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A picture of Ontario farming in 1881

As part of the preparation for my presentation “Agriculture: Was Your Ancestor on the Cutting Edge?” at the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Conference 2016, I spent days reading a government report—five lengthy volumes. Sounds like fun, eh? Actually, I was riveted. Just ask the friends and relatives who happened to talk to me during those days—and were regaled with arcane facts about the benefits of salt as fertilizer, or the ravages of robins in cherry orchards, Holstein hesitation, or the turnip revolution.

We often think of farming as a traditional occupation—something that hasn’t really changed much. But that is not and was never the case. Farmers had to react and adapt to changing conditions like climate, technology, economics, new markets and new competitors. Some farmers did more than adapt. They set out to be the most productive by innovating with new techniques and processes, products, and marketing.open book

The Department of Agriculture and its various predecessor and successor agencies published some wonderfully rich reports on many subjects—evaluations of agriculture in a particular region or a specialized branch of agriculture like fruit growing or dairying.

One of the most important is the 1881 report of the Ontario Agricultural Commission. This is a very detailed account of agriculture across the province. The Commissioners held information-gathering interviews with farmers and other agricultural experts. The sessions were transcribed and show the knowledge and sometimes strong opinions held by the interview subjects. Published as appendices of “evidence”, they are often extensive, including information about immigration and family.

All five volumes of the 1881 report have been digitized and are available free at the addresses listed. I have indexed the names of the interview subjects and other major players. Even if the index doesn’t include your ancestor, I encourage you to look at farmers in the same geographic area or the same industry to understand the challenges they faced. Neighbours and colleagues are frequently mentioned in the interviews.

Ontario Agricultural Commission, Report of the Commissioners, 3rd edition. Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1881. [Volume I]
https://archive.org/details/cihm_61891

Volume II
https://archive.org/details/cihm_61892
Appendix B: Containing returns relating to the soil, climate, topographical features, cultivatable area and products of, and the process and condition of husbandry*

Volume III
https://archive.org/details/cihm_61893
Appendix C: Evidence relating to fruit growing and forestry
Appendix D: Evidence relating to grape culture and wine making
Appendix E: Evidence relating to insects and insectivorous birds
Appendix F: Evidence relating to bee farming

Volume IV
https://archive.org/details/cihm_61894
Appendix G: Evidence related to general farming and management of crops and stock
Appendix H: Evidence related to the various breeds of cattle and sheep and to wool, pigs and pork packing
Appendix I: Evidence relating to grazing, feeding, and shipping cattle and sheep
Appendix J: Evidence relating to dairy farming, cheese factories, creameries, and the butter trade

Volume V
https://archive.org/details/reportofcommissi05onta
Appendix K: Evidence relating to horse breeding
Appendix L: Evidence relating to breeds of poultry and egg production
Appendix M: Evidence relating to salt in connection with agriculture and cognate industries
Appendix N: Evidence relating to the use of gypsum, phosphates, bone dust, and other fertilizers
Appendix O: Evidence relating to special crops, flax, tobacco and beans
Appendix P: Evidence relating to agricultural education*
Appendix Q: Evidence relating to meteorology in connection with agriculture*
Appendix R1: Report of Messrs Wm. Brown, Edward Stock, and A.H. Dymond, on their visit…to the electoral district of Muskoka and Parry Sound
Appendix R2: Evidence taken in the electoral district of Muskoka and Parry Sound
Appendix S1: Report on Manitoulin Island, and the Sault Ste. Marie District
Appendix S2: Report upon observations made during a visit to Great Britain…*
Appendix S3: Report…on agricultural education in Tennessee*
Appendix S4: Report on the productions of the County of Essex*

NOTE: Appendices marked with an asterisk* did not contain enough personal information to be included in the index.

