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Chapter 28 That’s It

Keith brings out a notebook that belonged to his father Arthur D. Squires, with the name Coleman underneath. That’s what the area at Main and Danforth used to be called, he says. “Now it’s disappeared forever. That would be my grandfather’s address.”

The first date is Jan 1st 1913. “My father’s diary about how much he spent.” A couple of photos fall out from between the leaves, one is of Keith. “I’ve still got that coat,” he says. The other is his nephew Bob who looks around the same age. These are passport photo, Keith speculates, for the time in the mid-fifties he and Bob went to Mexico and camped out on the beach, as Carolyn and Keith did decades later when they went down in their van in 1983.

There’s also an old newspaper clipping, a death notice for Thomas Paddon who had been a veteran, fighting Louis Riel and the Metis people of Saskatchewan in the North West rebellion in 1885 when he was 21, and in the Boer War in South Africa some years later.

“That would be my grandmother’s family,” Keith says. “I don’t suppose there’s any kids who study that or know anything about it. South Africa. There were hundreds of Canadians there, no one knows about it now.”

Under the notebook, a pile of huge ledgers filled with the handwritten record of the Squires business through the years and through four locations. Wages paid, prices charged, varieties grown, weather faced up to, thoughts for the future…. The one I’m looking at has the name Arthur Squires written in ink on the title page and the address, 163 Woodville Avenue.

“My parents and grandparents made the East End,” Keith says. What is now Squires Avenue marks one side of the home farm. The 1939 ledger has a mailing list with addresses all over the province - Owen Sound, Petrolia, Chatham and farther afield – Montreal and Winnipeg. Private clients and commercial ones.

“There’s nothing new with me dealing with people from all over the place,” Keith says. “It’s been going on for years.”

There’s a 1933 notation. “Bulbs at W. C. Squires, Highland Creek,” a reference to Arthur’s brother, William Coleman Squires, who subsequently moved to Vancouver. A long list of Gladiolus names follows: Yellow Perfection, Maid of Orleans, Bengal Beauty, Purple Queen…

“That would be the record of the field so you’d know where to dig it,” Keith explains. “You’d have the Gladiolus coming up to that point and then there’d be a space and then the next row and that’s the record of it, from one end of the field to the other, what’s in those rows.”

In 1939, a new address, when Arthur Squires moved the family and the business to the farm on First Line in Dixie. A few years later, the entries in the ledgers are in Keith’s hand. “There, you see, they were having dry summers in those days,” Keith points out. I’m reading from 1953: ‘From August 25 to September 10, temperatures were 95 to 100 every day. Loss approximately $100 a day.’ “The stuff was just crying out in the field,” he recalls. “You’re talking beautiful flowers that were all burned brown from the heat.”

In 1954, a new location in Brampton, a 25-acre farm on the east side of the Credit River, on the north side of what is now Steeles Ave., although it was just a country road then. The entry for October 7 reads, ‘Frozen out. Then, a week later on October 15: Disastrous hurricane struck.” This is when the good crew overcame almost every handicap.

“They came to work shortly after the hurricane and stayed until December 15. But the Gladiolus rotted in the ground. There was a fund, they would have helped me out at that point. In those days, you didn’t know how to access it. I believe that fund wound upo with all kinds of money that they didn’t give to anybody.” The entries continue through the years.

Tom Brown, the architect, is a regular seasonal employee. We’re looking at 1955. “Tom was getting paid $32 a week,” Keith says. “He was experienced.” All the others got less.

At the end of 1957, a truck accident caused “much expense, legal trouble and general heartache.” Keith was on his way into Toronto to deliver flowers. “I got on the 401 at Number 10 Highway and before I had got to the end of the line, smash, smash, smash, smash… as far as you could hear back over past Number 10 and through the river and onto Mississauga Road – eight miles down, 275 vehicles. I clipped the guy at the end of the line as I swerved and as he knocked me off balance and put it on its side and then when it finally came to rest I just walked out through the windshield, 700-800 Gladiolus on board. In tubs with water.”

