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Research underway to revitalize the Grenfell Gardens

Memorial University professor Greg Wood is in St. Anthony this week to conduct interviews and further his research into the agricultural enterprises of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell. He hopes his research will be the initial step in bringing back a Grenfell farm or garden to the area. -Kyle Greenham
Memorial University professor Greg Wood is in St. Anthony this week to conduct interviews and further his research into the agricultural enterprises of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell. He hopes his research will be the initial step in bringing back a Grenfell farm or garden to the area. -Kyle Greenham - Kyle Greenham

Professor hopes research will be foundation for future business proposal

ST. ANTHONY, N.L. – Initial research is underway to reintroduce the farming and gardening legacy of Dr. Wilfred Grenfell into the 21st century. 

Memorial University professor Greg Wood is in St. Anthony this week to conduct interviews and further his research into the historical aspects of Dr. Grenfell’s agricultural initiatives in the region.  

Wood is not only looking into how things were done in the past, but its viability for the present. He ultimately hopes this research will be the foundation for a future business proposal to create sustainable agriculture developments for the Great Northern Peninsula.  

“There needs to be somebody or a small group of people in the St. Anthony area who see this as an opportunity to give back to the community and create a sustainable operation for future generations,” Wood said. “If there is enough community interest in creating a heritage farm or garden then I can help put together a business plan.” 

For the week of April 23 to 27, Wood is interviewing several different people across the St. Anthony area from community leaders, entrepreneurs and locals with memories and connections to the Grenfell-led farming enterprises that ran up until the 1960s. 

In the week leading up to this current venture, Wood visited the Rooms in St. John’s and studied the digital archives of Grenfell-related materials, such as photographs, financial records and other documents.  

Through his research, Wood discovered the farms and gardens provided a diverse range of products. 

“Thousands of pounds of milk were sold each year to supply the hospital, orphanage and certain people such as doctors or local business people,” said Wood. “It was a very commercial operation and to me that was very surprising.” 

In the coal-heated greenhouses, cabbage, turnip, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes and other vegetables were grown and sold by the thousands each year. Starter plants were also supplied to communities to grow their own vegetables during the short season allotted by the Northern Peninsula climate. 

Pigs, sheep and goats were also raised and sold. But the most unique items of husbandry were the reindeer Dr. Grenfell brought in from Europe. 

“The most surprising element were the reindeers and herders brought over from Finland,” said Wood. “The highest number at one point was 1,500 reindeer. They were used as work animals, to haul logs and do work with sleighs, and farmers would milk the female reindeers. 

“I haven’t found any stories of people eating reindeer, but I’m sure that was part of the idea as well.” 

While this research in St. John’s has granted some extensive knowledge into the Grenfell farms, Wood says there are still many gaps in the story he hopes can be filled through interviewing residents in the St. Anthony area. 

One particular goal is to find or create a map of the area that details where all the former farms and gardens were. 

“We’re hoping to have a re-creation of how many acres were under cultivation, and how that changed year-to-year,” he said. “Currently it’s really hard to tell the scale of the operation and how it was distributed across St. Anthony.” 

Wood expects to have his report completed in the fall. He hopes this report will only be the initial step in the ultimate goal of bringing the Grenfell farms back into operation. A proposed heritage farm or garden would be both an avenue for agricultural sustainability and a tourism opportunity for the region.  

“There’s lots of people who would buy vegetables locally but there has to be a coordinated marketplace for it and there has to be a business plan to make it viable and long-term,” said Wood. “The technology is there for greenhouses that would make this much more economically viable than it was 50 years ago.” 

Wood will be at the College of the North Atlantic until the morning of Friday, April 27. He encourages any area residents with information or interest in the project to reach out to him at the college or via email at gwood@grenfell.mun.ca. 
 
kyle.greenham@northernpen.ca 

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