Vern Michell cared about the farm that bears his family name right to the last hours of his life.
As he was receiving visits from his family in Saanich Peninsula Hospital, Michell couldn’t help but think about the iconic Central Saanich farm that his pioneer ancestors established in the 1880s, and since has helped to feed generations of Peninsula residents with an ever increasing range of fruits and vegetables.
“We had gone up to see him, and he was asking my wife and I what the crew had done that day in the berry patch,” said son Terry.
Michell died not much later on Aug. 26 at the age of 88.
Born in Victoria, on March 28, 1931, Michell grew up during the Great Depression, when the prevailing economic climate, global trade wars inclusive, had pushed Canadian farming into a crisis from which it only recovered during the Second World War. While on the decline for decades in terms of economic significance, farming still employed a large share of Canada’s population in the middle decades of the last century, because of its labour intensive nature, something Michell experienced himself, while growing up.
“He started farming when he was 13 years old with his grandpa, using a horse and a plow,” said Terry. Later on, he helped to clear land for various infrastructure projects. “He talked about those days all the time.”
But if Michell learned early on what it means to earn bread with the sweat of his brow, Michell also spent his youth playing baseball, digging for clams and fishing for coho after a day’s work, and he never considered farming a biblical curse. If anything, it was a calling, passed on from previous generations.
Michell readily followed his ancestors footsteps, working alongside family members, including his two late brothers, Francis and Wilmer. This generational project has made Michell’s Farm an iconic part of the Peninsula. Since its establishment in the latter part of the 19th century, Michell’s Farm has grown from 100 acres to its current size of 400-plus acres, producing over 4,000 tonnes of produce annually, in proving that farming has a future in the 21st century.
The farm with its market has also become a community hub for the region, and over the years, Michell became a walking source of local history, farming advice, and meteorological forecasting, whose precipitation recordings were so good, the federal government used them.
Terry said his dad could accurately predict the weather by looking at clouds, a skill that saved crops.
“That is something I’m really going to miss,” he says with a chuckle.
The list of people of who will miss Michell is long. They include, for starters, Dorothy, his wife of 64 years, Terry, his brother Tom, and their respective partners, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Far too numerous are the fellow farmers, whom Michell helped through his formal involvement in the Saanich Fruit Growers’ Association, and the countless locals across multiple generations with whom he shared his love for farming.
One measure of this legacy is the fact the celebration of Michell’s life scheduled for Sept. 24 will take place at the Saanich Fairgrounds with Michell himself having attended every Saanich Fair — 87 — during his life. It was this spirit of joy that always kept Michell going.
Terry said his dad always tried new things on his farm, and even when they did not work, he remained an optimist.
“Even when we had a bad crop [one year], he was ready to go [the next year],” said Terry. “He was so proud of being a farmer. He wouldn’t have done anything else.”