Saturday July 16th, the Seager Wheeler Farm hosted their “Big Day at the Farm” featuring amazing local talent. Vice Chair of the board for Seager Wheeler Farm, Larry Epp, said that Big Day Out at the Farm started as a seed of thought he had a few years ago when he was walking around the yard doing some maintenance. At the time he had thought what a great venue it would make for a music evening, but it wasn’t until a local group wanted to hold their CD release events at the Farm, that the seed of thought began to grow. The first Big Day was held in 2018 and followed by a second in 2019, and then the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. While the last event held in 2019 was held in the multi-purpose building due to changing weather conditions, the 2022 version of the Big Day was able to remain outdoors even though the afternoon was almost stiflingly hot. As the sun slipped closer to the horizon the air began to cool and in the shade of the maple trees which gave the farm its early name, it was easy to find a spot to sit and just enjoy the music. The sound filled the almost amphitheatre like front garden of the 1925 Wheeler home and spilled over the towering caragana shrubs to serenade all on the site. “Hopefully next year,” Epp stated, “we really do go on to do bigger and better things.”
Opening the afternoon’s entertainment was “Golden Hour” comprised of three high school friends with music in their soul. Dayna Stefaniuk, Kathleen Regier and Kenna Forrester all grew up singing with family in church and in choirs and their harmonizing is testament to that vocal training. Singing covers of some nostalgic favourites alongside some of their own originals, these ladies opened the show with a bang.
It might have been difficult to follow the performance by “”Golden Hour, if it was anyone other than Amanda and Kiefer Paul. Seager Wheeler’s Big Day at the Farm 2019 was the pair’s first time performing publicly together and shared that it was nice to be back where it all started. With a small child during COVID, the pair spent a great deal of time listening too and falling in love with songs that became popular during the pandemic restrictions, especially ones that reflected their story. Their performance invited the audience into their life to share a very personal time and with covers of new country songs like “Hard to Love”, “Heart Like a Truck”, and Drake White’s “Power of a Woman” it definitely felt as if it was a sharing between friends. The power behind the vocals truly spoke of deep-rooted talent that far surpasses garden performances.
The intimacy of the garden setting amongst the maple trees, is another fitting nod to days gone past when neighbours would come together to socialize with community picnics and local musicians would bring their instruments for what would nowadays be called a ‘jam session’. Music was a vital part of pioneer life and Wheeler himself was part of a band in Rosthern so the combination of food, drinks and music on a summer evening after the workday was over is a fitting recognition of the balance Wheeler knew was important for people and nature. That balance was also evident in the musicians who performed at “Big Day at the Farm”. Following the modern country performed by Amanda and Kiefer, “Gopher Broke Orchestra” had a turn at the microphones. Describing their music as a “taste of days gone by”, the trio performed a variety of country blues and classics, rockabilly, old-time fiddle tunes and songs of the old community dances where kids fell asleep on a pile of jackets in the corner and couples danced arm-in-arm for hours.
Rounding out the event were “Last Birds” from Estevan, whose music holds notes of early country folk music and lyrics that delve into the reality of aging love, and former Rosthern residents Sarah and James, The MacMillans. The MacMillans’ sound is very familiar to Rosthern and area, having performed at number of local fund-raising events during the years they lived in Rosthern.
Seager Wheeler Farm was recognized as a National Historic Site and opened to visitors in 1996. The farm buildings and homes have been restored over the years, as have the yard, gardens and orchard. The latest restoration, completed during the pandemic, involved the 1920’s house Wheeler built for his family. Orchard manager Larry Epp has spent many years improving the orchard and trying to track down seed stock from Wheeler’s numerous horticultural achievements. Annually, the farm seeds a plot of Marquis wheat which is then harvested using the pioneer equipment and methods. The harvested grain, once milled into flour, is sold in small quantities from the Visitor Centre.
The vision of the board and all its volunteers is to keep Seager Wheeler’s philosophy of land use and community participation relevant for our time. The Farm is operated by volunteers and summer students hired through the Canada Summer Jobs program, while the Board is comprised of many of the long-term volunteers, some of whom were involved in the beginning of the Farm in the early 1990’s.
Seager Wheeler’s Maple Grove Farm was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1994 because of: the close association with the career of Seager Wheeler for his contributions to the development of wheat and fruit strains suited to the climate of western Canada; the extant resources, including the numerous shelterbelts and hedgerows as well as the remnants of test plots in which Wheeler conducted important seed selection experiments; the well preserved farmstead layout and buildings seen to typify the modest grain farm as it was developed during the “Wheat Boom” and its aftermath, 1898-1940. (Government of Canada/Parks Canada/Directory of Federal Heritage Designations/Designations of National Historic Significance/Seager Wheeler’s Maple Grove Farm)
Seager Wheeler’s Maple Grove Farm is representative of a typical prairie farm of the 1898-1940 era. From his initial homestead and sod house, Wheeler constructed the majority of the buildings during the 1908 – 1928 period and “used the farm property and facilities to conduct experiments important to the development of agriculture in western Canada from 1898 to 1940.” With an eye to soil conservation, Wheeler advocated for the use of shelterbelts to save the soil from erosion as is evidenced by the rows of lilac and caragana shrubs that can be found throughout the property. These shelterbelts allowed Wheeler to establish extensive flower beds and of course the orchard where he worked to develop prairie hardy fruit trees. Larry Epp has said of his experience volunteering at the Farm, “It’s allowed me to work with plants and fruit on a scale not possible in a town lot. I’ve enjoyed being part of restoring the orchard, researching wheeler’s legacy and finding his award-winning seeds.” The volunteers and the Board continue to strive to keep the Farm a vital part of the community and the Big Day at the Farm is a fantastic way to do this.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder