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
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 courage.
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 8 th 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 entertainment.
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:
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