February 2006


Robert Miller’s portrait (pictured) hangs in the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame Gallery located at the Royal Agriculture Winter Fair in Toronto.

Robert Miller At age 20, Robert became the eldest of John Miller’s sons living at Thistle Ha’. Over the next two decades, he became the leader of the John Miller & Sons livestock business, firmly establishing the reputation of Thistle Ha’ as a great centre of purebred livestock activity. Starting in 1881 on behalf of Thistle Ha’ and later for his Burn Brae farm at Ringwood, Ontario (Stouffville), Robert Miller made over two dozen trips to Britain and north-western Europe, importing livestock for improvement of breeding herds in Canada. During his travels, he developed an extensive sales network, and gained markets for Ontario breeders in the United States and Mexico. By visiting all the top livestock farms, he saw world breeding trends, and developed an ability of nearly always selecting the best livestock for his customers. Because of this reputation, he was widely sought after as a judge at livestock shows.

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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.

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