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Pen Pictures of Early Pioneer Life in Upper Canada


ALL the farm implements in the early days were made by hand, the wooden part being made by the farmer himself, and the iron part by the wayside blacksmith, although some of the farmers had forges of their own and were ingenious enough to do their own blacksmithing. The implements used by the pioneers were few and simple compared with those used by the farmers of the present day. The chief farming implements were the plough, harrow, cradle, sickle, rake, scythe and roller.

Many improvements have been made in the plough of recent years. The first plough was made of wood (usually a piece of bent oak), and covered with iron. Some very rude ones were made out of a natural crook, as the root of a tree; others had wooden mould boards and iron points.

Old Fashioned Loom

The first harrow used in the backwoods clearings was the "three-cornered drag," a V-shaped framework of wood, with cross-pieces and fitted with iron teeth. It was often made out of the crotch of a tree, holes being bored for the iron teeth. This kind of harrow was particularly well adapted for working up the soil in the stumpy ground, as, on account of its shape, it did not catch on to the stumps so easily as the square harrow.

The "brush" or "bush" harrow, made of a bunch of brushwood, was sometimes made to answer the purpose of a harrow in the loose soil of the new ground, which very often did not require any ploughing at all the first time cropped. In the cleared ground, the square harrows, made of wood with iron teeth, were used. These were afterwards made in two parts and hinged together. This kind of harrow has been almost entirely superseded by the harrow made of steel.

The only kind of rake was the wooden hand-rake; later on, the wooden lift-rake, and the wooden dump- rake, drawn by a horse, came into existence. The farmer walked behind and held the handles until sufficient hay had been collected, when he would lift or dump it in rows. These rake3 were followed by the sulky-rake now in use.

For levelling off the lumpy ground the farmer had a roller, made out of a heavy log of wood, with a tongue attached to it, to hitch the horses to. The minor farm implements were the long-handled shovel and spade and the pitchfork, the hoe and garden rake, all very heavy and clumsily made of iron, while nowadays such implements are made of steel, and consequently much lighter and better finished. There were wooden forks for pitching straw. The manure forks were generally made with broad tines and very heavy.

The old farm wagon had wooden axles with a strip of iron above and below, to prevent the wood from wearing away. They were greased with tar, made from the pitch got from' the pine trees, and mixed with lard in the winter time, to prevent it from becoming too thick. The tar was kept for the purpose in a special bucket, which was hung underneath the back of the wagon when on a long journey.

The wheels of the old "lumber" wagon were kept in place by linch-pins, which were dropped through a hole in the end of the axle, but as they did not secure the wheel very tightly when the wagon was in motion, they made a rattling noise, which could be heard for quite a distance away. There being no iron wagon springs, the seat was perched on the end of two poles with the ends fastened in the wagon box. This "spring-pole" wagon-seat, although high up in the air, was the most comfortable one known.

Soap Kettle

The Sickle and Reaping Hook.

In the early days of the country all the grain was cut by means of the sickle, a curved knife a couple of feet long, with indented teeth. This was the only kind of harvest instrument the farmer had for years for cutting grain, the cradle being then unknown. To cut a field of grain with it must have been a slow and tedious as well as a very tiring process. With all hands on the farm to help, however, both male and female, the harvesting was soon accomplished. It is interesting to hear some of the old folks tell how first the grain was sown, cut, threshed and got ready for the mill. It was frequently planted in the stumpy ground with a hoe or rake. When ripe it was cut with the sickle, bound in sheaves, and taken on the jumper to the threshing-floor, which was often no better than a big flat stone, sometimes a floor of boards, and sometimes even the bare ground, tramped hard and smooth, where, by means of the flail, or "poverty-stick" (two pieces of hardwood united by leather), the heads were pounded until the grain was all threshed out. It was then "winnowed," or cleaned, by pouring from one vessel to another in the wind, until it was free of the chaff, after which several bags were put across a horse's back and sent to the mill—often fourteen or fifteen miles or more distant—to be ground into flour, the farmer having to wait patiently his turn for this to be done, and which sometimes kept him from home for several days together. It was not an uncommon thing for some of the old settlers who had no horses to have to carry the bags of wheat to the mill on their backs for long distances of fifteen or twenty miles. The first mills were situated on some stream or creek, where water-power could be obtained, as there were, of course, no steam mills then in the country. These water-power mills were scarce, even, people sometimes going forty and fifty miles to get their grists ground hand mills for grinding wheat were furnished by the Government to the U. E. Loyalists, and those who did not have these hand-mills would burn a hole in the top of a white oak stump; into this hollow, when well scraped out, they would place the wheat or corn and grind it into a coarse meal with a pestle made out of a piece of hard wood. This was probably in imitation of the Indian method of grinding their corn in stone cups or bowls. To facilitate the operation the pestle was sometimes fastened to the end of a spring pole extended over a forked stick stuck in the ground. The first crop of the settlers usually consisted of a field of wheat and peas, with a small patch of potatoes, pumpkins and corn.

