FARMING IN VALCARTIER
by Bernie Monaghan
During the early 1920’s as I remember them, all the people were dairy farmers, and had been following the same system for many years before my time. A herd of 14 milk cows at that time was considered a big one. Herds on the various farms would range from four to sixteen cows. The average would be ten. The cows would drop their calves in the spring and would be milked until winter set in. They would be dry during the winter. There were no milking machines in those days. Few of the animals were purebreds, but the farmers were anxious to have cows that produced milk with a high butter-fat content as butter was the main product from the cows.
In the early days before the advent of cream separators, the milk had to be skimmed. They had what they called “creamers”. A creamer was a sort of pail with a tap at the bottom, about three feet high and would contain I imagine about four or five gallons. The creamers were kept in the dairy or some other cool place for a period of twelve hours or more, by that time the cream had risen to the top, the tap was opened and the skim milk removed leaving the cream in the container.’
The cream separator was introduced at the turn of the century which was a great improvement. There were different makes and models as there are automobiles today. Most were turned by hand, though some farmers who had big herds used a small gasoline engine as they had no electricity at that time. When the separator was turned up to its normal speed (about fifty turns of the handle per minute) the fresh milk was poured into a reservoir on top of the machine and there were two spouts lower down from which poured the skim milk and cream respectively. The skim milk was used to feed the hogs but most farmers permitted the skim milk to sour before feeding it to the pigs as they believed the fresh milk might sicken them.
I am writing all this down so that in years to come, if anybody should stumble across these lines, it would give them an idea how the farmers used to live in the early days. The separator and all the pails had to be washed night and morning, as the cows were milked twice a day. Most cows were milked in a milking-pen but some farmers brought them into the barn. It took some practice to become a fast milker, often the women could outdo the men, the children also did their share. If the cows were being annoyed by the flies, they were quite restless and their tails were continually in motion which caused a hazard to the eyes of the milker. In some cases they had a device which fastened the tail to the cowl leg, but this often caused the cow to kick with disastrous results to the milk and milker.
MAKING THE BUTTER
This task always fell to the women. The cream, after being slightly soured was poured into the churn. There were several types of churns. There was the dash-churn and another kind which was pushed back and forth horizontally, but the most widely used was the barrel churn which was turned round and round with a handle. If there was a gossoon around he was put to work at what he or she considered a monotonous job. It usually took about twenty minutes if the cream was at the right temperature. One could tell by the sound of the churn when the butter was ready.
Then the bung was released from the bottom of the churn and the residue called buttermilk gushed forth leaving the butter inside. The buttermilk was also carted off to the pigs and chickens. Then the butter had to be washed several times in cold water to remove the last traces of milk. If the weather was warm, cool spring water was used to harden the butter. Then it was salted and printed. A butter-print was a wooden mould into which the butter was pressed, it was rectangular in shape and contained exactly one pound. Then the butter was expelled from the print onto a moistened sheet of Waterproof butter-paper, enveloped with the paper and placed on a butter-board and off to the dairy it went where it was kept nice and cool awaiting market day.
The dairy was of a stone foundation quite deep in the ground and roofed with shingles so as to deflect the sunlight. It was usually shaded by trees. All perishable foods were stored there. Some were fortunate enough to have a supply of ice harvest the previous winter.
OTHER FARM PRODUCE
A few farmers that I knew during the 1920’s decided to fatten calves with the fresh milk all year. They would milk the cows and feed the milk directly to calves. They would market about two calves every week at the butcher shops in Loretteville and return with new-born calves purchased from the milkmen. While this practice was profitable and involved less work, the farmers could not profitably raise pigs as there was no skim milk so they went back to separating the milk again.
