The saying goes that “art
imitates life”, and looking through some of the art we have in our archival
collections, it gives us an idea of just how important animals are in the
everyday lives of humans. Animals have made their way into human artistic
expression for thousands of years; the oldest known artwork of an animal was
created over 45,000 years ago in Indonesia, which was a drawing of a wild pig
(Learn more from
Local Oxford County artists are no exception when it
comes to including animals in their art.
Springbank Snow Countess
The Springbank Snow Countess
was arguably one of Oxford County’s most famous cows. She was bred by Thomas R.
Dent, the owner of Springbank Farm where she was born in 1919. The Snow
Countess became world famous for producing a record amount of dairy; she was the
World Champion Lifetime Butterfat Producer until 1952. She was milked four
times a day (the average cow is milked once or twice), and produced 12 gallons
of milk per day. She had 14 calves throughout her life. She was also known for
her friendship with a farm dog. According to a story printed in the Oxford
Historical Society’s “Quizzical History” book, published in 2017, a Collie
puppy was brought to the farm in 1932. The puppy, named Bob, was found cuddling
with the cow one night in her stall. The pair were inseparable after that. Bob
worked on the farm to round up and herd the cows from the pasture into the barn
for milking. When The Springbank Snow Countess died in 1936, Bob was present at
her funeral and was said to have laid down on her grave after the ceremony. He
refused to move from the grave, even for food, and sadly passed away on the
grave a short while later.
A statue honouring The
Springbank Snow Countess was unveiled on the Springbank Farm on August 4, 1937.
It was erected by the Canadian Holstein-Friesian Association and designed with
the assistance of local agricultural artist Ross Butler. The statue is made of
bell metal and lead. It was relocated to the northwest corner of Dundas Street
and Springbank Avenue in 2006.
One notable Oxford County
artist who featured animals in his work was Ross Butler, a world-renowned
agricultural artist. Butler was born on a farm near Norwich, Ontario in 1907.
His career in art began at a young age and he was self-taught, inspired by the
animals around him on the farm. In 1927 he moved from his family’s farm and
made Woodstock, Ontario his home, which would be his home for the rest of his
life. He eventually sold his agricultural art pieces to the Holstein-Friesian
Society, which led to him being commissioned in 1937 by the Department of
Agriculture to paint every dairy breed, beef breed, and draft horse in Canada
for educational use in schools. Eventually, Butler worked on creating butter
sculptures as well. In 1952 he created a life-size butter sculpture of Queen
Elizabeth II on horseback for the Canadian National Exhibition. The sculpture made
him famous internationally and, as a result, he was invited to England for the
Queen’s coronation. Butler passed away in 1995 and was inducted into the
Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1997.
Butler’s son David now curates the Ross Butler Gallery in Woodstock, Ontario.
More information on the gallery can be found
Born in Bradford, Yorkshire,
England, Herbert Milnes arrived in Canada in 1928. He worked at La France
Textiles in Woodstock, Ontario, for more than 40 years until his retirement in
1970 when he became curator of the Oxford Museum. Milnes was also known as a
passionate naturalist. In 1934, he helped found the Woodstock Field Naturalist
Society and was elected its first President. The group was quickly affiliated
with the Federation of Ontario Naturalists and they held their first regional
gathering in 1937 at Downey Wood and Sweaburg Swamp Area. Throughout his
lifetime, he wrote observational field notes on the flora and fauna
(specifically birds, snakes, and turtles) that lived and grew in the natural
environments around Oxford County. He also captured their images in beautiful
life-like watercolour, and pen and ink sketches which were often exhibited at
the museum and elsewhere.
Milnes passed away in 1980 at
the age of 74 but many of his naturalist art pieces and notes are currently
stored and preserved in the Archives for future generations of researchers. Some
of Milnes’s artwork can be seen in the photo slideshow below.
Visual art isn’t the only art
medium that features animals. In the Archives, we have a number of poetry books
written and published by poets who once called or still call Oxford County
home. Nature is often used for inspiration in art, and poetry is no exception.
