Statement of Significance
Formal Recognition Type
When Eric and Leslie (Les) Field were boys, there was no time to go down to Quidi Vidi on Royal St. John’s Regatta Day. Work on the family dairy farm took precedent to the popular civic holiday that fell on the first Wednesday of every August. When most of the city was down at the lake, enjoying the rowing races and the carnival booths in the late-summer heat, the Field boys were often putting in the hay and taking care of the cows. But the brothers more than made up for that when they got older. As members of the William Summers crew, a team of four farmers and two truck drivers, the Field brothers rowed into the record books of the Regatta. Their team won the championship race six years in a row, from 1959 to 1964 – a record that stands to this day. “We didn’t have to train much,” Leslie Field says. “I supposed with four farmers and two truck drivers, we were all in shape. Those other teams had to be out on the lake all the time, but we might go out once in the evening in the summer, and that was it.” Rowing wasn’t the only thing the Field brothers did together. Next to the trophies and black and white team photos in Eric Field’s Torbay home, are paintings of the brother’s shared history and livelihood – the Field’s Dairy Farm of Torbay. Brothers William and Philip Field first established the family’s dairy farm in Torbay toward the end of the nineteenth century. In 1892 Philip’s son, Valance, was born. When Philip died in 1925 Valance took on the farm. At that time, the farm had about 25 cows and bottled milk was sold door to door in St. John’s. It was labour-intensive work for the family and everyone did their part. Before the children went to school in the morning, the cows had to be milked, and when they returned home from school, it would be done again. During the day, Valance and his “ship-man,” or hired man, would take the milk door to door in St. John’s. Valance would stay in the city to do delivery work, while the ship-man returned the used bottles home to the farm. “Mother would wash all the bottles by hand, 180 bottles,” Les says. “She was so used to washing them, she had one of those little mops you shoved in the bottle, and she would sing hymns as she worked.” Les quiets for a moment, lost in the memories of his mother. “She was a hard worker.” The back acres of the Field Farm were expropriated to make way for the Torbay airport, which was officially opened in 1941. When the Second World War was at its peak in the early 1940s, the Canadian Armed Forces came to town, building four barracks on the Field’s property, each holding about 30 soldiers. “I guess they were there to guard the airport,” Eric says. “They were all nice fellas. When we were at the hay in the summer, they would give us a hand.” Although Eric and Leslie were both only boys at the time, they remember fondly the years the soldiers lived with them on the farm. “I remember being stood up in the back barn door and seeing the first plane land up there, at the airport,” Les says. “It was exciting really. We had no TV, although we might have seen pictures of a plane. But we’d never seen anything like that, and we all stood in the back barn door and watched her come in.” Eric, too, remembers the time his family shared their land with the soldiers, and the perks that came with it. “The canteen used to come in the yard and they would let us buy a few chocolate bars or something like that, for 5 cents each,” Eric says. “They were all good fellas, there was never any rackets or anything.” The Field’s still maintain a friendship with a soldier’s wife, who first visited her husband at the farm in the 1940s. A young soldier from Ontario asked Valance Field if there was any place his new wife could stay in the community if she came for a visit. Valance offered his own home, and the Fields then had a house guest for two years. “She stayed with the family,” explains Eric’s wife Helen. “And the friendship has lasted until this day, every other year, she comes to visit…She’s a great-grandmother now, and her husband has passed away, but she still visits.” Eric and Les ran the farm with their father until his death in 1972. “We worked on the farm since we were seven or eight years old,” Les says. “We’d get up and milk the cows and then make our way to school. “I wouldn’t say there was a morning, when my father wasn’t ready to deliver the milk by eight o’clock.” Les Field maintains that his family was one of the last dairy farms to deliver bottled milk door to door. The family did home deliveries up into the 1960s, when they went to a bulk tank system and began selling directly to the dairies. With no children able to taken on the responsibility of the farm, the Field Brothers sold their 70-plus herd of cattle and their family land in 2006 and moved into a quiet new subdivision just up the road in Torbay. Looking out his kitchen window on a thicket of wind-stunted firs, Les’s home is now adjacent to the back boundary of what was once his family farm. He admits that it was hard to give up the farm, and everyday around milking time, he misses it. “That was your set time, you see,” Les says. “Everyday around 5:30 in the morning and 4:00 in the evening, Those are the times you really miss it…It was not easy giving it up. “If we had our time back, I’d say we’d do the same thing,” Les says. “I think any farmer would.” All images and content copyright Agricultural History Society of Newfoundland and Labrador
The Agricultural History Society of Newfoundland and Labrador is mandated to collect and honour the history of agriculture in this province and to raise public awareness of agriculture as a theme in the story of the province. In 2005 the Society created the Century Farm Award which is meant to identify, recognize and honour any farm family who have continuously farmed the same land for one hundred years or more and who continue to farm it at the present time. This award represents the pioneering agricultural history of the province: some farms supplied the growing town of St. John’s with milk, produce, meat and forage for livery stables; other farms supplied vegetables and butter to fishing communities by coastal boat; and others sent produce and dressed poultry by rail to the new resource towns, such as Grand Falls. Some of the early farmers came directly from the British Isles and others came to Newfoundland from earlier settlements in Nova Scotia. From their early beginnings these farms have survived as productive agricultural businesses by adapting successfully to changing market demands and changing economic circumstances and by adopting innovative technology. They have kept their land in good heart through as many as half a dozen generations. The Century Farm families have earned the Century Farm Award in recognition for their contribution to the history of our province and for their commitment to agriculture in the province’s future.
Location and History
City of St. John's