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Winter on My Family Farm

Now that winter is here, I  recall my wintry farm experiences  at Lot 33, Concession 5, Markham Township, York County, Ontario. Now, fifty plus years later it is called Warden Ave. which used to be a street in Toronto, in my memories.   (keep the city in the city why not?)


  It was a chilly walk through the dark from the old brick house , passing the milk house and  as  I opened  the heavy wooden door into the barn,  a blast of steamy warm air greeted me.  Not sure how to describe the smells, but  fresh hay that had been pushed through the hole from the mows above,  the slightly sour smell of corn silage in the cows’ mangers were there.  Throw in  a whiff of  fresh manure, warm milk being poured from the surge milker into stainless steel pails  and you have  the main components.  The milking machine was chugging  away, the  20 plus cattle were munching their dinners, the barn cats were waiting for warm milk to be splashed into their dish, and their pleading meows added to the familiar and comforting ambience.

In my blog recalling  the fall season, I mentioned all the root vegetables, and now that they were safely  stored,  it was the time  to prepare and market the crops we grew.  My father, every Thursday, loaded the two ton truck and headed out to supply his customers  with his particular produce. These customers, were Italian and Greek grocers, Chinese restaurants and those who wanted live chickens that could be killed in the kosher traditions. I remember looking at a sack of several chickens, pitying them,  being put into the back of the truck, along with the sacks of waxed rutabagas, (turnips) cases of graded eggs, New York dressed chickens, potatoes, and likely red beets as well.

Wednesday was chicken killing day and I  was on the  chicken plucking staff. Not a fun thing to do, but we never really thought about things being “not to our liking” . It was just something that needed to be done.  Someone had made a turnip washer, that tumbled them and dumped them onto a drying rack.  They were then hand dipped in melted paraffin  wax.. After the wax  was set up they were bagged in 50 lb sacks.

These activities were all carried out in the big hipped roof barn, and the cows created the heat for the entire lower level.  No carbon footprint there.  Upstairs under the hay mow were pens for up to 800 laying hens which also created their own heat,, but on a sunny winter afternoon, they got the southern exposure and they would strut around in their wood shavings  doing their extraordinarily  triumphant  cackling , after having laid their daily egg.  (before cages)  It has also been recorded that when a very little girl, they  would find me  trying  to  feed the  kittens,  with a mucilage bottle filled with milk.

Supper was often soup and cheese, or home fried potatoes, cold beef, leftovers from the noon meal, which was called dinner.  There was no TV, or radio, but the men would go out to bed down the cows with fresh straw for their long night ahead, sleeping in their stanchions, where they had stood all day. Sometimes, I would sit at the long kitchen dinning table to practice my handwriting with my brother Ken.   Exciting eh?  I really wonder if we dropped some children  from today into that scene, what they would do.??

When I was a teenager sometimes , we would get the word that someone’s pasture had flooded and was now frozen and ready to accept skaters.  Off we went.  Cars were positioned to provide some  light. To sail on your skates in the dark cold night, was invigorating to say the least. Now when  that good looking fellow who skates so well, asked me to skate it was that much  better.!!

 During the winter months  the ladies, were  piecing quilts, hooking rugs,  sewing for “relief”  for post war poverty in Europe.   A common thing to see my Mom do was sitting with a large pan of apples that had been stored in our cold cellar.  As she peeled them I was fascinated that she could peel a whole apple and have only one long curly peel left, now I do it without thinking.  We ate stewed apples nearly every meal it seemed with a  good rustic bran muffin, and a splash of maple syrup, or a whole little bowl of syrup for my Dad.  Mom also cleaned  and candled eggs  to prepare for sale.  Always busy it seemed..

I love how the farm provided a sense of belonging, to even the youngest child.   Gathering eggs, carrying wood for the stoves  were  job s for a young child, and learning to clean the eggs,(which I am afraid I grumbled about.)  It has been said that good self-esteem comes with  tasks well done and more importantly that a child feels he is contributing to the family unit. A sense of purpose  and being a part of the whole.

