Farming in Peel
The history of farming in the Region of Peel is centered mostly in the Township of Chinguacousy, as Brampton had developed into a small town by the time of its separation from the rest of the Region of Peel.
The population of Peel began to expand, due in large part to the steady flow of immigrants from Britain and the exodus of the United Empire Loyalists from the United States, following the American Revolution. The result of this steady migration was that by 1818 the county was running out of land and was forced to buy more from the Mississauga Native Tribe in order to accommodate the continued influx of settlers into the area. Many of these early settlers turned to farming in order to survive on the land.
The importance of farming can be seen in some of the early laws that were passed by the Township of Chinguacousy. Among these by-laws was the requirement that pigs weighing less than 30 pounds had to be kept in a pig pen, lest they do damage to a neighbor’s property or cause injuries. In addition, fences were only legally recognized if they were 5 ½ feet high and had fence rails that were five inches apart or less. This was again intended to keep pigs in their pens.
During this time much of Chinguacousy was still covered by dense brush. Although this made for good hunting, farmers began to encounter problems with wolves and bears preying on livestock, particularly sheep. A by-law passed in 1829 offered to pay farmers sixpence for every wolf they killed within the town boundaries.
Examination of the town records during this time reveals much about how farmers lived in the early 19th Century. An assessment was conducted in 1827 that reveals that few farmers owned a horse and fewer still owned two. Three farmers were assessed for having timber houses and three others were assessed for having frame houses. Numerous Chinguacousy farmers owned one yoke of oxen and several owned two.
The town records also give an indication of what kind of crops were grown in the 19th Century. According to period writers, nearly a third of all the arable land in the Township was used to grow wheat. It is recorded that in a single year the Region of Peel produced 660,000 bushels of wheat, with some farms in the Township of Chinguacousy producing up to 20 bushels per acre. This impressive rate of productivity was exceeded in only one part of the state of Pennsylvania. The rich clay soil meant that for a time, the Region of Peel was the bread basket of Upper Canada.
Wheat, lumber and other goods were sent to Port Credit and from there shipped all over the world. The development of farms in Peel also triggered developments in other areas. Roads in the 19th Century represented the biggest obstacle to settlement in the Region of Peel. The clay soil that gave Chinguacousy such productive farms also played havoc with roads in the Region of Peel. The soil would soak up large quantities of water when it rained and turned the roads to mud. However, the clay in the soil would absorb so much water that the road took a very long time to dry. This resulted in very deep pot holes in the roads that caused difficulties for travelers and made it difficult to transport goods.
In the 1840s, road builders began to experiment with plank roads. These were made of heavy oak planks laid over a bed of logs. In 1847, public meetings were held in the Township of Chinguacousy to discuss the possibility of building plank roads in the Region of Peel. In 1849 legislation was passed that allowed private companies to build plank roads and charge tolls for their use. Unfortunately, plank roads proved to be unable to withstand the wear inflicted on them by heavy wagons and needed constant repairs. Plank roads were mostly abandoned by the early 1860s due to the arrival of the railway.
The development of farming in the Region of Peel also encouraged the development of agriculture societies. Often associated with agricultural societies were agricultural fairs. These were important in rural areas because they allowed farmers to communicate with each other and to sell their produce. There were also competitions held at these fairs, such as plowing matches. It is not sure when the first plowing match was held, but it is believed to have been sometime between 1832 and 1844, at the Salisbury Inn Fair. Plowing matches were important, not just because of the prize money, but because local blacksmiths had a chance to display their plow-making talents. As a result, there was much competition, not only for the farmer to uphold the town’s honor, but also among local blacksmiths to provide the winning plow for the match.
Peel has since become world-famous for producing expert plowmen. It is a little known fact that only two Canadians ever to win the World Plowing Championship, in 1953 and 1961, both farmed in the Township of Chinguacousy.
The tradition of agriculture that began in the 1820s with subsistence farming and would later recognize the Region of Peel as one of the most productive areas of North America has been mostly lost. Today there are fewer than a dozen families in the Brampton area who can trace their linage and the ownership of their land back 6 or 7 generations to the early history of the Region of Peel. In addition, most of what was once some of the most fertile farmland in North America, has been plowed over in the last 30 or 40 years and used to build houses and encroaching subdivisions. The early settlers were once among the best farmers in the world. With the great loss of valuable and irreplaceable farm land, many citizens now barley remember the agricultural heritage of the cities and towns in which they live. The end result is that as more farms are sold for further urban sprawl, we will continue to lose a direct connection to our past.