Forget the boys; it’s all about the girls

Rural depopulation has long been a troublesome trend.

Larger farms and significant transportation improvements have helped remove people from the countryside for decades.

Those who remain have for the most part carved out satisfactory lives for themselves, but inadequate internet and cellphone service are now threatening their place in modern society.

Despite the historical context, it can be easy to view closed schools, shuttered businesses and terrible internet service as a modern crisis.

But sometimes it’s useful to take a trip back in time to put things into perspective.

I did so recently by reading an article that was published May 30, 1912, in the Farmer’s Advocate & Home Magazine from Ontario.

The writer was complaining about — you guessed it — rural depopulation but took an interesting approach. Instead of blaming the problem on young men leaving the farm, the writer focused on young women.

So many daughters were leaving their parents’ farms for the bright lights of the big city, the writer contended, that rural areas were beginning to suffer a serious gender imbalance.

The statistics were alarming: 1,875 more men than women in Bruce County, 1,719 in Grey County and 2,381 in Welland, which the writer pointed out was a small county.

The consequences were dire: “Rural Ontario (is) becoming a country of elderly and middle-aged people, while the cities are swarming with pallid, restless girls who would be the life and joy of the farms of this fertile province.”

The solutions were interesting.

First and foremost, farmer fathers had to stop being so stingy with their cash because most young women leaving for the city did so because they simply wanted spending money of their own.

Fathers were told they could keep more of their daughters at home if they made “regular and systematic money allowances to the girls, to be spent on their own initiative.”

Introducing sanitary conveniences into farm buildings was also recommended, but the “lack of social discourse” seemed to be a major problem, caused by a move away from the old days of dances, sleighing parties, spelling bees and Templar meetings.

And how was this to be solved — why, a quiet driving horse and the telephone, of course.

Oh, if only it was that simple.

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