It is that busy and exciting time of the year when the smells and the haze of the grain dust is in the air and the silhouettes of roaring farm machinery can be seen and heard throughout the September days and long into the magnificent fall sunsets.
The proud traditions of the harvest have been celebrated across our rolling prairies for decades and have been complemented and rewarded by the hard work, will and sheer tenacity of generations of pioneers and farm families.
The annual process of gathering the mature crops on many thousands of acres of lush fields from border to border was known centuries ago as reaping. These humble beginnings of completing the vital harvest each and every fall were achieved over many gruelling hours by hand, using the scythe and the sickle. Hundreds of hardy pioneer families would bravely establish their new homesteads and secure some livestock, while avidly taking on the arduous task of building fences, breaking the rich virgin soil, then planting the crops they hoped would survive the unpredictable seasonal elements of storms, hail, fire, insects, floods, drought, early frost or snow.
Along the way early advances for all aspects of the year round challenges of mixed farming included simple machines for breaking, planting and harvesting that were pulled by teams of oxen and horses. A new era began in 1907-08 with the invention of the noisy and powerful steam powered tractors that weighed mega-tons, had four-foot wide steel wheels, could pull up to 12 racks, bunkhouses and other tremendous loads. They also provided the power for an ongoing line of agricultural implements.
An example of the hardships and tasks at hand was the fact the early wheat crop was threshed by a treadmill and hand flail and then packed into wagons for a three- to four-day trip over tough terrain to a grist mill, where it was ground into precious bags of flour. On many occasions that trip or one into town for supplies was made in the winter, and rocks were placed in the wagon to keep it steady while crossing the river or were heated over the fire to keep everyone warm under the blankets.
Facts about our early influx of settlers
• At the end of the Riel Rebellion in 1885, the Canadian Pacific Railway began to lay tracks across the prairies, resulting in a huge immigration of settlers into the area, as well as the arrival of the missionaries and the establishment of the small villages and settlements that would eventually grow and advance into a wide-spread network of cities, towns and counties. It is said that between 1897 and 1914 an amazing 600,000 Americans and Europeans immigrated into Western Canada to take advantage of the fertile soil and new opportunities, as well as getting $10 cash on arrival.
This ongoing swarm of settlers into the rich Battle River Valley left available farm land at a premium in this area, resulting in the Alberta Government making an agreement in November 1909 with the Four Bands to sell 120,000 acres of Indian land at public auction, which realized $92,510, with two other similar sales to follow later.
According to the history books the population of the Village of Ponoka zoomed from a whistle stop of 260 citizens in 1901 to 700 in only one year, and would achieve town status by 1904.
• The best of land in the Ponoka district could be obtained at that time for between $8 and $25 an acre, according to improvements and location, with the average price for improved farms at $12 an acre. In 1906 a total of 200,000 bushels of wheat, oats, barley, and rye were raised and marketed in the Ponoka district, bringing in an average yield of 30 to 55 bushels an acre, and earning prices of 25 cents per bushel for oats, 30 cents for Barley, 50 cents for rye, and 70 cents for wheat. Amazing reports of the crop yield for that period claimed oats coming in at 100 bushels an acre, rye growing to 75 inches, lettuce as large as water pails as well as 25-pound turnips.
• Wages for the harvest crew were just a few dollars a day but the home-cooked meals that were delivered to the fields by the ladies were big and scrumptious and the overwhelming workload and chores were achieved by amazing teamwork with a little time always set aside for friendly socializing, fellowship and celebrations. A best kept secret was that the first old John Deere tractors made a great snort when they started and it would become a real treat and some good fun to wake up all the neighbours in the wee hours of the morning.
Over the year’s progress and modern inventions and partnering industries have resulted in much larger and mechanized family farms, that can produce varied crops to suit the ever-demanding market by using an array of equipment. As always, the vast process from planting to harvest is followed by high quality methods of product cooling, sorting cleaning, packing and shipping. Whatever the case, it was over all those years that our proud agricultural heritage was born, and that the high spirits and supreme efforts and skills of our farm families have never changed.
As always we wish them a bountiful harvest, and ongoing successes into the future.