Barley Days

An examination of of some historical aspects of the period 1860-1890 in Prince Edward County[*]

Page 2 - Historical Aspects 1860-1890

beer mug

Bushel basket.

American brewers believed that Prince Edward County produced superior barley for beer-making purposes, but no sources manage to explain why. It may have something to do with the sheer volume that the County was able to produce.ut it is more likely the quality had to do with the strain of barley the County used rather than the quantity produced. In the 1850s, a strain of drought-resistant barley was developed to be able to withstand the County's dry summer growing conditions. This strain of barley that was developed for practical reasons must have also imparted some positive improvements in its taste factor. Either way, brewers in New York State held Prince Edward County barley in high regards.

Barley was such a necessary export during 1860-1890 that it covered 1/3 of all the County's cultivated farmland and approximately 500,000 – 800,000 bushels of barley were exported each year, which was only a fraction of how much barley was shipped to Oswego as a whole. Oswego received 50 000 bushels of barley a day for making flour, let alone beer! Farmers could receive 12 cents for every bushel they produced during a good year. A bushel is equivalent to approximately 35 litres (exactly 35.23907017 L). Sometimes the amount in a bushel changes depending on the commodity; a bushel of barley is specifically equal to 48 lbs. Feed barley is now worth approximately $3 per bushel in Saskatchewan. Profits were so high that everyone wanted to take part in the Barley Days. Some farmers would build unsophisticated schooners to sail across Lake Ontario in, to avoid paying shipbuilders for their services. Prince Edward County was not the only place in Canada whose economy was improved by agriculture. The entire country was going through a boom in the late 19th C. According to an 1871 Government census, there were 367,872 farms in Canada and $111,116,606 worth of field crops were produced throughout the entire country that year.

Cooper's House

The Cooper house.

The little town of Port Milford contributed its all to the Prince Edward County Barley Days. As recounted by C.J.H. Snider, Port Milford was once referred to as "Packman's Port", a "packman" being a travelling salesman. The original packman in Milford was James Cooper. His door-to-door peddling business gave way to a full-time convenience store in Port Milford, co-owned with his brother William. The Cooper store sold everything from produce to paint to sewing needles and its product diversity ensured popularity with the locals. The Cooper store flourished during the Barley Days. The brothers even commissioned the famous County shipbuilder John Tait to build them two small schooners. Tait built them the Jennie Lind (1848) and Jessie Brown, which was a scow schooner (flat bottomed, used for ferrying) to help build their business through the import of necessary goods.


* [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.





Brewing beer was well esatblished in the County decades before the remunerative Barley Days

beer advertisement



A rare photograph of James Cooper, the first merchant in Port Milford (South Bay).

james cooper


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