What better way to celebrate the Labour Day long weekend than with a closer look at all the dedicated and hardworking people who work at our farm? From picking sweet corn to packing potatoes to stocking the sweet corn stand to delivering our product, we wouldn’t be where we are today without their help. And don’t forget about our stall at the Ontario Food Terminal, the office staff, the field work involved in growing our crop and Murray our dog who oversees everything! You can visit “The Faces Of Our Farm Part I” to read more about Don Thompson who is the man responsible for starting this entire operation way back in 1943. Happy Labour Day everyone!
I have more Irish relatives to mention on this St Patrick's Day. William J Montgomery was born in Dromore, Down Co., Ireland (similar to last year’s post, he was another Norty). Edward Brethour was born in Limerick Co., Ireland (not a Norty). Both moved to Canada by about 1840 and raised families in Ontario Co (now Durham Region). Unfortunately I do not have a photo of them, but instead their granddaughters.
In photo one (1919) L. M. Montgomery (my great-grandmother) is on the right with her two young children Edna and Don. In the second (1937), she is in the centre, with her sisters Alley and Jenny. This L. M. Montgomery is not be the one who wrote the popular Canadian novels. She more commonly responded to the name Lillie. When she married Fred Thompson in Leaskdale, 1914, the presiding minister was Ewen Macdonald. The first signed witness, on the marriage certificate is L. M. Macdonald, otherwise known as Lucy Maud Montgomery.
To learn more about the people who founded our farm you can click on the section in The Common-Tater called “The Faces Of Our Farm.”
I wanted to share some information about my Irish heritage to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. This photo, of the Gibney side of my family, was taken between 1914 and 1918 at 4557 Mount Albert Rd., Holt. From left to right, are Florence, Minnie, James III and Milton. Milton was my great grandfather and James III was my great great grandfather.
In about 1848, James I & Isabella Gibney collected up their entire family which included seven children, their spouses and the first of many grandchildren. They vacated Tyrone County Ireland, and crossed the Atlantic. Their new home was a settlement at Lot 21 Concession 7, East Gwillimbury, just two miles north of my current home.
According to the Canadian Census of 1851, James I and his son James II had 20 acres of crops under cultivation that year. Ten acres of that were wheat which produced a total of 200 bushels. Today, that same 10 acres would produce approximately 900 bushels. James III was one of their first grandchildren to be born in Canada. He was also the first to leave the farm at a very young age to train to become a blacksmith.
In a small town, you are not forgotten, if you have influenced one of your surviving peers. Out of the blue one day in the early 1980's, our neighbour Al Hopkins gave dad and I an old hewing axe. He said "I swiped that from the blacksmith when I was a kid. I was afraid to give it back. Jimmy had a quick Irish temper. He would get mad at Milt and raise his hammer over his head. Milt would start running and Jimmy would throw the hammer...in the opposite direction!"
That's one side of my Irish family history. They spelled it Gibney, but possibly pronounced it Gibbonney. Happy St. Patrick's Day! To learn more about the people who founded our farm you can click on the section in The Common-Tater called “The Faces Of Our Farm.”
Marion Evelyn Gibney came into the world on June 11, 1922. Born in East Gwillimbury and raised in Holt, destined to become a potato farmer’s wife and mother of five children, Marion was a prolific writer. Here is her story told from pieces of her writing that I have patched together.
Her Early Years
Many boys and girls still got a ride to school in winter on a big bob sleigh driven by horses with bells jingling as they trotted over the snow. Every little community had a little red brick school with all the grades from 1 to 8 in one room. Mine was at Holt. The schools all had two doors--one for the girls and one for the boys. In our school we were lucky enough to have a wood furnace with a huge register that everybody tried to crowd onto on cold days. We would stand on the register and see whose skirt would balloon out the farthest from the hot air blowing up from it.
Everybody played baseball in the summer--girls and boys together. I couldn’t run very fast around bases so they called me wooden legs. In winter, if you were lucky enough to have skates, we skated on ponds in farmers fields. The boys would build a big fire of rails from the rail fence to keep warm.
Enter Don Thompson
In 1937- spring- Don’s family moved to the farm where we have lived for 50 years. The General store owned by my Grandfather James Knott, was the ‘gathering spot’ for the young people around Holt. My family lived next door-but I lived with Grampa & Maude to help and for company. I did my homework at the back counter so I didn’t miss anything. In 1940 Marion attended Teacher’s College in Toronto and returned to Holt ready to settle down.
I should mention that I have 1 bad flaw in my personality, well maybe 2, but I attribute it first to my Irish heritage and secondly, to have been born under the Gemini sign. You guessed it--I have trouble making quick decisions. I see both sides of an issue and they both have merit.
