Learning Unit: Agriculture
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  • Refer also to The Storm of '35
  • Go to our Search page -- use your language and critical thinking skills to define valuable search criteria 
  • Refer also to the main Agriculture page and to the Food Supply page -- and follow the links on those pages
  • Check the Ontario curriculum documents and find expectations relating to food supply and agriculture 


We Had a Mixed Farm...

Our big vegetable and fruit garden was not far from where Halbert’s Industrial Arts wing came to be. We grew hay and grain as well as mangolds and turnips. We also had two orchards. In the corner of the “old” orchard which ran north along McCowan Road, Albert Parrott had some beehives. In the newer orchard on Kingston Road between the two big houses were apple, plum, pear, peach and cherry trees. There were also two big sweet black cherry trees on our front lawn.

In our early days on the farm the hay was cut and, when dry, drawn loose on a hayrack to the barn and stored in the mows. The grain was cut by binders, stooked to dry, then drawn to the barn. Threshing of the grain was done at the barn late in the fall or early winter after the ploughing and other fall work was finished. Progress was made when we could thresh in the field. With the arrival of the combine, harvesting really speeded up. The straw was baled as soon after combining as possible. The old balers used wire ties. Pick-up balers came next. They followed the rows of straw in the fields and used twine for tying the bales.

We had two barns. The older one, behind our house and facing Kingston Road, was on ground level with a driving shed out front. This was the barn that had come with the Young farm. The newer barn was over at Uncle Ashley’s. It was a high bank barn with the stables and root cellar under the hay mows. It was close to McCowan Road on our original homestead near where the Halbert School gym is now.

Every fall the stable in the new barn would be filled with beef cattle to fatten up and sell in the spring. We only had enough milking cows to supply the two families and my grandparents with milk and butter. We had four horses, a few pigs and some hens. When there were too many eggs to use all at once, some would be put in a crock with waterglass which preserved them until needed, that is when the hens weren't laying. We survived the depression and never went to bed hungry like many unfortunate people. But as far as we were concerned, we really had never known luxury. Everything was just part of life.

In those days we had to let the cattle out of the barn to be watered. If there was enough wind, the windmill could pump water into the trough. Occasionally the well would run dry and we would have to go to another well and pump water into big drums and haul it to the trough. At these times you realized just how much animals really drank. Usually the horses were led to the trough for their drink.

On the Neilson farm on the west side of McCowan Road , a development had been started in the 1920s. The streets were marked out and township watermains were put in. But when the depression hit, the project stopped. Eventually we were allowed to put a pipe­line under the road to a hydrant and have running water in the stable at the newer barn. At this time the stable was modernized with water bowls and a litter carrier.

During the 30’s, Dad and Uncle Ashley decided to sell the old steel-wheeled Fordson tractor. This way, we kids could be kept busier using more “horse” power. Later on, when the second war started in 1939 and the car companies were switching over to war-work building tanks and army vehicles, Evans Motors, the local Ford dealer at Kingston Road and St. Clair, bought a supply of new Ford tractors and attachments and stored some in our old barn. Right about that time we bought a Ford 9N tractor with a two-furrow plough and cultivator. This tractor is still being used by Bill at his place in Pickering .

There were many beggars travelling on Kingston Road and some would come in regularly for a lunch or stay in the barn overnight. One character came in quite often. We wouldn't know about it until choretime in the morning. I think the only time he got cleaned up was when the weather got real cold and miserable and he went to jail.

During the 1930s, a Jewish group bought some property from us on the north side of the bush. They put up a small building and established a cemetery. Mike O’Brien, the unemployed sailor who had built a shack on the south side of our bush, dug some graves for them occasionally.

The first car I remember on the farm was a Model T touring car. The next was a classy Willy’s-Knight. It was a big heavy thing that had been owned by the Ames brokerage family. I think it had truck tires and there were four spares. It only had two-wheel brakes and was really hard on brake lin­ings. I never saw anoth­er model like it and I believe if it had been kept, it would be a valuable antique. Then Dad got a 1928 Pontiac Chief of the Sixes, a real modern car with four wheel brakes. After it got wrecked in an accident, he got a 1931 Pontiac .

Then as we kids got older we picked up an old Model T Ford, stripped it down to chassis, seats and wheels. We had a lot of fun with this old car and had a regular obstacle course east of the bush north of Stobos’ where the land was no longer being worked. Then we got another Model T -- a 1927 coupe. We watched it sitting at Evans Motors. Nobody seemed interested in it and we were able to buy it for ten dollars. It had sat on the lot for so long that it wouldn't start, so they towed it home for free. It was in good shape and we didn't wreck it.