Hog raising was always considered a good source of revenue as they could be brought with little expense during the summer months to market. The Irish immigrants used to say that they could always turn an honest penny by the pig, and a grunter or two often meant a little money in reserve. In Ireland they called the pig, “The gentleman who paid the rent”. When fall would come on and it was time to fatten the hogs, after the oats were harvested and the potatoes dug, a load of oats would be carted off to the local mill where they would have it ground into meal. For each bag of oats that was ground the miller took his “Mouture.” Mouture, is a French word which means: the miller’s fee. It would amount to about a half peck per bag of oats ground. Then they hd huge boilers over a fire outside into which went the small or tainted potatoes. These were mixed together with the oats and skim milk to fatten the chickens, pigs and turkeys.
Oats seems to have been the main grain crop in Valcartier. In the early days it had to be threshed with a flail. A demonstration of using the flail is given every autumn in St. Leonard de Portneuf. At that time of year ,they have what they call their “Flax Festival” and they show us how they used to flail the flax to remove the linseed in the early days. I would consider a flail a man-killer. The Irish used to call it the poverty stick. At the turn of the century threshing mills began to appear on the scene, powered by horse-powers and later on by gasoline engines. While I have seen horse-powers in my younger days I don’t ever remember seeing one in operation. I remember the first gasoline engines with their huge fly-wheels. The power to supply the spark plug was furnished by a dry cell, as there was no magnet. However, they did good work. They were also used to power saw-benches to cut firewood. Some of the young men of the time would invest in mills etc., and go around from farm to farm doing custom work. In the early days the grain was cut with a reaping-hook and later on the cradle was used. There are still some cradles to be found on old farms in Valcartier. The cradle would leave the oats or other grain in sheaves and another person, often the women would bind the sheaves, using a rope made of straws which bound the sheaves together. In some French communities they would bind huge sheaves with gads. I preferred the stalks as everything went through the mill.
Among the best cradlers that I knew were Charlie Fitzpatrick and Johnny Murphy. I well remember Mr. Murphy telling me a story that when he was a young man he used to cradle oats for the farmers. At that time the day extended from dawn to dusk, he said he had cradled for Pat Davidson among others for $1.00 a day. Later on he went to work for the old Charles Fitzpatrick and when he had completed the work and it was time to get paid, Mr. Fitzpatrick asked how much he owed him. Said Mr. Murphy Is a dollar a day too much?” “It’s enough:” Replied Mr. Fitzpatrick.
Later on came the reapers. The reaper was a machine which cut and dropped the stalks in sheaves but it had to be tied manually as I described above. The women used to do their share of this work. Then along came the binders which I always considered a marvellous invention. The knotter completed the invention of the binder. It was thought out and perfected by Mr. Appleby, it is said while hoeing his corn. Today as everybody knows all this has been discarded and replaced by the combines.
Potatoes were another important crop, in fact they might be termed the staff of life of the early settlers. As soon as the land could be cleared they planted potatoes and lived on them for the most part. I used to hear them tell of the early days when they used to carry flour from Lorette on their backs. A little of the flour was mixed with mashed potatoes. They called this dish “Boxty”. Among the most widely grown varieties that I remember were “The Early Rose” and “Green Mountains”. Most of the farmers of Valcartier used to grow vast amounts of potatoes for sale when larger areas were brought under cultivation. They would store them in the cellars of their houses, and the potatoes that would be used for seed the following year were always stored in pits. Some had root houses but these were used mostly to store carrots and turnips.
Hay was another very important crop. Most meadow land was seeded to clover and timothy with oats as a nurse crop. The pioneers used to cut the hay with scythes. It was surprising the amount they could cut in a day. It took a considerable amount of practice to learn to properly swing a scythe and still more skill to whet it. The farmers in those days could whet a scythe to razor sharpness. Then along came the mowing-machines. I heard Mr. Joseph McGrory say that the first one he had was a single horse mower with no seat and he used to walk behind the machine. In the early days the hay was raked and picked up by hand and drawn to the barn in a hay-cart. Later on they had mechanical rakers. All is changed today as machines do all the work.
