Farming on the Canadian Shield


Rat Portage Miner and News – September 6, 1904

Excerpted from a letter written to the editor by a visitor to Mr. Hillard’s farm which was located in Jaffray, about 2 miles from downtown Rat Portage (now Kenora).

Mr. Hilliard has 180 acres, 70 of which are under cultivation, and he claims 40 acres more of swamp land which is already drained and will be cleaned up this fall. Some of it that I saw was from one foot to eighteen inches of beautiful black mould, with clay subsoil.

His crop this year consists of 48 tons of hay, 9 acres of wheat, several acres of barley, and a quantity of vegetables of all kinds. He has 250 hogs and some turkeys and chickens, and he tells me that in 1903 he sold 37,000 pounds of pork, and since he started clearing off his land he has taken over eight thousand cords of wood of it. Still, when you talk of farming in this district, the majority of our citizens look at you as if your mental health would be improved by a sojourn to Selkirk. I do not claim to be a practical farmer, but when I see what Mr. Hilliard’s farm proves, I cannot help but call the attention of the business community to the possibilities of this section in an agricultural way. I have met a dozen men who question the fact of Mr. Hilliard making his farm pay, but that is no doubt owing largely to the want of knowledge of what he is doing, and confidence in our soil. Thirty-seven thousand pounds of pork at 7c, amount to $2,590. Wages for the pork alone would not be over $480. The hogs will pasture on clover for three months out of four, that is one month to harden them on grain. The life of a pig should be about four months, and they should weigh about 125 pounds, to make the best pork. Mr. Hilliard showed me one sow that had two litters this year – one of twelve and one of eight. That is, twenty from one, and Mr. Cameron tells me his company buys about five carloads of pork every year. The CPR, the eastern farmer, and the pork packer gets all, and we sit here and do not make any effort to get any settlers onto our lands.

Farming – it’s likely one of the last things one would consider doing on the Canadian Shield. In a place where rocks and lakes and trees dominate the landscape, setting about to coax something edible from the earth wouldn’t have been easy , and yet there were those who did and were successful at it. We present to you a few of those early settlers who took to farming on the Canadian Shield…

We think Rat Portage is the whole cheese, and that we are progressive and actually “up-to-date”. But as a matter of fact we have a bad attack of dry rot. Some of us have been here for twenty-four years, and I only know of two who have risked planting trees outside their fences, that is Messrs. Hose and Gerrie, and they have had to sit up nights to protect them from cattle. Our Central School building is a credit to the town, but the want of trees, flowers and grass is a disgrace to any community. The writer was in a Galacian settlement eighteen miles from a railway last fall and they had trees and flowers planted around their two hundred dollar school house and you have no idea what a good impression those trees and flowers made. I am afraid I am imposing on your space.

Yours truly, CITIZEN


Kenora Miner and News – October 7, 1914

The great pulp industry of New Brunswick is said to owe its inception to the summer tourist, and though Kenora already owes much to its summer residents it would appear that we are likely to develop a splendid new industry through the efforts and experiments of at least one of their number.

Rev. Dr. Baird, of Winnipeg, who has a delightful island just beyond Treaty, believes that the hardier kinds of fruit may be successfully grown on the Lake of the Woods.

As an experiment he set out five years ago to plant a number of plum trees of various varieties. They were carefully attended to and at last a couple of trees bore fruit. This season the young trees had a nice crop of delicious plums, and next season these trees should reward their enterprising owner with a handsome surplus.

Last year Dr. Baird also set out 12 cherry trees and twelve crab apple trees which all wintered well and are doing splendidly, and will no doubt be bearing in a couple of years.

Dr. Baird has also in his garden a great variety of small fruits, including strawberries, raspberries, currents, gooseberries, etc. which are all giving good returns. He has also set out some grape vines and will watch with interest their growth. As there are no pine trees on this island he planted 250 white pines early this spring before the ice went out, and 92 percent of them are living and doing well.

The experiments of Dr. Baird in growing the larger fruits will be watched with interest by the people of this section and their success would open up an unequalled opportunity.


