By Keith Roulston
It’s a bright early Fall day shortly before Thanksgiving and it’s a beautiful day to be outside.I’m in our yard, doing a little work. It’s warm. There’s absolutely no breeze. Across the road the neighbour’s two horses whinny occasionally but otherwise it’s quiet. Aside from the passenger jets that now and then fly miles overhead, or the occasional car on the road, it could be a time when the owners of this farm knew no motors – in tractors, trucks or cars.
It makes me think of how much we humans have witnessed in our relatively short time on this land. It’s less than 200 years ago since the first settlers arrived. In our case, they were brothers from Scotland who took up various farms along our concession in what came to be known as the McGowan settlement.
In our area of East Wawanosh Township there was a huge difference from farm to farm, from the top of the hill next door to the east to the bottom at our place, where the family built their house and barn 1,000 feet back from the concession through what must have been a swamp at the bottom of the hill.
Yet all the brothers, to some extent, seemed to prosper because the land, once they laboriously cleared the trees, was fertile. On the top of the hill the family built a magnificently large stone house that has attracted buyers ever since, after it was divided off the farm. Our house is much more modest and made of brick, but we’re still proud of it after nearly a half-century of living here.
For long periods of time these were typical farms, with cattle, pigs sheep, chickens and of course horses on each farm. The remnants of a barn and a sturdy cement silo still exist just off the eastern edge of our acreage (with the names of the family and the year it was built – 1911– scratched into the cement of the silo).
The house was simple in those days, heated by wood stoves. Our kitchen originally had seven doors, allowing the heat from the kitchen stove to heat different rooms. The upstairs bedrooms had vents in the floor to allow the heat to seep in.
At the rear was a summer kitchen where the women of the household cooked in the summer months in an effort to keep the main part of the house cooler. Attached to that was the woodshed. We had this section replaced years ago by a delightful family room designed by an architect, with plenty of modern windows to allow light in but keep the cold out.
In early years, most farms were similar with a mixture of farm animals. Power came from horses and strong men, with water pumped by windmills (which we still have the remnants of). It’s those days I think of on a quiet Fall day, before engines made the neighbourhood noisy.
Growing up on a farm of the old type, our tractor was often busy planting crops in spring, bringing in hay for the cattle, harvesting oats, barley and wheat, plowing the fields, trying to find ways to keep the lane open before snowblowers became common. It was seldom quiet.
By the time we bought our acreage farming was changing. As I say, “our” barn had been demolished. The neighbour across the road, the last of the McGowans, grew white beans and wheat on “our” farm, with hay now and then for beef cattle he still kept on the home farm. Later he moved and rented out the land on what was once “our” farm to a large cash-cropping relative who grows soybeans and corn.
We hear the sound of motors infrequently from this large cashcropper. When we do, the equipment is huge, two or three combines taking off the crop on 250 acres in less than a day,
Farming on these acres has changed so much in less than 200 years. Sometimes I wonder what the first settlers would think if they saw how we live today.◊