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Wheat and Woman

Wheat and Woman

Copyright Date: 1979
Pages: 388
  • Book Info
    Wheat and Woman
    Book Description:

    Wheat and Womanis a fascinating record of a gifted and determined woman's experience in prairie farming and a unique document in Canadian social history.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5979-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. v-xxxii)

    It was very fitting that five horses should be grazing contentedly on Georgina Binnie-Clark’s farm near Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, when I visited on a sunny harvest day in September 2005, one hundred years after she purchased this land.¹ Just as she described the horses of long ago, ‘even these seemed invested with the Canadian spirit of inquiry and turned their heads to take stock of the passer-by.’² As readers ofWheat and Womanwill learn, Binnie-Clark was devoted to her horses and other members of her ‘four-footed family.’³ Although the house at the farm she called ‘Binning’ was destroyed by fire...

  3. Introduction
    (pp. xxxiii-lxvi)

    When the land around Fort Qu’Appelle was opened for homesteading in the early 1880s, the rich level plains above the river valley soon filled up with settlers. The pages of the Land Titles Registry in Regina bear witness to the influx. In 1883, for example, one John McLay filed on the northwest quarter of a section in township twenty, range thirteen west of the second meridian. Before the decade was out, Sam Brodie, Guy May, George Robb, and the Sam Carroll family had all taken up land along the Touchwood Trail, which joined the old fur-trading post of Fort Qu’Appelle...

  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  5. Table of Contents
    (pp. 3-4)

    • 1 Of agricultural equipment, horses, and hired men
      (pp. 7-15)

      ‘You gave me your word that if I bought the farm your son should take off the crop,’ I said. ‘We have been waiting nearly a week for the binder-reaper. Now that it has at last arrived and everything is ready, your son isn’t here. Of what use, do you suppose, is eighty acres of wheat, or eighty thousand acres, if we can’t get it off?’

      ‘He’ll not be taking less than four and a half dollars a day for himself and team, I guess,’ shouted my predecessor on the note of explanation.

      ‘I don’t care what he charges,’ I...

    • 2 The custom of deferred payment – a prairie storm
      (pp. 16-21)

      On the following morning I started for Fort Qu’Appelle very early in order to avoid driving in the intense heat of midday. But Charles Edward was in his most grudging mood, and we arrived in sight of the Lake of the Woods Elevator just in time to see every one going to twelve o’clock dinner. Charles Edward settled himself to a bunch of sweet-smelling hay in one of the narrow stalls of the spacious livery barn, after nodding his head with angry but vain intelligence towards the bag containing the oats which I gave to the ostler to be given...

    • 3 A vagabond garden
      (pp. 22-29)

      I knew nothing whatever of the law of crops beyond the fact that one must never ride over anything that springs at springtime. On the night of the storm I concluded that in its rage and fury it must have laid low the golden harvest, but I was much too wet and uncomfortable to care. However, in the morning the grain was standing erect, all fresh and sparkling from its bath; only the land itself was far too sodden to permit the binder to travel, and the harvest field was abandoned for the day.

      The son of my predecessor borrowed...

    • 4 Of harvest, wages, the cost of implements and plant
      (pp. 30-40)

      ‘Is everything ready?’ I inquired of Lai, who had brought me a cream-decked cup of tea, an attention with which he never failed to meet the early morning no matter how firmly we had decided to differ the night before.

      ‘The horses are ready and your stookers have just turned out of bed. I have been up the last two hours – fed everything, groomed the horses. We ought to finish to-day, as our neighbour expects to finish his oats before dinner and is coming along to help us through. But the Jehu of the binder has not turned up yet.’...

    • 5 Threshing
      (pp. 41-48)

      ‘Have you made any arrangements about threshing?’ inquired our neighbour. ‘Because if you have not, Guy Mazey will take on your job and mine as soon as he has finished his own. It’s only a small outfit, but he is a reliable chap and will thresh our crops as carefully as his own. Russell Haynes wants him to go there, but if you agree he will come straight through to us after he has threshed himself out, and then go on to Haynes and finish. I don’t think you will do better. There aren’t many outfits round this year.’


