Innovation, Automation, and Ministers Island
There is nothing like a visit to Ministers Island and we never tire of it. It just feels like a place full of opportunity and it gives us excitement every single time.
Old Ned Ludd’s dying wish we sing,
No broken frames, no digitized sting,
But hand-wrought goods, our daily bread,
Toil and craft, by skilled hands led.
— a modern example of a poem inspired by the sentiments of the Luddites and their opposition to machinery during the Industrial Revolution.
Historically known as Chamcook Island, Ministers Island is right close to us here at Chamcook Schoolhouse. Not only can you see it from our harbour you can drive over in a few minutes. Let us know if you’d like to go and while you’re here we will take you as our guests get a 10% discount.
All the hard work has been done. I’m sure when Reverend Andrews bought the 500-acre island in 1790 for 250 pounds sterling there was still a lot of work to be done. Now, it’s cleared and has infrastructure. To us, it feels like a land of opportunity. And hay. When you’re there just look at all the good hay that could be harvested there! And all the room in that hay mow to put it! Yes, I have my eye out for good-quality green hay all of the time these days.
My favourite part of Ministers Island is the livestock barn. Designed and constructed in 1899 by Edward Maxwell and Sir William Van Horne — it is a massive thing of beauty. Why anyone could not make a go of it since William Van Horne, I have no idea. Except maybe I do.
The Minters Island Operation
Certainly, it costs a lot to farm the operation Van Horne was running and you need a lot of staff. Most certainly the adage is true: “It’s really hard to find good help these days”. I’m pretty sure entrepreneurs have lamented about this since the beginning. But in all seriousness, currently, it IS really hard to find people that want to work AT ALL these days!
And thinking further, with minimum wage could Van Horne have even run Ministers Island and produced so much good food, superior cattle, run events, cattle shows, had the town of Saint Andrews over on Sundays, and employed so many people all with being forced to pay minimum wage? Doubt it! In his time there was no minimum wage and yet he was a great man to work for. He provided free lodging and food in exchange for working on the farm on the island. It was a great opportunity all around for everyone.
Married people had cottages and single people had a dorm. The gardener had a cottage by the garden, the carriage driver had a home in the carriage house… very efficient and idyllic at the same time. So pretty. Of course, bonuses were awarded from time to time as well and that’s exactly what happens when there are fruits of labour and Ministers Island was very fruitful when the Van Horne’s were there.
The Bagger Part:
Yes, I used to be a bagger. Not one of those that bagged groceries though.
Although, whatever happened to those fine people with their superior and thoughtful bagging skills? Of course, sometimes you’d get the bagger who put the bread on the bottom of the bag and stacked cans of soup on top. We never wanted him again.
But then there were the baggers that knew you wanted your frozen stuff together and your loaves of bread placed on top of the neatly stacked goods.
This used to be easy when we had paper bags. Remember those? Those were great. Not the crap paper bags they’re trying to sell us now that rip as soon as you lift them when there are only three items in the bag.
We used to get solid paper bags and then we could take them home and make crafts out of them. They were so strong you could use them for book cover protectors and masks and still paint and decorate them while they lasted until you were sick of them and wanted to make another.
However, we were forced to “save the trees” and had to move to plastic bags. And now, we’re forced to “not use plastic” and therefore have no bags, pay for a very substandard paper bag or pay 35 cents or more for a weird cloth-ish bag that we stuff so full that it threatens to bust at the seams from the trunk to the house, only to be forgotten there on the hook the next time we go shopping. As a result, we are left with no choice but to just throw everything into the trunk or give in to buying yet another ‘reusable’ bag.
I don’t know about you, but these “reusable” bags of today don’t hold a candle to the reusable-ness of those paper bags of the 70s and 80s. But I digress.
Getting back on track:
In spite of having people messing with our bags throughout history, if we choose, we now have the option to check out our shopping items ourselves. Enter people that refuse to use self-checkout and those people that prefer it.
Refusers believe that self-checkouts take away people’s jobs. This isn’t new. Change is hard. Uncertainty is harder. Similarly, the Luddites were skilled textile workers who opposed the introduction of new machinery and technology in the textile industry. They thought the power loom would automate their jobs and lead to widespread unemployment and threaten their quality of life.
