The GeoREACH Lab has been collecting and developing historical materials related to rural life in Atlantic Canada from historical collections, including maps, diaries, and newspapers. The following collections offer a range of relevant first-person accounts of agricultural history. The Digital History Initiatives make transcriptions and summaries of these materials available to the public and for future GeoREACH Lab projects.
Farm Profiles of 1871
As part of the Agricultural Energy Transitions project, the GeoREACH Lab has been using data from censuses, diaries, and other routinely generated sources to create a number of environmental and economic profiles of Canadian farms in the late nineteenth century. These “energy profiles” help us understand the various strategies that settlers followed to produce energy from the forest, fields, and waters that made up local agro-ecosystems. In particular, they reveal the role that livestock played as bioconverters, and they help us understand both the circular economy and the energetic surpluses available in rural Canada in the settlement period.
Energy profiles are created for each agro-ecosystem (both at the farm and the census subdivision level) using the tools of social ecological metabolism research and environmental history. Using a set of historically accurate estimates and assumptions, we calculate the energy outputs available from all crop produce, residues, and animal products. We also consider energy inputs from human and non-human actors, particularly the portion of each farm’s feed and litter that was consumed by livestock and converted, in turn, into new energy outputs. The primary data source for these profiles are the detailed census manuscripts from the 1871 Census of Canada. Three schedules contain essential information on every property that produced field, animal, and forest products in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Schedule 4 is a “Return of Cultivated Land, of Field Products and of Plants and Fruits”; Schedule 5 includes “Live Stock, Animal Products, home-made Fabrics and Furs”; and Schedule 7 is the “Return of Products of the Forest.” The results provide insights into the varying composition and production of Canadian farms, and, importantly, they also include properties with fewer than 5 acres which census officials enumerated but ultimately excluded from the printed summaries.
To better understand the context in which these farms operated and the social history behind them, the GeoREACH Lab is compiling a series of farm profiles. These profiles will provide a brief background into the families that lived on these farms, the farm’s energy funds (components of the agroecosystem that persisted over multiple years and decades), its energy flows (components of the agroecosystem that generally changed annually), and an analysis of the farm’s energy strategy. We then compare each farm with a profile of the larger census subdivision (eg. township) in which it appeared. The result allows us to compare individual family strategies within their geographic context and to compare them to farms in different areas.
Please visit our Farm Profiles collection.
“Ellen’s Diary, by an Island Farmer’s Wife” was a regular column written by Margaret MacQuarrie Dixon that was featured in The Guardian newspaper from 1945 to 1963. ‘Ellen’ provided entertaining and informative accounts of the day-to-day life throughout the seasons on the Clyde River mixed farm she managed with her husband George (‘James’). Her columns provide a fascinating glimpse into both rural women’s history and the agricultural/natural history of Prince Edward Island, and illustrate the interdependencies of the farm families with the environment around them.
Margaret also later detailed her childhood on a farm in Hampton, PEI, and her first years as a schoolteacher in Going Home (Willams & Crue, Summerside PEI, 1979).
Click on the following link to read the transcribed diary entries: Ellen’s Diary.
“Newsy Farm Notes” (later just “Newsy Notes”) was a column written by Islander Blythe Hurst under the pen name Agricola. It was published by The Guardian newspaper (then known as The Guardian of the Gulf or The Charlottetown Guardian) from the 1920s to the 1960s. This column covered a large variety of topics, including farm news, nature profiles, historical tidbits, tips and tricks, and some opinion pieces among other things.
Hurst was a source of botanical knowledge for Islanders, and his column and other publications represent a valuable collection of local ecological knowledge from the early twentieth century. He immigrated to PEI in the 1910s, living in Brackley from 1930 until his death in 1951. Hurst was the author of A New Flora of Prince Edward Island, published in 1941 by The Guardian and available in full text on Island Lives.
Check here for some excerpts from the column!
Feed and Pasture Notes
In a time without the Internet, farmers relied on advice from other farmers in the community as well as experimentation by trial and error. Still, agricultural advice literature and other published guides flourished in the nineteenth century, particularly in newspapers, pamphlets, and other published sources of information.
Agricultural advice was naturally very specific to each region’s environmental and market conditions. In Atlantic Canada, with its abundant marshlands and harsh winters, how did early farmers feed their livestock? What was the historical role of pasture, hay, and marsh grasses in addition to roots and grains? How did farmers use their local environment to keep livestock fed and sheltered, and how did those practices change with changing land use and the rising demand from urban markets?
To answer these questions, the GeoREACH Lab created the feed and pasture project to collect historical publications that were either produced by or available to Atlantic Canadian farmers on the subject of livestock husbandry and feeding. Often they were recommendations for farmers, but sometimes they were also notices of pasture competitions/prizes, or articles about a new development such as a new community pasture opening, a new feed mill, etc. This project documents a variety of sources that shed light on the changing developments and efficiencies in the region’s livestock farm systems.
You can find examples in the collection Feed and Pasture Notes.