Name Indentifier Town/township County/District Appendix Page
Allan, A. McD. Goderich D 25
Allan, Alexander McD. Goderich Huron C 74
Allan, John Gypsum manufacturer Paris Brant N 27
Allan, McD. Goderich Huron E 103
Allan, Sen. George W. Moss Park Toronto York C 181
Anderson, James Puslinch Wellington H 33
Anderson, James [Guelph] Wellington L 7
Armstrong, John McKellar Parry Sound R2 40
Armstrong, John S. Eramosa Wellington H 28
Arnold, C. Paris Brant D 23
Arnold, Charles Paris Brant C 55
Arnold, Charles Paris Brant E 102
Ashdown, James Humphrey Parry Sound R2 31
Badger, James McDougall Parry Sound R2 45
Ballantyne, Thomas Cheese exporter Stratford Perth J 27
Ballantyne, Thomas Cheese maker Stratford Perth M 20
Barrie, Alexander North Dumfries Waterloo N 12
Beadle, D.W. Fruit Growers Association [St. Catharines] Niagara C 1
Beadle, D.W. St. Catharines D 19
Beadle, W.D. St. Catharines Lincoln E 101
Beall Lindsay D 23
Beall, Thomas Fruit Growers Association Lindsay Victoria C 48
Beall, Thomas Lindsay Victoria F 10
Beattie, John Pork packer Seaforth Huron H 94
Beattie, John Seaforth Huron O 6
Beith, Robert Darlington Durham K 97
Beley, B.S. Humphrey Parry Sound R2 24
Bell, James T. Prof at Albert College Belleville Hastings G 128
Bennet, Mr. Ste Marie Algoma S1 12
Benson, W.T. Cardinal Edwardsburg Grenville G 43
Bethune, Rev Charles J.S. Insect expert Port Hope Northumberland E 22
Bird, Henry J. Woolen manufacturer Bracebridge Muskoka R2 7
Black, James Ramsay Lanark G 110
Black, John Stock buyer Fergus Wellington I 48
Black, Robert Stock buyer Fergus Wellington I 50
Britton, James Cattle buyer Toronto York I 7
Broder, Andrew Butter exporter West Winchester Dundas J 21
Brodie, William Bird expert E 15
Brown Prof at Ontario Agricultural College Guelph Wellington G 166
Brown, James Port Elgin Bruce C 164
Brown, W.H. Saw miller Baysville Muskoka R2 13
Bucke, P.E. Ottawa Carleton C 67
Bucke, P.E. Ottawa Carleton D 24
Bucke, P.E. Ottawa Carleton E 103
Buckland, George Prof at Kings College Toronto York G 155
Cady, Edwin Kingsville Essex C 99
Caldwell, David Nurseryman Elora Wellington G 194
Caldwell, David Waterloo C 136
Caldwell, William C. Lanark village Lanark C 141
Campbell, Neil J. Nelson Halton N 22
Cann, William Huntsville Muskoka R2 19
Cash, Edward Butter buyer Seaforth Huron J 35
Chaplin, W.H. Newcastle village Durham C 147
Chaplin, W.S. Newcastle Durham E 104
Chapman, Richard Korah Algoma S1 12
Clark, Peter Montague Leeds G 108
Clarke, Hugh Brampton Peel H 52
Clay, John Jr Bow Park Farm Brantford Brant G 1
Clements, Rev Vincent Bird expert Peterborough Peterborough E 97
Cochran, Andrew Ramsay Lanark G 112
Cochrane, James Kilsyth Derby Grey G 150
Cockburn, George Baltimore Hamilton Northumberland K 95
Cole, Zachariah Ridout Muskoka R2 12
Coleman, Dr. T.T. Salt manufacturer Seaforth Huron M 5
Courtice, William Darlington Durham H 69
Cowan, James Waterloo Waterloo N 3
Cresswell, G. Edwin Tuckersmith Huron M 22
Daly, Peter R. Thurlow Hastings J 40
Davidson, William Watt Muskoka R2 19
Davies, William Pork packer Toronto York H 88
Davies, William Pork packer Toronto York M 28
Dawson, John Sault Ste Marie Algoma S1 12
Dempsey, M.P.C. Albany [Albury] Prince Edward E 102
Dempsey, P.C. Albury Prince Edward D 22
Dempsey, P.C. Prince Edward F 6
Demsey, P.C. Fruit Growers Association Albury Prince Edward C 35
Dickson, James Tuckersmith Huron G 38
Diermann, Rev. H. Missionary R2 36
Doel, William H. Doncaster Toronto York L 3
Donald, James Sheep buyer Dalhousie Lanark I 59
Donald, James Dalhousie Lanark E 97
Donaldson, John A. Flax expert Toronto York O 8
Dougall, James Windsor Essex C 106
Dougall, James Windsor Essex E 103
Douglas, John Blantyre St. Vincent Grey G 146
Douglass, Donald Percy Northumberland H 68
Dovey, Isaac Medora Muskoka R2 22
Drury, Charles Crown Hill Barrie Simcoe G 24
Edwards, Mr. Tarantorus Algoma S1 12
Elliot, R.W. Wholesale druggist Toronto York I 41
Elliott, Alanson Colchester Essex G 68
Elliott, Andrew North Dumfries Waterloo G 100
Elliott, Andrew Woolen manufacturer Almonte Lanark H 86
Elliott, Andrew North Dumfries Waterloo N 15
Fisher, John McKellar Parry Sound R2 40
Foreman, William Port Carling Muskoka R2 24
Fowke, Thomas Lount Parry Sound R2 36
Fraser, James M. Gordon and Gore Bay Manitoulin S1 7
Garnier, Dr. John H. Bird expert Lucknow Bruce E 99
Geary, John London? Middlesex I 28
Gibson, David North Dumfries Waterloo N 16