The Fourth Range seemed to be the best location for the growing of apples and other fruit. Every farm was blessed with a productive orchard. We used to have abundant crops of apples which besides being excellent for cooking were delicious to eat raw. We had such varieties as Wealthy, Duchess Of Oldenburg, Early Strawberry and Melba. Black Currants were grown in abundance and people used to come from all around to pick them. They made delicious jelly and they were also used as a cure for colds. I remember my mother making currant wine. Plums were also plentiful, but not every year. Some years we wouldn’t have any.
I used to like when the trees were in blossom. Strangely enough fruit trees never seemed to thrive in other parts of Valcartier with the exception of Pinkney’s Mountain, where the farmers, before the expropriation of 1914 had good orchards. We used to think it was because the land was rich and had a Southern exposure. Others said it was because the high lands escaped the late spring frosts.
Every farm in those days had a few hens that roamed at large. They were neglected for the most part during the winter but they used to lay fairly well during the summer. In those days hens were kept until they were old enough to vote. We used to set some broody hens in the spring. Each hen would be set with fourteen eggs. Some hens would lay in the fields around the barn. I remember a hen once coming out with twenty-three chickens and she reared them all. I could never find out where she had set herself. As the hens in those days I remember eggs being stored in coarse salt for winter use. It was a great hen that laid an egg for Easter.
Turkeys were always kept on every farm. Three or four turkeys together with a gobbler every year for reproduction. They would begin laying in early spring and the poults would arrive about the end of May. We would have about sixty poults. But they were difficult to raise in those days. They would fall victim to disease, predators and we would be lucky at Christmas if we had twenty-five. I remember one year we had four to sell at Christmas. The price was usually good then as most people could only afford to have turkey at Christmas, while beef was cheap. It is the contrary today. I need not explain how turkey raising has changed in modern tunes as quite a number of raisers in Valcartier have become wealthy over the years with the production of these birds.
Sheep were also raised extensively and the sheep were shorn every spring and the wool washed, carded and spun at home and knitting kept the women busy during the winter months. Some sheep raisers would be bothered by bears and dogs, but they generally had a good number of lambs to sell in the fall.
I forgot to mention in an earlier paragraph that the settlers were never bothered by the potato bug. It is sometimes known as the Colorado beetle and arrived in Valcartier in the mid-1800’s. I used to hear them speak of Robert Goodfellow keeping the first one he found in a glass case as a specimen.
Corn was grown on a number of farms as winter fodder for cattle, a greater volume of feed could be produced on a small piece of land.
Jeune Lorette or Loretteville as most people today call it was the nearest market where the farmers sold their produce. They did some business in the Settlement, but all through the summer and fall the farmers made a weekly trip by horse to Loretteville to sell their products and make their purchases. It is for this reason that I am inserting on the next page a picture of Lorette dating back to 1882. This was taken on what today is known as Racine Street, looking from west to east. The camera man was standing in front of what today is the Police Station and parking lot. According to the writing under the picture, a chapel and four churches were erected in the Parish since it was founded in 1794. The church seen in the photo was built in 1809. Two other temples that were built on the site were the prey of flames in 1908 and 1967. The actual church is remarkable for the originality of its architecture.
I will now endeavour to draw a picture of the farmer leaving for market. As earlier stated the principal products sold during summer were dairy products. So the farmer would leave very early in the morning with his express with his butter, cream and eggs. He left early before the heat of the day would cause the butter to soften. In those days, the early twenties, they had good horses who could travel much faster than the bumpy, summer roads would permit. They had customers all around the village for their produce and if they did not dispose of it all, whatever was unsold was sold at the grocery where they used to deal. They used to get store pay which means they exchanged their wares for merchandise. They used to water their horses at various places along the way. The first stop was at Lake Ferry, as the road at that time used to go around by the lake. The road over the Scotch Hill was not opened up until late 1930. There was always a pail for that purpose at the Cool Brook which flowed across the road, just below where Edgar Knox used to live. The stream is no longer there as the water is all absorbed by the aqueduct of Loretteville. There was another watering place before arriving at Martel’s Bridge. The road has been built up since then, at that time the ditch was very shallow.
