When our pristine 160-acre property south of Calgary, Alberta, went on the auction block recently, the top bid came in below our expectations. Therefore, we won’t need to bid farewell to the farm any time soon. The memories that my siblings and I share of growing up there run deep. May I share some with you?

In the Beginning

old house
My maternal grandparents carved out a farm
on a piece of remote rolling land west of Okotoks,
Alberta, in 1918. Born and bred in England, they
purchased a half section with high hopes but lost
half of the land because they couldn’t pay the taxes. 
Manure was used to insulate my grandparents’ first barn
 105 years ago. It was their first attempt at farming on land
they owned. The rugged, isolated property was nothing
like farms in the Old Country or Argentina, where my
grandfather had worked on rural estates.
The winters were no less harsh back then, but there
was no electricity, centrally heated homes, phones, mail
delivery or all-weather roads. Since water was scarce,
snow often had to be melted and heated in buckets
 on the wood cookstove that warmed their tiny house.
The bathroom was outside around back. A horse and buggy
 or sleigh were their only means of transportation.  

Mom Lived There All Her Life

My mother started school in Okotoks before
her family moved to their farm. Then she walked
a mile to Ballyhamage School. The family
periodically picked up their mail in DeWinton, 12
miles away, where they also bought supplies.
Those trips were exhausting, all-day expeditions.
Mom grew up on the farm and after training as a
dressmaker in Calgary, she and Dad made it their
forever home after they were married. They faced a
harsh, demanding life that required endurance and

Life on the Farm

All dressed up and ready to go in the 1940s! Although downtown
Calgary was only 25 miles away, getting there was a serious trip
in a Model A. Mom always packed lunch, even when we went
to visit kin. Shirley and Bob were just little tykes then.
That’s Dad pitching bundles into the old threshing machine.
A John Deere D tractor powered the belt in the foreground
that kept the threshing machine teeth clacking. A team of
workhorses pulled the rack to gather the stooks of oats
 or barley.
This farm-kid portrait of my siblings, Shirley, Art and Bob,
on a wooden wagon shows a doubletree for horse-harness
in the foreground. We continued to rely on horsepower
for many farm chores for a long time. The milk house and
chicken house are in the background in the 1950s.
I’ve always liked cattle, especially those I can tame like these
‘pail-bunters.’ They were just my size. We milked their mothers,
separated the cream and fed the calves and pigs the skim milk.
Once a week, Dad made the trip to Calgary to deliver the cream,
the commodity that earned most of our livelihood.  
When a sow went berserk and killed all the piglets in her
litter except one, Bob stepped up to raise her. Jess thrived
under my brother’s care and finally outgrew being held in
his arms, but rushed to him when he called her.
We didn’t take many photos of our farm work, but an exciting
event like Dad towing a granary was noteworthy. Never mind
that it might take a year to shoot an entire roll of 12 frames.
We took the film to Farrow’s Drugstore on 8th Avenue in
Calgary to be developed. 
Perhaps the most versatile and simplistic piece of
equipment on our farm was the stone boat. Old Dick
pulled many a load of kindling to start fires in the wood
stove on the flat wooden deck mounted on wooden
runners. The stone boat was also used when we picked
rocks off the cropland. I don’t think Old Dick enjoyed
that chore any more than we kids did.
Driving the municipal district’s maintainer, neighbor Roy Latter
made a path so my siblings could walk to Ballyhamage School.
 With youngsters of his own, Roy understood what a thrill it
was for farm kids like us to climb up on the mammoth machine.
When we were small and the weather
was cold, we still liked playing outdoors.
Art shows how we created our own
Granny, who thought we kids could do no
 wrong, lived only a stone’s throw away from
us in a little house. We were constantly underfoot
and she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Mom was the glue that held our family together. She never
told us she loved us; she didn’t have to. Everything Mom did,
she did out of love for us. The farm is her legacy to us.

What Would Grandfather Think?

The roll of the hills, the clumps
of willows and poplars and
wandering creeks have changed
little in a century. Yet, if Grandfather
glimpsed the Calgary skyline
sprawled across the horizon to the
north, he would marvel. Our family’s
property is no longer isolated!

You Be the Judge

Come see nature at its best in photos taken on our farm that I’ve collected for a five-minute video entitled Down to Earth.

To watch the video again, click on the center play button.

Time to Move On

Over the years we made enough good memories at our family’s farm to last us a lifetime, but now we’ll have time to add a few more.

Scrolling down, you’ll see a number of comments that readers posted when they read that we planned to sell the farm. What wonderful, caring words!

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Here are some of my favorite stories about growing up on the farm:

Elaine Thomas
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