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.



Talking to the Enemy

Talk about multi tasking! I was reading my book from the library (You know, the old fashioned kind of book with pages and coffee stains from previous book worm patrons of the community library), watching a TV show that my 9 year old son was thoroughly enthralled with, playing on 3 different web pages, and listening to my oldest son’s lament about grade 11 physics homework when the phone rang. My first thought was of course, “Who would that be? No one phones me anymore. “ Text is the new talk, so had someone died? But alas, it was worse. It was a telemarketer.
I knew as soon as I said hello that the telemarketer had me. It was my old university asking the alumni for cash donations to support struggling students. A noble cause of course, but I was not ready to participate in the cash grab. I listened like I should, answered the questions in an honest friendly manner and then said No, No No.
Interestingly enough, I ended up with a couple of little bonuses at the end of it. The university said they would mail me a discount card that I could use to save lots of money. She didn’t tell me that every time I use the card, money goes to support struggling students. I found that out because I was able to surf the website and look at the details of the card while she kept talking. What a multi tasker; I was able to continue on with all of my evening enjoyment and also help send a kid to school! Sometimes it pays not to hang up on the enemy.

The Phone rang. I ignored it.

The phone rang. I ignored it. It kept on ringing, that infamous old phone connected to a party line with upwards of eighteen other households. My mother, washing out back with her wringer washing machine ignored the phone. The phone was far beyond my reach, but its insistent ringing required me to do something.

I crawled into the armchair that sat below it. I stood up, regaining my balance by holding onto the back of the chair. I’d never talked on a phone before, never held the cupped receiver to one ear, never talked into the mouthpiece sticking out of the wooden rectangular box. On tiptoes I managed to take the receiver from its hook. Mimicking adults I’d seen, I held it to my ear and listened in amazement. I could hear people talking. I didn’t recognize the voices, and before I could figure out what was being said the receiver was suddenly snatched from my fingers and put back down into place.

“And don’t ever do that again,” rang in my ears. “You don’t listen to other people’s private conversations.” I didn’t understand the workings of a phone, but that day I learned the workings of telephone etiquette.

Childhood Memories

Even as a child of five, I knew when I had outstayed my welcome. My mother was having coffee in the dining room with a neighbour. She had shoed my younger brother and I outside so they could talk in peace. There would have to be a good reason before we would be allowed back in.

As we stepped out into the yard the reason was there, right at our feet. It wasn’t what the cat had dragged in, but what the dog had dragged in. Skippy spent his days hunting ground hogs. It didn’t matter that they had three holes with connecting tunnels. Skippy would proudly appear almost every day with one in his mouth.

My dad was just as proud announcing at meal time that he had buried a ground hog. “Alan, change the subject,” my mother would quickly say. Making one more dead ground hog remark, my dad would then drop the subject.

Mom inside, no dad in sight, ground hog. It weighed far more than the barn kittens, was much stiller, but too heavy to carry. I couldn’t tie my shoes, but I could wind a rope around and around and around the ground hog. We entered the kitchen, paused at the dining room door and then marched around the table. The rope was over my shoulder, one end clutched tightly in two hands, the ground hog bouncing behind at our heels.

“Get that thing out of here,” stopped me from circling the table a second time. Instead we left the way we’d come, the march changing to a run. And the neighbour there that day? She became my mother-in-law.

Satyagraha – firmness in pursuit of truth

  It is interesting the way the world works and offers us coincidence or serendipity.  This happened to me at work the other day.  I had just been told by a friend that some teenage friends of her daughter had been fighting in the park and one drew a knife and stabbed the other eight times.  He lived and is recovering in hospital and his birthday was yesterday… quite a way to spend it…celebrating being alive.  On my break I took out the book I am reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain and read about the word Satyagraha and an explanation about Gandhi’s quiet strength.  Satyagraha means ‘firmness in pursuit of truth.’  This was a word that Gandhi spoke to get people to understand that his style of leadership was soft yet powerful.  He maintained that we never have to use bold aggression in the way we address others and that quiet strength can be more influential than being pushy. If only those boys had used Satyagraha to sort out their argument.

 Reading this about Gandhi and hearing about the stabbing incident has reinforced my belief that I can be more effective using strong steady commitment to the truth than trying to force others to agree with me.  Gandhi sought to be non-violent and truthful in all situations. What a great way to live life.

An interesting thing is that it will soon be Martyr’s Day in India.  January 30th is the day of remembrance of Gandhi and also marks the day of his assassination; Jan 30, 1948.


Full Moon Ceremony of Receiving

We have spent the last couple of days attending my husband’s uncle’s funeral and interment. He was elderly and frail and so his passing, although sad, was not unexpected. The funeral was a long drive for us and we spent most of the day in the car. When we got home, we were all tired and worn out. Our first thought was to just go and sit on the couch in a trance in front of the television. Instead we went for a walk. The night was magical. The winter air was crisp and made my face sting. The moon was out in full and the snow was fresh from the storm the night before. Taking huge gulping breaths of the cold air was invigorating and inspired us to walk further. Stars were crystal drops in the sky. The moon rays shone upon us and I took it all in. My connection to nature, the outdoors, the cold was just what I needed to replenish my energy. After two taxing days, I was able to look to the sky and renew myself knowing that others in the world were looking skyward as well. After our walk, I felt grateful for family and the energy in this world that allows us to connect with each other. What a wonderful night.

Light in the Darkness

Well it is Christmas Eve or 3 days after Winter Solstice or December 24th (or any other name you might know this day as).  We survived the ‘end of the world’ as we know it and are now looking forward to new beginnings.  At this time of year, I look desperately for any sign of the daylight lengthening.  I find the darkness hard to take.  Waking up in the dark, coming home from work in the dark… I love the sun and the light and the growth that is so abundant in the spring.  So now that the Winter Solstice has come, I grin each day with the knowledge that we are gaining precious light minute by minute.

Kate and I were discussing this a few weeks ago, and she pointed out to me that there is benefit to be found in the quiet darkness at this time of year.  She told me about the rest and recuperation that can happen…that this is a time for reflection and taking stock of one’s life and its direction…  So as the new year fast approaches, I send out a wish for all of you to take time to remember where you have been and to look forward to all that is coming your way  and to grin with me each day as we count those minutes of light that are adding up to the full lushness of a hot summer day!

It is fitting that in this time of winter darkness the following video was sent my way.  We are all individual lights shining in the dark that make up a whole big world of earthly light