He wasn’t hurt, but the truck – the first to be painted yellow and carry the Country Squires Garden name – was totalled. It was a Dodge, custom-built with extra doors. “I had three sets of double doors so I had access to the hard-to-reach area.” He mimics a customer. “’Oh, there’s a nice bunch of pinks, I want that, back there.’ Yeah, so I could walk around the truck open up the door on the other side and get it.”

More heartache was to come in 1957. On December 3, Arthur died. “I was there when he died – he had a clot that went through his system,” Keith recalls. Afterwards, they missed him in more ways than one. “It’s amazing how much he did do on the farm. We didn’t think he did do very much, crippled with arthrist, but then he passed away and we certainly found out.”

The entry for the end of 1957 says it all. ‘Worst year in business so far!’ and the recommendations include: ‘Try planting myself without help.’ “Well, yeah, the help would go out the end of the week with more money than you had, that’s for sure and any farmer will tell you that.”

As if on cue, we are interrupted by a phone call. It’s a survey for AAFC - Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

“You don’t want to talk to me,” Keith booms into the receiver. “I don’t have cows or horses, all that stuff…

“Okay… sure if you want, but you’re going to get answers from me that are either not going to affect your survey at all or affect it in some crazy way that doesn’t mean anything....”

Persistence at the other end.

“They’ve got to do a whole lot more to protect the farm business,” he says. Back and forth a little, and he finally persuades her she doesn’t want to talk to him. He puts the phone down. “Agriculture Canada They don’t know I exist. Don’t know what I do, Government agriculture! Which is impossible. Why are all these farmers starving to death? There’s no understanding of these guys at all. What do they know? AAFC. They don’t know what I do, there’s no one in the department of agriculture that has any knowledge of this end of agriculture whatsoever.” His voice goes up, he’s getting tetchy. “Nobody in the experimental farms knows what I do – I’m the one that’s running an experimental farm, not Ottawa.

“They phoned him several years ago they said we could give you a grant for the work that you do.” Carolyn says. “You know what you get when you get a grant. You have to fill out paperwork to let them know exactly what you do 24 hours a day.”

“Paperwork after paperwork,” Keith groans. “He said I don’t want any financial assistance from Ottawa, I’ll stay in poverty. But they still phoned him for help, they even shipped things to him that were incorrectly named to see if Keith could name them. And he could.”
“But they don’t do any of that work now,” Keith says.

It’s snug in here, the Christmas cactus in bloom, the ancient ledgers piled on top of reference books, the cats snoozing in a chair. The Squires are just back from Peterborough where they’ve been visiting Keith’s daughter and granddaughter and they’re shaking their heads over the new subdivisions they’ve driven past.

“No room for plants,” Keith says.

“Interlocking brick. Wall-to-wall swimming pool.” Carolyn chimes in.

“There’s just room for two chairs and a barbecue.” Keith: “It’s all house - they don’t want a lot, they don’t want a garden, they don’t want grass - because then they’d have to plant it or mow it.”

Carolyn: “There’s 3,000 to 4,500 square feet with a three-car garage, it’s got pillars! A gorgeous place, but what’s the point?”

Keith: “They can’t get a lawnmower into the backyard without going through the house.” That, it transpires, is the actual situation of one of his sons who lives in the Winston Churchill Boulevard – Derry Road area. He gave Keith his gas-powered lawnmower because the bricked walkway between his house and his neighbour’s was too narrow, he had to get a reel mover instead.

“What it means for my kind of business, I don’t know,” Keith says. “If they come and buy a plant from me, they’ll have to keep it in a pot.”

“It can’t be more than 15 feet from house to fence…they’d have to have espaliered trees,” Carolyn says.

“And the fence is so high for privacy the poor plant wouldn’t get any light<” Keith adds. “I feel sorry for them.”

It’s time to go and Keith, wearing a jaunty knitted hat against the cold, escorts me to the car. Snow blankets the parking lot, with little ridges where the mice have been running around underneath “People these days have no idea,” he says. “Looking down the road 200 years, I wonder – I won’t be there – I wonder what path we’re going on as the city gets bigger and bigger and bigger and people only get out of there one day at a time. They have no idea how nature works. They are a danger. And there’s thousands of them. And they control us.

“I tell them I’m the fourth generation. They say, ‘Who’s going to be next?’ I say ‘Nobody, that’s it, I’m the end.’”
THE END