FLEETWOOD — As David Godwin gazes upon his family’s old farm property, he smiles.
The land, considered a biodiversity preserve, is being “eco-gifted” to the City of Surrey after his father’s passing in 2013 at the age of 75, and he hopes the community can appreciate its history, as well as its beauty.
“I’d like to think people would use it as an inspiration, sort of…. We could’ve done nothing with this place,” David mused. “This place has been transformed.”
Tom and Elaine Godwin purchased the land in 1969 and lived there, in the Fleetwood/Tynehead area, with their four boys. Back then, it was a “stump farm,” after settlers came and cleared out nearly all of the historic trees.
Although originally 40 acres, the Godwins added to it in little bits and pieces over the years. At one time, the farm operation was 120 acres.
“At the height of its scale, it was a pretty full-on farm, we had 110 head of cattle,” said David. “There was a cow, calf, beef operation. We had the whole thing going, cutting hay, cutting silage, feeding the cows… vegetable garden, planting trees.”
But the portion being donated to the city, which David refers to as the “homestead area,” is about 26 acres.
“This particular parcel, this is sort of the crown jewel of the whole thing,” he said. “It has the big (heritage) tree (that’s 125 feet tall), it’s got the salmon stream on it, it’s got the pond, all the neat features, the orchard, all that stuff. This was the part that we really wanted to try and protect.”
“All these trees, all this stuff, it was all my dad’s handiwork,” he added proudly.
Over the years, the family planted hundreds of Sequoias, Redwoods, Firs and many other species.
His father, a cardiologist by profession, got up to other interesting adventures on the property. The pond, for one (pictured).
“My mom thought he was nuts,” David said with a chuckle, “but anyway, he had this grand plan and built this pond… so we put that in in about 1975 and we all took bets about when this thing was actually going to fill up, and I think it filled up on Christmas day of ’75 or somewhere around there, so my dad took the opportunity to swim across it and I think he realized about halfway across that it wasn’t a very smart thing to do.”
One particularly humourous story of the aviation variety reveals why there’s a sizeable gap between one section of trees in the back of the property.
“It’s there because in the early 80s, my dad got into his head that he was going to get an ultralight airplane,” David explained. “The flight training was pretty rudimentary in those days. Anybody could buy one of these things, you kind of steer it around on the ground and then a guys on the radio and talks you through flying the thing and away you go. He bought one of these things and my older brother Michael, he’s now a commercial pilot, he built it, he was about 15 or 16 at the time.”
After a coin toss, his dad won the right to the plane’s first flight, he continued.
“He gets a little bit out and he get over the neighbour’s field and one of the engines quits on him. Because, as it turned out later, they hadn’t done the full warm up or break in on the thing. So anyway, he ended up hitting the power lines over on 168th Street, he hit the electrical line at the top and fortunately for him, it busted off about three poles down, and it kind of caught through the landing gear, busted off, and he kind of spun around and hit the ground.”
So a safe end to the story, it seems?
“If you consider running into power lines safe,” said David, snickering. “He survived.”
When his father fell ill in 2011, he said the family knew they wanted to preserve and protect their treasured land.
“So we looked at a bunch of different ways that we might do that. It’s kind of a difficult problem, right, because you’re trying to give something away but at the same time maintain control of it, over how it gets monitored and managed, and what it looks like. It would’ve been very easy just to sell it.”
They considered options through the Nature Conservancy, but decided to donate it to the City of Surrey through Environment Canada’s “eco-gifting” program, because the city had the infrastructure to maintain the site. The selling point was that through this program, the city would be looking at a massive financial disincentive if it sought to use the land for something else in the years to come.
Ted Ulrich with the City of Surrey is pleased to have this property become part of its park system, particularly because its valuable land, as identified in the city’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy.
This strategy identifies “hubs” and “corridors” important for wildlife connections, as well as protecting Surrey’s biodiversity in the longterm.
“This is essentially the head of the corridor that leads into the Serpentine (River). It’s fantastic to be able to preserve the top end of a corridor like that,” said Ulrich. “Then it’s got the riparian areas that we know are so important, the large trees that are existing, the new habitat, old field habitat, we’ve got a whole bunch of different habitat values so for us on the protection of the environment it’s fantastic to have in the park system.”
Because of its rich environmental value, Ulrich stressed that dogs are not allowed – on or off leash – at the park.
The city added an extra layer of environmental protection in that it has passed a park dedication bylaw for Godwin, an initiative also undertaken to protect Green Timbers and Sunnyside urban forests.
“It describes the applicable uses so we can’t change the uses of it, and it’s approved by council,” Ulrich explained. “Once it’s approved, you have to go to a referendum process to dispose of it.”
The city has added fences and walkways on the property, and interpretive signs have also been put in the park with more information about the Godwin family and the importance of these lands as a unique natural area.
Visit Godwin Farm Biodiversity Preserve at 9016 164 St. Click here for more details.
(Tom and Elaine Godwin. Photo submitted)