BASTION MOUNTAIN RANCH - TALES OF A FARM FAMILY


My family lived on a Ranch full time from 1993 until 2015. We were a 5th generation family farm.
I am writing this blog to share my experiences living there. It is best to read the blog chronologically by going through the archives, starting with the introduction in January of 2010.
The blog starts with the arrival of my great-grandparents to the farm in 1947 and will follow the families to the present.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Love, old war wounds, scars


There was another significant departure by ship in the Tate family history.  Betty’s father, Cyril Tate, fought in the New Zealand army during the Second World War. He left behind Betty and her older brother, who were young children at the time.  He would have been excused from war duty due to his young family but choose to go, a common phenomenon for many men when faced with the prospect of wartime duty.   Men were swept up in the hope for adventure and the promise of travel.  Others were more motivated by patriotic duty. 
New Zealand troops leaving for war.

New Zealand became part of World War Two when it declared war on Germany in September 1939.  In honour of the “Mother” country, Britain, New Zealand provided men for service in the British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.  In April 1941 New Zealand deployed the 2nd Division to the war.  I believe that Cyril was part of the 2nd division that participated in the liberation of Italy, a role that Italy commemorates with ANZAC Day ceremonies every year in Rome on April 25th.  The Italian Campaign was challenging due to climatic extremes and mountainous terrain.  (credits to the NGA TOA project).

A 1940 poster, signed by Michael Joseph Savage, calling on New Zealanders to support the war effort.  Credits to Wikipedia.


New Zealand contributed 140,000 soldiers to the Allied war effort.  The war had a high cost on the country, with 11,625 New Zealanders killed, the highest rate in the Commonwealth.  (credits to Wikki books). Cyril was fortunate not to be among the deceased and was able to return to his family.

Stories among people often have common elements.  My husband's grandfather also choose to enlist in the army, and left behind his wife and two young children.  He spent the wartime years in Halifax as a Signal-man, having received the honor of being the only person in Canadian Naval history at the time to receive a 100% on the exam. Due to the high accuracy of his signals he was permanently stationed in the strategic position of the Halifax Harbour. His wife felt very strongly that it was her husband's duty to serve in the war effort. She moved her family in with her in-laws for extra support during those years.
My grandfather also had been exempted from service but choose to enlist and was sent to the foreign shores of Italy and Egypt. We know from historical accounts that the war effort in those countries was horrific with a high mortality. My grandfather never spoke of his service and what it entailed.   My grandmother was left to care for their two children and her invalid mother-in-law.  She choose to hire a person to care for the family and took her husband's job that he had left.  She obtained her truck license which was part of the work requirements, and thus was able to support her family.
The couple wrote each other every day during those war years. There was much to share as they both were embracing new experiences. I was told that my grandmother kept those letters until well after her husband's death at which time she slowly burned them on a little fire she had made at the back of her house.  The image of her performing this ritual inspired the following poem:

There comes a time to lay it all to rest,
whatever that may be.
Love, old war wounds, scars,
the bruises and bumps of life.
There is a tidal pull that moves us, gentle but sure.
And so we lay the wood down, pause, add the memory,
ties to the heart, it all goes in.
The heat leaves nothing, each day gone into flames.
Remember when.
And then finished by wind, water, fire.
Best not to leave anything, no words to ponder later.
Yes it does hurt, a gasping rawness of that final farewell.
A wondering, I was all of that?
We were.
I am left.




Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ribbons of Farewell

May of 1962 found Eddy and Betty leaving New Zealand and making their slow way back to Canoe Point and the farm.  Eddy had declared that farming in New Zealand was "a holiday compared to their farm", but despite the strong temptation the dream of moving to New Zealand would not materialize.
Eddy and Betty were sailing near the end of the passenger ship era. The departure scene at that time was still very festive, family and friends would be invited aboard the ship to tour the facilities. Some ships offered refreshments to the visitors and a band would be playing to encourage dancing.  I remember hearing the story of the "ribbon throwing" ceremony but I am not sure if it was my relatives in New Zealand or Switzerland that did this.  A spool of ribbon would be held both by the departing family member or friend, with the other end held by well wishers on the pier.  As the ship would slowly pull away the ribbon would break, symbolizing the farewell.  


Canada would become home for Betty, and she would see very little of her family in the ensuing years.  Travel to New Zealand was prohibitively expensive which made even attending important family events such as the funeral of her parents impossible. I travelled to New Zealand three times with my parents, the last time it was with my one year old son.  The first two visits we had the joy of visiting my grandparents in Waitra where they had a beautiful home on a large lot. Waitra is within the traditional territory of my ancestral tribe, the Ngati Awa.  My grandparents were a fun loving couple, creating a wonderful atmosphere for children.  Their large yard held lemons and oranges, and a tree with branches that swept the ground creating a shady green fort. A short distance down their street we could purchase my favorite flavour of New Zealand ice cream, Tutti Frutti.
I have wondered when my family would miss each other most, and asked my Aunt last time I visited her in Switzerland.  Renee, her mother, had left Switzerland soon after my Aunt married and it would be many years before Renee would be able to make regular visits. My Aunt told me it was during the birth of her children that she wished most for her Mother.
Loss and separation, are events I have become intimate with in the last few years, inspiring the following poem:

Ribbons of Farewell


 I am thankful.
My soul has been scrubbed clean,
even the dust bunnies in the corners have been chased down,
and stamped on.
Not often in your life are you given this chance to be cut away,
cut away from all that has held you,
home, family.
A clean slate to build back on,
a quartz rock my niece found for me.
Abandoned bird nests.
The old goose egg we hoped came from a dinosaur.
I need so little now.
Everyday I face the pain,
it has become a familiar friend, a reminder of all that is possible.
I make room in my heart, shift things around,
smile a welcome.

