Cassbrae Farms near L’Orignal is one of the oldest farms in the area. It is a cornerstone of local agricultural heritage interwoven with the history of the region. Cassbrae Farms has been in the same family for more than 200 years and is a story of family farm succession before the term even existed. But generations change and families change, and what happens at Cassbrae Farms is changing as a result.
In May, 1796, Nathaniel Treadwell, an American from Plattsburgh, New York, purchased the vacant Seigneury of Longueuil and in 1798 the first settlers arrived in what later became Longueuil Township. Elihu Cass, a United Empire Loyalist, was among them and settled on Lots 23, 24 and 44 which he purchased for six shillings. In 1824, the was passed to Elihu’s son, Josiah Cass. In 1892, Josiah’s brother C. Avery Cass took over the farm in 1824 and then to his son, Josiah H. Cass, who then transferred it to his brother C. Avery Cass in 1892. The farm was eventually taken over by his son, Wilfred L. Cass.
Around 1948, Wilfred’s sons Leslie and Cecil began farming. Wilfred was in poor health, so their maternal uncle Henry Newton, got involved and was a driving force to help strengthen the operation. Newton lived to age 96. In 1950, Leslie and Cecil purchased an additional 95 acres from Paul Pharand which included an orchard, which for many years supplied the surrounding community with fresh apples. Cecil and Leslie operated their farm as Cass Brothers.
In 1955, Cecil married Maureen Allen. In October, 1957, the Jordan house on 5-1/2 acres, Lot 23 was purchased to be the family home for three sons and two daughters. In the spring of 1968, the nearby Howes farm was purchased and the east end of the milking barn was built. In August, 1971, the blue machine shed was built and the Cass’ purchased the first John Deere 7520 diesel tractor in Eastern Ontario.
A partnership was formed in 1976 with Cecil’s eldest son Wayne being the third partner. This partnership introduced the name Cassbrae Farms Registered. Also in 1976, Cassbrae purchased the nearby Cameron farm. The farmhouse on that property was sold in 1977.
In springtime of 1986, the century-old Marston farm was purchased with Ian Marston retaining the house and a portion of land. The Allen Cass farm was purchased in May, 1988 and in 1989 the maple bush on that property was tapped for the first time in many years. The house from the former Allen Cass farm was sold in 1990.
In January, 1991, the farm was incorporated as Cassbrae Farms Limited. More land was acquired in 1998 with the purchase of 50 acres from Ian Marston. The business became a partnership between Leslie, Cecil, and Wayne in 2004. Leslie died in 2009, and the partnership now consists of Cecil, Maureen, and Wayne.
The most recent land acquisition by Cassbrae Farms was in 2013 when 90 acres on Sandy Hill Road were purchased from Robert Charbonneau. Cassbrae Farms now consists of about 950 acres of land.
Maple sugar, dairy cattle, custom work, beef cattle, and dairy heifers were once the main activities at Cassbrae Farms.
“Cecil did a fair amount of custom harvesting for farmers in the Cassburn, Vankleek Hill and St-Eugène area, many would get more than one visit per year for different applications,” said Audrey Dumoulin, Wayne’s sister and one of Cecil and Maureen’s daughters.
Hay was also a major business for Cassbrae Farms for many years. Deliveries were made to customers from Cumberland east to the Québec border, and beyond to Hudson and St-Lazare. Across the Ottawa River, deliveries were made to Calumet, Arundel, and Harrington.
Several months ago, Cecil, now 93, and Maureen moved to the Prescott and Russell Residence in Hawkesbury.
“It’s been quite a change since then,” Wayne said.
Cecil was involved in farm decision making right until he moved to the Residence. Wayne said they used to have 70 to 80 dairy cows but have decided to limit their activities to cash crop only.
“It was increasingly harder to get help. It was too labour-intensive,” Wayne said.
“We got less help and the family got older, he added.
Wayne’s brother Devon lives in one of the houses on the farm, but he works as a firefighter in Ottawa. Wayne resides in the other house. His sisters Gayle Rutherford and Audrey Dumoulin also help with administration and maintenance of the farm. They were predeceased by their brother Shawn. Each year, the Shawn Cass Memorial Trophy for 4-H Holstein Grand Champion Showmanship at the Vankleek Hill Fair is presented in his honour. The challenge they face for the future is there are no immediate family members who could possibly take over.
The main Cassbrae Farms property has a fine appearance. Everything is always tidy and the place looks like a classic, old Ontario farm.
“That was always a top priority with my parents, no mess,” Wayne said.