SOUTH RIVER – Having paid taxes on the cattle sales barn property since 1953, the livestock association recently found out it was never the registered owner of the property.
“There was a slip-up somewhere in the paperwork,” explained Pauline Carmichael, director of the Parry Sound District Livestock Association.
During the annual general meeting held in March, the livestock association decided to disband and sell off its assets.
“This has been an on-going discussion for about the past four years,” said Carmichael. “There is nobody new interested in the workload or running the sales barn and there aren’t enough cattle in the area to make it viable. Without running the sales barn, there’s no point in having the association.”
In order to close the association, they first have to liquidate all assets. But when Carmichael began the process of preparing the sales barn property to sell, she received a big surprise.
“The deed that was issued said we owned the land,” she said. “But somewhere those papers got mislaid and were never filed.”
Carmichael said the Village and even MPAC had always treated the property as being owned by the association. It wasn’t until they started file the paperwork to sell that there was any knowledge of missing information.
Back in 1953, the Village gave the association a 15-acre parcel of land, where it hosted an outdoor cattle sale. Soon after, it became obvious that the association didn’t need that large of a space, so the Village took back a portion and left the association with about 3.5 acres, on which land the association built a barn structure.
As it turns out, the paperwork detailing the transaction was never submitted to the land registry, so the association wasn’t legally entitled to put the property up for sale, as it did this summer before realizing the mistake.
“We thought we had spent all of these years putting work into it and paying taxes and we didn’t even own the property,” she said. “It was a bit of a scare.”
The farmer co-operative was paying property taxes of more than $4,000 per year on land they didn’t own. The tax bill had been an issue between the sales barn, MPAC, and the Village for a number of years and has been mentioned as a contributing factor to its troubles.
Carmichael had to go through decades of hand-written minutes to find the original agreement by the Village to hand ownership of the land over to the association.
She did just that, and the Village signed off on it.
“The Village was really good. Really, they could have turned around and said, ‘No’ and that the paperwork doesn’t say we owned it, but they were really good about it,” she said. “Now that everything is sorted out, we can get on with it.”
The only problem with moving forward in the sale of the land is that the association already used its budgeted advertising allowance in the spring before the deed came into question. All of that advertising went to waste because they weren’t able to follow through on the sale.
According to Carmichael, those parties who expressed an interest when the property first became available are no longer interested. She said the property, which has been valued at between $75,000 to $120,000, will likely be listed with an agent unless someone comes forward with an interest in purchasing it. The land is zoned industrial and could be used for many different purposes, as it is located in the heart of the village.
The association not only needs to liquidate assets in order to disband, the group hasn’t paid any of its directors in a number of years and is hoping the sale of the land will mean finally paying out the money owed.
“We would normally get a small per diem and mileage for out meetings,” said Carmichael. “We haven’t been able to pay it, but we’ve been keeping track of it.”
Although she said disbanding is the most viable option right now, Carmichael, who has been a director since 1989, said she is sad to see the historical operation end.
“It’s amazing when you think of how many farmers there used to be in the area,” she said. “They had 3,000 head of cattle go through here in the first sale.”
Association President Gord Learn agreed.
“There just aren’t any cattle farmers in the area anymore,” he said, noting kids aren’t taking over family farms like they used to.
“The chance to go to the big city and make a hefty starting wage is pretty tempting,” he said. “The tourists have taken over the area and the farmers have moved on.”
Learn said recent sales at the barn have seen about 350 to 400 cattle.
According to Carmichael, having fewer cattle doesn’t mean employing fewer people. She said the barn still needed manpower for the same amount of hours even though the cows were just trickling in.
Carmichael said she thinks it’s the costs that are putting local farmers out of business.
“In the fifties you could have a mixed farm and make ends meet,” she said. “As things became more expensive, a lot of farmers’ wives worked off the farm. By the seventies, you would be guaranteed to need an off-the-farm income from at least one of you.”
Carmichael said the cost to grow crops to feed cattle, including the fertilizer, seed and diesel fuel for the equipment, is so high that farming isn’t a feasible income anymore.
“To make 10 acres of hay, it would cost you $1,500 and that’s not going to feed anything,” she said. “It would feed 30 cows for one week in the winter.”
Carmichael said now that the South River sale is no longer in operation farmers have to ship their cattle, which isn’t ideal because of “shrinkage.”
“The calves start losing weight as soon as you separate them from the situation they’re used to,” she said. “They start to get anxious.”
Carmichael said the further they go, the more weight they lose, and when you’re selling them based on weight, that starts to add up.
“We were there to allow people to sell locally without having to ship,” she said. “It was easier on the animals. A lot of thought went into the location of the sales barn.”
Carmichael said having the cattle sale close to the railroad was the best option, although she said the association considered other locations.
“They looked at Powassan and Bonfield, but in South River they could have rail cars set aside for cattle,” she said. “The property also had sandy soil which is best for drainage when you’re dealing with manure.”
Carmichael said she has had great experiences at the sales barn over the years.
“It’s sad. I miss working with local farmers,” she said.
“The only thing I won’t miss is being kicked and stomped on,” she said with a laugh. “I even got run over once by a bull and I survived… We thought maybe we should get t-shirts made up that say, ‘I survived the South River Sales Barn.’”