When Roger Bidgood began selling cod heads to farmers in Goulds at the age of 10 he probably didn’t realize what impact his family would one day have on the residents of the agricultural community in St. John’s.
Later, with the help of his wife, Jennie, the couple established a wholesale business and supermarket that is known throughout the region. Their generosity was often felt by many Goulds residents, especially students who have received scholarships through the Bidgood name.
The couple carried on with their acts of kindness in 2000, when they donated 38 acres of land to the City of St. John’s, with the specific direction that it be dedicated to green space.
Roger died in 2004, and Jennie died last year.
Through their daughter Elaine, the Bidgoods’ dream is being fulfilled with the development of Bidgood Park.
Work began several years ago on the nature-based park, which to date is about half complete — with about $1 million invested so far and about another $1 million needed to see it finished.
This week, Elaine Bidgood presented $300,000 to the Grand Concourse Authority — a non-profit organization that helps communities realize their environmental initiatives. The funds were given from her parents’ estate to help get the fundraising ball rolling again to continue the park’s development.
Her parents’ donation has been matched by the City of St. John’s, and the Goulds Lions Club has committed $48,000 to the project.
“This donation and the city matching the funds will make this project approximately 70 per cent closer to a reality. If the donation wasn’t made we would have to wait much longer,” Addison Bown, the authority’s executive officer, told The Telegram Thursday.
A master plan was developed in early 2000, but about two months ago Bown and Bidgood sat down and took another, more realistic look at the venture.
“When we started off we were getting a fair amount of money from ACOA (Atlantic Canada Opportunity Agency) and some capital and service money from Service Canada. Since then we’ve exhausted the ACOA funds and Service Canada was taken over by the province,” Bown said, adding the master plan entailed some big ideas.
“However, because of funding cutbacks and insurance issues — for example, there was going to be a natural swimming pool added, but that was taken out — we made a new plan.”
With six kilometres of boardwalk and bridges built and an outdoor classroom established, the next step is to realize the two concepts for which the park was designed, Bidgood said.
“One was to keep the park natural. There’s a lot of natural beauty, wildlife, birds and wetlands on the land and we want to keep it that way. Second was to do something to commemorate the agricultural community, which is what the Goulds is, and farming communities in general,” she said Thursday, adding that birdwatchers spend a lot time on the land, captivated by the wildlife.
Bidgood said the plan is for Newfoundland artist Gerry Squires to design a bronze sculpture, called “The Mower,” for the entrance to the park. She said it will be a farmer using a scythe, to recognize the farming industry.
Squires has also been asked to design a plaque using the likenesses of Roger and Jenny Bidgood as a dedication to their generosity and devotion to their community.
The new plan also includes increasing the size of the parking lot, two picnic areas, a place for playground equipment and a home for artifacts.
Bown said the Bidgood family has already donated some items from the agriculture industry, and other members of the community have also shown an interest in doing the same.
“So we need a building to house them in. It doesn’t have to be a heated building. We’re thinking mostly glass with a walk-around deck where the items can be displayed with some text explaining the history,” he said.
Bidgood, who snowshoes through the park, said while the area is a natural complement to the community, once it is finished — they have set a target date of August 2014 — it will be quite impressive.
“It’s just a privilege that I’m able to be part of this, and certainly it’s a very positive project to be part of. With this last donation, this has kickstarted the budget to get things finished and this is what my parents wanted, so it’s really wonderful. It’s a big contribution to the community, and if you knew their history, everyone would agree they were always generous people,” she said.
Bidgood said on any given day people can be seen walking the trails and enjoying the natural beauty of the land, which is what her parents wanted.
“They would be proud and very pleased,” she said.