By Jim Hubbard
The lives of inhabitants who grew up in the Haliburton area in the twenties and thirties are interesting stories in their own right.
Their childhood was little different from a childhood of a hundred years ago and the skills that they learned were appropriate to a hard and simple life. Building with simple tools and materials, tree felling, horse handling and bushcraft are all useful, practical skills but not the kind that would put anyone on a Forbes list.
Education as we know it today was almost non-existent. There seemed little point in educating girls beyond the skills required to run a home. Cooking, baking, sewing and child care were more important than anything else.
For the boys, age twelve was not too soon to hire out as a cook’s helper in a logging camp. This meant that there was time for only a few weeks schooling after the harvest was in. By November, they were at work in the camps, splitting and hauling firewood, carrying water, washing dishes and pots, peeling potatoes, etc. As with what the girls were learning at home, this was a non-stop seven days a week work.
By March the logs would come out of the bush and the camps closed down. There might be a few more weeks schooling before it was planting time on what passed for a farm in this rocky country. It is therefore not surprising that reading and writing were not highly developed skills.
Interestingly, the old skills linger. There is an immense body of accumulated knowledge still in use. Information about edible and medicinal plants and berries is still common. Food preparation and preservation is still important because many people draw a large part of their livelihood from the land, forest and lakes.
Watch a “danger” tree being felled and you are seeing applied engineering in action. Weight, balance, wind and correct notching are all mentally calculated until the tree is safely down.
Simple tools can be used to construct a building that is square and plumb and there isn’t a square on the hypotenuse in sight.
Even horse handling remains. Many small fairs have “heavy horse” contests involving load pulling over distance. These require both skill and stamina for horses and drivers and are a direct descendent from logging camp days.
The twenty-first century lurks in the wings, high-tech is the operative word and we are not rushing back to the “good old days.” Still, the old roots remain; they are worth exploring.