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Memories of the Village of Coboconk with Ben and Ethel Farrow

August 7, 2023

Main Street, Coboconk, circa 1912

By Ernest Hills

Originally Published in the North Kawartha Times, April 1, 1986

The Farrows were married in 1933, and for over fifty years have shared the joys and tribulations life has had to offer. In 1983, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with the traditional plaques and congratulatory notes which mark such milestones. The pictures which sit prominently on display in the main sitting room attest to the primary joy in their life, having raised four girls, who have brought into the world Ben and Ethel’s 15 grandchildren, and subsequently their 5 great grandchildren.

Ethel Farrow, now in her 70s, has lived all her life in and around Coboconk. Born and raised on a farm north of the village, she was educated in the Coboconk schoolhouse. The old Coby schoolhouse was a forerunner of the modern schools, abandoning the one room school concept for a three room, three teacher format. Grades 1, 2 and 3 were taught in one room; grades 4 and 5 in the second, and grades 6, 7 and 8 in the third classroom. Still, it was not a time when many had access to higher education. Mrs. Farrow recalls the long days and hard work associated with life on the farm. “I stayed on to work on the farm. There wasn’t much I didn’t do. I could work the team, loaded hay and milked the cows. It wasn’t easy work in those days. When I was 14, I’d go to the bush with my grandfather. I’d limb and pile brush while grandpa cut cordwood.”

Ben Farrow was born 82 years ago, on a homestead north of Kinmount, on what is now Haliburton County Road 1. He went to school in the old schoolhouse in Kinmount, recently destroyed by fire. The family situation dictated that his schooling was to be brief, as he was called up on to help provide for his family. Similarly, his employment record is one marked by sweat and hard work, which helped pioneer the County.

“I remember being paid to cut 50 cords of wood with a crosscut saw. You were expected to cut the 50 cord in a certain amount of time, and if you didn’t you’d be working for nothing.”

“When Bill Stata and I were working for Earl MacKay in Haliburton, we’d cut 150 logs a day using a crosscut saw. Then when I was first married I worked 7 nights a week, 12 hours a night firing the boilers for the lime Kilns. They paid me $24.50 back then for 2 weeks’ work. I’d work in the factory during the summer and drive a team for Jack Kay in the winter.”

Ben recalls the steamboat, “a paddle wheeler,” which traversed the Gull River between Coby and Norland, “they’d set out a warping line from it during the log drives. There are the remains of it yet in and behind the new IGA store.”

Ben Farrow can remember the circumstances he found himself in when the announcement of the outbreak of the First World War was made: “I was just a boy and I was in Lindsay. It just happened that I had gotten my finger stuck in the wooden mouldings of the steps of a play on Bay Street when the announcement came.”

In 1918 Ben Farrow moved to Coboconk as the First World War was ending. The Farrows remember when the road which is now Highway 35 was nothing more than a gravel and dirt road, which the men shovelled by hand during the winter to remove the snow. “I remember bobsledding down the hill north of Coby, where the Highway is now,” says Ethel. “We’d ride down from the farm in a sleigh, or cutter. Sometimes there’d be as many as 12 or 14 teams drawing wood for the lime kilns.”

The Farrows recalled a time when Coboconk supported a number of industries, including lumber, veneer and the lime quarry. The train moved the product to markets to the south. “There were two rail lines in town,” noted Ben Farrow, “with a turnaround.” Coby was where they would stop overnight. There were lumber cars and the lime was shipped out on the train as well.”

Ben recalls the quarry employed as many as 60 during the summer months, then in the winter “15 or 20 would stay on cutting veneer, which was used for making fruit baskets. The best lime in Canada was produced at that quarry, but they felt it was more economic in the long run to import cheaper lime. It was primarily used for making mortar for brickwork.

“The lime was drawn by a horse and two wheeled cart. They’d tip the cart up, and one man would stay and shovel the lump lime onto the railcars after it had been weighed.”

“History notes that the kilns were kept fired 24 hours a day, requiring a constant supply of cordwood, which was drawn to the quarry by sleigh, or in wagons.”

For the Farrows, the boom years of steady employment and prospects for the future, have yielded to the tourist and cottage industries, which have not provided well for the young. They have seen and noted the changes to Coboconk, like a living history of a more prosperous era.

“I remember we’d be stooped over all day picking berries,” notes Ethel, “and we’d still walk the ¾ of a mile to our nearest neighbours to deliver 3 pails of fresh strawberries. It wasn’t easy work in those days.”

With images courtesy of the Shedden Historical Society.

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