    • 6 Wheat sales – the fall of the leaf – Le Bret
      (pp. 49-61)

      My brother and I had come to an arrangement by which he worked for me at the rate of twenty dollars a month, and over the business of hauling the grain he was far and away the best man at the game that ever fell to my lot. He got up at daylight, cooked his own breakfast, and we usually heard the wheels of the wagon as the sun rose up from the horizon. He made the fourteen miles of distance to South Qu’Appelle, which at that time was my nearest wheat town, in about three and a half hours,...

    • 7 Friends and acquaintances in Fort Qu’Appelle
      (pp. 62-71)

      Hilaria vowed that as she was not remaining in the country there was no need for her to pay calls or go to church.

      It was not altogether surprising about church because on the only occasion we had an opportunity of being present at an Anglican service during our summer on the prairie the clergyman, who took morning service at his other parish twenty-three miles west, and afternoon service at his third parish ten miles west, had been an involuntary absentee; and in spite of the fact that the lay-reader did his best with that portion of the liturgy where...

    • 8 Winter quarters – Springbrook school – a political meeting
      (pp. 72-80)

      Hilaria and I drove silently out of the convent gates at Le Bret and looked about for inspiration. The nuns would have none of me. The Reverend Mother was courteous, but unyielding. The number of nuns was short, one had been sent away for her health, and none had been sent to take her place. The pupils required much care and attention; there was none to spare for boarders. She advised me to go on to the old convent, which was then being used as a boarding-house, and was under the care of people she could thoroughly recommend.

      The old...

    • 9 At home by the lake shore – of Canadian diversion
      (pp. 81-89)

      My first day at the Clyst was the ‘day of rest’ At luncheon I found the two girls had returned from their convent to spend Sunday, and in the afternoon they took me out on the lake in their canoe. It was November 18, the sun was glorious, and even the water of the lake not really cold; but although in 1905 snow did not fall until mid-December, the night frost must have been strong, because on December 5 I walked across the ice-capped lake to my first glimpse of a charming but deserted bungalow in a curve of the...

    • 10 Nancy – the second payment – the first loss
      (pp. 90-98)

      I was due to make the second payment of a thousand dollars on January 1, 1906. In November I clearly saw that I could not pay the whole of it, in December that I could not pay any of it, and I had to send to England to ask for a further advance of two hundred pounds. At the time I had received three hundred and fifty pounds in addition to the sum I had taken for wheat. That year I was not due to pay interest. For the remaining six hundred and thirty pounds due on the land I...


    • 1 A daughter of the prairie – the coming of Nancy
      (pp. 101-106)

      I went back to my farm determined to remain in personal charge until it could be left to fulfil its role of a successful revenueproducing investment in the hands of others. I had not the remotest idea that I was entering on a phase of strenuous labour, and had certainly no intention of sparing more than two years of my life, into which I hoped to gather all that was worth while in every corner of the globe, to the proving of agricultural or any other kind of labour on the Canadian prairie. By way of tempering the wind to...

    • 2 The mirage of spring – my first chore-boy – a new horse and a new man – seeding
      (pp. 107-119)

      Just as the enchanting season known as the Indian summer usually precedes the severity of the Canadian winter, so does a twin-sister of enchantment, which is as a mirage of spring, frequently break into the monotony of winter temperature, sending zero and its baffling blizzards away on the wings of the four winds with just one soft breath of delicate and delicious sweetness. Sometimes the blessed break is as a tiny oasis in the desert, lasting but a day or so; sometimes it lingers on for two or three weeks. Snow melts, ice shutters abandon the window-panes with a crash,...

    • 3 Chore-boys – ‘the beautiful necessity’ – the story of a plough
      (pp. 120-127)

      Heriot Hylton-Cave received my decision concerning his exit with philosophy, and frankly acquiesced in the opinion that an experienced chore-boy would be better for me, and a farmer of experience better for him. He accepted the offer of Danny McLeay, and arranged to go at the end of the month.

