The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 30 no 8, March 2019. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
International Women’s day is March 8, 2019. This is to recognize the hardships and importance of all our farmers equally ... female farmers too!
Ann Blackburn’s story is typical of many Cantley “farm wives”.
Until 1940, Quebec women were not legally recognized; they could not vote. Yet, the hard work and responsibilities of farm wives meant they were, in fact, equal partners with their farm husbands. Without them, farms would not have survived.
Ann Elizabeth Last (1913 – 2006), known as “Toots”, grew up on Hull’s Montclair Street with her sister, 2 brothers and father. Her mother died six months after her brother was born. Ann went to school on Wright Street in Hull where she met her lifelong friend from Cantley, Doris Gow (granddaughter of Donald Gow, owner of “the Gow”/Blackburn Mine). The two friends were inseparable. In winter, Ann even skied from Hull to Cantley to visit Doris.
Ann and Doris enjoyed Saturday night dances at Cantley’s Orange Hall. There, Ann met her future husband Russel Blackburn. In 1936 they married and spent the rest of their lives on their Cantley farm on the Allen Road (now River Road).
Times were tough in the “Dirty 30s” with the Great Depression, especially for farmers.
Ann soon learned the hard-working life of a Cantley farm wife. Housework, laundry, meals and raising her four children were done without electricity, indoor plumbing, toilet or running water. Besides these responsibilities, she had many daily farm chores. She fed the pigs, chickens, ducks, geese and looked after the cows. She did the milking, separated the milk and churned butter.
In summer, Ann tended the garden, picked wild berries and made preserves for winter. With other women, she organized social events for the community. She baked for church events, parties, picnics and working “bees”. At threshing time, she fed the ten or more hungry friends who came to the farm for a week to help.
At haying time, Ann loaded hay from the wagon with the fork on to the horse-pulled track that went to Russel in the hay loft above. When Russel shouted “trip”, she pulled a rope releasing the hay at just the right moment to land in the right spot. In autumn she helped Russel with the harvest, preparing, preserving and storing the produce and stacking firewood.
Winter was particularly lonely. Russel spent days away harvesting ice, cutting firewood, or selling these at Ottawa’s Byward market. He was often gone for days to plough roads elsewhere. Ann was left to do the farm work. Daily in winter, towing her four young children on the toboggan, Ann kept the 640 metre trail to the creek open for the cows. She then smashed a hole in its ice so the cows could drink the water.
By the late 1950s, life became easier for Ann and her family with the advent of electricity, plumbing, telephone and television. She survived cancer and a heart attack living to be 93-years-old.
Ann believed her life was hard but rewarding.