John Miller/Thistle Ha’

Audio recorded in 2000 by Hugh Miller in the last few months of his life.

Following the Napoleonic Wars, the Scottish economy was depressed. Land owners were merging their tenants’ centuries-old subsistence farms into large tracts of land suitable for more profitable livestock farming. Many tenants left their farms in the so-called Lowland Clearances. Land owners were merciless to tenants unwilling to leave their plots; demanding ever increasing rents even in years when crops/prices were poor.

By the 1830s, William Miller could only see a bleak future for his children in Scotland. His younger brother George left for Canada in 1832, and undoubtedly sent back word that the Canadian farms were much larger and much more fertile, and that established settlers were prosperous. So William Miller’s oldest child John, having finished his schooling at age 17, left Dumfriesshire and arrived at his Uncle George’s farm in Markham, Ontario on June 1, 1835.

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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.


As told by: Hugh Miller
Revised on Feb. 5, 2006 by John: Corrected origin of the word Ha’.

As he cleared his farm of trees, John Miller discovered that no matter what he sowed in the newly cultivated bush soil, the crop was accompanied by a discouraging abundance of thistles. Displaying his dry sense of humour about the nature of his crops, and perhaps thinking of the floral emblem of his native Scotland, he named his property Thistle Ha’.

Ha’ [pronounced “haw”] is the Scots word for Hall, which refers to an estate where the owner resides.

In 1954, Hurricane Hazel toppled numerous trees in the bush at Thistle Ha’. The next summer, Hugh Miller noticed that thistles were the dominant growth in the newly exposed soil surrounding the upended tree roots.

From a 1935 news clipping [source unidentified] about the early years at Thistle Ha’:

By good cultivation the thistles were brought under control but not before they had caused considerable irritation to skin and temper. On one occasion…the men helping…to thresh grumbled about having to feed sheaves into the mill. Vexed by the fuss they were making…John Miller stepped up to the machine and proceeded to handle the prickly grain with his bare arms. The effects of the thistles became more and more pronounced as the day progressed, but he remained at his post. As this indicates, John Miller was a man of action, a trait strongly evident in his livestock and farming operations.

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