By Val Davies
Every year for the past 13 Doug Miller and his wife Janet (Bent) have volunteered their time and energy to maintaining the Farm Museum at the Annapolis Valley Exhibition located in Lawrencetown for the one week in August 15 - 20.
However the work of preparing and collecting artifacts is an ongoing occupation throughout each year. Both Doug and Janet were raised on family farms in the Annapolis Valley -- Doug in Clarence and Janet in Tupperville and they didn’t want to see the farming history lost. So they decided to donate and exhibit many artifacts from their family farms.
There have been many donors over the years. The original donors for the first year in 1998 with 185 artifacts along with Doug and Janet were Ron Barrett, a retired Clarence farmer now living in Port George, and Rodney Banks, retired dairy farmer from Melvin Square. In the second year a farmer originally from Holland donated many artifacts and over the years there have been many other contributors.
600 Items Tagged
Janet catalogues all exhibits for the museum, entering them by hand into her book. They now have over 600 items in the Farm Museum. Each has a number and detailed information including donor. Janet gets such a thrill when cleaning and dusting the exhibition pieces and revealing amazing information and lettering such as manufacturer, place made, and often dates. Many of the artifacts had layers of dust and had been languishing in the corner of a barn for years.
To help with research, Doug has inherited from his family (who had farmed in Clarence for four generations) a Standard Dictionary of English Language. Published in 1895 by Funk and Wagnalls Co., Stationers Hall, London, England his book is three inches thick and looks like an old family Bible. This dictionary, for example, identifies every piece of a horse harness. Did you know that a whipple tree, often called whiffle or swingle tree, was used to hook through the horse traces? Doug also has a tool book to identify tools often no longer used, especially carpentry tools.
One visitor to the museum told Doug, “I remember the milk separator. When I cranked the separator handle too fast or too slow I wouldn’t get the proper amount of cream and milk, but if I cranked at the proper speed, the bell in the handle would ring which meant I was getting all
This woman also remembers her job washing and sterilizing the many parts to the separator including the stack of funnel disks. There were two milkings a day and the milk was separated daily. The separated cream was stored in cream cans in a cool place in the basement until collection. When the full cream cans were collected an empty sterilized can was left in its place. The cream can was a little smaller than the milk can and usually there was a pound of butter wrapped in wax paper left in the can for the farm family.
Janet’s family, the Bents had a small mixed farm with a few milking cows and shipped cream. Her father Ralph attended the one-room school in Tupperville as did Janet, her brother Edward and sister Ellen. Janet’s mother Thelma (Bauld) originally from Belleisle still lives at the farmhouse and will be 89 years this year.
Lived in Bridgetown
Joseph and Charlotte Fulmer, Doug’s grandparents, lived in Bridgetown. Joseph worked at Hicks funeral home as a coffin maker and embalmer. His wife and two daughters sewed the linings for the caskets.
Doug first attended Clarence West School, then finished Grades 4 to 9 in Bridgetown school and Grades 10 to 12 at Bridgetown Regional High School. During the 1940s the Millers had eight or nine dairy cows and they shipped the milk to Mackenzies in Middleton. Later the milk went to
Digby. As the dairy herd grew they shipped milk to the Farmers’ Coop Dairy in Halifax.
They also raised pigs and had a wood lot. The 13-room farmhouse purchased in 1856 had great back-to-back wood-burning fireplaces. In the 1850s Benjamin Miller, Doug’s great-grandfather kept meticulous records of expenses, even accounting for bobby pins purchased.
The family made their own soap, butter, maple syrup, grew vegetables and fruit, rhubarb and apples and had pork and beef, eggs and chickens. Doug can remember his sister using a T-shaped stick and turning the eggs to be hatched twice a day in a kerosene-heated incubator, which is now exhibited in the Farm Museum. They also sold herbs and poultry dressing.
It was when Doug was attending the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro that his father, Shirley Miller became allergic to cattle and Doug returned home to manage the dairy farm. During the last few years on the farm Doug switched to raising beef cattle.
Moved to Kentville
Sixteen years ago Doug and Janet were married. Doug rented out the farm, retired from farming, and moved down to Kentville where Janet was working for the Department of Justice at the Court Administrative Office. Janet retired four years ago and now they both can spend time with a son, daughter, and their spouses and four grandchildren. They are keen gardeners and hope the deer don’t eat all they grow, although they know that is part of nature.
The Farm Museum is at Barn 1 on the Exhibition grounds and much of the larger equipment is displayed outside during the week of the exhibition. Repairs to the building are done by the Annapolis Valley Exhibition and monetary donations to the Farm Museum assist in purchasing a few supplies.
The committee hopes that in the future, funds may become available to enlarge the display area. They are always looking for volunteers, although they have a dedicated few on a committee, Ron Barrett, George Bruce, Tim Henniger, Phil Milo, and the Exhibition staff and volunteers from other committees helping where they can. If you are interested in volunteering at the Farm Museum, get in touch with the Annapolis Valley Exhibition or see Doug and Janet Miller.
Val Davies writes the column Our People for The Annapolis County Spectator.