Winter was much different in the Township of Langley when Hugh Davis’s grandfather first purchased a 121-acre farm at a Hudson’s Bay Company auction more than 100 years ago.
Heat would have come from wood or coal-burning stoves and fireplaces. Most people would likely chop their own fuel — for heat and for cooking — from the plentiful trees that were all around them.
There were no smart phones, MP3 players, iPads or TVs; no computers of any kind, nor Internet. There wasn’t even radio back in 1882. Horses and horse-powered wagons and carriages were still the main modes of transportation for local residents, other than by foot or by train — a fabulous new invention that was generally used to travel longer distances. B.C. did not have any rail line connections to other parts of Canada or North America at that time.
Today, after a winter storm, the snow-covered fields of the Davis farm likely don’t look much different from what they looked like in 1882, but much else has changed.
Hugh, who was born in 1924 in the same room in the same house as his father Henry Davis (who was born on the farm in 1895), remembers milking a cow with an automated milking machine for the very first time in 1930. Prior to that, milking was done by hand, but he remembers how automation revolutionized the dairy farming business.
In 1933, Hugh — who is now 87 — witnessed the arrival of electricity in his rural Milner neighbourhood near 216 Street and Glover Road.
“We watched electricity come up the road,” the octogenarian said, his smile coming easily and often.
“We watched the lights come on, one by one. It was quite the thing.”
Hugh still prefers the heat from the wood stove in his living room (as well as electric heat) and takes the time to interact with one of his grandchildren, Gavin — he has three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild — who is visiting with daughter-in-law Nicole (Nicole is married to Hugh’s son David Davis, who was elected to Township council in November).
“This is the fifth generation to live on the farm,” she said, referring to Hugh’s grandchildren.
Although parts of the Davis farm, which has a sign letting guests know “This is Davis Country” when they arrive, were sold over the years, Hugh spent time buying much of the original farm back in five-acre parcels. The Davis dairy farm is now 100 acres; the family actually farms 300 acres in the Milner Valley, leasing other land for such things as grass silage and corn silage.
Hugh has many fascinating memories and family tales, and living for 87 years has not diminished any of them; his mind and wit are clear and sharp and he recalls intimate stories from years ago with amazing clarity and detail.
There was the time the Mufford boys took the car out (when they didn’t have permission), for example. This was at a time when there was only one other motorized vehicle in Langley — the police car, Hugh noted.
“So they took it out and managed to hit the one other car around — the police car,” he remembered with a laugh.
Hugh noted that there wouldn’t even be a Milner Chapel — the heritage church founded by his grandfather — if his grandparents hadn’t married.
“My great-grandmother wouldn’t let my grandma come here unless there was a church to worship at,” he said.
So Hugh’s grandfather rode around on horseback to raise money from the farmers in the area to build Milner Chapel, a church that still stands (but was recently moved to its current location on 216 Street and completely refurbished).
Hugh remembers urging his Dad to get a tractor (instead of still using horses) a few years back, and also recalled the rationing and blackout blinds during the Second World War.
“I was called in the last days of Second World War, but then it was over,” Hugh said, of how close he came to serving in that historical event.
He remembers seeing Austin Cotterell Taylor, who owned the land that is now known as the Wall farm (part of it borders on part of the Davis farm) driving around in a big Lincoln — or two, or three.
For someone whose first car was a Model A Ford, Hugh remembers watching those shiny, beautiful Lincolns with envious eyes.
Taylor was one of the province’s wealthiest people. In the 1930s, he was an owner of the Bralorne gold mine and raised race horses at the Langley farm — the most powerful stable in Western Canada during the 1930s, according to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Taylor’s horse, Indian Broom, placed third in the Kentucky Derby in 1936 and other stars such as Special Agent and Whichcee won their fair share of races. Whichcee came in third in the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap behind first-place Seabiscuit, a well-known racing horse of the era.
The Wall family, well-known because of Peter Wall and his real estate developments in and around Vancouver, bought the Taylor property in 1966. Taylor died at the end of 1965.
There have been many rumours over the years that Dan Blocker of the Bonanza TV series may have once been interested in that property, but neither Hugh nor Nicole could confirm that.
“He may have come and looked at (the property),” Nicole conceded.
Hugh said the Walls lived on the farm when they first bought it in 1966, but as the children grew older, they seemed to use it more as a weekend retreat.
Currently, there is a proposal before council to rezone a 13.5-acre portion of the property known as the Wall farm, in order to allow a 67-lot residential subdivision that will also allow 21 coach or carriage homes, which are intended to offer affordable housing to Trinity Western University students.
At public hearings on Jan. 16 and Jan. 23, many local residents spoke against the proposal.
Citing traffic and environmental concerns and the dangers of developing more Agricultural Land Reserve land (rather than saving ALR land for farming), several Township residents argued against the rezoning and development.
With such memories of the area, Hugh and Nicole don’t really want to lose a piece of local heritage and history to new development.
Hugh candidly admits he would love to see the Davis farm stay in his family.
“The whole urban-rural conflict just concerns me,” Hugh said.
“It’s a nice piece of property. It would be a shame to take (parts of it) out of the ALR.”
“The line has been drawn, and we need to respect that line,” she said.
“We need to think about future generations. People are realizing we need to be able to sustain ourselves.”
Hugh, in the meantime, helps his family and neighbours hearken back to a quieter, slower and perhaps, gentler time, simply by sharing his memories.
Such as the time he was listening to a sermon at Milner Chapel, when his father served as the church’s treasurer.
Hugh remembers one Sunday when the preacher “made a funny face” all of a sudden — but his Dad noticed the partially open church window and the pea shooter held (and aimed) by a neighbour boy from outside.
“My Dad told him to get lost and go home,” Hugh recalls with a chuckle.
“I talked to the fellow who shot the pea shooter on his 101st birthday … he had a big smile when I reminded him. He remembered.”