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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Threshing, Part Five: Harvest Excursionists

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No. 248: Threshing, Part Five: Harvest Excursionists

In the early days of agriculture in Alberta, farmers depended on horses, steam and a lot of manpower to bring in their crops.

But there was far too much work, even for a large farm family. And according to historian Pat Myers, extra hands were always required.

Now the custom thresherman usually brought some men with him, but the farmer had to supply others. And often all members of the family were called into play. As well, neighbors and friends would exchange labour. They would thresh at your farm, and then when the threshermen came to their farm, you would go and help there too.

Still, there was a need for more young men. So farmers looked eastward. Between 1890 and 1930, the provincial government teamed up with the railways to run harvest excursions. The trains brought men from Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes to help bring in the western grain harvest.

They were called harvest excursionists, and they worked in the fields stooking, as the farmers cut their crops with binders. Now that meant they walked behind the binder, picked up the bundles, and set them up in stooks so they could dry. And once the crop was cut, they would try to catch-on with a threshing outfit.
And their usual jobs there were the lower ones in the threshing order. They would pitch the bundles from the field onto the bundle racks.
The Department of Agriculture helped to ensure that men went to the parts of the province where they were needed. And these men usually waited around the train station, and then the farmers who needed help could saunter in, have a look over the possibilities and make their selections.

Even though farm work was back-breaking labour, the young men were eager to take their chances on the harvest excursions.

Well, I think, for a lot of these young men, it was an adventure, something maybe life in their small town in Ontario couldn’t provide. The money was pretty good; you could make $5 or $6 dollars a day, which was quite good then. Some of them visited family and friends along the train route. And some of them, I think, were perhaps considering moving west, and just wanted to check out some of the possibilities. And this was one way that they could do it and make a bit of money at the same time.

Of course there was more to the harvest than bringing in the grain. Someone had to feed all those hungry men. And that job was the responsibility of farm women.

On the Heritage Trail,

I’m Cheryl Croucher.

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            For more on the history of settlement in Alberta, visit Peel’s Prairie Provinces.