Our Stories

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.

Cheese making

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 info@farmtownpark.ca 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 info@farmtownpark.ca.

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.”

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.