THEY CAME ON ‘THE ARK’ And set­tled in An­caster

For more than 150 years, gen­er­a­tions of the Farmer fam­ily in An­caster have shaped the com­mu­nity and been play­ers in world his­tory. Now a com­mem­o­ra­tive ex­hibit re­calls their colour­ful lives in a build­ing that was once a fam­ily home­stead.

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MARK MCNEIL The Hamilton Spec­ta­tor

IN 1834, WIL­LIAM FARMER of Shrop­shire, in the West Mid­lands of England, told leg­is­la­tors they could stuff their new tax on the num­ber of win­dows in a home.

He, his wife Eleanor and their seven chil­dren were leav­ing — for good.

But Farmer, who ac­tu­ally was a farmer, a wealthy aris­to­cratic one, didn’t stop there. He hired a sail­ing ship and crew and — along with 50 head of live­stock and other worldly pos­ses­sions — brought 10 other fam­i­lies from the vil­lage for an epic 51-day voy­age to the new world.

They called the ves­sel “the Ark,” which is also the name of a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­hibit at Field­cote Mu­seum that looks at the Farmer fam­ily that has spent seven gen­er­a­tions in An­caster.

One of the items in the col­lec­tion is a re­pro­duc­tion of a journal en­try from the voy­age by one of Farmer’s sons that lists the an­i­mals on board that were held in slings sus­pended from cross beams in the ship.

“The live­stock con­sisted of a dark grey mot­tled Cly­des­dale stal­lion called ‘Bri­ton,’ and Bri­ton’s mother ‘Jenny,’ a grey Cly­des­dale mare,” he wrote.

“There were also an iron-grey mare ‘Smiler,’ two Durham bulls, two Here­ford bulls, six cows (Durham, Here­ford and High­land Scot­tish), two South­down rams and four­teen ewes, one Leicester ram, thir­teen Leicester ewes, one Berk­shire boar, one Shrop­shire boar, nine sows and ten dogs (point­ers, bull ter­ri­ers, and a fox ter­rier), be­side a num­ber of game cocks and hens.”

They first set­tled in the Gatineau area with the fam­ily go­ing into the lum­ber­ing busi­ness. That didn’t work out. So af­ter hear­ing about a place called An­caster, they headed there in 1850.

Daryl MacTav­ish, pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor at Field­cote, says it’s not clear how the fam­ily came to de­cide on An­caster.

“It was prob­a­bly the avail­abil­ity of land or maybe a fam­ily mem­ber was fa­mil­iar with the town. No one knows for sure.”

But once they made it to the vil­lage, the fam­ily pros­pered and a solid foun­da­tion was built for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Sev­eral farm­ers be­came doc­tors. One served as di­rec­tor gen­eral of med­i­cal ser­vices for the Canadian Army dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. He’s even in a photo with Churchill. An­other, Dr. G.D. Farmer, brought the first au­to­mo­bile to An­caster in 1902.

Florence (Flossie) Farmer, a grand­daugh­ter of Wil­liam, be­came a nurse and trav­elled the world serv­ing with the Amer­i­can Red Cross. Dur­ing the First World War she found her­self in Rus­sia and led an ex­pe­di­tion to take 780 chil­dren to safety. At the age of 92, she trav­elled to Alaska be­cause it was one of the few places she had never been.

Thomas Farmer, who died in Novem­ber, 1976, was edi­tor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spec­ta­tor in the late 1960s. His widow Doris Farmer do­nated the cou­ple’s home and 2.8 hectares of land to the town of An­caster and it be­came Field­cote Me­mo­rial Park and Mu­seum when it of­fi­cially opened in 1988.

This year it all comes full cir­cle with the ex­hibit about the fam­ily at Field­cote.

The ex­hibit fea­tures ev­ery­thing from a ma­jor col­lec­tion of china and a med­i­cal chest both car­ried on the At­lantic jour­ney, to wed­ding dresses, mil­i­tary items, to the print­ing plate from the front page of The Spec­ta­tor’s Hamilton Cen­ten­nial edi­tion in 1946. Thomas ap­par­ently scooped that at some point.

And there are all kinds of pho­tos in­clud­ing one of Ge­orge Devey Farmer and his 1902 Pope au­to­mo­bile, the first car in An­caster.

The ex­hibit is also a cel­e­bra­tion of Canada’s 150th an­niver­sary through the look­ing glass of a pi­o­neer­ing fam­ily in the third old­est com­mu­nity in On­tario.

“We’re hop­ing that peo­ple will learn a lit­tle more about the his­tory of this com­mu­nity. The fam­ily is fas­ci­nat­ing with a num­ber of fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters that show you as­pects of Canada’s his­tory as well,” said Lois Corey, Field­cote’s cu­ra­tor.

MacTav­ish says “They were here be­fore Canada be­came a coun­try. You could see how their lives changed from can­dle light to gas light to elec­tric light. They went from let­ter to tele­graph to tele­phone.

“And they didn’t just stay in An­caster. They trav­elled the world and brought back sto­ries.”

Nell Spicer, a sixth gen­er­a­tion mem­ber of the Farmer fam­ily, says an­other thing that helped bring the ex­hibit to life was the sale of her par­ents’ home last year.

“They had been there for 54 years and the house was a repos­i­tory of fam­ily heir­looms and his­tor­i­cal ar­ti­facts. It was amaz­ing that so much stuff was kept and pre­served. There was a lot we could not in­clude. We could have done a whole other ex­hibit based on what came out of that house.”

MacTav­ish says, “They saved ev­ery­thing. They saved their jour­nals and their let­ters and their pho­tos and their ob­jects. It was so easy to dis­cover who they were.”

Spicer says the ex­pe­ri­ence of putting the ex­hibit to­gether made it more clear to her that Field­cote needs far more space to ef­fec­tively show­case An­caster’s his­tory.

A fundrais­ing cam­paign is on­go­ing to do just that. So far $400,000 has been raised to­ward a $1.5-mil­lion goal. Or­ga­niz­ers of the cam­paign hope to raise $500,000 and to re­ceive gov­ern­ment grants for the rest.

Peo­ple wish­ing to do­nate are asked to con­tact cmor­ris32@co­geco.ca

Nell Spicer with mem­o­ra­bilia from her fam­ily his­tory on dis­play at the Field­cote Mu­seum in An­caster. Spicer’s an­ces­tors, the Farmer fam­ily, go back sev­eral gen­er­a­tions.

A se­lec­tion of fam­ily heir­looms and his­toric Farmer fam­ily pho­tos.

An Iro­quois (Six Na­tions) pot­tery re­tire­ment gift from staff at Che­doke Hos­pi­tal to Richard J.D. Farmer. A sim­i­lar piece re­sides at Buck­ing­ham Palace.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMILTON SPEC­TA­TOR

Field­cote Mu­seum in An­caster.

G.R.D. Farmer, back row, sec­ond from the right, in Ger­many in 1945 with group in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill, Field Mar­shal Bernard Mont­gomery and Canadian gen­er­als Harry Cr­erar and Guy Sim­monds.

Dr G.D. Farmer brought the first auto to An­caster, a Pope au­to­mo­bile in 1902.

An oil paint­ing of Wil­liam Yates Farmer by the artist, Car­rie Hill­yard from Oakville, com­pleted in about 1900.

Wil­liam and Eleanor Farmer, who came to Canada in 1834 and An­caster in 1850.

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