“I guess you could say I was a tad emotional.”
Veteran farmer Bill Zylmans admitted faltering for a few seconds when he received news that the City of Richmond is going to honour his late father, William (AKA Wim), and his family by naming a new street after him.
“All of his history sort of flashed across my mind and I wondered, what would he have thought?” said Zylmans, while standing on a dirt road out the back of his W & A Farms on Westminster Highway near No. 8 Road.
“If he drove up and saw a road named after him, he would have been like ‘What am I? Where did this come from? Really? Am I that important?
“That’s not what he was in this for though. He was passionate, committed, he wanted to make a difference.
“Suffice to say, we’re tickled pink.”
Zylmans, who turned 60 last Sunday, and his sister Adriana, received the news earlier this summer of the yet-to-be-constructed road in rural, north-east Richmond being named after their pioneering farming father, who passed away in March, 2005, age 83.
But it all started back in July, 2006, when Adriana, who also lives on the farm, applied to the City of Richmond to have a road named after her father, an immigrant to Richmond from Holland on Sept. 1, 1948 with his wife, Johanna (Annie).
The couple quickly settled near Finn and Gilbert roads, began farming a small acreage, before setting up a roadside stand in 1955 selling strawberries, cucumber, beets, peas, cabbage and potatoes, the latter of which was eventually sold locally, nationally and internationally.
In 1966, the Zylmans founded W & A Farms and the rest, as they say, is history.
“He came here with less than $100 in his pocket, he didn’t speak English,” said Adriana, 63, a retired high school teacher and UBC associate professor of education, while sifting through her dad’s old photos.
“He cleaned septic tanks to make some money when he first arrived. He was so unselfish and gave so much to the community and helped so many people to grow food.
“He got better at English by working in the fields and talking to people and he was famous for his seed potatoes. He introduced the first yellow flesh potatoes in Canada.”
Adriana said her father was very active in many local and regional farming associations and had “a very strong work ethic; he always wanted others to become good contributors to society.”
She said she was “extremely excited” that her “parents’ lives had come alive again” with the city’s decision.
“I’m thrilled they’re going to be honoured in this way. (Her dad) would be humbled for sure.”
As well as the upcoming road-naming, Wim Zylmans’ name has been living on since 2005 in the shape of a farming scholarship, which is administered through the Vancouver Foundation.
Looking back on the W & A Farms legacy that Wim Zylmans created and, subsequently, that his son built on, Bill Zylmans said his father simply “didn’t know how big the empire got.”
“In the end, he was my gofer; he did all my bank deposits. He was one of those guys that got all dressed up just to go to the bank. Everyone at the bank loved him, they thought he was very cute in his suit,” Zylmans said while laughing.
“He went from nothing until the mid ’70s; that’s when I got out of school, in ’76.
“He was at about 90 acres and I said, ‘Dad, we either go big or we go home. We’re doing great, but we’re going to do better.’
“And I took it up to 250 acres; then I started running more with it and got it up to 500 acres.
“He was like, ‘where did all this come from?’ But in the end, I think he was very proud of all of this and that I was carrying on his work.”
Looking back, Zylmans junior said it was lucky he had “the energy, the passion and the will to become a farmer.
“My dad had no family here. If I hadn’t become so committed, I think he would have sold out early and went back to Holland to retire.
“His dad came here once in 1968, had a look, couldn’t fathom it and went back to Holland.
“I was living his dream, he was participating in my dream and we sort of moved forward together.
“And when I got married, my wife said she wanted to be a part of it, so we’ve been on a runaway train for decades. I’m 60 (years old) now. Where does it stop?”