I am aware of this day, Remembrance Day. And I am reflecting on agriculture and the last official World War.
On my side of the family, all the men remained at home during the war to produce and distribute food. Our father was in the grocery business (distributing food) and my uncles and grandfather were both ranching (producing food).
I am aware that enough men of fighting age were left behind on the Prairie farms to keep up the grain production so vital to our war effort.
My partner Susan’s parents were both enlisted and serve overseas. My mother in law, Joan Shaw, was a physiotherapist and was with the occupying forces after Germany fell to the Western forces.
Her stories of rehabilitating maimed soldiers were told to us and to many students whose classes she visited. On this day we remember her in particular.
She outlived her partner for some 20 years but she continued to remind us of the values so much a part of the makeup of that war generation.
They went from the depression and its food shortages, into war time, then a couple of decades of rebuilding and restoring our grassroots capacity to feed ourselves and to produce surpluses, not necessarily for long-term storage, but for export to other countries whose populations were growing.
Some ranchers were so devoted to the cause of the war effort that they “parked” the development of their ranches for the duration of the war (See Harry Marriott’s, Cariboo Cowboy).
Those who made it back had to start almost over again. Several of the homesteads near us, which were run by bachelors who went to war, were never revived.
Going back to the First World War, Susan’s grandfather, who owned a going concern of a mixed farm on Okanagan Lake up from Okanagan Landing, returned to a neglected farm.
The person who was hired to irrigate the fruit trees failed to do so and the trees all died of neglect.
That on top of what we would now call PTSD (until recently called “shell shock”) he suffered near starvation in a Prisoner of War camp in the Baltics. His own journal documents his deterioration at the hands of his captors.
He was unable to reestablish his dream in this country having immigrated from England, and having prepared himself with a degree in Agriculture from Cambridge University.
His daughters both lived with an attachment to farming. Until her dying day, Joan, the veteran, had a keen interest in the activities on our ranch. Farming was after all in her blood. She had learned a lot from her father.
Returning Veterans from both wars were encouraged to farm and ranch when and if they returned from battle. The Veteran’s Land Act (VLA) provided for financing these lands to facilitate the veterans’ return to the local economy.
Our area was surveyed for preemption, that is, being homesteaded by leasing and then purchasing once the land was developed with a garden, a home and probably some fencing.
In those days it only mattered that local First Nations weren’t occupying the land. Consultation with them, on the use to which the land would be put, was not a consideration.
We are forever indebted to those who fought for freedom from tyranny.
David Zirnhelt is a member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and chair of the advisory committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching program which started at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake this January.