ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED | JULY 8, 1920 | THE FARMER'S ADVOCATE
I think I was up somewhere about Fort William when I sent ye that last letter tellin’ o’ my hardships an’ givin’ ye my impressions o’ the country I was passin’ through.
Well, it gets to be a wee bit mair civilized lookin’ as one gets nearer Winnipeg an’, first thing ye ken ye’ve left the swamps an’ the rocks behind an’ ye’re into the prairies. Man, but it was great to see level country an’ cleared fields once mair. I began to understand how the C.P.R. Co. had the courage to come over all that wild country behind us. They had their eyes on the plains o’ Manitoba an’ their mind on the future, an’ it’s na wonder they persevered in their plans. It must hae looked to them, at that time, like a farmer’s Paradise. No trees to cut doon, no stanes to clear awa, naething but tae hitch yer horses tae the plow an’ go to it. Such things as frost an’ dry weather an’ weeds an’ high winds an’ cauld winters an’ prairie fires weren’t taken very seriously by pioneers o’ that country only mair than were the hardships an’ difficulties that their forefathers had to face when they left their hames in the auld land across the water.
But ye’ll never get an idea o’ the size o’ this western country until ye’ve gone through it. For twa days an’ twa nights I travelled across land that was as “level as the floor,” as the saying goes, and how many miles on each side o’ the railway that country stretched back I had no way o’ telling. There’s na use talkin’ aboot it. Ye have to see it to get the right feelin’ aboot it.
But I’ll say this; if that part of Canada that lies between Ontario an’ British Columbia was as weel farmed as it might be, I havena’ the least doot but that it wad raise enough food to support every human being on the face o’ this earth. That is, provided the weather condition were favourable, of course.
There’s the thing that has to be recokned with by the chap that goes tae farmin’ the West. It’s a grand country--if--it wasn’t for this, and it wasn’t for that. Hail is anither thing that comes their way, oot there. I forgot tae mention it a while back, when I was speaking aboot the different drawbacks. Hail an’ an occasional cyclone. Of course I ken it’s the same in every business. It’s the way Nature has o’ developing backbone in her children. She always takes care not to mak’ it too easy for them.
Juist the same it isn’t hard for a chap that’s passin’ through the country, sittin’ on a seat in a railway coach, to find quite a few things tae criticize in the methods an’ manners o’ the prairie farmer. The first shock a “doon-Easterner” gets is when he sees the system o’ housing farm machinery that is practiced on the plains. Ye’d juist think that every farmer was gettin’ ready to have an auction sale o’ his farm implements. They’re all lined up there near the hoose or the barn, waitin’ till the time comes when they will be needed. A grain separator an’ a tractor, two or three binders, a couple o’ mowers an’ an hay-rake, seeders an’ harrows wi’oot end, they’re all there, gettin’ the benefit o’ the rain or the sunshine, as the case may be. To be mair exact, it’s the manufacturers o’ these machines that are gettin’ the benefit, of course.
It’s a mistake this habit o’ the western farmer. I’m sure o’ that. Lumber may be dear an’ carpenters’ wages high an’ all the rest o’ it but I canna help thinkin’ that a shed for the machinery would pay guid interest on the investment in Saskatchewan as weel as we ken it does in Ontario.
While I’m at it I think I’ll be criticizin’ anither thing I noticed aboot the ways o’ “the man of the land” in the West. If I’m ony judge he’s tryin’ to handle too mony acres o’ ground. My eyes were fairly sore lookin’ at weeds in those twa days on the plains. The pastures were that full o’ them that ye would be wonderin’ where the horses an’ the coos found the means o’ existence. Naething but diligence an’ perseverance kept them alive, I’m sure. An’ then then wheat-fields. Lots o’ them had been “stubbled in”, as they call it; that is, the wheat had been sown directly on the stubble without plowing or disking or ony ither formality. An’ that was where ye could see the weeds growing in all their perfection. The wheat seemed to be what ye might call a sort o’ a by-product. And even on land that had been plowed there was plenty o’ weeds growin’. They say there’s only one way to keep them doon in the West an’ that is by summer-fallowing. And how can the man with perhaps mair than six hundred acres o’ land and little or no hired help, except at harvest-time, do all the summer-fallowing that is necessary?
There’s a cure for this condition o’ things, but it will tak’ time to put it intae effect, na doot. When the farmer on the prairie owns what land he can work the way it should be worked, an’ keeps a little live-stock to mak’up for what he will be short on wheat, I’m thinkin’ there’ll be mair money an’ mair satisfaction all roond. Mixed farming is the cure for maist o’ the evils that befall the man who has been trying wheat-gambling on the prairie as a means o’ existence. To my way o’ thinkin’ onyway. Farm small an’ farm better I’d say, if they ever asked me. But your Western man is great on takin chances an’ it’s a case o’ “make or break” wi’ him. Ye’ll have to gie him his fling I guess.
Talkin’ aboot the scarcity o’labor, I saw something in a field near the rail-road track oot there that made me feel kind o’ sorry, in a way. It was a five-horse team hitched to a drag-harrow, an’ wha dae ya think was driving them? Juist a wee bit o’ a lassie, not mair than six or seven years auld. “If that ain’t the limit,” says I tae mysel’. “Talk aboot yer child-labor in the factories. That goes it a guid second, onyway.” A piece further on I saw two six-horse teams at wark wi’ only one man tae handle them. He was drivin’ one team and leadin’ the ither. What ye might call main’ the maist o’ all the man-power available. “That ought tae satisfy even the editor o’ “The Farmer’s Advocate’,” thinks I to mysel’. But I’d hate to be in that chao’s shoes when it cames to unharnessing his bunch o’ horses at night.
But they sure deserve credit, these farmers, for stayin’ on the job the way maist o’ them hae done, in spite o’ the hardship that has come tae them, especially in the last three years. Lots o’ them hae been buying their seed wheat every spring an’ paying two dollars an’ a quarter a bushel for it, only tae see it blown oot o’ the ground or dried up by the hot winds they’ve been having. It tak’s some courage to keep on at that sort o’ thing for three or four years in succession. And some faith in the country, as weel.
However, I see that I’m no gaein’ to be able to tak’ the time to finish tellin’ ye aboot my travels in this letter, so I’ll juist be sayin’ good-bye for the present, hoping tae see ye later.
By Sandy Fraser