Douglas-area farm has been in Rice family for 175 years

·6 min read

Douglas – It was a long-awaited for celebration for Riceland Farms, 175 years and five generations of one family, but six if you count the next generation who may one day take over from the current generation owners.

The Rice family was presented with new signs to celebrate the family-owned farm for 175 years. The other signs presented were new 100, 125 and 150 years of recognition.

A small crowd of family and friends gathered on the corner-lot property of Dillabough Road and Rice Line to watch the presentation of the signs to MJ and Erica Rice by Renfrew County Junior Farmers Jamie Schultz, Meredith Mulligan and Brady Wytenburg. Mr. Schultz is also the provincial president of the Ontario Junior Farmers.

“It’s always an honour to present these signs,” Ms. Mulligan said afterwards.

Lauretta Rice, who married Michael Rice Jr., the fourth-generation owner of the farm, prepared an eight-page booklet to celebrate the 175th milestone.

Reviewing the roots, she noted Generation 1 was James Rice, 1833-1872; Generation 2 were two brothers, Joseph Rice, 1872-1876, and then his brother Michael Rice, 1876-1914 following the move of Joseph to Michigan, USA; Generation 3 was Raymond Rice, 1914-1959; Michael Rice Jr. was Generation 4 from 1959-1998; and the current owner, Generation 5, is Michael John Rice, 1998 to present. He is known to many as MJ.

MJ and Erica live on the family farm where they raised three children, McLean, Kinly and Masen. McLean holds a full-time job off the farm but works on the farm each day. Kinly is in her second year at university and Masen is in Grade 11 at Opeongo High School.

Riceland Farms history

The pioneers to first settle this family farm, James Rice and Catherine (Power) Rice, came over from County Waterford, Ireland in 1833. Sadly, their two infant children died during the voyage.

They chose the site of the Rice Farm for their cabin because there was a running spring nearby which flowed year-round. After 175 years, the same spring continues to provide fresh water, however, MJ has since re-routed the water into a farm drain so nearby lands can be cropped.

It must be noted the first cabin was located where the present-day home stands and the stone that was used as a step for the first cabin remains on the farm.

The early Rice cabin in 1842 served as a church when Bishop Phelan from Kingston made a pastoral visit on horseback. At that time, he baptized 11 babies and young children and married a number of the faithful at the farm cabin. Later, a rustic type church was built about two kilometres from the Rice cabin. The Rices are in possession of family marriage and baptismal records that took place at the first Church of the Annunciation between 1846 and 1864.

James and Catherine welcomed their first Canadian born child, Thomas, in 1836. As the years went on, Catherine gave birth to nine more children, the last child named Michael, born in 1856.

Catherine passed away at the age of 90 in 1897 while James had died in 1883 at 86 years old. The 1852 agricultural census shows that James Rice owned four oxen, four milk cows, four heifers, two horses and 16 sheep. In addition, the farm had produced 60 pounds of maple sugar, 40 pounds of wool, 200 pounds of butter, five barrels of pork, 20 bushels of wheat and a sizeable amount of hay and oats.

By the early 1900s, second generation farmer Michael Rice had established a herd of cross-bred cows and milked them by hand. In 1914, Michael John’s grandfather, third generation Raymond Rice, took over the farm using horses to clear and crop more land to carry out a mixed farm operation. Raymond and his wife, Mabel, raised 10 children, three of whom are still living, Sr. Teresa Rice, Sr. Loretta Rice and Layle Ryan, who lives in California.

Fourth-generation Michael Rice Jr. took over the farm operation in 1959. During this era, agriculture in the area progressed rapidly. The first tractor to replace horses was bought in 1952 and a herd of purebred Holstein dairy cows was purchased in 1960. Michael Jr. and Lauretta replaced the old log barns with new dairy barns in 1967 and 1972.

MJ and Erica took ownership in 1998. They have increased the dairy herd to 140 purebred registered animals and have added 380 acres to the original Century Farm.

“Farming today is very modernized, demanding and costly,” MJ said. “Both our sons, McLean and Masen, enjoy the farm and work hard. We cannot predict what the next 25 years will hold for the Rice farm, which has now celebrated 175 years in existence.”

Renfrew County Junior Farmers

The Junior Farmers have been presenting similar signs since the Century Farm Signs project began in 1967, the year of Canada’s 100th birthday, Ms. Mulligan explained.

“It’s been going ever since,” she said. “This is one program the junior farmers started and it’s one of the few, if not the only program, still going from (its inception) in 1967.”

The 100-year sign is a large square sign with rounded corners, she said. But other signs have since been added – 125, 150, 175 and 200.

“Just this year we added the 225-year sign, which has already been presented to a few farms, but not in Renfrew County,” she said.

Riceland Farms is the first farm in Renfrew County to receive the 175-year sign, but there are many 100 to 150 year signs posted throughout the county, she added.

To receive a sign, the property owners fill out an application with supporting documentation, Ms. Mulligan said. The form lists the history of ownership and relationship down through the years. It must be a direct relation, such as father, son, daughter, nephew, etc., she explained. Once approved, the applicant pays for the signs and the local Junior Farmers present to the family.

“It’s a way of celebrating the history of farms and agriculture,” Ms. Mulligan said. “It lets us celebrate the history of agriculture in the community, and from a club perspective, helps us remind people that we exist. Every time we present a sign, it’s awesome to celebrate the family and reminds people that Junior Farmers are still happening.”

The celebration at Riceland Farms is unusual, because usually it’s a presentation just to the current owners. As an example, she noted a 150-year sign was presented to the Black family on the Kerr Line, and there was no fanfare.

“In Renfrew County we probably have at least 100 century farms,” she said. “Some have since sold, but there are still lots around.”

The Renfrew County Junior Farmers participate in various community events, as well as club and provincial junior farmers events.

Recently, they could be seen at the Cobden Fair selling 50/50 tickets and doing clean-up.

After the fall hunt in November, there will be a bottle drive, and the money will be donated to community organizations, often times one of them is a food bank, Ms. Mulligan said.

There are currently about 20 members in the Renfrew County club and Alex Wytenburg is its president.

For more information, email, talk to a member or check out the club’s Facebook page, Renfrew County Junior Farmers.

Connie Tabbert, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader