October 14, 2022 – It’s a surprisingly short drive, just minutes from the western edge of Qualicum Beach past growing thickets of single-family housing and into the typical surrounding second-growth forest with occasional road spurs heading off to unseen acreages.
Then, suddenly, you’re plunging into in a corkscrew descent, down, down, down until you reach the valley floor.
There lies a world apart. Peaceful, calm and spectacular, with a river running through it.
This hidden valley bordering the Little Qualicum River is home to about 60 head of Black Angus cattle who roam the land at will, enjoying an environment far from the feed-lot operations where much of North America’s beef is “fattened up.”
Asked about the impetus to get into farming, owner John Waring says, “my grandfather had a farm in Victoria, and as a kid I used to help him on the farm.”
But how did he come to call this particular slice of heaven home? “Well, I fly a helicopter,” says John.
John was living in Qualicum Beach at the time when fate took a turn. “I was at a helicopter convention in Anaheim, California. We were sitting around the pool and I was introduced to Ben Lloyd from Prince George. He owned Northern Mountain Helicopters in Prince George. He asked me if I knew about this property [in Qualicum Beach], and I said I did,” says John. Turns out, Ben owned the farm.
John tells me that he and his family used to visit the farm when it was owned by another farmer years ago. John tells me, “We’d come out and picnic here.”
Back sitting around the pool, Ben asked John, “do you want to buy it?”
“I said yes, so we made a deal. I’d trade my house in Qualicum plus $170,000, I think it was,” says John.
When was that, I ask. “Give or take 50 years ago,” he says.
When he first moved to the farm, John says “there was nothing here but stumps.”
He recalls that, way back, the farm had been owned by Norm Mycock, at around the same time that H.R. MacMillan and General McRae owned the old Arrowsmith No 1 and No 2 farms off old Hilliers Road.
“It was logged just before the Depression, apparently,” John says. “The logs were worth nothing then so they sat for a number of years.”
The property is over 100 acres (40 hectares) with one and half miles (2 kilometres) of riverfront.
The cattle wander from one area to the other, spending hours in green fields of grass, or heading down to the river for a drink, replenishing the land with cow patties where and when they please.
Raising beef cattle now, he says “it’s tough. I’m also an electrical contractor and do many other things.”
Feed lots? “We don’t do that,” John says. While the cattle roam across acres of fresh grass and pastureland, he doesn’t consider this “grass fed” beef. “If you want good beef, you finish them with grain.”
At one point, says John, there used to be places on the Island to sell cattle, one in Duncan, and one in Courtenay. “They stopped operating about 20 years ago.”
Qualicum Beach experiences its share of major wildlife, like bears and cougars, but John says he has no problems with wildlife.
“I’ve never seen a cougar on the farm, but other people have, and they see elk here too.”
“When we used to grow corn here we used to have problems with the bears. We stopped growing corn, so that fixed that,” he says, with a slight wry delivery.
The farming life? “It’s hard work,” says John Waring, but he also acknowledges the gifts of this special place that so unexpectedly came into his life 50 years ago sitting around a pool in Anaheim at a helicopter convention.