The volunteers at Farmtown Park and people in the rural community have memories of life in Hastings County. They also have valuable skills they would like to share about growing crops, caring for animals, making cheese and butter, and all the domestic arts like cooking, preserving, spinning, weaving and knitting. We are collecting stories and showcasing our collection online.
Hastings County Cheese Factories 1910
These are some of the images of cheese factories in Hastings County taken by unknown photographers in about 1910. If you have any photographs of cheese factories or of cheese making, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or (613) 395-0015.
Making Cheddar The Traditional Way
Come on a tour of the Dairy Building at Farmtown Park and learn about the history of cheese making. Explore the barn, visit the cheese factory and watch the videos. They still make Cheddar cheese at Maple Dale Cheese in Plainfield, Ontario using traditional methods. This short video gives one some idea of the physical labour involved.
Norm MacWaters’s Long Career In The Cheese Industry
Norm MacWater has worked in the cheese industry for over 50 years as a cheese and butter factory inspector, policy maker and now as a cheese grader. He has donated many artifacts to the Hastings County of Agricultural Heritage.
History of Cheese Making
Cheese making started commercially in Hastings County around 1864. By 1920, there were cheese factories on each concession run as co-operatives by the farmers who lived within easy distance of the factory. The cheese was boxed and shipped to Belleville, usually by train, to be sold to dealers and then transported to Great Britain.
The video The History of Cheese Making in Hastings County was made a number of years ago before the Memorial Garden was planted at the front of Farmtown Park.
The Dutch Clock
After the war, the export of cheese to the UK continued. The Cheese Producers Association and the Province of Ontario wanted to modernize the cheese industry. In 1956, Charlie Heath from Stirling and Everett Biggs; deputy minister of agriculture for Ontario, went to a flower auction in Aalsmeer, Holland. This auction dates back to seventeenth century and is now the largest flower auction in the world. Flowers continue to be sold there using the reverse Dutch auction system. In this type of auction the base price is set and the clock runs backwards. Bidding is stressful. The buyers press a button to make a bid. Press too soon and you pay too much, press too late you and loose to another bidder.
Charlie Heath and Everett Biggs came back to Ontario with the large green and white Dutch Clock that is now at the museum. It cost $1,200 to buy and $3,000 to install. The first auction was in Kingston on July 12, 1956. In 1959, the clock was moved to Belleville and was used by the Milk Marketing Board which took over from the Cheese Producers Association, to auction cheese.
Gwen Hall ran the Dutch Clock from 1960 to 1991, when both she and the clock retired. Gwen visited the museum to share some of her memories.
“I’m Gwen Hall. I worked for the Milk Marketing board for 37 years and ran the Dutch clock for 31. First off, the cheese was graded at the different grading stations around the country. Then they sent the grading to us in Belleville and we compiled a catalogue that listed all the factories that they were graded at. They were sold separately then if a factory had an under grade that was sold at the end of the sale.
“You would start the clock with the hand and bring it up. It would give the dollar and the cent. It could get 90 to 70 cents- whatever- then you would run it down 90 cents, 80 cents; the 10th of cents in between so when the clock came down, the first buyer would stop it. Then I would bring it back up and run it again and the next buyer could bid. When the bidding stopped, the article was sold at that price. The under grade was sold at the end of the sale for 10 cents less in that ball park.
“But it was pretty well the same buyers each week from Brookville, Cornwall, Sanderson for Oxford Station, Belleville, Stratford, Toronto.
“We did have one buyer from Toronto who we always got a kick out of; Mr. Chisholm and he almost always bought under grade cheese and when it was time for him to buy the block he wanted he would start to whistle, so all of the men would know when he started to whistle he was going to bid on a block of cheese and they would overbid him and it got to be a real joke.”
For thousands of years, farmers threshed the grain by hand using fails to separate the grain from the husks. In 1784, Andrew Meikle from East Lothian in Scotland invented the first successful threshing machine. Machines know as ground hog threshers were used in Ontario in around 1870. Roy Rogers from Loyalist Township, Ontario, demonstrates threshing oats with his circa 1870 ground hog threshing machine built by the Desjardins Company of Saint-André-de-Kamouraska. He was at the 2012 Hastings County Farm Show and Plowing Match. He is a member of the Quinte Antique Tractor Club, which is based at Farmtown Park: home of the Hastings County Museum of Agricultural Heritage.
