Prehistoric Mr. V's

In the beginning...

The ground on which Mr. V's is located has a very long and varied past dating from billions of years ago.

The early part of the Mr. V's history can be only be deciphered by interpretation of the underlying rock obtained by deep drilling for oil and gas deposits. These drill holes go down more than 2000 feet and over 1.8 billion years of earth history.

At the very bottom of these holes is what is called the "basement rock" that is composed of crystalline minerals as a result of massive heat and pressure some 1.8 billion years ago in the Hudsonian orogeny. These rocks formed as granite and gneiss (pronounced "nice") in the Churchill rock province.

The next rock that is visible in drill cores comes nearly 1.4 billion years later in the form of deep water limestones surrounding the Peace River island and its associated fringing reefs some 400 million years ago. The temperature (had the location been above sea level) would have been quite nice - temperatures hovering around the 30 degree Celcious mark, similar to modern day Hawaii.

The geologic record then skips about 200 million years give or take a million or two until about 115 million years ago in the lower Cretaceous. The Mr. V's property is still underwater but just barely. The tree nursery and giftshop would have been located on the regionally extensive low lying coastal plain with many sluggish south east flowing rivers. The lush forests that eventually would form large coal seams, would not look too much different than forest of today. The temperature would still be pretty warm - around the 25 degree Celcious mark but definitely no freezing would be occurring The one big difference would the presence of dinosaurs instead of cattle.

A few million years later the sea level rises and Mr. V's sinks to the bottom of the Cretaceous sea for a period of about 30 million years to be covered with copious amount of marine mud that would later form the La Biche shales.

Then about 68 million years ago the land rises (or the sea recedes) and a shoreline appears complete with sand beaches, clams and snails. Mr. V's has some serious ocean front property.

This sand beach has long since became the Belly River sandstone and is now being quarried on the Mr. V's sandstone pit. The rock still contains fossil clams, snails and wood fragments that can be seen in the waterfall pond just north of the green house. The Belly River Sandstone is also the aquifer that supplies all of the irrigation water to the plants and trees and domestic water to the house and livestock.

The temperature in the late Cretaceous is warm but cooling fast. It still does not freeze at night in the winter but the forests are changing from sub tropical to temperate as evidence in the coal seams a 50 kilometers to the south at the Thorhild coal mine.

What happened next? Who knows. The rest of the rock has been stripped off by the erosive power of the continental glaciers.

Post Glacial Mr. V's

Emerging from the Ice...

Until about 11,500 years ago, the only thing that grew at Mr. V's was ice crystals. In fact at the glacial maximum that occurred about 20,000 years ago, Mr. V's was covered with glacial ice that was over 2 kilometres thick. The evidence of the glacier in the surrounding landscape is everywhere - enormous pieces of rock called glacial erratics, originating in Nunuvit and now scattered across the county; fluted surfaces containing lakes elongated in a south-west direction, kames and kettle holes all point to a recent glacial past.

The glaciers also left some mighty big lakes in this neck of the woods. Flat lake, located about 2 km north east of Mr. V's was a shallow (2 metres deep in 1960 and completely dry in 2002)was about 15 metres deeper and apparently a great place for hunting and fishing for a long time after the glaciers left. Early aboriginals left the remains of their camps in the form of tools and arrowheads on the shores of prehistoric Flat Lake just a couple of hundred of metres or so south of the Mr. V's Giftshop.

The First Settlers

Homesteading Mr. V's

The settling of Mr. V's land happened some time after the Athabasca Landing trail was built in 1877. Extending from what is now across the river from the city of Fort Saskatchewan to the the big bend in the Athabasca river where the town of Athabasca is now situated, the Athabasca trail became the main route to fur trading posts on Lesser Slave Lake and Peace River to the Northwest and those at Waterways (now Fort McMurray) and Lake Athabasca to the northeast.

With the advent of Athabasca Landing Trail, came the requirement of supplying feed for the teams of horses and oxen that pulled the freight wagons from Fort Edmonton to the Athabasca Landing. The volume of traffic on the trail increased so much in the 1890's that the immediate area surrounding the Athabasca settlement could no longer supply enough nourishment for all the livestock and hay was shipped in from the flat, fertile lands at the south end of Flat Lake some 30 km to the South east.

Since Alberta was not yet a province, and the land surrounding Flat Lake not yet surveyed, the exact boundaries of the "Flat Lake District" are somewhat vague. It is speculated that the high ground on which the Mr. V's building is situated was probably close to the trailhead that connected the Flat Lake District to the Landing Trail.

A small trading post and post office a few kilometres to the west of Mr. V's known as Stocks was run by Mr.Chapin in the late 1890's that was augmented by a similar establishment in the early 1900's 3 km to the east simply called Flat Creek and was run by Mr. Noble and his son Phillip.

