The 30th in a series about my family tree
People who work the land know about team work. It’s the only way to get stuff done. Even now as my husband and I have stewardship over a horse farm we are more than aware of the team of people required to keep the place humming. We have a young woman who helps with the horses during the week. My husband, with the assistance of another family member, mows acres of lawn and takes care of most of the maintenance of buildings, fences, machinery, and the like. My responsibilities encompass a little bit of everything ~ barn duties on the weekend, maintaining the vegetation (including the veggie garden, tree and shrub care, etc.), building maintenance and cleaning, horse care, trimming (instead of mowing), the list goes on. Owning and operating a farm, as I’ve learned during the past seven years after spending most of my life as a city slicker, is not for the faint of heart. My husband and I have been our own pioneers, working as a team to figure things out as we go, relying on the knowledge and friendly advice of our neighbours and others in-the-know who’ve been down this road a lot longer than us. Our neighbour to the south helps with our trees. Across the road they supply us with round bales for the outdoor horses. Our neighbour to the north rents our fields and produces our hay. A team effort, to be sure.
Pioneering = Team Work
Much of my maternal ancestry is populated by pioneers who came from the Old World to settle in the New, whether via government arrangement, or religious/political necessity.
From the Palatines who fled Ireland in the early to mid 19th century, to the United Empire Loyalists who left everything behind in New England to start anew in Upper Canada in the late 1700s. From my Scottish military great grandfather who, in 1927, availed himself of an opportunity through the Canadian government’s Soldier’s Settlement Scheme to start again in the middle-of-nowhere Alberta, to the Puritans and others who took their chances in the wilds of the American Colonies in the 1600s, our ancestors threw heart and soul into creating new and, for the most part, better lives for themselves under the most arduous conditions.
Still, no matter where or when they landed taming the wilderness for the purpose of human habitation was a matter of team work. The “faith without works is dead” ethic applied. There were no free rides; everyone contributed any way they were able. Families helped families; neighbours worked side by side to clear land, build homesteads, harvest crops, and tend to the animals. It was a matter of survival and, ultimately, offered the best opportunity for everyone to thrive.
A detailed account of the United Empire Loyalists plight when first settling Upper Canada in the late 1700s can be found in an interesting short history entitled Pioneer Life Among the Loyalists in Upper Canada. The following excerpt touches on the initial clearing of property:
It was with difficulty that the lots could be located, as there was nothing to indicate the boundary lines but the “markers” placed by the surveyors. When the little family group arrived at their destination, they pitched their tent again, and the housewife busied herself in preparing their first meal in their new home, while the husband surveyed his domain, noting the character of the soil, the presence of creeks, mounds, and other conditions favourable for the first clearing and the erection of a house. That the selection was in most cases wisely made, is attested to-day by the excellent natural surroundings of the old homesteads.
As they partook of their first meal in their wilderness home they contrasted their primitive surroundings with the comforts and luxuries they had left behind them; but, with no regret for the sacrifices they had made, they laid their plans for the future. On the morrow the father, and the sons if there were any, and not infrequently the mother, too, set out to do battle with the forest. The short-handled ship axe, not much heavier than the modern hatchet, was their principal weapon. They laboured with a will and cleared a space large enough for the cabin.Source: Copy and image from Pioneer Life Among the Loyalists in Upper Canada, W.S. Herrington, 1915
“Team” events were known as “bees,” where the community gathered with many hands to make light work.
The life of the early settlers was not all work and drudgery. They had their hours of recreation, and what is best of all, they had the happy faculty, in many matters, of making play out of work. This was accomplished by means of “bees”. There were logging bees, raising bees, stumping bees, and husking bees for the men, while the women had their quilting bees and paring bees. The whole neighbourhood would be invited to these gatherings. It may be that upon the whole they did not accomplish more than could have been done single-handed, except at the raisings, which required many hands to lift the large timbers into place; but work was not the only object in view. Man is a gregarious animal and loves to mingle with his fellow men. The occasions for public meetings of any kind during the first few years were very rare. There were no fairs, concerts, lectures, or other public entertainments, not even a church, school, or political meeting, so, in their wisdom, the early settlers devised these gatherings for work—and work they did. but, Oh! the joy of it! All the latest news gathered from every quarter was discussed, notes were compared on the progress made in the clearings, the wags and clowns furbished up their latest jokes, and all enjoyed themselves in disposing of the good things brought forth from the corner cupboard.Source: Pioneer Life Among the Loyalists in Upper Canada, W.S. Herrington, 1915
Prairie Pioneers banding together
Pioneering in northern Alberta in the early 20th century was every bit as intense. While my great grandfather, William Alexander Gordon (1880-1954), did some of the initial farm work on his own, among his initial purchases was a horse, an axe and a rope, key to helping him clear the fields of stones and tree stumps. Indeed, teams of horses and oxen were considered invaluable to ensuring the expeditious transport of people, goods and materials.
The Final Word
No one is an island. The ability to stand on one’s own two feet is admirable, however it isn’t the be all and end all. An effective team provides moral support, shares knowledge and lends a hand without interfering in individual autonomy. It epitomizes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts idea. Together much is achieved when the vision, respect and end goal is commonly held. We’re all pioneers of one sort or another. Any time we begin down a new path we’re proving new territory. To do it effectively it helps to be surrounded by a support team of people we trust and who have traversed similar territory before. I look to my pioneering ancestors for inspiration. They knew what they were about. ❦
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