My name is Cathryne L. Horne (nee Karst) and I was born and raised on a farm just outside of Kenaston, Saskatchewan in 1930. Years later, my family moved to Fort William, Ontario, due to the depression and farming being no longer viable out west.
We heard about the Farmerette program through our high school in Fort William, Ontario. Our parents thought it would be a great opportunity to live and work in southern Ontario for the summer. Our Aunt on the other hand, couldn’t believe that my Mom and Dad would be allowing us to spend the whole summer miles away from home on our own. Dad was not looking forward to cutting the lawns and not having our help in the vegetable gardens but our Mom, a school teacher, thought it would be a great experience.
So, in the summer of 1947 myself, my older sister Sheila (Karst) Warren and our neighbour, Elaine (Knickerboker) Carpenter received our train fare from the program and we were off on our adventure and on my first train ride ever. My Mom packed us lunches for the trip along with decks of cards to keep us busy. A couple of soldiers nearby us on the train kept bidding on our cookies but I don’t remember selling any.
The next morning, at first light, I was so amazed at the changed countryside. Our birch and fir trees and rock cuts around Lake Superior had changed into open fields with the occasional large spreading oak or maple tree, so picturesque and so different from what we were used to.
We arrived at the train station in St Catharines and assigned to our camps. Elaine & I to Tregunno camp on Carlton Street which was in Grantham Township (the northern part of St. Catharines) and my sister Sheila and her friend went to a camp nearby in Queenston where they worked for a Mr. Fischer I believe.
My summer home became a Quonset hut which we shared with two girls from Toronto. It was not roomy but as far as I can remember all four of us got along just fine. The small cots must have been passable because I really don’t remember not being able to sleep.
The first day we were awakened early, had a good breakfast, made our lunches and were supplied with salt tablets. We were picked up by our farmer, Mr. Troup, and rode on a low flat bed trailer pulled by an old converted farm car. We sat on the trailer with our feet hanging over the edge. Later on, we found out that this large low flat bed was very well suited for transporting the many baskets of fruit or vegetables we picked, all in a single layer and dropped off at a nearby cannery or the co-op.
Our first job was cutting very, very, long rows of asparagus. It was a back breaking job and unfortunately new spears can grow overnight so, for what seemed forever, each day started with asparagus cutting and only ended when its growing season came to an end.
Our next job wasn’t much easier on my back either. The transplanting of new tomato or cabbage plants. We would follow behind a farmer who made a cut with a spade into which we dropped a seedling plant and then secured the plant with our foot, but not always too accurately. We were paid twenty-five cents an hour doing that.
We also picked strawberries and we were paid two or four cents a basket depending on how plentiful the berries were.
Another job we had was thinning peaches so that the peaches remaining on the tree would grow larger. During the thinning the peach fuzz was terrible and the more that you tried to rub it off, especially from your neck, the worse it got. We eventually learned to wear kerchiefs around our necks. But that only helped a little.
We picked tomatoes too. They gave us nail polish to wear to show us the colour of the tomatoes that were ready to be picked and I remember that after thinning tomatoes all day when we showered the water coming off us was literally green.
Cherry season was great! I enjoyed getting up into the trees where there was shade and sometimes a breeze. The cherries even seemed more plentiful the higher you climbed. This was possibly due to the fact that some of the girls refused to get too far off the ground. I don’t know what we were paid per six-quart basket but I know I made $10 a week clear after paying my room & board ($4/week) whenever picking sweet or sour cherries. When we missed a day’s work because of rain we could come up short.
We also hoed between grape rows (I hated that) and did some grape tying but the grape season really only started in the fall after we had gone back home.
Some days after a hot day of working we complained bitterly about how tired we were but after a shower and a good meal our energy level renewed. We would walk down a tree lined road (Carlton Street) for a swim in the Welland Canal (strictly forbidden these days).
On Friday and Saturday, we could take the street car to Port Dalhousie to swim or go to a dance at the pavilion. One Saturday we went to Niagara Falls to an arena where there was a big orchestra playing. I don’t remember how we got there or what it cost but I had never seen so many musicians with such a great sound. Even today, when I hear a big band like Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman on the radio, I can still visualize that first time.
If we ventured out anywhere, we always hitch-hiked in a group of three for safety and if there was a service man thumbing nearby us, we would try and hitch with him because a man in uniform always seemed to be able to get rides right away.
In late August the peach crop was not quite ready and there wasn’t any other work with Mr. Troup so when Elaine’s aunt asked if we would like to visit her and help out on their chicken farm, we set off for the Orangeville area.
We enjoyed our time there doing odd jobs but mainly we helped caponize (removing the testicles and neutering) young roosters, something I found quite interesting.
