A Farmer’s Tasks in Winters Past: Some Reflections and Advice: Part 1 of 5

by John C. Carter


Winter may be considered by many as the least palatable season of the year. With its onset, we often hear “winter whinging,” and experience a period of hibernation, which is not only limited to animals! Winter, however, should be seen as an important and integral part of our lives and our history. Viewed from a more positive perspective, it can become a vibrant season of constantly changing moods, patterns and actions. This article will chronologically investigate period and primary historical documents, which portray various aspects of winter and farmers in Ontario.

A winter country side scene from Kincardine Township
photo by John H Scrougall between 1874-1922
Credit: Bruce County Museum & Archives, Southampton

From an Historical Perspective:

Winters of the past have been portrayed in various ways and for many reasons. The 1859 British American Guide Book, written for emigrants to compare conditions in England to those in North America, noted the following; “The most erroneous options have prevailed abroad respecting the climate of Canada. The so-called rigour of Canadian winters is often advanced as a serious objection to the country, by many who have not the courage to encounter them – who prefer sleet and fog, to brilliant skies and bracing cold, and who have yet to learn the value and extent of the blessings conferred upon Canada by her world-renowned ‘snows.’ It will scarcely be believed by many who shudder at the idea of the thermometer falling to zero, that the gradual annual diminution in the fall of snow, in certain localities, is a subject of lamentation to the farmer in Western Canada. Their desire is for the old-fashion winters, with sleighing for four months, and spring bursting upon them with marvellous beauty at the beginning of April. A bountiful fall of snow, with hard frost, is equivalent to the construction of the best macadamized roads all over the country. The absence of a sufficient quantity of snow in winter for sleighing is a calamity as much to be feared and deplored, as the want of rain in the spring. Happily, neither of these deprivations is of frequent occurrence.” Methodist circuit rider, the Reverend Joseph Hilts, took a rather philosophical position when discussing winter in Bruce County in the 1860s; “Well, what is a snowdrift? The doctor may say it is the grave of a dead snow-storm. The poet will tell you that it is the downy bed in which the storm-king puts to rest his sleeping children. The thin-blooded rheumatic will say it is that which gives him the heaviest chills and the sharpest pains. The wash-woman will declare the snowdrift gives her nice soft water long after the sunny days of spring have melted the snow off the buildings and the fields. If you ask the mischief-loving boy, that stands peering through the fence, and making faces at the other boy that pretends to be hoeing the corn, he will turn and look at you and then give his suspenders a hitch and say, ‘I like snowdrifts, I do. It is that that gives me the last snowball of the season, and it allows me to take all that remains of itself to wash the faces of Molly and Jennie, as they go tripping to the woods to gather the April flowers. Yes, I like snowdrifts.’ The snowdrift, like almost everything else in the world, has its friends and foes. The aspect of a snowdrift is affected by the standpoint from which it is viewed. To contemplate it from the inside of a comfortable room, with the thermometer ranging among the sixties, gives rather pleasant ideas of it. But to one wading up to his middle in it, with the thermometer down to ten below zero, there will not be much enjoyment. In the one case there is a feeling of security mingled with a sense of the beautiful. In the other there is a sense of increasing weariness along with the consciousness of possible danger.”

Off to school on the farm (photo by Janet Cockerline)
Credit: Hugh Fraser, St. Catharines

To be continued…..

2 thoughts on “A Farmer’s Tasks in Winters Past: Some Reflections and Advice: Part 1 of 5

  1. Merry Christmast just passed and a very and safe New Year 2021

    I would like to join your organization, we have a small inactive farm in Prince Edward County. what should I do?

    please advise
    Antonio Di leo
    24 Pemberton Rd.
    Richmond Hill Ontario
    L4C 3T4

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