(Photos: Grandpa seeding circa 1920, my brother seeding 2012).
I had a conversation with my Mom yesterday that sparked this blog post — the idea of our changing lands. I’ll try my best to put this into words.
Mom was explaining to me how on her way home from an event, she took a side route to visit the farm where she grew up (our family still owns and continues to work that land, but no one has lived there since the house burned down in 1986). Some of the old farm buildings remain (a big white barn, garage, shed and granaries) but with no one living there, different decisions have been made along the way. For example, whole sections of trees have been taken out for various reasons — some because they had died and become a fire hazard, and others because they were nearing the end of their life cycle and rather than letting them die, were harvested for their wood.
Now if someone still lived on the yard, they likely would have planted new trees in order to keep the shelter belt (wind break) intact, but because no one is living there, it hasn’t been taken care of in the same way (the surrounding farm land on which our family still grows crops is very well maintained, but not the farm yard itself). My Mom said it was excruciatingly sad to see her former home so uncared for — the grass over two feet tall, many of the trees gone, piles of scrub that need to be cleaned, etc. She feels she saw the yard at it’s very worst. In addition, she said that many of the neighbouring farms that she remembers from her childhood are starting to disappear as well.
To step back over a century, both my Mom and Dad’s family came from Flanders in Belgium in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. I’m not going to go into the full history, but suffice to say that my grandparents and great-grandparents lived on homesteads and played a part in ‘breaking’ the land (clearing the bush for fields on which to farm). In the time that my family has been in Manitoba, Canada, there has already been so much change to the lands. When I try to imagine all of the fields as heavy bush, I can’t visualize it. Farm yards, schools, stores, etc. have all come and gone. In my Mom and Dad’s lifetime alone, they’ve gone from watching their parents work the land with horses to working it themselves with tractors. Machinery is getting bigger and more expensive, and in order to make a living, farmers are having to work more land. How do they find more land? By renting or buying from family members/neighbours that are no longer able to farm themselves and/or by breaking more land — taking out portions of old, unused farms, sections of trees between fields, draining small field lakes, etc. There are remnants of old farm yards all over the place, but how long will they last? Will that history simply disappear over time? It’s sad to think about it.
To step back even further, the homesteaders obviously weren’t the first people to live on this land. To a far greater extent, how heartbreaking it must have been for the First Nations peoples living there to see their lands taken over by European settlers (to be forced to live on reservations while these new people claimed ownership). It’s incredibly sad to think about that too. Note: I quite frankly don’t have a strong knowledge of the First Nations peoples that lived in the area beforehand, but the Swan Lake First Nations website has a brief write-up on the history. It’s well worth the read.
Change is inevitable. We all know that. That is why it is so important to document our history, our stories, our lives. What is here now, won’t necessarily be here later… and if it does last, it won’t be in the same form. Ultimately this is what we are trying to do with our farm project — to spend a year capturing the ‘now’ in photographs, so that we can visually compare it to the ‘before’.
The year my Mom died, she must have had a premonition she was going to die. She insisted that summer that we travel to visit the farm she grew up on, not really that far from your family farm. It was near Dand, in far Western Manitoba. She said she just HAD to go back that summer. So we all packed up the car and drove out there, She was a bit heartbroken, to see it essentially a ghost town. She showed us where the train station had been, and where her farmhouse used to be. Her old schoolhouse was still there, abandoned and empty. I think she needed to see that her past life was gone and that everything was different. She mourned with us back then, on that hot summer day, with the wind whistling through ther trees. There were even tumbleweeds rolling by. And then she said, “Okay, I’ve seen it. Let’s go home.” And we did. She died only a matter of months later.