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.
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.
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.
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.
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.