Below is a selection of poems written by local authors that feature animals in
The Geese by
Gertrude MacGregor Moffat.
“So do the geese go by on the
One in the lead, and all in
Tame grey geese, that go on
Under the hedge and through
So do the geese go by in the
One in the lead, and two arms
Brave wild geese that pass in
Under the stars, and over our
Printed in “A Book of Verses”. Toronto: MacMillan Co. of
Canada Ltd., at St. Martin’s House (1924), pg. 37.
The Beech-Nut Gatherer by
Pamelia S. Yule (nee Vining)
“All over the earth like a
Golden, green, and grey,
Crimson, and scarlet, and
The Autumn foliage lay; -
The sun of the Indian Summer
Laughed at the bare old trees
As they shook their leafless
In the soft October breeze.
Gorgeous was every hill-side,
And gorgeous every nook,
And the dry, old log was
Spanning the little brook;
Its holiday robes, the forest
Had suddenly cast to earth,
And, as yet, seemed scarce to
In its plenitude of mirth.
I walked where the leaves the
The brightest, and goldenest
And I thought of a forest
And an Indian Summer Day, -
Of an eager, little child-face
O’er the fallen leaves that
As she gathered her cup of
With innocent content.
I thought of the small, brown
Gleaning them one by one,
With the partridge drumming
In the forest bare and dun,
And the jet-black squirrel,
His saucy, jealous eye
At those tiny, pilfering
From his sly nook up on high.
Ah, barefooted little maiden!
With thy bonnetless, sun-burnt
Thou glean’st no more on the
Where art thou gleaning now?
I knew by the lifted glances
Of thy dark, imperious eye,
That the tall tree bending
Would not shelter thee by and
The cottage by the brookside,
With its mossy roof is gone; -
The cattle have left the
The young lambs left the lawn;
Gone are thy blue-eyed sister,
And thy brother’s laughing
And the beech-nuts lie
On the lonely hill-side now.
What have the returning
Brought to thy heart since
In thy long and weary
In the paths of busy men? –
Has the Angel of grief, or of
Set his seal upon thy brow?
Maiden, joyous or tearful,
Where art thou gleaning now?”
Printed in “Poems of the Heart and Home”. Toronto:
Bengough, Moore & Co., Printers and Publishers (1881), pg. 9.
The Canadian Horse by James
McIntyre “The Cheese Poet”.
“The fame of the Canadian
It is heard on many a course,
For it has won oft in the
And renowned for graceful
Great change from the Indian
Who in old times was the only
Horse that you could drive or
Now you have the powerful
‘Tis true that he is rather
But deep he plows so you may
And over any kind of road
He will pull a mighty load.
Of brutes the horse doth lead
And he is the best friend of
Well trained, so gentle and so
And next he ranks to man in
Printed in “Poems of James McIntyre”. Ingersoll: The Office
of the Chronicle (1889), pg. 219.
Colarvaldy’s Stump Fenced Farm Lane by Thomas F. Williams, 1979.
“The old farm lane I once
Between the ‘Hardwood and the
Pine stump roots on either
Roots toward roots; a
Horse high, Bull strong and
Once a common West Oxford
Huge rocks moved with boat and
Long since etched with lover’s
Virgin, the soil that no plow
Flora that only such old land
Hollows in stumps where
Trees of kinds the birds like
Many a woodchuck finds a home,
Forced from fields where
Pine stumps, themselves, are poems
In their roots the chemistry
of Life is born.
To me, a tree has identity,
Its roots being where its
brain must be,
Converting seeds so very small
To giant Pines that top them
Remembers the Season’s
Finds the things upon which it
Supplies the forces that
stable the trees,
While moving the sap from the
ground to the leaves.
Featureless fields are
producing good food
Where few can imagine the
great trees stood.”
Printed in “Poems and Prose: 1966-1979”. Published by Thomas
F. Williams (1979), pg. 27.