Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

Browns' Farm

Volume 20, page 22

Carol Martin

Browns‘ farm is a Gatineau landmark. Situated at the top of the hill on Highway 105 at the southern boundary of Kirk's Ferry, its landmark barns, silo and outbuildings are an attraction to artists and a reminder to residents and visitors that this was the last working farm in the hamlet.

Thomas Reid deed
Thomas Reid deed. Courtesy H. Reid.

Its development from forest to farm to suburban residence began about 175 years ago. Philemon Wright obtained the original land grant for this region in the early 1800s; his agent located the original settlers.

The story of this property comes from court and census records, and from family sources. It has been owned continuously by two families, the Reids and the Browns, who were related through marriage.

The original application for the land is dated September 21, I827. The grantee was Thomas Reid, a young Irishman from Tipperary, who was married to Philemon's niece, Lucy Wright. The petition for his land grant provides the following picture:

Lot 14, range 11. Located by the agent.
100 acres, 12 of them cleared.
1 house (no barns, no hives)
3 children, 5 horned cattle, 2 horses, 2 sheep, 3 hogs
l0 days‘ work on the road
60£ cash expended on the land.
100 acres of land recommended by the agent; 200, aggregate, recommended and located.
Emigrated from Ireland, arrived in the Province in I824, located on the land in 1826. “An industrious man and good farmer and wants a charter for a full lot."

He received it.1

The census of 1842 gives an idea of Thomas‘ and Lucy's progress: 30 acres were now cultivated, of which 10 were under pasture. In that year they produced the following:

30 bushels wheat 15 bushels barley
100 bushels oats
20 bushels peas
10 bushels corn
200 bushels potatoes
500 pounds maple sugar

They had 7 neat (common domestic] cattle, 3 horses, 14 sheep and 3 hogs. They had produced 15 yards of fulled cloth, 16 yards of flannel and 30 pounds of wool.

By 1851, the time of the next agricultural census, Thomas and Lucy had 40 acres cultivated, 30 of which were under crops and 10 under pasture

There were "no gardens or orchards", and 160 acres were "under wood or wild". This census provided information about yields:

wheat. 3 acres ..................20 bushels
peas, 2 acres ....................20 bushels
oats, 15 acres ................ 150 bushels
Indian corn, l acre................8 bushels
potatoes, 3 acres ..............40 bushels

There were 5 bushels of beans reported, and 12 tons of hay. Fifteen yards of fulled cloth, 30 yards of flannel and 50 pounds of wool were produced. Stock included 2 bulls, 4 milk cows, 1 calf, 3 pigs, 2 horses, 20 sheep. Fifty pounds butter, 1 beef barrel or hundredweight and 4 pork barrels were also listed. By comparison with other years enumerated, this would have been a disastrous year for potatoes — the total quantity was low and the usual yield per acre was 50 bushels. Maple sugar production was not listed for the farm in this year, although it likely took place.

In 1861 the cash value of the farm in dollars was given as $900, machinery was worth $228, and livestock valued at $336. Furthermore. the Reids had "1 pleasure carriage" which was valued at $50.

By 1871, 100 of their 215 acres2 were improved. Of these, 20 acres were in pasture, l acre in gardens and orchards, 5 acres in wheat, and 40 acres in Spring wheat. They produced: 300 bushels of oats, 20 bushels of peas, 2 bushels of beans, 60 pounds of grapes. Two acres in potatoes produced 100 bushels and 3 acres in hay produced 3 tons. They cut 60 cords of firewood.

Like other local farmers, the Reids had a range of livestock which included horses, cattle, sheep and pigs; by I871 they had 7 hives of bees which produced 100 pounds of honey. They produced butter but no home-made cheese, and 73 pounds wool. In that year they had no cattle killed or sold for slaughter or export, but 6 sheep and 3 swine were. They still produced cloth and flannel — 87 yards in that year, but trapped no furs.

Thomas and Lucy Wright had seven sons, and part of the farm was deeded to the youngest, Norman, in 1870. By then Norman's five living brothers had already established careers as merchants and part of the land had already been passed to his brother William who had a shoemaking business and was postmaster at Kirk's Ferry. The transfer provides insight into the farm stock and equipment:

Norman Reid's stock and equipment
Norman Reid's stock and equipment in 1870. C. Martin.

When Norman Reid died suddenly in 1889, he left a family of 5 children ranging from 17 down to 6 years of age. The succession passed to his daughter Maud3 who married Ferguson Brown of Cantley in 1906, and later to Maud and Ferguson's nephew Arthur Ferguson Brown, married to Musie Ditchfield.

Maud was memorable for the flower gardens she developed, including a rockery and magnificent stands of lilies. Somehow she made time for this hobby, as well as for some painting in oils and playing the harmonium for church services, in addition to traditional woman's work on the farm such as caring for the chickens and cleaning up the dairy equipment used for separating cream and making butter. Ferguson was a “good, comfortable farmer" — a good planner and good with the animals. However. Maud and Ferguson had no children of their own, and carried on the farming activities with the help of a hired man: Harry Trowsse for many years, then Fred St. Amour.

The Reid family and homestead
The Reid family and homestead, circa 1895. M. Brown.

