Outstanding in the Field – Harvest Postcards from P.E.I.

During the golden age of the postcard agriculture was Canada’s largest industry. The country was overwhelmingly rural. However postcards produced throughout the period tended to focus on the large cities and the emerging towns and villages proudly showing busy streets and important buildings. Some postcard publishers seemed to have ignored rural scenes completely while others had a few scattered images showing scenes outside town. Even the small local publishers seem to have felt that the farm scene was too common to make a marketable card. Larger national publishers sometimes had a special series dedicated to scenes from rural life. Even when rural areas are shown it is often the landscape that is featured rather than farming activities.

This image by W.S. Louson appears here on a card with no publisher identified but possibly is one produced for Carter and Company of Charlottetown. The same image, with Louson identified as the photographer, appears as Warwick Bros. & Rutter card #2650.

Pre-WWI postcards of Prince Edward Island seem to follow this pattern. W.S. Louson whose images are featured on many of the early Island cards seems to have preferred his landscapes without people. When they are present that are clearly observing rather than participating in rural life.  Louson himself was a “city boy,” brought up in Montreal and living in the urban centre of the Island.  In a typical scene his take on the harvest is as a prop for a woman and children (possibly his wife and daughters) out on an excursion from the town.

The activity of farming as opposed to the rural landscape is less often seen. For a province like Prince Edward Island it was hardly exotic. It seemed that almost everyone was either living on a farm or had recently left one for the town and postcards of the commonplace were unlikely to be big sellers. However even W.S. Louson was capable of making exceptions and the scene of a small boy riding atop a binder on his farmer father’s lap was added to the images selected for publication by Warwick & Rutter.

Harvesting – Prince Edward Island. Warwick Bros. & Rutter card #2685. Based on other photos of the period this is possibly the Gates farm on the Lower Malpeque Road in Charlottetown Royalty

Nationally major card publishers produced a number of series dedicated to rural life or rural scenes. Prolific postcard book author Mike Smith has identified series published by Warwick Bros. & Rutter and by Brantford publisher Stedman Bros. (later to be known for their chain of Stedman Stores in small cities and towns). Many of these rural scenes from Ontario publishers were produced by photographer Reuben Sallows who is the subject of Smith’s latest book.

It is probable that Sallows never visited Prince Edward Island which might account for the gaffe shown on the card below.  On the assumption perhaps that farming was all of a piece from one end of the Dominion to the other, a generic scene of harvest, almost certainly from Ontario, was labeled and sold as being from Prince Edward Island.

Harvesting – Prince Edward Island. Stedman Bros card #332.

While it is true that the growing crops were similar and the machinery used often originated from Ontario factories such as the Massy plant in Brantford there were regional differences often grounded in different cultures across the nation.

Barn details in the Stedman card, including the large corn crib to the right make it improbable that this is a P.E.I. farm.

One of the regional differences was in barn architecture. Ontario barns often had massive stone foundations and featured vertical boarding. In the eastern provinces the barns were generally smaller and had steep roofs and shingled walls. Rather than a single large barn P.E.I. farms were more likely to have a cluster of outbuildings around one slightly larger barn. The differences in husbandry also resulted in barn differences. Island barns had large haylofts for bedding and feed for horses and cattle. Corn was seldom a major crop on the Island. The presence of a corn crib in the Stedman card is a dead give-away that this was not Prince Edward Island farm.

While postcards can be important documentary evidence they must be used with caution. Not only are they subject to simple errors of location or description but the temptation to fill out the catalogue to cover the whole country is one that publishers could sometimes succumbed to.

 

 

 

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Author: sailstrait

I am an archivist, historian and small boat sailor. Over the years have built several small boats, the most recent of which was a Medway Skiff. Since 2011 I have been skipper of "Ebony", a 1982 Halman 20. I sail in Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Member of the Charlottetown Yacht Club, PEI Sailing Association and the Northumberland Strait Yachting Association. I have also an interest in the history of the Charlottetown Yacht Club, Charlottetown Harbour, Northumberland Strait and the vessels that have sailed there over the years.

One thought on “Outstanding in the Field – Harvest Postcards from P.E.I.”

  1. Card #332, I agree just looking at it and with my rudimentary knowledge of agriculture, I thought this was more like around Montreal or Ottawa valley area. How interesting to look at cards and do some detective work. Of course the public was none the wiser.

    Like

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