Few of the farmers at that time spoke French but the merchants all over Lorette spoke good English. When fall would be coming on many of their clients would purchase a crock filled with butter for the winter months. Then when the snow came in the fall a load of potatoes would be taken quite often and some even made a weekly trip. I don’t think there were any restrictions on door to door sales at that time.
At Valcartier most of the people owned one or more bush lots. And lumbering used to keep them busy during the winter months. It was a good source of revenue and some made more money during winter than they did in summer. Logs would be cut and hauled to the mills for sale or construction. Pulpwood was cut and piled on the ice where it would be scaled and later driven down the Jacques Cartier River. Firewood was also cut and hauled to Loretteville for fuel. Many of the young men who were not needed at home would go off to work in the woods in the United States. They would work in Maine, New Hampshire and Michigan. Some bought farms in the states and never returned.
But times were changing and in the late 1920’s. The Brookside Dairy in Ste. Foy would send out a truck once a week as far as Clark’s to pick up the cream from the farmers who would be there at the appointed time. They shipped the cream in eight-gallon cans. The next week they would bring back the empties and pick up the full ones. Selling the cream direct to the dairies eliminated a lot of work and as many of the people were developing a taste for creamery butter, churning and making butter at home began to taper off. Later on the Brookside Dairy ceased sending their truck up as fewer farmers were keeping cows, more of them were going into turkey raising and poultry, so that those who still shipped their cream would send it on the early morning train to Quebec from Lorette. Then when Watson McCune began driving the bus he would accommodate the farmers by delivering it direct to the dairy. There are no dairy farmers in Valcartier today.
From about 1910 there used to be a demand every fall for harvesters to go West to help with the harvesting and threshing of the wheat. Many of the Valcartier boys would go to the excursions and being experienced farmers they could easily obtain work as teamsters, stookers and field pitchers. At this point I feel it would be appropriate to write two songs composed by James McCartney who used to go out West harvesting.
Jimmy McCartney wrote quite a number of songs. He was the son of Andrew McCartney and Janet Wolff. He lived in Valcartier Village. He was born, March 16, 1889. He died February 15, 1931 and is buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery, St. Andrew’s. He left the farm to a Scottish Society. The farm was eventually sold to Wilfred Goodfellow.
THE FAR SASKATCHEWAN
Come all ye true born farming princes, come my brothers of the plow,
And listen to the truthful tale which I will tell you now; Concerning three long, happy months that now have fled and gone,
We spent them at sweet labour in the Far Saskatchewan.
My name I will not mention, I’m a chap that you all know well,
Brought up by humble parents in my childhood days to dwell;
I left Valcartier’s sunlit banks on the third of August last,
To try my lot in those western lands, till harvest days were past.
There’s a fleeting glimpse of Valier Street and we are on our way,
To the tramping of the conductor’s feet the accordeons wildly play;
Some sang the Lass of Lancashire and some the Banks of Boyne,
While others heaped the measure with days of Ould Lang Syne.
There is a man called Charlie Streat,
I mean to let you know,
And with his threshing outfit, we have all laid out to go;
But the harvest is not ready and the haying in full swing,
I have hired with Cliff Lagham, could I do a better thing?
Oh, you little town of Kennedy, that nestles on the plain,
Where the thunder cloud plays hide and seek with the sunshine and the rain;
May Providence prove kind to you as in the days of yore,
The only thing that I regret, we’ll hear Hall’s voice no more.
Here’s to Christian Strangers that we met on this round,
For the best in human nature by their firesides we found;
Of the way that they befriended us when days were dark or clear,
It would be much less than gratefullness not to make mention here.
It is no son of luxury that sings this little lay,
But a tribute to Cliff Lugham and his charming wife I pay;
To the higher points of success in life, may they bear themselves along, Till those noble hearts lie buried in the far Saskatchewan.
