He plowed the land with an ox and an ax

There’s a song that goes “…give me land, lots of land, and the starry skies above
Don’t fence me in.” My great grandfather, James Herbert Jerry, purchased a farm in Crozier, Northwestern, Ontario. He was a strong man. He had an ox that pulled the plow. In one hand Granddad Jerry held the reins and in another an ax. As he plowed, he would hit tree roots, and whack, down would come the ax splitting the roots and allowing the ox to continue on. This is how he cleared his land.

Robert and Harriet Jerry with family – Herbert Jerry with gun in Crozier, Ontario

Granddad Jerry grew up in poverty. His family was so poor that 10 year old Herb worked at a neighbour’s farm to earn money for the family. The family moved around, ending up in Crozier, Northwestern Ontario in the early 1900’s. It’s here he met his future wife, a teacher, Margaret Electa Cranston.

In the early 20th century, the only way for a poor adult to get land was to homestead. Homesteaders paid a $10 registration fee and were given 160 acres. Ownership for this land was granted if the farmer lived on the land for 3 years, cultivated 30 acres, and build a house worth $300. Granddad Jerry homestead in Saskatchewan – close to Hawarden. In 1915, he journeyed by train to Comber, Ontario and married Margaret Cranston.
After the wedding they traveled to the farm in Saskatchewan.

Herbert and Margaret Jerry in Saskatchewan

All four of their children, Bethel, Josephine, Bud, and Anna, were born in Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, Margaret, their mother, suffered from mental illness. In 1923, after Anna was born, her illness was so severe she was sent to the psychiatric hospital in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. Since there wasn’t anyone to care for the children, with Grandma Jerry in the hospital and Granddad Jerry working the farm, the children were sent to their maternal relatives in Comber – where family members raised them for 3 or more years.

Eventually, Grandma and Granddad Jerry joined their children. Granddad Jerry tried working in the Leamington factory for a couple of years but didn’t like it. He wanted to farm. His mother and some of his brothers were still in Crozier so they decided to move there. They traveled in a big car, arriving in 1929.

While I was in university, I met an older man who remembered Herb Jerry and how he plowed his land with an ox and an ax. He eventually sold that farm to his daughter and son-in-law and purchased a smaller piece of land not far away. We children would go with Dad to visit him. I remember my great granddad Jerry as a man who loved his land. He was patient and could explain anything about nature.

Herbert Jerry in 1962 at his daughter’s house

He had a difficult life; extreme poverty as a child, and later, an unstable wife who was in and out of the psychiatric hospital. Despite this, in his old age, he exuded peace. He didn’t leave his land until the last years of his life. At about age 88 he finally moved into town to allow his daughter to care for him.

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