CORNWALL, Ontario – At 100 years of age Fay Shaver of Maxville could very well be the oldest plowman in the province.
Raised on a 100-acre farm at the north end of old Osnabruck Township, Stormont County, he recalls the autumn landscape and what was surely the impetus for the plowing match tradition.
“After the farmers had harvested their crops and plowed their fields it was a panoramic vista of plowed land throughout the country,” he says. “A drive through the country-side showed various degrees of good plowing, some excellent and many not-so-good.”
“They were good plowmen”, he says of his neighbours in Sandtown, a diminished hamlet barely recognizable today on the Sandtown Road. They were competitive, many trying to out-plow each other. “In the fall it was a picture to see.”
Contemporary plowmen compete locally at county matches but in the early days when Fay was a young man, the province was divided into provincial districts with townships also holding their own matches, he explains.
In their teens and twenties, Fay and his cousin Roy Shaver tore up the roads back in the 1930’s attending a half dozen or more plowing matches each fall, mostly in the five Eastern Counties.
They were good plowmen, qualifying often for international and regional matches. When the matches were too far from home for their own horses, he and Roy would haul their plows by trailer behind the car and compete with teams provided by local farmers.
Fay plowed with an 8.5-inch narrow plow and Roy used a 10-inch jointer plow.
“Our coulters were sharp enough to cut meat,” he boasts. Similar plows compete in the horse and walking-plow classes at plowing matches today.
He was 22 years old and newly married to his bride Orlean when he drove his own team to D.L. MacLennan’s farm for the 1936 International Plowing Match (IPM) on the South Branch Road, north of Cornwall.
It was an advantage to compete with his own team and possible only because there was a family connection and he was able to board them at the MacLennan farm. He can’t recall how he placed at the 1936 match.
But, he does recall plowing with Roy at the 1939 Leeds & Grenville IPM. It was held near Brockville at the Ontario Hospital and adjoining farms. Like many institutions of that era, the facility for the mentally ill included its own farm. The Salada Tea Company sponsored classes at local matches and the winners could go on to compete at the IPM.
The top two plowmen in that class won trips to plowing matches in Scotland.
“I qualified at our local plowing match, plowed in the Salada Tea Class at the IPM and placed 12th in a class of over 60 plowmen,” he says.
Roy also qualified for an IPM near Guelph and Fay travelled up with him.
“Personally, I learned many lessons that helped me in later years,” he says. But, the highlight of that trip was a stop at Queen’s University in Kingston.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen a football game,” he says.
Although it was thought he would eventually farm alongside Roy on half of their great-grand father, John Shaver’s United Empire Loyalist land grant, it didn’t turn out that way.
The Great Depression overshadowed the halcyon days of the autumn plowing match. During the 1930’s Fay worked for a time building houses and taking correspondence courses from the Cornwall Business College. Most of his professional life was spent as an industrial accountant at the Nestle Plant in Chesterville.
Cousin Roy Shaver continued to compete, was an accomplished plowman and served as President of the Ontario Plowmen’s Association in 1950. Fay was long off the farm when the 1958 IPM was held in Crysler. He didn’t compete that year but did attend as a plowing coach.
From a horse-drawn walking plow to Google and Microsoft, Fay Shaver has not just witnessed but experienced the technological advances of a century. He bought his first computer in 1995 while caring for his wife. He is remarkably proficient and uses emails and the internet most days. And, because his eye sight isn’t what it used to be, finds the computer screen easier to read than books and newspapers. From time to time he has also used his computer skills to help staff at the Maxville Manor, the care facility he has been living in for several years now.
With the 2015 Stormont Dundas Glengarry IPM and Rural Expo just a few short miles from his childhood home, every effort is being made to get Fay to Finch this September.
“They say they’re going to get me there somehow,” he says with optimistic enthusiasm.