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Picking tobacco in Delhi, Ontario


In 1965 my mother and step-father divorced and times were tough. My friends and I heard about summer jobs in the tobacco fields of Ontario so I convinced my mother to loosen the apron strings a bit more and off we went: Larry Murphy, Peter Madsen and I, thumbing our way "westward" to Delhi, Ontario.

As has happened several times in my life since, we arrived there without a cent to our names and three days before hiring was to start. In those days, the local constabulary had a less jaded perspective towards adolescents and every summer the region was filled with itinerent workers from all parts of Canada and overseas.

We were able to talk the cop shop into letting us spend the three nights sleeping in the hoosegow, their condition being that we were locked in at 7:00 p.m. and let out at 7:00 a.m.. I still remember the local drunk singing and screaming about the "long grey fire" as he experienced the d.t.'s. in the cell next to ours

During those three days we found work with a local slaughter-house picking up dead farm animals for processing into pet food. More often than not, I lost the toss and ended up in the back of the pickup, hanging on for dear life on bumpy country roads, staring back at the mournful, fly-encrusted eyes of a sow or calf, while trying to avoid the seepage and rank odour of body fluids.

When we landed the picking job and learned we were hired by one of the more ethical farmers in the area whose wife cooked up a hell of a meal, we thought we had died and gone to heaven. Heaven had a price, however, and it was paid for by suckering, oiling and straightning the plants, picking huge wet leaves, tying, loading and stacking sticks of leaves and finally filling the inside of searing hot drying kilns.

The first link you will see below is a story written by a picker in the USA, similar to mine but different in that he picked "shade tobacco", a type of cigar tobacco which is grown under cover while mine was cigarette tobacco grown in the open air. At another link, Craig Desson talks about pulling tobacco alongside Mexican migrant workers in rural Ontario. He speaks about the hardships he encounters, and the suffering he believes the Mexican migrants are going through. Videos, photos and sound clips. You will also find a number of interesting links depicting the history of early tobacco use and industry and a link to Delhi.

I would also take this opportunity to state that while I am a smoker, this page is not intended to advocate the use of tobacco. Smoking kills and we all know it!


A few links:

Shade Tobacco Days An article by Keith J. Foxe describing his experiences as a 15 year old picker.

Mud and Big Skies - My Summer in Delhi, Ontario Globalization at Work.

History of Tobacco Prints by Dona and Jerry Locklair Various prints depicting different aspects of tobacco commerce in early Carolina. Most comprehensive site I could find on tobacco.

About Delhi

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