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

by John C. Carter

Daily Pursuits:

Todmorden Mills, U.C. brewer and farmer William Helliwell, mixed his tasks with his chosen avocations. Some of his diary entries for December 1830 reflect this; December 8, 1838. “The weather was glomey and thretned snow which began to fall about one o’clock fast and continued till bed time still snowing…We finished pumping up this evening [making beer] and at half past seven the thermometer stood at 24 degrees indeed this is the first winter day that we have had this Season. December 9, 1830. “This day in York but there is not sufficient snow to make good slaying.” December 11, 1830. “Saterday Morning  I drove the teams to York and took six barrels of beer down to the wharf to go to the head of the lake for W.J. Skinner.” December 18, 1830. “Saterday Morning made its appearance with the ground wight with Snow being covered about half inch deep. I drove the team to York this dat twice and found the road froze so that it bore the wagon quite well. I took a good deal of beer this day and the last time I fetched 23 bushels and 16 lbs. Of wheat from Mr. Wm. Smiths barn at the Don Bridge.” December 22, 1830.  “Wednesday Morning drow the Slay to York and brote a load of barley back after dinner I went again to town and took out some beer and fetched another load of barley back after I came home I was filling half barrels with water as we discharged our Sellar Man this day in consequence of his refusing to turn the grind stone.”

Period photo of Todmorden Mills brewer and farmer William Helliwell.
He kept a diary which recorded his life for many years.
Credit: Bill Helliwell, Cheticamp, Nova Scotia 

Colonel John Prince in his January 7, 1844 diary account, detailed his activities for the day as a Member of Parliament, when he was back at home in the Western District of Upper Canada; “A very hard frost. About 3 inches of Snow on the Earth. Blowing hard. The Most splendid Hunting day I ever knew; but it is Sunday. Violent wind & cold weather all day. No going to Church in the Morng. Messrs. Wingfield, Sloane, & Liberte & his Son waited on me with the Address of the Inhabitants of Malden and Anderson & dined with us at the Park Farm. The boys went to Church in the afternoon, and I went into town and made several Calls. Home to tea, and went to bed at 10 o’clock.”

Miniature painting of John Prince (circa 1830).
Prince regularly recorded his observations about winter in his diaries.
Credit: City of Windsor Museum

Eliza Bellamy, the wife of Samuel Bellamy, a prosperous mill owner and farmer in North Augusta Township, Grenville County, kept a diary and recorded her thoughts in it on a daily basis. She reflected upon winter in January and February of 1855; “This is and has been the most remarkable winter I ever remember. Yesterday all kinds of weather, with thunder and lightning today wind and snow. My employment varied as usual. At present making flannel Shirts for Father…yesterday Isaiah’s family here to dinner…I had to workpretty much to do.Girl away. 11 Oclock A M after making pies & c. Maryan busy quilting.”

David B. Schneider, the 20 year old son of Joseph Schneider, who was an early settler and farmer in Berlin (now Kitchener), chronicled his life in the winter of 1860 and 1861. An example of this follows for some of that period; “ Jan. 13th. Hauled logs. In evening went to spelling school in Colleses school house Jan. 14th Hauled logs, at noon got my harness fixed, then went to singing school in Bridgeport Jan. 23. In school Sunday Feb 5th. Was at meeting, then home. Some visitors from the twenty. Isaac H. Moyer, his brother Abraham and his sister Magdalena and Elizabeth Moyers, there all night, then to Old Groves and Tilman Moyers, then back to William Moyers. Left them all there. Came home at 11 O’clock. We brought T. Smith’s top sleigh. Feb. 14th. Was at Waterloo Fair. Saw the folks from the Twenty there. Rode with them home. They went to Beetzners. Levi Bricker took them down. Sunday Feb. 26th. Was down at Mose Schneiders, stopped all night. Mar. 5th. In School until noon, then I brought my books along home. In after noon was at a funeral. John Blanchard was buried. Mar. 6th. Hauled sap buckets out in the bush and went to Elias Schneiders and fetched wheat. 1861 Sunday, Jan. 13th. At home until noon, then took a cutter ride to Breslau, Bridgeport and Waterloo. I Shoemaker was with me. Jan.14th. Hauled wood, 3 loads. Bricker brought his boy here to get his foot cut by Dr. Bowlby so that hindered me one load. Sun. Jan. 20th. At a funeral, one of S. Shantz children was buried at Eby’s meeting house in the afternoon. At home in the evening. Jan. 25th. 20 youngsters here. Joseph Grob, Jacob High and Mary High, her sister Catherine and Magdalena Seven pifer. Feb. 7th. Helped make a grave for one of the Shantz’children, froze my ears, it was stormy. Feb. 21st. Hauled 3 loads for Thorn and one cord to Furner Tailer. Feb. 22nd. Was rollings logs in the bush with oxen, then went into the mill. Sun. Feb. 24th. Was to Cressmans at Meeting, for dinner to Clemens, then to Hellers met with a wedding Daniel Bowman to Sara Schneider. Feb. 25th. Peddled brooms for I Moyer Conestoga, St. Jacobs, Heidelberg, St. Clements, Hawkesville then home. Feb. 28th. Took a load of pork down to Preston for Potter & Crozi $2.25 each above 4500 lbs.” The diary of Chingacousy Township farmer and entrepreneur, John H. Ferguson, sheds some light upon his daily pursuits in February 1869; “ Thurdsay 1 The roads are quite muddy Am still hauling gravel on the road. Jane stayed with me all day and J.C.S came down this evening and we all visited Uncle Adam’s. Mr. T. Graham’s hotel in Brampton were burnt down tonight. Friday, February 12, 1869 The weather today is like Spring and we had a slight shower of rain this morning. Was at the same work as yesterday having now more than ¾ of a lot gravelled. Spent the evening at home in reading “Ladies Repository.” Saturday 13 There was some slight showers of rain today. Went to Georgetown this morning and then to Stewartown trying to sell Melodeons did not make any sales. The night has set in with a rainstorm.”

Winter life in the Village of Scarborough seemed to have a  fair amount of repetitiveness for Fred Cornell. The bachelor market gardener wrote of his experiences in a series of diaries. Accounts for 1895 are representative; “Tuesday Jan 8 Fine but cooler. I sorted over some beans etc. Walked to the P.O. at night Willie Hammond was in at night & we had a game of euchre. Sat. Jan 26 A heavy snow storm through the night with a terrible gale of wind from the east, roads blocked & trains four or five hours late. Mon. Feb 18 Snowing some from the south-west & drifting part of the day. I was out to council in the afternoon & got my pay for measuring gravel on the road. Was up to Pattons for a while at night Feeney’s got their mare kicked & had to shoot. Friday March 8. Thawing & fine till near 4 P.M. when we had a little soft snow. I sawed some wood in the afternoon. Was over to the store for a while at night. Tom Kennedy of Cedar Grove got stuck with a load of store goods and had to take a part off.”

Hauling firewood from the farm bush (Photo by Janet Cockerline)
Credit: Hugh Fraser, St. Catharines

To be continued…..

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