The Charming in Farming
How the passion for agriculture remains after several generations
“Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man”
Ever since I could remember, I would visit my grandfather’s farm in Alberta, Canada every year. Upon arriving at the farm, I would feel like I was in the middle of nowhere. I was free to explore the vast farm; I would watch the chickens and cows; jump across the hay bales with Leeroy, the farm dog, and enjoy the country scenery. I used to think that my grandfather had always lived on the farm. This was probably because of its urban charm and the you-are-at-home feeling from the ample photo albums and knickknacks. I later learned that my grandfather was an electrician for Suncor and then retired to pursue his dream in farming. This movement goes against the typical country to city migration.
My grandfather, Lorne Morris Whyte, has a passion for farming that can be traced back two generations. William James Whyte, my second great-grandfather, moved to Manitoba, Canada as a farmer from Ireland in the early 1900s. My grandfather worked until he was 50 and then used his savings to buy farming land. The goal is to explore how history shaped the push and pull factors that resulted in movement and how the interest in farming remains in later Whyte generations.
After generations of moving to different countries, living in different community structures, and having different occupations, the interest in farming has remained. The exposure to the rural setting has made me combine my interest in math and science with my interest in farming to pursue agricultural engineering.
My future career prospects varied throughout my childhood, but I knew I leaned towards the sciences. After years of seeing the layout of the farming plots of land, farming machinery, and helping with the garden, I valued good food, acknowledged the charm of the surrounding community, and respected the expertise needed to produce it.
A Short History of Ireland
Ranelagh, O’Beirne (1983). A Short History of Ireland. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
The furthest back that I can trace the occupation of farming is to my second great-grandfather, William James Whyte, who was born in Belfast Ireland. Below is the agricultural policies of Ireland around the time William James Whyte was born.
Farmers in Ireland had difficulties competing with lower prices and experienced lower profit margins. The economic decline was a result of international trade, the development of steamboats, and lower market prices. The Land League spoke on behalf of the struggling farmers and opposed the landlord class. At this time, 20% of the nation was owned by 110 out of the 1,878 landowners. (Ranelagh 135–136).
The discontent with landownership would lead to more nationalist views and foster the beginning of a more progressive government. The public slowly began to support the tenant farmers being able to own the land that they “cultivated” (Ranelagh 135).
However, the Land League attempted to ratify the Land Law Act, which benefited the majority of tenants while the others used violence to influence the government (Ranelagh 138).
William Ewart Gladstone, the head of the liberal party in Ireland, tried to pass the Home Rule Bill. This was the first legislative attempt to make Ireland independent from the United Kingdom. The Home Rule Bill would make Ireland financially independent from the United Kingdom. However, the conservative government prevented the bill because they feared economic instability (Ranelagh 163).
Ireland was just starting the road to become its own independent state while my second great grandfather, William James Whyte, was born.
The Irish conservatives passed the Land Act which changed land ownership from the landlords to the tenants. As a result, the upper class was undermined while “Catholic values and the church” became more engrained in society (Ranelagh 170).
William James Whyte was catholic, so it is unlikely that he moved to Canada for religious freedom. It is more probable that he wanted better opportunities.
A Short History of Manitoba
Whitcomb, Ed (1982). A Short History of Manitoba. Ontario. Canada’s Wings, Inc.
According to Ancestry, William James Whyte died in Manitoba in 1951. Below, the expansion of Manitoba, Canada is described to understand the pull factors from Ireland to Canada.
During the early 1800s, settlers in Manitoba were going west and expanding farming land. Also, the country was slowly growing more interconnected with the development of railroads. However, the railroad industry had little competition, therefore the government had no control of where the railroads were built and how much the consumers would be charged. To combat the monopoly, Thomas Greenway, the prime minister of Manitoba began funding government railroad companies to undermine the monopoly (Whitcomb 23–25).
This was the beginning of Canada becoming more interconnected. Like the United States, Canada was undergoing an Industrial Revolution. Canadian businesses were expanding throughout the country which resulted in more job opportunities. William James Whyte could have seen the increasing job opportunities in Canada as incentive to move there.
With more developed infrastructure, Canada began expanding along the rails. The larger population and the ineffective policies of the Greenway administration resulted in a desire to reform the schools that were rooted in religion.
The two predominant religions were Catholic and Protestant, however Protestants held the majority in the government. Instead of a per-capita tax system where people would pay taxes to help their own people, the taxes were used at large to support the Protestant majority. Despite Catholic opposition, the Manitoba government wouldn’t reallocate the funds for Catholic education (Whitcomb 26–27).
The minority culture was being undermined by the majority at this time; Catholicism had less influence in society. It can be speculated that William James Whyte, who was Catholic, may not have moved to Canada for religious purposes but instead for better job opportunities as Ireland’s government was rooted in Catholic values.
