IN THE DAY OF THE HORSE AND OX (September 4/07)

“As the years slipped by, each generation gets further away from the knowledge of the very important part horses played in creating the farming industry we take so much for granted today.”

This observation about the roles of horses in agriculture was written by Alex Middleton in an autobiography he compiled in 1985. Middleton was born in Scotland in 1915. In 1929, when he was 13, he immigrated to Canada with his family and settled on a farm in Sheffield Mills. He wrote the autobiography after he retired so, as he noted, his descendants would have a record of his life and times.

The autobiography is some 460 pages and only about a dozen copies were printed. I mentioned the autobiography before, when Mr. Middleton gave me the chapter that described the Canard River in the 1930s and 1940s. In currently reading the work in its entirety, I was struck by his humorous tales about farm horses and oxen and their now mostly forgotten role in agriculture in the early days.

When Mr. Middleton arrived in Kings County, the tractor was well on its way to replacing horses and oxen. Yet on many older farms at this time the horse and ox were still heavily used. “Speaking of horses, Middleton says in writing about their ancestry, “along until the early 30s there were few horses imported; replacements were all homegrown and it was a common sight to see a team working with a colt running alongside. When the team stopped for a breather, the colt helped himself to a free lunch.”

Middleton tells about a scheme a Montreal brewery (most likely Molsons) came up with in 1934 to improve the caliber of horses in Nova Scotia. The brewery offered “to bring in 10 registered black Percheron studs for breeding purposes at very nominal fees.” Middleton says the government put the kibosh to this plan and wouldn’t hear of it since there was a catch. “Each buggy these horses were going to pull was to have a small ad on it advertising the brand of beer the brewery manufactured.”

Reminiscing, Middleton recalls the “many different quirks some of (the horses) had, like the black mare, Dolly, who every time we stopped at a water managed to pull her bridle off, no matter how securely it was buckled. Also old Harry, who we had to stop watering on the road because he insisted on trying to roll in the water.”

One discovered that each horse had “an individual personality all of its own,” Middleton says, and “good or bad you learned to cope with it. Some (horses) were very smart, some very stupid, some high strung, some so damned lazy, like one of my neighbors said about one of his: ‘The old bitch would get on the wagon and ride if she could’.”

A good note to close on. Later I’ll look at social activities in the 1930s and 1940s as seen through the eyes of the late Alex Middleton.

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