On Sundays we went to Sunday School and Church at St. Andrew’s. Dinner was right after and then we were supposed to spend a quiet afternoon reading or looking at pictures. In the evening we could listen to the radio, that is after we got one. The first one was the old crystal set with earphones. Then we got a table model with a speaker on top. There were quite a few comedy shows on the radio -- Amos & Andy, Fibber McGee & Molly, George Burns and Red Skelton to name a few. Saturday night was hockey night in Canada , with Foster Hewitt broadcasting.

In about 1916 the Sisters of St. Joseph Catholic order had purchased 50 or so acres at the southwest corner of the farm from my grandfather. They built a convent, barn and chicken house. Pat and Mike were the hired hands who managed and worked the farm. When Pat left a fellow named Hugh worked there. Cathedral Bluffs Drive goes along pretty well where the Convent driveway was. We had a lane along the Convent fenceline to get to our fields closer to the lake. Along there, about halfway to the lake, was a high wooden survey tower and a concrete monument.

On the east side of our farm and south of Kingston Road was Scarborough Heights Park . Streetcars ran all the way from Toronto to West Hill and there was a spur line into the park. It was quite busy on weekends, but as more people got cars and travelled farther for their recreation, the park closed. By this time, the streetcars only ran as far as Scarboro post office at Kingston Road and Eglinton. Later, the streetcars only came out to Birchcliff and, eventually, only to Victoria Park. Kingston Road was widened in about 1936 and better bus service became available. St. Josephs’ purchased the pavilion at the park and got permission to move it across our farm to their property as a summer place for the sisters.

Shortly after the war ended, the subdivision on the west side of McCowan Road was taken over by the Federal Government, developed and sold to veterans under the Veterans Land Act. It was called Gord­onvale Subdivision.

It seemed appropriate then, in about 1949, to start developing the McCowan farm. With property on both sides of Kingston Road and heavy traffic, it was at times impossible to cross the highway with tractor and wagon. Streets and pipelines for water were put in. Cummings and Duncombe put up an office on the Kingston Road and sold many lots to builders as well as to individuals and oil companies.

Jack McCowan, 1990


The Changing Times

We had a plane come down in Jack Neilson’s field and stayed for a night and a day. The flyer was up over 8000 feet and got lost. He came down to get his bearings and came down too quickly and ran into the fence and broke his machine. He had to sit in it all night so that the wind would not turn it over. Even though it was a lovely, mild moonlight night, he likely wouldn’t enjoy it. They got it all fixed and he got away late yesterday afternoon. I had a compliment paid me yesterday. I was talking to a lady whom I know slightly. She said, looking at Margaret, “Is this your little girl?” I said this is my big girl, and she said “Why, I thought she must be your sister!” Papa said, “No wonder -- you look like a twelve year old in that short skirt”.

Ruth McCowan Letters, March 31 1918


Last night we put the clock ahead an hour. It upset Margaret and she wakened and did not get back to sleep until daylight. The boys [Harold and Ashley] said they wouldn’t change their time -- it was not going to make any difference to them. I said “You will be late for church”. Ashley bet a dollar to fifty cents that it [church] would go in at the old time. He lost, but we got to church in time and so did everybody else except the Bairds. They came stringing in one at a time to find the service just over. I suppose in a week we won’t notice the difference, and it will be just as hard to get back to the old way in October.

Ruth McCowan Letters, April 10 1918


Harold moved his clock ahead last night. He wouldn’t when the rest did. He couldn’t see the sense of it. But they are going to try it for a month. We are quite used to it now, only it has made it a bit awkward. When Papa would be working with the boys, he would leave the field for his dinner an hour earlier than they would. For two days, dinner here waited a whole hour and spoiled. The third day we had dinner over and the dishes washed when Papa came in. Since Harold changed, we have had no trouble whatever.

Ruth McCowan Letters, May 12 1918




Individual Exercises

1) Write a 200 word short story (fiction) about a day in the life of a farm boy on the McCowan Farm. Pretend that you are Bob or Jack. Include some dialogue between you and your brother.

2) What is the official term for “moving the clock” in the spring?


Class Discussion

1) What was the initial purpose of changing the clock in April?

2) What are the benefits of this today?

3) Why do you think some farmers were originally so reluctant to “change the clock” in April?


The Scarboro Heights Record V14 #8