One of the perks of writing columns is getting mail, emails, pleasing phone calls, and occasionally visits from readers who appreciate what I write about. I sometimes reminisce about the past, which readers enjoy very much.
This past summer a large brown envelope came in the mail from a woman in Sauble Beach, Ont., which is on Lake Huron. There was a short note inside with numerous clippings about Eastern Ontario in the 1960s from The Family Herald. She wrote: “Been a long time reader of your columns . . . I have a large collection of old Ontario farm magazines. I put articles from Renfrew County in an envelope for you and they just kept on growing! Lots of treasures in those old magazines. Keep writing and enjoy! Carol.”
The thoughtful woman, whom I didn’t know, had photocopied 15 articles from The Family Herald for me. I called and thanked her. She said she knew I’d appreciate them. Most of the articles were about farming in the mid- to late-1960s in Eastern Ontario and, particularly, Renfrew County. Some articles were about the drought years experienced here in the mid-1960s.
One interesting article was a two-page feature with 13 photos of an auction sale conducted by auctioneer Ken Eckford, of Foresters Falls. The article was featured on Oct. 12, 1967.
It is interesting to see how auction sales were conducted in those days. There’s a photo of two Holstein cows in a ring but the ring isn’t made of steel gates. It’s a human circle of farmers and Eckford is walking among the cows with his cane. There is just Eckford and the two cows in the ring. One of the two clerks is sitting behind a desk in a small shed taking money from the successful buyers.
A few years ago, an elderly area man came to see me with a box full of all the Renfrew Advance weekly newspapers from 1967 — the Centennial Year. He had saved them up and wanted me to have them as he knew I was a history buff. They have been a real treasure — full of local news, photos and pages of grocery store food prices. I’ve read through them a few times and in recent days have been going through the fall issues.
There were no food flyers inserted in the weekly newspapers like there are now. The old newspapers had pages of grocery store ads. Red & White, A&P, Loblaws and Dominion stores were the grocery stores that advertised each week in Renfrew. I was interested in what food items cost around Thanksgiving and found it strange that none of the stores, not even corner stores, advertised milk, butter and eggs. Why not?
Powdered milk was advertised at 99 cents for 3 lb. Bread was occasionally sold at 25 cents for a 24 oz. loaf. Many brands of coloured margarine were usually highlighted. One store sold it for 99 cents for 4 lb. Raisin pie was 23 cents.
Turkeys were selling for 39 cents/lb to 43 cents/lb. Blade roast was 55 cents/lb. T-bone steak: 89 cents/lb. Ground beef: 49 cents/lb. Leg of Ham: 59 cents/lb. Maple Leaf breakfast bacon: 79 cents for a 1 lb-pkg.
Bananas? 12 cents/lb to 14 cents/lb. Grapefruits: 12 for $1. Bee Hive Golden Syrup: 39 cents for a 2-lb. tin. Cauliflower: 23 cents. Carrots: 23 cents for a 3 lb. bag.
Stores had 50 lb. bags of potatoes selling from 99 cents to $1.39. Potatoes are still a great bargain.
A discount store ran ads each week on cigarettes selling for 50 cents for the large package and 40 cents for a small pack and $3.74 a carton.
A GM car dealership advertised good used 1966 Chev cars from $2,195 to $2,395. Something else interesting, gleaned from the pages of the Renfrew Advance: Sunday evening was family night to watch TV with Ed Sullivan at 8 p.m. and Bonanza at 9 p.m.
There are so many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and every day. Basic food prices are still a bargain like they were 50 years ago.
I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving with your family!
Maynard van der Galien is a Renfrew-area farmer and agricultural writer. He won first prize this year for his homemade bread at the Renfrew Fair.