The Way We Were
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the March 01, 2006 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Moving cattle from Low to Chelsea
by Catherine Joyce
Sherwood Ditchfield is in his 96th year, with memories as vivid as a young man's. There is a clarity about him and a smile that lights up his face. The handsome twenty-something in an early photograph still lives in this quiet, thoughtful man.
Born in Ottawa on Oct. 15, 1910, and raised in New Edinburgh, Sherwood moved at the age of fourteen with his three siblings, Harvey, Musie and Helen, to a farm in Fieldville just west of Low. "My dad had come from a farm and he decided he wanted to farm again. We were up there for two years - boy, it was hard work when you weren't used to it - before we came south to a holding on Pine Road at the corner of Cowden Road by Cross Loop.
"I remember the day we came down - my dad, my brother and me - we had to walk through the back country with our herd of 15 cattle. It took all day to cover 20 miles! What a cattle drive that was. I wouldn't want to do it again. We zigzagged down through Rupert and came out to the old highway at Alcove. A freight train was coming round the bend and when the engineer pulled that chain, he caused a stampede. Cows flew everywhere and we had the devil to round them up again. Finally we came up the long hill at Farm Point and into the Meech Creek Valley by the covered bridge. By nightfall we were home."
It was a hard life, coming of age in the Depression. Work was scarce with little money to be had. Sherwood worked on the railway and the new highway (105), cut ice from the river for the Gatineau Boom Company (1,500 blocks a winter), even spent two seasons (1931-32) on the Great Lakes as a "stoker with a poker" at 10 cents an hour. "You took what you could get, you couldn't demand more. Minimum wage came in after I retired."
Although there was never enough time for fun, Sherwood remembers the winter dances held in different homes - square dances that brought the young people out for miles around.
"One night I drove a group into the bush by sleigh with a team of horses to Dan Healey's. Paul Proulx always played the fiddle - how that lad could play was something else. He had no education but the music was in him.
"Cork tip cigarettes had just come in. We gave one to Paul. After a few more tunes he came back to me. 'Sherwood, you got any more of those cigarettes with the birch bark on them?' We laughed! In those days we were used to getting a packet of loose tobacco with papers for 10 cents.
"That night it snowed and when we came out, all the spruce trees were laden. I had to get the horses through, so I pulled the boughs back one by one, then let them go. Everyone sitting behind me got covered in snow! Most nights I could follow the moon and the stars but that night the horses knew their way home better than I."
When his dad died in 1947, Sherwood moved to a house in Larrimac, just south of Ardell's store. Soon he took over from Mr. Wilson as the greenskeeper for the Larrimac Golf club, making 85 cents an hour. He held that position for 27 years with a crew of young lads that soon included his three nephews, Harvey Ditchfield's David, Musie Brown's Jim and Helen Ravenscroft's John.
Days and nights of hard work and good fun, Sherwood Ditchfield still remembers them all.
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