July 25, 2019

Hay saving is an age old tradition that many farmers employ in the stocking of fodder for their livestock, as seen in this entry of Ellen’s Diary dated from July 25, 1958. The process of saving hay involves cutting long grasses, then drying them, and storing them until your other fodder stocks are depleted. In the 1950s, saving hay was still an arduous task. It took a great amount of time and injuries were commonplace. However, Ellen’s time period was significant for island farmers, as many started using more efficient and easier to use tractors instead of horses to aid in their harvest. This diary entry helps illustrate this important transition from horses to tractors.

“Gathering in the grain 1906” from Earles Picture Restoration Prince Edward Island.

“’And take your time!” James called after the help going on ahead in the truck to the field and the saving of hay this morning.

“He was harnessing the team for the rake at the time, buckling an end of the double reins to a bit, and adjusting the others in turn.

“’It’s the haste, Ellen”, he commented “that brings the accidents. There’s never a haying that there isn’t misfortune somewhere – falls and broken limbs, and other hurts. And there’s also those that come from poor gearing. I like to have everything in good shape, down to the smallest detail of it. They say ‘An ounce of prevention…”

“’!… is worth a pound of cure” we finished with a chuckle.

“’Well” he nodded, “there never were truer words than those when applied to the haying. A block half secured gives away, an old swing on the lift breaks or poor harness gives… and too late folks are in difficulties!”

“’You’ll ride?” we said watching him gather up the lines.

“‘Oh no, I’ll walk. The exercise will be good for me. I’ll be seated on the rake long enough!’

“Granddaughter, by choice, and with her assistance much appreciated, managed the horse in the lift this afternoon, enjoying it much.

“…Mack a steady little fellow, and with an adult close by, was allowed to drive the tractors on a level field, well pleased at this responsibility and his elders that he did it so well. So with all the help there was a great saving of hay, and by this evening first barns were full.”

Glen Property Visit, July 2019

An area of Bill Glen’s woodlot. The nut orchard is slightly visible in the background.

On Wednesday 18 July, some of the GeoREACH Lab team members took a trip into the field (literally) to visit Bill and Elizabeth Glen’s land in the Bonshaw area of Lot 30, Prince Edward Island. Bill and Elizabeth are well known in PEI genealogical and historical circles, and Bill was formerly a forester with the PEI Provincial Government. He now serves as a forest and woodland consultant, and he co-authored a chapter with Josh MacFadyen in the University of Calgary Press collection on Historical GIS Research in Canada. The Glens have been on their property since the early 1980s, and they were able to provide some real insight into how the land has changed over the last forty years, including how they managed the forest, fields, and hedgerows!

Bill Glen, GeoREACH Lab Director Dr. Josh MacFadyen, and research assistants Nolan Kressin and Abby Craswell.

The team has studied Lot 30 extensively using aerial photos and historical maps on GIS. We were excited to explore the real area that we have been examining from above for the last several months. It reminded us that our research is much bigger than just a computer screen! We could see the changes that have occurred in the land since the aerial photos that we are currently studying were taken in 1968, before the implementation of the Comprehensive Development Plan (for more on that see this post). Some of these changes include hedgerow planting, the appearance of new homes, and a new nut orchard on the property.

Research assistants Nolan Kressin, Nick Scott, and Abby Craswell (L-R) in the field.

While on this excursion, we learned about hedgerow and woodlot composition, as well as the importance of biodiversity and climate change adaptability in wooded areas. White spruce (what we use to plant most of our hedgerows) is incredibly vulnerable to slight shifts in climate! Bill also showed us a hydraulic pump that dates back to 1890, which he still uses to pump water to the tank for his nut orchard. The GeoREACH team would like to thank Bill and Elizabeth Glen for having us to their home and sharing their knowledge of land-use change on Prince Edward Island.

June 13th, 1957

PEI’s soil is very acidic; too acidic for many common crops. In order to neutralize the soil’s pH, early pioneers found that mussel mud (clay from the shore with a high concentration of mussel and oyster shells) had an alkaline effect on the soil and made it viable for planting.

