Aloysius’ wishes

Colin MacLean
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Community has input on future of O’Brien’s farm

“Well I think ...” or “What about …” or  “I hope they’ll ...” and it’s what “Aly would have wanted.”

This was the sort of talk that could be heard going on in the Foran Room of St. John’s City Hall Wednesday evening.

More than 150 people mingled for a public meeting.

They chatted, shared memories and voiced their opinions on what should be done with a piece of land held dear in the heart of the community.

The topic was O’Brien’s farm in the Mount Scio area of St. John’s, the last bastion of historic farmland in St. John’s and a place inextricably linked to the colourful Irish-Newfoundland family who guarded it against the steady march of development.

The property has been purchased by the province and it, in conjunction with the O’Brien Farm Foundation, is developing a master plan to conserve the homestead.

Wednesday’s public meeting was the public’s chance to voice their opinions on what that end result should be.

And voice opinions they did, chuckled Sharon Pippy, chairwoman of the O’Brien Farm Foundation.

“We’re thrilled. Delighted. I know a lot of people here have fond memories of the O’Briens and the O’Brien farm,” she said.

But I also see a lot of young people here who want to have some ownership about how our food is managed in this day and age,” she said.

The property’s last defender was Aloysius O’Brien (Aly to most), last of three brothers and the end of a line of owners of the 32-acre farm that reached back almost 200 years. He was a beloved local character until his death in 2008.

With no direct descendants O’Brien decreed in his will he wanted either a non-governmental organization to buy his farm and use it as a centre commemorating Irish-Newfoundland heritage, or for the province to buy it and ensure that it was leased as farmland.

The end result is likely to mix both options.

There were dozens of ideas thrown around the room Wednesday.

Instead of having a presentation and inviting people to speak one after another, the meeting was a meet and greet where people mingled and talked about the project. Members of the board and planners with CBCL Ltd., the company writing the master plan, were also talking with people in small groups. But predominantly, ideas were jotted down on Post-it notes and stuck on information boards scattered about the room.

Everyone who spoke with The Telegram about their dreams for the property were adamant that O’Brien’s last wishes should be respected and at least some of the land should be preserved for agriculture. But people differed on what they thought should be included.

Should language classes be taught there? O’Brien was an Irish-Gaelic speaker and a teacher of history, so maybe that’s something he would have liked.

What about community gardens? Or growing food for the food banks? Should it be a refuge for Newfoundland ponies? Should livestock be included at all? What about walking trails?

All these, and many more, were questions that were debated at length.

Everyone came for their own reasons and to their own conclusions. 

Todd Perrin is a young chef who came to the meeting because of his interest in local food production.

“O’Brien’s farm is a real unique and cool piece of the history of St. John’s so I was interested to come and see what they had in mind for it,” he said.

“The idea that we have this historical farm in the middle of St. John’s that hopefully is going to get a new life with hopefully some food production on it is of great interest to me,” he said.

Others had more of a personal stake in the property.

Maura Mannion is a long-time neighbour and friend of the O’Brien family and also sits on the farm foundation’s board of directors.

She didn’t specify what her wishes for the farm are, but did say her old friend would be happy with the direction his home is heading.

“The fact that it is being preserved, that’s the important thing. Aly’s wishes were that it be kept as a green space ... and that is what’s going to happen,” she said

These are all points that Mary Bishop was hoping to hear.

Bishop is with CBCL Ltd., and is helping to develop the property’s master plan.

“We’ve been hearing some really great stories from people. Particularly people who had a connection with Aly O’Brien and the farm,” said Bishop.

Her company plans on distilling all those ideas and producing a rough draft of the master plan in late April or early May. Once that’s done there will be another meeting to let the public get a look.

In some ways this is an easy project, she said, because the history of the farm is so well known and so well preserved that the biggest challenge is not getting enough information, it’s having to pick and choose what gets emphasized.

“I don’t know if it’s a matter of trying to please people. I think it’s a matter of trying to do what’s right and what’s appropriate for this site,” she said.

Wednesday’s meeting was the only one planned by the foundation to gather public input, however, Pippy indicated the foundation can be contacted through her email at spippy@nl.rogers.com or they can call CBCL at 364-8623.

As she surveyed the room filled with smiling chatty people, Pippy concluded O’Brien would have been happy to be right in the middle of them. He’d be proud of his community.

“He would be delighted. His heart would be filled. He wanted that place to not be developed commercially or residentially. He thought the subdivisions around the property were offensive and spoiled the landscape. He loved his farm ... and he wanted it kept intact and used,” she said.

