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The following oral histories were gathered by Nancy Weir McCowan for her "Brown's Corners" paper. 


Horses on the Farm
As Told to Nancy Weir McCowan

Dad did not own a tractor until about 1926, so all the work on the farm such as pulling implements was done by horse-power -- the real horses kind of horse power.  Of course, horses were very important to the farmer.  Some horses were good workers, steady and gentle.  Others were mean-spirited and hard to handle.  I imagine Dad had both kinds at times over the years. There were two basic types of horses -- driving horses to pull the buggy and draught horses for the heavy farm work. The horse stables at Brown's Corners had enough stalls to house eight horses, but Dad probably never did have that many at once unless someone else brought in a team to help for a day or two.  Uncle Torrance Weir occasionally left a team in our horse stable. 

I don't really remember much about living at the Brown's Corners farm at Finch and Markham Road.  We left there when I was 3. But here are some "horse stories", mostly from my siblings, all older than me.  My own notations are in (brackets).


Neil Weir:

I remember some of the horses we had before we moved from Malvern to Brown's Corners.   We had one team at the Malvern farm that had problems.  One of them took fits, and the other was balky.  One day the hired man had this team over by Sheppard in the field between the house and the barn.  He was turning with the harrows and turned too short.  The harrows caught at the one end and came up in the air.  It fell down, hitting the horse, Bill, on the back leg, breaking it.  That was the end of Bill.  He was the one that took fits. (When this sort of thing happened, the animal was put out of its misery quickly with a bullet.)

Then Dad bought another horse.  He paid about $250.00, a lot of money at that time.  I remember what a beautiful horse she was!  Anyway, he thought he would be good to her and turned her out in the clover field for a while.  She got colic.  He was up all night with her but she died anyway.

Grandad Hall had a light-brown driving horse called "Gin".  She was temperamental, and his boys, my uncles Oscar and Chester , couldn't handle her.  Also, she was lame and not fit to drive on the road.  He said to Dad, 'Don't buy another horse - if you can handle this one, you can keep her to use.'  We still had that horse when we had to move away from Brown's Corners which was quite a few years after that.

I used to be pretty handy with horses, even as a kid.  When we were still at Malvern, I took Jack with me to a team of horses which was already harnessed and tied to the barn.  We untied them and hooked them onto the wagon - the neckyoke was on them.  We hooked it onto the tongue and did up the traces.  I got Jack up on the seat with me and then we drove over to where Dad and Howard Milne were working in front of the house.  Father talked about that for years.  I was only about five years old and my brother Jack was two years younger.

Blake Weir: 

One day the vet was at the farm and the men had a two-year old horse fairly close to the outhouse which was at the end of the long shed.  Jack, Ches and I were in the outhouse looking out the window watching them try to castrate him.  Horses were usually castrated when they were yearlings.  When they had tried to castrate this one earlier, the one testicle was not down, so they had to leave it.  They can do a major operation, and go up after it, or just leave it and the problem will usually (but evidently not always) correct itself by the time they are two years old.  By the time a horse is two, it is pretty tough to handle, and I don't blame him for complaining.  Neil (the oldest Weir boy) and the hired man and the vet were trying to throw this horse down but they couldn't.  Dad looked over to the outhouse where we were watching and yelled, 'Come on over here!  If you are going to watch, you might as well work!'  So we did, and the job got done. The vet's name was Brown.

There was another vet in Agincourt who lived right next door to Uncle Frank Weir.  Dad didn't like the way he operated so he always got someone else.


Jack Weir: 

I think that once we got the horse down on the ground that we kids had to sit on his head and his body until the vet finished the castration operation.


Peggy Weir Lawrie: 

Our house at Brown's Corners stood on a very large lawn amid a sixteen-acre field beside the CPR tracks.  One day, a colt got out of the field onto the railway and was hit by a train and killed.  He was buried in a field on the east side of Markham Road.  From then on the work horses did their best to avoid that spot in the field.  It was difficult to work the land in that field.