Sowing the Grain.

Formerly the farmer in sowing his grain had a sack tied around his body and as he walked over the ground he scattered the seed with a sweep of his hand. With measured step he strode forward and did his work carefully and manfully. This method of sowing grain was common for centuries. Our Saviour speaks of it in His parable of the sower. Since the seed drills were introduced, forty or fifty years ago, the old-fashioned way of sowing has gradually been discarded, until now there is scarcely a farm that is not equipped with a seed drill.

Cradling Grain.

Following the sickle came the cradle, which consisted of a framework or "rigging" of wood for gathering the grain together as it was being cut, fixed to the scythe, an instrument which previous to this time had only been used for cutting grass. The farmer, with a sweeping stroke of his brawny arms, would cut down a "swath" of from four to six feet in width. The binders (men and women) would follow with their rakes and, after raking enough together for a sheaf, would twist a handful of the stalks into a strand and bind up the bundle. An expert cradler could cut as much as three or four acres of good standing grain in a day, about as much as three or four men could bind. After the grain had been bound it was gathered together and stood on end, two sheaves in a pair, in "stooks" or "shocks" of ten or twelve sheaves, to dry.

The Reaping Machine.

The cradle was superseded by the reaping machine, which has been the subject of many improvements up to the present time, since its introduction in 1831, when a man walked behind and raked the grain off the table as it was being cut. In 1845 a seat was made for this man at the rear of the machine, and in 1863 a self- raking attachment was added, until now we have machines which not only cut the grain but also bind it into sheaves as well. The advent of the reaping machine is a striking illustration of the truth of the old saying, "Necessity is the mother of invention." The inventor, who lived in the Western States, saw the need of a machine that would cut the grain in the big fields of the western country just opening up to settlement more rapidly than it could be done by the old methods. This idea of saving labor has been carried out with all kinds of work, until now there is scarcely any department of labor in which machinery does not do the bulk of the work.

Sheep Washing and Shearing.

In the spring of the year, generally the last of May or the first of June, the sheep were driven into an enclosure beside some stream, and one by one taken by the farmer and his men and washed in the stream, so as to get their wool clean and white. After a day or two of drying the sheep were shorn of their fleeces. The wool was then picked over by the women and girls, to get out any burs or lumps of dirt that might have adhered to it, "picking" bees being frequently made for this purpose. After the picking, in order to make the wool soft and pliable, it was spread out on the floor and greased by sprinkling melted lard over it and next whipped with a rod, after which it was bundled up in big woollen blankets, pinned together with a thorn from a hawthorn bush and sent away to the carding mill to be carded into rolls for spinning. Many of the farmers, when carding mills, were not convenient, did their own carding with the old-fashioned hand cards. If the farmer had a large number of sheep he would often make a bee for the washing and the shearing. If the sheep were afflicted with "tick" or vermin a solution of tobacco leaves was made and applied to the skin of the sheep.

A flock of sheep after being sheared were and are quite a lean and awkward-looking sight; pitiable, shivering, starving-looking creatures, seeming different animals altogether from the well-wooled sheep that gave good promise of fat mutton.

NOTE—Nowadays many farmers do not pay much attention to sheep raising; they buy their clothing from the merchant and the butcher makes his rounds through the country and supplies them with fresh meat, but in our grandfather's time they were obliged to keep a good-sized flock of sheep. The wool of the sheep they made into clothing, and when fresh neat was required for family use and for the threshings, etc., the flock was robbed of one of its most promising-looking members. Years ago there was no market in the towns and villages for mutton and other meats. What the farmer raised he raised for his own use principally, as there was no foreign market as there is now.


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