Energy on the Edmund and Eduoard Houle Farm and the Nicolet CSD, Nicolet, Quebec

Figure 1a. Holstein Herd of M. Houle (Georges-Edouard Houle) in Nicolet, 1942. Photo used with permission. Bibliothèque de Archives nationales du Québec, photograph 07402.

The Houle farm in Quebec’s Nicolet region is an example of a small but Emerging Dairy Farm with Intensive Cash Crops (tobacco and wheat). Like many farms in this series, Ferm Houle was a multi-generational operation. In 1871, Edmund Houle (b. 1847/ d. 1931) was head of the farm.[1] The 23-year-old was married to Marie (neé Roy), one year his senior, and the recently married couple had no children. Edmund’s father Edouard (b. 1813/ d. 1878), a widower, lived next door with his 21-year-old daughter Luce. Both Edmund and his father Edouard were listed as cultivators when the 1871 Census of Canada was taken, but, whereas Edmund reported having 50.6 hectares (ha) of land, plus livestock, crops, and firewood, Edmund’s father reported no lands or produce.[2] It must be that Edouard and Luce benefitted from the family farm’s productions of which Edmund had recently become head. We assume that Edouard was actively farming the 50.6 hectare parcel alongside Edmund and that both Marie and Luce worked on the farm, as well. For the purpose of this energy profile, we have combined the two households. This means the size of the farm, livestock, crops, and firewood on hand does not change but that the labour supply doubles and the energy outputs would have been shared between two households.

Edmund was at least the third generation of the Houle family to farm this parcel of land in the Grand-Saint-Esprit part of the Nicolet seigneury. His grandfather Gabriel Houle had farmed 27.5 ha in the 1830s. By 1871, the farm had grown to 50.6 ha. Edmund continued to develop the farm so that by 1900 there were approximately 65 ha, and new agricultural buildings were in place, including a two-story barn and stable.[3] The Houle farm impressed the judges of Québec’s 1907 Concours Provincial de Mérite Agricole (Agricultural Merit Contest), earning Edmund and Marie’s son Georges-Edouard (b. 1886/ d. 1937) a bronze medal and recognition for his farm.[4]

Figure 1b. Georges-Edouard Houle (c. 1932). Image clipped from Concours de Merite Agricole 1932.

Five years later, in 1912, Georges-Edouard Houle won silver in the same competition. In 1927, he won gold, and his farm’s size had increased to 85.5 ha. He won gold again in 1932.[5]

Figure 1c. Clip of cadastral map of County of Nicolet, 1930. Nicolet, Plan du comté de Nicolet d’après le Cadastre. Carte de comté de Quebec à l’ échelle. 1:63 360. ​​Bibliothèque de Archives nationales du Quebec, 1930,

Figure 1d. Google Map of Nicolet. This is the Grand-Saint-Esprit part of the Nicolet seigneury. The exact location of Edmund and Edouard’s farm is unknown. The enumerator noted that the Houles and their neighbours lived in “Le Sud Ouest.” The 1844 Perkins map of the seigneury shows several Houles living in that part of the CSD. See John Perkins. Plan de la seigneurie de Nicolet d’après les travaux des arpenteurs Legendre 1832 et 1844 et John Perkins 1844. ​​Bibliothèque de Archives nationales du Quebec, 1844,

Farm Energy Funds

Edmund and Edouard’s 50.6 ha farm was small but intensively farmed in 1871. It had high concentrations of livestock, and it was 100 percent improved (or “under cultivation”). This should mean that the Houles did not report having any woodland, however, they did report several forest products. It’s possible that they had a small woodlot but they considered it “improved,” perhaps because they fenced and pastured it or perhaps they maintained a wood coppice. However, even if they misunderstood the enumerator’s instructions, the Houle parcel was farmed much more intensively than most others in the seigneury. The holdings in the CSD of Nicolet were 80.6 percent improved, with the remaining 19.4 percent in wood and wildland.

Three large properties were owned by individuals in Nicolet who were involved in forestry, Antoine Mayrand and two brothers, Charles and Francis McCaffrey.[6] The properties were most likely comprised of large forest parcels and Nicolet’s famous coastal wetlands, not farm woodlots.[7] In previous decades the large woodlands were not enumerated, and we see that Nicolet’s farm holdings had higher proportions cleared (57 percent in 1851, and 62 percent in 1861). By excluding the Mayrand and McCaffrey wildlands from the farmland in this profile, the remaining farmers in Nicolet cleared 80.6 percent of their holdings.[8]

The Houle farm was 7.7 ha larger than the average farm in Nicolet (42.9 ha), and it was more intensively farmed. If we consider that the farm supported two households, the size per household (25.3 ha) was just over half of the average farm. Houle placed more emphasis on hayland and less on pastureland and cropland than did the Nicolet CSD. His farm was sectioned into 27 percent hayland, 20.9 percent pastureland, and 51.9 percent cropland, with the remaining land in buildings and lanes. He did not report any garden or orchard. The profile of the improved land in the Nicolet CSD was 13.7 percent hayland, 27 percent pastureland, and 58.3 percent cropland, with the remaining in buildings, lanes, and orchards or gardens. Houle kept horses, oxen, milk cows, other horned cattle, sheep and swine, the same livestock kept by other farmers in Nicolet CSD. However, compared to the average farm in Nicolet, Houle had more of these livestock animals, especially horned cattle and sheep. The livestock intensity of Houle’s farm was very high, at 38.6 LU/km2, and his grazing intensity was 1.55 ruminants per ha of pasture. For the Nicolet CSD it was 19.1 LU/kms and .98 respectively which was significantly less than Houle’s numbers and much closer to national norms.

