Gathering Sap Photo By Janet Cockerline Credit Hugh Fraser St. Catharines 1

A Farmer’s Tasks in Winters Past: Some Reflections and Advice: Part 3 of 5

by John C. Carter

Winter Works:

Did the climate have an effect upon the type of work done, how was it recorded, and did any re-occurring patterns emerge?  From his Williamstown farm, former explorer, cartographer, and fur trader, David Thompson, recorded his activities at the close of 1827; “ Nov. 23 Friday – Light snow it is now 3 inches on the ground. Cut elm…then small cedars & began making a place for a Work Shop in the woodshed. Nov. 27 Tuesday – Clear & fine Snow thawed in the Roads…Put up the Porch began the Door & helped Mr. Cameron with his men & cut Brushwood. Nov. 28 Wednesday – 2 Men cutting brushwood. Josh edging slabs for a workshop ground 2 Bush. Oats & 2 ¾  of Pease for fattening cattle. Dec. 1 Saturday – Finished the small workshop Dec. 14 – Made 2 was tubs of a 40 Gal. Wine cask and began a Shed for ashes”

Cattle being brought to auction in Kincardine, photo byJohn H Scrougall between 1874-1922, Credit: Bruce County Museum & Archives, Southampton

Joseph Abbott wrote in his The Emigrant to North America, of one of the positive aspects of the winter of 1843; “As to the snow; its depth and long continuance on the ground, are such a convenience and benefit to the farmer, that he is anxious for its coming, and sorry when it leaves him; it also acts as manure and pulverizes the land, superseding in a great measure the necessity of fallowing.”

The December 1845 edition of the British American Cultivator, in the “Work for the Month Column,” editor W.G. Edmundson described some winter farm labours expected for that month; “The winter is now fairly commenced, and the frugal farmer will loose no time in having his outhouses snugly repaired to protect his stock from the extreme cold. If animals are provided with comfortable quarters, they will require much less food to carry them through the winter than if exposed to the chilling blasts of wind, snow, and sleet which are invariable concomitants of a Canadian winter. Provender, especially hay and oats, are a much shorter crop than the farmers of this country are in the habit of harvesting, and it therefore behoves all to deal out their winter’s stock with the greatest possible degree of economy. True economy in wintering stock upon a short allowance of food, will be found in giving extra attention to the comfort of the animals, in regular feeding, and in preparing food so that they will be induced to eat it without waste. The latter particular may be performed by employing a straw cutter, which will pay for itself in a single season…A twelve months’ stock of firewood should not only be prepared before the close of the month, but a quantity of logs should be made ready for drawing to the neighbouring saw mill. Every farmer who cultivates his own land should attend to this particular of possible, and make every necessary preparation to erect a few hundred rods of post and board fence each year, until the whole farm becomes enclosed with a permanent fence…The labor to be performed on the farm during this month and the other winter months, principally consists in marketing what was produced in the summer; and therefore any little advice that we may have to give our readers, in this article, in addition to the foregoing, will have a more direct reference to the theory of husbandry than to its practical details.”

Man with horse and cutter beside the woolen mill in Cargill, Ontario.
Credit Kevin McKague, Cargill.

R.S. in his article “Winter,” published in The Canadian Agriculturist (February, 1854), provided practical advice to farmers regarding the wintering of farm animals; “The wintering of stock is a very important matter to the farmer; and more especially now, that from them he derives much of his wealth. Wheat as an article of produce has not been for the last few years at all remunerative; and the intelligent farmer seeing this, has turned his attention to another object, viz., raising stock; such being the case, how necessary is it that all kinds of stock should be cared for now, when no longer able to provide for themselves; their stables should be tight and warm, humanity as well as economy points this out as absolutely necessary; when thus protected they keep their flesh on a less quantity of food. Cattle, especially, are often cruelly treated by exposure, when a simple shed could be made with a few boards, that would answer every purpose. They should not only receive hay or straw, but water, regularly. There should be a pump in every farm-yard.” He also had advice about wintering hogs and sheep, and concluded that if these measures were taken that all this stock “Will repay him well for his cure.”

Farmers’ occupations during the winter were expanded upon in the 1859 British American Guide Book; “The new settler’s avocations during the winter months are generally confined to taking care of his cattle and chopping, – that is, felling and cutting up the trees ready for burning in the spring. The underbrush should be cleared off before the snow falls. The family, when industrious, find their time fully employed in spinning, and other female occupations; and, when it is considered that in the newest settlements almost every convenience or luxury must be made at home, or dispensed with, by poor settlers, it may easily be imagined that the duties of a farmer’s wife and grown-up daughters are numerous and increasing-for in proportion to their industry and abilities will be their domestic comfort and happiness.”

In the Canada Farmer of December 1, 1868, the editor noted that winter “affords little respite,” for the farmer. Work on “country improvements” during December, included caring for new land, thinning of forest, building of walls, removal of rocks, cutting of brambles and waste growth, spreading of leached ashes on fields, and the cutting and hauling of wood. Indoor work included “clearing up” barns and stables, making racks, gates, rollers, drags and other articles needed in the spring. During long evenings, reading, attending farmer’s clubs, making social visits and indulging in home recreation were all encouraged. The article concluded by stating that; “There is no reason why winter should be either a dull or an idle time.”

Businessman and farmer William Clark Jr., ran a prosperous enterprise in Scarborough Township. Between 1855 and 1888, he recorded the repetitious and arduous work that was required to be a successful farmer. His weekly entry for January 9-15, 1870, is a typical example; “Jan. 9 – Sabbath Mr. Fletcher snow Jan. 10 – Hauling logs for firewood took a cord of wood to Church from Hugh’s Jan. 11 – Preparing to make up pond at Leys helping kill pigs. Hauling logs for firewood. At S. Rennies auditing school accounts looks like a storm Raining Jan 13. – Threshing peas cleaned up 46 Bushels snow storm hard frost Jan. 14 – Hauled a load from bush quit for cold very cold turning carrots fixing cattle Jan. 15 – Threshing peas spreading straw Rain.” Farmer Douglas McTavish, a resident of Stanley Township, Huron County, related his experiences during mid January of 1884; “8 – Sawing wood in the bush all day. Snowing a little. 9 – Sawing and chopping a little in the bush in the forenoon – in the afternoon did nothing, it being very stormy 10 – Sawing in the forenoon – in the afternoon split some wood in the bush. Rough with snow in the afternoon 11 – Killing pigs in the forenoon in the afternoon went to Clinton. 12 – Cutting up and salting pigs in the forenoon…In the afternoon fixing up the pig pen for the calves 14 – Husking corn and cleaning wheat. Sunday School Anniversary in Clinton tonight. 15 – Cleaning grain in the forenoon and in the afternoon took wheat to Trick’s [mill].”

Gathering sap (photo by Janet Cockerline)
Credit: Hugh Fraser, St. Catharines

To be continued…..

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