The Archives of Ontario Celebrates Our Agricultural Past: Farm Business and Daily Life - Page Banner

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Diversity is one of the hallmarks of agriculture in Ontario. Ontario farmers have always embraced agricultural innovations, such as increasingly sophisticated farm machinery and farm management tools.

Farmers have also adapted to market changes over the years by introducing new crops and livestock, such as ginseng, Echinacea, bison and ostrich, to meet consumer demands in emerging areas of economic growth.

Change is inevitable in the business of agriculture; however in many ways life on the farm has remained the same since the Loyalists first arrived. Long days, fluctuations in climate, dependency on ever-changing markets, and the importance of family are constants that shape daily life and work.

Photo: Disking a Field, 1910
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Disking a field, 1910
Reuben Sallows
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 223-3-0-0-9
Archives of Ontario, I0002270

Photo: Using a steam tractor and gang plow, 1916
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Using a gas tractor and gang plow, 1916
Reuben Sallows
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 223-3-0-0-3
Archives of Ontario, I0002264

Photo: Farmer harvesting corn, Guelph area, October 9, 1987
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Farmer harvesting corn, Guelph area, October 9, 1987
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Colour print
Reference Code: RG 16-276-1 87-B609
Archives of Ontario, I0003167


Painting: The Pioneer, [ca. 1921]

Early farmers used “scatter seed farming” where the seeds were randomly thrown, or broadcast, onto the fields. Unfortunately, only half of these seeds would grow, and weeding and harvesting the crops proved difficult. When seeds were planted in rows, seed loss was reduced, hoeing could be done to reduce weeds, and there were better harvests.



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The Pioneer, [ca. 1921]
Charles William Jefferys
Thomas Moore Photography, Toronto
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 623327


John Thomson was a British Royal Navy purser who became a farmer in Orillia during the early 19th century. His diaries capture his naval services as well as his life in Upper Canada. A typical week for this busy farmer, July 26 to August 1, 1837, involved cutting hay and sowing vegetables. Tucked within these daily tasks, John records the birth of a cow and the birth of his son.



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John Thomson’s diary, July 26, 1837
to August 1, 1837
John Thomson fonds
Reference Code: F 580, MU 846
Archives of Ontario

John Thomson’s diary, July 26, 1837 - August 1, 1937

Photo: William Moore of Mattagami Reserve in his potato patch, 1958

John Macfie, a civil servant with the Department of Lands and Forests, spent his career in numerous northern regions of Ontario where he refined his skills as an amateur photographer. The early rose potatoes in William Moore’s bucket are probably descended from those grown at Mattagami post decades earlier by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

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William Moore of Mattagami Reserve in
his potato patch, 1958
John Macfie
Black and white negative
John Macfie fonds
Reference Code: C 330-13-0-0-7
Archives of Ontario, I0000333


Women have always played a vital role in rural life. Early women settlers worked as partners with their husbands to carve out a life for their families in their adopted country, contributing to both their households and to the agricultural enterprise. Today, the percentage of farms operated solely by women continues to grow.

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Farm wife working on a tractor, March 28, 1984
Photographs of the Communications Branch
of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food
Reference Code: RG 16-276-1, 84-772
Archives of Ontario, I0003230

Photo: Farm wife working on a tractor, March 28, 1984

Photo: Hamilton Farmers Market, July 23, 1986

Few things smell better than fresh market fruits and vegetables, and the people of Hamilton have been enjoying the aroma from the Farmers Market since 1837. The Market has always been more than a shopping place; it is a gathering place where neighbours meet, share news, and take in the energy of the crowd.

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Hamilton Farmers Market, July 23, 1986
Photographs of the Communications Branch of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food
Reference Code: RG 16-276-1, 86-B822
Archives of Ontario, I0003236


The Archives of Ontario Celebrates Our Agricultural Past: Education and Research - Section Banner
Education and research are vital to ensuring that today’s farms will continue to produce for tomorrow’s families. Ontario farmers have relied upon research conducted at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph since it opened in 1874. This is a plan for an early experimental farm where controlled agricultural tests could be conducted.

Landscape Plan: Vegetable and experimental garden of the Agricultural College and Model Farm in Guelph, [ca. 1874]
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Vegetable and experimental garden of the Agricultural College and Model Farm in Guelph, [ca. 1874]
H. A. Engelhardt
Ontario Agricultural College Landscape plans
Reference Code: RG 16-267
Archives of Ontario


Photo: Lab technician working on plant propagation, Crop Science, University of Guelph, March 26, 1986
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Lab technician working on plant propagation, Crop Science, University of Guelph, March 26, 1986
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Colour print
Reference Code: RG 16-276-1, 86-B122
Archives of Ontario, I0003172

Photo: Research scientists at the University of Guelph working on the potato breeding,
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Research scientists at the University of Guelph working on the potato breeding process, March 15, 1984
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Colour negative
Reference Code: RG 16-276-2, 84-B244
Archives of Ontario, I0004466

Photo: Dairy farmer working in the barn, Guelph, July 28, 1989
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Dairy farmer working in the barn, Guelph, July 28, 1989
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Colour print
Reference Code: RG 16-276-1, 89-B410
Archives of Ontario, I0003194

Photo: Threshing machine with steam engine, [ca. 1914], (detail)
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Threshing machine with steam engine, [ca. 1914], (detail)
Photographer unknown
Elsie Dawson collection
Black and white print
Reference Code: C 224-0-0-34
Archives of Ontario, I0007460