Later, as technology and trade improved, farmers made the transition from the laborious process of harvesting mussel mud to purchasing lime to be spread by tractor on the fields for the same effect.

In Ellen’s Diary entry from June 13th, 1957, she mentions spreading lime by tractor. Interestingly enough, she also mentions seeding with a horse-drawn seeder, illustrating how the mid-20th century was a true transition period in agricultural technology.

What a busy field it was there by the roadside at that other farm this morning! The younger farmer was spreading lime with tractor and spreader, Jamie following was harrowing it in, in nice sweeps of the machine. Rob was sowing with the horse-drawn seeder, James chore to keep him supplied with the ‘straight oats’ and the ‘grass seed, which went today to ‘seed it down.’’

‘Many hands,’ James smiled, obviously well-pleased with the progress of the cropping.”

Ellen’s Diary, June 13th 1957

“A man in 1930s with a team of horses hauling a manure spreader filled with Mussel Mud in Elmsdale Prince Edward Island” from Earles Picture Restoration Prince Edward Island. 

The PEI Comprehensive Development Plan: A Timeline

The signing of the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) in 1969 was one of the most influential events in the modernization of Prince Edward Island. The developmental plan offered wide-sweeping changes to the island’s economy, infrastructure, and education that still affect the province to this day.

Here at the GeoREACH laboratory, it is one of our goals to help others understand how exactly the CDP affected life on the Island, both in the past and today. For this reason, we have created a full, comprehensive timeline of the CDP, from the events leading to the CDP’s formation to its eventual conclusion in 1984. We hope that it is helpful in understanding this significant time period. Enjoy!


Below is another informative excerpt from the Newsy Farm Notes column, found in The Guardian PEI Newspaper. Flax and “all that the inventor claims”: In 1929, Agricola turned his regular farm column to flax, making him the latest in a chorus of boosters promoting flax to Canadian farmers. The most familiar refrain here was his suggestion that the main barrier to a Canadian flax industry was technical. “A new machine for processing hemp and flax is now being tested in Ontario, and should it prove all that the inventor claims,” he promised, a flax linen industry would surely boom.

Flax flowers have a vibrant and beautiful colour

“I note in a periodical that the revenue from flax production in Canada has increased by 206% in the last five years, and this led me to inquire into the industry. Flax is grown successfully in other parts of Canada, but I have not heard of its being grown commercially here. The chief drawback of the industry is the amount of hand-labour required in preparing the fibre, and that means money nowadays. The flax is spread in the field and “retted”- which means rotted- till the fibres separate easily. Then begins the tedious process of taking the fibre from the body of the plant. It is run through a “breaking machine” which gently breaks up the woody part, and makes it ready for the “scutchers” who hold it to blunt revolving knives which thresh out the wood and leave the fibre in the scutcher’s hands. The retting process is often speeded up by soaking the stems in a pool keeping them submerged by weights. 

Though flax is one of the oldest of cloth materials, no better method than the laborious hand preparation has been devised, if quality of fibre is required. All machines for scutching up to the present, have proved unsatisfactory, producing too much tow (broken stems, etc.) in proportion to the fibre. The “hackling” or combing of the machined fibre, previous to spinning, has not stood the test. 

Linen is made from flax fibres

There has of course been a long, patient and expensive effort to produce machinery without these defects, but without success. A new machine for processing hemp and flax is now being tested in Ontario, and should it prove all that the inventor claims, an impetus will be given to an industry which means much to Canada. Owing to this difficulty, flax has been grown principally for seed, and that it is productive is shown by the fact that in 1925 1,126,100 acres produced 9,297,100 bushels of flax seed valued at $18,462,500; and in 1926 when 733,065 acres were sown, the revenue was $9,613,000.”

Read Flax Americana by Josh MacFadyen to read why flax actually boomed in western Canada. Hint: it was more about paint than linen!

Sources: Agricola. “Newsy Farm Notes.” The Charlottetown Guardian. July 26 1929. Accessed July 4 2019.