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Puslinch Historical Society Spirit Walk
20 September 2015
Written by Barb Jefferson, read by Glenna Smith
Alexander Lindsay Black was the fourth generation of Blacks to live in Puslinch Township. His great grandfather, Donald Black pioneered virgin forest near the Puslinch-Nassagaweya line. His grandparents were George Black and Margaret Storey. His parents, Neil Black and Jennie Cockburn, owned a farm on Downey Road that, in recent times, belonged to Stan and Irene Snyder. Alex was born there in 1910. He was the youngest of 4 children, 2 brothers and a sister.
In 1920, his parents purchased a farm in Arkell owned by Peter Iles—the farm behind us currently owned by Jefferson Brothers, Tom and Bob Jefferson, and the farm where Bob and Barb Jefferson have raised their family.
Alex’s parents were very involved in the community: Jennie, his mother, was active in church and women’s organizations. She was a skilled needlewoman who won many prizes at local fairs. Neil was on Puslinch Council for several years, Reeve of Puslinch for 4 years and actively involved in the Puslinch and Wellington County Ploughman’s Associations.
Dave Carter shared this story: growing up, his family did not have a phone. But, Jennie Black would let her neighbors use their phone to call relatives in Guelph. If there was a return call for the Carter’s, Jennie would hang a blanket on the clothes line as a signal that they had a call.
Ploughing matches were an important part of farming life—an opportunity to demonstrate skills, new techniques and equipment. The competitor would have to plough a plot of land 23 feet X 20 rods (330 feet) in 5 hours. Spectators would wander around the fields watching participants throughout the day. Starting at the township level, competitors would meet again at the County and Provincial level. A very few skilled ploughmen would go on to the International Level. Matches were held in October and November, the first recorded in Puslinch in 1847. In fact, a ploughing match was held on the Black farm in 1850 when the farm was owned by John Oulten.
When Alex was 13, his father attended the Puslinch Township Ploughing Match. He was very disappointed with the quality of ploughing in the ‘Boys Class—16 years and younger’. He then determined his son would learn to plough and compete. He bought a new Tolton plough and, through trial and error, as he was not a competitive ploughman himself, taught his son Alex to plough. Alex was not big or strong for his age: the plow handles had to be lowered for him to hold the plough properly. He found it to be very hard work practicing after attending a full day of school in Arkell and still doing his regular farm chores. In addition, his father raised purebred Clydesdale horses. Alex also learned to plough with a matched team of mares. For him, it was more work: cleaning harness and polishing brass buckles and rings.
The Puslinch Ploughing Match was held October 21st, 1925. It was a brutally cold day with snow flurries. Alex won first prize in two classes in his age group for his ploughing and first prize for team and equipment as well. His hard work had paid off.
For several years following, Alex competed all over Ontario. At 18 years of age, he won his first International Ploughing Match. In his biography from 1994, My Ploughing Match Career, he states that he competed in 10 or 11 matches a year. Sometimes he would use his own matched team, other times he would be assigned a team of horses. If that was the case, he would drive with his brother, Lennie, all night to a competition. They would tie his plough to the 10 inch running board of the family vehicle, a Dodge Touring car. On one occasion they had car trouble on the way to the match. The organizers assumed he wasn’t coming when he was so late. When he did arrive, there were no teams available: only an old mare and a western horse that had never seen a plough. He was assigned the worst plot—thick sod located against a fence. This worked to his advantage as he was able to keep the bossy western horse in the furrow and make him do all the pulling. He won that class. On another occasion, he competed while suffering food poison from a tainted sandwich he had left in the sun—but still won his class.
In 1935, completing with a new plough, the Fleury, Alex Black won the International Ploughing Match. In ten years he had competed in over 100 matches. The community held a party in his honour at the Arkell Schoolhouse. Having won all the highest awards for two successive years, Alex switched to tractor ploughing.
In 1940, after a two day show, he won first prize in both the two furrow and three furrow competitions. Now, he had reached the top levels of tractor ploughing.
He was the most traveled and successful ploughman in Wellington County. Large numbers of spectators would come to these events. At the Dumfries Match, he recalled that “there was such a crowd of men at the end of my land that they would have to part to let me drive through and then they would close in behind me.”
He competed in Davenport, Iowa, in the American National Ploughing Match. In January, 1947, he sailed across the ocean on the Queen Elizabeth I representing Canada as the first team of ploughmen at the England/Ireland matches.
Having won all the competitions available to him, Alex Black retired in 1947. The next year, he was elected to the Wellington County Ploughmen’s Association where he served as director for seventeen years and president for one. In 1968, he became Chairman of the Wellington County Local Committee which hosted a very successful International Ploughing Match.
In 1991, he researched the history of ploughing matches in this country for the Wellington County Ploughmen’s Association.
For all his successes, Alex Black seemed a reserved quiet, shy man. But, in the 1930’s along with Jim and Dick Starkey, these three formed a group called “The Happy Gang”. They entertained at parties and concerts dressed as tramps or girls sometimes wearing kilts and singing renditions of Sir Harry Lauder songs and Scottish and Irish tunes. Any monies raised were used to purchase gifts for soldiers overseas.
Alex farmed here on Farnham Road until 1953 when he sold the property to a man named Richards. Within a year the farm was resold to Betty and Lawrence Jefferson. For the Jeffersons, it was always called ‘The Black Farm’.
Alex never married nor did his sister, Elizabeth. They moved to Guelph and established the successful fabric store, Mayfair, on Quebec Street. Predeceased by all his siblings, Alex Black lived to be 100 years of age and passed away in 2010. He was the last of the Black family, four generations of farmers in Puslinch Township.
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Membership in the society is open to anyone interested in the history of Puslinch Township giving you access to the archives, assistance with your research from committed voluteers, a newsletter and occasional events of historic interest.
29 Brock Road South
Puslinch Historical Society
c/o Puslinch Library
R.R. #3, 29 Brock Road South
Guelph (Aberfoyle), Ontario N1H 6H9