History and Horses

John Wesley McLean and horse in field

What would it be like to step back in time, as horse fanciers, to experience Canada’s Confederation on July 1, 1867.   

Certainly we can assume that in 1867 everyone had a relationship with horses. My mother was born in 1923 and

John S McLean Horse Team

John S McLean (my father) driving team of horses on a sleigh, taken also on River Road, Ops Township in 1940’s

although that was 56 years after Confederation it was still a time when almost everyone had a relationship with a horse. She was born Leona Marie Lang  and although never a horsewoman, she did drive the team of horses on hay wagons, recalls wonderful stories of her future husband (John S. McLean shown driving team on sleigh) coming to visit her travelling the 19 kilometers from Janetville to Bethany, using horses!   

Her stories include the dependence of her father on his horses to plough the land, take the family to town to shop at a time when travel depended on the ability to harness or saddle a horse to get where you wanted to go. It is fascinating to hear her stories of how her mother was terrified of horses (but still drove the buggy when needed to go pick berries).  

Although everyone had a relationship with horses, there were those who were deeply excited when the first motorized vehicles were available. It is estimated there were over one million cars in Canada by 1929.

And so it is, only one hundred and fifty years ago, horses were a part of everyday life. But as we fantasize over the

Leona on hay wagon with dog

Leona Marie Lang born in 1923 (my mother) on hay wagon with dog with wagon beside old car. Picture taken on River Road, Ops Township in 1940’s

movies and television shows that portray this time in history to be simpler and romantic, we can also take it from those seniors who lived during that era that it takes a lot longer to harness and hitch a horse than it does to slip into your car and turn over the engine! Interesting how the use of the horse has changed over the past 150 years but also noteworthy how the seemingly spiritual connection bringing horses and humans together remains constant. Take some time this summer to celebrate Canada’s Confederation by visiting a living history museum and see for yourself the reflection of horses in our history.

Submitted by Janice Ecclestone, Inukshuk Farm

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