By W. B. Deering

Family Herald – January 30, 1935

A peninsula in the Lake of the Woods is a peculiar location for a market garden and poultry farm. Both of these pursuits must be close to market in order to be successful, and the end of a peninsula out in a lake is not the handiest place from which to sell potatoes and cabbages. Yet tis just the situation of James Duffus, vegetable and fruit grower, poultry breeder, and florist. Until this year there was not even a wagon road to his farm and all his produce had to be carried down the bay by boat. So unique was the location that I found myself enquiring into the hows and whys of the situation, and I found the answer decidedly interesting.

Keewatin, Ontario is a district rock-bound and forest-covered in which tillable land is so scarce as to be almost a curiosity when a cultivated field reaches ten acres in extent. Arms of that wonderful Lake of the Woods stretch in all directions between granite ramparts with rocky, pine-clad summits. Only occasionally is there a hillside free enough from stone and rock projections that it can be ploughed, but where the land is capable of cultivation it is wonderfully fertile, rich clay-loam producing in abundance.

It was the good fortune of James Duffus, indicating the business insight of man, to secure one of the few tracts near the lake with the quantity of land. The area would be viewed with amusement and a snort of derision by a western farmer, but Duffus knew what it would do. He started back in 1920 by devoting himself to the cultivation of strawberries, and tales of that first crop were almost legendary. Monstrous berries which it took just sixteen to fill a quart basket, and in quantities unbelievable. Such are the stories of the beginning. Last summer Duffus estimates that he grew 3,500 quarts of strawberries and raspberries.

It did not take long. Duffus was a poultry fancier from the start, and as early as three years after he settled on the farm, he was showing poultry at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto…Now he has five breeds of fowl and two of pigeons that he constantly exhibits at the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Brandon shows. When you are told that this year he brought back seventeen prizes from Toronto including a championship for Magpie pigeons, you will understand what his success has been…

So scant is the limit of his cultivable land that I gasped when I viewed its limits and compared the enormous amount of produce from its acres. Along the north shore of the bay there is less than twenty acres of land that can be cultivated. Over half of this produces hay, corn, and mangels for his five cows and three horses. The remainder of the peninsula is granite hillside and pine, birch forest, not fit for cultivation, but furnishing wild pasture for cattle and abundant winter fuel for the large home that Duffus has built. From the remaining cultivated acres comes the main income of this remarkable farm. Vegetables of all sorts, strawberries and raspberries, cut flowers in season, bulbs, especially gladioli of which he makes a specialty. Most of this is marketed in Keewatin, one and a half miles distant, and Kenora, six miles away, but the gladioli corms and some of the fruit finds a market further away. These are his sources of income besides, of course, cream from his cows and eggs from his poultry.

His poultry plant has now reached magnificent proportions. A flock of Barred Rocks forms the utility flock, and produces most of the winter eggs…Then there are two pens of small Black Cochins, making a delightful showing with their bright red faces and feathered toes…Besides these, there is a small flock of immense Buff Orpingtons, and a noisy bustling flock of small Game Bantams, all worthy of the care he bestows upon them.

His pigeon house occupies half of the basement beneath the side-hill barn, and here he keeps his smart flock of black and white Magpie pigeons and a smaller flock of slate grey homers…

Probably the secret of his success with poultry is his skill in looking after them and treating them for their many ills. No man is more particular about cleanliness in drinking water and fountains and in housing conditions. No sooner does a bird show signs of suffering for any reason, than it is whisked away to a hospital where it can be treated separately…

Of late years, Mrs. Duffus told me, Duffus has been gradually returning to his old interest in growing gladioli; and he had made so much of a speciality of it that he will have a great many corms for sale this year. She remarked that he had grown these flowers as large as seven inches across the bell – a monster size for gladioli – and seven feet in height of flower stem. He is continually selecting to obtain plants that bloom simultaneously all up the stem because his market for cut flowers, and also for exhibition at Horticultural shows demands this type of bloom. Plants on which the first blooms wither before the others come in flower are useless for these purposes.

The three children of this remarkable family have not yet become old enough to take an active interest in the work of the farm, but the eldest daughter, Margaret, at present attending high school in Keewatin, always aids her father with the grooming of the show birds for exhibition. She evidently has an interest in show stock and show plants; the younger son and daughter are yet too young for such an interest.

Did you know?

The editor of the local newspaper pushed for Kenora to be named “Tresilva” instead.  He thought the word was excellent because it could be written without lifting the pen off the paper. The name Tresilva was tremendously unpopular with the townsfolk and was quickly abandoned.