Valley Voice: Bill Kelly – came to B.C. in a covered wagon

When 88-year-old Bill Kelly says he's “planted just about everything that'll grow in this country

The late Bill Kelly stands in his field of strawberries in McMurphy (between Vavenby and Avola).

Editor’s Note: The following article by former Times reporter Tim Haydon about McMurphy resident the late Bill Kelly appeared in the Aug. 5, 1981 issue of the newspaper.

Tim Haydon

When 88-year-old Bill Kelly says he’s “planted just about everything that’ll grow in this country and maybe a few things besides,” it’s not that hard to believe.

To be convinced, all you have to do is visit his farm about 10 miles northeast of Vavenby on McMurphy Station Road and take a look at his garden.

Bill says the farm, where has lived for about 20 years, used to be 20 acres until the government surveyors got through and told him it was 18. Back then, he says, it was all just cedar stumps.

Now, besides rows of strawberries, which he sells to U-pick customers and ships to Kamloops and Edmonton, Bill grows corn, lettuce, peas, cabbage, beets, asparagus, rhubarb, gooseberries, carrots, garlic, potatoes – even artichokes and wild onions that he says are from Hawaii.

He also grows pumpkins, squash and broccoli, and has two small apples trees and a blue plum tree in its second year.

One of the more exotic things growing in his half-acre plot is a medicinal plant from Russia.

Some hippies, Bill says, got him growing the broad-leafed green plant. They applied a poultice made up from the leaves to his leg, which had become swollen. The next day the swelling was gone.

Now he has several of the large plants in his garden and says the leaves can also be dried for smoking or making tea.

Born in Iowa like his father (his mother was Pennsylvania Dutch), Bill says the family moved at the turn of the century to Minnesota, where his father took up homesteading.

His father was still apparently not content, Bill recalls, and it only took him about 20 minutes to decide to move his family once again, after he had read some Canadian literature exhorting people to “move west.”

They took the CNR west to the end of the line, which those days was in Alberta, and in 1913 took a covered wagon to British Columbia.

Bill’s farm today still has many of the old implements used for farming years ago, when horses and oxen supplied the power for plowing and hauling. In one old shed filled with horse collars, bridles and harnesses he points proudly to an old saddle.

“I guess I broke a good many horses with this old saddle,” he says. “A man offered to buy it but it’s one think I won’t ever sell.”

A long time ago, he explains, his father bought that saddle for his birthday.

Though the main power-line runs along the edge of the property, Bill’s home has no electricity or running water. Lights and a refrigerator run on propane and he does his cooking on an old wood-stove.

But despite the lack of conveniences, Bill still manages pretty much on his own, tending his garden and looking after his cow and 25 hens. His neighbours help him out when he needs it, he says, and occasionally he hires a hand to help with the strawberry harvest.

 

At 88 (89 in October), Bill Kelly’s wants are simple. He could use a half a dozen warm nights to get the corn growing, he says, and would be happy to have just a few less weeds.