Houle reported 30 cords of firewood, which when converted to the English cord of 128 cubic feet was only 11.3 cords per household. This was only a quarter of the amount harvested by the average farm in Nicolet (44 cords), but still significant considering that he considered his entire property “improved.” As we previously argued, Houle might have maintained a coppice, and mid-twentieth century photos of the farm (Figure 1a) certainly suggest there were woodlots nearby, possibly reverting from abandoned wetlands or coppices. However, the Grand-Saint-Esprit was a heavily cleared part of the seigneury, and it is likely that Houle also harvested some of his firewood from unreported land that he rented from neighbours. Moreover, the large production of firewood on other farms in the CSD suggests that there was an active trade in the commodity between farms that owned woodlots.

Figure 2a. Area Visualization of the Edouard and Edmund Houle farm in Nicolet, Quebec. Note that the Houle farm is 100 percent improved, and the land is almost equally divided between cropland on the one hand, and hayland and pastureland on the other, with a slight emphasis on hayland. Houle had 24.3 ha in hayland and pastureland combined. More hay may have meant that Houle could keep more animals through winter.
Figure 2b. Area Visualization of Quebec’s Nicolet CSD. In 1871, Nicolet was over 50 percent in woodland–but only if the large amount of wildland owned by Antione Mayrand and Charles and Francis McCaffrey is taken into consideration. For the purpose of this farm energy profile, we have excluded the 17,258 arpents owned by these three individuals from farmland. The wildlands owned by Antoine Mayrand and Charles McCaffrey appear as light green outside of the farmland; Francis McCaffrey’s lands were held outside of Nicolet, so they are excluded from the diagram completely. Nicolet’s farmland was 80.6 percent improved with the remaining 19.4 percent in woodland. Of the cleared land, more was in cropland than in hayland and pastureland. As well, Nicolet had an emphasis on pastureland, rather than on hayland, which was the opposite of the Houle farm. The average farm in Nicolet had 14.06 ha of hayland and pastureland combined.

Farm Energy Flows

In 1871, the Houle farm produced one bushel (bu) of corn, 8 bu of rye, 65 bu buckwheat, 76 bu wheat, 108 bu peas, 108 bu potatoes, and 216 bu oats. Despite having no garden or orchard land, Houle had 11 bu of apples. He also had 100 lbs of maple syrup, despite having no woodland. It may be that Houle rented a parcel of land that provided him with apples, maple sugar, and firewood. However, if he did, the land is not recorded in any of the schedules of the 1871 Census. Finally, Houle had 30 lbs of tobacco. The Nicolet CSD reported the same crops as Houle, plus barley, beans, turnips, mangrel wurtzel, carrots, grass or clover seed, flax seed, hops, grapes, and apples. Houle’s feed deficit was 230,130 MJ and his litter deficit was 175,979 MJ. For the average farm in Nicolet, it was 407,739 MJ and 102,911 MJ respectively. This means that there were required imports of feed and litter to meet the shortfall on both the Houle farm and on other farms in Nicolet. Possibly tobacco, a cash crop, was economically lucrative enough to pay for the required feed and litter that must have been brought in to satisfy livestock needs.[9]

Energetically, the Houle farm’s fodder crops and pasture were evenly distributed between hay (783,808 MJ) and pasture (787,970 MJ). The Nicolet CSD, on the other hand, was not so evenly distributed energetically with pasture (106,618,749 MJ) being about 50 percent, hay (52,008,901 MJ) about 25 percent, and residues (53,426,730 MJ) about 25 percent. The Houle farm and Nicolet reused all their fodder.

In 1871, the Houle farm reported three horses over the age of three, two working oxen, six milk cows, 12 other horned cattle, 26 sheep, and five swine. For comparison, and based on Nicolet’s 210 farms, the average farm in Nicolet had 2.3 horses over the age of three, one working oxen, 4.8 milk cows, 5.5 other horned cattle, 13.3 sheep, and 4.2 swine. Houle reported slaughtering or exporting one cow, 12 sheep, and two swine. For the average farm in Nicolet it was 2.2, 6.4, and 3.6 respectively. Whereas Houle reported 300 pounds of butter, the average farmer reported 244. Oddly, neither Houle nor the Nicolet CSD reported cheese, despite reporting milk cows and butter. Houle reported 30 pounds of wool and 40 yards of homemade flannel, but for the average farm in Nicolet, it was 34.5 pounds and 35.8 yards for these two products. Houle did not report bee hives, honey, colts or fillies, nor homemade linen, all products that appeared elsewhere in the CSD.[10] The Houle farm produced more livestock and barnyard produce than did the average farm in Nicolet, but for most of these products the differences were unremarkable. Two major exceptions were other horned cattle and sheep. The Houles reported twice as many of these livestock as did the average farm in the Nicolet CSD. With so many ruminants grazing their relatively small pastures, the Houle farm’s grazing intensity was much higher than most.