Blake Weir: 

The horses were pasturing in the field next to the traintracks and somehow the colt got over onto the other side of the tracks.  When he heard the train coming he made a dash for the other side where the others were and was instantly killed.

The colt's mother was "Fan" and she would never go near that field again.  Fan was a dark-bay colour and was the mother of several colts throughout her lifetime.

One day I rode Jack, our gray horse, over to Uncle Wallace's (husband of Dad's sister, Vera) at Clark 's Corners, Kennedy Road and Finch Ave.  He was fine when he was going away from home but when he was turned to return home he always wanted to run.  Jack took off running and when we came to the CPR rail crossing on Finch he tried to stop but I made him run the rest of the way home.  Ches saw us coming and opened the gate.  I got off and Jack fell right over.  He never tried to run away like that any more.


Peggy Weir Lawrie: 

I recall another incident regarding horses.  My sister, Ruth, and I were just about recovered from the measles or chicken-pox and were not yet back to school.  We decided to ride our favourite horse, Dolly, bareback to meet our brothers coming home from school.  We met them at the corner of Tapscott sideroad and what is now Finch Avenue.  We turned the horse to accompany them.  Suddenly it took off like a bullet and galloped into the yard with Mother watching as we entered the yard.  The horse galloped right to the board fence, stopping on a dime.  Mother thought Dolly was going to jump the fence.  In later years we discovered that our brother, Blake, had lifted up the horse's tail and given her a smack on the rear end.


Blake Weir: 

Dolly was a driving horse that was also a "pacer".  She had a gait in which the legs on each side move together.  If you were on her back and she was "pacing" it was just like being on a rocking chair.  But she was a horse that would "break stride" often and if she did that, you really got a rough ride.


Harold Lawrie:  (Peggy's Husband)

This incident happened in Markham around 1923 or 1924.  Harvey Burkholder delivered milk with a horse and wagon.  He was used to letting the horse continue walking while he was busy marking up his record book.  The horse knew the route.  He was going north and got as far as the railway tracks which are on a bit of an angle.  During the week the train would stop to let school children off in the morning and then pick them up at night.  However, Harvey forgot that this was Saturday and he was letting the horse go on its own.  That Saturday a special train was carrying holidayers away for the weekend and there was no scheduled stop in Markham .  The train hit the horse, killing it instantly and injured Harvey .  My father and I came along just after the accident had happened.


Blake Weir:

When I was about thirteen years old, I was visiting at Henry Kennedy's place in Agincourt .  He was married to my Grandfather's sister, Mary. I remember Uncle Henry as having a long beard.  He owned an Arabian driving horse.   Anyway, for some reason or other he gave me a black snake whip.  The handle was a piece of wood covered with braided leather, and the lash was about 4 to 5 feet long.  It was meant to snap in the air to frighten, but not to hit the horse.  So I took it home.  When Jack Cowan, a neighbour, saw it, he offered me 50 cents for it, but I would not give it up.  One day, the hired man used it on one of the horses.  Dad found out about it and said to me "Here, get rid of this whip now!"  So then I sold it to Jack Cowan.


Jack Weir:

When I was about nine years old Father used to take advantage of the fact that there were three of us older boys who could run machines and do jobs that were more or less routine (or so it was felt at the time).  This particular day he had me driving a team of horses pulling the horse-fork for unloading hay. The horse-fork was formed in such a way that if you pulled a lever on the fork it would activate a couple of hooks on the fork to pick up a load of hay from the wagon.  There was a pulley system through which the horses pulled the load of hay up to the roof of the barn straight above the wagon.  When it came to the car at the top of the barn it was tripped and the car would run across the track and take the loaded fork with it.  You pulled the trip rope when it was where you wanted it and the hay fell down into the mow.

This particular day I was driving the horses and didn't realize that I had gone past an apple tree.  When the horses turned around they went the wrong way and caught me between the rope and the tree, with the result that when they put tension on the rope, I was pinned to the tree.  They went around the first time and the rope caught my ankles.  The second time the rope went around my hips, and as they were coming around the third time I was screaming.  Tom Dunn, our hired man, was up in the mow in the barn and he heard me.  He made two jumps, one from the top of the mow to the wagon, and another from the load on the wagon to the barn floor.  He had the horses stopped and me out of there in about thirty seconds.  I had strained my hip and couldn't walk properly for about a week.


