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Honouring family history and agriculture

Three Barrhead/Westlock area farm families award the Alberta Century Farm and Ranch Award

BARRHEAD/WESTLOCK - The province recognized four Barrhead and Wesltock area families for a prestigious and seldom-reached milestone, having one family continuously farm the same parcel of land for one century.

Athabasca-Barrhead-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken presented the Alberta Century Farm and Ranch Award to the Burns, Letts, and Mohrmann families during a March 22 ceremony at his Barrhead constituency office.

To be eligible for the award, in addition to being continuously worked for the last century by one family, the quarter section cannot have been subdivided or rented to a non-family member during that time.

"It is quite an accomplishment to keep a farm under the family name for that amount of time. It tells a lot about a family's roots and the importance they see in agriculture and rural Alberta," van Dijken said. "When we think of the families that came to this province at that time and what they came to, it wasn't easy. It was just a ton of work."

He added that agricultural families still face challenges today, but van Dijken said they are at a different level or extreme than the province's pioneering families had to deal with.

"Most of them revolve around paying the bills, but back then, keeping everything functional and raising, often what was very large families in little houses, it was a matter of survival," he said.

van Dijken added that receiving the award speaks to the entrepreneurship of the original settlers of the province had.

Mohrmann family

Originally homesteaded by William and Gertrude Kilshaw, the Mohrmann family farm, a mile east of Bloomsbury on Glenreagh Road, will turn 114 in early April.

"My great-great-grandparents came to Canada from England in 1907," Patrick Mohrman, the fifth generation of the family who has farmed the 320-acre half-section, said. "My great-great-grandfather fought in the Boer War, and when he returned home, my great-great-grandparents did not like the look of what was happening in Europe and decided to come to Canada."

That was in 1907, he said, noting they initially settled in Ontario. However, they decided to move west and homesteaded the farm, which eventually passed down to his great uncles and then to his father.

About nine years ago, Mohrmann took over the mixed farm operation.

He said he is unsure how long the farm will remain in the family, adding that all his children are in agriculture and are farmers. However, he is confident the farm will continue to be worked by another generation of Morhmanns.

Letts family

Currently farmed by Paul and Sharon Letts, their family farm, about 6.5 kilometres south of the Westlock Golf Course in the Sunnybank area, was homesteaded in 1909 by William Letts (Paul's great-great-grandfather).

"He came here from Quebec with his wife Dorothy," Paul said. They had tried their hand at farming but found the land too rocky and moved west.

Sharon added that when William and Dorothy moved to Alberta, they already had family who settled by the Pembina River only a few kilometres west of the present homestead.

"As the farm moved down through the generations, while still in the family, the surnames changed, such as when a daughter and her husband Dorothy and Orton Stevens owned it," she said, adding the couple then passed the operation of the farm to their son Reg and his wife, Jean.

Eventually, in the late 1990s, Paul's father bought the farm from his cousin, Reg, returning the farm's ownership to the Letts' name.

"We have been living at the farm for the last 23 years with our sons Ian and Nelson," Sharon said, noting that Ian farms with them full-time, while Nelson helps out where he can while pursuing his post-secondary education.

Burns Family or Annsboro Farm

William and Harriet Burns founded the Annsboro Farm, as it would become known, in 1923.

The couple named the farm after a picturesque street they knew back in Ireland, from which they immigrated in the early 1900s.

The couple married and settled in Edmonton in the summer of 1911.

William took a job with HH Cooper to support his young family, which eventually included four children: Eillen, Robert, Jack, and Lois.

Family historian Ann Meakin said William also developed an affinity for horses, buying his first team and entering him in his first Edmonton Exhibition in 1916. 

She said that in future years, he would add to his collection, necessitating the need to find space for his growing collection, which is why, in 1923, the couple purchased a 320-acre farm outside of Pickardville.

After William retired in 1950, Meakin said, his entire life revolved around breeding and showing Clydesdales and Hackney horses.

William passed away in 1956, and in the same year, the horses contracted equine infectious anemia, which effectively ended the farm's horse breeding and showing schedule.

Robert then took over the farm, transforming it into a mixed-farming operation. Robert farmed until 1980, semi-retiring, keeping a small herd of Hereford cattle and devoting most of his time as a leader in 4-H, while Syd and Anna Meakin took over the grain operation. Robert was inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame in 1983.

In 2000, another generation of family members took over the operation of the farm, and today, it is operated by the fourth generation of Burns family members.

Barry Kerton,

Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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