For our ancestors, keeping food preserved in a safe way meant spending long, cold days in potentially dangerous situations to harvest ice off the local waterways. Families would wait until the ice was a good depth, usually in late January, and then hitch a horse to an ice plough. The plough had large cutting blades with a series of teeth on the bottom. There were two handles on the back to steer the plough. The plough would be steered in a straight line to score the ice surface. Several trips back and forth would be made to cut a deeper trough. The next step would be to chip the ice with a long handled tool called a spud. The spud would be raised up and then brought down with force to break the ice blocks apart. Saws were also used to cut through the ice. Ice tongs were used to pull the large ice cubes out of the water. Great care had to be taken to maintain the integrity of the surrounding ice so the plough, horse or people would not end up in the icy water and have to be rescued very quickly before hypothermia would set in. Harvested ice was hauled by horses pulling sleigh loads to an ice house. It was stored for many months by covering it in straw or sawdust. Ice could be kept frozen throughout the summer months. A trip to the ice house was a well known way to cool off in the heat of summer before the luxury of air conditioning came along. The Middleville and District Museum has an ice plough and spud donated by Kelvin Rintoul. The plough was used in the 1940's by Kelvin's uncle, Charlie Rintoul in Carleton Place. Charlie established an ice harvesting business on the Mississippi River. So when we open the refrigerator door to grab our favourite snack or add some ice cubes to cool a beverage, we can be thankful we didn't have to spend a chilly day on the river in late January.
This journal is written, researched, and maintained by the volunteers of the Middleville Museum.