Ned Ludd, a semi-legendary fictional character, an apprentice weaver in England, in a fit of frustration, destroyed a knitting machine in the late 18th century. This act of machine-breaking became a symbolic gesture for the Luddite movement in 19th-century England.
Embracers of self-checkout probably just don’t feel like talking to anyone that day and most likely they want to get out of the store quickly and stack their own groceries. Sometimes, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
Automation on Ministers Island:
All of this brings us to my very favourite piece of early automation that I discovered when touring the livestock barn on Ministers Island.
Isn’t it a beauty? You can shovel the feed into the bottom and it goes up the auger into the feed bag. And yet there is a spot to hold 2 feed bags! So while one is being filled, the other bag can be tied and replaced with another. A quick and uninterrupted new way to fill feedbags quickly.
I like to imagine that in its advent that there were probably people absolutely horrified of its existence because it would take away the job of the person who normally held the feed bags.
I bet back then people would exclaim, “What about the feed bagger-er?!”, “I refuse to buy feed bags filled using this machine. It takes away the bag holder-ers job!” So you’d have people standing in long lines waiting for the next available person to hold the feed bag in one line and you’d have others zooming through the other line getting their horse carts filled with bags of feed that were ready to go filled by automation. 😉
The people refusing to buy feed filled by the feed bagging machine were wrong just like the Luddites were wrong back then and just like those fear-filled about self-checkouts are now.
I once was a bagger from Springfield,
In the farmyard where wonders unveiled.
With hands small and so neat,
I’d hold bags for Dad’s feat,
As he shovelled feed in, our teamwork prevailed.
So what happened to the feed bag holder-ers? Well, just like me, they had to adapt, learn new skills and find a new job. They may have moved on from holding feed bags to handing out wires for the people putting up fence. That’s what I graduated to when I was 7 😉
Of course, my experiences with bagging is tongue in cheek. I have great memories of holding feed bags for my dad as he shovelled in feed and even earlier memories of helping put up fences by holding the bucket of wire clips or something and being ready to give one to the men as they put up the fence. (Aw fence… How I wish we had fencing. That’s a tangent for another day.)
There are always good ways that you can get your little children to help on the farm! Those are the best jobs. But when you’re an adult and you find yourself doing jobs like that and they can be replaced it’s best to be creative and find something more complicated that you can do instead. This is what automation forces us to do.
Much like when the Industrial Revolution came around, the rise of AI and automation in our current time will bring about job displacement, force us to adapt, and then new job opportunities are birthed. Technological innovation can be painful because of the unknown and changes in day-to-day life but over the long term, it doesn’t necessarily come at the price of jobs or our prosperity. New technology brings further innovation that creates wealth and new employment that you can’t necessarily see right away. Just look to the early automation of the feed bag auger machine and see how far we’ve come since then.
However, let’s remember that some people find joy in working as a cashier or holding bags and sometimes it’s a great job to have if you need it! But with the government forcing owners to pay a minimum wage they simply cannot afford to employ people to be cashiers and feed bag holder-ers and so they will be replaced by automation. Automation comes with a one-time fee and a service call now and then and that’s it.
If companies and owners were free to pay people what the job was worth to them we would see more incredible businesses, better customer service and Sunday outings like you used to find on Ministers Island when William Van Horne and his family ran their farm. Sure, he was rich from his massive portfolio of feats but he was able to work up the ranks in the railway world and it wasn’t because of minimum wage! It was certainly because of the lack of it! Back when you were paid based on merit and not by force.
In all honestly, this feed bag filler upper-er is a fine example of early automation and probably freed up people to do a number of other much-needed tasks on the farm. There are so many things to do and many hands make light work. The best part is that once we figure out how to adapt to change or have a boss like Van Horne putting us to use somewhere else on the farm – much more gets done, beautiful things are made, and we get more enjoyment in our lives.
So you see, I get a lot of joy seeing this early example of automation on Ministers Island when I go visit. It brings up a lot of thoughts and a lot of laughs! It’s amazing what a walk through history and seeing something so grand can stir up in one’s soul.