By-Gone Days by Marlene Black

Marlene Black
Marlene Black

My first taste of “rural discrimination” began in the school system. Not intentionally I’m sure. The teachers just weren’t used to journals by grade 1 rural farm boys showing guns and dead wolves. The real shocker was his journal picture the day after we’d killed the chickens. It was complete with little chicken heads, suspended in the air, red lines at the necks, long knives and no bodies. He was very proud of his accomplishments but it wasn’t long before he learned that not everyone shared his enthusiasm for all the neat things he did at home. It was all these adventures, like wolf hunting and snowmobiling and chopping down trees with the horse dragging the logs out and riding on tractors, learning how to use the bows and arrows, hunting groundhogs and shooting pigeons, that made a young boy reluctant to get on that school bus for a day of sitting and listening…and never about stories that he could relate to.

I remember after yet another test of his abilities, the teacher saying, “he didn’t even recognize a king’s crown”. A KINGS CROWN? I wasn’t even sure that that was worthy of a mark. I remember thinking that he may not recognize what a king wears on his head but he would know a combine from a haybine and a rake from a harrow and in the big picture, which was the more useful information anyways. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed with the way his skills were downgraded to barely mentionables. Well, I said, he was never into fairy tales with lots of princes and kings and Cinderellas. I tried to explain to his bewildered teacher that he liked the Daniel Boone type stories, ..ones that he could relate to. “Sort of like our pioneer fathers” I said, “clearing the land and hunting for their food”. Most of his teachers were not amused and could not relate. He soon learned to write journal entries about the horses in our fields. No more dying animals. No true farm stories. No more chicken feet for show and tell.

And so it goes. Once, the rural people in Canada were the majority. They lived off the land, farmed for a living, dealt with the elements using their own animals or vehicles, learned to make do and were fiercely independent. Their lives were steeped in the reality of survival. They witnessed foxes killing their chickens or wolves after their sheep, pigeons destroying barns full of hay, ground hogs wreaking havoc on their hay fields and they knew this couldn’t be ignored. If you weren’t from a farm, you at least had a good understanding of that way of life. The next generation although one step removed had at least some rural connection. Almost everyone had a grandfather or relative from the farm and could usually recount some long ago memory of having to help some uncle, with hay in the summer. Today, it is very different. The urban people are the majority and rural people are almost a novelty. Many people, living in the city, do not have a rural connection anymore. The words, “rooted to the land” are not well understood. Friends and acquaintances from the city, show real surprise when they hear that we eat our own meat or get our vegetables from our garden or even that we make relishes or jam or homemade anything!

I am not sure where we’re going only I know that the majority of people have lost the connection to the earth and all that it provides. We are not equipping the next generation with the skills they may need to survive or prosper or save money. We live a fast paced life and unless you live out in the backwoods with no electricity, it is hard to escape this fact.

However, buried deep in the hills and valleys of Ontario, miles away from the big cities and scattered far and wide across this province are another kind of people. They are often the descendants of our early settlers and they can be what some might call “characters” but they are real. They are not looking for government handouts. They can be stubborn. They are used to solving their own problems. They help their neighbours and share equipment without thinking of money. They pull people out of ditches with a handshake for payment. They kill, cut and freeze their own food. They can get by with a generator if they have to. They can milk cows. They can grow feed for their animals and they are still, fiercely independent. They have the skills to survive in a crisis. They know how to live off the land. They are rural landowners and they could relate to a young boy’s love of the farm and the excitement he portrayed in his journal drawing of wolf hunting with his dad.