An examination of of some historical aspects of the period 1860-1890 in Prince Edward County[*]
Page 1 - Introduction and Reasons for the Barley Days
Whenever ancestors spoke of the "good old days", chances are they were referring to the Barley Days. The Barley Days lasted from 1860-1890 in Prince Edward County and were an era of great prosperity in the area.
Hop pickers in Bert Cooper's Milford yard.
Industry in the County prior to the Barley Days was based around forestry. The area was covered in trees and Loyalists along the St. Lawrence River had to remove some in order to build homes. They burnt trees to clean the area and sold the lye that the ashes produced as a cash crop for creating soap. Around this time in the late 1700s, the Great Lakes area was shipping its abundance of wood to Europe in the form of square lumber.
After the logging boom, Prince Edward County had exhausted its lumber resources and had to devise a different way to generate revenue to the area. Farming and agriculture seemed like the most natural next step to draw revenue to the area. When County farmers began to grow their own grain, they could not have imagined the prosperity that lied in wait. Hops began around the 1840s in Ameliasburgh, Sophiasburgh and Hallowell. Hops add flavour to beer, stop undesirable ferments and aid good yeast production. But hops were never as economically important a crop as barley.
The background reason for the Barley Days was the American Civil War. The Civil War began in 1861 and lasted until 1865, and it opened up a large import market for barley entering the U.S.A. that Prince Edward County helped to fill. The foreground reason for the Barley Days was; the U.S.A. raised taxes on whisky by 400% to help raise fund to fight the Civil War. The average citizen was forced to pay a $2 tax on what should have been a 25-cent tax. $2 was a lot of money in the 19th C. and not many people could afford this tax, so they chose to drink beer instead of whisky. In fact, U.S. beer consumption jumped sixteenfold as a result of the extreme whisky tax. As beer consumption jumped, brewers in New York who needed barley for beer-making purposes relied on Prince Edward County barley to help meet their needs.
* [back] - This project was developed by Isabel Slone (one of the Society's 2007 "summer students") and was in part funded with a grant from Young Canada Works, in part with a grant from the Municipality of the County of Prince Edward, and in part with this Society's research funds.