Friday, June 10, 2011

There are no dynasties or legacies



Eddy, despite the temptation of farming in New Zealand, was planning during those many months for his return to the farm.  The letters to Gus were regular and of a similar theme, consisting of lists of projects that would render the farm both profitable and attractive.  Eddy wanted the farm to look “it’s best” in order to be an appropriate backdrop for the new hay loader he was importing from New Zealand.  Eddy was also preparing for the visit of Mr. and Mrs. Naef, Gus’s parents.  The Naef family in Switzerland made financial contributions to the farm and Eddy wanted to impress on them the viability of the business. 

Trying to make the farm a profitable business has been an ongoing issue since it’s inception, similar to the vast majority of farms other than those in the agribusiness class.  Eddy had already begun the pattern of working “off” the farm before he went to New Zealand and despite all his plans while he was away he would continue to use outside employment to support his family upon his return.  The hay loader idea was one of many that were explored over the years to no avail.  By the time my husband and I moved to the farm Shuswap Lake had become a popular tourist destination, which is why we actively explored and then developed an agritourism concept. 

The other challenge other than financial was the merging of families on the farm.  The introduction of new members in a family can raise issues of power and control, especially when there is a family business to consider. There are indications that Eddy had emerged in a leadership role, most likely occurring after the passing of his grandfather.  I have the wisdom of time to know that the partnership did more or less succeed, only disintegrating at this point in the history of the farm.  The new sign post below symbolizes what did take place successfully for many years, the cooperation of families working together towards a common goal.



Renee standing beside the new entrance sign

There are no dynasties


Mark the name everywhere, and it all still goes.
There are no dynasties, legacies.
Loss makes us all the same.
Yes, you are holding on so tight, wanting it all.
Wisdom warns us, history can show us,
That it all ends, maybe all that is left is our souls.
All the endless grasping, beating down.
For nothing.
And it robs from the present, a time stealer.
That is my sorrow, all the lost moments,
wasted it seems in circles of thought.
So easy to be free.
Just let go.

Caroline Miege

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Make hay while the sun shines.

June was the month when we would get the first of our three crops of hay off the fields.  The work would begin early in the month with cleaning and fixing the machinery in an effort to reduce inevitable breakdowns.  The process is completely mechanized now which nearly always means expensive and labour consuming repairs.
Our second son was born on June 22, right in the middle of getting the first crop of the year in.  The grass is at it's thickest in June, making the crop heavy and time consuming, the machines even more prone to breaking.  The quest is always to get the hay in without being rained on which in June is challenging given the unstable weather patterns.  My son made his appearance at this time and I felt that we were causing a major inconvenience.  My husband appeared somewhat distracted and after an early release from the hospital my son and I were left alone.  There is a lack of  recognition in our culture that support  is required for the new mother and baby as they struggle through those first few days of healing.  Fortunately for us I had a relatively uncomplicated birth and my son was calm and healthy.  I would advise anyone in my position to plan their births outside of the hay season or hire help.  
Given the time pressures and the heavy work of making hay it is always been a topic of discussion on the farm on how to make the whole process faster and easier.  It is for this reason that Eddy was so excited when while honeymooning in New Zealand he came across a miraculous piece of machinery.  It was a hay loader invented by Mr. Maxwell who was quite interested in creating an overseas market with the help of Eddy.  The machine required "only one driver for the truck or tractor and one man on the wagon or deck of the truck to put the bales in order - we can load as fast as you can bale".  Eddy was determined that he would be able to obtain a lot of contract work and that the machines would "sell like bread".   As the months went on Eddy became increasingly excited about this piece of machinery, suggesting that they paint the tractor, baler and side delivery rake in order to make a movie of the hay making with the new machine for T.V. There were long lists of work to do to make the farm look its best for all the people who will be coming to look at this demonstration model.  It seemed that Gus became quite overwhelmed with the complications of arranging the delivery and the worry about the implications for the new machine on the farm.  Eddy hastened to reassure him that the machine would not take time away from the farm and indeed would save them time as well as making them good money as he was convinced that sales would be like "popcorn at a movie".  Gus was also concerned about breakdowns but the machine apparently only had one possible piece that could break and Eddy was bringing home a spare as well any parts could easily be made by a local blacksmith.
Eventually of course Eddy did purchase his machine at a price of 600 dollars, using the money the newlyweds were going to use to purchase furniture and appliances for their new house.  Eddy was a fiercely determined man and when his mind was set on an idea could not be swayed from it.  
The machine was a miraculous invention due to it's simplicity.  It indeed never did break down unlike all the other machines on the farm and did make the work easier and faster.  However the dreams of creating a market here in Canada never did materialize and the machine remained the only one of it's kind.  It served the farm for many years until it was replaced by another type of loading device.  

Hay making in June

Don’t forget who you were,
the college professor, the breastfeeding mother, a young farmer.
It is all still there in the tired aching skin of our lives.
How we are tossed and turned!
Every moment of this life brings a new resolution, I must.
I must be strong, well, survive.
It is not always so.
We are sometimes none of these things.
But still those old skins find us in our dark corners.
Remember when?
Then in a flood we feel;
the baby on the breast, the hay crop in before the rains.
It is all still there, and what more?
Around that corner of life.
All yet unknown, an African journey, a beach wedding,
a parrot that quotes Shakespeare.
I don’t know, but I can hardly wait.


Caroline Miege