Jack Weir:

We sometimes used to ride horses from the farm at Brown's Corners down to Geordie Little's pond which was a mile east on Finch, to go swimming after working all day.  This day I put a saddle on our horse, Jack, and I forgot a very important thing - I forgot to kick him in the belly before I pulled up the cinch. Jack had a habit of hardening his stomach while the saddle cinch was being tightened. The result was that as we went galloping down the road he eased up the pressure on his belly.  The cinch let go and the saddle went upside down.  Here we are galloping down the road and I am underneath him with my arms around his neck.  I kept asking him to stop by saying "Whoa, Jack, Whoa, Jack".  He stopped and let me off.  I immediately knew what the reason was that this had happened.  I straightened up the saddle and as I was doing up the belt I gave him a big kick in the belly.  He gasped and drew in his stomach, and at the same time I tightened up the belt and fastened the cinch.

Jack Towson (Our first cousin, about the same age as Ches):

Uncle Jim Weir had a sense of humour.  We had moved from the city to Clark 's Corners, north-east corner of Finch Ave. and Kennedy Road. I had a pony named Bill and he had a bad case of mange  (Dictionary - any of various persistent contagious diseases affecting the skin of dogs and other hairy or woolly animals:  usually caused by parasitic mites, and occasionally transferred to man). I rode Bill over to Uncle Jim's and put him in the box-stall which had a door to the barnyard.  Uncle Jim washed him down with kerosene and had about one-half a cup left over in the pail.  He told me to point him toward the open door and said to watch how fast the pony could go.  With that he lifted the pony's tail and tossed in the kerosene.  The pony took off about three feet in the air and landed well out in the barnyard.  When last seen he was rubbing his behind against the straw stack.  (I asked Jack if the kerosene had cured the "mange" but he could not remember.  The truth is that probably the anal area had to be treated as well so that the mites could all be exterminated.)

Neil Weir

When the new High School was being built in Agincourt on the east side of Midland Avenue, Bob Burrows of Agincourt was the contractor and he had sub-contractors working for him.  Uncle Torrance Weir had a black team of horses - Bill and Bob.  I was working for Uncle Torrance for a while driving the team with the wagon to pick up supplies.  I would be around seventeen or eighteen at the time.

This particular day, Bob Burrows and I drove to the Railway Station to pick up an order of slate blackboards for the school which was almost finished.  Each board covered 16 sq. feet, so they would probably be 4'x 4'.  They were in bundles of four each, and there were several bundles.  Bob and someone from the railway yard carried them from the storage area to the wagon, and loaded two bundles in an almost upright position against a brace at the back of the wagon.  The wagon was not made for such a special load.  It was just an ordinary farm-type wagon with planks lying the length of the frame for a floor.  On each side of the front and back axles was a bolster about a foot high.  I was standing on the floor of the wagon holding the horses by the reins.  The other two men went back to get another bundle.  The horses must have thought they could go and they both took a step forward.  The slates had not yet been secured by a rope and the sudden movement unbalanced them and they came crashing forward - the top edge knocking me forward, over the front of the wagon.  I ended up with my legs still on the floor of the wagon and my body between the horses.  As I fell, I yelled, 'Whoa' and they stopped right away.  I was lucky that only my leg was hurt.  It was bruised and sore - not broken.  Bob was very thankful that my leg had not been crushed by the heavy slates.  There was no such thing as Workmen's Compensation in case of injury in those days.

The slate blackboards, however, were not so lucky.  As they fell, one corner of them hit the raised bolster and each slate lost a corner - just a few square inches - but enough to spoil them for the new High School.  All was not lost, however,  Bob had them cut a little bit smaller and sold them to #2 Public School on Finch Avenue."



 The Scarboro Heights Record V14 #11