WADE, ROBERT, farmer; b. c. 1777 in County Durham, England; m. c. 1802 Mary Hodgson, and they had four sons and eight daughters; d. 16 July 1849 in Hamilton Township, Upper Canada.
Robert Wade was born to a farming family involved in breeding pure-bred livestock. In 1819, with his wife and eight children, he immigrated to Upper Canada and purchased a 200-acre farm in Hamilton Township. One of the earliest improving farmers from England in the area, he was familiar with the latest British scientific principles of agriculture and was appalled by Upper Canadian farmers’ lack of agricultural knowledge.
Improving farmers of the early 19th century in Upper Canada were primarily Lowland Scottish and English settlers who could afford either to buy farms and pay for clearing them or to purchase cleared farms. They brought with them an approach to farming influenced by the agricultural revolution in northwestern Europe and intended to maintain soil fertility. By mid century the Bay of Quinte region, the areas along Yonge Street and between Hamilton and Toronto, the London vicinity, and the Niagara peninsula had become known for their agricultural development. While these regions were being settled by various immigrant groups, British improving farmers such as Wade, though few in number, furnished according to historian Robert Leslie Jones “the leadership for the province, making a greater effort to keep abreast of the discoveries of their time in agricultural science.”
Immediately upon settling, Wade began a systematic program of draining wet portions of his farm to improve his fields. His practice of thoroughly ploughing and harrowing the land before planting ensured far greater crop yields than were customary for the period. Fruit culture in the province was in its infancy at this time but Wade, recognizing its viability, recommended in 1820 that emigrants bring to Canada apple pips and various fruit-stones. As early as that year he planted fruit-trees on his farm, and by 1824 his apple orchard alone consisted of 100 trees.
Wade ran a prosperous mixed farm of crops and livestock. During a period when most farmers in Upper Canada were dependent on wheat, he concentrated on livestock and its improvement through breeding. In the early 1830s he began to purchase Durham (“Improved Shorthorn”) cattle and Teeswater (“Improved Leicester”) sheep from Britain and New York State. Shorthorns, a dual-purpose breed, were raised for both meat and milk. Wade turned his surplus of milk into profit when he established a small dairy on his farm to produce butter and cheese. His son Ralph won prizes for cheese at the Northumberland County agricultural fair as early as 1842 and a grandson, Henry, was later credited with bringing the factory method of making cheese from New York to central Upper Canada. Robert Wade was interested in Leicesters because they also served a dual purpose. Ralph won first prize for home-made wool cloth in the 1842 Northumberland fair and five years later Wade Leicesters, which took top prizes at the first provincial agricultural exhibition, were described as the best sheep for carcass weight and tallow yield ever killed in Toronto. Robert maintained a breeding program until the time of his retirement in 1848, and the work was continued by two of his sons, John and Ralph, and his grandson Henry, who were all well known in the pure-bred-stock business during the second half of the 19th century.
Inventions for the technological advance of agriculture were a family interest. Cultivating tools and harvesting machines were seen by Robert Wade as two of the greatest needs of farmers at the time. John reportedly invented a turnip-drill, a potato-washer, and a straw-elevator for a thresher, but he appears to have patented only one machine, a post-hole auger, and that in conjunction with John Helm of Port Hope, one of the province’s first manufacturers of reapers. John Wade is also credited with importing, in 1844, the second reaping machine in the Newcastle District, perhaps even in Upper Canada.
To provide a forum for the discussion of agricultural topics, the Wades supported some of the earliest local and provincial agricultural associations. The Northumberland Agricultural Society, founded in 1828, faltered after a short time and was disbanded until 1836, when it was reorganized. At that time, it was decided to establish local committees of the county society and Robert Wade was named to represent Hamilton Township. The society sponsored biannual fairs, provided funds for prizes, and encouraged members to subscribe to farming journals and prepare papers on agricultural subjects for debate. Both Ralph and John Wade served extended terms as president of the society.
Robert Wade was a staunch Methodist, preferring at first to worship with a group of British immigrants of his faith rather than with the local American Methodist congregation. Following the erection of St Peter’s Church (Anglican) in Cobourg during the 1840s, he joined that church. He died in 1849 and was buried in the family plot at St Peter’s Cemetery.
Wade did much to encourage the improvement of agriculture in Upper Canada during the first half of the 19th century. He was interested in both the theory and the practice of farming, making undeniable contributions in the areas of drainage, tillage, fruit culture, animal husbandry, dairying, use of machinery, and agricultural organization. His sons and grandsons followed his lead, many of them assuming leadership in the province’s numerous agricultural associations.
AO, MU 2388, ser.A-1–A-3; MU 2883; MU 3074 (photocopies). Edna Barrowclough, “The Wade letters (1819–67),” Cobourg and District Hist. Soc., Hist. Rev. (Cobourg, Ont.), 4 (1986). British American Cultivator (Toronto), new ser., 2 (1846): 399; 3 (1847): 138. Canadian Agriculturist (Toronto), 1849–63. Cobourg Star, 8 Sept. 1847; 15 March, 19 July, 2, 23 Aug., 11, 18 Oct. 1848; 18 July 1849. Dominion short-horn herd book (Ottawa), 1 (1886–87). R. L. Jones, History of agriculture in Ontario, 1613–1880 (Toronto, 1946; repr. Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1977). D. McL. Marshall, Shorthorn cattle in Canada (Guelph, Ont., 1932). Kenneth Kelly, “The transfer of British ideas on improved farming to Ontario during the first half of the nineteenth century,” OH, 63 (1971): 103–11.