The local history that a turnip slicer can turn up

Wm. Garret & Sons Foundry

A glimpse into the local industrial past: this advertisement for the Wm. Garrett & Sons Foundry of Tweed was discovered thanks to a cleanup operation on none other than a turnip slicer.

People, have you ever heard of a turnip slicer? I’m guessing that for most of you the answer is a pretty clear No. And that was my answer too, until just a couple of days ago. That was when I got an email from our friend and resident of neighbouring Madoc Township, Grant Ketcheson, about some interesting local history that has recently emerged – all because of a turnip slicer!

The turnip slicer in question – and more on what the deuce a turnip slicer is all about anon – was an antique that had been owned by Grant and that he recently donated to the O’Hara Mill collection. Now, I’ve written about the O’Hara Mill before (here, for instance), but to refresh your memory: it is a remarkable site just outside Madoc, containing lovingly restored pioneer buildings, beautiful grounds and gardens, and an impressive collection of pioneer-era farm machinery and tools. The next big event at O’Hara Mill is Heritage Day, coming up Sunday, July 27:

O' Hara Mill Heritage Day 2014

So anyway, the turnip slicer apparently needed some cleanup work. And that cleanup work revealed the information that you see atop this post: that it had been made right here in the area, in the village of Tweed. And to boot we now have a photo of some of the fine people who worked at its place of manufacture, the Wm. Garrett & Sons Foundry.

Grant’s restoration correspondent was able to discover that the company “began as a foundry in 1869, operated by Wm. Garrett, first in Actinolite and then in Georgetown (Tweed ). The foundry burned in 1891, taking the Methodist Church with it.” I will add for my own part that Actinolite is a hamlet just north of Tweed that was once a very busy industrial centre (mining and so on); and it is also the only community aside from Queensborough in the former (extremely rural) township of Elzevir, now part of the Greater Tweed Area. Also: I was interested to learn that Tweed was once called Georgetown, something I’d not heard before.

So that’s all well and good. But now back to the very important question: what is a turnip slicer for? (Aside, that is, from its obvious role of slicing turnips.) I mean, who used a turnip slicer? The pioneer farm wife in her kitchen? But would any family, no matter how large and how dependent on root vegetables for winter sustenance, have actually needed a special tool to slice turnips with? Those were the questions I had when I first heard about Grant’s turnip slicer. (Which in all likelihood is technically a rutabaga slicer, but where I grew up one calls rutabagas turnips, as do I. Here is a little piece on the difference between rutabagas and turnips.)

Turns out I was way off base in my surmises about the use of a turnip slicer. It was very much a farm implement, and a big one at that. Here’s Grant on the subject: “You and Raymond together could probably not load this turnip slicer in his Little Red Truck. This thing is heavy and has a crank handle and slices large turnips into thin slices to feed to cows. I have operated one or at least sneaked under to get a slice of turnip to eat.”

Aha! So this was turnip slicing on a near-industrial scale, turning a crop that grew easily and cheaply into bite-size pieces for the cattle. It all makes perfect sense. If Grant remembers using one (or at least sneaking a piece of raw turnip from one), such machines were in use into the middle of the 20th century, which is interesting. I wonder: does anyone feed turnips to cattle any more?

And now that I think of it: that’s the kind of question that for some reason I never found myself asking back in my not-so-long-ago city days. How things change!

***

A late addition to this post, hot off the presses! This week’s edition of the Central Hastings News carried a story (it’s here) about Heritage Day at O’Hara Mill that included a photo of Grant and the turnip slicer. So now, people, you (and I) can actually see what such a device looks like. Here it is:

turnip slicer

My appreciation to the Central Hastings News and reporter/photographer Diane Sherman for this photo. Diane’s caption: Heritage Day at O’Hara Mill Homestead in Madoc Township is the biggest event of the year. Volunteers Grant Ketcheson [addition by KS: Grant is at left] and Dave Little talk about what needs to be done to restore a turnip cutter into working order.

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