A Farm Story in Four Stages, with a Fifth Written in Hope
Curated by: Nancy Rouble
April 18, 2022
Balmoral Farm was located in Korah Township, Algoma District, and owned by a doctor who worked in nearby Sault Ste. Marie (Robinson-Huron Treaty territory). My grandparents, Jack and Lulu Martin, sharecropped the farm in the 1930’s, having learned about farming from their families on St. Joseph Island. They were excited about the independence they had in farming such a beautiful property. The house sat on top of a hill, where it was easy to watch the fields as they cycled through crop rotations. Also on top of the hill was a tall red barn made of Douglas fir timber, a large garden and another field where animals could graze. Family pictures showed visiting brothers and sisters and a growing family which included my mother, Barbara, and her younger brother, Randall.
Tragedy struck in 1937. Grandpa Martin was walking to the bank on Queen Street in Sault Ste. Marie. A tall, proud and handsome man, he must have made a dashing figure. In what became one of the first ‘drunk driving’ accidents in town, he was struck by a car which shot over the streetcar tracks and pinned him against a building. In the hospital, his brother, Harold Martin, saved his life with a donation of blood. Yet, infection set in and Grandpa lost most of his leg to gangrene. In a weakened condition, tuberculosis then set in.
Although unable to resume farming during this time of recuperation, family members stepped in to help. However, the doctor who owned the farm decided that he would hire an able-bodied replacement to take over, which, in effect, left Grandpa Martin and his family homeless. The family left Balmoral farm when my mother was only age 5 or 6.
Another sharecropper took over for a few years until the early 1940’s, when my other set of grandparents, Stanley and Alice Wright became sharecroppers on Balmoral Farm. They had been living on a different farm down the road. Grandpa Wright built a chicken coop/drive shed which still stands today. He planted a row of maple trees that separated the house yard from the barnyard. Their two children, Dale and Osborne, enjoyed the benefits of living on a family farm.
Again, tragedy struck, which prompted some to believe that this was a ‘bad luck’ farm. Alice Wright had not been feeling well but ignored health concerns so she could take care of her mother and help with farm and family chores. Her health deteriorated rapidly, and, in 1942, she sank into a diabetic coma and died. My father, Osborne, was 11 years old.
Dad struggled mightily over the loss of his mom and became a bit of a rebel. He left school before graduating from Grade 8, and worked at a number of jobs before settling on one that suited him. In 1947, Grandpa Wright approached him with an offer to partner with him to buy Balmoral Farm, which was being sold by the doctor’s widow, and so they did. They had chickens, pigs, cows and workhorses. They cut firewood from their bush lot in Prince Township and sold some of their produce. It was a hard-working but happy life.
Both of my parents, Barbara Martin, and Osborne Wright, had lived on Balmoral Farm during some part of their childhood. Although their parents knew one another, Barbara and Osborne did not socialize. One day Mom (now living and working in Sault Ste. Marie) was visiting her friend, Lois Fuller, who was Dad’s cousin and neighbour. This is what Dad described afterwards: “I was coming up the hill from the fields, and there she was…the most beautiful girl I had ever seen!”
They married in June 1955 and Mom moved back to the farm that had been her home as a young child, this time to be a wife, daughter-in-law, and in a year’s time, a mother. They grew much of their own food and marketed other produce. They sold eggs for extra money. They left milk for pick-up in milk cans on a stand at the end of the driveway. When they decided to invest in a larger dairy herd and buy quota, they were advised to get rid of the other animals. Fifty cows filled the cow barn, as the chicken coops and pig pens were emptied.
My sister and I were born in the 1950’s, and we would gain a sister and a brother in the 60’s and 70’s. My sister, Brenda, and I share common memories about driving machinery at a young age, feeding cows at evening chores, and carrying pails of milk into the dairy to pour through the filter into the bulk tank. We slung bales of hay and cleaned manure out of the barn, and sometimes herded the cows in and out of pastures. We convinced Dad to get a horse, so Goldy, and her foal, Nugget, took up residence. Looking back on all of this, I think it was a great way to grow up!
In 1991, Dad retired as many dairy farmers retire, to be a beef farmer. In 1995, not quite 65 years old, he died suddenly of a heart attack while driving the tractor. By then, my two sisters and I were starting families and our much-younger brother was in university. For a few years, Mom managed the farm, with family and neighbours to help, until she made the difficult decision to sell. The timing was right for my brother to buy it. He married in 2002 and he and his wife wanted the space to raise horses. They tore the barn down and put up a temporary structure for the horses.
In 2009 a company from California expressed interest in buying the farm to set up a solar panel farm. My brother and his wife decided to sell so they could buy new land and build their dream home. When negotiating terms with the company’s representative, my brother learned that the individual was from the Soo (Sault Ste. Marie), and that his grandfather was Harold Martin. My brother knew Harold Martin as Great-Uncle Harold, the very man who had saved our Grandpa Martin’s life so many years before.
We marvelled that the Martin – Wright – Martin/Wright connection that had developed the farm over time was about to change the farm dramatically. My brother, a Wright, was selling it to a company represented by a Martin. This new stage seemed to be the end of the family farm.
Will there be a Stage Five?
Solar panels have an end-life date, so some family members are trying to get the farm back. My son, Brent, has been in contact with the different companies that have owned the property over the years. The home is now ramshackle and an occasional refuge for partiers and homeless people. Snowmachine tracks crisscross former fields and gardens. The laneways are overgrown.
We don’t know what will happen in the future. In my memory, I see a big red barn, hay wagons surrounded by young and energetic people hoisting bales, cows that became pets, a huge garden famous for its patch of corn, fields of crops, a horse that provided rides to whatever friends we invited over, and a host of farm dogs and cats, each with a unique and often hilarious personality. Surrounding that farm were neighbour-friends whose lives intertwined with ours. I refuse to think that this era has ended. Memories and a possible stage five gently blanket Balmoral Farm, the farm my dad once claimed was the ‘best in Algoma’. Loving and hard-working ghosts are still tending those memory crops and livestock.
Author Biography: Nancy Rouble was born Nancy Wright in 1956. Less than a year later, her partner in crime, Brenda, was born, and the two grew up in the ideal setting of a family-run dairy farm. Later, there would be another sister, and a brother, but the Nancy-and-Brenda team were the ones who drove tractor, shovelled manure, and fed the animals together. Nancy's Dad was a story-teller. Nancy has tried to continue the tradition, even during her years as a part-time Reference Librarian, and as a teacher. During her years as a Special Education teacher, she used her many farm stories to interest some of the most difficult students. She remembers starting a story and the response being: "Another farm story?" She would say,"Oh..I can stop if you don't want to hear it." The response was always..."No! We want to hear it!!"