Making Apple Cider
There is an apple display in the Dairy Building at the museum. The Morton family donated an old cider press, which they used to make apple cider. Rodney Cooney of Cooney Farms still makes cider each year, although now they bring in apples from the Brighton area. He describes the purpose-built stainless steel crusher and press they use and talks about a time when they grew apples at Cooney Farms.
Welmans Women’s Institute Red Cross Quilt 1915
The discovery of a century-old unfinished quilt has created as many questions as answers for the Wellmans Women’s Institute. If you recognize any of the names or know anything about the quilt please get in touch with Margaret Grotek or Louise Livingstone at email@example.com.
Producing High Quality Alpaca Yarn
Marj Brady and her husband Stephen run Amazing Graze Alpaca. They win prizes for their alpaca and the high quality of their fleece.
“We moved here from Toronto in 2004,” said Marj Brady. “We are city people. We are transplants. We got the animals before we moved here and we were boarding them at the farm about half an hour from our residence in the city. When the boarding fees got to be too much, my husband said we might as well buy a farm and we did. We started with two alpaca and now we have 35.
“I have been spinning since 2003. For nine years I have been spinning. I learned how to knit at about the same time as I got the animals. I am not a great knitter, but I enjoy it. I like spinning, but I don’t have as much time as I would like, as we have many animals. When we shear I have to sort the fleece and sorting the fleece takes quite a bit of my time.
“I took lessons from a craft store in the city. They taught me how to knit. I am left-handed so that comes with a set of challenges depending on who teaches you. Some people say everything you think is right and others say you have to do it their way and that doesn’t work well for me. A hands off teacher works best for me. They were just there to look at what I was doing and to make sure it turned out right, and were not telling me I was holding the yarn incorrectly. With spinning I learned from the woman we got the animals from. Again, it was relatively hands off. I am more of an intuitive spinning than a technical one. I can do the fine yarns, but I prefer the funky, bulky yarn fun thing.
“I learned from friends. I also belong to the Belleville Spinners and Weavers Guild. They have people who can help you too. I have been a member on and off since we arrived in 2004.
“If you would like to learn of skill I would suggest you get in touch with a local guild. When we moved here I went to the library and ask a librarian if they could put me in touch with someone who knew about spinning. She referred me to one of the members of the guild who then took me to the guild meeting. Most communities today have spinning guilds, which is kind of nice, often in half an hour’s drive. There is one in Kingston. There is one in Peterborough. There is one in Oshawa and one in Bowmanville. There are lots of places to go.
“My material is my own fibre. I grow it, we shear it, I sort it. Most of it gets processed and it comes back to me. Some of it I spin myself.
“As a city kid, I didn’t have anything I needed, except a questioning nature. The people we bought the animals from taught about husbandry, essentially all the husbandry we needed. They told us how to give needles, how to trim feet and how to feed the animals properly. I took some seminars and we have kind of learned as it went.
“I was working in the financial industry for 25 years. I was good at what I did, and enjoying it until the last couple of years, and then it got so it was not fun anymore. We needed a big change and this was our big change. I never had frozen pipes before in my life. The first winter here, they were frozen for 30 days on and off. This is a good place to be. We are in a pretty location just north of the village in Stirling. We can see for miles. I like it. I like to be able to see.”
Story of a Shoe Store
The Shaw Family bought the shoe shop on Mill Street, Stirling in 1967 from William Cairns and when they closed they donated many artifacts to the Hastings County Museum of Agricultural Heritage. These artifacts are displayed in the shoe shop in Heritage Village. The shoe shop in Mill Street was originally opened by Mr. and Mrs. George Reynolds in 1908. George Reynolds ran a shoe repair business and his wife and daughters ran the store.
“We all went there together,” said Wayne Shaw. “It was a four way partnership between Milton and Edna Shaw, and Wayne and Helen Shaw. Bill Cairns had bought it as a shoe store. He was the shoe repair man. The Cairns sold shoes rather than making them. Their son Ted was a saddle maker and he worked out in a tack shop at the back. He moved his business to a new building on the corner of Front Street and John Street. Harness maker and museum volunteer Glen Floud worked there.
