A joint Oral History Project from the Niagara Historical Society & Museum and the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library
Agriculture and Farming
The Neutral Iroquoians were the first people to farm in the Niagara Region, growing the staple foods of corn, beans and squash. Some of the first European farming methods arrived in the area with the United Empire Loyalists who were fleeing the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolution of 1776-1783. They grew a mixture of crops including wheat, oats, barley, and Indian corn. They also kept chickens, cows, pigs and other domesticated animals.
Since the transportation of food supplies was expensive and precarious, the British, around 1780, created a plan to settle farmers on the west side of the Niagara River to grow food to supply the troops stationed at Fort Niagara. The raising of grain and cattle in the vicinity of the Fort would ensure its security and keep the troops supplied with food. The farm census of 1783 lists 16 farm families.
After 1800 more land was freed for cultivation, and wheat, potatoes and corn were planted. The raising of cows provided milk, butter and cheese. When the railroad was extended to Niagara new markets were opened; mixed and substance farming continued to be practiced in the area up to the 1950s.
Bob Irvine – Changes in Farming (Audio Only)
Alan Clifford – Farming During the War and Farmerettes (Audio Only)
Evelyn Campbell – Campbell’s Dairy (Audio Only)
Earl Muir – Jr. Farmers and the 4H Club (Audio Only)
David Lailey – Agriculture in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Audio Only)
Fruit Farming and the Caning Industry
A huge change in the local farming came with the introduction of fruit trees, for which the area became well known in later years. The earliest were most likely planted for the use of the officers living at Navy Hall. Elizabeth Simcoe, the wife of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, writes in her diary that peaches and cherries were grown in Niagara in 1792.
Niagara’s unique climate and soil conditions make the area suitable for the growing of tender fruits and vineyards. Very little fruit was grown commercially before 1861 but by the 1880’s the area had a thriving fruit growing industry and eventually a large canning industry as well.
William “Bill” Fedorkow – Canadian Canners
Earl Muir – Peaches (Audio Only)
Earl Muir – Childhood on the Farm (Audio Only)
Sigmund Smith – Fruit Picking (Audio Only)
Richard Andres – Peaches (Audio Only)
Richard Andres – Changes in Fruit Farming (Audio Only)
Joan Cooper Elliot – Peaches (Audio Only)
Earl Muir – Pears (Audio Only)
Earl Muir – Orchards and Soil Types (Audio Only)
Alexander Wall – Peaches and Canning Factory (Audio Only)
Alexander Wall – Canning Factories (Audio Only)
Today the Niagara Region is becoming better known for grape growing as many fruit farms are replaced by vineyards. The first grapes in the Niagara region were wild grapes. These were then replaced by cultivated varieties such as which could withstand the cold of winter and were used predominantly for juice as well as “rustic” table wines. In the 1970s Inniskillin, Chateau Des Charmes and Hillebrand began to experiment with European varieties of grapes and slowly these replaced or were hybridized with the wild grape varieties. This lead to the Niagara Region’s very successful and well-known wine industry.
Paul Bosc Sr. – Starting Chateau Des Charmes (Audio Only)
Paul Bosc Sr. – The Wine Industry in Niagara in the 1970s (Audio Only)
Paul Bosc Jr. – The Wine Industry in Niagara 1 (Audio Only)
Paul Bosc Jr. – The Wine Industry in Niagara 2 (Audio Only)