APRIL 18, 1851 - OCTOBER 16, 1931
John Harrington Ferguson was born on a farm in Chinguacousy township, Peel County (part of the modern municipality of Brampton) in 1851 to Samuel Ferguson and Ellen Harrington. John’s remarkable life would likely have been lost to history alongside countless other farmers in Victorian Canada were it not for his extremely detailed and valuable farm diary which he kept from 1869 to 1884. The diary, which survives to this day, provides considerable insight into the life of a bright young farmer during this era.
John Ferguson grew up on his father’s farm located on lot 12, concession 1 west in Peel. As the only son among his seven sisters, John was relied upon heavily by his father to do much of the men’s work around the farm. Samuel’s reliance on his only son and heir increased in 1868 when he became incapacitated by an unspecified illness. The seventeen year-old John Ferguson dropped out of high school to take over management of his father’s farm full-time. It was for this reason that he began his farm diary, which he used to record the daily operations of the farm as well as the family’s quite active social and religious lives. He would run his father’s farm until Samuel died in 1888, after which he took possession of it. Before that, however, his father had purchased for him a small sliver of land across the road he called “the Other Place” so that he would officially be a landowner and thus able to vote and participate in politics.
John Ferguson’s diary outlines the various agricultural methods he employed in great detail: including crop rotation, planting clover in fallow fields, cover-cropping, and pasturing animals to replenish the soil. John practiced the form of mixed farming that was gaining popularity in Ontario beginning in the late 1800s as the wheat monoculture of the previous decades no longer proved profitable or sustainable. He cultivated wheat, oats, barley, peas, apples, beets, lettuce, and parsnips, in addition to raising livestock such as pigs, dairy and beef cattle, horses, and sheep. In 1882 John married Martha Jane Boyle, the daughter of a local Methodist reverend. His new brother-in-law, J.C. Snell was an award-winning breeder (and future editor of The Farmer’s Advocate) and John visited him frequently for help and advice. With Snell’s assistance John became a successful horse breeder in his own right and received a number of prizes from fairs around the province, including the Toronto Exhibition which would later become the C.N.E.
Religion played a critically important part of John Ferguson’s life. A third-generation Methodist, John was a very active church member. He attended church every week at the Mount Zion Wesleyan Methodist Church and also sang in the choir. His Methodist beliefs informed his staunch temperance advocacy. He was a member of the Royal Knights of the Temperance Templar, a group dedicated to political and social advocacy in favour of a strict position against consuming alcohol.
John Harrington Ferguson remained a successful farmer for the rest of his life. His wife Martha died in 1925. John himself passed away on October 16, 1931 at Wellesley Hospital in York county of prostate cancer. He was survived by his four sons and one daughter.