Ontario Barn Preservation

A Farmer’s Tasks in Winters Past: Some Reflections and Advice: Part 4 of 5

by John C. Carter

Winter Travel:

In Emigration, an 1834 volume of letters from emigrants now settled in Upper Canada, one observer recorded that in the 1830s, during good weather, travel was common; “At these time the public roads are crowded with sleighs, and the farmer conveying his produce to markets, the wood-cutter hauling wood, the quack doctor, the merchant driving for pleasure, and the jogging traveller, all meet the eye in varying succession.”

A pedestrian and sleigh crossing a snow covered bridge in Kincardine,
photo by John H Scrougall between 1874-1922
Credit: Bruce County Museum & Archives, Southampton

During bad weather, the picture was quite different, as described by Methodist preacher Anson Green, who experienced treacherous conditions during his 1833 travels. He wrote; “During our quarterly meeting in the Augusta Church on the 5th, a January thaw set in, but took all the frost out of the ground. My appointment for the 12th of January was on the Ottawa Circuit, 150 miles off. On Tuesday night the weather changed to piercing cold, with the mercury below zero. On Wednesday morning I was obliged to leave my cutter and robes at home, and mount my horse for a long journey. I managed to crawl along about twenty-five miles the first day over hubs and frozen mud, all the more dangerous because partially concealed by a sprinkle of snow. At times my poor horse would stop and look round towards me as if to say, is there no way of avoiding these conical projections? If not I can go no further. I guided him on to the banks and by the side of fences at times, until we reached a good resting place at the house of the kind-hearted brother, Michael Brouse, Esq. of Matilda.”

Dominion Tires and snowmobile of Dr. Joyce. Cargill, Ontario
Credit: Kevin McKague, Cargill.

Some positive things could be said about winter travel. In 1858, British author John Tallis commented on sleighing; “On a bright winter’s day we can imagine no prettier sight that the whole turnout, with its blood horses, ringing bells, fair ladies wrapped in furs, and dashing fur-wrapped driver careening across the snow or the sounding ice of a frozen river.”

The passage of time seemed to have very little positive impact on winter travel conditions. Eugene Hill of Aylmer, recorded conditions there in his diary for March 1899; “Mar 1 – Thursday It is still snowing and drifting. This is the heaviest fall of snow we have had for a great many years. The roads are drifted so that the mail did not come today 7 – Wednesday Colder and the roads in very bad shape.”  

Iron Bridge farmer Willie Tait, hauling a load of pressed hay to market at Blind River.
Photographer unknown. Credit: Will Samis, Iron Bridge

Winter Recreation:

Recreation during the winter months came in many forms and featured various activities. In his journal, Thomas Need described one episode of his life in the winter of 1836 while living on a farmstead near Peterborough, U.C.; “I mounted my sleigh, and drove along the new road, to assist at a ball given by the bachelors of the district at Peterboro. ‘A ball in the Bush!’ I think I hear my fair partners of former days exclaim; but let me assure them that the bachelors of our district are not at all to be despised, and that the ‘rank and fashion’ of the neighbourhood comprised nearly 200 persons.”

Cargill, Ontario
Credit: Kevin McKague, Cargill.

In Chambers’s Information for the People of 1842, an important form of seasonal recreation in Upper Canada was explained; “Visiting is in active play between friends, neighbours and relatives; regular city and town balls and irregular pic-nic country parties (where each guest brings his dish), are quite the rage; and, after dining, dancing and supping, and dancing again, the wintry morning dawn is often ushered in while the festive glee is yet at its height.”

Anna Magrath of Toronto Township made a diary entry on November 29, 1844, and described her favourite winter recreational activity; “We have good sleighing, a great fall of snow on Wednesday last. We promised ourselves a nice drive tomorrow in the large sleigh, with the boy. Don’t you wish you may get a drive in the same style down Sackville Street.”

Cargill, Ontario
Credit: Kevin McKague, Cargill.

A variety of recreational pursuits and other activities were recorded in the diary of eighteen year old Whitby Township resident Frances Tweedie. She wrote; “Tues. Jan 1, 1867. Boys away at shooting match. Hislops here for dinner. Bain here to tea. Spent a very quiet day for the beginning of a New Year. Wed. Jan. 9 Jim took Mother and I to Whitby. She stayed at Campbell’s. Jim didn’t come for me, had to stay all night. Went skating for the first time. Mon. Jan 14 Still threshing. Went to Opera, very beautiful music, a great crowd. Pretty cold. Wed. Jan 23 All the old people went to Sinclairs to visit. We went to Irvings in the evening, had a gay time. Rode down with Jim & Mary.”

In the Farmer’s Advocate of January 1875, J.W. Mills of Bosanquet, explained how he and his neighbours would spend winter evenings; “The pleasure of winter evenings is mostly connected with friendly gatherings, and the delightful interchange of interest and sympathy. Though it is very desirable that something useful and worth having should be got out of the winter evenings, it must not be forgotten that enjoyment may be gained as well…About half a dozen or more of us would manage to meet on a particular night once a week, at each other’s houses, when we made a rule of wearing our ordinary dresses, and the refreshments provided were limited to sandwiches and cake, with a glass of wine or something. We would break up our meeting at a stated hour. We would have all sorts of amusements to suit the various tastes, such as music, dancing, games, discussions, recitations, charades, reading and spelling. We constantly varied the programme of the evening…Altogether, we had some very interesting and beneficial evenings, and we are eagerly looking forward to a repetition of them… Now, I hope some of your young readers will inaugurate the new year by uniting in circles and spending the long winter evenings in this amusing and instructive manner.”       

To be continued…..

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