Remembering Ontario’s Farmerettes: Women reminisce about their work during Second World War
A new book details the labour shortage during the Second World War, which sparked the creation of the Farmerettes.
Dianne Rath’s mother, Doreen MacKichan, was a Farmerette. It was also called the ‘Farm Service Force’.
“We never knew until she died that she was a Farmerette based on the pictures,” said Rath. “She was a part of the war effort and we now call her ‘Shero’ because it’s a marvelous piece of history.”
The Farmerettes began as a movement of women who took over manual labour jobs on southern Ontario farms while men were serving in the Second World War. The women were compelled to do the work to keep food on the tables of their neighbours.
Rath recalled how her mother, who was 15-years-old at the time, lied to get into the program as she was one year shy of meeting the age requirement.
Once her mother became of age the following year, she didn’t return to the program because she had a hometown boyfriend and a job at Glencoe’s Dairy Bar. Though, Rath said many of the Farmerettes met boys during their time in the program, who they eventually married.
On Saturday, a group of former Farmerettes met at the Kitchener Public Library to swap stories and reminisce.
“We got quite strong and tanned and gained weight because of the muscle,” said Joan Tovery, a former Farmerette. “When I got home my mother barely knew me, I changed so much.”
The hard labour was a shocking change of pace for the 16 and 17 year-olds, most of whom did not come from farming families.
“We signed up in high school and we went because it was a chance to go away and to not be at home with our parents, it was an adventure,” recalled Shirleyan English, another former Farmerette. “For most of us it was the best summer of our lives and we all remember it quite intensely.”
A collection of their stories was recently published in a new book titled ‘Onion Skins and Peach Fuzz’, named after the produce they picked.
“So many people don’t know what the Farmerettes did or even had heard of the Farmerettes,” said Tovery.
With many of the ladies now in their 80’s or 90’s, the book serves as a reminder of all their hard work.
“I kept a promise to the Farmerettes that they would see their story in print,” said Bonnie Sitter, the author and researcher behind the book.
The stories of the Farmerettes will also be turned into a play by a theatre company in Blyth, Ontario next year.