Margaret and I have committed to each writing one blog a week. I am in the middle of researching information about timber frame barns in my township of Springwater in Simcoe County, Ontario. Here is the first of many stories.
According to the Crown deed, Lot 11, Concession 1 was initially purchased by Thomas Mair in 1824. The farm sat at the crown of a hill, hence the village name Crown Hill, and the land gradually sloped down to Little Lake. Twelve other owners followed between 1829 and 1876.
Joseph and Caroline (Luck) Caldwell bought the land in 1876. Their son Vernon bought it in 1916 and eventually farmed with his wife Hazel (McLean). Vernon purchased Lot 9 and 10 as well, making it a 225 acre farm. It is presently owned by their son Ross.
The first barn built by Joseph between 1876 and 1880 was a raised barn with a cement foundation. Turnips were thrown through a window to a space under the barn bridge of this and the second barn. Horses drew wagons up into the hay mow. A mystery remains as to why the upper corner of the barn was shingled on one side and finished with board and batten on the other. It may initially have been for chickens. Upward of eighty beef cattle and calves were housed in the stables, as well as dairy cows.
Beside the barn was an ice house, milk cooler and a sink area for washing the milkers and the milk pails. Blocks of ice were cut from Little Lake at the foot of the farm and packed in sawdust for use during warmer weather. Milk from fourteen to eighteen cows was sold to Smith Farm Dairy beginning around 1945. Smith Farm Dairy opened in 1935 off Penetanguishene Road across from the Lawrence Cemetery. It later moved to Penetang Street in Barrie. The tedious hand-milking disappeared with the purchase of a milking machine. Milk not sent to the dairy was separated; the cream stored in a crock in the basement and put on ‘everything.’
The second barn had a two foot field stone foundation. There was a cupola on the roof with glass windows on four sides and a weather vane on top. Upstairs in this and in the third barn was a mow for hay and straw, and a granary. The floor boards in the granary were at least two feet wide. A silo was added later just outside the barn. This barn was torn down due to deterioration. Opposite this barn bridge was a very long implement shed and a separate workshop for shoeing horses. Closer to the house was a small chicken coop for the chicks.
The third barn also had a concrete foundation. This barn housed horses in stalls, swine with small exits out into an open pig run, an open pen for calves, and a mangel pit under the barn bridge. Mangels, or fodder beets, were a staple food for dairy cattle and grew up to two feet in length. The part that grew in the ground was orange in colour and what was above was a brownish purple. This barn bridge was the steepest for horses to bring wagons into and the horses had to be backed down out of the barns. The five horses continued to be used for some jobs even after tractors were introduced.
On the fourth side, of what made up a courtyard, was a building containing the dug well, and a long chicken coop for the laying and meat hens. When grain was threshed, the straw was blown out into the yard. This created a straw stack half the height of the barn. Tramping by horses and cattle made forking out manure into a horse-drawn spreader hard work.
Joseph cleared most of the land. The pine stump roots were used to make fences. Ross remembers his dad Vernon clearing the last field. The trees were cut, earth dug away from the roots, the roots sawn off and then dynamite used to blow out the roots. Corn planted in that field the following year grew 14 feet tall. Of the 100 spruce trees Vernon planted around the property, 65 are left.
Livestock included beef and milk cattle, swine, horses, chickens, and geese for a November shooting match. Horses pulled a wooden tool one way and then another to make a grid. Corn was planted by hand, one seed at a time on this grid. Vernon had a thresher and a corn binder, and did custom work for neighbours during the 1930’s. Neighbours also came with bags of grain to have it made into chop. Vernon cut cedar trees and sold them to Bessie’s saw mill where they were sawn into boards. He also worked part time grading roads for Simcoe County. Hazel would go to the Saturday farmer’s market on Mulcaster Street, Barrie with butter, eggs, dressed chickens, and sometimes homemade bread. Vernon would take in wood. Charlie Luck, Vernon’s cousin, came to work and stayed his entire life. Whenever the dug well became low on water he would take a team of horses and get barrels of water from a pond below the Anglican Church.
The farm changed drastically in 1950 with the building of Highway 400 from Toronto north to Barrie. Topsoil was taken off part of the land, making it infertile. The landlocked fields had no drainage when it was wet. The smaller chicken house had two logs on the bottom to move it down to the field for the summers. It was no longer possible to get the 300 hens to the field. Cattle made their way down to Little Lake between the pine stump fences to drink. There was now no livestock access to the water other than to corral and truck them. That ended the beef cattle. There wasn’t enough land to pasture cattle and cut hay. The dairy business ended. Where once the fields were worked all the way to Little Lake the farm was now in three parcels. There was now only 65 acres accessible to the barns.
It was a labour intensive way of life but there was always time for music. Vernon was a violinist, Hazel a guitarist and pianist with a great alto voice. Their three daughters and Ross often gathered around the piano. As well as teaching school, Ross was an organist, pianist and choir director for numerous choirs including The Caldwell Singers and The Caldwell Boys’ Chorus.