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History of Maple Arbor Farm
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This story was provided by Robert Thomson during a Scan & Share Day event held at the Onondaga Hall on 14 January 2012. Scroll down to the Full Text section below to read the account.
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.1259185808716 Longitude: -80.1524948651123
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Full Text

Maple Arbor Farm, Lot 16 Con 3 Onondaga Township has a history spanning almost one hundred and fifty years involving the HOWELL family.

In October, 1831, young William HOWELL trudged through the dense forest or perhaps paddled down the winding Fairchild's Creek at least two miles beyond any previous settlement south of the Hamilton Plank Road to stake a holding on a maple-wooded peninsula of that creek. William HOWELL was attracted to the location for several reasons. Large maple, oak, beech and pine trees indicated that the soil was fertile. The land was level and was drained by the creek. A natural drop of several feet in the creek would provide power for running a sawmill to convert to lumber the huge trees which covered the area. In New Jersey, William HOWELL'S ancestors had operated a sawmill. The family, which has been traced in Wales to the tenth century had come to America from Buckinghamshire, England, in the seventeenth century.

William HOWELL was born in Jersey Settlement in 1811, the second youngest child of Caret HOWELL, a United Empire Loyalist, who emigrated from New Jersey. As a pioneer local minister of the Wesleyan Methodist denomination, Caret HOWELL instilled a deep religious faith in his large family as well as in the people of the new settlement.

Just before William HOWELL claimed his location on the Fiarchild Creek he had married Elizabeth DAY, daughter of Solomon and Sarah WHITING DAY, another pioneer Methodist family of Irish origin which had emigrated from the United States to a district southwest of the Jersey settlement. Occasionally pottery sherds are found on the north side of the present railway crossing, the only indication that the first log house stood in this area on loamy soil close by the creek and an area which had been a Neutral Indian camping ground.

Buidling a dam, erecting a mill and bringing in machinery for its operation was a costly enterprise. This was made possible by the financial backing of Reverend Hamilton BIGGAR, a Methodist Minister who had emigrated from Scotland. In 1839, the first sawmill in the district was erected. It had a capacity of 50,000 feet of lumber per month and was equipped with a muley saw now in the Brant Historical Museum.

William HOWELL staked claim to 279 acres of land but since this was included in the six-mile area on each side of the Grand River set apart for the Six Nations Indians, it was not until 1850 that a legal Indain Land Sale Grant was made to Reverend Hamilton BIGGAR for the sum of 383, 12 s, 6 d, which is perhaps $1,500.00. Reverend BIGGAR never lived on this land but he enabled William HOWELL to establish his claim.

In 1845 William HOWELL died at the age of thirty-four, leaving his widow with six children, Whitfield, Elizabeth, Alexander, Issac, John and William. Whitfield had to leave the log school recently built two miles away in SMITH'S Corners, soon to be Onondaga. In being responsible for the operation of the sawmill and the clearing of the heavily-wooded land, Whifield HOWELL faced a great challenge. By 1854, the Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich Railroad was constructed as far as Brantford, cutting across the holding of land. Whitfield HOWELL had been responsible for sawing the ties laid between Caledonia and Brantford - a challenging order for so young a person. In 1861 the present white brick house was built and the lawns planted with spruce hedges, shurbbery and the sturdy roadside trees. Later an apple orchard was planted between the home and the mill. Barrels of apples from the bountiful orchard were often shipped by railroad to the now developing Canadian West.

Before Whitfield HOWELL married and moved to Oakland Township he helped to establish the first Methodist Church in Onondaga Village in 1859. Previously there had been a log church or meeting house on the hill west of the HOWELL mill. A few traces of the old nearby cemetery still remain.

In 1868 Reverend Hamilton BIGGAR sold his share in the mill and farm to Issac HOWELL. Eventually the other three brothers who had been involved with the operation left to establish their own farms or enterprises, but Mrs. William HOWELL lived in the homestead until her death in 1892. In 1875 Isaac HOWELL married Mary Alice HOLMES, daughter of the Honourable William HOLMES and Deborah Wellwood HOLMES, a pioneer Irish settlers of Holmesville, Huron County. As travel was limited at that time, the marriage was very interesting. Because of the convenience of the Buffalo Goderick Railway, the HOLMES' visited their cousins, the THOMSON'S, Pioneers in the southwest section of Onondaga Township, who were friends of the HOWELL family. Isaac and Mary Alice HOWELL had four sons - Melvin, Harold, Edgar and Wilfried - the latter two died young: Edgar, a victim of suntroke and Wilfred of tuberculosis.

