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The Farm on the North Talbot Road

Author(s):Bogue, Allan G.
Reviewer(s):Ankli, Robert

Published by EH.NET (August 2003)

Allan G. Bogue, The Farm on the North Talbot Road. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. xiv + 226 pp. $19.95 (paper), ISBN: 0-8032-6189-6.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Robert Ankli.

Allan Bogue, Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, describes Ontario agriculture and the Ontario farm that that he grew up on in the 1930s in this book. The farm was just outside of London, Ontario on the North Talbot Road. Actually, there was more than one farm where the Bogues lived, though they were all very close to each other. For most of the period, his father George and brother Len farmed the various properties. Allan was much younger than his brother and helped, but he was mostly a student during the 1930s. For example, he never had morning barn duties when he was a student. After Len married in the mid-1930s and left the farm to work with his father-in-law, Allan played a more important role, but only briefly. George Bogue and family moved into London in 1939 when it became clear that Allan was not going to become a partner with his father.

The Bogues ran a mixed farm. Though they concentrated on dairy in the early years described, they moved more into market gardening in later years. Throughout the period, Allan’s mother, Eleta, sold chickens and eggs, as well as geese. She also sold maple syrup and sometimes helped during haying, especially after Len moved from home.

Their dairy cattle were never the best in Middlesex County, but during World War I George Bogue began to improve the dairy herd with the purchase of Holstein-Friesan purebreds. His brother named many of the calves after young women in the neighborhood and Allan was particularly warned at one stage not to mention this when a certain Irene B. appeared for dinner and was eventually to become Len’s wife. The young males were named after the starting lineup of the New York Yankees. Milking was still done by hand and when George thought that Silverwood Dairy was inaccurately measuring butterfat, he bought a separator and sold cream instead of milk. Later, Bogue learned that they did not really have a large enough dairy operation for it to have been profitable as a dairy farm.

Len decided that market gardening and especially tomatoes were more profitable than diary farming. They built a greenhouse to plant the tomato seeds early, for early tomatoes could bring five to six times as much as tomatoes at the height of the season. They also (surprising to me) found that pink tomatoes sold at a higher price than the red ones. They staggered the transplanting so that they would have tomatoes throughout the season. They sold at the London market. The operation was large enough so that they hired many laborers during harvest season and Bogue particularly enjoyed the social aspects of these hires. While tomatoes were the largest market crop, they harvested almost every imaginable crop during this period. Overall, Bogue enjoyed this experience (except for the hoeing) because there were always new crops to understand.

Horses still powered farm operations and the Bogues never owned a tractor, but many of the neighbors were using one by the end of the period. Allan, himself, used a tractor in the 1940s working on his brother’s farm. George took good care of the horses and it was clear that “they were more than mere animals,” but Allan never developed the rapport with the horses that he developed with his calves. The strength of the book is the description of what actually happened on the farm — in this case, the personalities of the horses, the way they were used, their illnesses and deaths, etc. This is characteristic of every part of the book. I could recount many stories and explanations as to what they did, but it would just be easier and more worthwhile to read the entire book.

Bogue explains that he “tried to describe how we did thing on an Ontario farm during the 1930s. I have not tried to write an autobiography or detail the growing pains that I experienced while I moved through my early and middle teens. Nor did I wish to write a family history. When completed, my account contained elements of all of these things.” The trained eye of the later agricultural historian provides incredible detail that should be of enormous benefit to the agricultural historians of this period. As a non-farm boy who has written about the Ontario dairy industry, I can say that I learned a lot about the day-to-day operations that Bogue experienced first-hand. He mentions John Ise’s Sod and Stubble as an example of what he was trying to do. “My experience with Sod and Stubble reinforced my belief that accounts of individual families and their farms in other times and places could have broader meaning and usefulness” (p. xii). I think he succeeds in this. Nevertheless, one could have wished for more.

Bogue points out that times were bad during the Depression, but, perhaps, not as bad as other places in Canada and the United States. The Bogues did not go bankrupt and he does give some information about revenues from various operations, but he never really puts it together to give us some idea about how the overall operation was going.

More importantly, I would like to know more about how he came to agricultural history. Bogue quotes his father’s veterinarian, “George,” he said, “I hear that you are going to be selling out. You shouldn’t. You have as promising a bunch of young stuff as there is around. You would stay with it.” “Oh,” said George. “It’s time; the boy does not want to farm.” Allan continues, “That was hardly true. The boy did not know what he wanted at the time” (p. 196). When and how did he finally know?

Robert Ankli taught most recently at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. He will be teaching at Gulf University of Science and Technology, Kuwait.

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII