The “Pig Ladies” of Huron County

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Editor’s Note: This is the second post in the series, Succession: Queering the Environment, which centers queer people, non-humans, systems, and ideas and explores their impact within the fields of environmental history, environmental humanities, and queer ecology.


On June 15th, 1970 Jean Moorby and Beverley Brown, two middle-aged women with no rural roots and no experience, bought the Old Dettman Farm at Lot 4, Con 4 in Turnberry Township.1 Their intent was to convert the 100-acre property and its 50′ x 60′ cattle barn into a modern hog farming facility. At the time, few people in Huron County (which even today consists of a small, close-knit community of farmers and agricultural towns) thought they would last more than a couple of months. 

“Jean Moorby and Bev Brown enjoy a quiet moment on their farm at B & J Acres in Turnberry Township.” – Huron County Historical Atlas, 1984 . © Corporation of the County of Huron 1984.

Ten years later they were running one of the most successful pig farms in Canada.2   

Although we will never know (and will not speculate on) the nature of Jean and Bev’s relationship, platonic or romantic, their partnership was inherently queer, existing outside of the standard heteronormative expectations of farming communities.

Jean Moorby, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1922, was the quiet and reserved of the pair.3 She excelled in sports, becoming a champion ski jumper at the age of 11.4 At the beginning of World War II she joined the army, achieving the rank of second lieutenant. After the war, she used her veteran’s allowance to study biology at Queen’s University. Before she met Bev she worked in quality control at a paint factory in Oakville, Ontario.

Bev Brown, outgoing and compelling, was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1930.5 As a teen she was sent to Stephens College, a women’s college in Columbia, Missouri and eventually graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in personnel administration. The two met at the Cryovac Division of the W.R. Grace & Co. of Canada, where Jean was the supervisor of the customer service department, and Bev eventually rose to the role of personnel services supervisor.6

After over a decade working for the company, they both felt they “had hit the pink glass ceiling…and decided it was now or never for a midlife career change.”7 According to the 1984 reprint of the Huron County Historical Atlas “It was at Cryovac that Jean and Bev learned of their common interests in animals and the outdoors. Their first love was fishing and they came close to buying an outfitter’s camp in Temagami.”8 

But the Canadian commercial fishing industry was in crisis in the late 1960s and early 1970s.9 Methylmercury, introduced by industrial dumping and agricultural pesticide use, had contaminated fish in watersheds across Canada, poisoning Indigenous nations, fishing communities and Canadian consumers alike. Ontario and Manitoba banned commercial fishing outright in 1970. 

In response to this uncertainty, Jean and Bev shifted their focus to farming, spending their weekends together visiting farms between Orangeville and Lake Huron.10 Then they met George and Elizabeth Procter, two prominent Huron County hog farmers who invited them to tour their hog farm. They left convinced. Shortly after Jean and Bev found the ideal property just outside of Bluevale, Ontario in Turnberry Township, Huron County.

Former location of Jean and Bev’s hog farm, B & J Acres, Bluevale, Ontario

B & J Acres, located fifteen minutes southeast of Alice Munro’s hometown of Wingham, Ontario, was different from the start. Ultimately, their queerness proved to be their strength.

Because they did not have typical connections to the Huron County hog industry, they did not initially enjoy the support of the community. Instead, they turned to the resource facilities at the University of Guelph for guidance in converting the old barn on the property, on herd management and farming best practices.11 They also turned to agricultural publications for support, and through John Phillips, then editor of Farm and Country, they connected with Eric Alderson, general manager of McLeod Hybrid Swine who supplied them with their first gilts and crossbred boars. In April 1971, they farrowed their first baby pigs and soon after gained a reputation for having healthy weanlings.

Dr. Brian Brandenburg, an agricultural veterinary professor at the University of Guelph, ran a successful herd health program at B & J Acres, which was used to teach veterinary students leading-edge husbandry techniques.12 In the late 1970s they cleaned out their barn and bought purebred York and Landrace stock for breeding. Their research into porcine genetics resulted in a higher-than-average number of healthy weanlings per litter. When asked why they were having such good luck raising such healthy pigs, Jean would always reply, “It isn’t luck, it’s just good management.”13 Once again, their reputation for producing healthy animals brought attention and financial stability. 

