much different than the hand-powered pump that would have been used to draw water to the kitchen from a shallow well in the days before the coming of electricity.
Life changed for the pioneers with the arrival of the telephone. I remember how my mother would talk every day, in our childhood neighbourhood, to her next-door neighbour on the party-line – neighbours being able to listen in if they chose (and some often did!)
Even bigger changes were introduced by the arrival of electricity. It’s even hard to contemplate what this means for the modern farm family. We heat using electricity, we cook on an electrical stove. Electricity powers our radio and television. I can’t even imagine how someone from 100 years ago would react if shown the “magic” of the internet.
As winter storms approach, even our roads are kept differently than the life I grew up with on the farm. Winters are less vicious than they were when we moved here and the road is almost always kept open. Tar and chip paving on the road mean we never see the grader anymore.
So, winter is so much easier than when we moved to the country. That’s also attracted many of the non-farming residents who live in many of the farm houses. Yes, farm life has changed over the years. ◊