David took me to an exhibition of farm tractors: originally they were large, powerful yet very dangerous machines. Through various technical innovations they were still large and even more powerful, but they became much safer to operate since working parts were no longer exposed. The Canada Agriculture Museum features a variety of tractors. One of the exhibits is hands-on; you can actually climb up into a tractor’s seat, flick the switch and experience the bumpy, bone-jarring uncomfortable ride of an old-style tractor with metal wheels. Then you change the setting and you see the difference of how much smoother the ride is with rubber wheels. Another innovation that we don’t even think about today that made life so much easier for farmers.
Another tractor was actually a hybrid vehicle from the 1930s, consisting of a car chassis and motor carriage that was converted into a farm tractor. Apparently the vehicle was neither particularly adept at being a passenger vehicle nor at being a tractor. The next big innovation on display was the “Cockshutt Tractor”, built in Brantford, Ontario, which could have a manure spreader or other implement behind that was powered by the tractor’s engine without the necessity for the tractor to be moving. This technology was called the “independent power takeoff” and a significant Canadian innovation during the 1940s.
Is it a car? Or is it a tractor?
The next piece of equipment was a specialized tractor used in vegetable fields which had a very slender nose and an engine mounted in the rear of the vehicle. The slender frontal portion would allow the farmer to see the vegetable planting much better. One of the popular displays at the Canada Agriculture Museum is a tractor simulator donated by the John Deere Company. You can climb up into the cab, look ahead through the windshield onto a simulated farmer’s field and the simulator rocks you around in the cab as if you were in a real tractor ploughing the field. David explained that today’s tractors actually have sophisticated GPS (global positioning systems) which keep track of which areas the farmer has already covered during planting so they don’t go over the same area twice or miss other spots.
The John Deere tractor simulator
The machinery exhibit area includes a variety of quizzes with questions such as what would be the link to agriculture of a variety of everyday items. Diapers, photo film and other products we commonly use actually contain agricultural by-products, and we don’t even associate them at all with farming operations. It’s amazing how many items we take for granted in our daily lives and how many of them are derived from agricultural products.
Then David took me into the Small Animal Barn which houses the pigs, chickens, rabbits, sheep and goats of the Museum. Currently the Museum has one ram and 17 ewes that all have one to three lambs per year. Apparently pigs are surprisingly clean animals, they have a special designated area in their pens for bodily functions and they keep their living area totally clean. David showed me the birth area for the pigs which is called a “farrowing crate”. It is a metal contraption that ensures that the mother pig doesn’t squash the new born piglets, a very real danger with these sizeable animals.
On the way to the barn he explained that although the Canada Agriculture Museum is a great place for animals, they are still working on improving the facilities for the human visitors. One of the recent improvements is a big playground for children which will make the Canada Agriculture Museum an even more popular destination for young families.
A happy angora goat sheep family…
Throughout the year, the Canada Agriculture Museum offers a comprehensive calendar of activities. I found out that the Museum is open 364 days a year with the exception of Christmas Day. All the facilities are fully accessible from March to October and during the winter months admission actually is free.
Some highlights of the calendar include activities during Easter where you can see rabbits, newborn lambs and newly-hatched chicks, not to forget the Easter egg hunt. Mother’s Day (with free admission for all mothers) centers on “farm mothers”, female animals that provide us with milk, eggs and meat. I of course already caught the Sheep Shearing Festival on the Victoria Day Weekend.
Special activities continue with Father’s Day where all fathers get free admission so they can enjoy the Tractors exhibition. Canada Day activities focus on the Canadian Horse while there are fun and informative demonstrations all throughout the summer months. Fall welcomes visitors with October Harvest Weekends and special Halloween events and from November 1 to February 28 admission to the museum is free altogether. In addition to regular visitor programs, there are a variety of School Programs that encourage teachers to bring children to the Canada Agriculture Museum to learn and experience a working farm in the middle of the city.
On our way out of the Museum David mentioned that the Museum will have a brand new exhibition starting in March of 2007 called “Food for Health” which will deal with making wise food choices, food handling and various other nutrition-related topics. So that just means that next time I come to Ottawa I’ll have something new to discover…