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Memories of farming life in Markham

Andrew Fuyarchuk, academic and author, spent some time accumulating in-person documentation of a few prominent local families.

Below, he shares the following parts of a recorded conversation with Donny Miller.

Since the 1800s

The farm has been in the Miller name since the 1800s.

My great-great-grandfather came up from Pennsylvania. He owned this land, but he lived on a farm up the road. This land was rented out to somebody else. Then my dad (born 1896), who worked the farm for his dad, was married in ’23 and took over the farm. They were Mennonite background, originally Pennsylvania Dutch. There’s a lot of Miller’s in Pennsylvania. The original name is Mueller, and it changed to Miller. Down in Pennsylvania there is a town Millerville.

My great-great-grandfather came up on horseback. Apparently, during the trip up, my great-great-grandfather carried a flask for water. My grandson has it now. When my mother passed away in the little house down the road, all the grandchildren had a chance just to go in and take what they wanted. So they gave it to David to keep it in the Miller family. I got my grandfather’s watch. They used to carry pocket watches.

End of School and Changes

I went to Melville Public School and then Stouffville. I didn’t go to high school very long. I started high school. That was toward the end of the war, and the farm boys could get out early and not have to write exams. I started grade 10, but my dad was not very well and was thinking of selling the farm. He asked if I wanted to help, so I just quit. I got out the first of April and came home. That’s as far as I got in grade 10.

My brother liked school. He went right through. He was a professor at University of Guelph all his life. My sister liked school. She was a school teacher in Toronto all her life.

I just stayed home and farmed. I liked it and wanted to do it, and my dad gave me the chance. At that time, farms were probably going for $25,000. I remember my dad saying that the neighbour’s farm sold for $25,000. He had to buy this farm from his family and paid $12,000 in 1944. Now, this farm is sold.

I can remember when farmers in Scarborough moved up into Markham. They were moving up and paying a pretty good price. I know a chap that moved up here from Scarborough—Cam Kennedy and the Watson’s where the Fairgrounds are. The Watson’s moved up there in ’53 and bought that 100 acres and 50 acres between us here that belonged to it.

Life on the Farm

They used to come around in the wintertime to thresh. So they would lift the rack up off the wagon, so you could thrash and pitch it in. I can just remember the steam engine coming in the lane. Mr. Raymer from Markham had a threshing machine. You see, everybody didn’t own a threshing machine. There were threshers. And Mr. Raymer in Markham had one. And he had an old steam engine that he pulled. He’d come at night, and they’d set up. He’d be here early in the morning and light up the fire and get the steam up. My Mom would have to feed them breakfast at about 7:00 o’clock. Then a bunch of men would come and thresh.

My lifestyle hasn’t changed much. The only thing that has changed is the neighbourhood. But for farm neighbours there is only the Lewis’ here as far as that goes. I rent the farm across the road. The farm families have all gone and don’t live here anymore. They have gone into town. Some of the farmers, like us, went up to Listowel. My son-in-law and daughter farmed with me here in partnership for nine years.

 

Photo: Donny Miller in his barn. Photo courtesy of Kenny B. Wang.

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