Towards the late 1800s, the industries in Manitoba began to boom. Low credit rates encouraged more construction. Also, more immigrants from Europe came over to Canada during the late 1800s to the early 1900s which tripled the population. Manitoba had more land for farming and expansion as it has a square millage of 250,116 mi² compared to Ireland’s square millage of 32,595 mi².
William James Whyte had more incentive to stay in Manitoba where the economy was improving and opportunities were increasing. William James Whyte stayed in Manitoba and had Robert Whyte, my great grandfather. Robert Whyte stayed in Manitoba and had Lorne Whyte, my grandfather. The Whytes stayed in Manitoba until the 1970s when my grandfather got a job as an electrician.
MacPherson, Ian (1983). Midwest Litho, Saskatoon. v. 38. 119–120
After two generations of living in Manitoba, my grandfather decided to move to Saskatchewan for job opportunities. Below, the impact of industrialization and public policy on farming is discussed to show the change in the accessibility of land and job opportunities.
A s industry expanded, the focus on education increased. Farmers sought to combine rural values and traditionalism with the modern education system and the sciences. There was also a cultural clash as the traditionalists rejected immoral behavior.
Saskatchewan was becoming more modernized as the opportunities for studying the sciences increased. The trend of expanding information was fostered by more rural Canadians moving to the city.
Larmour, Jean. Jack Douglas and Saskatchewan’s Highways: Midwest Litho, Saskatoon. v. 38. 105–106
The gasoline tax was removed in 1947 which resulted in oil companies significantly raising their prices. The goal was to allow smaller local governments to develop better roads. In 1952, local governments were given grants to expand infrastructure.
The Royal Commission of Agriculture suggested to build “main market roads” that would allow greater commerce and connect the small farming towns. This goal was carried out through the Department of Highways and Transportation in 1944.
The improving infrastructure in Saskatchewan contributed to increased productivity and economic expansion. Farmers now had more access to neighboring communities and better opportunities.
Hande, D’Arcy. Parity Prices and the Farmers’ Strike: Midwest Litho, Saskatoon. v. 38. 89–90
In the 1940s, Canada adjusted the domestic price of wheat in an agreement with the United Kingdom. The Canadian Wheat Board set the “minimum price at $1.35” for international trade and “the domestic price at…$1.25 per bushel.” After no progress towards advising the agreement, the United Farmers of Canada in Saskatchewan went on strike. However, the strikers didn’t have the support of the public and lacked the leadership needed to make any significant change.
Like the United States, Canada had labor unions emerge during the Industrial Revolution that would pressure the government for reform. The increased foothold in politics allowed farmers to influence the policy on agriculture.
The improvement in infrastructure and job security provided better opportunities. The most prominent advantage between Saskatchewan and Manitoba for my grandfather was getting work as an electrician.
Canada’s Oil and the American Empire
Shaffer, Ed (1983). Canada’s Oil and the American Empire. Edmonton. Hurtig Publishers Ltd.
My grandfather worked for the oil industry for 20 years before saving up enough money to buy a farm. Below, the impact of the oil boom on the Canadian economy and job availability is shown.
Canada produced little fossil fuels after World War II; 90% of oil consumed was imported. On day, Imperial Oil found an oil well in Leduc, Alberta, resulting in subsequent discoveries. In 1949, the Pipelines Act of Canada was passed to allow Imperial Oil to expand, giving “Ottawa exclusive jurisdiction over all interprovincial pipelines.” The pipeline reached out the United States, resulting in Canadian oil being subject to United States policies (Shaffer 140–141).
Canadian oil exports increased from 47.5 to 189.5 millions of barrels (Shaffer 144). The expansion of oil resulted in the Canadian economy growing and new oil companies emerging.
Suncor, a notable oil company, was established and would continue to expand along with the oil boom. This is where my grandfather worked as an electrician.
The high demand for Canadian oil resulted in wages being inflated and more job opportunities. My grandfather was able to save up enough money to buy his own land to pursue his dream of farming.
Canadian oil policy became increasingly complex as the standard oil price was established in Canada had to be competitive against foreign markets (Shaffer 215). Consequently, Canada had a trade surplus in 1974 which diminished Canada’s ability to control domestic oil prices. Saskatchewan and British Columbia wanted to raise prices as soon as possible because oil was their primary source of revenue (Shaffer 224–225).
The economy that my grandfather grew up in was heavily centered in oil, so working in the oil industry had many job opportunities.
Today, the limited capacity of oil pipelines is hurting the oil industry. However, oil prices have remained stable and the economy will slowly adjust.
Flora et al. (2015). Rural Communities. Westview Press. New York.
Aside from the love of farming itself, my grandfather values the sense of community in the rural setting.
Farming communities used to consist of closely knit relationships and conformity. However, as the world became more interconnected, new people poured into rural communities, changing the interpersonal dynamic (Flore et al. 8).
