When I looked out the window this morning through the dense fog, I didn’t have to check The Weather Channel to get the forecast. Dad had taught me 70 years ago that if there is a heavy-dew or a dense fog, its not going to rain. The first inhabitants on our continent didn’t read or write but passed on volumes of information from generation to generation. When the various churches and governments were trying to erase the First Nations’ way of life, they should have been watching, listening, and learning. When the first settlers arrived in North America they were saved many, many times by natives showing the “white man” how to eat, shelter, and use natural native medicine to survive.
Dad never worked a field for a crop until his face could get dirty with dust. Before the days of sprays to kill everything, the weeds and grass had to be pulled to the top of dry ground so the sun could kill them by drying them out. If you worked wet soil, you were only transplanting the weeds. You always worked a field a week before planting it. That gave weed seeds a week to germinate and dad lightly worked the field again after the weed seeds and grass had germinated, before planting the crop of grain, corn, or grass seed. Seventy years ago this stuff wasn’t written down, just passed on from generation to generation.
On the farm, the big meal was at noon after a long morning’s work. In the summer, dad always lay on the lawn in front of the house for a few minutes after dinner (noon meal), and all the summer employees did the same. This not only gave the big meal a chance to settle, but by lying on the grass, you found out if the dew was gone or not. You cannot make good dry hay until both the hay and the ground is dry. Before the days of making haylage or wet bales, you never cut, raked, or baled hay unless it was dry. While we lay on the lawn, it gave dad a chance to tell stories and some local history, like where the first flour mill was built, or where the first hydro-electric plant was built on a creek just east of Campbell’s Bay. He also told us about working in the logging camps and how Mrs. Cole could “charm blood” that saved my uncle’s life when he split his foot with an axe. Being two hours away from the nearest doctor, he would have bled to death except for Mrs. Cole stopping the bleeding.
Dad also told us that when his grandpa Benjamin moved from Saint Eustache to Greermount, he had to talk French to the bears because there were no neighbours and black bears were very close, and he spoke French much better than English.
There wasn’t much for a small boy to do early in the morning, so I helped mom and grandma make tea biscuits for breakfast and pies in the morning. There were always rhubarb pies and sometimes some strawberries thrown in. Raisin and butterscotch were other working man favourites. The eggs were separated and the whites saved to make meringue for the top of the butterscotch.
Often cousins and school boys helped in haying time. They learned that the day was done when the job was finished, not at five p.m. We always unloaded hay wagons in the morning when it was cooler, but we loaded them after dinner when the hay was dry and there was a little breeze out in the field.
Farm kids learned how to cut and rake hay when they could drive, which was usually about six or seven. Once a boy had to bale the windrows that he raked, he learned that straight, even windrows were a lot easier to bale with the little baler with the four foot pickup. Dad always took a couple of five-gallon cans of gas to the field for the tractor and that little Wisconsin engine which drove the baler. He also took a couple bales – two balls of baler twine in a heavy paper bag held secure with rope tied around it. Then dad would show us kids how to make a rope calf halter from the rope that came holding the two balls of twine. He also showed us how to make an invisible knot to tie one ball of baler twine to the next one before putting it in the twine box. Only an invisible knot would pass through the knotter and needles of the baler without breaking the twine.
Too much of our history is not written down or taught in schools. This must be passed down from generation to generation by telling the stories about our ancestors who built our country, named our roads, towns, lakes, and rivers. Who built the first bridge across the Ottawa River? Who built the first square timber raft to take timber to Quebec City for export to England? Who was the only person hanged in Pontiac County and why? Who won the first plowing match in the region? Were winter roads the same as summer roads? Why are there so many old red brick homes in Shawville? Who was the first person to deliver mail regularly to Pontiac County? How did the first purebred dairy cow get to Pontiac County? Why were there so many cheese factories in our county? Who sold the first car in the county? Who bought the first-round baler in Pontiac? Who fought the only duel in Pontiac County and why? Which island on the Ottawa had the largest population of First Nation people? Who supplied the hardware for the Rideau Canal? Where was the sawmill on the Quyon River? Who built the horse railroad around Chats Falls? Where was the original waterway from the Great Lakes to Montreal to be built, and why was it moved to another location? Who built the original trading post at Fort William? Where were your great grandparents born? Why did your family ancestors settle here? Who ran the ferry to La Passe? When and why was there food rationing in Canada? Why was there “conscription” in Canada and did everyone comply? Could Canada have won the war of 1812 without the support of our First Nations? What was Canada’s sixth Great Lake? Why do our schools not teach our kids local history?
Let’s learn and pass on our history to the next generation.
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