Large farms are nothing new to the prairies

 

Recently I visited with Bruce Frederickson of Theodore to talk about a project of his to recreate the grand home of Richard Seeman, one of the earliest settlers in the district.

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Seeman was a major influence in the region.

It was 1893 and the Manitoba and North Western Railway was in desperate need of cash when Seeman arrived on the scene with a ready supply of cash which allowed him to buy title to 80,000 acres (125 sections) of railway land for $80,000.  That was a huge investment for the time period. The proceeds from the land sale enabled the railway to continue operations for several years, and Seeman acquired land along the M&NWR line between Winnipeg and Yorkton. He would re-sell most of the land but on a portion near what would become Theodore he started a sizeable farm of his own.

“The first report of Seeman’s crop-growing successes occurred near the end of the first year the Seeman farm was in operation and stated that, from two relatively small stacks of sheaves, the Seeman farm had realized 1200 bushels of grain. Another report from the following year stated that “Mr. Seeman expects a total yield of wheat, oats and barley of forty thousand bushels.” Seeman’s expectations were fulfilled. Oats yielded 106 bushels per acre that year. Because there was insufficient granary space on the farm to accommodate the threshed grain, the sheaves were left in a stack and threshed as needed during the winter,” wrote Neil Gregory, Saskatchewan History magazine.

As Frederickson recounted some of the history of the Seeman farm, the background that inspired him to re-create the scale model of the family home, it made me think about the scale of some of the earliest Prairie farmers.

We tend to hear of the Prairies being divvied-up to immigrants in homestead parcels of approximately 160 acres. That was certainly how my own grandparents started their lives in Canada after immigrating from England or what is now the Czech Republic, depending on which root of my family tree you follow.

But there were also what can only be described as mega-farms, at least in relation to the era.

Perhaps the most famous is the Bell farm at Indian Head, marked today by the reconstructed round barn and the historic site it is part of.

“Construction of the Bell Farm started in 1882, under the direction of A. J. Osment. Within a year over 100 buildings were constructed on this corporate farm, which included about 53,000 acres (or 332 quarter sections),” notes www.bellbarn.ca

While a couple of decades later in it’s arrival on the scene, the Motherwell homestead, itself a national historic site is another peek into the scale of farming in this region’s earliest days.

We tend to think of large scale farming as a relatively new trend, but as in most things it is a matter of perspective, and from the earliest days of the Prairies some have sought to grow their operations to scales well beyond the average. It just seems a part of our heritage that has been lost to time.