After 60 years of lying idle, a field at the Kidston farm in Spryfield came to life in 1996, thanks to the determination and dedication of members of the Urban Farm Museum Society of Spryfield. With the help of a team of oxen and a tractor, and a large audience to cheer them on, the field was ploughed and a crop of oats was planted. It is part of three acres leased by the Urban Farm Museum Society of Spryfield from the Kidston family.
This cleared field has been expanded over the years. Individual residents and local organizations, all members of the Urban Farm Museum Society of Spryfield, are reaping the benefits. They have been assigned plots to grow their own vegetables. This year, as part of the Come Grow With Us program which teaches children how to grow their own vegetables, an additional 12 plots have been added for children and their families. Volunteers help make the Urban Farm an important resource in our community. We welcome your help.
The original Kidston Farm consisted of two 500-acre lots, numbers four and five, in Leiblin Manor. In the 1760s, nine Leiblin Manor lots were granted to prominent Halifax merchants who used them primarily as wood lots. Lot number four on which the Urban Farm field is situated was part of the l500 acres purchased and developed as a farm during the early 1770s by the industrious military engineer, Captain William Spry. Following Spry’s tenure, George McIntosh, Esquire, continued to operate it as a productive farm where beef and dairy cattle roamed and grain and root crops flourished.
In 1822, William Kidston, Junior, purchased the 1000 acre farm from the George McIntosh estate and called it Thornhill. In spite of his limited experience as a farmer, Kidston built a homestead where he settled his large and increasing family. He added sheep to the inventory of farm animals and wool became another by-product of the Spryfield farm. In 1827, under Kidston’s supervision, Thornhill Farm produced large crops of wheat and other grains and 500 bushels of potatoes. Twenty tons of hay fed his livestock which consisted of “14 sheep, three horses, four swine and 12 horned cattle.”
By 1832, however, William Kidston was ready to sell Thornhill farm. In a letter to his old and trusted friend and solicitor in Pictou, Abraham Patterson, he spoke of the pending sale and his plans to move his family and furniture to Pictou, the birthplace of his wife, Elizabeth Dawson. The farm did not sell and Kidston moved his family to a house in Halifax. He served as Sheriff for Halifax County. In 1834, an advertisement in the Royal Gazette offered for sale “that beautiful Farm at Spryfield…The arable land is deep, strong and productive…it is well watered by beautiful lakes and streams on which there are fine falls for water power mills; a capital situation for washing of wool on the skin or otherwise; a desirable place for establishing the manufacture of wool into yarn, cloth, etc; …and has a very extensive range of superior pasturage, within secure fencing.”
William Kidston died in 1836, however, leaving his wife and ten children (the youngest only two years old) with an estate which included Thornhill Farm and its outstanding mortgage, a house in Halifax in which the family resided, land in Country Harbour, Guysborough County, a lot at Tangier, Halifax County, and property in Scotland bequeathed to him by his late father. Before her death in 1846, Elizabeth Dawson Kidston, with the help of her brother-in-law, Richard Kidston, in Scotland, paid off the mortgage on the farm and conveyed it, in trust, to her 21year-old son, Archibald Glen, who eventually bought out the shares of his siblings and some of the landowners
Archibald Glen Kidston’s success as a farmer may be seen in subsequent records. By 1851 he had begun to rebuild the farm, producing 40 bushels of potatoes, 300 bushels of turnips, 4 bushels of other root crops, 16 bushels of hay, 10 bushels of wheat and 80 bushels of oats. On the premises were two barns, five “milch” cows, one horse, six sheep and one pig. In 1865, listed in the business directory for Spryfield as a “Farmer and Dealer in Stock and Horses” was A. Kidston. Following his marriage to Mary Dart of Spryfield, seven sons and four daughters were born. With the help of his sons, the farm continued to thrive and two years before his death in 1894, he leased Thornhill Farm to his sons. At that time, the following animals were listed in the farm inventory: “three
Horses, 12 Cows, one Bull, two Oxen, four Heffers, one Bull Calf, 30 Sheep, six Pigs, two Domestic Geese, one Wild Goose and 75 Hens.”
Following the death of Archibald Glen Kidston, Thornhill Farm was divided into two separate farms between his sons, John and Archibald, Jr. Two more generations of Kidstons continued to farm their inheritance, albeit on a smaller scale than their predecessors. During the early 1900s, John Kidston operated the Rockingstone Dairy and his land became known as Rockingstone Farm on which the Kidston homestead and the Urban Farm Museum of Spryfield are now located. In 1928, before his death, John Kidston deeded part of his farm to his brother Arthur. In 1929, when John’s nephew, another John Kidston, returned from United States to inherit the present homestead and what remained of the Rockingstone Farm, the fields were still cleared for planting vegetables. The Kidston family continued to produce potatoes and other vegetables which, along with eggs and squab (pigeons), were sold to the residents of Halifax. Potatoes were always left in the fields for others less fortunate who were encouraged to dig them up for their own use.
In 1941, John Kidston became active in war service and for four years production on the farm came to a standstill. The 1950s and 1960s saw more changes as a result of expropriation, and Rockingstone Farm was reduced to seven acres. Large-scale farming in Spryfield was, indeed, a thing of the past.