I do not want to live in the past, but I share these thoughts because there is a lot to learn from these experiences.




Our farm house painted by Evelyn Burkholder


The spruce hedge was planted by my father to provide wind break for the large, brick home built in the mid 1800’s by my mother’s ancestors. In my early memory, it seemed to provide a natural boundary for my roaming.  Between the house and the spruce trees, to the west, was a large garden, a long row of perennial flowers, a grape vine and a generous apple orchard.  The hip roofed, weathered barn with the silo and milk house formed a southern boundary for my world. The garage where Dad parked his Monarch car,( with keys in the ignition always) was attached to the small work shop, that housed Cecil’s welding machine and cutting torches. It had southern exposure windows and a wood burning barrel, making it a pleasant destination on a cold day. A little beyond the barn was the implement shed, a place were the three Case tractors were stored, along with some harrows and ploughs, I suppose. Beyond this were the pastures and crops.

As I grew older, exploring beyond the spruce hedge and walking along the fence rows was a near magical experience. Trees, brush, long grass , rocks, and rail fences of cedar,provided home for small animals. I recall seeing groundhogs peaking out of their burrows, as I passed.  Early spring was memorable, because toward the back of the 100 acres, was the flat land that turned wet with the melting snow, forming a creek. It created wondrous fun, following its trickling and meandering path across the fields, ignoring property lines, as we dammed up here and released there.

Another sign of spring was  walking up the long lane and seeing the whole long, pulley clothes line full of wool blankets and comforters having their yearly “March wind “ treatment,. They got whipped with that cool damp wind, removing anything that should not be there.

Early spring was also the time for butchering enough pigs for our own meat. . There was an air of excitement on that day. It was probably early March, with traces of snow still on the ground, and a cold nip in the air mingling with the smoke from the maple fires including a large one under a cast iron pot, to render down the fat for the years supply of lard. An area was cleared in the woodshed to make a butchers table for cutting up hams and bacon for curing and smoking. Also, the meat for sausage was ground up. I recall watching my Dad expertly winding the intestines around his left hand as he carefully scraped them, and dropped them into pails of water. The sausage meat was expertly seasoned and stuffed into the casings. It seems to me the meal that first day was always, back bone, or loin I suppose. To this day, I cannot recall having any sweeter or more delicious meat than that fresh pork. My Mom and my big sisters coiled those sausages into sealers and “canned’ them. The hams and shoulders were put into large oak barrels, for a certain curing time before they were hung in the smoke house,. It is still difficult for me to enjoy any other ham, having the memory of that dry, smoky version.  Still today,  wood smoke will evoke strong memories of my childhood.

About this time of spring the sap would start to run and it was decided we would go out to our friends, the Bakers, to watch the sap boiling operations.  That historical maple bush is still there, today, but surrounded by high- rise apartments and acres of housing.I still remember the sparks from the wood fires, and of course that wonderful smell of smoke mixed with the sweet steam of the evaporating sap filling  our lungs.  There would usually still be some snow underfoot.  Cool nights and sunny days with the temperature just a bit above freezing  was required for sap to run.

Another exciting day in spring was when, having trudged the one mile and a quarter, up the gravel road, to find that the summer kitchen had been cleaned up and prepared to cook and eat in for the summer months, which was meant to keep the rest of the house cooler.  ( I  know, I know it sounds like a total luxury to have an alternate kitchen ). I remember the scrubbed wood floor, the long pine table ready to set for supper, all the window glass was sparkling and a wood fire was crackling in the range. It seems to me there would be dandelion greens added to our meal at this time and a little later, fresh asparagus.  The scene can be completed in my memories right now with a robin singing outside the west window. The air was damp and you could feel and smell the growing going on around us.   A batch of newly hatched chicks were growing in the brooder house. Grass was greening, dandelions were peeking just to name a few things.. MAGIC, REAL MAGIC! As soon as the pasture was ready, the cows were allowed out to roam and graze, after having been cooped up in their stanchions all winter, surviving on hay, ground grain, turnips from the root cellar. Soon as the land was dry enough, the crops would be seeded and I remember Dad at the end of our long table announcing, “the oats are up”.

