Alberta family’s matriarch returns to the farm

On the Farm: A love of the farming lifestyle and a century of rich history draws woman back to her family and the farm


CLIVE, Alta. — Louise Bell recently bought a quarter section of land at Clive and plans to move back to the farm, even though she’s reached an age where many people are slowing down.

“I need a purpose in life,” said the 74-year-old.

She currently lives in a condo in nearby Lacombe and has bought a small cabin through an online auction that she’s having moved to the farm next spring. She’ll plant a garden and intends to open a repurpose store.

“I’ll start my homestead.”

Bell’s new place is directly across the road from Shady Nook Farm where she lived with her husband, Ralph, for most of their 50 years of married life. It’s where they raised three sons.

Ralph passed away in August 2018 after a lengthy illness.

“He died at home,” she said. “I sit here with no regrets.”

Six weeks later, Bell moved into Lacombe.

The couple’s oldest son, Stacey, and his wife, Suzy, had taken over Shady Nook Farm in 2004. That made them the fourth generation of Bells to own and farm — land that Stacey’s great-grandparents bought in 1920.

Stacey Bell farms with his stepson, Corey Clark.

They maintain six quarters owned and 10 quarters of rented land. They’ll manage Louise’s new place as well.

Crops include barley, canola, wheat, triticale for silage, and hay.

Stacey runs a herd of more than 200 commercial cattle and another 200 purebred red and black Simmental.

The cattle are his favourite part of farming.

“I can waste a whole day looking at the cows,” he said, then added, “calving is a challenging time.”

Stacey and Suzy were recently recognized as a Lacombe County 100 Year Farm Family. COVID-19 protocols limited attendance at the event, but a few close friends and immediate family members were on hand.

Other well-wishers offered drive-by congratulations accompanied with some horn honking, common practices in these days of social distancing.

The morning celebration was bittersweet. Although Ralph was absent in body he was fondly remembered, and honoured with a minute of silence.

“My husband’s love was the land,” Bell said.

Ralph rotated crops with a goal to leave the land in better shape than how he found it.

“He accomplished that.”

She said she and Ralph managed the farm with the help of their sons.

Stacey and Suzy Bell received the Lacombe County 100 Year Farm Family award on July 25 at their farm near Clive, Alta. They are the fourth generation of Bells to own and operate the farm. Pictured are Ken, left, and Laurie Bell, Suzy Bell, Corey Clark, Stacey Bell, Louise Bell, Donna Barnes, and Bob and Shauna Bell. | Maria Johnson photo

“There’s a reason it’s called a family farm. Each generation required all members of the family to contribute in some way in the operation of the farm to make it viable.”

As well, outside help was also sometimes required. Neighbours helping neighbours was, and still is, common.

She recalled her boys’ younger years. At one time the family sold eggs to more than 60 families.

“They gathered eggs. They washed eggs. They packed eggs. They cleaned chicken pens.”

For a few years the family had feeder pigs, and she says they were known for growing hay.

Bell is the family historian. Although she has never met some of the Bell family ancestors, she knows their stories.

“Leo and Mary were the first generation.”

They ran a mercantile store in Clive. They sold it and bought the home quarter right on the outskirts of the village in 1920. The day after the sale closed, the mercantile burned down, along with another store, the post office, telephone office, Bank of Montreal, and Egg and Cream Shipping Depot.

“That first generation started a milk route in Clive,” said Louise. “Mary made hand-churned butter to sell on the milk route.”

It was Mary’s butter press that stamped “Shady Nook” on each block of butter. Shady Nook became the farm name.

The next generation, John and Nellie Bell, continued with the milk route, adding chocolate milk to their offerings, which also included eggs and cream.

“John and Nellie had an immense amount of sheep”, said Bell. “The hillside was white with sheep.” They also sold eggs for consumption and hatching eggs.

Then came Ralph and Louise. “We quit the milk route but sold eggs from the door.”

Bell said her favourite season on the farm is winter.

“It allowed us time for family fun — ski-dooing, skating, curling, tobogganing, building snowmen.

“And there’s nothing prettier than hoar frost,” she said. “That land that Ralph loved so much would get covered up with a blanket of snow and have a time to rest so it could get ready to grow again.”

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