Century Farm

When William John McLean travelled from Aberfoyle, Ont. in the mid-1890s to homestead 160 acres south of Devlin, his father, James, wrote to him doubting a life of farming would prove itself here.
“From reading about the Rainy River District, I understand that a portion of the Rainy River Valley is well adapted for agricultural purposes, and while the lumbering industry is active . . . when lumbering activity ceases, where will your markets for agricultural products be?
“You are situated too far inland, too far from the ocean, from the great centres of population, and from the markets of the world.” (Sept. 21, 1895).
Little did James McLean know that 105 years later, his descendants would still be here operating one of the longest-running family farms in the district.
As fate would have it, though, William John McLean died a young man, leaving the farm, the work load, and the raising of two children to his wife, Jessie.
She could have given it all up but thanks to her hardy spirit, the farm continued to thrive until her son was old enough to take over.
Designated a “Century Farm” in 1998 by the Junior Farmers of Ontario, the farm is now in the hands of Jessie’s grandson, Bill McLean, who inherited it from his dad, Arnold.
“[My grandmother] operated it for years–she sold cream, raised chickens, kept the eggs, hired help in the summer months for little or no money,” said Bill McLean, now in his 60s.
“It was all hands labour back then . . . . I don’t know why she stayed.”
But given the unique bond farmers seem to have with their land, chances are good Jessie McLean’s reasons for sticking it out were the same as Bill’s.
“I [farm] for the love of it,” he said, now raising 150 head of beef cattle on a farm that’s grown to 1,000 acres.
“You put a lot of hours in–and everything you make you put back into it,” he remarked. “The only good thing is that you’re not punching a clock. I like the freedom of not working for somebody else.”
“You gotta love it–that’s what it boils down to,” agreed his son, Todd McLean, 36, who’s also got the farming bug when he’s not working his job at the Abitibi-Consolidated mill here.
“The farm has always been important to me ever since I was young and my dad used to carry me on his shoulders to the barn,” he recalled.
Delbert Redford, 57, knows a little something about farming heritage, too. The Emo farmer is a descendant of an century ago pioneer named Stephen Redford, who homesteaded from eastern Ontario in 1896.
Redford still lives on land owned by his grandfather and father–land he said has taught him everything about the importance of carrying on tradition.
“We’re still here–it’s a great heritage,” Redford said Monday evening. “I’ve been connected to this property since I was a child and I would never change a moment of it.
“Today, people say ‘Oh, you don’t really want to be a farmer?’ but I don’t believe that. It’s still the best job you could ever have,” he stressed.
What worries Redford, though, is the future of his farm, and of farming in general. Single with no children, he isn’t sure who he’ll pass the legacy to.
“Farming was something you learned from the time you were a kid from your father and mother–and it isn’t something you can learn everything about [today] in agricultural school,” he reasoned.
Redford’s neighbour, Russell Fisher, 90, a longtime farmer, also is proud of his heritage, which began here in the 1880s when his dad, Charles, homesteaded from Ringwood, Ont.
Charles Fisher raises shorthorn cattle and Clydesdale horses.
Russell Fisher and his wife, Mary, 83, still live in the 100-year-old farmhouse, built by his dad. The Fisher farm also has been designated a “Century Farm.”
“When my dad moved in here, there was no road from the river, just a trail,” said Fisher.
“He homesteaded 80 acres and when he had 15 acres cleared, there was a pre-emption that allowed him to buy 80 acres more, which he did at .50 cents an acre,” he recounted.
“When I was 14, my dad said to me ‘Are you going to go to school or get to work? I got to work [farming] and I’m not sorry,” he said.
“And we always worked hard at farming but we had a lot of fun over it, too,” interjected his wife.
“We had a variety of pigs, hens, turkeys, sheep. At one time we had 100 pigs–whatever we thought was going to make money,” he added.
Their son, Ken, a school bus driver, now runs the cattle farm. While he’s not sure where the future will lead with it, he’s not about to let his worries get in the way of pure enjoyment.
“I think about [the future of the farm] and I really don’t know,” Ken Fisher admitted yesterday. “I do have a three-year-old granddaughter who just loves the cattle,” he said.
“[Farming] is a lot of work but you expect that,” he added. “I like it because I’m doing something different every day.
“Just like this morning when I go out, I don’t know if I’ll have four new calves or 10–but that’s good,” he concluded.
A “Century Farm” is designated by Junior Farmers of Ontario only after three prerequisites are met, including being in active production, owned and operated by a direct descendant of original farmer, and if someone is living on the property.
The only other designated “Century Farm” is the Herman farm south of Emo. Other district farms have applied for “Century Farm” status but have not yet been recognized.

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