The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the November 14, 2012 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Interest in plowing bogged after soggy Rupert match

by Tonia Kelly

I saved the Sept. 12, 2012 edition of The Low Down, featuring the article on the mucky Rupert Fair, because a dear friend was coming to lunch that week.

For Margo (Smith) McMurray, now living in Kingston, Ont., the story evoked happy memories of another soggy, mucky affair in Rupert.

She competed in the Lower Gatineau County Plowing Association competition on Oct. 1, 1952 - 60 years ago - when she was nine years old.

The Way We Were
Leaning over the back of the tractor-drawn plow, nine-year-old Margo Smith, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Smith of Rupert, Que., checks her furrows for evenness and finds them straight and true. She was an entrant in the junior competition of the Lower Gatineau Plowing Match yesterday. Journal Staff Photo.

The Smith family - Margo, her brothers Ronnie and Wyman, and their parents, the late Clarence and Hazel (Cross) Smith - lived on their family farm between Lascelles and Rupert which is now owned by Gib and Chantal Drury

McMurray's father had already taught Margo to drive the tractor.

"He figured if I could drive the tractor I could learn to plow," says McMurray. "So before the plowing match, he took me up into the hill field and I had to practise. I've never plowed since!"

She was the youngest of some 60 competitors of all ages.

"I remember being awarded $5, a ham, and a case of motor oil," she laughs. "My father was really happy with the oil."

Doug Nesbitt now owns the farm where the plowing match was held (it was then owned by Joe Nesbitt, his father Marshall's first cousin).

The farm is readily identified by Nesbitt Lake, seen from the road on the left hand side, just outside Rupert on the road to Masham. Nesbitt drove his tractor in the plowing match that day

"I'd just come back from my honeymoon a week before," he recalls. "I bought the farm from my father in 1951, and I bought a tractor the same year... There were tractors around, but not a lot at that time. It was later in the '50s and '60s that tractors really took over."

Nesbitt remembers plowing with horses, and that it was hard to get a good plow team.

"At a plowing match they like the horses to walk very slowly, and it's not every team that will," he says. "The righthand horse walks down in the furrow, the other horse is up on the sod. The furrow keeps a straight line then."

And he remembers the horse draw.

"It started to rain, it was too wet in the field," says Nesbitt, "so they closed the road to cars and finished the horse draw on the road."

The draw would begin with a couple of big stones on the wagon. "The team would start off light, then each time as they take the load out they'd put more weight on it," he says.

"It's a profession now," he says, "not a horse draw for fun anymore, it's all they do. People travel to fairs, some will go with five or six teams, kind of spoiled it a bit from where it used to be."

The headline of a story in The Ottawa Journal the next day read: "60 Hardy Entrants Compete in Rupert Plowing Match," and special mention was made of McMurray's aunt, Margo Cross of Chelsea, wife of the late Billy Cross:

"Even stubborner than the rain-drenched farmers on the field was a rain-drenched former Ottawa girl... A former bank clerk in Ottawa until she took up rural life two years ago following her marriage, the 24-year-old woman was the only female entrant in the senior tractor plowing competition and gamely stuck it out to the bitter end."

For anyone who still remembers that long ago competition, it will come as no surprise that Clarence Smith was master of ceremonies for the day's events.

Those old tractors have no doubt rusted away, and many fine, hard-working people and horses have passed on.

Yet while quietly absorbing the conveniences of modern life, the undisturbed Gatineau village of Rupert and its surrounding farms have preserved the cherished traditions of its rural past.

Ed. note: Tonia Kelly is a resident of Perth who maintains her Rupert roots via a cottage at Johnston Lake.

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