Heritage farms from across the country – Part One I

Farms from PEI to B.C. share their history – and their present-day activities that honour the past
Treena Hein
September 12, 2017
By Treena Hein
William Thompson built Woodwynn Farms’ East Barn in 1887. It is described as an important heritage building of both local and provincial significance, displaying the exceptional craftsmanship of a master builder.
William Thompson built Woodwynn Farms’ East Barn in 1887. It is described as an important heritage building of both local and provincial significance, displaying the exceptional craftsmanship of a master builder. Contributed photo
Woodwynn Farms – Brentwood Bay, B.C.

Over the course of more than 150 years, Woodwynn Farms has seen many transformations. Today, it not only remains a productive farm but also harnesses the therapeutic benefits of working on the land.

The story of Woodwynn Farms begins with a man named William Thompson, a carpenter from Scotland who was shipwrecked on Vancouver Island and held by the Nuu-chah-nulth people for some time afterward. The local Governor was able to free him by trading him for seven blankets. In 1855, Thompson was able to purchase his future farm in Brentwood Bay from the Hudson Bay Company, who held the Crown grants.

Thompson married Margaret Dyer a year later. Among other accomplishments, Thompson helped found the Saanich Agricultural Fair and build nearby St. Stephen’s Church. There are historical records of him building what is now called the farm’s East Barn in 1887, but there was likely a barn on the same site before that.

Thompson built the barn from hewn Douglas fir timbers using medieval-style joinery. It is described as an important heritage building of both local and provincial significance, displaying the exceptional craftsmanship of a master builder. The architecture is described as distinctly European, suggestive of the sorts of cruck-framed barns that were built in Scotland at the time.

The farm was sold eventually to the Woodward family and it became a beef and dairy farm. A Woodward daughter later sold the property to another family who sold it to the Homefulness Society in 2009.

The farm has now become Woodwynn Farms, a 193-acre organic operation and a therapeutic community. Its Homefulness Program is a holistic treatment program for those struggling with mental health and addictions, and includes gardening, crop tending, livestock care, cooking and more. Indeed, it was only nine months after founder and executive director Richard Leblanc and his faithful dog, Buddha, moved to the property that they had their first participant, James Anderson, join the program.

“James is now doing well. He is gainfully employed, married and building a family,” Leblanc says. “I am thrilled to be using the space to help individuals that need it, and honoured to write a new chapter in the history of this farm, which is a historical landmark. Even though over the years it has been logistically and economically challenging, I believed from my first impression of the space at Woodwynn that it is the right place to do this work.”

Over the next few years, LeBlanc and his team are intending to scale up operations so that more people can participate, and to boost farm diversity with additions such as beehives on the property. He says while managing the farm he does his best to honor the community’s nostalgic connection to the farm, and preserve the character of the land and its buildings.

To aid in LeBlanc’s efforts, Woodwynn Farms was recently named as a recipient of the B.C. Canada 150 program, a grant program geared to preserving Canada’s heritage.

Administered by the BC Museums Association and supported by Heritage BC with funding provided by the Government of British Columbia, the B.C. Canada 150 program was launched to mark the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation by recognizing B.C. communities and their contributions to the nation. Projects funded through the program will create meaningful legacies that honour the provinces unique and diverse histories, culture and heritage.

The $100,000 grant will be put towards rehabilitation of the property’s historic, East Barn. Once the work is complete, the barn will proudly house livestock and hay as it did in the days after it was first built.

For more information, visit: www.woodwynnfarms.org

Crasdale Farms – Hunter River, PEI

Ninety-one farms on Prince Edward Island have been given a special heritage distinction by the province for being owned and operated by the same family for 150 years or more. Crasdale Farms of Hunter River, PEI, in the very centre of the island, is one of them.

“Our farm was started by a William Craswell who immigrated to Canada from England in early 1800s,” owner Brian Craswell notes. “It has remained in the Craswell name ever since as a typical mixed farm with livestock, potatoes and grain until the 1970s when my father Athol specialized in dairy. Today, the farm is on 300 acres of rolling land with sandy soil. Approximately 270 of that land is cleared.”

Craswell and his family milk 110 purebred Holsteins in a robotic dairy, a long way, he notes, from his grandmother milking 15 cows by hand. They also have specialized in dairy genetics.

Craswell is not exactly sure how many generations of the family have farmed the plot since his ancestor William’s arrival, but he does know that his male ancestors were considered good stockmen.

“In particular, my grandfather was considered exceptionally good with the work horses and my father Athol was an exceptionally good cow man,” he says.

Athol was very active in the church, Holstein organizations and dairy boards, and Brian has carried on with participation in the same clubs and sales. He also serves on the board of the Dairy Farmers of PEI. His wife, Amber, is a 4-H leader and soccer coach, and has managed several minor hockey teams in the community. She has also broken new ground as the first female president of the PEI Holstein Branch.

In terms of historic items remaining on the farm, there aren’t many. There is a painted milk can from decades ago, and Brian says their former calf barn, which is over 100 years old, has now been given new life. Their daughter, Aleah, has claimed it for her chickens.

Brian and Amber operate Brian Craswell Auctions Ltd. offering auction services and sale management services specializing in Holsteins.

“We co-manage the Sale of Stars at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto with Blondin International and auction at several other sales per year,” Brian says. “We also market genetics both locally and internationally through sales of live cattle and embryos. More recently, we have concentrated on adding genetic value to our animals through the use of genomic testing.”

Their current plans are to maintain, expand and improve their dairy to maximize efficiency.

“We want to efficiently produce quality milk and genetics,” Brian says, “in as sustainable and environmentally-friendly way as possible.”

For more information, visit: www.crasdalefarms.com

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