Tag Archives: harvest

Time for the Harvest Excursion!!!!

Time for the Harvest Excursion!!!!

Thanks to Stuart McIntosh–Although this pic is from the 1939 grain harvest in Saskatchewan, it includes the 2 gentlemen on the left from the Almonte area: Bill McIntosh and Fred Dunlop.

Bill was working for the Steele family of Ramsay twsp. when he left with Fred on the excursion. One of Bill’s sayings to those he drove for was: “If I’m driving ‘em, I’m feeding ‘em. Apparently he felt some farmers didn’t feed enough oats to a working horse.

A number of our Middleville community left, or are going West to the 1956 harvest fields in the prairie provinces, Manitoba and Alberta, namely: Lyall Mather, Harry and Frank Mitchell, Ian Drew, Charles McKay, David Lawson, Lome Somerville and Alden Affleck. Sept 1958

Howard Stoner of Cayuga, Ont., worked for about $2.50 per day in Manitoba in 1908; Bob Yates was happy at $4, while others claimed it was possible to earn as much as $6 or $7 for a day’s work in the mid-1920s.

A large contingent from this section left on the harvest excursion. While one of the trains was at the station here several of the young men on the train indulged in filthy remarks to the people on the platform and Chief Lowry spoke to one of them about his language. The young man went into the train and just as it was starting secured a dish of water and dashed it in the chief’s face through the car window. The chief boarded the train and securing his man, had the train stopped and took him off. He was brought before the magistrate and soaked $7 for his fun and departed on a late train, a sadder, but wiser man.

The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
03 Sep 1906, Mon • Page 10

Harvest Home women.. Black and white postcard of women in field in Elgin, Ontario around 1905.

. Photos from Aggie Yuill’s photo album.. 

For almost 40 years, harvest excursions were organized in Eastern Canada to assist prairie farmers with the grain harvest. Thousands of men and women were recruited, no experience necessary, and transported out west to work in the fields, to ensure that Canada maintained its reputation as the breadbasket of the world. The excursions were a huge undertaking and were absolutely critical for a successful harvest.First conceived by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1890, the annual harvest excursion quickly became a popular tradition, a tradition that contributed in no small way to the significance of the wheat economy to the western prairies and to the country at large. Harvest of the wheat crop was essential to Canada’s food supply, to consumers at home and abroad, and especially to individual farmers and their families.

The harvest excursions were immensely popular, and by any measure, the numbers were impressive. During the 1890s, excursionists rarely exceeded more than a few thousand each year, but after 1900 and through the middle years of World War I, harvesters headed west in the thousands, over 30,000 in 1911 alone. In 1917, with most able-bodied men in uniform or in the munitions industry, the CPR doubled its efforts with an urgent appeal to the patriotic spirit and succeeded in attracting more than 40,000 men and women harvesters.

Postwar excursions were no less popular. From 1920 through 1928, it is estimated that the number of harvesters averaged close to 39,000 per year with peak numbers of 50,450 in 1923 and 52,225 in 1928. In 1929, the wheat market collapsed and with the onset of the economic depression, the harvest excursion had reached the end of the line.

The annual harvest excursion was important to the CPR for two major reasons: One, it was critical for the prairies, the country at large and the company that the grain harvest be completed in a timely fashion. Two, the company held vast tracts of land on the Prairies and the excursions were an excellent means to advertise the West since every excursionist was a potential settler. In addition, since the CPR was the only transcontinental railway in the country until after the turn of the century, it was the only means of transportation for people and products to move from west to east to west.

Jul 28, 1891: the first annual Harvest Excursion train departs Toronto, carrying temporary workers to help western grain farmers. These trains ran for three decades and were a lucrative source of income for farm labourers and students looking for summer employment.

And history hasn’t taken too much notice of them. No records have been kept by either of the big railways and newspaper files yield a prosaic and fragmentary story. When the excursions were running they were too commonplace to be news.

But tens of thousands of men who went on them still have nostalgic memories—jampacked colonist cars filled with farmers, schoolboys, lumberjacks, factory hands, roustabouts, adventurers; the smell of “Catholic hay,” as French-Canadian home-cured tobacco was called and the smell of sweat and socks; the subdued strains of Seeing Nellie Home on a mouth organ from the other end of the car at night; the talk—cheerful, mendacious, foul, enlightening, but seldom boring; the friendships quickly formed and later bonded with the common experience of aching muscles, alkali sickness, violent bunkhouse East vs. West debates, hard work, sound sleep and (generally) good plentiful food.

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