Canadian Genealogy |Ontario Genealogy | Victoria County | Agricultural Transformation

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Comparisons and Contrasts, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

It will heighten the comparison of these figures when we consider that in 1850 the rural population of South Victoria was about 9400 and that in 1920 the farming population in this same area totaled approximately 9735. In other words, the number of people on the land last year and in 1850 were almost exactly equal. The farm crops for the two years, however, form an amazing contrast, whose explanation must be sought in the conditions of the times. In 1850 virgin forest still covered the greater portion of the land. The area under crop was: 9,626 acres in 1850, and in 1920, 196,603 acres, or more than ten times as much. The farmer in the fifties was glad to have cleared sufficient land around his cabin to enable him to sow enough wheat, oats, potatoes, and turnips for himself and his stock.

There crops were almost unknown. The chief exports were not farm products but pine and oak lumber and potash. The latter product was secured by leaching the wood ashes that were so plentiful in times.

Then, merely to clear the land, acre after acre of the finest timber would be hewn down in windrows and fired. In 1842 there were 1021 potasheries in Upper Canada. The potash from Eldon township was at one time graded as the best on the Montreal market.

When we turn to the figures for the modern period of agricultural history, we find the countryside given over exclusively to farming. The improved acreage, including pasturage, was 250,000 acres in 882. By 1920 this had increased by only 33,000 acres. Modern farming was thus already definitely established in the former year.

The figures as given do not, however, show a steady, unbroken development in every line. Some crops once highly favored are now neglected, and others, unknown forty years ago, are now looked upon essential. It will be not uninstructive, therefore, to take the pronets, item by item, as they appear in the statistical table, and consider the influences at work behind the scenes; for every marked change in the production of any major crop has some definite explanation. Most of these alterations in farm products are due to the increased complexity of modern farming, to the discovery that certain crops are not suited to this county, and to the loss of certain markets.

Fall wheat, the first cereal listed, has maintained its position fairly well. The drop of nearly 50 per cent. in 1896 is due to the starvation prices then current. In 1882 fall wheat had sold for $1.01 the bushel; by 1894 it had dropped to fifty-five cents. A later recovery in prices has brought the output back nearer to old levels. Fall wheat is, however, only a semi-minor crop.

Time has proved that spring wheat is not a paying crop in Ontario, and last year's yield was less than one-fifth of the crop of 1882. It is probable that the next generation of farmers will discard it entirely.

Barley was formerly grown for malting and shipped extensively to breweries in the United States. An embargo against Canadian barley caused the first falling off. The diminished crop of today is used largely for fodder.

Rye flourishes on a sandy loam, and as most of South Victoria is a heavy clay, little is ever sown.
Mixed grains constitute a new and popular crop unknown ix earlier times. It has been demonstrated by Professor C. A. Zavitz of the Ontario Agricultural College, Guelph, that barley and oats sown together give a better yield than when sown separately. The barley is a surface feeder and matures early; the oats strike deeper and ripen more slowly; and the two cereals seem to cooperate, after a fashion. The resulting mixture makes an ideal chop for all purposes.

Another new crop is fodder corn. Corn for husking has dwindled down to a mere minimum necessary for seed purposes, but the growing use of silos for fodder storage has almost revolutionized the dietary of farm stock. The change since the eighties, when ensilage was un known, has been phenomenal.

Hay and clover show a steady, normal development. The crop has increased by more than one-half in the last twenty-five years. Alfalfa and sweet clover are popular with a few individual farmers, but have met with no widespread adoption.

The vagaries of wartime markets brought about a mild interest in flax. The permanence of this crop is problematical.

Buckwheat has been planted more and more in recent years. Th. output in 1920 was more than twenty times that of 1882. The explanation lies in the increasing shortage of farm labor. Buckwheat is not particularly satisfactory crop, but it can be sown late on the spring program and is therefore adopted then by farmers who find that the lack of help has made a full planting of earlier products an utter impossibility.

Peas have now only a shadow of their former importance. A country-wide plague of weevils began the slump in peas, but this pest has now been unknown in Victoria County for more than a dozes years. The real reason for present unpopularity is the precarious sue cess which attends this crop. A hot, dry spell during the blossom season seems to cook the immature ovaries and ruin all hope of development.

For beans, potatoes, and roots the soil throughout most of the county is much too heavy. Sections of North Emily (near King's Wharf), and parts of West Fenelon and East Eldon are sandy enough to make these crops ideal. Some farmers in the Moynes' Settlement area in Fenelon have realized this fact but elsewhere in these tracts of lighter soil little attempt has been made to develop the crops that best suit the land.

In the case of roots, the obduracy of our Victoria County clay is not the only factor in reducing output. The scarcity of farm labor and the consequent difficulty of giving these crops proper cultivation have also contributed to their decline. Moreover, in stock administration, corn ensilage is steadily taking the place of turnips and mangels.

Two or three farmers have begun to plant sugar beets. The harvest is smaller to the acre than in the case of turnips but the food value is greater, since the sugar beet contains from fifteen to sixteen per cent. of sugar.

A small but illustrious crop, for which no exact figures can be secured, is alsike clover seed. Ontario produces the bulk of the world's alsike seed supply, and of this total approximately one-fifteenth comes from Victoria County. Further, the Dominion Seed Commissioner, Mr. G. H. Clark, of Ottawa, has stated that the Victoria County seed is the best in the world. This is surely a record in which our farmers may feel legitimate pride. The alsike clover of the county is grown almost exclusively in Mariposa and Ops, though Fenelon township is beginning to take an interest in the crop.

Agricultural Transformation

Victoria County

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