When asked why they thought of shoes and if they knew anything about shoes, Helen Shaw said, “No, not a thing. Wayne’s mother did. She used to work in Eaton’s shoe department in Belleville. She was the only one who had any idea about what your should do with shoes other than wear them.”
“Yes, we came straight off the farm at Ivanhoe,” said Wayne Shaw. “That is where we farmed out there. We were just interested in getting off the farm and we were wanting something to do. The real estate guy suggested we buy a shoe store because it was for sale.”
Their farm was east of the general store in Ivanhoe on Slab street. “We had two farms,” said Wayne. “It was where the Hastings County Farm Show was a few years ago. That was our farm between Slab Street and Kerby Road. It was certainly a change from dairying to shoes.”
“Wayne was the only real farmer as his dad worked on the rail road,” said Helen Shaw. “I worked in an office in Belleville and his mom worked the shoe department at Eaton’s.
Sales men come round selling shoes in those days. “The manufacturers all had a sales person or most of them did,” said Wayne Shaw. “They would come round with their suit cases and pile the shoes on the chairs and you walked along and picked out the shoes you wanted.
Every Sign is a Work of Art
Art McConnell, sign artist in Stirling, Ontario, talked with Margaret Grotek on July 17, 2012. He has painted many of the signs at Farmtown Park. He describes the art of sign painting and his long career as a sign artist.
“I have been painting signs for over 50 years. I started when I was 17 and I took a correspondence course with ICS. It took me three years to complete the course. I could have probably completed it sooner but as a 17 year old boy, I had other interests as well the correspondence course. Both my parents were supportive. My father did quite a bit of sign writing. He was a house decorator and painter and he did signs. There was interest and support for me there.
“I was interested in cars and wanted to be a body mechanic. The agent from ICS came to the house to interview me, and with my background at school and my natural ability, he directed me to the sign course. I had sent in a notice I found in a magazine. I finished the course and got my diploma. It is interesting to see how they did it. They sent you books and as you progressed they sent you more material. l would send my work in by mail and they would grade it and send back the marks. Most work was done on paper so you could fold it. The course was called Show Card and Sign Production.
“The first sign I did was when I was still going to high school. The shop teacher needed a sign to display at the fair. Then a friend needed a truck lettered. There are a few of my old signs still around. An interesting thing is in the 60s to letter two doors on a truck was in the $10 – $20 range, now it costs $200 or as high as $400 and $500.
“The method for putting on gold leaf has not changed in 100 years. First, you size the board and then you put on the gold leaf. The materials are harder to find as there are not many people who can gild. Computer cut vinyl looks good for a while, but gold leaf is 23 carat gold and gold is tarnish proof. Some vehicle owners still want lettering gilded with gold and then protected with a clear coat. You brush the clear coat on over the edge a little to seal the edge. It needs to be transparent. The clear coat means the gold looses a bit of the lustre. A house sign doesn’t need a clear coat as it not being washed like a vehicle.
“The correspondence course explained how to use tools. I still have my text books. Styles have changed, there are many more fonts today; Helvetica and Roman types of letter style fonts, and the spacing between words is tighter now. When I took my course, the width was supposed to be the width of letter N in that particular font. I stay with the way I learnt. Words now look like those on a website as they are close together. Being from the old school I find it hard to change. A computer does not do spacing, you do it visually. Computers are based on grids.
“There are wild colours available today that weren’t available before. We had a limited colour range of the primary colours: red, yellow, blue and black and white. If a colour was in between you had to mix it. There are lot more colours in between the primary and secondary colours. Sometimes you have to match a colour you can’t buy. You always try for one shade lighter, because when paint dries it dries one shade darker.
Sign artist’s quills are hand made in the same way they were hundreds of years ago.
“When one loads a brush with paint it should look like a chisel. It is harder to get sharp corner. Each brush is different. If you had six brushes, all number 6, you would have one pet brush or quill that really works well. Try and take care of all your brushes, cleaning them of all oil based paints. A solvent is used for thinning paint and that’s what you use to clean the brush. I then oil them in case any is up in the hair. There is a brass wire to hold the brush in. The handles of all your brushes will pull out of quill. I don’t know why that is but it is the way they are still made. That was the way they were made a hundred years ago, some things really haven’t changed. Each quill is hand made so no two are exactly the same. Each one will be a little different. If you order, say, six number four quills, each one will be a little bit different. One brush holds its shape when you have got paint on them, whereas the next one you pick up, you may not be able to make a chisel edge on it.
