He showed me the pile of firewood he had split, a long line along the fence row. He had also cut down those trees earlier during the winter. What was amazing was that this man, Clayton Henry was turning 90 years old.
Clayton had grown up in Keppel Township, known locally as “Stony Keppel,” just west and north of Owen Sound, Ontario, on a peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Clayton’s grandfather had taken the 300 acres out of the crown late in the 19th century. The story was that when Clayton’s grandfather came he saw huge four foot diameter trees and thick soil. Alas, when he cut the trees to make fields, he found out that what he perceived as good earth was mainly a thick layer of decomposed leaves, and underneath were stones and boulders with patches of good soil. They first built a log barn and house, and when Clayton’s father took over he built this large timber frame barn in 1912.
Clayton was born in 1922, walked 3 miles to school and began working at a neighbor’s sawmill at 14. To clear the fields of large boulders, which was a lifetime of work, Clayton remembers building large fires around some of the huge boulders, keeping the fires going day and night for two or three days. When the boulder was hot enough, they would throw large amounts of water on it and invariably the boulder would crack, making it easier to move the pieces off the field.
When Clayton’s father was killed while felling a tree, he took over the farm until 1981, when Clayton’s wife died. He told me he just didn’t want to stay there any more; everything reminded him of his wife. He moved a mile down the road, built himself a small house, and ran a sawmill business until just five years ago. The farm was sold and re-sold, sometimes being used as a hunting and drinking camp until the present owner purchased it for the wildlife and nature. Unfortunately, the barn was not kept up, the roof leaked, and one day last year, a strong wind blew out one side. It’s slated to be taken down next month, the great timbers to be sold as flooring and new house accents.
Things have changed around Clayton, more development, a paved road. When I asked him what was the biggest change he had experienced, I expected, “people landing on the moon,” or “computers,” but no, keeping to his own local nature, he answered that, “people didn’t want to neighbor with you anymore.” That says a lot.