Pioneer Ingenuity

Pioneer ingenuity created many labour-saving devices and methods and quite often helped to create a sense of community.


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The Great Lakes Raconteur

The settlers in this area worked hard to carve a life for themselves out of the wilderness that became Grey and Bruce counties. 

They used a lot of pioneer ingenuity to create ways of making the task of survival a little easier and they depended upon one another for help. At the same time, they tried to find ways to make life a little bit more enjoyable. 

This past weekend while waiting for the Super Bowl to start I began reading one of the many fine local history books that have been written about the Grey and Bruce region. While perusing the pages of A History of Bentinck Township I discovered another unique example of pioneers combining the labours of life with entertainment. When a barn or a house needed building everyone in the area pitched in to help. The barn raising was more than a gang of men working to build a necessary building for a friend or a neighbour, it was a social event. After a day of hard work, the workers sat down to a hearty meal. prepared by the women of the area. Similarly, at harvest time neighbours got together and worked as a team to bring in the crops. 

After a day in the fields, the workers sat down with their families and friends to a big meal and then held a square dance. The fatigue from a day of hard labour seemed to disappear at the sound of the fiddle and squares formed and moved to the caller's commands. 

To help alleviate the loneliness of living in an isolated area with their husbands off working in the forests or the fields the pioneer women often got together to work on projects as well. They held quilting bees. At these functions the women of the area gathered at a home and together they made heavy quilted blankets to keep their families warm on cold winter nights. As they sewed, they chatted about everything from recipes that they had discovered to the latest gossip. These bees helped to dispel loneliness and created a sense of neighbourhood in the rural area of the region. I had heard about quilting and sewing bees, barn raisings and threshing parties but in History of Bentinck Township I discovered something new, a paring bee. 

It seems every year a lady who was known as Maw Becker held a paring bee. On the evening of the bee, everyone headed to the Becker' s house. In the kitchen all the furniture was moved out of the way and a long table was placed in the middle of the room. Along one side of the table a bench was placed. Baskets of soft fall apples were carried into the kitchen and the work began. The young men in the crowd took knives and began peeling the apples. Then the apples were placed on the table where the women were seated. One lady would quarter the apple and the next would core it. Before long, ten or twelve bushels of apples had been prepared. 

When the task was complete everyone enjoyed a luncheon prepared by Maw Becker. Then, the table and utensils were cleared, and the kitchen was the scene of a square dance. The next morning a huge kettle of apple cider was hung from a tripod over a fire. The apples that had been pared the night before were placed in the kettle to thicken the cider to make the apple butter that would brighten the meals during the winter which lay ahead. 

Because of modern technological advances the need for bees has all but disappeared. But one thing is certain, they served a valuable purpose in the early days in Grey and Bruce. Not only did they create a means of helping the settlers survive, but they also were an important social event, which helped to create a bond between neighbours against the trials and tribulations of making a new life in the wilderness that one day would become Grey and Bruce Counties.

A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on February 4, 2000

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