The latter half of the nineteenth century were difficult years on the farm. Considerable acerage was cleared and cutlivated with the crude implements such as the wooden harrow, the cradle and later the sawyer reaper. Oxen were used to work the land as well as to pull out stumps. In places the earth is still black from the burning of trees to obtain postash for soap-making. During a severe cholera epidemic wooden caskets were assembled at the mill. People would come up the creek within shouting distance of the mill and the mill workers would float down the required number of coffins. The sawmill was in almost continuous operation until the wooden dam broken in the spring of 1916. The sawmill was dismantled but nearby a grist mill was operated by gas engine until 1930. All the same this period was not a time of ceaceless toil. Time was found for church-going and social gatherings. On many occasions, strawberry socials were held on the homestead lawn. In 1898 Isaac HOWELL died as the result of sunstroke, leaving his second son Harold, eighteen years old, to take over the farm and sawmill. Approximately one hundred and forty acres of the eastern portion of the farm had been sold previously to Mr. John ALLAN and Mr. Alexander DOUGLAS. The farm now consisted of one hundred and thirty-five acres enclosed on three sides by the Fairchild's Creek. In spite of the primitive horse-powered machinery of the later 1800's, the land was tilled with the able support of good farm helpers such as Mr. Richard IRELAND and the mill was operated with Mr. William LUDLOW as sawyer for many yeras. For eight years, the young Harold HOWELL laboured untiringly to relieve the farm of the heavy load of debt that had accumulated during the ever fluctuating economy of the late nineteenth century.

In 1906 Harold HOWELL married Miss Edith SHAVER, a member of the United Empire Loyalist family of Ancaster. Although the HOWELL'S and the SHAVERS' were distinclty separate familes, very often they sought each other in marriage. The marriage of Harold HOWELL and Edith SHAVER was especially interesting as their mothers belonged to pioneer families in Huron County and had kept their friendship which resulted in their children marrying. Immediately after their very brief honeymoon, the couple set out to work to make the already established homestead their ideal home and farm. Their first task was to tear down all the old barns and build one large frame barn with a steel roof. As a bride of only one month, Edith HOWELL was faced with the colossal task of feeding seventy hungry barn raisers. Of course neighbours and relatives provided much assistance. In their thirty-eight years of life together on the farm, Harold and Edith HOWELL were ambitious, energetic and symbolized the motto on the HOWELL family crest: "Tenax Propositi" - "Tenacious in Purpose." They kept the sawmill and chopping mill operating. They grew large crops of grain, often for certified seed. They grew strawberries by the acre. There are still tags used in shipping strawberries via rail - "H.H. HOWELL, Onondaga - Strawberries a Specialty." They even kept bees in order to have their own honey. In 1910 by chance a neighbour, Mr. A. W. VANSICKLE, while drilling a water well was amazed at the gas pressure. This inspired Harold and Edith HOWELL to hire a driller to drill to the six hundred foot level in the hope of gas to provide energy on the farm. Not only did the first well find gas but also a sizeable flow of crude oil. Independently seven wells were drilled yielding a good flow of gas and oil. The gas provided light, heat and engine power on the farm for half a century.

Harold and Edith HOWELL had four daughters -Mildred who died in 1957; Lillian who died in 1978; Helen - owner of the farm, and Margaret living in Hamilton. Each daughter was given post-secondary school education in preparation for the profession of her choice. During the 1920's a series of improvements were made in the farm buildings - in particularly, the rear portion of the home was totally rebuilt in 1929, using maple and basswood from the woodlot for flooring and woodwork. The period of the Great Depression in the 1930's and of World War II was strenuous for the farm and for the HOWELL family. Both Harold and Edith HOWELL died five months apart before the close of World War II. The farm was left to their third daughter, Helen HOWELL, who has operated it on a share basis for thirty five years.

In 1949 the farm name "Maplehurst" was changed to "Maple Arbor" in order to have an unclaimed prefix to register purebred Holstein cattle. In 1958 seventy-three acres of the original holding were bought back to have a two hundred acre dairy and cash crop operation. Almost the entire acreage has been tile-drained and the three small woodlots are managed by the Ontario Department of Natural Resources. In 1968 a concrete bridge was built by the Province of Ontario to replace the iron bridge built in 1894. Perhaps this improvement to the approach of the farm symbolizes the farm's history. This progress from frail wooden bridges to a solid structure has required effort and dedication. In August 1976 the farm lawn was the setting for a tea, marking the seventeenth anniversary of the Onondaga Women's Institute. This was appropriate in that the Maple Arbor Farm has had the longest period of continuous operation by one family of any farm in Onondaga Township.

