Richmond recently lost one of its close connections with the past.
Bill London, whose family built and ran London Farm, passed away Feb. 1, leaving behind him a treasure trove of memories and a garden full of spectacular dahlias at the century-plus old heritage site overlooking the Steveston waterfront.
“He was so very proud of his family, that’s why he was so involved with the farm,” said London’s wife, Eileen. “He would always be there, helping set up and take things down for weddings and other special occasions. And he just loved the flowers. It was a special thing for him.”
London, who would have been 80 this August, was born in Vancouver, went to UBC and then taught high school (Palmer and McNair secondary schools) math and physical education in Richmond where he and Eileen raised two children. Bill never lived on the farm that his grandfather, Charles E. London, built in the 1880s. But he maintained an attachment to it throughout his life.
“When Bill’s father came back after serving in the First World War, he didn’t want to be a farmer and moved the family into Vancouver,” Eileen said, adding her husband’s interest in helping preserve the farm grew as it eventually became the responsibility of the city, which now maintains it as a popular heritage site.
Bill played a role for several years as the chair of the board of directors for the London Heritage Farm Society and took special interest in cultivating the colourful dahlias in the site’s heritage garden.
“He took over minding the flowers from a retired couple who weren’t able to volunteer their time there anymore and made it his responsibility,” Eileen said, adding the hobby even spilled over to their own backyard, where Bill would raise new varieties of the flowers and transplant some to the farm.
“Bill was also an avid golfer who’d meet up with his teacher friends, who had also retired, and play at Country Meadows at least once a week,” Eileen said. “He was also a very kind and gentle soul.”
Local realtor Keith Liedtke, who served on the heritage farm society board with Bill, said he put a lot of effort into helping out wherever he could, whether it was putting out chairs and raising tents for special events, or tending to the flowers in the garden.
“We’d be stringing up Christmas lights together and Bill would bring his camera when we had photos with Santa at the farm,” Liedtke said. “And he’d assist with the restoration projects, as well.”
On that point, Bill was able to tap into a unique and definitive source of information.
“It was kinda neat because his aunt (May London) in Victoria, the sister of one of the original Londons who built the farm, would come over for celebrations at the farm and Bill would arrange that,” said local historian and former London Farm board member Ron Hyde. “And when we had questions on how something should be restored at the farmhouse, Bill would just phone up his aunt and get the information so we could do the work and make it as close to the original as possible.”
Liedtke said Bill did so much for the city and touched many lives, as a teacher and historical resource and custodian.
“He was the last, active member of the London family to play a role with the historic farmhouse,” Liedtke said. “And with him gone now, that’s a big loss for our community.”
Connie Baxter, the city’s supervisor of museum and heritage services said having Bill as a link to Richmond’s pioneer past was a very rare situation in the heritage resource business.
“He added another, personal dimension that was very poignant, as a member of a pioneer family,” said Baxter. “And it’s the memories of people like him, as a child, that are very valuable and a treasured resource. And losing people like him make those links just that more distant.”