Fall in Flamborough

This Vignette gives us a glimpse of some of the scenes, lifestyles and events in our agricultural past during fall in Flamborough.  All photographs and references are from material held in the Flamborough Archives collection.

The harvest is in, the days are growing shorter and there is a sharp coolness in the early morning.  Dead leaves crackle beneath your feet, the smells of wood smoke, windfall apples and pumpkins pies waft through the air.   Fall Fairs excite children and adults alike with the promise of rides, cotton candy, and competitions.

It’s Fall in Flamborough.

The roots of Flamborough are agricultural.  From the original Neutral Indian inhabitants, through the rise and fall of livestock, orchards and market produce farms ,  the area has  maintained ties to the land. As in the rest of the country, most of the early settlers were farmers. In some of Flamborough, they found large stands of pine trees which had to be cleared before homes could be built and the land could be farmed.

Extract from 1881 Ontario Agricultural Commission Report, Wentworth County

Stump pullers helped ease the hard work and many of the stumps were then used as fences. Most of the land is arable and mixed farming was found all over Flamborough – grains, fruits and vegetables, some of which was sold at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market.

At harvest time, everyone pitched in.  “The Thrasher with his steam engine, separator and water tank would come in perhaps the night before, with a helper or two, stay all night, get up early and along would come eight or ten neighbours to help for two or three days. What a busy day for the women folk, feeding that hungry group: pies were made by the dozen, and oh the huge big roasts of beef, how lovely! Potatoes by the basket had to be peeled. It was a holiday home from school for the kids.”  “The Cultivation of a Township: a history of early farming communities in East Flamborough Township”. Pg.55.

Stump Puller. Flamborough Archives Collection # 2338
Steam Tractor. Flamborough Archives Photo Collection # 2339

“In August 1851, John Weir and James  Logie tried out their new American-made reaping machines. Each machine required two horses and eight men- a driver, a tender and six binders. It worked well but it was hard on the horses, which had to be changed frequently.”   “Township of West Flamboro Centennial Celebration 1850 – 1950”  Pg 48

Apple Picker, Drummond Apple Farm
Flamborough Archives Photo Collection # 1549

Apples have been a large part of the agriculture in Flamborough.  “Towards the last of the 19th century, nearly every farm had two to ten acres of apples.  They were picked and put in long piles on the ground on a layer of straw. They were then sorted, pressed and sealed into new barrels that held 2 ½ bushels and there would be long piles of barrels all through an orchard. The lower grades were evaporated or pressed for cider.  

Workers at Apple Factory/Evaporator , Millgrove c. 1900 – 1920
Flamborough Archives Photo Collection # 1631

One large factory in Millgrove employed fifteen to twenty women to peel apples and a number of men to do the lifting. There was a steady market for evaporated apples. The cider was either kept for drinking or made into vinegar.”  “Waterdown and East Flamborough 1867-1967” pp 24-25 

Much of the produce was preserved and kept for winter use by the family.  Recipes such as these were passed down through the generations, and many treasured recipes have appeared in cookbooks put together by local organizations:

“St. James United Church cookbook” n.d

Plum Catsup

Boil together for two hours, nine pounds of plums, six pounds of sugar, and three pints of vinegar. Just before removing from the fire add one tablespoon of alspice(sic), cloves and cinnamon. Keep in small jars, well corked. Hopkins, Ruth and Emma Smith. “Millgrove Through the years”, pg 42

The major event of autumn was the local Fall Fair, many of which were an outgrowth of the local agricultural society.

The original Flamborough and Waterdown Agricultural Society showgrounds were on Mill Street North where Mary Hopkins school is now. Farmers showed livestock – poultry was prevalent and permanent coops were erected on the grounds.  Grace Anglican Church allowed their horsesheds to be used for other exhibits – Craftwork, pies, cakes, breads, most perfect produce, prettiest flowers etc.  Games and races were big draws and a favourite was the  Quick Hitch-Up event. Contestants had to catch and harness their horse, dash back 100 yards to the buggy, hitch the horse & buggy,  and race once around the track.

Over the years, the prizes at all fairs got bigger and better.  Sponsors were quite happy to award prizes when the participants were using their products.

Items from Collection Box: Flamboro’ and Waterdown Agricultural Society Records 1945-1970
Items from Collection Box: Flamboro’ and Waterdown Agricultural Society Records 1945-1970
In 1916, there was a  baby show at the Waterdown Fair  for the first time, for children  one year or younger. The  prizes were $15, $10 and $5, and  a meal donated by a local merchant for all entrants and their mothers.  This picture may have been taken at the Rockton World’s Fair, where the Baby Show started in 1901.

“The Freelton Fair was organized in 1888. It was one of the highlights of the community and in fair weather or foul registered a large attendance. It was, for many years, a two-day fair, the first day being the time when the exhibits were brought in, the second bringing large crowds to view the exhibits, watch the races, and patronize the various hawkers and sideshows. The judges were taken from the citizens of the village, and it is a difficult task to judge fairly and satisfy the various exhibitors.  Horses and stock of all kinds were of great interest to the farmers as they bent every effort to show the best animal. Garden vegetables, apples, honey, fowl, plants and flowers, grain and roots, were to be found in the hall, where the ladies shone, particularly in  the realm of the home 

Items from Collection Box: Flamboro’ and Waterdown Agricultural Society Records 1945-197


Prizes varied in description, from cash to pumps, neckyokes, wheelbarrows, gold cufflinks and gold watches, men’s wear, flour, chocolates, parchment paper, galvanized boilers, whiffle-trees and other articles too numerous to mention.”  “Township of West Flamboro Centennial Celebration 1850 – 1950” pg. 125

The largest and most important of the fairs held in Flamborough  is the Rockton Fair, begun in 1853 as a show held by the Township of Beverly Agricultural Society.

Rockton Fair – Flamborough Post Card Collection

“No more picturesque sight has ever been seen in the part of Ontario than the pilgrimage to Rockton, in the old days, from Hamilton and Galt and District, when the first grey streaks of dawn told of another day and the procession would start upon their way increasing into one long stream of vehicles as they reached the Fair grounds, starting again another Fair. Men, women, horseflesh, dogs, chickens, porkers, pedlars, politicians and every sort of conveyance that the mind could picture, from the swell team in shiny harness driven by a sedate coachman to the most pitiful looking old Dobbin attached to rigs that looked as if they would hardly hold together until Rockton was reached, and in fact some of them did not.”  Sager, Jeanetta. “The History of Rockton Fair 1852-1977” pg 2-3

Even the naming of this fair has a story:

“Rockton Fair Diamond Jubilee Souvenir Prize List 1912”. Pg 123

“After the show in 1878, Mr. Andrew Kernighan invited several editors to partake of his hospitality. Their talk was all about the show – it’s fine features, the big crowd and so on. They all chimed in that there was no township show in the Province that could compare with it. “Yes” said Mrs. Kernighan, “it should be called the World’s Fair, since all of the world comes to it’.  Each of the papers the next day had its article about the show headed with the magnificent title:  ‘The World’s Fair at Rockton’. The name “World’s Fair’ first appeared on the posters in 1879” and the name has remained ever since.  Sager, Jeanetta.  “The History of Rockton Fair 1852-1977”,  pg 1

They worked together on the farm and they played together at the fair. Fall in Flamborough was – and still is –  ‘family time’ .


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