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Down on the Farm

Walker Farms:  "A Wonder Among Farms"

By Elaine Weeks

walkerfarm-rear-view.jpgIt's hard to imagine that one of the largest dairy farms in North America was situated on the outskirts of the Town of Walkerville. The Walker Farm, founded in 1904 by Hiram Walker & Sons, later operated by Walkerside Limited, was the source of about one-quarter of the milk and cream sold throughout the Border Cities by the Walkerside Dairy.

In a previous issue of The Walkerville Times, we described one of Hiram Walker's earliest rural developments, The Essex Stock Yards, situated on the present-day site of  the GM Transmission plant. This stock yard was developed over 120 years ago and was used to breed various kinds of farm animals to stock Hiram Walker's county farms- Walker pumped mash from his distillery through a pipeline to fatten the cattle.

A farm which apparently was the predecessor of The Walker Farm, was established around 1893 ­ its exact location is not clear although it's likely that it was on the site of the expanded Walker Farms. This farm was regarded as a model of scientific experiment and innovation. The considerations of time and cost did not hinder its development. A steam engine and a special cable plow were brought over from England- soil and culture experts were contacted from the United States and Great Britain. walkerfarm-barn.jpg

Walkerside Farms, also known as Walker Farms, was developed by Hiram Walker's sons in the area now bounded by Walker, Central, E.C. Row and south of the airport. It is said that 3rd Concession, which became part of E.C. Row in 1971, was the first cement road in Canada. Reportedly built by Hiram Walker, it was one car wide and featured one foot thick concrete.

An early Border Daily Star newspaper reports the farm was "a revelation of modern methods in agriculture. Its spacious barns, its administration offices and its semi-circle of homes for the farm employees are evidences of the new day in farming. The milk from the farm ranks so high that it brings nineteen cents a quart as against fifteen cents for the other milk sold in the Border Cities."

There were 600 head of cattle at the farm and some 300 were milking cows. Many of these animals were prize winners. Two thousand acres of land supported corn, alfalfa, barley, oats, wheat, etc. to feed the cattle, and 800 men did the work of looking after the needs of the animals and getting the milk to market. There was also a fine orchard with some 6,000 apple trees and an apiary of 35 colonies.

To many Windsor and area people, the farm still holds a special place in their hearts. For Joanne McMurren of Woodslee, the earliest incarnation of Walker Farms was where her maternal grandparents met and fell in love. "My grandmother Susan Diem worked at the farm in the early 1890's as a housekeeper, cook and maid. She used a lantern to go to the barn to milk the cows in the morning before light- she also made the butter and bread. Her future husband, Fred Dahl, and his father lived in the Woodslee area but worked at the farm as bricklayers. They probably took their horses & wagon and boarded the train to go to work and returned home late. My grandparents married in Woodslee in 1895 and had 12 children."

Sis-Geauvreau-&-fr.jpgBefore Midge Kristinovich was born, her family lived on Walker Farms. Her dad had shifted the family from Pelee Island in 1928 so he could work in the horse barn. The family lived on the farm until 1949 when they returned to Pelee Island. An older sister of Midge's recalls that Hiram Walker's horse and carriage were stored in a building attached to the horse barn. "Mr. Walker (who had died in 1899) had one particular horse that his sons kept on the farm- it lived for 32 years."

Midge's family made their home in one of the dwellings on Walker Circle. "These were grey cement duplexes with identical small trees in front ­ there was a boarding house on each end of the circle. There was a lavatory at the back of each duplex. My sister remembers that when you put the lid down to sit, the water would start running!"

Midge's sister also recalls the Great Hall at Walker Farms- one room with a stage- site of meetings and Christmas concerts. "For school, she walked one mile to the Walker Road School, which had four rooms and went up to Grade 8. The high school, which she also walked to, was Mayfair High near Chrysler."

Camilla Stodgell Wigle of Windsor remembers afternoon excursions in the family carriage to Walker Farms for fresh produce. "We would head up Walker Road, past all the houses and factories- and then, at last- we'd arrive at the farm; it was wonderful!"

By the 1940's, the farm's future was in jeopardy. Plagued by several fires, including one in 1937, when a large storage barn and implement shed in the orchard burned. According to the Windsor Daily Star, "a crowd came to watch the fire and many took advantage of the opportunity to sample Walker Farm apples and picked them off the trees."

By February 1946, the remaining Walker brothers, now living in Michigan, closed the dairy business and put up a complete herd of dairy cows for auction- over 1,200 buyers came to the sale. Walker Farms would carry on strictly as a produce farm.

In January 1949, the Walker Farms barn, empty for two years, was destroyed by fire; this was the 7th case of arson on the farm. 

The Walker brothers had severed several hundred acres of land to form Walker Airport (now Windsor Airport) in the 1920's and as the airport grew, more land from Walker Farms was gobbled up. As the City of Windsor pushed its boundaries south and east,  it was only a matter of time before the remaining animals and implements were sold and the Farm was shut down for good. William-Lester-w_-cows.jpg

The circle of homes remained and for many years served as housing for area residents on a budget. Eventually, the buildings fell into disrepair and as more and more of the Farm was bought up for light industrial use, the homes disappeared.

Today, all that remains of this once enormous state-of-the-art farm and dairy is a small neglected lot sandwiched between two light industrial buildings on Deziel Road. A walk through the lot reveals nothing but some scraggly trees and shrubs and what appears to be remnants of the narrow cement road that linked some of the dairy buildings. How soon before this disappears too and everyone says, "Walker Farms ­ never heard of it!"

Editor's Note: The Walkerville Times believes that the last remaining piece of Walker Farms should be preserved and a historical marker or plaque should be erected on the site  in order for the people of Windsor and Essex County to remember a significant part of their past.

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