“If you build it…”

12 Apr

Ask most North Americans to complete this well-known quotation, and the answer you’ll get most often is, “…and they will come.” However, like so many other well-know movie lines — from “Play it again, Sam” to “Do you feel lucky, punk?” — this famous snippet from the 1989 film Field of Dreams is incorrect. What the voice in the cornfield actually whispered to the Iowa farmer played by Kevin Costner was “If you build it, he will come.”

If you’d like to discover who the “he” in this line refers to, come out to the Dunvegan Recreation movie this coming Saturday, April 15th at 7 pm. DRA event coordinators Lauie Maus and Bob Garner will be screening Field of Dreams, the American sports fantasy drama that’s based on a 1982 book by Canadian novelist W.P. Kinsella. The film stars a very young Kevin Costner as a farmer who plows up part of his corn crop to build a baseball field. The movie also features an equally young James Earl Jones, and an aging Burt Lancaster in his final film role.

I know the reaction of some out there will be: “Another baseball movie? Really?” But it is much more than a sports flick. The film encompasses a timeless message about the importance of family. As one IMDB reviewer summed it up: “Trust me, you cannot go wrong with this film.”

Admission is free, as is the hot-buttered popcorn. However, a $5 per person donation is encouraged. It’s also recommended that you bring a comfy cushion or your own chair. While Bob and Laurie didn’t build it, they will be showing it… and they really hope you will come.

Hootenanny at the hall

Good news for musicians of all stripes who want to let their hair down (if they still have some)and play. Denis Lavigne from the east end of the village is organizing another “Dunvegan Jam” event on Saturday, April 22nd at 7:00 pm and everyone is invited to bring his or her favourite instrument(s) and join in the fun. The DRA Hall is located at 19053 County Road 24, and there’s no charge to take part (or stop by and just listen). For more information, give Denis a call at 613-363-8562.

An invisible workforce

Loyal reader and former Glengarrian, Ken McEwen suggested the next item. He proposed looking back at the role of the ‘hired man’ on Dunvegan farms; wage labourers who, as the size of Ontario families gradually decreased in the early 20th century, were an essential part of many farm operations. He told me that at least half of the kids he went to SS #4 with were from families where the father worked for wages on another man’s farm. If single, the hired man would often live with his parents and commute, or ‘room’ in his employer’s house. If married with a family, he would often live in the ‘hired man’s’ house. “All the hired men in my time on our farm,” Ken told me, “were married with families, and lived in a second house we had on the farm.”

When Ken refers to the hired man, he’s not talking about temporary farm workers recruited from the east coast of Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. The position of hired man was a year-round one that, at the time, was essential to the farm’s success and included everything from planting, haying and harvest to fencing, firewood and the countless other daily chores.That said, Ken reported that there was frequent staff turnover. “It was not uncommon on our road, for hired men to work at one farm… then, for reasons unknown to me, move on to another one in the area.”

Given the obvious ‘farmer/hired man’ power imbalance, I assumed that living in such close proximity might have its challenges. So I asked Ken if his family socialized with their hired man’s family. “(The) kids certainly socialized, but not adults to any extent. However, relations were affable.” For example, he recalls their hired man and his son attending a hockey game in Maxville together with Ken and his dad.

I also asked if, at the community level, there was any ‘class’ distinction between farmers and hired hands? Did the two groups stay apart or intermingle at events like church socials and school concerts? “At public school Christmas concerts, all folks from the area attended,” Ken replied. “As to church socials, there was usually a difference in religion… (so) there would be no church-related socializing.”

Then I inquired about the life of the hired man’s family. Did they have their own vegetable garden? Would they have kept chickens? What about a share of the farm’s output? “Our hired men’s families had a separate house, a garden and a small log barn of their own where some kept a pig to butcher,” Ken told me. “They also had firewood from the bush and milk from our cows. I don’t recall the raising of chickens.”

While the adults may not have socialized, the same can’t be said of the children. In fact, Ken forged a lifelong friendship with Lionel Michaud, the son of one of his family’s hired men. “Lionel was a year older, and he probably escorted me to SS #4 on my first day at school in 1938,” Ken commented in an email.

The era of the ‘hired man’ slowly faded to black after WWII, when farms started to become more mechanized. While these labour-saving devices did eliminate many county jobs, the ensuing post-war boom enticed many a young lad and lass from the farm to move to the bright lights of the city.