On Saturday night when we were there we went into a small town and found that everyone knew everyone and all we met were very friendly. After our time there we back to St Catharines to pick peaches for Mr. Troup before returning home by train for another year of high school.
The summer of 1948 saw my sister Sheila, June Hare and myself return to the Farmerette program and this time went to a camp at Grimsby Beach. We did much the same work as the previous year but as old hands now, we tried to take in more sights and activities on our free time. We went down to the beach most days after work and even managed some boat rides with some of the local boys. We even went shopping in Niagara Falls, New York a couple of times for clothes.
We were told that some of the local girls hated Farmerettes because the local guys would drop their regular girlfriends to go with Farmerettes for the summer.
My Mom wrote Sheila and I saying that our Grandmother was visiting relatives in Strathroy, Ontario and that she had suggested we visit her if we were looking for something to do on a weekend. We showed the letter to the camp housemother and got her okay to take the trip out to Strathroy.
The three of us headed out hitch- hiking Friday night after work and we made it as far as Paris, Ontario where we decided to stay at the YWCA. It was located in the centre of town next to the Police Station with the noise of cars and people coming and going at all hours. We didn’t sleep to well that night!
We got several short rides on Saturday before a man who lived in Strathroy stopped and picked us up and then drove us right to the address. He then waited for us to make sure the people were actually home.
A woman answered the door and when we told her we had come to see our Grandmother she said that our Grandmother wasn’t there and that she had gone to visit other relatives, then she promptly shut the door.
All three of us stood looking at the door for a moment in shock before our ride asked us what had happened. He knew our situation and he said not to worry, that he could take us home to his wife who would love to have us over.
He told us that he and his wife had raised two foster girls who had just aged out of care at eighteen and that she was missing them a lot. When we arrived at his home his wife was delighted and made us a lovely chicken dinner. We helped with the dishes, then they suggested a short drive out to Grand Bend on Lake Huron to see the sights there and we accepted their offer.
What a lovely spot with such a huge expanse of sandy beach, lots of people, a midway and a roller rink. We enjoyed walking around taking in the sights and activities then they drove us back to their home and put us up in their guest room for a good night’s sleep.
Sunday morning, we were driven out to the highway in order to start our thumbing trip back to camp. What a great welcoming couple our hosts had been. We actually kept in touch with them and later on when our parents toured Southern Ontario they stopped by and thanked them personally for showing us so much kindness.
Summer ended and we returned to Fort William where my sister and I both started our training to become Registered Nurses.
I met David Horne from Port Arthur, Ontario and later married him in 1952. We decided to move to St Catharines and my husband who was an R.C.M.P. officer at the time joined the local Grantham Township police force and I worked at the hospital as a Registered Nurse.
In 1959 we decided to build a house for our growing family and decided on a lot in north St Catharines at the end of a subdivision with a peach orchard next door.
We were one street west of Bunting Road which was lined with house on both sides but we still had a good view of the large ships going through the Welland Canal. Unfortunately, we could also hear the canal workers during the night on their loudspeakers (no cell phones back then) calling out the number of metres left to fit the ship into the lock (at lock two).
On a lovely spring day in 1959 I decided to take my two sons on a walk down Scott Street to watch The Queen Elizabeth Launch make one last trip through the Welland Canal. As we walked east on Scott street from Bunting Road, I recognized the farmhouse, between newer homes, where Elaine and I had worked as Farmerettes in 1947. A nice brick home now stood where the Troup’s cow pasture had been and where the picture of Bessy (the cow) and I had been taken in 1947.
I couldn’t believe that twelve years later we had unknowingly built a home so close to my original introduction to Southern Ontario.
In 1952 my young sister Geri and three friends also decided to spend their summer in the Farmerette program. Geri worked the summer for Mr. Nelles out of a Grimsby camp and did most of the same work as I did. During her free time, she also enjoyed the local attractions, hitch-hiking wherever they went. With four in their group it was sometimes a little harder to get rides so they devised a plan. Two girls would thumb and the other two would keep in the background until a car stopped, then all four would pile in. It worked well and none of the driver’s ever verbally complained.
Geri also went shopping in Niagara Falls, New York and she thinks that they stayed overnight in a hotel there. She bought a nice jacket for $2.95 and wore it back so she wouldn’t have to pay duty on it. Cathy Graham, Gloria Senerchuk and Phylis Kline were the girls in my sister Geri’s little group.
Geri enjoyed Farmerette Camp very much and planned to return the following summer but before finishing high school in 1953 she was offered a permanent secretarial job locally so she did not return to the program.