Loss of an arm never fazed Bill MacGillivray
Farming is the first human occupation and is absolutely vital to our survival. Generations have toiled away on the family farm and, as such, these people have produced their fair share of stories. Here are some tales of the Glengarry farm, told to our managing editor, Steven Warburton.
When Bill MacGillivray was 16 years old, he lost his arm to cancer – the exact same kind of cancer that Terry Fox had.
“It was his right arm and he was naturally right handed,” says Michael MacGillivray, 46, Bill MacGillivray’s grandson. “So he had to relearn everything.”
Losing one of your limbs so early in life can be a devastating blow. All Canadians know that Terry Fox rose above it. Michael MacGillivray and his sister, Allison, 43, say their grandpa overcame it, too.
“He never complained,” Ms. MacGillivray says of her grandfather, who passed away in 2007. “When he was getting older, the doctor once told him that he could get a handicapped sticker for his truck. My grandfather told the doctor he wasn’t handicapped – he even offered to give him a swat to prove it.”
The MacGillivrays grew up next door to their grandparents, who operated – what was then called – a “diversified” farm in Kirk Hill. There are nearly 200 acres there and the driveway to access them neatly cuts the land in half.
Ms. MacGillivray explains that there are actually two farms – one is 100 acres and the other is 96. The reason one is smaller is that a long time ago, one of their ancestors deeded four acres to the United Church of Canada. It’s on that land where Kirk Hill United Church is situated.
Ms. MacGillivray says that one of her earliest memories is watching her grandfather sitting on a three-legged milk stool while he milked a cow.
“He modified his equipment because he only had one arm,” she says. “The one people were most enthralled with was his chainsaw. He modified it so he could work the throttle with a bicycle lever. He had a board that was attached to the bottom of the saw and he would hold that board against his leg.”
Bill MacGillivray also built furniture – rolltop desks, deacon benches, cedar chests – many of which can be found throughout Glengarry. He even became a fairly accomplished billiards player.
His grandchildren say that his “handicap,” coupled with his strong work ethic, was a lifelong inspiration.
“He installed a ‘can do’ attitude in all of us,” says Mr. MacGillivray. “He showed us you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”
The grandchildren say that Christmas on the farm was a truly magical time.
“Ever since we were kids, grandma (Janet) would decorate the house and it was always over the top,” says Ms. MacGillivray. “There wasn’t a part of the house that wasn’t touched. She made her own decorations.” Another memory – making maple syrup. “We probably had 300 taps and my grandfather had a Ford 8N tractor with half tracks,” says Mr. MacGillivray. “He used that to gather the sap.”
He remembers bringing home maple syrup in eight-gallon milk cans. Since the syrup was fresh, it was hot. He remembers wrapping his arms and legs around the cans to keep himself warm on the cold rides back to the house.
She remembers in the Spring and Fall when the workload was heavier how she and her mother, Joan, would make meals, pack them in boxes, and deliver them to the men working out in the fields. One of those men was her brother, Rory, who died of an asthma attack in 1999 at the age of 20.
Today, the MacGillivrays run the farm. They both have children of their own. Ms. MacGillivray, who lives in Vankleek Hill, has four children who all “love the farm.” She says her oldest daughter, Kyla, 17, wants to pursue agriculture as a career. Her fiancée, Jeffrey, is also on the farm a lot. She says he is the resident “pig expert.”
Mr. MacGillivray lives in Burlington but drives to Glengarry every second weekend to help out. He has three kids of his own and the youngest, Matthew, will get married on that farm in May of 2018.
“My kids helped out on the farm too,” he says. “Any vacation was spent on that farm. They loved it. My only wish is that I could have given my own kids the same farm childhood I had. That work ethic on the farm was instilled in me and it helped in my career” (managing the welding department of National Steel Car in Hamilton).
Today, the MacGillivrays want to restore the farm, Kirkview Farms, to the way it was when their grandparents ran it.
“Our philosophy is simple,” they say on their web page. “We are committed to providing our animals with an environment that will allow them to naturally express the uniqueness of their species. Pigs can be pigs. Chickens can be chickens. Turkeys can be turkeys. Cows can be cows. Horses can be horses….You get the idea! We only feed non-GMO feed to our animals with the goal of eventually producing as much of our own feed as practical.