This was written quite a few years ago, and I planned to do all the seasons.  I want my idyllic farm life to be on record, for my grandchildren.  It will no doubt, be focused on the crops and foods we grew and ate.  My daughter Janine, says it should be recorded because so many young children barely know where food comes from.


My eldest sister Marion left us this past year. She celebrated her 90th birthday here, in Stouffville, last September.  At that time she was still driving her own van into town in Indiana where she has lived since she married Norman Wenger in 1952.

She had a weekly game night that she enjoyed with her friends, and helped her daughter with the bed and breakfast they operated in the beautiful farmland  one hundred miles south of Chicago.  She was  a lively lady with a great sense of humour. However, her heart began giving her trouble and she went for what was to be a “little” surgery, but things didn’t go as expected and by last June she slipped away, so well cared for and loved by her daughters, daughter in laws and grand daughters , sons and grandsons.   A LIFE WELL  LIVED!

I travelled to Indiana to the funeral, and I hereby pay tribute not only to my sister but to the rural church community that welcomed her so many years ago.  We were astounded by the number  of people who came to the visitations spotting us, her four sisters, who they thought looked like their beloved Marion. When I was a teenager, I would make extended visits to Marion, Norman and their family, and I got to meet some of the church young people.  In fact I celebrated my 16th Birthday with a group of Indiana girls.

 Now, we arrived at the Yellowcreek Frame Mennonite meeting house on this lovely June morning. We assembled inside, with Marion’s children, some of whom have grandchildren themselves.  The building was packed and we went to the front where we sat in silence. The floors were old wood, restored with white walls, and sunlight streamed  through sparkling clear, square window panes. Green leaves fluttered outside.  The closed casket was just a few feet away and behind that were the five ministers who share the caring of the believers. (no paid clergy here). Momentarily, one of the men, announced that we would open with a hymn and  a lone voice from the congregation started and instantly hundreds of voices in wondrous four part harmony, swelled, and soared  to fill that building,  Jesus Thy Boundless Love to Me. I tear up now as I type this.

The first speaker, unannounced and no introduction, arose and with a gracious presence spoke of Marion as Grandma, ( he is married to one of her grand daughters). He shared meaningful scriptures, but most importantly, spoke of how Marion would always ask about their lives. He suggested that she would be a little embarrassed about this large gathering for her.. He spoke of her humour. We then sang the very poetic hymn, On Jordon’s Stormy Banks I Stand ( and cast a wistful eye to Cannan’s fair and happy land, where my possessions lie.)

The second speaker, had been Marion’s only request for this occasion and I could soon see why. Again, I don’t know his name, but he exuded love and true humility. He alluded to the fact that he was a new minister and Marion was a person who  encouraged others,  including himself.  A senior minister, also shared of his experiences with Marion and then read the obituary and a most moving letter from Marion’s many, many  grandchildren .

We filed out again into sunshine and a lovely view of rolling farmland, where the burial ground was. After she was lowered into the ground, the young men, who seemed exceptionally handsome, to me, started shovelling, eventually handing their shovels to their Dads ,uncles, aunts, and   girl cousins.

I  have called it memorable , because it has been a LONG  time since I have attended a funeral that was so beautiful in it’s simplicity. It contained elements that these folks, who for generations now, have continued with the  spiritual traditions, of a brotherhood, with deliberate lack of emphasis on clergy. In agreement, or not,my feeling is,  they have at least attempted to prevent the powerful or charming taking  power, as Jesus warned  in Matthew 23.

WE MISS YOU MARION!            Marion Pauline Reesor Wenger  1925-2016







In late November 2002, Alex and I drove from Edmonton, across country to Cleveland Ohio to participate  in Fabtec, a very large convention for steel fabricators.