Gibson, John Millikens Markham York G 91
Gile, John Bastard Leeds J 44
Gilmour, Joseph Ridout Muskoka R2 7
Girardot, Theodore Sandwich Essex D 12
Govenlock, Thomas Seaforth? Huron I 44
Govenlock, Thomas Salt manufacturer Seaforth Huron M 25
Graham, John Wallbridge Sidney Hastings C 187
Graham, Ketcham Sidney Hastings G 124
Gray, William M. Salt manufacturer Seaforth and Blyth Huron M 16
Gregory, William Medora Muskoka R2 21
Hagaman, J. Oakville Halton E 104
Hagaman, Jeremiah Oakville Halton C 119
Hailstone, Matthew Ferguson Parry Sound R2 45
Hall, Richard Cattle salesman Liverpool, England I 50
Hallam, John Wool buyer Toronto York H 82
Harstone, C. Greville Ilfracombe Muskoka R2 46
Haskins, William Hamilton Wentworth D 3
Hay, Robert Furniture maker Toronto York C 160
Hayes, Martin P. Salt expert Seaforth Huron M 13
Hays, Thomas E. Seaforth Huron M 27
Hettle, John Creamery Teeswater Bruce J 36
Higgins, William McLean Muskoka R2 8
Hill, R.N. Franklin Muskoka R2 16
Hinman, Platt Haldimand or Grafton Northumberland C 144
Hobson, John I. Mosborough Wellington G 11
Holditch, William Croft Parry Sound R2 32
Hood, George Guelph Wellington H 17
Hoskin, John The Dale Toronto York D 16
Houghton, George A. Horse dealer Seaforth Huron K 64
Hunter, James Alma Wellington H 24
Hunter, Joseph E. Croft Parry Sound R2 33
Hurd, William A. McKellar Parry Sound R2 38
Iler, J.C. Colchester Essex G 75
Inglis, John Creamery Teeswater Bruce J 3
Ingram, John [Manitowaning] Manitoulin S1 10
Irwin, Hugh Chapman Parry Sound R2 34
Jardine, J.W. Hamilton/Saltfleet Wentworth H 55
Jones, D.A. Beeton Simcoe F 1
Kelcey, George Hagerman Parry Sound R2 37
Kenney, William McLean Muskoka R2 9
Lamb, Daniel Fertilizer manufacturer Toronto York N 17
Langford, Thomas McLean Muskoka R2 11
Laurens, Father Priest Sault Ste Marie Algoma S1 14
Lawrie, James Malvern Scarborough York H 62
Leslie, George Jr. Leslieville York C 166
Macfarlane, James Dover Kent G 88
Macfarlane, Robert L. Ramsay Lanark G 113
Maitland, James Montague Lanark F 11
Malcolm, Francis Member of the Commission Innerkip Oxford G 191
Matheson, C.A. Perth Lanark G 51
Matthews, Matthew McLean Muskoka R2 9
McArthur, James Ailsa Craig Middlesex I 25
McCain, William Gosfield Essex G 84
McCallum, Archibald Medora Muskoka R2 23
McCrae, Thomas Guelph Wellington H 8
McCulloch, Thomas Korah Algoma S1 14
McDougall, A.J. Butter and cheese dealer Seaforth Huron M 28
McFarland, David Carling Parry Sound R2 42
McKerven, S.R. [Manitowaning] Manitoulin S1 11
McKinlay, J.P. Howard Kent O 3
McMonagle, Dr. P.R. Horse expert [Prescott] Grenville K 3
McPherson, D.M. Cheese maker Lancaster Glengarry J 12
Meighan, Robert Butter exporter Perth Lanark J 37
Merritt, W. Hamilton Manager of Grand River Gypsum Co. Cayuga Haldimand N 9
Middleton, Henry Clark Durham G 137
Miller, John Brougham Ontario G 18
Monaghan, E. Chaffey Muskoka R2 14
Moore, John D. North Dumfries M 29
Morgan, E.B. Cattle shipper Oshawa Ontario I 3
Morris, Edward Fonthill Welland C 130
Motherwell, John Bathurst Lanark G 106
Mowat, J. Gordon Galt Waterloo C 140
Muntz, E.G. Muskoka R2 1
Murray, John R. Cheese maker Kinburn Huron M 19
Myers, Thomas Bastard Leeds J 42
Nelson, David Sr. Spence Parry Sound R2 35
Noble, William Haldimand and Hamilton Twps Northumberland G 136
O’Beirne, P.H. Port Carling Muskoka R2 23
Pardo, T.L. Not given Kent G 89
Parker, William Stephenson Muskoka R2 5
Parkinson, Lazarus Eramosa Wellington H 39
Patteson, Thomas C. Toronto York K 65
Peake, Tmomas Foley Parry Sound R2 43
Pearce. Thomas G. Chapman Parry Sound R2 35
Penns, Henry Korah Algoma S1 12
Perley, Daniel Paris and Ancaster Brant N 7
Peters, Major John London? Middlesex I 33
Peters. Major John London Middlesex K 59
Pettit, A.H. Grimsby Lincoln C 115
Pettit, S.T. Belmont South Dorchester Elgin F 13
Phipps, J.C. Indian Agent Manitowaning Manitoulin S1 10
Platt, Samuel Salt manufacturer Goderich Huron M 9
Plummer, John [London] Middlesex L 8
Pollock, Smith Perry Parry Sound R2 16
Ransford, Richard Salt manufacturer Clinton Huron M 23
Rawlings, Albin Forest Lambton I 60
Rennelson, Richard North Dumfries Waterloo G 96
Rennie, Peter Fergus Wellington I 45
Reynolds, John Manitowaning Manitoulin S1 10
Riddell, Walter Cobourg Northumberland G 130
Rightmyer, Levi Salt manufacturer Kincardine Bruce M 3
Robb, Hugh Pork packer Seaforth Huron M 26
Robertson, Charles Cardwell Muskoka R2 28
Robertson, W. Scott Pork packer