“You are what you eat applies to animals as well and we want to ensure that they are given the proper nutrition, which aids in their health and doesn't require the use of antibiotics. We are also committed to ensure that when the time comes for them to be processed, it will be done in a humane and ethical manner in accordance with applicable government regulations.”
Dairy farm memories
The pick-up truck may be a necessary accoutrement for any farm, but that’s not always the way Beverley “Bev” (Sloan) Wastle saw it.
As a teenager, she remembers the day her father, Cornelius Sloan, said he wanted to get a truck for their First of Kenyon dairy farm.
“I told him I wasn’t going to ride in a truck because it wasn’t classy,” she says. “Then I came home and saw he’d bought a nice new truck and it said ‘C Sloan and Sons’ on it. I was a little upset and I asked my dad why I wasn’t mentioned and he laughed and reminded me that I didn’t think trucks were classy.”
Today, when Mrs. Wastle tells that story from her home in Kelowna, British Columbia, she does so with a laugh. She may live in the west now but her heart is definitely in the east; she could spend
all day telling stories about growing up on a dairy farm near Apple Hill.
Her grandfather, William John Sloan, had the farm before her father. She says it was her grandfather whose team of horses helped level the ground in Apple Hill in order to build St. Anthony’s Church. she says. “They would discuss all the problems of the world. I thought they were all so old. They weren’t.”
Indeed, after Mrs. Wastle grew up and then came back to town to work as a nurse, she saw that a lot of those same men were still there and that they all had canes. “As a youngster, I thought they were authorities on everything they talked about.”
She says that Dancause’s was the news outlet. There was no TV so people had to rely on gos-
“We had a party line,” Mrs. Wastle explains. ”Our number was 21 ring 6. Dr. George McDonald – one of the best country doctors in the world – was on that party line too.”
She says there was a great temptation to listen in whenever someone was talking about medical problems with the doctor. When the phone rang, people would “break their neck” to get to it. They could pick up the phone with the precision of a surgeon (so that they wouldn’t reveal their presence) all to listen in on someone discussing their stomach pains.
She remembers Dr. McDonald with great fondness. It was an era when physicians were known to make house calls. Young Mrs. Wastle was prone to bouts of pneumonia. She recalls the good doctor visiting her in the middle of the night during a raging blizzard.
“He would show up with a hat full of snow and ask how I was doing. He said he’d buried his car in the snow and my dad would pull him out.”
When she tells her stories, one of the constants in her narrative is the sweet yet wise presence of her father, a man who would cut the paper dolls out of Timothy Eaton catalogues so his daughter could play with them.
“As a child, I’d go out and I’d ask what time I should come home and my father would say I should have enough sense to know when to come home. That made me so proud, knowing my father trusted me. He would say, ‘All my life, I taught you right from wrong. If you can’t use that knowledge, what good are you to yourself or anyone else?’”
She remembers being a teenager and loving rock and roll.
“We would play the radio in the car,” she says. “We had one of the older farm boys from the community park his car on the gravel road and play the radio. We’d dance jive, waltz and then I’d come home and tell my dad we were dancing on the gravel road and he’d say, ‘Yeah, I
Another constant in her life was the Farm Forum Meeting. Farmers would meet in different homes and they’d listen to a radio program. The program always came in from Cornwall and there was everything from radio documentaries to corn and beef prices.”
“They would listen for half an hour and then they would discuss their farm problems,” she recalls. “Us kids would always have to go and do our homework but we would always listen in. Always they listened quietly and then there was a
lengthy discussion and then the lady of the house would serve refreshments.
Mr. Sloan had horses and cows, but no pigs. He didn’t think there was any money in pigs. The railway went right through the farm and one day, a train hit and killed six cows. She says the railway paid her dad for the loss “but it wasn’t a whole lot.”
And she remembers those warm summer nights when she was permitted to sleep outside in a tent.
“My dad would tune his radio and get WWVA Wheeling West Virginia and hear the radio station and the news and the country music,” she says. “There was good reception between 10 and 11.”