At 50.6 ha the Houle farm was 7.7 ha larger than average farm in the Nicolet CSD. As well, the Houle farm had more farm products than the average farm in Nicolet because it was 100 percent improved, or cleared, whereas the average farm was 80.6 percent cleared. Houle and other farmers in the Nicolet CSD favoured tobacco as a cash crop. In 1932, Edmund Houle’s son Georges-Edouard Houle won gold in Québec’s Concours Provincial de Mérite Agricole, and a great deal of the excitement was about his Holstein herd. His two-year-old milcher “Lusette” that produced 12,161 pounds of milk and 615 pounds of fat in ten months was highlighted, for example, as was a Holstein bull (see Figures 6a and 6b). Sixty-one years earlier, in 1871, when 23-year-old Edmund Houle was head of the farm, there were six milchers, and milk and butter production did not stand out as a special feature of the farm. The potential of the farm was inherent in the land and its funds, and although the Houle family’s focus on dairy was developing, it had yet to fully appear.

Figures 6a and 6b. Photographs of George-Edouard’s milk cow “Lusette,” and bull. Image clipped from La Fête du Mérite Agricole de 1927.

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[1] “Edmund Houle,” 1871 Census of Canada, RG31, C-10082, LAC.

[2] The enumerators of the 1871 Census of Canada for Quebec recorded arpents, rather than acres, and minots, rather than bushels. We have converted the arpents and minots to hectares and bushels for the purpose of our work.

[3] Jocelyn Morneau, “Moderniser l’agriculture, réinventer la vie rurale,” in Histoire du Centre-du-Québec, in Claude Bellavance, Jean Roy, and Yvan Rousseau, eds. (Quebec City: Presses de l’Université Laval), Chapter 13.

[4] Rapport du Concours de Merite Agricole pour l’annee 1907, 225-230. George-Edouard Houle took the third place bronze medal out of 17 bronze medalists. A diagram of his barn is included in this report.

[5] Rapport des Juges du Concours de Mérite Agricole pour l’année 1912, 294-295; La Fête du Mérite Agricole de 1927, 18-22; and Concours de Mérite Agricole 1932, 12-15.

[6] For example, Antoine Mayrand, who was listed as Commercant in the 1871 Census had 10,408 arpents, and the two McCaffrey brothers, Charles and Frances had 7,208 arpents between them. Charles was listed as Bourgeois and Francis as Marchand in the 1871 Census. Joseph Duval, who was listed as Captaine de Steamboat in the same census had 441 arpents. Whereas Mayrand and the McCaffreys listed timber, Duval listed firewood. See Nicolet CSD, District no. 135, Subdistrict Nicolet, no. A, 1871 Census of Canada, RG31, C-10082, LAC. It may be that these large parcels had, at one time, been part of Seigneur Kenelm Conor Chandler’s seigneury, which he purchased in 1821 but which would have been dispersed after the seigneurial system was officially abolished in 1854. See Richard Chabot, “CHANDLER, KENELM CONOR,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed January 17, 2022,

[7] We assume that the 1871 census’s agricultural schedules included, for the first time, much more of the seignurie’s wooded land south of the Riviere Nicolet and on Ile Moras and the other large islands at the river’s delta. Today these coastal areas are part of the Ramsar-protected Nicolet Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

[8] In 1851, the CSD was known as Ste Jean Baptiste. Its farmers occupied 26,585 acres, of which 57 percent was “Under Cultivation,” and the rest (43 percent) was in “Wood and Wild Land.” In 1861 the 222 farmers of the CSD (now called Nicolet) occupied 27,167 acres with 16,835 acres (62 percent) under cultivation and the rest (38 percent) in “Wood and Wild Lands.” By 1871, the region’s land use was similar, with 212 farmers cultivating 18,237 acres. However, the occupied area was now much larger (36,920 acres or 14,941 ha). Census of Canada, 1851, Lower Canada, Vol II, (Quebec : Lovell and Lamoureux, 1855), Table VI, pp 112-113; Census of Canada, 1861, Lower Canada, Vol II, (Quebec : S.B. Foote, 1864), Table 12, pp 166-167.

[9] See Conrad Turcot, Culture et préparation du tabac. Bulletin No. 122 (Québec: Ministère de l’agriculture,1933) and Gouvernement du Québec, La culture et la mise en marché du tabac au Québec: Rapport de la commission royale d’enquête sur l’agriculture au Québec (Québec: Gouvernement du Québec, 1967).

[10] Farmers in the Nicolet CSD reported 96 bee hives, 2364 pounds of honey, 172 colts or fillies, and 2455 yards of homemade linen, which translates to .5 bee hives, 11.2 pounds of honey, .8 colts or fillies, and 11.6 yards of homemade linen per average farm in the CSD.