Here’s to the gallant comrades that we now leave behind,
The mountains may divide us, we will bear them still in mind;
Mid the wheat fields of the prairie or Port Arthur’s breaks of snow, They’re a credit to Valcartier homes where ever their do go.
My train pulls out from Kennedy, I can no longer stay,
A dear and patient mother writes: “What keeps my boy away?”
So I’ll hit the planks of Old Quebec) next Monday morn at dawn;
Thus I quit bonanza farming in the Far Saskatchewan.
THE BANKS OF SOURIS
Come every bold Canadian boy, wherever you may stray,
I have lately took a notion for a little trip away
With a sack upon my shoulder and unusual peace of mind,
Bound for the Turtle Mountains near the North Dakota Line.
On the twentieth of August in the year of four and four,
I started for the Great North West, with half a dozen more;
All on the excursion to the harvest we did go,
In Southern Manitoba where the boundless grain fields grow.
There were stout hearts from old Quebec on board that special train,
There were Frank Brown and Freddie Kack, Guy, Gordon and Gus McBain;
And as we sped upon our way, their joyful chorus rang
In hopes to spend our holiday with some by threshing gang.
But when we reached Napinka Town, there was a different tune,
Strong men stood round in sadness there, as nothing could be done;
“No work:” We heard the people say, “Your trip is all in vain,
Two hundred men are idle in the streets of Deloraine.”
We’ve hired with a farmer now and Clement is his name,
He is a clever fellow, from Ontario he came;
He threshes by the bushel and I think his eyes are blue,
He does a lot for Cooper and the Honeys like him two.
The remnants of the buffalo herds are strewn along our way,
And the wild notes of the prairie birds, we hear at break of day;
When our lunch before daylight we get, by the lantern’s murky light,
The full moon finds us working yet, when she rises from the plain.
Pete Siddle, when we are threshing, does the separator run,
While Alex Bodd as suguier contributes to the fun;
Then little Billy Honey has as much as he can do,
While Charlie Darling of us all, surveys his Waterloo.
Jack Kennedy’s, another place where we put in some time,
It’s where poor Walter Davy chocked, I’ll mention in my rhyme;
He hails from P. E. Island with a whisker three weeks old,
And I’ve heard him whistle something called, “The Blue Sky Turned to Gold.”
There is Aikenhead the Perthshire lad, who sings to charm the band,
And thrills their spirits in the night with tunes of his own land;
Len Burns “Montana” called for sport, might have been mentioned first,
He is a fair example that wild men are not the worst.
There is Hobble or Frank Armstrong, John Campbell and Bill Blair,
And myself your humble servant the four field pitchers are;
Dave Collie is the tankman who has emptied Cosgrove’s well,
While the rest behind the stock teams, freely wave their forks and yell.
There is little Charlie Pel with his Brandy and his Jim,
And Mitchell with his Bob and Fly, I must remember him;
There millage Colliesco and the trucks that Pete and Judy haul,
While Gus drives Jim and Cyclone Dick the dandies of them all.
There is a Belle and Sandy, Cooper’s team; then Fletcher’s Hess and Dan,
And the broncho that Jim Finlay drives, McJones’s hired man;
Who lets them walk o’er sheaf and stock, until the pitchers swear,
Jack Reed’s a right good teamster, though he drives a branded pair.
The threshing’s almost over now and we will soon be free,
And far from Cooper’s ranch, where Mitchell pens these lines for me;
A day or more stack-working soon will finish us this play, B
ut I hope you will remember young McCartney far away.
Here’s adieu to Princess Township now, and to the navy boys,
To Milton Haulk, to Hamilton, the Hunters all likewise;
May nothing cause their hearts to sink, but keep them from all harm,
Until they cease to dwell in peace upon their great wheat farms.
Farewell, ye Banks of Souris, where the dark grey waters flow,
Where the Clements of Melita do their wheat and barley grow;
I 1ay they all unite their voices on the bright and sunny shore,
That us harvest boys return from where the coyotes weep no more.