Farm and the Environment
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James McCowan Memorial Social History Society



History for the sake of history is actually quite pointless. We can only avoid mistakes in the future if we learn from the mistakes of the past. Our past exploitive and abusive treatment of the environment -- from the Scottish glens to the Upper Canadian forests and waterways to the Canadian prairie -- is not only history, it is a learning tool for the future. We have all been a part of the problem: we can all be a part of the solution if we only share what we've learned from the past.

Please carefully read our "Oral History Interview Strategy". It is vitally important that you record your personal experiences and memories of specific events. The following questions should trigger particular memories. Please include as much detail as possible.

You may have also heard relevant stories from your father or grandfather: please share with us the details of these stories as well.

The Forest

1 Did you ever hear any stories from your father or grandfather about the clearing of the forest and the timber industry in your home Township?

1.1 Did they comment on the relative absence of trees in their own lifetime?
1.2 Were they concerned about the disappearance of the forest?
1.3 Did they tell you any stories of selling timber out of a woodlot?
1.4 Did they turn the woodlot into cultivated ground?
1.5 Did they comment on the soil in the woodlot?
1.6 Did they describe any plant and animal species that became rare
or extinct in your Township?

2 Was there a woodlot on your farm? How mature were the trees?
3 Did you have any particular attitude toward the woodlot?
4 What did you do with the trees that were still on your land and in your woodlot? (fuel, furniture, fence and building construction, etc.)
5 Did you plant trees as shade for cattle or as a woodlot or windbreak?
6 Did government assist with farm reforestation?
7 Did homeless people take shelter in the woodlot? How did they survive?

The Wetlands

8 Were there swamps on your farm?
9 Did migratory birds stop there?

The Waterways

10 Was there a river or creek on your farm for swimming or fishing?
11 Did you work the ground right up to the edge of the creek?
12 Did the cattle have access to the creek? Did you drink from the creek?
13 Were there springs on your farm? Did you drink from the springs?

Waste Disposal

14 Did you have a "dump" on your farm?
15 Where was it and why was it there? What did you dump in it?
16 Did you have a compost? What did you compost?

The Soil

17 What cattle did you keep? How did you spread manure?
18 What other sources of fertilizer did you have?
19 What was the drainage like on the farm? How did you drain your fields?
20 Did you have any serious washouts or runnoffs?
21 Did you have an erosion problem on the farm?
22 What did you do about the erosion or how did you prevent soil erosion?
23 Did government advisors promote methods of soil conservation?
24 Did you join an agricultural society to discuss improved methods of soil conservation?
25 Did local farmers adopt any new methods of soil conservation?
26 At what time of year did you plough your stubble?
27 What crop rotations did you practice? Were legumes commonly planted?
28 How did mechanization affect your relationship with the land?
29 Were immediate economic returns from the soil more important than the more distant future returns?
30 What understandings did you have with those who rented you land.

Pest and Weed Control

30 Did you have an orchard?
31 Did you cash-crop?
32 What insects / pests were particulary damaging to the crops / fruit?
33 How did you control insect and other pests?
34 Did other insects control the pests?
35 Did you pasture cattle in the orchard?
36 When did you first use chemicals to control insects and pests?
37 What weeds were particularly damaging?
38 How did you control weeds? How did you deal with a neighbour's weeds?
39 Were abandoned fields nearby a particular problem?
40 Was there a particular grass that you used to control weeds?
41 When did you first use chemicals to control weeds?
42 Was there government pressure to get you to use chemical controls?
43 Did local agricultural clubs convince you to use chemical controls?
44 Were big chemical companies influencing the attitudes of the farmers?
45 Was there any hesitation amongst your neighbours to adopt the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers?
46 Did you have any respiratory / skin allergic reactions to chemical controls?
47 What other air contaminants did the farm generate?
48 How did your attitude to the land, the water, the animal and natural plant life change as the economics and mechanics of farming changed?


From The Scarboro Heights Record V9 #4