My grandfather lives on the outskirts of Trochu. While he enjoys farming, another reason that he enjoys the farm life is because of the community he is surrounded in. Trochu has a population of just over 1,000. The community is fairly homogeneous with the conventional rural culture, however, signs of immigration and movement are present as a large percentage of businesses are owned by Koreans. Cultural aspects of each group has made the community more diverse and interesting.
As infrastructure improved, rural communities had access to new goods. Consequently, these communities became less isolated and more complex. The quality of education also increased (Flore et al. 10).
The closest major city to Trochu is Calgary which is about a three-hour drive. Many people drive down to Trochu to eat at the family restaurants or to visit relatives. From Trochu to my grandfather’s place, their are dirt roads, giving the farm a sense of isolation.
Even after changes in the demographics, a farming community is defined as a “organization…through which a group of people meet their needs…[in] a shared sense of place.” Although this relationship has become less prominent in rural life, prominent remnants remain (Flore et al. 14).
Increasing connectivity has brought more businesses into small towns like Trochu. Large oil companies have pumps along the dirt road to my grandfather’s farm. Despite the flow of people and industry, Trochu maintains its rural sense of community.
Ruralness as a Psychological Construct
Melton, Gary (1983). Ruralness as a Psychological Construct. Boston. Springer.
My grandfather has become more mild and content as he as adapted to the slow pace and nature of the country.
Farming communities provide a “clean and simple” environment. People can life in a slowed-paced environment instead of worrying about the intricate workplace. People are able to connect to nature by being in an isolated area where they can naturally exhibit their own feelings. “Honesty, religiosity, and a strong sense of individualism” are traits that people develop in the country. Additionally, people are drawn to the prospect of an improved lifestyle (Melton 1–2).
A small town like Trochu allows people to create closer relationships and be held accountable to avoid shame in the community. My grandfather knows almost everyone in Trochu and visits the family businesses daily. The people that he surrounds himself around mean something to him and bring him joy.
Rural life can allow people to develop spiritually. Facing the stresses of city life and constantly being surrounded by people are not an issue and the beauty of the landscape can be appreciated. My grandfather enjoys sitting in his chair and drinking a beer while looking at the mountains.
Moving to the farm was not seen as an opportunity for my grandfather to make money, but to follow his dream. His happiest years were spent at his farm. My relatives life all over the world and have moved multiple times, however, the farm has always been a place that we consider home.
After researching my grandfather’s historic roots, I learned that my grandfather moved to the farm out of sheer interest. Since William James Whyte, farming has been a family interest. Like my grandfather, my interest in agriculture is not solely based on the logistical aspect of it, but the community of farmers. Possibly, the interest in agriculture was passed down several generations.
Doing research on the origins of farming in the Whyte family has allowed me to have a more through understanding of the background of my relatives and connect it to the world of agriculture. Most importantly, I am more confident in justifying my future career path as I have more appreciation for the intricacies of the farming community.
- Canada’s Industrial Revolution: Settlers from Manitoba go west and expand land.
- Canada starts to become more interconnected with railroads. Railroads dominated political debates as the railroad industry was a monopoly.
- Per-capita tax system established.
- Schools become less religiously ingrained.
- Irish Land League supports tenant farmers.
- Government starts to become more progressive.
- Gladstone’s liberal party attempts to pass the Home Rule Bill. The goal was for Ireland to become financially independent. However, the conservative party prevents its passage in fear of economic instability.
- My second great-grandfather William James Whyte is born in Belfast, Ireland.
- Irish Conservatives ratify the Land Act resulting in more tenants owning land.
- Catholicism becomes more prominent in society.
- Manitoba industries boom. Low credit rates encourage more construction.
- The Canadian population triples from a new wave of immigration.
- Armand Trochu founds Trochu, Alberta.
- The oil company Suncor is established.
- Robert Whyte, my great-grandfather, is born in Manitoba, Canada.
- Ireland gets its independence from Great Britain.
- The Canadian Wheat Board sets the market price for wheat at $1.35 abroad and $1.25 domestically. The United Farmers of Canada go on strike and fail to influence the policy.
- The Department of Highways and Transport build interstate roads under the Royal Commission of Agriculture.
- Lorne Morris Whyte, my grandfather, is born in Manitoba, Canada.
- The gasoline tax is removed with the goal of local governments improving infrastructure. Oil companies increase prices significantly.
- 90% of Canadian oil is imported. Imperial Oil discovers an oil well in Leduc, Alberta. This was the beginning of the Canadian oil boom.
- The Pipelines Act of Canada is passed to allow Imperial Oil to expand and to give Ottawa control over interstate pipelines.
- Canadian oil exports increase from 47.5 to 189.5 millions of barrels. The oil expansion grows the Canadian economy and oil companies.
- Local governments are given larger grants for infrastructure.
- My grandfather begins working as an electrician for Suncor.
- The high demand for Canadian oil inflates wages and increases the number of jobs.
- My grandfather begins saving money to buy farmland.
- Canada has a trade surplus, resulting in higher oil prices.
- My grandfather retires and buys his farm in Trochu, Alberta.