      On April 20 the Hardwicks arrived. They were a prepossessing pair of well-built, well-dressed, manly, healthy Britons. Hating to abandon British customs, and hating even more to cheapen the privilege of the using of front names, I distinguished them as Hardwick major and minor on the first evening my neighbour...

    • 4 Dairy-produce – fencing – milking – gardening – Victoria Day
      (pp. 128-140)

      Roddy McMahon agreed to work for me for a time at one dollar fifty a day and without horses. It was a great relief, as I had already bought two hundred bushels of oats at thirty cents a bushel, and had also started to realize the fundamental commercial law of remunerative farming, namely, that one must never buy anything in the way of food for stock, and very little for household need. Food for man and beast should be raised on the farm, groceries and fresh meat should be obtained in exchange for dairy produce, the great point being to...

    • 5 An Irishman’s fortune – stoning the land
      (pp. 141-149)

      On the morning after Victoria Day Roddy McMahon introduced me formally to the Irishman, whom he addressed as ‘pat.’

      ‘I guess he must be pretty badly broke/he explained. ‘He come up to me just as I was leaving the picnic and asked me to ask Jack Leader if he could sleep in his barn. I said, “I guess you must want a job all right.” “I do that,” said he. “I can put you straight on to the trail,” said I, “if you come along back with me right now.” I told him I guessed you would be willing to...

    • 6 The rains of June – haying – harvest
      (pp. 150-166)

      On the Canadian prairie the harvest depends on the ‘rains of June.’ In 1906 these’ rains of June’ fell in floods, and one saw the grain literally leap up from the earth to meet them. Mabel Mazey hardly ever came over just then, but her sister Pearl kept the weekly tryst with my household chores, which, however, only occasionally included the washing. From her I learned that Mabel was busy on the farm with disc and harrows, and even with the breaking plough, and every week used to hear how much work had been done on Guy Mazey’s land.


    • 7 The harvest of my first seeding
      (pp. 167-178)

      It is recorded in my diary that within the first week of my release from the service of men many weak spots revealed themselves in the armour which the daily round and common task forged upon me in my first season on the farm. On the first day I met with bad luck. I was due to fetch barley chop from Guy Mazey for the well-being of my pigs, but Nancy burst her halter and made off, and refused to be caught until after sunset. It is registered that I failed to milk that night. On the following day comes...


    • 1 Of fuel and fear – the end of the year
      (pp. 181-193)

      In winter my cottage could not be described as cosy, although now and then, when men have been in residence, I have sometimes had to fly from the Scylla of a burning fiery furnace within, to the Charybdis of the temperature outside, no matter to what degree below zero it may have chosen to fall.

      Jack Douglas curled up at the first breath of winter, but many newcomers curl and uncurl. Within a few hours of its first appearance, the snow lay very deep in the bluffs, and only the slenderest instalment of fuel had been felled and brought in....

    • 2 Preparing seed-grain – newcomers
      (pp. 194-205)

      Heavy snowstorms fell in the first weeks of the New Year, but I pursued my programme with the horses, who in all kinds of weather spent some hours of each day in the open. I forsook the green room and spent my days in the kitchen, since the wood pile visibly decreased, and I knew that in the North-West lack of fuel is not a case of Spartan endurance but a matter of life or death. But January 10 was bright and clear, and I attempted a journey to Fort Qu’Appelle. Not caring to take the wagon-box and team through...

    • 3 The seeding month – the coming of Felicity
      (pp. 206-213)

      April came, my very own month, and I forgot it. I lay in bed long after my friend the sun had risen, and positively without excuse since it was a fine and gracious morning, warm and exquisitely bright, with that indescribable quality of exhilaration in the air which we name the joy of life and in our hearts prize more truly than any other gift. When I had worked my way through chores that couldn’t be avoided, I claimed the first of April's days as holiday, and walked over to John McLeay’s with Pax, whose unbounded delight was good to...

