Bryce and Jill Rashleigh of Saanichton Farm, located on the Saanich Peninsula, will receive the province’s Century Farm Award on Saturday.
The Rashleigh family’s farming roots were planted in 1912 when John Stanley Rashleigh immigrated to Canada from England. In 1913, he purchased 16 acres in the Coombs-Hilliers area. However, John returned to England during World War I to serve with the Red Cross as a conscientious objector.
Following the war, in April 1919, John married Elizabeth Edwards and the newly wedded Rashleighs set sail for Canada on September 3.
“Grandpa showed Grandma their 16 acres that was mainly bush in Coombs-Hilliers,” says Bryce, the couple’s grandson.
While she was not super-enthusiastic about its potential, Bryce says the couple set to work. It paid off; in 1928 they were able to buy a 160-acre farm in nearby Qualicum Beach.
“It was a bigger farm and they had dairy cattle. There was a bigger milk market in Qualicum Beach with their milk delivery route,” says Bryce.
Eight years later, the couple bought the original Saanichton Farm, which sat on 95 acres. It was home to three generations of the family from 1936 to 2006, including John, his son Peter and then Bryce. But transitioning the farm to a new generation at current land values was tough.
“At that time, I couldn’t afford to buy the family out,” says Bryce.
The property instead sold to the Thomson family, which he says now own about six farms in the area.
But the proceeds allowed Bryce and his wife Jill to buy the current Saanichton Farm on Stellys Cross Road, about a mile from the original farm. They now manage about 1,000 acres on 90 properties. The family grow hard red spring wheat, malting barley and haylage. They also raise turkeys, broilers and layers for community members. Bryce and Jill’s three children, the fourth generation, lead full-time careers off the farm, but they still help out whenever they can.
While the farm has a rich history, the last year has seen new developments.
In addition to opening a mill producing stoneground flour as well as a farmgate store, the Rashleighs led a community effort to ship hay from Vancouver Island to drought-ravaged farms in the Interior. So far, his team has delivered 25 loads of feed and they are set to increase the total to 40 loads by the end of the year. The group also managed to round up $61,000 in donations to cover freight costs.
The Rashleigh family will celebrate a history of farming accomplishments this weekend at an on-farm event, along with community members and government representatives.