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Pen Pictures of Early Pioneer Life in Upper Canada


EVERY farmer kept a watch-dog as a matter of course. The names of the different dogs on our grandfather's farm in the order of their lives were more familiar to us than the names of the kings of England or the presidents of the United States. Commencing with "Old Watch," then there was "Shep," "Jocko," "Skip" "Coley" and "Carlo." The dog seemed to be one of the individual characteristics of the place, and on our annual visit to the old farm, we were always glad to see him and make friends with him, and truth to tell, we imagined from the preposterous wagging of his bushy tail, that he was equally pleased to see us—at least, it took him but a short time to renew acquaintance with us—and he could soon be seen following us as we went from house to barn, and from barn to house. I doubt whether as much attention is paid to the farm house-dog as formerly; he is now kept outside for fear he may track the floor or soil the carpet. The moral to be learned from this is that we should cultivate more regard for dumb brutes than we do, for, like ourselves, they are God's creatures, and some of them not much below the intelligence of some human beings., The family watch-dog has always served a useful purpose on the farm, a good dog easily earning his own living, for besides keeping the poultry out of the garden and the cows out of the meadow, he would accompany the farmer's boy every morning and evening when sent after the cows, and after the bars had been let down would run into the field, round up the cattle and chase them homeward, hurrying from one to another and starting them up as they lagged behind to browse the herbage along the way. The sagacity and faithfulness of the dog are as remarkable as they are well known and admired, and although only a dumb brute he seems to be gifted with more reason than most animals. Some may think it is instinct only; the writer believes that the dog can reason in a way of his own. He can be taught many useful tricks, and if properly trained soon gets to know what is expected of him. He is affectionate, and if well treated will see that no harm comes to his master's property. The children can safely be left in his charge. He is a sworn enemy of tramps and vagrants, and seems to know by the sense of smell whether a person is wanted on the premises or not. Some of the old pioneers had dogs trained to do the churning. They were fastened to the treadmills which operated the churn and after the churning was done were rewarded with a piece of bread and butter. Some of them dreaded the work, as did the old turnspit dogs of Old Country kitchens of former days. When they saw preparations being made for churning or roasting, it is well known that the dogs would run off and hide themselves, necessitating oftentimes tying them up beforehand.

NOTE—It is said that a good dog knew all the cows and horses, etc., on the farm, and if a stray animal came on the place would single it out and chase it away.

A Trip to Market.

Years ago a trip to market meant a long drive through the woods, over corduroy and muddy roads, for the market towns were then few and far between. About the only commodity the farmer raised that he could realize money for was wheat, and sixty years ago it sold for 35 and 40 cents a bushel. The towns did not have the population to demand much farm produce, and the facilities for transportation were poor, consequently the prices were low.

An old tread mill

The writer's father remembers when butter sold for six and eight cents a pound, and eggs for four and five cents a dozen in trade, and sometimes merchants would not take his butter and eggs at any price. What the farmer raised was chiefly for his own use, for by barter and by making what he needed in the way of clothing, implements, etc., he could live very well without outside assistance. Still he was always glad to avail himself of any means by which to get some cash.

As a rule, the pioneers, when they first located on their bush farms, did all their farm work with oxen, for they were cheaper and could be used to better advantage in logging and other rough farm work than horses. His trip to mill or market was usually made behind these primitive steeds. It was, to be sure, a slow way of travelling, but he was glad to possess such a team. Most of our prosperous farmers of that time began life in this way. If we could take a backward glance at Toronto even fifty or seventy-five years ago, we would, no doubt, see a great many ox teams around the market. Later on, as the land became cleared and the farmers more prosperous, horse teams became more common.

In order to reach market early, the farmers who had long distances to go, say from fifteen to thirty miles or more, were obliged to travel all night or to start very early in the morning, perhaps as early as two or three o'clock, on their journey. Of course, they traded off some of their produce, as butter and eggs, at the country store, but in order to get a fair price it was necessary to go to town. On his trip to market it was customary for the farmer's wife to accompany him, so as to get rid of her share of the produce, viz., the butter and eggs, and to make purchases for their home. The ride, especially in the winter, was a cold one, but well wrapped up in blankets, buffalo robes, and quilts from the bed, they succeeded in making themselves comfortable. It was not unusual for them to travel on a cold frosty morning with hot bricks wrapped in cloth placed at their feet.

Preparations for the trip were always made the day beforehand—the butter and eggs packed, the grain bagged and placed in the wagon or sleigh box, or the hay loaded up on the rack. This trip to market was a pleasant change to the farmer and his wife from the daily drudgery and monotony of farm life; and with many it meant the uncorking of bottles and a temporary little jollification. As farmer met farmer they clinked their glasses together over the bar and talked of their cattle, sheep, calves, colts, etc. It was considered a necessary duty to call at the different inns on their way home, and while the good wife waited the farmer would have a glass of toddy to warm him and a talk with the tavern keeper.

An Auction Sale on the Farm.

If a farmer wished to sell out and retire, or go to another part of the country, he would dispose of his stock and other property by auction. The sale was advertised in the country town newspaper, if there was one, as well as by auction bills on the fences, in the barrooms of the hotels, blacksmith shops, stores and other conspicuous places. It was usually headed "Auction Sale," "on the farm of ______, on the concession of ______ in large type. Following this, in smaller type, was a list of the animals and articles to be sold, every article of any importance being enumerated, as, for instance, so many head of cattle, so many horses, sheep, pigs, etc.; also farm implements, such as wagons, ploughs, etc. After this came the terms of payment, which were usually joint note for nine months or a year, with so much percentage off for cash. The auctioneer had to be on the ground early to value the stuff. Besides being a good valuator, it was necessary for him to be good-natured and able to crack a joke. He usually had a stock of jokes for such occasions, and would spring them as required, for it was necessary to keep the crowd in good humor in order to get them to bid. He would take his stand on a box or barrel, or other elevated place, from which temporary rostrum he harangued the crowd. He usually started the sale with the smaller articles, such as hoes, rakes, etc., and left the most important articles until the last, so as to keep the crowd on the ground. As the different articles were put up by him, he could be heard calling out loudly something like this: "How much am I bid for this fine muley cow? Fifteen dollars, Mr. Smith. Fifteen, fifteen, fifteen; anybody bid sixteen? [A nod from some one in the crowd.] Sixteen! Mr. Jones. Sixteen, sixteen, sixteen. Surely you are not going to let this cow go for sixteen dollars? Seventeen dollars, do I hear? Seventeen, seventeen, seventeen. Going at seventeen. Sold to Mr. Brown for seventeen dollars." The farmers would come for miles around to attend an auction sale. And there was lots of fun at these sales, and even if they did not go to buy anything, they were sure to meet a number of their acquaintances there, and farmers, the same as other people, like a change now and then. At these sales were to be seen all sorts and conditions of men. There was the jolly fat man, the tall, slim man, the little man, the homely man, and the handsome man. They could be seen standing around in groups here and there, discussing politics, and municipal matters, talking over local news, such as the crops, the roads, examining the different articles offered for sale, and giving their opinion as to their merits. Liquor was generally plentifully supplied by the party having the sale. It was policy on his part to furnish it, for usually after the farmers became a little "merry," they would be likely to bid things up a smart figure and would also be more easily tempted to buy many things they could have done just as well without. Many of the farmers, by buying articles because they were cheap, contracted debts thy were not able to pay at maturity of the notes given and so ruined themselves. Experience has made the farmers wiser, they do not now buy useless stuff at auction sales as did some formerly. They have come to the proper and sensible conclusion that if an article is not needed it is dear at any price.

An old Block House

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