While Jean and Bev adopted leading-edge breeding and infection control practices, their gender was often credited for their success. Their animals often were compared to children and were described by one farmer as “gentlemanly boars, easy for my wife to handle”14 Bob Trotter, in his column One Foot in the Furrow, wrote “I have seen Bev Brown and Jean Moorby half a dozen times. The first time I thought they were farmers wives. I mean, who would picture a couple of attractive, middle-aged women running their own hog farm?”15 and further goes on to praise their barns for their cleanliness by saying “Their barn, from all the reports I’ve heard, is as clean as their kitchen – maybe cleaner because they enjoy working in their barn more than in the kitchen.”16  

Bev, the extrovert, was quick to join farming organizations across Ontario.17  She was the first woman to serve on the Huron County Federation of Agriculture executive committee and worked on a resource committee for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). She became a frequently requested speaker, and through her efforts, was able to influence the practices of hog farmers, large and small, promoting the disinfection of tools, boots and equipment to prevent the spread of disease. She is quoted as saying, over a coffee break at an OFA meeting, “If doctors and nurses are finicky about keeping things sterile, why wouldn’t we do the same thing?”18

In the late 1970s, Bev became the first female representative on the advisory committee for the agriculture business management course at Centralia College of Agricultural Technology, where she also lectured on the psychology of pigs.19  Bev later co-founded The Rural Voice magazine, which is still in circulation today.

In 1981 Jean and Bev retired from hog farming. Then, in February 1984 Jean Moorby passed away from complications related to lung cancer at a Christian cancer clinic in Mexico, where both women “began a personal relationship with Jesus Christ”.20

Obituary of Jean Moorby, April 198421

Although their partnership was unconventional, Jean and Bev were able to revolutionize the Southwestern Ontario pig farming industry and gained widespread acceptance in a community that traditionally accepted neither difference nor outsiders.

Rural queer environmental histories are rarely told, never mind acknowledged by their local communities. The story of Jean and Bev only survives today because, in 1984, Bev was appointed lead coordinator of the re-publication of the Huron County Historical Atlas. In addition to a collection of standard local histories, the Atlas includes a touching tribute to their life together titled “The “Pig Ladies” of Huron County.” By including the article, Bev immortalized their contribution to the community.

Bev passed away following a heart attack on September 26th, 2010 at her home in Stratford, Ontario.22 In her later years, she became a devout member of Brussels Mennonite Fellowship, where she worked as a mentor to young people. Even in her old age she “brought together people of all ages and walks of life” and “…possessed a charisma that enveloped all in her path, including the abandoned cats she rescued.”23

Although both of the “Pig Ladies” are now gone, their impact on Huron County can never be erased.


Feature Photograph: A view of hogs on the temporary hog farm. Tule Lake Relocation Center, Newell, California. 4 November 1942. Stewart, Francis, War Relocation Authority photographer, Photographer.


Notes:

  1. McLean, Andrew Y., and Grant H. Stirling. “”The Pig Ladies” of Huron County” Huron County Historical Atlas, 1984. Gooderich, Ont.: Corporation of the County of Huron, 1984.
  2. Trotter, Bob. “One Foot in the Furrow – A Great Addition” The Huron Expositor, February 21, 1980, Page 13 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. McLean et al., “”The Pig Ladies” of Huron County” Huron County Historical Atlas, 1984. 
  5. Trotter, Bob. “One Foot in the Furrow – A Great Addition” The Huron Expositor, February 21, 1980, Page 13 
  6. McLean et al., “”The Pig Ladies” of Huron County” Huron County Historical Atlas, 1984. 
  7. “Beverly Adele Brown.” The Globe and Mail, November 8, 2010. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/beverly-adele-brown/article1241442/ 
  8. McLean et al., “”The Pig Ladies” of Huron County” Huron County Historical Atlas, 1984. 
  9. Cowan, Edward. “Canadian Fishing Is Hard Hit by Mercury Pollution.” The New York Times, August 27, 1970. https://www.nytimes.com/1970/08/27/archives/canadian-fishing-is-hard-hit-by-mercury-pollution.html 
  10. McLean et al., “”The Pig Ladies” of Huron County” Huron County Historical Atlas, 1984.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Trotter, Bob. “One Foot in the Furrow – A Great Addition” 1980.
  16. Ibid.
  17. McLean et al., “”The Pig Ladies” of Huron County” Huron County Historical Atlas, 1984. 
  18. Trotter, Bob. “One Foot in the Furrow – A Great Addition” 1980.
  19. McLean et al., “”The Pig Ladies” of Huron County” Huron County Historical Atlas, 1984.
  20. “Beverly Adele Brown.” The Globe and Mail, November 8, 2010. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/beverly-adele-brown/article1241442/ 
  21. “Jean Moorby” The Huron Expositor, April 25, 1984 The Huron Expositor, 1984-04-25, Page 10
  22. “Bev Brown was an Indomitable Force in Huron.” The Blyth Citizen, October 7, 2010, Page 21 https://pubdocs.huroncounty.ca/weblink/ElectronicFile.aspx?docid=1245157&dbid=0
  23. “Beverly Adele Brown.” The Globe and Mail, 2010.
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Lauren Walker

Cultural Heritage Specialist at WSP
Lauren Walker is a Cultural Heritage Specialist with over nine years of experience working in the cultural heritage planning and conservation field. Lauren is interested in the cultural heritage landscapes of the Great Lakes region, the manufacturing of land and the role of environmental history in the environmental assessment process.

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