There was literally hundreds of miles of flat farmland that rolled by my window as Alex kept his foot on the accelerator. It was  November, so there were  no lush crops growing or even acres and acres of golden wheat or barley swaying  in the sunshine, which I find beautiful.  Instead, there was miles and miles of rather bleak landscape, tilled land with a dusting of snow, like icing sugar from above. Instead of it being a little depressing, as it may have been for some travellers,  it surprised  me to find a peaceful feeling surrounding me as we travelled ever farther east.  Where did the peace come from?   It has  become clear to me.

Summer on the mixed farm were I grew up in Southern Ontario, was a very productive time, crops to cultivate and   weed, hay to gather before the rain came.  Grains to be threshed or combined, more recently.  Never  rushed or out of control  and never did we delay or postpone our three meals a day. The days had a rhythm that brought a sense of  ALL IS WELL.    Every day except Thursday noon , my Father sat at the head of the table and we all filed into our own spaces. five boys and five girls.My father went once a week with his 2ton truck with a load of produce, plus eggs and New York dressed chickens,  to sell to  Greek, Chinese and Italian grocers along The Danforth and Queen  St. in “the city”  (Toronto) .Back to the large family, it dwindled as the years went on and  I, being the youngest was the last to “fly the coop”.

As autumn or fall as we called it arrived, the program changed from growing , into harvest and store.  The days were cooler, sometimes we needed to rescue garden things from impending frosts.  Rutabagas, were  to be dug and hauled into the large root cellar, potatoes also.  Apples ripened, ready  to be picked and stashed,  for the whole winter.Cabbages and pumpkins stored well, as did beets.  Everything we needed to eat WELL all winter was day by day hauled in before the cold arrived.

I tell my grandchildren, our grocery lists were nearly non-existent. Mr.Johnson, grocer from  Gormley  would call to ask Mom what she needed to have delivered this week.  She didn’t want to disappoint him, so she would order something like Old Dutch Cleanser (remember that) or Bon Ami to polish windows, and some times Kelloggs Corn Flakes, the  Sunday  morning breakfast.  In my day, after they stopped making their own vinegar, I remember him bringing his vinegar and it “glug glug glugged” into Mom’s jug.  By the way, I don’t remember any garbage either.  After the dog licked the butter wrappers they were thrown into the wood stove.  Tin cans were pretty well unheard of.  Flour and sugar were bought in bulk, honey in 40 lb pails, apple butter in very large crocks. These items were stored upstairs  in the “dungle kemmerly” some kind of German for dark closet.

The leaves changed to their spectacular colours and drifted to the ground  The black walnuts fell  with a thud from the trees. We kids gathered chestnuts on the way home from school, and there were mounds of coloured leaves to rake and jump into.

.,The loose  hay was piled under the hip roof of the  barn, for the hay burning cows in their stanchions on the lowest level. The  laying hens  and the full  grain  bins  were on the middle floor. The silo was filled with corn silage for the cows, as well as the  crib was  full of dried corn.There was plenty of golden straw for daily, fresh bedding for the animals.

The   cellar of our large brick house  stored  potatoes, to eat and sell. There were  apples for the winter plus all the preserved fruits and in more recent times a monster freezer full of veg and meat.


There you have it,  those bare bleak fields in the Canadian and American plains brought back that remarkable feeling of ALL IS WELL .  The animals as well as the humans can make it through another winter, and yes perhaps there  will be time for a little leisure.

(I  can’t remember much  leisure  though !!  We were of German descent we couldn’t help it.)

The picture below, I would of course insert Canada into this.   I love  the concept of “NEITHER TO SERVE NOR TO RULE”   Wouldn’t that be a beautiful world?




