An open letter to Thomas Kidd (1846–1930)

Note: This open letter to Richmond pioneer Thomas Kidd (1846–1930) is the final version. The open letter appeared as a column in today’s Richmond Review, which happened to publish a draft sent to show the concept. The letter refers to Thomas Kidd poems, especially “The Harvest’s Done,” and some appear before and after the letter in this blog.

Happy birthweek*, Thomas Kidd!

As you begin your 168th year, rest assured that your life of doing things well is still doing good. We sense it now in farmers like Ray Galawan, your great-grandson, and in all who value the best of our past as a legacy to enjoy, conserve and share.

Thomas Kidd of Richmond, BC, 1846-1930

Thomas, I’m sharing this as an open letter in gratitude. Forgive me for using prose, though I marvel at your letters in poetry. You must have become a lifelong learner, since you were so young when you left your Irish schooling for adventures in New Zealand and California until you got here, turning 28, in 1874. Maybe the enclosed photo of you as a young man will take you back in time.

You sure had fun writing “The Harvest’s Done.” It’s cleverly composed, but it’s your empathy with the farm animals that wins me.

It’s also your grateful respect for nature. Take cheer that we’ll celebrate “The power to reproduce that all may live” on March 2nd at Seedy Saturday at Terra Nova. And later that day there’s a 2 p.m. eco-tour of the Garden City Lands, 136 acres of “PARC”—parkland for agriculture, recreation and conservation—on the western tip of the Lulu Island Bog.

As a young farmer here, you took on more Lulu Island acreage than the Garden City Lands PARC and farmed it organically well. With your friend Walter Lee, you let your first cabin be a gathering place, and fellow farmers could count on your good advice.  Our PARC should have that spirit, plus more you’ve described in your History of Lulu Island.

Our PARC is a single farming unit in BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), and the dyke it requires will carry on the tradition Hugh McRoberts began with his dyke around his fields and orchards.  The PARC dyke can also facilitate fresh-water security, more crucial in view of your accounts of failed drilling for artesian water wells.

By the way, Manoah and Martha Steves’ great-grandkid Harold got the ALR started. It’s a big success, and I’d love to fill you in on it someday.

We all want the Garden City Lands PARC to be a joyous place like your farm in “The Harvest’s Done.” Your history describes how “wild roses grew in great profusion and to a great height, garlanding the bushes and festooning the trees,” and we have citizens who could bring that back on the lands. Wow!

In “Lulu Island,” your ode to Lulu, “Child of the Fraser River and the sea,” the mountains around her bring out her beauty. You begin your final praise with “And what a setting, Little Gem, is thine” and end with “Mount Baker, crystal crowned.” Thomas, it pains me to tell you that natural viewscapes from our city centre are gravely threatened by Richmond power wielders with no sense of beauty or wonder.

Let’s get back to happy memories, like young Letitia wedding you. In your birthday poem to your daughter and your poem-letter to your son when a storm kept you in Victoria, we see you as a devoted family man. Your wise and caring outlook has endured, and we see it now in your great-great-grandson Randy Galawan. He’s Ray’s young-adult son, an engaging friend of nature.

In today’s terms, you were a Richmond mayor, councillor and school trustee and a two-term MLA in the BC legislature. You were a statesman, but your satire in verse (“A Grand Financial Debauch“) sliced the sham from the politician known as “The Speculators’ Hope.”  We need that spirit.

Thomas, you end your “My Life” sonnet like this: “I ask no greater heaven/ Than power to Forgive and be Forgiven.”  We live in hope that Lulu’s legacy will become so honoured by those who trample it that you can forgive them.

Bye for now,
Jim Wright,
President, Garden City Conservation Society

*Thomas Kidd was born on Monday, February 23, 1846 in County Down, Ireland (in what is now Northern Ireland).

Thomas Kidd’s ode to Lulu Island is available with poetic analysis inExperiencing Thomas Kidd’s ‘Lulu Island‘,” a four-page PDF in landscape format with the poem always available for reference on one side of the page. 

Have a look at the whole Thomas Kidd series to get to know Richmond’s remarkable Renaissance Man farmer.

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