 

cmaclean@thetelegram.com

Organizations: O’Brien Farm Foundation, CBCL

Geographic location: Mount Scio, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Mike Manning
    March 22, 2012 - 23:37

    Congratulations to Sharon Pippy and Mary Bishop for what appears to have been a very successful session. It's good to see how much interest there is in this great project. I know Aly would be very pleased. I wish everyone involved every success. I wish I could have been there. Mike Manning

  • Interested
    March 22, 2012 - 14:16

    Great comments by everyone.....I hope that the comments were provided at the public consultation - but if not, that folks are also sending their comments to the consultant as well......no sense in having public comments go nowhere! As the article mentioned - comments should be forwarded to: spippy@nl.rogers.com or CBCL at 364-8623 I think this is a wonderful thing - agriculture in this province is not highlighted nearly enough...there is a thriving ag industry here that many people do not even know we have.....however I do agree with Waynes comments as well regarding funding the project - and will be sending my comments to CBCL!

  • wheres there a will....
    March 22, 2012 - 13:45

    The meeting ought to have presented a copy of the actual will and the subsequent deed to NL, and the tely publish it. It is confusing - what is actually in the will (and the deed) and what is merely what people think are "Ally's wishes". What does his executor think? Is either realistic. It is one thing to restrict the sale to particular parties or classes of parties, it is another to forbid subsequent sales or block other loopholes not to mention powers of expropriation. What about "Ches's wishes" did he want the Outer Ring Road through his (Pippy) Park? Ally's farm must have huge development pressure on it and the tax base irresistable to a tax hungry city. How long can they hold out? How powerful would an "O'Brien Farm Conservation Society" be against development?

  • wayne
    March 22, 2012 - 13:14

    Marc: I think that the bike lanes were a collosal waste of money too. I fully agree that extravagant press conferences are a waste of money. The tourism industry is great. It employs thousands of people....but (in my opinion) the best use of government money ( my taxes ) is in promoting and marketting. The current TV ads are good examples of this. To spend money on the O'Brien farm "might" attract some tourists, but there are many such heritage farms in north america and europe.....it's unlikely that people would make a special trip to see this one. I would love to see this farm preserved. I would not object too much a small one time grant, but we ( the gov't) should not get into any long term arrangement. If this can be a viable operation that will make money , then some entrepreneur will step up to run it......if not then let some non-profit group take it over....but please "not on my dime" or on the "dime" of some fellow who lives hundreds of miles away in a small community that had many similar farms once upon a time.

  • Ken O'Brien
    March 22, 2012 - 13:09

    The public open house was a good chance to see what ideas are on the board and discuss them with others. Like many people, I was fortunate to know Aloy O'Brien and his brothers (no relation to me). The Province bought the property after Aloy's death and the O'Brien Farm Foundation will help guide its future use, including raising funds for it. This property will help us recall or learn about the farming heritage of Newfoundland and the people like the O'Briens who settled here and farmed the land. I hope Aloy is smiling as always.

  • Blaine
    March 22, 2012 - 12:39

    They should have a mouse circus and charge the parents a dime a piece and 2 cents for the kids.

  • Marc
    March 22, 2012 - 11:13

    I would rather have "taxpayer money" go towards this than keep funding bike lanes that cost a hundred thousand dollars to build and are used by few. Who freaks out about "my taxpayer money" when government blows thousands on overblown press conference? Gotta draw more tourists here to help pay for our "expenses" Taxpayer money is a phrase tossed out there too much, no matter what you believe our taxes will never be spent the way every person wants, at least it would benefit our community. And once up and running donations and volunteers could make this a self sustaining project. People like Wayne are examples of old school Newfoundland that holds us back from making the most of our culture.

    • Christopher Chafe
      March 22, 2012 - 11:34

      We should be more concerned with attracting new business here to NL/St. John's rather than worrying about increasing tourism. Tourists are not going to stop the "brain drain".

  • Christopher Chafe
    March 22, 2012 - 09:36

    Agree 1000% with both TAXPAYER AND WAYNE!

  • Taxpayer
    March 22, 2012 - 08:44

    I agree with Wayne. Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill to maintain/operate this former farm.

  • wayne
    March 22, 2012 - 07:49

    Ally O'brien was a great old character and did much to preserve the old links between the Irish heritage of Nfld and Ireland. Many of the idea's expressed about the property were very fine....there should be one condition though.....the taxpayer MUST not have to fund it. There are much more basic and fundamental needs that are currently under funded. Let the Johnson family Foundation, Fortis, Exxon Mobile or some philanthrpist step up to the plate. the taxpayers of the province or the city are taxed enough......that, I believe , is " what Ally would have wanted"