Arrival of the railroad in Chelmsford and Azilda opened up the Valley to pioneers.  Blezard, to the east of Rayside, would be the first Valley East township to receive new farmers in 1887.  The township was settled from west to east by French Canadians from Quebec or the Ottawa Valley.  Fertile soil particularly suitable for market gardening awaited them.

Encouraged by the success of farms in Blezard, the first group of pioneers settled to the northeast in the Township of Hanmer in 1898. These were the Proulx, Beaulieu, Labelle and Chartrand families.  The Ménard and Drennan families from Copper Cliff followed in the autumn.  In 1908, the Canadian Northern Ontario Railway (called Canadian National today) reached Capreol to the east of Hanmer.  This was the signal for a second wave of settlement in Valley East; its population tripled during the first decade but remained stable for almost forty years.

Recognition of its agricultural produce spread rapidly, particularly after Valley East potatoes took first prize for several years at the agricultural fair in Toronto.  A farm circle worked in close cooperation with the district agricultural representative to ensure the quality of the produce.  When the Borgia Market opened in Sudbury in 1914, 60% of the vegetables sold there came from Blezard Valley.  In 1923, Moncion farm in Blezard became a show farm where the Department of Agriculture experimented with various methods of enriching impoverished soils and demonstrated the cultivation techniques best suited to local conditions.

In Hanmer, where there was only a thin layer of fertile soil overlying sand and rock, the dairy industry outdid agriculture.  From 1932 to 1937, Father Lionel Séguin, priest of Saint-Jacques parish in Hanmer, but also a graduate of the Ontario Agricultural College, worked at developing a herd of certified Jersey milk cows.  On his farm, with the bilingual name of Ferme O.K. Jersey Farm, he demonstrated agricultural and dairy management methods to help the farmers develop scientific and profitable practices.

In 1949, by which time agriculture was already in decline, the farmers built a storage facility with the capacity for 30,000 bags of potatoes. This storage facility was also used for sorting and marketing the product.  The potatoes were Chippewas (the first variety sown in the area) and Mountain Greens (a variety introduced in Hanmer by Father Lionel Séguin immediately after his arrival in 1930).  In one year, the cooperative sold 76 train car loads of potatoes in the region and 72 car loads outside.

The prosperity of the farms was threatened by the mines and foundries that ensured Sudbury's success and thereby the market for agricultural produce.  As a matter of fact, the prevailing winds from the southwest carried pollutants from the Copper Cliff Foundry to the Valley where they damaged crops and acidified the rain and the soil.  When the Great Depression hit Sudbury, the market for local produce collapsed.

With economic recovery, the mining companies offered attractive wages and many farmers abandoned agriculture for the mines where an income was guaranteed and the workday was shorter.  These same companies also offered attractive sums to purchase the mineral rights beneath farm land; at the same time, they bought the farmers' rights to damages for losses caused by sulfur.  Even if a farmer retained surface rights and continued to farm, he could not claim compensation from the company for damage to his crops.  Several chose to divide their land into parcels and sell them for home construction.


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