Saanichton family celebrates 100 years of island farming


Source: BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries

Four generations of the Rashleigh family have tilled land and milked cows on Vancouver Island for more than 100 years.

The B.C. government is recognizing the family’s contributions with a Century Farm and Ranch Award.

“The Rashleigh farming legacy is a remarkable story going back 100 years,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. “Four generations of this wonderful family have worked on four different farms over the years and are now such a pillar of the Saanichton community. The Rashleighs have provided home-grown food and dairy straight from the farm for over a century, helping to feed their communities. I congratulate them on their award and wish them many more years of success.”

The story of the Rashleigh family venturing deep in a farming career comes from Betty Rashleigh, 101 years old and the eldest of the founder’s children. It began when her father John Stanley Rashleigh came to Canada from England in 1911. A year later, he bought his first farm of 6.5 hectares (16 acres) in Hilliers near Little Qualicum River Falls on Vancouver Island. He named it Melrose Farm in a nostalgic throwback to his home in Devon, England.

The First World War drew John back to England and to military service in France as a first-aid worker in Victoria’s 67th Battalion. After the war, he married his long-time sweetheart Elizabeth on April 21, 1919, in England. The couple embarked on their new life together at Melrose Farm that very same year. The couple set to work on a dairy and expanded their farm, ably assisted by their draft horse, to grow corn and other crops. They raised pigs and chickens, too.

John and Elizabeth Rashleigh had their first child Elizabeth (Betty) in 1920, followed by Arthur in 1921, Bryce in 1923, Peter Abraham in 1927 and Eva in 1933.

John showed his entrepreneurial spirit and bought a second farm in Qualicum Beach in 1928. At that time, it was fire-ravaged and without buildings, but it was on a prime milk-delivery route. The family built it into a productive mixed farm of nearly 65 hectares (160 acres) with dairy as the main income until 1936.

Betty remembers family members sharing dairy chores, milking 15 cows twice daily while her mother used a wooden butter churn to make 90 pounds of butter each week to sell. The farm also raised pigs, chickens and sheep for the market.

John’s third farm purchase was an established farm from the pioneer Turgoose family. The area was also named Turgoose, which later changed to Saanichton. John took ownership of the farm on East Saanich Road after selling his Qualicum Beach Farm in 1936. The original Saanichton Post Office was housed in one of the farm buildings, and the farm went by the postal address of Box No. 1, Saanichton.

John’s son Peter Abraham and daughter-in-law Janet took over this farm when they were married, and it passed on to their eldest, Peter Bryce in 1977. Peter Bryce, his wife Susan Jill and eventually their three children added to the farming team. They produced forage crops, sweet corn, grains and poultry, and managed their well-run dairy operations. The family sold the property in 2006.

They moved their main operations to a new location at Stellys Cross Road, which is now Saanichton Farm, the Rashleigh’s fourth farm. Jill and Bryce Rashleigh and their children grow barley, wheat, lentils, chickpeas and hay, while also raising turkeys and chickens. Their on-site mill supplies the community with whole-wheat flour from their farm-grown wheat. They market their flour at retailers in Greater Victoria and at their Saturday farm market.

Bryce Rashleigh has put his father’s advice to good use. “My father once told me that you can have all the fancy farm equipment that you want, but never forget that it has always been the people and the community that make your farm a success.”

The Rashleighs have brought together communities in other ways as well. Their Saanichton Farm opened its doors to a Sunday school. Peter Abraham and Janet Rashleigh gave part of their farmland on East Saanich Road for the building of a church, operational since 1983 and now known as Saanichton Bible Fellowship. In addition, Saanichton Farm is an important part of a farming hub on the Saanich Peninsula, keeping the Rashleighs connected with farming communities that cover nearly 405 hectares (1,000 acres) and 90 farming properties.

At 101 years, Betty Rashleigh has the last word. “I was born on the family farm in 1920 and, as a farm lass, my links to our farmlands are very strong. I treasure many wonderful memories of milking the cows and spending time with my parents, my brothers and sister. I am so proud to see my nephew and his family keep alive our farming tradition that my father first began.”

Century Farm Awards honour agricultural organizations that have been active for a century or longer, as well as pioneers whose farms and ranches have been in families for 100 years or more. Each Century Farm Award celebrates the rich heritage of farming and ranching families and organizations in B.C.