When you drive by local places on outings, do you ever wonder about their roots?
Take Weybread Hill Farm between Orangeville, Fergus and Erin, for example. Passing by its sign on the 11th Line, East Garafraxa, it tells you this beautiful farm offers riding lessons and horse boarding. Superficially you can glance at the sign and the old house and barn on lovely rolling hills with beautiful views, and well drained pastures, and just pass by it. Today, Priscilla Reeve lives there, but more about that later. Let’s take a deeper look at how it all began!
After the American Revolution, United Empire Loyalists (UEL) in the late 18th century started arriving to create what would be Ontario. In fact, our provincial motto is “Loyal she began, Loyal she remains” as a result. In 1805 “the first land purchase” of 85,000 acres on Lake Ontario from the Mississauga First Nations was made around Burlington and Oakville. English, Scots and Irish, and the children of the UEL began to settle Ontario and move inland in the early 1820’s.
What lured people was a Crown land grant of 200 acres, and in the case of today’s Weybread Hill farm, the Crown made a grant of 100 acres of land to one Jacob Cook on March 7th of 1825. Keeping any grant was no simple matter, and some did not follow through when they got it. Five acres for every 100 acres granted and half the road in the front and rear of the lot (and for some the side road too if beside one) had to be cleared in the first 18 months, and a sixteen by twenty foot dwelling built. Some families could not register documents, or it took years, because of family tragedy such as death while clearing, and other hardships, or even affording the fees to obtain the land patent from the Crown.
Settlement of the area must have been really developing, if we look at the formation dates of the municipalities. Garafraxa dates to 1854 to 1869, East Garafraxa from 1869 to 1880, and was part of Wellington County created in 1854. In 1880, East Garafraxa became part of Dufferin County, formed in 1881.
THE FARM ITSELF
The farm’s history is an intertwined tale of two brothers and their families. Until 1877, information on the farm itself is sparse when Anthony Turner bought the farm. He sold it, probably to his son in 1885. Anthony Sr. was born in 1816 on the 360 acre family property, Howe’s Farm in Cumberland, in the northern part of England near the Scottish border. In those days, that was a significant acreage! He and his brother Joseph, both married and a third brother, Thomas, remained single. Anthony, then in his 30’s, left for Canada along with his brother-in-law Thomas Richardson and sister, Jane. His brother, Joseph, stayed behind for another 14 years.
An account of the early settlement of Joseph’s farm and the area was written in 1929 by his great niece, Pauline Turner, and is in the archives of the Wellington County Museum in Fergus. Therefore we are lucky to have some details of those early days of both Anthony’s and Joseph’s properties.
Once landed, the family took the train to Brampton. Joseph first worked for Joseph Hunter in Orangeville, and then bought the farm from the Crown next door to Anthony shortly after. Anthony initially built a log home and then the large bank barn. The barn still stands on Anthony’s property. Joined by wooden pegs, the timbers are enormous. Tall ladders go to the roof in the second level hayloft area, as in those days hay was not baled, but simply piled up and then taken down as needed. Houses for poultry were also built on that level, as would be warm and frost free in the winter! Today the Ministry of Natural Resources undertakes research on the barn swallows nesting there, as they are an endangered species.
Joseph died after a long illness in 1878, aged 57. Anthony Turner died in 1886, age 70, and they are both buried in Orton. Orton itself is possibly associated with the Turner name somehow, as it was named after George Turner Orton, born in Guelph in 1837, a physician and Federal MP for the area from 1874 to 1887. There were many Turners living in the area.
The farm prospered enough that in 1898 there was enough money to build the current brick home. When the house was renovated recently, current resident Priscilla proudly shows off a small piece of wood under the front window ledge that was discovered. The names and birthdays of the men who built it, and the villages they came from, are written on it!
The family had always emphasized faith, work and education: themes that run through generations from the start, and many descendants left to prosper in many fields as well as farming, and teach in places like Camilla, Primrose, Grand Valley, Bolton, Orangeville, Toronto and far afield. Her memoir pages recall extended family hardships and tragedy of illness, childhood disease and death of those early days. There are also many happy stories of parties, collecting sap for the family supply of sugar, getting caught in the eight foot cut of the railway track snowbank on the way to school and saving themselves by pressing against the wall (the boy pressing his sisters’ skirts back by extending his arms as the train went by), as well as cutting trees and hauling them out by oxen to sell for one dollar as 30 foot telegraph poles to the CPR whose new line was running from Cataract to Elora!
THE HORSE FARM & RIDING SCHOOL TODAY
Anthony’s farm basically stayed in the family through various generations until 1946. At one time it was a dairy farm and also had sheep. While a dairy farm, the barn floor was cemented in 1935, and a worker’s name remains written in the concrete! After that, it had several owners. Since 1964 it has specialized in horses, when Walter Wiza, a horse farrier from Germany bought it. His son, who now lives nearby is a wellknown horse farrier who grew up there. Walter left his own stamp on the side of the barn in the form of an inlaid horseshoe, his name and his young son’s handprint, as Priscilla also showed us. After that there were many other owners.
Then in 2017, the farm came into the ownership of Priscilla Reeve. Passionate about horses, Priscilla grew up in England, where she was in Pony Club as a child. She has ridden to hounds her whole life, including having been a Master of the Wellington Waterloo Hounds, and past president of the Eglinton Caledon Hounds locally. The farm is named after her grand- father’s farm in Weybread, Norfolk, England.
Today that historical barn houses the horses for the riding school run by Priscilla’s daughter, Charlotte Palmer-Benson with the help of her husband Colin Giles, the farm manager and a trained nurse to boot.
Weybread Hill Farm promotes a convivial atmosphere to learn the sport with the needed skills and great safety. It’s beyond just staying on and how to stop and go, but how you really communicate with the horse, down to reading the body language and subtle signs of appreciation, to get the most out of it. Eschewing any feeling of competitiveness and “eliteness”, the school promotes the love of the sport as a way of life. It also teaches assertiveness, not aggressiveness: a very important life skill, never mind with only horses!
Priscilla’s daughter, Charlotte has worked with some of the top Olympic riders in dressage and jumping around the world. She also comes from a background steeped in equine traditions from not only her mother. Her step-father Anthony (Tony) Delaunay rode with the Governor General’s Horse Guards, her father Tim Palmer-Benson rode to hounds, and her grandfather Trevor Benson was a master of hounds in Sussex, England. She herself competes and was 2017 Ontario Reserve Champion for dressage, as well as serving on the Caledon Dressage Board.
Weybread Hill Farm has the regular riding school for children and adults wanting to learn, and weekly summer day camps for children ages seven to fourteen. Emphasis is on all the disciplines instead of focussing on one. Competition is there only if you want it, and Charlotte facilitates any clients who want to compete in eventing and dressage.
Working with people’s limitations is an important aspect of their work. A very unique offering is their “return to ride program” which offers adults the chance to brush up on their previous skills and get their confidence back, as they may left the sport for various reasons like family and job responsibilities, health or others. This is an ideal and “gentle” way to return. For clients who have proven they have sufficient skills to leave the arena, riding the farm and local trails is possible to enjoy the flora and fauna outdoors.
And when you are up to it as well, this includes a friendly “yack and hack” around the area, followed by a potluck meal in Anthony’s historic farm house!
Written by: Diana Janosik-Wronski