Occasionally, almost on every quill, a hair will pull out or break off and it will get to the point where you have to throw it away. Because every stroke you make, there will be a little hair on it. Then you get it on the sign. It is a pain.
A mahl stick is used to support your hand and keep it out of the paint.
“I use a mahl stick. This is a stick, 24 – 30 inches long, with a rubber ball 3/4 inches diameter at one end. The mahl stick is probably twice the size and the thickness of the pencil. The purpose of the mahl stick is like a third hand. Since I am right handed I hold the brush in my right hand. I hold the mahl stick in my left hand and I rest my right hand holding the brush on the mahl. It keeps your right hand out of the wet paint. I use the mahl stick for making straight lines or you can use it like a compass for doing curves. The rubber ball is stationary. If you want to do a circle or a perfect arc you can do it with the mahl stick.
Other tools include special cleaners and wax removers. If you are doing vehicles, you have to get all the wax off; if not the paint won’t dry. A new sign board will have some type of film on it and if you start painting before it has been cleaned properly, you get fish eyes. Sometimes with a vehicle, even though they are cleaned, you still get fish eyes in the paint. A fish eye is a little spot in the middle of letter that the paint seems to pull away from the back ground. There is a solution you can put in your paint. Adding one drop of solvent to half cup of paint will eliminate this problem. It makes it more flexible and will flow better.”
Margaret Grotek said, “With acrylic paint I have a little solution that I use when painting on plastic. You would put a few drops in and the paint would stick to the plastic. You know how paint crawls, so with this it won’t crawl on the plastic and it will dry.”
“It is probably the same stuff,” said Art McConnell. “Creeping paint is a good way of describing fish eyes. The paint crawls away from where you want it to be.
“Art McConnell spoke about making pounce patterns. These are a layout of a sign, with the letters just sketched with a pencil. All the lettering is perforated. Then you stick that pattern and tape to the door of the truck or whatever, rub it with a bag of chalk, talc or charcoal depending on the colour of the vehicle. The powder goes through the little perforations then you have an outline on one door of the lettering and you go on the other side of truck and do the same on the other side. Both doors will be identical for layout spacing. So If you have fleet of trucks you save yourself time and save problems occurring. I have hundreds of pounce patterns. Some are 30 years old, but I am still using them. One incidence is a big company of school buses. I have had to replace the pattern because it got worn out. I have done hundreds over the years. A pounce wheel is used to make a template or stencil.
“So to make that you can take a tracing off what ever you want to do. If you have one vehicle that is already done you can put the paper over it and trace on to the paper. There is a little wheel, a pounce wheel, It looks like a little sewing wheel. The diameter of wheel is maybe only a quarter of inch. You put a soft pad under the paper and run over all the lines end up with a pounce paper. You then sand the paper and that opens the holes and removes the little tabs of paper.
“The paints have changed some what. I am still using the same manufacturer of sign paints as I did when I started. The only change is they have taken the lead out of paint. When I started, all sign paints had lead. It was important to keep your nails clean with a nail brush because the poison can stay in the cuticles around nail. Eliminating the lead meant that some paints don’t cover as well as they used to.
“It is getting harder and harder to get one shot letter enamel plant. Now, there is nobody in Belleville that has that paint. Nobody who sells it. I have to get it in Toronto or Scarborough. I get it shipped. I can order it today and have it in two days. Also I can’t buy quills locally, they are very expensive. This is because signs are being done by computers. It is supply and demand. Even though the quality isn’t so good, people want it quick and they want it cheap. A lot of people don’t care about quality. This is fine if you want a temporary sign. Then there are the people who don’t want anything but paint. They want the traditional sign. I have a lot of customers who still want paint as they think it looks better. They do recognize the difference in quality.
“I have many customers that I have had for 20 and 30 years and they are still coming back. If you scratch something on a vehicle that has been hand painted you can easily touch it up. With vinyl you can’t. With vinyl if it tears or peels there is no way of fixing that. You have to replace it.
Stories from The Land
Dr. Jennifer Davis collected stories from 20 people in this area who live close to the land. This was part of her research for her doctorate at Queens University in the Department of Education. She is on the steering group of the A Growing Heritage project. This short video highlights some of the stories she was told.