Sturgeon County location ‘fantastic’ for century farm family
Saunders family received the 100 Year Farm Family Award from Sturgeon County.
By Lorena Franchuk for Sturgeon County
As six-year-old Tenley “controls” the self-steering swather with grandpa, Ken Saunders, it’s hard to imagine the toiling that occurred over the past century on their ancestor’s land in Sturgeon County.
With the simple push of a button—at least that’s all it takes to harvest according to precocious Tenley—working on the farm near Cardiff has undergone significant change since the introduction of GPS and other technology over the past 100 years.
Multiple generations of Saunders’ hard work and commitment to Sturgeon County was recently recognized when the family received a 100 Year Farm Family Award from the municipality.
“I am very honoured to receive the award on behalf of six generations of the Saunders family living on this farm,” said Ken, who continues to reside 150 metres from the original homestead with his wife, Karen. Two of his four children and their kids continue to live on the 300-acre farm located southeast of Morinville.
Ken’s great-grandfather Michael came to the Cardiff area from Ottawa around 1909 to help set up coal mines in the region. The steam engineer then moved to Pocahontas, near Jasper, and eventually returned to Cardiff to buy a quarter section of land in 1918. Michael and his wife, Early Ann, raised four children, Herb, Sadie, Marion, and Tom.
Thanks to the hard work of six generations of Saunders and a little luck and innovation mixed in, the family has owned the land continuously since.
Ken recalls hearing stories of how the family nearly lost the farm in the 1930s when quack grass, an invasive weed, took over.
“Grandma [Mary] told me they had it raked up in windrows in the field and they were burning the roots … because if you leave a part of the root in the ground it just takes right off,” he said.
“You have to get everything out. Of course, they had no chemicals, no tractors, nothing, just the horse-pulled rake, pitchforks, and a match. We won that battle.”
Fortunately, all the hard work paid off and the soil is wonderful now, added Karen.
The farm was always supplemented by other income either through the coal mine (the family owned it from 1930 to 1939) or when Ken’s grandfather, Herb, delivered milk daily to the community of Cardiff, which had about 2,000 residents at the time.
In 1975, the family sold the livestock and focused on grain farming. Ken and Karen managed the grain farm for several decades (along with holding down outside jobs) with the help of their children Krista, Kyle, Sarah, and Lindsey.
“When we were threshing, when we were seeding, and … when we were hauling grain, it was ‘put your jeans on and get out there, you’re shoveling with the rest of us,’” said Ken.
Work on the farm has changed for the Saunders, but today’s generations have encountered some similarities when it comes to dealing with pandemics.
While masks are easy to come by today to help protect against COVID-19, Ken’s great-grandfather and grandfather took an extra step by soaking their face masks in the disinfectant creolin overnight before delivering milk and groceries to the sick and housebound during the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. They also removed bodies from homes where the families were too sick to do it themselves.
“They both survived the epidemic, otherwise our family history may have been very different,” he said.
The Saunders’ ability to create what they needed to get by is still evident on the family farm today.
“They never got rid of anything,” said Karen. They fixed everything themselves and built everything themselves…. If there was an old combine or old piece of equipment, it got put away somewhere in the back bush, you know…they just might need a part.
“If you want to see three generations of combines, I know the place.”
Joking aside, the Saunders are proud of their family farm, its heritage, and their community of Sturgeon County.
“The location is fantastic,” said Ken, a longtime volunteer sports coach. “[We’re close enough to] all the major amenities, but we’re far enough away that we’re kind of outside of it…. We were so lucky to be able to raise our children in the country like this and especially on a farm.”
The Saunders may be longtime county residents, but they are quick to acknowledge that many other Sturgeon County families set down roots much earlier than their own. Ken is adamant about why that is
“Because it’s a great place to live.”