Early Days in Waters Township

Katri Hietala Recalls Early Days in Waters Township

by Lois Linley, Walden Observer, Dec 7, 1985  - Permission to reproduce the article was kindly granted by Lois Linley.

Katri Hietala was five years old when she arrived in Waters Township with her parents Kuste and Olivea Holmes to the 75 acre farm they had purchased from Mr. Dodds. The property was located on what is now known as Duhamel Rd. The original house is still occupied by Mrs. Hietala, her daughter June and her husband, John Kent, their son Mark and John’s mother Mrs. Kent. Mark is the fourth generation of the same family to have lived in the house.

One of Mrs. Hietala’s earliest memories of the farm is the beautiful flower garden that stretched from the front of the house to the edge of the road.

After they moved to the farm, Mr. Holmes cleared most of the land with a team of horses and hard work. By 1930 it had progressed from a mixed farm to a dairy enterprise. Two to three years prior to shipping milk to the dairy at Copper Cliff, the family sold cream to the people in Copper Cliff. Cream or milk didn’t have to be pasteurized in those days.

Until the 1920’s, highway roads were impassable in the winter. The children would ski to the railway tracks, leave their skis hidden in the snow, then walk on the tracks to the old 1A Waters school. The school was only one room, two cloakrooms, a large front porch and two outhouses “way out back”. The building was heated with a box stove in the winter, children seated near the stove roasted, while the ones sitting farther away froze, she recalls. There were about 40 children in grades one to eight with one teacher for all grades.

Mrs. Hietala was about 11 or 12 when the family purchased their first car. Often the cars became mired on the roads after heavy rains and had to be hauled out with horses. In the spring they travelled with teams of horses or would walk to Copper Cliff. The swamp by Harju’s farm often flooded as well as the road near the Salo farm where the Government building now stands.

Mrs. Hietala recalls that in those days the doors were never locked, people were frequently stuck on Highway 17 in the early spring, A team of horses was kept harnessed in the barn in readiness to assist travellers. She said “One time a family from out west got stuck on the road (Highway 17) at night in the spring. The gentleman came right into the house and went upstairs and shone a flashlight in Dad’s eyes to wake him”. “Why did you come upstairs”?, a surprised Mr. Holmes asked. “I’m stuck on the road with my family and need help. We do this all the time out west”, the man replied. Together, Mr. Holmes and the stranger set out for the highway with the team, and soon the man and his family were able to continue on their journey.

Barter was a way of life in those days. Mrs. Hietala remembers starting out for Copper Cliff with 12 dozen eggs but having only six dozen left when they arrived there. The railway crew along the way would buy them. Whatever was left would be traded for flour, sugar or other non-perishable goods. Rhubarb, vegetables, bread, preserves and berries were also used for barter. Purchasing in Copper Cliff was mostly done at Johnson’s store, but the bartering was done at another store. Most of the shopping was done in Copper Cliff, perhaps once a year a trip to Sudbury would be necessary. They drove the horse to Copper Cliff, left it at a sister’s house on Succo Street and caught the streetcar at the station that was located where the Copper Cliff library is now.

In the 30’s many of the men left their homes to work in the bush camps during the winter months. They would take two or three cows for milk with them, then bring them back in the spring. It was quite a procession with the cows in tow behind the heavy sleighs drawn by powerful draft horses. The women and children were left with the farm work. There were hens, pigs, and cattle to tend. Father was usually gone one to 1 1/2 half months. He left right after New Year’s. During that time, the family moved into the kitchen, sleeping on mattresses on the floor. Fire was always a danger in those days. Wood was the only source of heat and mother considered it too risky to sleep upstairs should a fire start in the cook stove downstairs, Mrs. Hietala reminisced.

One winter when her father was away, Mrs. Hietala said that the snow was extremely deep. She recalls skiing with a pail of cream to her brother, Fabian Makela’s farm that was north of the tracks across the present four lane highway. He would then take this cream along with his into Copper Cliff by horse and sleigh. The cream would be packed in straw so that it would not freeze on the way to town. The cream was bottled in jars that had been previously sterilized in a large cast iron pot that was almost as large as a kitchen table. The boiler was heated on wood stove in the milk room. The milk cans were sterilized in the same way.

Mrs. Hietala remembers first milking cows when she was only five years old. Later after school there was wood to be carried in, ashes to be taken out and cows to be milked night and morning on school days and weekends.

