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Living a Dream That Wouldn't Die

Peter Claxton has the self-confident bearing of a man who is doing what he wants to in life. His hobby farm near Enderby, B.C., is the realization of a life long dream.

Peter was born in Vancouver in l929 and became totally blind by the age of three. My mother was a very determined woman. She knew that I would need to use Braille to get an education, so she set about learning it. My parents were not very impressed by the thought of leaving me at a residential school for the blind. The people at Jericho Hill were helpful in providing resources, but I never was a student there. I started in a regular pre-school, but it wasn't very satisfactory. My mother was very resourceful and opened a private kindergarten so that she could teach me and I could have the benefit of being with other children.

It was through contacts made at that kindergarten that Peter was eventually introduced to his first working farm. I think children are very impressionable at seven and eight. I had always loved taking walks with my father and a dear family friend in the woods and hills near West Vancouver. This was when West Vancouver was much smaller than it is now. But when I was eight my family took me to Armstrong to a farm owned by people we had met through the kindergarten. I fell in love with it. I knew right then that I wanted to be a farmer some day.

There was much practical work to be done before Peter could reach his dream. He had been home-schooled for the first three grades, but he was accepted into St. George's, a private boy's school, at age ten. The Principal of the school said he would take me on as an experiment. That was in September 1939, right at the beginning of World War II. The experiment worked well. Peter remained at St. George's until his graduation in 1949.

All through school he retained his dream of becoming a farmer. My parents were very practical people. They pointed out that I would need financial backing, agricultural training, and land. I had none of these. I needed to find something to do that would pay me a living wage. Peter applied to a physiotherapy program in England. He completed his training there and stayed in England for a total of three years. I loved it there. After my training I got about two years of work experience, but every chance I could I spent time on farms, so I got a little bit of practical agricultural experience too.

The search for employment when he returned to Vancouver in 1952, was a rude awakening for Peter. At that time blind physiotherapists were not known or very well accepted in Canada. Neither were male therapists. I sent out application after application and had no job offers. I finally landed a physiotherapy job with the Workers' Compensation Board. Peter stayed with the WCB for four years, but his dreams of becoming a farmer never left him. I decided I needed agricultural training, so I left my job and enrolled at the University of British Columbia. Peter graduated after four years with a bachelors degree in agriculture and animal science. Once again there were no jobs. So, when a physiotherapy opening became available in Victoria, I applied immediately. My idealism was becoming tempered by reality.

Peter worked for twenty years in Victoria at the Veterans' Hospital (annexed to the Royal Jubilee Hospital). He took early retirement at age fifty-five in 1985. I recommend early retirement for anyone who is doing a job that is not truly satisfying. It's nice to have the health and strength to undertake something that is truly satisfying.

Peter took his savings and dreams to the Southern Interior. A friend helped me look for property to buy. I found my first farm in Armstrong in two days.

Peter began with a few goats and a cow. His operation has expanded so that he has now moved to a new farm in Enderby. I am living in a farm house which was built in the 1920's. We have a barn which is at least partially constructed of logs. The creek running through the property is a real plus, except when spring run-off is high and it floods.

Peter now has sixteen goats, one beef cow and her calf, a Shetland pony, a donkey, and two saddle horses--one his and one he is keeping for a friend.

Peter raises and breeds goats. This spring he has been involved in helping the females birth their kids. If they make it to three days of age, kids are virtually indestructible. I need to help the mother goats during that critical period and supervise the weaning of the kids. Some of his goats are butchered and the meat sold. Others are sold to other goat keepers and some are kept for breeding. The farm would be classed as a hobby farm, but it is self-supporting. Milk goes to the raising of calves which are sold as baby beef after two years. Although the overall situation on the Enderby farm is quite an improvement over his first property in Armstrong, Peter wishes that it were not located on such a busy road. In Armstrong I was able to demonstrate that a blind person can ride a horse unaccompanied. For three summers before I retired I had gone on pack trips in Washington State. Each summer I rode a beautiful little mare named Topaz. When I bought the farm I contacted her owners and offered to buy her whenever she was ready to retire. They responded with an extremely fair offer and Topaz became mine. She was quite bright and quickly learned how to travel the quiet country roads around Armstrong. Unfortunately, she died of colic. I haven't had the chance to work with this new mare because the roads around here are so busy. I am hoping to do a little riding this summer.

Peter employs an assistant to do the driving and help with some of the heavy chores around the farm. The arrangement works well for both of us. Dave is quite an artist, When he is not helping me he has the time to paint.

My only regret is that my parents didn't live long enough to see me settled on the farm. I owe them more than I can say. Even when they were counselling me to be practical, they never discouraged me from pursuing my ultimate goal. They never told me I couldn't do it because I was blind. Their insistence that I be practical actually laid the foundation that made this possible. If it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't have had the foundation on which to build the dream.