After writing my memories of summer on my family farm outside of Toronto, I had to think of Alex’s life just a few miles away in East York, unknown to me. Now I see that the period I was writing about, picking vegetables etc. sitting in the shade of the two huge maples, this momentous incident was thrust upon the Morrisons.TEN BOYS MIGHT HAVE DIED INSTEAD OF FIVE IF IT WERE NOT FOR THE HEROIC RESCUE EFFORTS OF ALEC MORRISON AND FAMILY. PICTURED ARE MR MORRISON,  JOY 11, SANDY 10, SHARON 7, AND RONNIE 6


It would have been 10 boys dead instead of five yesterday if the Alex Morrison family hadn’t set out from Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club earlier than usual (for some reason Marjorie their Mom decided they could miss sunday school which was very unusual)for and afternoon cruise and if Mr. Morrison hadn’t noticed a strange object floating in the distance and if all eight members of the family hadn’t done their part in the resulting rescues. Survivors agreed on that as they shivered on shore later.
“They couldn’t have done a better job”, said William Anderson and George Petchiny as they were wrapped in blankets when they came to under artificial respiration on the beach. “They got to us just in time. Just when some of us were giving up hope. And they worked like a team”.
Rescuing people from lakes is nothing new for the Morrisons. Even 10 year old Sandy has previous rescues to his credit.
They are used to water too. So it was a lucky break for the lads struggling in the icy water when the Morrisons decided to pile the family into their trim cruiser , the 30 ft Peg 111 and cast off from the yacht club and head for Centre Island………

“The children were marvelous” said Mr Morrison. “Once Sandy and I would really get a grip on one cadet the rest of the kids would help haul him aboard.It was tricky work maneuvering the cruiser in the choppy waves and some of the boys were bobbing up in all directions. When we got the fifth boy aboard I noticed a cutter inshore. I headed the cruiser toward it and told the Sea Scouts in it what had happened.

“I brought them over to the scene and between us we got four unconscious boys aboard”
“Then when it looked like as though we had everybody I towed the cutter ashore with me”
After bringing the boys ashore Mr. Morrison and Sandy, turned their cruiser around and headed back to the wreck with other members of the yacht club.
Said Sandy “it had drifted far to the east and was heading in toward Fallingbrook, There wasn’t any trouble towing it in. But nobody seemed to know whether were any bodies in the lake or not. WE DID OUR BEST” Yacht club, city and Navy League officials were unanimous that their best was magnificent.

“If Sandy was in the boat I don’t think it would tip over”, said Joy. But Sandy said he didn’t have a clue to the mystery of the capsizing whale boat. All he could
say was “It was a perfect sunny day, but the waves got big”

Alex said he had a brief moment of celebrity at school, because of the pictures and articles all over the Toronto papers. We have all heard of men who are rescuers, and I guess Alex started at an early age.
By the time I met him, he had already come across some terrible car accidents and went in the ambulance with a lady once who was sure she was blind but he assured her there was just blood in her eyes. I am still in possession of a note mailed to him by someone who was so grateful for his help at the scene of their accident, at a different site.

I share this today, for Alex’s siblings and our children and grandchildren and others who might not have known about this incident which I am sure  affected and shaped his life.


Sachs Harbour NWT

Sachs Harbour  NWT

 It was late September 1977 when we a arrived back in Yellowknife, having finished Ft. McPherson .BUT now there was Sachs Harbour to complete before the Arctic winds howled.

 I stayed put in Yellowknife with the children, who were in the  most beautiful  and modern  school they every attended, in their travels.

Alex must have flown in there earlier in the year, because I know his original coil unwinder was shipped in there, and actually never came out again.  I wonder what the village did with it. Is it rusting on the tundra? are the musk ox checking it out?

On his first trip he was privileged to stay with a elder whose name was Susy. She graciously served him southern breakfasts of bacon and eggs, and he had delicious meals of musk ox, which was as good as beef.

Susy brought out her photo album and Alex being very curious and not shy, started firing questions to you. He saw a picture of a smartly dressed couple on the streets of San Francisco, and she said it was her first husband Fred Carpenter and herself.

“What year, Susy”?   1937!!  Now Alex’s mind was  trying to decide  were there planes out of this remote place in that year?,

“How did you get there?”

  “Oh the North Star” said Susy.