On September 1976 David THOMSON and Beverly WHITE (Parents: Dr. Jim and Betty WHITE) were married. At that time David and Bev lived on Clara Crescent, in the City of Brantford. Beverly a Registered Nurse with the Brantford General Hospital and Dave a full-time fireman with the City of Brantford and full-time on the farm.

In January 1980 David and Robert THOMSON became partners with Helen HOWELL. David and Robert were the sons of Ross THOMSON, who had a dairy farm on Brant School Road. Helen always wanted a family who would care for the cows and she always felt that the THOMSON'S were family.

In the Spring of 1980 Helen had added a greenhouse which was located over the stairway to the basement. Andy FISKER built the greenhouse for Helen. David and Beverly THOMSON then sold their house on Clara Crescent and moved in with Helen to share the house. Helen lived in the front portion, while Dave and Bev resided in the two back rooms, which were at that time, the kitchen and dining room and also the whole upstairs.

In 1980 a new Surge Milk Pipe Line System was added to the efficiency of the barn.

In the fall of 1981 Helen HOWELL was diagnosed with cancer of the Pancreas, just as her mother. She had surgery that fall which gave her a good year and she accomplished a trip to the Far East. Helen HOWELL died in the Fall of 1982 at the age of 68.

In September of 1982 David and Beverley THOMSON had a daughter, Kelly. David and Robert had an agreement to purchase the farm from Helen which was done through the estate and was completed in October of 1983. At that time David and Beverly moved into the whole house.

Robert THOMSON and Kimberly STOBBS (Parents: Francis and Marie STOBBS) were married in October1 of 1983. Robert THOMSON was a volunteer fireman with the Onondaga Volunteer Fire Department and full-time on the farm. Kimberly worked with the Ontario Provincial Police, in the City of Brantford.

Robert and Kim rented a house off of Arnold BLACK which was situated on County Road #18 (Blossom Avenue Extension). The house was once the home for the hire man of Phyllis and Arnold BLACK on their dairy farm.

In September of 1984 David and Beverly THOMSON then had their second daughter, Katie.

In the Spring of 1985 Robert and Kim moved closer to the farm. They then rented a house off of Cecil SHAVER. The house was situated on Old Onondaga Road and was in front of the SHAVER Construction business.

In October of 1985 Robert and Kim THOMSON had a son, Russell. Then in February of 1987 they had a daughter, Breann.

In June of 1987 Robert's mother, Doris Jean THOMSON (Nee: WHITE) died of cancer at the age of 56.

In 1987 David and Beverly THOMSON purchased the property (14 acres) which was north of the farm. It was at that time that David started to build their house. In January of 1988 Robert and Kim THOMSON with their family moved into the farm homestead and David and Beverly along with their family moved into their new home across the road.

It was immediately following that period in which Robert knocked down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room and then once huge kitchen was made. A wood stove was added to the decor which was located in the corner of the room. In the summer of 1988 Robert made the back porch into a sunroom and added the greehouse to the top of that.

In the summer of 1989 Robert removed the old front porch and added a cedar porch which took in the whole front of the house.

At that time David added the cedar deck onto the back of his house which overlooks Fairchild's Creek.

In the Fall of 1989 Robert THOMSON ran for Councillor of Onondaga and was acclaimed.

In the summer of 1990 Robert tore down the existing porch on the side of the house and replaced the roof, while the cement portion remained. During that summer Robert rmeoved the marker stones from the old iron bridge and had them situated on the front lawn of the homestead. It was in 1968 that the old iron bridge was taken over to the old ROBINSON farm which is sitated on Brant School Road. The ROBINSON farm was purchased by brother, Bill THOMSON and brother-in-law, Jim BARTON from Wally VANDERSTILT.

In the Fall of 1990 Robert tore the wall down between the master bedroom and the spare room on the northeast corner of the house.

In the Spring of 1991 David THOMSON succeeded in becoming a Captain for the Brantford Fire Department.

In the summer of 1991 where the greenhouse was once situated, on the west side of the house, Robert built another room. This time it was for the hot tub. The size of the room was 16 x 12 inches.

On July, 1991 David and Beverly THOMSON had their third daughter, Emily.

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History of Maple Arbor Farm

This story was provided by Robert Thomson during a Scan & Share Day event held at the Onondaga Hall on 14 January 2012. Scroll down to the Full Text section below to read the account.