Don and Marion were married on August 19, 1944. They spent their honeymoon at Deer Lodge in Haliburton.
Words from their 60th Wedding Anniversary
We have survived, also, because Don allowed me the freedom to continue my teaching career for several years--so I didn’t feel tied to the farm, which was a new experience and life style for me. Because of the farm, he was always there for the kids when I was too tired or too busy. He tolerated my 12 years volunteering at Sharon Temple and many more years of commitment to U.C.W. (United Church Women)
One of my biggest gripes is the endless chasing of farm dirt--potato sand, cattle straw, chicken pen shavings and machinery grease but, as my 3 widowed sisters-in-law remind me, it’s better than the alternative, and I agree.
Our greatest accomplishment and greatest joy has been our 5 wonderful kids... They learned to work hard on the farm, no choice there. The farm, also, provided a healthy environment for the family growing up, but was close enough to urban areas, so they could experience both worlds.
Reflections on her Life
...Went through depression when money and possessions were scarce--many people no work--on relief… Saw war years when everyone had jobs or in armed forces… I remember when radios were new--when electricity was new...
Being married to a man who was married to the land wasn’t always easy, but as Marion’s writings attest, she wouldn’t have done it any other way. No matter what you believe in, I know Don and Marion are reunited somewhere in the Great Beyond where Marion is scribbling more words and Don is growing more potatoes. You can read more about Don's life in The Faces Of Our Farm: Part I
I would like to leave you with one last story Marion wrote. If you can spare a few more minutes, I think you will find yourself laughing along with Marion as she reveals a tangled web of sneaking around the farm one summer… Enjoy “A Matter of Conscience.” I know I did!
As we wind down after a busy summer and harvest season, we would like to take a few minutes to reflect on the past and share the story of the man who started Thompson Potato Farm. This painting of Don Thompson was done by a close family friend, Vanessa Shand. Her painting captures Don’s love of farming and his land. We don’t dig our potatoes by hand, and neither did Don. But we shared the pleasure of grabbing a shovel and digging some fresh spuds for dinner during the summer.
In the early 20th century farming was not only a way to make a living; it was a way of life. Don owned dairy cattle, raised pigs and chickens, and had horses for field work. Crops were grown almost exclusively to feed his family and his livestock. There was no electricity or running water in the farmhouse or in the barns. There was a well with a small pump near the house for the family and to provide water for the smaller animals. The horses and cows were walked once a day to the bigger well to be watered, which could be a daunting task in the bitter cold of winter.
Instead, they were encouraged to grow extra food that could be sent to Europe in an attempt to help feed starving citizens in war-torn countries. So Don began to grow potatoes on a bigger scale, which actually meant he grew 2-5 acres of potatoes annually.
Farming implements were much smaller than they are today as they were drawn by horses. All seed potatoes were cut by hand and planted using a one row planter. The weeds were managed using a hoe, rainfall was the only form of irrigation, and harvested potatoes were picked up off the ground by hand. It was labour intensive in an entirely different way than it is today. It meant you better have a lot of kids to help, and get along with your neighbours so they would lend a hand during the harvest!
It had a metal seat without a backrest, boasted a 4 speed transmission with 23 horsepower and did not have a cab. To put that into perspective, our tractors today have a 19 speed transmission, closed cab with AC, air-ride suspension driver seats, a GPS system and more buttons that you can imagine to adjust settings. Don’s lawnmower that he bought in retirement had more horsepower than his first tractor! Implements were small since they were adapted from horse drawn models for tractors that didn’t have much more power than 2 horses pulling would.
It wasn’t until the late 1960’s that Don began to specialize in growing potatoes on a mass production scale. When his son John joined him farming full time in the 1970’s, they worked on expanding the business together. During this time he still maintained his dairy herd, which meant when the long day in the field was finished there were cows to be milked and tended to.
There is a whole lot of truth to the saying “Old Farmers Never Really Retire.” When Don’s grandson RJ joined the farming team in 1994, Don felt it was time for him to “retire.” However, he still helped with some field work, and since that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he chose to raise beef cattle as a new hobby. He helped with the grading line well into his 80’s. His age finally caught up with him when he turned 90 – so he slowed right down and took over cutting the grass for a few hours every day!
Don always had time for the customers who popped in to buy potatoes and sweet corn. He had a ready smile and a story for every person who came to the door. We miss Don’s gentle presence and his gracious manner every day. And we thank him for his lifetime of hard work that left us the grass roots of the business we run today at his farm.
If you are interested in learning more about some of the other faces around our farm, you can visit “Our Story.”
Thompson Potato Farm
Farming is fascinating!