The flooding of the river in 1926 covered the fields adjacent to its banks as well as the old highway and railway. A new railway line was constructed just above the flood-line, but the main road now cut across the farm. The main water source and spring area used for cooling the milk and cream were now located across a road that became increasingly busy with passing cars, not all of which were sensitive to the farming operations still going on. Musie Brown recalls that cattle were hit by cars at both the upper farm and at Kirk's Ferry; fortunately, none were killed,

Music recalls that Arthur considered going to work in British Columbia, where a member of the Brown family owned and operated a thriving sawmill. Perhaps this helped the family here to consider other alternatives - if Arthur were to work for or with a member of the family, why not on his uncle's farm a few miles from where he grew up and where his parents and other relatives lived? In 1941 he agreed to try out an arrangement working for Ferguson Brown: in 1942 he and Musie were married and moved to the farm. In the summertime, for 5 or 6 years, they lived in a "cottage" across the road; they would move into the spacious house with Maud and Ferguson during the winter months.

Work on the farm — haying, around 1920. M. Brown. (GVHS 1307/9)

By that time the property had increased to about 300 acres. This included farmland and a barn at Larrimac, probably acquired in the 1920s when some of the farmers were selling land as the Gatineau River was to be flooded and power dams built. The "upper farm" at Larrimac was used for crops such as oats and hay; it included their maple bush, and a potato and turnip patch. It was not a particularly convenient arrangement to manage two somewhat separated properties as this meant travel back and forth between the main and upper farms to plow, plant, cultivate, and mow or harvest. At least they did not have to travel there on a daily basis, since the livestock were kept at the main farm at Kirk's Ferry. The exception to this was in the autumn, after the crops were taken off the upper farm, when the cattle were moved up there to graze; they were stabled and milked there for a period each fall. Another occasional activity at the upper farm was making maple syrup (about l0 gallons a year in the 1950s). Winter activities included cutting ice on the river (to use for preserving food during the summer months) and cutting and drawing wood used for heating in the winter. Both ice and wood provided income for the farm.

By the 1940s they no longer sowed wheat or barley, although they continued to grow corn, oats and hay. Their stock included a herd of about 20 registered Holstein cattle, plus pigs, chickens, and two teams of horses. There were no longer any sheep. They sold “pure raw cream", butter and eggs at the farm. While they did not deliver the cream, a dairy took what they did not sell directly; the last to do so was the co-operative dairy at Farrellton. Some of the summer purchasers of butter wanted it in the winter as well; this meant that the Browns delivered it to Ottawa during the winter months. The skim milk was used for feeding the animals. Eggs were also shipped to a co-operative.

splitting wood
Work on the farm — splitting wood, around 1945. M. Brown. (GVHS 1306/9)

Most day-to-day income came from the sale of cream and eggs, ice, firewood and logs for lumber. The purebred herd of Holstein cattle was rare and breeding stock was sold for a good price — around $300 per cow in 1958, according to Jim Brown (Arthur's son). Sale of an occasional piece of property for a cottage or home provided periodic larger sums of cash. By the 1950s the farming was conducted more and more for the benefit of the family as a self-sufficient operation, except for a small quantity sold on-site directly to customers. Grain was ground at a local grist mill for the pigs and corn was turned to cattle feed. A vegetable garden had always been for the family's own use rather than for producing vegetables for sale, as were the strawberry plants and a few raspberry canes. The family all worked the farm; Musie, like other farm wives drove trucks and tractors, did the milking and cleaning up, fed stock, and many other chores from morning to night. When the children were old enough, they helped too. But hired help became more costly in the 1950s, and the family managed without.

A few years after Ferguson's death in 1960, the cows and teams of horses were phased out. Both farm properties were increasingly surrounded by houses, as local farmers sold lots to "city people" who found the distance not too far to commute a few miles in to Ottawa. The other farmer at Kirk's Ferry was Maud Brown's brother, Charlie Reid; he had begun winding down his operations and selling land for building cottages and homes. By this time, selling the land was more profitable than managing it as a farming operation.

Browns' farm barns
Browns' farm barns. January 1994. Photo C. Martin. (GVHS 1301/9)

Farming with livestock means that there can never be a day off or a holiday. Livestock near houses mean that fences must always be in good repair and gates kept shut, and travelling along an increasingly busy highway with farm vehicles or horses becomes hazardous and worrisome. It was still a wonderful place to live and raise a family; Musie and Arthur's children, Shirley and Jim, had riding horses and learned to sail on the now-flooded and peaceful Gatineau River, but their interests and careers meant that they were involved in other business lines than farming. Arthur Brown died in May, 1993; he had lived at the farm for over 50 years, and his widow Musie still lives there. Still standing in 1994 are the buildings which housed cattle, a barn and silo, chicken house, creamery, and maple sugaring house. The original farm house dating back to the 1850s, somewhat modified, overlooks the panorama of adjoining fields and the Gatineau River to the north and east. Browns‘ farm, a Gatineau landmark.

  1. The grant was registered October 9, 1847.
  2. They had added 30 acres by purchase from Andrew Blackburn in 1848. Subsequent census enumerations gave their acreage in l851 as 200, in 1861 as 230, and 1871 as 215. In 1994 the homestead and farm buildings remain on 10 acres.
  3. The eldest son, Ned, died of pneumonia in 1898; the next son Charlie married in 1905 and took up farming on part of the original land grant at Kirk's Ferry; the youngest, Arthur, became a banker. The other girl, Bertha, married George Edwin McConnell in 1907.

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