Cheese maker

Seaforth Huron M 22
Robinson, Walter Scott Butter exporter [Seaforth] Huron J 33
Rosamond, Bennett Woolen manufacturer Almonte Lanark H 87
Ross, W. Mackenzie Harwich Kent C 112
Ross, W. Mackenzie Chatham Kent E 103
Roy, William Sarawak/ Owen Sound Grey C 149
Rudd, George Eramosa and Puslinch Wellington H 13
Russell, James Richmond Hill York H 59
Saunders, Wiliam Insect expert E 61
Saunders, William E. Bird expert E 3
Scott, Isaac Ste Marie Algoma S1 12
Shaw, William Ferguson Parry Sound R2 39
Shuttleworth, E.B. Manufacturing chemist Toronto York N 23
Simmons, C.S. Lobo and Delaware Middlesex I 16
Sirett, Ebenezer Humphrey Parry Sound R2 30
Sirett, William F. Humphrey Parry Sound R2 28
Smellie, David Concord Vaughan York G 141
Smith, A.M. St. Catharines and

Drummondville

Lincoln and Stamford C 125
Smith, Dr. Andrew Veterinarian Toronto York K 79
Smith, John Harwich Kent I 34
Smith, W.R. [Manitowaning] Manitoulin S1 11
Snell, John C. Edmonton (now Snelgrove) Peel H 47
Spencer, William H. Monck Muskoka R2 3
Spring, Albert Draper Muskoka R2 2
Sproat, George Tuckersmith Huron M 12
Stedman, Reuban Drummond Lanark G 103
Stone, Frederick W. Guelph Wellington H 1
Strain, Francis Foley Parry Sound R2 46
Telfer, Andrew South Dumfries Brant N 6
Thompson, A.J. Cattle buyer Toronto York I 11
Thomson, James Brooklin Ontario G 139
Toll, James C. Raleigh Kent C 134
Toll, James C. Raleigh Kent D 11
Tookey, James Macaulay Muskoka R2 6
Trouten, William Watt Muskoka R2 20
Tumlin, George C. Horse dealer Toronto York K 40
Usborne, John Arnprior Renfrew C 142
Walker, Hiram Walkerville Essex I 39
Walker, Hiram Walkerville Essex K 62
Wallbridge, Louis Belleville Hastings F 15
Watt, John Salem Wellington H 36
Wattie, John Brunel Muskoka R2 10
Westland, H.W. Ridgetown Kent C 93
Westland, W.M. Ridgetown Kent E 103
White. Stephen Charing Cross Raleigh Kent G 57
Wilcox, William Foley Parry Sound R2 44
Willet, Andrew Gore Bay Manitoulin S1 5
Williams, W.H. Sports writer Toronto York K 87
Wilson, David D. Egg merchant Seaforth Huron L 10
Wilson, James Cardwell Muskoka R2 25
Winter, John Sinclair Muskoka R2 15
Wiser, J.P. Rysdyk Stock Farm Prescott Leeds G 116
Wiser, J.P. Distiller

Rysdyk Stock Farm

Prescott Leeds I 65
Wiser, J.P. Rysdyk Stock Farm Prescott Grenville K 42
Yuill, Joseph Creamery [Almonte] Lanark J 39
Yuille, Joseph Ramsay Lanark H 66

 

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