Now: Electricity has forever changed the nature of agricultural work; Next: Push Button Farming


Ernest J. Dyck doesn’t have to think twice about how electricity has changed life on the farm.

Electric lights inside the house were the first change – no more searching for matches in the dark and refilling or cleaning oil lamps.

“It was so easy to get used to. You can simply flip a switch. You used to have to fumble around on the shelf for matches, ”said Dyck, who never had electricity on the farm until the 1960s.

The family had moved from southern Saskatchewan to the LaCrete area in northern Alberta, and the isolated farming area was one of the last areas to have access to electricity.

Electricity on the farm puts rural families on a par with those in the city, said Herman Schwenk, former president of the Alberta Federation of Rural Electrification Associations.

“Electricity has really enabled farmers to have the same amenities as city dwellers. They had running water and lights that turned on with a switch, ”Schwenk said.

Schwenk’s family farm had a small 32-volt power plant and a wind charger, but the fact that the electricity came to the farm on high wires was a positive change.

“Before, we had to hand pump water for the cattle. Now there was an electric motor to drive the pump. Power got rid of a lot of manual labor.

Electricity has also eliminated the worry of fires in homes and barns. Early morning milking required a light in the barn that could easily be knocked over.

“You had to be very careful,” said Schwenk.

A welder was the first electric machine purchased for the Dyck farm.

“It has become a very important tool on the farm and we have used it a lot. “

Before the farm had electricity and its own welder, Dyck would take the equipment apart and drive into town looking for someone who could weld it.

“Electric welders weren’t the best welders, but you could put things back together and make them work,” said Dyck, who quickly added grinders, drills and saws to the list of handy power tools that have made life easier.

“Before the hand saw, we only had a hand saw. Now you can cut a two by six with virtually no effort.

It didn’t take long for electricity to be taken for granted. When the power went out once in his house, Dyck went to the workshop to solder, but it didn’t work. Then it went to the grinder, but it didn’t work either.

“That’s when I realized how easily a person gets used to it.”

Electricity came with a monthly bill that was sometimes difficult to pay, Dyck said.

“There were times when I didn’t always have the money to foot the bill. It was the reality of the convenience of having electricity, ”said Dyck, who believes the benefits of electricity outweigh the problems.

Electricity meant farmers were no longer tied to the farm 24 hours a day worrying about barns and houses freezing.

“It’s easy to go on vacation when you have all these amenities.

Walter and Myrtle McNary got electricity on their farm near Bittern Lake, Alta., In 1952. After the house was lit, one of the first changes was to switch the milking machine to. gasoline to electricity.

Their cream separator’s motor did double duty, also running the electric washing machine on wash days.

One of the biggest treats for the family was an electric dryer. Walter had worked in North Dakota one winter and returned to Alberta raving about a machine in which the clothes were wet and came out dry.

“I saw them on a farm and thought it was magical,” he said.

With a house full of small children in diapers, the dryer was a lifeline.

“We lived in an old cabin, but we had a clothes dryer,” Myrtle said.

In the introduction to the book Country Power: The Electrical Revolution in Rural Alberta, Schwenk wrote: “Electricity broke the chains of dawn to dusk in the agricultural work cycle.

In the book, a member of the Hays Rural Electrification Association (REA) wrote: “Do you just think about not going to bed with the chickens anymore, or using kerosene lamps, gas lamps or even candles. “

Only five percent of Alberta farmers had electricity of any kind in 1941, including gas, wind or electric pumps. The Government of Alberta was not prepared to spend a lot of money to bring electricity to the country, and the big power companies said they could not afford to do so.

In 1952, the Government of Alberta introduced legislation to help small REPAs form, and together the farmers brought electricity to their area. In 10 years, more than 90 percent of Alberta farms were electrified.

Schwenk said it was costing farmers in his Coronation REA $ 1,250 each to bring electricity to their farms.

In Manitoba, only 500 farms had electricity in 1945, but the government paid all the costs to build lines to farm yards.

In 1947, the Government of Saskatchewan purchased three private utility companies and began supplying electricity to farms.

THEN: Push Button Farming

Electricity cuts down on farm chores, saves you time and makes your life easier.

Electricity can pump your water, milk your cows, wash and iron your clothes, clean your house, add dollars to your income.

Find out how to electrify your farm. The manager of your local Commerce agency can help you. More than any other source, Canadian farmers look to the Canadian Bank of Commerce for loans to mechanize equipment, improve their land and buildings, and upgrade their homes.

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