Cottage Shack Articles Museum Articles

Cottage Shack Articles: Co-Op A Novel Idea, A Local Beef Ring – Nov. 26, 2021

To read the original article and others in this series visit the Cottage Shack magazine

Being curator at the Canadiana Heritage Museum (CCHM) requires me to learn all I can about our wide variety of artifacts and buildings.

The Woodrow log house is the only building on site. Though a few of the outbuildings have been built by volunteers, most are genuine originals donated by former owners from off-site and reconstructed here. Some came with many fixtures, tools and furnishings, authentic to the structures; they serve to further the credibility of the museum’s representation of a particular feature of earlier rural life.

All my previous articles have been related to fashion. This entire is vastly different as I have chosen to write here about what I feel is our most interesting building on site – The Eady slaughterhouse. Our guests either find it very intriguing or a little unsettling – sometimes both. During a tour, when we describe and explain the reasons for such things as a blood trough, bleeding our and butchering, a visitor’s attention soon becomes focused on the true purpose of the operation that was once performed here.

Doug Binns, one of our volunteers has researched this building extensively and written an article published in an issue of the Coldwater Current newspaper titled “Fresh Meat – What a Luxury.”

In today’s world we think nothing of going to the supermarket to purchase fresh beef, pork or poultry for our dinner table. But in the 180s and early 1900s, the lack of fresh meat was a real concern. Area farmers generally did not lack animals as sources of protein for their families, it preserving large quantities of meat certainly was a challenge. Thus, the emergence of the beef ring.

In the Medonte/Coldwater area around 1904, Mr. Sam Dunlop came up with the original co-operative idea. Most visitors to CCHM are surprised to learn that co-ops were around at the turn of the last century – not a more modern concept. Mr. Dunlop gathered together 25 families to form the original group. A slaughterhouse was constructed on the Russell farm on the 10th line of Medonte just north of the Village of Eady.

Each shareholder family was, in turn, required to deliver an animal to the slaughterhouse between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. of their designated day to be slaughtered the next day by the resident butcher, Mr. Scarlett. This process happened regularly very 2 to 3 weeks. Once the animal was slaughtered, hung to bleed out and butchered, the meat was then wrapped in brown paper and the package was tied with a string. The family whose animal was processed received the best cuts of meat – juicy steaks and choice roasts as opposed to boiling beef. Packaged meats were placed in labelled boxes attached to the walls of the slaughterhouse, each co-op member having a numbered box. The butcher would then let the members know that their meats were ready for pick up. If a family did not eat the meat promptly, they would often preserve it with brine.

Beef rings grew in popularity as they were a very efficient way to ensure that fresh meat was always available. The Eady beef ring grew in size at one point to 35 members. Here are the names of some local families that were recorded as members: Dunlop, Johnston, Walker, Hawke, Ball, Kent, Wilson, McFarland, Merced, Bell, Graham, Blaney, Spence, Orion, Rose, Moon, Reid, Kellington, Russell, and Young.

In 1965 the co-op was disbanded. However, local farmer Geordi Kent continued to slaughter his cattle and pigs there well into the 1960s. The locals were enjoying grocery stores providing their meats and farmers had long since begun shipping their cattle to meat packing plants located in the major centres. Though the slaughterhouse remained on the Russell property, serving for some years as a storage shed, it retained much of the specialized equipment that had been incorporated into it.

Bill Wilson, who had spent his youth on a neighbouring family farm, returned to the area in 1979. He and his wife Linda purchased the Russell farm and settled into their retirement there. Shortly afterwards they donated the slaughterhouse and contents to CCHM. The structure was dismantled and carefully delivered to the museum. It was reconstructed on our site and restored to its original purpose.

While many of our visitors find the experience to be quite gruesome, some of our local folk have fond memories of this place. A brother of one of our volunteers actually was at one time an assistant to the butcher.

You might want to visit us at Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum in the Spring to see our slaughterhouse firsthand…if you dare!

By Patricia Turnour

Editor’s Notes:

It is often the case that when someone makes a donation to CCHM their interest is piqued to the point that they themselves become volunteers and, in some cases, member of the board of directors. Such was the case of Bill and Linda Wilson.

While researching this subject I got a look at the original Minute Book that recorded the annual meetings of The North River Beef Ring from 1928 to 1954. It belongs to and was loaned to me by Bernice Dobson, a great grand-daughter of Archibald and Catherine Woodrow whose homestead is the main attraction at CCHM. What also makes this book of value to Bernice is the fact that many of the eateries were made by her father Joe Walker, one of many grandsons of the Woodrows.

Because much of the script is extremely difficult to read, I chose to rewrite the entry from 1928 to provide some insight into how a typical co-op functioned. The 1928 minutes were the only ones that provided sufficient legibility for a good excerpt from it. You can see that the meetings were structured and that the shareholders took their rules and responsibilities seriously.

I also found it curious that they annually held an oyster supper. Reference to it appears in the Minute Book as late as 1937.

North River Beef Ring Minute Book

An excerpt from the meeting of October 13, 1928

Moved by: Norman MacDonald, Seconded by: Mel Lovering That Les Archer and George Lovering be judges for coming year. Carried.

Moved by: Les Archer, Seconded by: Judy Kitchen The price of beef be the same as last year – 12 cents/pound. And kill two in May.

Moved by: Dave Lovering, Seconded by: Les Archer Anything under four hundred the price to be be $10.00. Carried.

Moved by: Clint Archer, Seconded by: P. Lovering A fine of $10.00 is not put in proper turn in the ring. Carried.

Moved by: P. Lovering, Seconded by: Les Archer P. Hawke be paid $5.00 for repairs to the slaughterhouse and Nora Lovering $1.00.

Moved by: Les Archer, Seconded by: A. Hawke The secretary write The Johnson Farmhouse, for the full amount due to the ring is not settled for his share to be sold and (he) put out of the ring. Carried.

Moved by: P. Lovering, Seconded by: P. Hawke That every share holder is to be present at the fall meeting or a representative, is not his share be forfeited from the ring. Carried.

Moved by: Clint Archer, Seconded by: Mell Lovering The laws of the ring be posted up in the slaughterhouse. Carried.

Moved by: P. Lovering, Seconded by: Les Archer We have an oyster supper on the 27 Oct…(unintelligible).

Andrew Lovering Received Cash $53. 38

Expenses – $45:00

Balance in the bank – $12.73

All Content Steampunk Festival

Sawbones Society Episode Two

Filmed at Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum, the Sawbones Society as part of Steampunk online welcomed their newest associate, Mr. Sy A. Nide. In chapter 4, the malpracticing medics (in a vicious misunderstanding) compete for the favour of Dr. Vera Morphine, their domineering head physician.

Tune in to the end for a historical note on Victorian era surgery with Dan Ford (a.k.a. Mr. Ether).