    • 4 The land and the man
      (pp. 214-227)

      At the end of the seeding month I had to find a new hired man. My shrunken capital absolutely forbade me to hire a man and team, no matter how strong was the argument for the land’s sake. But if only I had been strong enough to take that special chance, I should have saved myself eventually much anxiety, worry, disappointment, grave financial loss, and possibly the life of a horse.

      Nothing need trouble any farmer but this matter of working expense, since for labour one can train oneself to fill all emergency. But horse power or steam power is...

    • 5 Shadow and scythe beneath the sword
      (pp. 228-238)

      It was about this time that divers members of a party of British immigrants who had come over to work on the main line of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway between Winnipeg and Edmonton found fault with their work and left it, I believe in several cases long before they had worked out the balance of their fares, according to arrangement with the British shipping authorities who had sent them out.

      On their way down from Kutawa they passed my brother’s stopping-house, and it appears that he told them that I should probably be able to recommend them work in...

    • 6 Summer diversion – law and labour – Patrick O’Hara and Si Booth
      (pp. 239-250)

      Tennis and dancing were the favourite forms of diversion in the historic village of Fort Qu’Appelle, which since the coming of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway has developed the plain and useful features of a town without losing any of the attraction of its exquisite environment which blesses the trail of the Qu’Appelle valley all the way.

      One cannot dance through the summer months even in the cool region of the Qu’Appelle lakes; but the tennis club of Fort Qu’Appelle has all the distinction of tradition defended by the force of exclusion. At one time, to be known as a...

    • 7 The frozen harvest of 1907
      (pp. 251-264)

      In a way the actual coming of the frost was a positive relief. The strain of suspense was over, the sword had fallen and hope was dead.

      On the morning following the frost I stooked oats and I hoped Si Booth would go out with the binder, but he told me the heavy wheels would not turn over the sodden ground, and that he doubted that he would be able to start even on the morrow. However, on the next afternoon I called him in triumph to hear the hum of my neighbour’s binder; but it ceased almost as suddenly...

    • 8 The day of reckoning – auf wiedersehen
      (pp. 265-272)

      I had turned the corner of 1906 with a big deficit on the account of my working expenses. In 1907 I took less than five hundred dollars for my wheat, pigs, and butter in cash; but I had sold a great deal of meat and butter and eggs to my neighbour, although I had to purchase of him oats for my horses as I was insufficiently supplied. My working expenses for 1907 amounted to just over one thousand and fifty dollars. It must not be forgotten that this is the story of an individual working out an experiment with very...


    • 1 The seed – the passing of a prairie fire
      (pp. 275-286)

      I got back to South Qu’Appelle by the early train on April 14, 1908. Things had gone well with me. All the world was interested in Canada; I was possessed of practical and first-hand information. Offers of work from various magazines approached my pen, and although I was by no means out of the wood, many of the brambles which beset the way within were rendered removable. But on the morning I got back and fell off the train in the usual place and manner, which is always very far in the rear of the platform at South Qu’Appelle, gloom...

    • 2 The blade – the ear – the full corn
      (pp. 287-300)

      It was on the twenty–second day from sowing that I paused in some gardening one evening to notice that my summer-fallow field was flecked with bright green wheat-blades; then came early rain, and it raced ahead. Only here and there the regular lines were inclined to run out of form – in places it was strangely over-luxuriant.

      ‘Your wheat is well forward,”said my neighbour,’ but very over–thick here and there. It seems to me that the seeder has been playing you false. It looks as though it had become choked, and then discharged the blocked seed with a flush...

    • 3 Sales, mortgage – ‘a larger heaven’
      (pp. 301-313)

      Three reasons contributed towards the expensive mistake I made in again selling ‘on the street,’ but the last weighed down both the others. My crop was naturally divided into three grades as it was drawn from new breaking, stubble crop sown on breaking, and a certain amount from dirty land, so that it was impossible to fill a carload without mixing. Secondly, I had omitted to order my car until there were very many names on the railway list; lastly, I had to meet a promissory note for a sum of over five hundred dollars. I discussed financial affairs with...