They attended church in Copper Cliff. There was also a church on Black Lake Road. During the winter months, a minister would travel to the homes and alternate the service between different families in the community. Calls for a doctor were infrequent. People usually relied on various home remedies, often these seemed to work quite well. Mail was picked up at Copper Cliff. In the winter months if there was an urgent message it was delivered by someone on skis.

Skis were the mode of travel in the winter. Enough supplies were bought in the fall to last until the next spring. By ’28 or ’29, the roads were opened once in a while. A home made snow plow fashioned from two grader blades and weighted with rocks was pulled by a team of horses to clear the roads. The work was very hard, the horses tired very quickly and the teams had to be changed often. Some of the families who lent horses for this purpose were: Lahtis, Jacobsons, Pleunas and Holmes. Occasionally, Inco’s “Big Bertha” would clear Highway 17. By the 1940’s the highway was kept open during the winter, but the side roads were often blocked with snow.

Mr. Holmes did blacksmith work and was generally a jack-of-all trades. The Kallios owned a threshing machine. Mr. Holmes had a steam engine to power the thresher. Together they travelled around the community threshing rye, oats and barley for neighbouring farmers. Co-operation was a necessity in those days, money was scarce and each person depended on his neighbor. In spite of the hard work, lack of hydro and telephone and scarcity of money in the early years, there was co-operation among people. People had to get along because they needed one another.

When a veterinarian was required, Dr. Manchester travelled out from Sudbury. Mrs. Hietala recalls spending many nights in the barn on a pile of hay awaiting the birth of a calf. The only light was from a flickering lantern hung on a nail on the barn wall.

Saunas were usually limited to Saturdays. Mrs. Hietala recalls the old time sauna was located quite a distance from the house. The steam part was log and the dressing room was built from rough lumber. In the winter it was too cold to dress there, so every one changed in the steam room. The trips with water from the house to the sauna were long and cold in winter.

The work on the farm was hard and done with horses. Mrs. Hietala says it was a pleasure when tractors were used instead of teams. Horses were still required for raking hay and for bush work in the winter. Most of the food was grown on the farm. Bacon and hams were made from pigs slaughtered on the farm and the meat smoked in the steam bath. They grew their own vegetables, baked bread and made preserves.

In spite of the hard work, young people still found time to have fun. Often as many as twenty from Black Lake Road and Waters would walk to Naughton where they would all meet at the home of an elderly French gentleman. They sat around and talked, then someone would come along with a fiddle, soon a caller would show up and the square dancing would start. Young people aged 14, 15 and 16 would congregate there once a week, usually on a Friday or Saturday night in the warm weather.

Katri Holmes and Toivo Hietala were married in 1926. The couple stayed on the farm and raised their three children, Raymond, Susan and June there. They continued farming until 1945. By that time the social fabric of the community area was gradually changing from a rural community to an industrialized and suburban lifestyle. Inco had purchased the farms on the north side of Highway 17. This area is now part of Walden’s Industrial Park. Much of the Hietala’s original farm is also part of the industrial park development.

There is some sadness in her voice as Mrs. Hietala recalls the talks about the disappearance of those former small farms and adds that only herself and Arthur Duhamel who lives up the hill remain of the original neighbours. Ed Salo, the last one to farm and the Harju’s farm have disappeared. The Diebl farm is almost covered with tailings. Fabian Makela’s farm has been swallowed up by the Industrial Park. The Kallio’s and Nelson’s farms are gone. When the Holmes first arrived at the farm, the old brick plant was situated close to the farm although it was not in operation then. It too is gone.

There were several French families living in the district then. Mrs. Hietala recalls learning to speak French well enough to carry on a conversation with them.

Mrs. Hietala says that the change she has found the hardest to accept is the necessity of having to lock doors and living in fear. She adds that if this is progress, it’s in the wrong direction. There is a lack of time for visiting, everyone is in a rush, much with their own lives. In the old days everyone visited and laid out a “spread of food” when friends dropped by. The four lane highway has brought better access, but it has also brought problems too. Inflation is another shock. She recalls one winter her husband worked for 45 cents an hour and in the spring bought a brand new car, costing $700.

Despite all the change she has seen around her, she has no desire to move now from the home that is filled with so many treasured memories and happy times. There have been so many changes. Fifteen years ago, the only development was the mini golf course in the field behind the house. Now a paved road cuts through the property to the industrial park where several industries have located. She wistfully muses, as thoughts switch from the past to the future, “what changes will the next ten years bring?”