Alex felt privileged to learn first hand, about the fascinating history of this community on the southern side of Bank Island,  325 miles north of Inuvik.  The Arctic fox were abundant on the Island  and once a year a large 600 ton ship, the Patterson came from California and bought their furs, for a fashion crazy world., with US dollars.  She told him, they didn’t know they were Canadians in those days.(Canada Revenue Agency hadn’t found them). It was the same captain that came every year, and of course the whole community was dependent upon him coming, in the fall, when the ice had melted and before it froze up again.  One summer  this beloved captain’s wife arrived to tell them her husband had died and would not be coming, The Patterson brought  the North Star, a triple masted schooner on the deck and it was in 1936. Fred and Susy started the yearly  trip with the furs, up around Alaska all the way to California, charting with a sexton  and the stars. While in Victoria in  the 1990’s, imagine how surprised we were to find this very ship in the Victoria Harbor .  The current owners live in it and according to my research  it is now harboring in Vancouver area.  Isn’t history grand?



 Now back to getting back up there to build the tank,  before winter. Apparently, Ernie, our welder,  complained anxiously the whole flight to Inuvik, because Alex had not made any reservations or confirmed where they would stay in Sachs. As they sat in the Inuvik airport waiting for the flight to Sachs, Ernie  threatened, “I am not getting on that plane until I know there is a place to stay!”. Alex sheepishly admitted he had called the White Fox Inn and the number was disconnected (out of business ) As time went by, Alex realized he might have a mutiny on his hands but assured Ernie he could get back on the plane they had arrived on.

Just about then, a priest strolled through the tiny terminal and noticed they were waiting for the Sachs Harbor plane,  ” I see you are going to Sachs, where are you staying?”  Alex admitted there were no arrangements.  “you can stay with me in the manse, there is lots of room and I can cook for you.!!”

“How is that Ernie?”   Ernie shrugged and grinned, wondering , how does he do it?

One day, while waiting for the  use of the hamlets front end loader, Alex decide to take a stroll onto the tundra. Well, when he got back, he got quite a tongue lashing, seeing he carried no gun. “what were you planning to do if you saw a polar bear, “they grilled him?  “Run” said Alex,   He got a look of total disgust, that one could be so dumb.  You would never out run a polar bear. “If you did have a gun, where would you aim?”   At his head? NO, NO,  his front leg, so that he would be distracted  with his leg and then you aim for his head.  How ever would a East York boy know that?

I think it was Bob Whiteway who shared this. One morning at breakfast,  our hospitable priest, said , “well I have to go out and baptize some babies, I can just see Alex rolling his eyes”.  I take from that they had been some discussions of a doctrinal nature.

Again it had been a rich experience for Alex, having heard some very remarkable stories of the old days, when the whole community waited to “hear” where the caribou or other animals (food supply) were.

I like the story of Alex’s brother Dave ,who was on a hunt with snowmobiles and a group of Inuit men, .They were looking for a cache of gasoline left on the tundra and the sun had gone down and they hadn’t located it.  Now, to his amazement and consternation they stopped to build a fire and make tea.  “Why are you stopping now,?” asked the  anxious southerner.  “Waiting for the stars to come out”.

Sure enough ,after dark, they drove directly to the spot  in a vast wilderness of nothing.I love it! I

 I tell our Inuit son Tim, that he may very well have remarkable gifts that his white father couldn’t teach him.

                     ALL PHOTOS ON THIS POST FROM THE WEB                                                                                                                                                         Musk Ox grazing.




Arctic Cotton

Arctic Cotton


Jon and Janine at  {eel River

Jon and Janine at Peel River

Michelle with visiting dogs.

Michelle with visiting dogs.

Jon learning how to filet fresh white fish

Jon learning how to filet fresh white fish


Tenting in Ft, McPherson beside the travel trailer


Staff accommodation in Ft Mc Pherson NWT


Late night arrival at Ft Good Hope NWT


Peel River Valley at Ft McPherson, with Richardson Mountains and Yukon in the distance


Michelle and Janine, with friends at Ft Good Hope NWT


Janine, in the Arctic sunlight along Peel River valley in Ft McPherson


Summer is over, Alex with his completed tank in Gjoa Haven , I think.