Test your rural roots: Do you know what this is?

Milk shed

Okay, quick now: what is this? Do you know?

I came upon what you see in the photo above on a lovely, relaxing afternoon drive through central Hastings County (north-northeast from Stirling on the backroads up to Highway 62 just south of Madoc) a week ago. Of course its rustic prettiness caught my eye, which is one reason why I decided to take a picture. But the thing that really stopped me in my tracks was the realization that people passing by would either know immediately what it was, or… not have a clue. And the difference between whether you know and recognize it, or don’t, is just this: either you grew up in a rural area in a certain time (sometime before the middle 1960s), or – you didn’t.

So do you know what it is?

If you don’t, I will tell you. Because I do.

It is a milk shed. Or at least, I think that’s the technical name for it. Truth be told, milk sheds were no longer in use by the time I was growing up in rural Hastings County in the mid-1960s. But one saw them a lot, and even as a small child I knew what they were. It was the place where dairy farmers left their big milk cans full of fresh milk for the truck (cart?) to come by, pick them up, and take them to the local cheese factory. (This was of course before the big refrigerated tanker trucks that one sees on the roads of Hastings County and other rural areas now, operated under the auspices of the Ontario Milk Marketing Board [oops, sorry, now called the “Dairy Farmers of Ontario,” marketing boards having become rather controversial in recent years], travelling from farm to farm to pick up the fresh milk.) See how the platform in front is about three to four feet off the ground? That’s so that the full milk cans were at the level of the wagon/cart/truck that was collecting them. I believe that as the full cans were picked up, empty ones would be dropped off.

And the reason for the milk shed having a roof over it would have been to protect the product from getting too much sun and heat.

It is a rustic method of sending raw materials to be processed, but from everything I’ve heard, it worked perfectly well. And I think it is just lovely that there are still some of those old sheds around to remind us of those simpler times.

18 thoughts on “Test your rural roots: Do you know what this is?

  1. Yes, I do recognize this, although I always referred to these as a “milk stand”. From “History of Cheesemaking in Prince Edward County”, there is a photo of one, with the title “Once Familiar Sight”. The caption reads, “Typical milk house and stand, a familiar sight at most farms in earlier days. Often, ice houses were attached. Cans of milk were placed on stands to be picked up, first by teams and wagons and later by trucks. Bulk tankers are the vogue today.”

    Then, a couple of pages after, there is a photo of a woman (wearing an ankle-length dress), bent over with her head in a huge milk can. The caption for this reads, “Above picture shows the duties of the farmers’ wives in the early days of the dairy industry. It has been said that a farmer’s wife, while performing these duties of cleaning and scalding milk cans, over balanced and fell into the can on her head and remained in this awkward position for some time before some person happened along and rescued her.”

    At one time, these little sheds were quite common, because of the many local cheese factories, creameries and dairies. It’s great that this one near Stirling still exists.

    • we have one right behind our house. when we bought the farm the milk shed or milk house was starting to fall apart so Jofn and John Alexander stripped it down to the frame and re built it. The old door that it had was put in the barn. We now have an animal proof milk house! Come and check it out.
      Nancy Lou

      • I will do so, Nancy Lou! How nice that you folks decided to preserve it! I’m sure many, many cans of milk were taken from that milk stand to the cheese factory at Moore’s Corners.

    • That’s quite the story (legend?) about the farm wife getting stuck in the milk can, Sash! But yes, I can dimly recall the days when these milk stands were everywhere, even if no longer in use. I too am glad that this well-preserved specimen remains.

  2. I knew what it was but of course at my age, I should. We hope to get down to Pancake Breakfast and I will bring your cook book and a couple of other things you can have if you want them so hope you people are around that week-end. Barbara Martin

    • Hi Barb! I am off work this week and had actually hoped that we would get to Peterborough to accept your kind invitation to visit, but (as so often happens) the week seems to have gotten away from me, what with all that needs doing around the house. We might still make it, and if so I will most assuredly give you a call ahead of time. But if not, it will be lovely to see you folks at the Pancake Breakfast May 4. I am feeling very honoured because I have been asked to help out this year!

  3. Unique to this area were what we called “forty-gallon milk cans. They were, in fact 40 gal. Us or 33 gal imperial. They held 320 lbs. milk and were deftly rolled on their rims onto milk wagons or trucks. After delivery to the cheese factory, they were returned full of whey to the farm, the whey dumped into the whey barrel to feed pigs and then the cans were washed. What a lot of fun for mother! I remember that we sent seven of those a day in summer peak production, just before converting to bulk tank in mid-sixties. I also remember falling into the whey barrel from the milk stand! They only thing good about the good old days was that we were young.

  4. There’s also a milk shed in good condition somewhere on O’Hara Road (parallel to Hwy 62) inset into a stone fence – it even has a sign “Milk 5c” though I don’t know how genuine that is.

  5. The milk stand on my dad’s farm was built over a well, and the forty-gallon cans were lowered into the icy water overnight. The cans were picked up by wagon early on five mornings a week. There was no pick-up on Sunday, but the cows didn’t know that, so by Monday morning there was a double load, and each farmer was responsible for getting his milk to the factory. When I was six or seven years old, it was very exciting to be wakened at four o’clock, and allowed to ride with my dad on the wagon for the trip to Queensborough cheese factory. The cheese maker would give me curds wrapped in newspaper to eat on the ride home.

    • Oh, Doris, what a lovely memory! Thank you! A question: when you say “Queensborough cheese factory,” do you mean the one where the Ramsay place is (at the intersection of Hunt Club Road and Queensborough Road), or the one at Moore’s Corners?

      • The factory at the corner of Hunt Club Road and Queensborough Road was the one where the milk from our farm went, and I am quite sure that it was called the Queensborough Cheese Factory.

      • This has always been confusing to me, Doris, but as you saw from Grant’s followup comment, it looks like that cheese factory (closer to Queensborough than the one at Moore’s Corners!) was the Madoc Factory. Odd.

  6. For some weird reason the factory on the Ramsey property was “madoc factory”, always a confusing name. The one at the intersection of Pine Point Road and #7 highwat was Alexandria factory. There were 7 factories in madoc Twp. up until 1951 when the factory at Eldorado was built. Anyone want the names/ we have them all.

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