Once Upon a Time: My Father was the milkman

Long before Olive and Gordon Hepburn ran the Hope Bay Post Office, Olive helped her father at the family dairy in Wiarton. Olive also wrote a lot for the Yearbook of the Bruce County Historical Society. In this story, from 1978, she tells how milk got delivered to the doorstep 100 years ago.

My father, Wesley W. Richardson, was the milkman in Wiarton about the time the first great war came to an end, in the days before pasteurization.

Olive’s father, Wesley Richardson, with Lady and their milk wagon, in Wiarton                            about 1920. (Bruce County Historical Society)

When my father owned the dairy, there were many good dairy farmers living near town and they supplied the milk and cream. Indeed, on the outskirts of town there were many small stables behind the homes which housed a cow or two.

Some people brought the bottled milk to our house, while father made the rounds to pick up milk at the more distant farms. Always though, it was already in the sterilized bottles supplied by the dairy and picked up the day before.

Business was carried on from our home on George Street, Wiarton, with the whole family involved, as well as hired help. We had a very large back kitchen in which “operation bottle-wash” took place. A huge, double-tubbed vat or sink of heavy metal occupied one wall and by another wall stood the great oaken icebox and stacks of wooden milk cases. These were lined with a wire basket, partitioned off so that each bottle sat in its own little compartment. I am not sure but I think each case held two dozen quart or pint bottles.

On the delivery route a wire basket was used to carry the milk from the wagon to the customer’s house. This basket was equipped with a handle and held six or eight bottles.

When the milk wagon returned home to pick up more milk and dispose of the empty bottles, these were thoroughly washed and put in scalding water, fished out with tongs and turned upside down in the wire baskets to drain. In this condition they were returned to the farmer for refilling. So the round went, day after day, from before daylight until after dark.

The milk tickets or tokens were made of some soft metal in a round shape, about the size of a fifty-cent piece for the quart, and somewhat smaller for the pint. At that time milk was about twelve cents a quart and six cents a pint.

I remember my father was running short of pint tokens and hit on the idea of cutting quart tokens in two. This worked very well until he discovered that some enterprising customer was cutting already purchased pint tokens in half. So much for that idea.

There were always those who needed milk and would pay tomorrow, and with some, of course, tomorrow never came, but my father was not a hard-hearted man and he loved people.

There was always money being left out in bottles to be taken out and counted and I can remember often going to the bank with a large tin box filled with coppers, nickels and dimes. This box held from 800 to 1,000 pieces and the bank teller and I would have to count them one by one. We soon found it expedient to wrap them in little brown paper rolls. This was just another chore added to our already overworked staff.

Besides the banking business, I was often pressed into service, before or after school, as a bottle washer or as a delivery girl for the odd bottle urgently needed at some house not far away. Because of all this activity I soon became known to my friends and classmates as “Katy the milkmaid”.

Lady, our horse, was a wonderful helpmate; she needed neither reins nor command and would stand patiently in sun, rain or snow awaiting her master. She was almost human in her knowledge of where to go and what to do.

Lady was shod at Mr. Ewing’s blacksmith shop, just up the street. This was a fascinating spot for children and although we loved to watch, we were always fearful of the nails hurting Lady; they seemed so long and sharp. Both father and Mr. Ewing assured us it was not painful to be shod and if she were not shod, her feet would become very sore from walking on the hard concrete. As she stood so quietly and unconcerned we could only conclude that this must be so.

When father could no longer cope with the volume of business and sold the dairy, it was a great comfort to us all, knowing that Lady could still stay in her own cozy stable nearby, to be fussed over and petted by the children, who loved her.

One of my fondest memories is of waking early in the morning and lying snuggled in my bed, listening to a robin singing in the maple outside my window, and then the sound of the milk wagon being loaded, and Lady’s feet going clip-clop-clip-clop away down the street and into the beginning of another day, with father, on the milk route.


Distributed by: Robin Hilborn, Bruce County Historical Society