Early Days

Echos of World War I

Toledo Ontario

I was born in Toledo, Ontario on March 3, 1899. I lived on a farm there with my parents, Thomas and Alice Heffernan. It was a farm inherited from Dad's parents on which he had been raised so it was a rather old establishment even in those days. As the west was just opening up my Dad, being still quite young, decided to move out there. The part of Leeds county where we were located was mostly shallow soil as the bedrock was within a foot of the surface in most places and was not a very good farming area but had very good living conditions in some ways. There were plenty of small fruits, berries, plums, apples, grape etc. growing wild and consequently not a very good variety. There were also beech nut, butternut, hickory, oak and best of all maple trees, and various other kind of hardwood.

Dad had a hundred acre farm but only about 60 acres was fit to farm, and 40 acres of that was good deep soil which produced good grain, the rest had to be kept in grass and hay. We milked ten cows, well at least mother did until I was old enough to help her. We also kept about 10 pigs (the main cash income was pigs and milk). We had to haul the milk 2 miles to a cheese factory, a job I did when I was 8 years old. I should say the horse did it as I only sat on the seat and held the lines as we called them, and kept him languidly moving one foot ahead of the other and trying to stay awake myself. There were always 3 or 4 other rigs ahead of you at the factory and the milk, which was in a 40 gallon can with a tight lid and side handles, was lifted up by a grapple to a man standing on a platform who then dumped it into a small vat from where it ran into mixing vats in the factory. The can was let back down on your wagon ( buckboard such as you see in westerns on T.V.). From there you drove ahead a few feet to another vat sitting on a high enough platform to let the whey run into your can. This was taken home for the pigs.

The milking was done by the women and children, if there were any big enough to help. If not, the wife had to take care of it herself while father did other chores, feeding pigs, getting the horses ready, feeding cows, probably forking off a load of hay from the night before. In haying season he usually had a hired man and if they finished in time one would help with the milking. The cows were kept in bales in a barn and turned out after milking in favorable weather. Manure had to be thrown out of the barn every day.

As the milk had to be at the factory by 8:30, breakfast had to be over by 8 o'clock which meant the housewife had to have the milking done and breakfast cooked by 7 o'clock. With a wood-burning stove, breakfast usually consisted of cooked cereal, bacon, eggs, coffee and some kind of preserved fruit. As the hired man had to start in the field at 8 o'clock, Pop hauled the milk. If mom had a young baby, she laid it in a manger while she milked, so she told me anyhow. After breakfast she cleaned up the table, fed the young chickens, turkeys, and ducks etc., gathered eggs, washed clothes by hand or pressed washed ones, made beds, did the days housecleaning in the morning so she would have the afternoon to work in the garden. Of course, as she used a hoe and rake in the garden and straw broom and mops in the house, she didn't have to mess around with mechanical gadgets, but as she always had the kids to look after she managed to put in the time one way or another. She had to have supper ready by six. After supper someone had to bring in the cows from the pasture. Then the men helped milk, fed the cows chop or whatever they fed them at night.

Dad always seemed to have some colts around which he raised for drivers, as there seemed to be a demand for them. Of course that was before the automobile age. There was much horse racing amongst the lads, especially ice racing in the winter and cart racing in the summertime. I don't think there was much money in raising them but dad used to race in the wintertime on a Charleston Lake. I forget now where it was; between Brockville and Ottawa I think but I was too small to know anything about it. I used to like the colts and I'd get into trouble by getting too close to them.

In 1906 Dad had a sale, bought a carload of horses and went out to Saskatchewan where he took a' homestead I think, or bought a farm and broke some land on it. He had rented the home place to a neighbor for a year and left mother and four kids living on it as the neighbors just wanted to use the land. I don't know how he worked it but the next year he was home, bought more stock and equipment and was in business again. Horses were in good demand in the west so I guess he must have done well with them. I was now seven years old and started going to school. I was the oldest one of the family so I used to help milk the cows. When I was eight years old I could milk four cows while mother milked the other six. I used to get them in at night also, and haul the milk to the factory when I didn't go to school. My sister, who was a year younger than me went to school too. We only had a quarter of a mile to go so it wasn't much hardship. I remember we had a hired man who used to fool around with us kids a lot and one night after supper while he was standing up talking to Mom and Dad I was playing with a hammer, pounding the floor with it on my hands and knees. I saw Gil's number nines in front of me and started hitting the floor closer and closer to them, harder and harder. He paid no attention to me so I finally came down on one of them with the hammer and had to tear up the stairs in the dark and stay there; not funny.

