A Quick History
Farm labourers in a tobacco field near West Lorne, ca. 1930.
Robert Moore Postcard Collection, C6 Sh6 B4 F8 #28.
Tobacco has been cultivated in Canada for close to 1000 years, starting with the Native Americans, who in turn introduced the crop to European explorers. Tobacco started to be produced commercially around 1800. After 1854, U.S. tobacco was allowed to enter Canada duty-free and production in Ontario virtually ceased. When production in the tobacco belt in the U.S. was interrupted, as during the U.S. Civil War, tobacco production in Southwestern Ontario would increase, falling as U.S. production resumed regular levels.
The primary type of tobacco grown was burley - an air-cured leaf. However, with the First World War, cigarette smoking became popular, necessitating the production of a new tobacco which could be used in the mechanical assembly of cigarettes. This variety of tobacco was called Virginia leaf (due to its place of origin) or bright leaf. This tobacco was not air-cured, but flue-cured, using ducts to conduct heat from a furnace to the leaves during the curing process. Soil conditions in parts of Southwestern Ontario were ideal for the production of this kind of tobacco and farmland formerly deemed almost worthless became the highest priced soil in the region.
To grow bright leaf tobacco, soil should ideally consist of four layers: fine gray brown sand; yellow or golden brown fine sand; brown sticky sand, silt and clay; grey coarse and fine sand. This layering ensures the soil will warm up early in the spring and hold nutrients and water but also stay well-drained. The climate in the area is mild because of the influence of Lake Erie which modifies the seasons. There is little chance of frost after the first week of May and frost is held off longer in the fall, usually until the end of September. Temperature and rainfall are also modified by the lake effect. These conditions make the farmland of Elgin County exceptionally well-suited to tobacco production.
Tobacco in Rodney Ontario
The Rodney Tweedsmuir History includes an account of the history of tobacco. According to the source, air cured tobacco production began in 1800 in the counties of Essex and Kent. Flue cured tobacco started being produced in these regions in 1900 and due to the potential for large profits it attracted growers from the USA, Europe and all over the world.
The production of flue cured tobacco started in Elgin County around 1925. After the Second World War many immigrants came to the area to farm tobacco. This made the once worthless 'sand land' some of the most valuable real estate in the area. A general farm would sell for about $10,000 for 100 acres and a fully equipped farm of similar size would sell for $50,000 and up.
The Ontario Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers' Marketing Board was established in 1959. They established three warehouses in Tillsonburg, Delhi and Aylmer at which tobacco would be auctioned to buyers using the Dutch Clock system. This replaced the old method of buyers purchasing directly from the farmers at their barns. In 1971 the Township of Aldborough had 215 tobacco farms that produced 3100 acres of tobacco. In all of Ontario there were 201 million pounds of tobacco produced and it was sold for an average price of $0.65 per pound.
Priming tobacco in August 1986 on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Ernie Fodor, near West Lorne.
At front: Robbie Fodor, Tony Mezenberg (driver), Ernie Fodor, Chris Vanderzanden and Eric Bree.
On tractor: Jason Vandongen and John Harrison.
West Lorne Sun and Rodney Mercury fonds, C9 Sh5 B1 F1986 139.
Elgin County :
- In The Field
- Into the Kiln
- Crop Damage
- The Workers