NOTES: Scroll down the page to view more recent posts. Most images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Thistle Ha’ is a farm located in Pickering Township, Ontario, Canada. It was settled by Scottish immigrant John Miller in 1839.

John Miller of Thistle Ha' John Miller (pictured) and his descendants had a tremendous influence on the purebred livestock industry in Canada and the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Millers were renowned innovators, importers, breeders, exhibitors, judges and promoters of Shorthorn cattle, Clydesdale horses, Berkshire and Yorkshire pigs, and Shropshire, Leicester and Cotswold sheep.

In recognition of the contributions of the Millers to Canadian agriculture, Thistle Ha’ farm was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1973 and a Province of Ontario Heritage Property in 1977. The honours awarded to individual family members – including those related to the Millers by marriage – for their contributions to the purebred livestock industry are too numerous to list here.

Thistle Ha’ is currently owned and operated by the fourth generation of Millers in Canada.


2017 Potato Patch July 2

The Potato Project. (Click to enlarge.)

Ms Norland led a group of Grade 3 pupils and Grade 7 mentors from Vimy Ridge Public School Earthkeepers to Thistle Ha’ again this year to plant potatoes on June 12. The Earthkeepers’ two rows of potatoes are on the right, and their row of sweet potatoes is in the middle. This activity’s history is explained in The Potato Project post below.

Click on the 2017 Potato Project link in the Pages column on the right to see progress photos of the Earthkeepers potato patch during the summer.

The Potato Project. (Click to embiggen.)

I had a conversation with a neighbour in April about the success that the naturalist and environmental movements had in making outdoor nature studies part of the local school program. This discussion prompted a question: why wasn’t the farming community providing a comparable learning experience? Most children, particularly those living in urban areas, know little about local sources of their food, or how it is grown. Students from some rural Ontario schools visit a farm or an agricultural fair for a day, but I am not aware of any pupil in this province having the same experience as a farmer – going to a farm field, preparing the soil, planting seeds, and then watching the crop grow until they can harvest it for food.

I asked if any local school had interest in participating in a potato growing pilot project at Thistle Ha’. Potatoes are the most commonly grown vegetable in the world. Planting and harvesting fit well within the school calendar. A teacher at Vimy Ridge Public School in Ajax very enthusiastically agreed to participate in our Potato Project this year. So a couple of weeks ago, a school bus came to Thistle Ha’, loaded with 19 willing potato planters and two teachers from the Vimy Ridge Public School EarthKeepers Club. We planted potatoes the same way my ancestors did – in hand-made furrows. The first lesson learned was concern about the weather. The soil was just workable due to wet weather prior to planting day. Rain threatened during planting, but except for a few drops, it remained fair, and we planted five rows, totaling over 100 potato seeds, in two hours.

During school summer vacation, I do the hard part, controlling weeds and potato plant eating pests. Provided that we have good summer weather and rains, there should be plenty of potatoes for the EarthKeepers to return to harvest in September.

Click on the 2014 Potato Project link in the Pages column on the right to see progress photos during the summer.

Source: Essay “The Grand Outrage of the Grand Old Man” by Donald Creighton, Toronto Globe and Mail, October 21, 1972. Thanks to Chris and local historian Tommy Thompson of Whitevale, Ontario for rediscovering this gem.

This past June 11th, Canada’s Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, revived a 41-year-old federal government political decision to build an international airport in north Pickering, including a new threat of urban development. The site is on Canada’s best Class 1 farm land, including Ontario designated, environmentally sensitive Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine land. This announcement was made despite the fact that the three existing jet-serviced international airports in south-central Ontario are operating at about half of their combined maximum passenger capacity. With no price tag, no business case, and no need, there is no reason to build an airport in Pickering. Mr Flaherty’s announcement re-energized local organizations who have long opposed the Pickering airport scheme and the needless destruction of prime farmland; such as, Green Durham Association, and Land over Landings, who during the summer has allied with other groups opposed, including Friends of the Rouge, Save the Oak Ridges Moraine, and Food and Water First.

Corn crop on the Tapscott farm on the north Pickering federal lands. The Tapscott family still farms and lives on this property that the federal government expropriated from them in 1972, for an airport that was never built. (Click to embiggen.)

Criticisms of the Pickering airport proposal have not changed over the past 41 years. University of Toronto history professor Donald Creighton was regarded by many as the foremost Canadian historian of the mid-20th century. Living in Brooklin, Ontario, he took an interest in the Pickering airport. After researching the history behind the decision, in the fall of 1972 he wrote the following essay of outrage at the Pickering airport decision.

On March 2, 1972, the Governments of Canada and Ontario, like two great eagles sailing high in the sky, swooped down and pounced on the unsuspecting and unprotected citizens of Pickering Township, Ontario County.

A second international airport for the Toronto-centred region, the federal government declared in a joint announcement, will be located in Pickering Township, just to the northeast of Toronto. There had been no warning of this extraordinary czarist ukase.

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