The next child, younger than my sister Paula, was a boy named Cecil. On one occasion, he ate too many wild chokecherries and drank a lot of milk afterwards and developed erritenitis (probably spelled wrong). He spent several months in bed, many times at the point of death. The doctor finally gave him up but he got better through intercession by the priest who said, when approached by mother (who was taking it terribly hard) that he really didn't like to do it as he was convinced that it was God's wish that he should die now and if he was spared now he would die in the near future. He was accidently shot to death in 1915 in Alberta and is buried on a homestead Dad took out there; more about that later.

Dad continued farming in the east until 1911, then he wanted to go west again. He was badly troubled by asthma. I remember seeing him get a coughing spell in the night and had to sit on the side of the bed and cough hard for an hour or more. The doctor advised him to go to a drier climate and he might get over it so he finally came west, stayed there and the asthma disappeared. As this was the fourth time he had gone west since his marriage, (on one occasion sending us all to live with mother's parents for a year in Landsdowne County where we had numerous cousins and had a wonderful time. Here I was sleeping with my grandmother while she had a stroke and died, a comparatively young woman too. Mother put her foot down and said if he went west again she was going to pack up and go with photos This was what they did, taking two carloads of settlers effects and going to Kuroki, Saskatchewan.

One thing I greatly enjoyed in the east was making maple sugar. I guess all kids do. Dad had a place rented I think, on the side of the millpond. This was a pond made by putting a dam across a creek and forming a pond eight or ten feet deep. This one only covered two or three acres, maybe less, and had a wooden gate in it near the top that could be raised or lowered by hand and the water went through into a flume (also built of wood) that carried the water to a waterwheel which drove the mill. This one was originally a lumber mill but the logs had beer sawed long before my time and when I was there it had been changed into a gristmill and the owner, whose name was Bellamy, used to grind grain for the farmers. If they didn't want to pay cash for their grinding they could pay with grain which he took as toll and sold as feed. At one time he made flour for them but in my time he just made feed and the dam also served as a road across the creek.

The land was rough and rocky as I remember and Dad used it for a cow pasture and wintered young cattle on it, but it had about 500 maple trees on it with a cowshed or barn. He built a sugar house, as they called it, to boil the maple sap into syrup. He made a deal with an agent who was trying to introduce a new maple syrup making evaporator they called it then. It was a series of several pans set end to end and connected by siphons all sitting on a long stove like affair with a fire in it and the sap went into the first one and. worked back through the other pans through the siphons as it boiled down and came out as syrup at the back one, making it possible to produce many times as much syrup in one day as could be done in the old style coolers. I think that's what they were called (big iron pots that held up to 30 or 40 gallons I presume, which they filled with sap and boiled down to syrup, skimming it continually to get out foreign matter which accumulated while the sap was hanging on the trees in open buckets. This agent also sold covered buckets which kept things from getting into the sap, sometimes including an unfortunate squirrel or mouse, sometimes even a small bird.

At that time you had to drive around through the bush with a barrel or a stone-boat twice a day at the peak of the flow, dump the buckets and haul it to a storage tank in the sugar house. Dad's sugar house was on a side hill so the sap storage tank was higher than the evaporator so the sap flowed from the tank to the evaporator through a tap. The company pretty well gave dad his outfit to introduce the new system in the locality. Of course we kids just loved drinking the sap and usually got sick from drinking too much of it as it was hard on the kidneys. Maple syrup was worth about sixty cents to a dollar a gallon then. Now a cousin of mine from down there told me, it was $25.00 a gallon. He has about 1000 trees and makes up to $5,000 from them. The sugar season starts in March and lasts six to eight weeks I think.

I have described this as I remember it from nine or ten years old so my description of technique may be at fault to some extent, no doubt it is much different now. Mother's health started to fail from overwork I think. She developed bad nosebleeds and became anemic looking. Dad had a habit of going to town three and a half miles away in the evening and staying most of the night. Liquor was sold over the bar and was very cheap, one dollar for a 12 or 14 ounce bottle according to the quality. The bar was open practically all night if customers warranted it. At auction sales there was often a barrel of whiskey for sale as there were no restrictions whatsoever regarding its production, though there soon would be. I remember one night mother had a nosebleed and was lying on the floor upstairs trying to get it stopped when I went to bed. She was still there in the morning when I got up and her nose was still bleeding and Dad had not come home. She looked so white that I was really scared. It stopped about then and though she was almost too weak to get up, she made it. I think dad had to get his own breakfast that morning but he was alarmed also. Mom had to get her teeth pulled and have plates put in. She walked to town, had them pulled and walked back home again on the same day. They had some kind of anesthetic then, local I think, as it was done in a chair. I had a molar pulled about then but the dentist pulled that without anything, and for 5O cents, wrapped it up in paper, gave it to me and sent me home.