When the Alberta and Great Waterways Railroad passed some 8 km east of Mr. V's in 1914, the Hamlet of Boyle was settled and the area began to change dramatically. Grain growing began to replace livestock as the main agrarian pursuit and throngs of eastern Europeans, most notably the Ukrainians, began homesteading the surrounding area. One of the first main roads proceeded west to the village of Colinton which had been major stopping point on the Landing trail and throngs of immigrants.

In 1918 the Taylor stopping house was built in what is now Mr. V's parking lot. Consisting of a house, hay shed and stables. Stopping houses provided food and water for teams of horses as well as their drivers as they pulled wagon loads of grain to the railhead where the sacks of wheat were loaded directly into box cars.

Stopping houses were generally located 8-10 km from town and each other because that was the farthest distance that a team of horses could pull a loaded wagon before requiring food, water and a rest.

In 1938 the Taylor stopping house was purchased by Bruno Wiskel Senior, the grandfather of the present owner. Because of immigrant quotas, grandpa Bruno, first immigrated to Cuba from Lithuania in 1924 where he became foreman at a sugar cane factory, eventually coming to Canada in 1926. Grampa worked on farms in Saskatchewan until 1927 when he traveled to pier 39 in Halifax to meet and marry his high school sweetheart Juse.

The happy couple lived in Montreal where their son Bruno Jr. was born in 1930. In 1931 the Wiskel family to a homestead by Community of Bondiss on the shores of Skeleton Lake about 5 km east of the town of Boyle at the urging of several Lithuanian families living in the area at the time. Bruno Sr. second son Stanly was born in the log cabin on the homestead in 1933.

The Bondiss area is a great recreational area on the shores of Skeleton Lake, but terrible for farming so Grampa Bruno sold the place and bought the Mr. V's Quarter NE 34-64-20 W4 in 1938. As one of the most progressive farmers in the community Bruno Wiskel had one of the first registered herds of Hereford cattle and was one of the first farmers to use commercial fertilizers and herbicides in the area.

A car garage was added in the mid 1940's, but the yard was abandoned in 1952 when the original log cabin burned down as the result of a chimney fire. The whole family moved 1/4 mile northwest to an existing house on the quarter section kitty corner to Mr. V's.

Grampa Bruno passed away in 1974 one day after suffering a massive heart attack, and the farm was turned over to his son Stan.

Stan turned the sprawling cattle ranch into one of the largest grain farms in the county in the mid 1980's, but a recession along with the corresponding low grain prices in early 1990's forced him to sell off some of his land. A portion of this this land was sold to his son Bruno (the third)in 1992 which became the legacy of Mr. V's

Mr. V's The Precursor

The Mr. Vegetable Story

Bruno Wiskel, Mr. V's major share holder was born in 1960 in Edmonton where he was raised pretty well as a city boy until the passing of his grandfather in 1974. As a young man Bruno's love for farming began when he started helping his father Stan on weekends and summer holidays to build Wiskel Farms into a progressive grain farm.

As with many father/son partnerships, a disagreement arose as to the direction the farm should move in. Son - more conservation minded and intensive; father larger and more extensive.

Bruno settled the dispute by attending the U of A and obtaining a degree in geology specializing in groundwater geology, followed by two and a half years as an exploration geologist for a small oil company in Calgary. When oil dropped to below $10 per barrel, the entire exploration department was laid off, Bruno included.

For his next job he worked that summer as a pipeline inspector on the Trans Canada Pipeline from Gretna (at the US border)to Brandon, Manitoba.

Although he learned nothing about pipelining, he did learn about growing the various "alternative" crops of fruit and vegetables from farmers who owned the fields through which the pipeline ran.

Upon returning home and faced with a problem of no home to return to, so he bought a half section (320 acres) of land one mile east of the hamlet of Colinton. This land consisted of rolling hills and an east-west running creek bisecting the property in half. It had a 150 acres of hardwood forest with a house, barn and corrals located on the north bank (south facing) side of the creek and had a 1.5 acre pond 100 metres north of the house. In fact it had everything tailor made for starting a fruit and vegetable farm.

The first crop in 1987 consisted of one acre of pickling cucumbers that was a financial success and the farm was called Mr. Vegetable. The vegetable operation expanded gradually added various different types of fruit crops including an apple orchard, a saskatoon orchard, 1 acre of raspberries and 1 acre of strawberries. The pond was stocked with Rainbow trout and a U-Fish was added to the U-pick fruit and vegetables in 1989.

Bruno wrote and published his first book "Pond Raising Rainbow Trout" in 1990 and later that year began giving seminars across western Canada on teaching people how to dig ponds and raise trout for fun and profit.

Although Mr. Vegetable was located at the junction of two paved secondary highways, not enough traffic passed by to really expand the business. An opportunity came in 1992 to purchase the 40 acres that included the old Taylor homestead site from his father in 1992. The business still operated as Mr. Vegetable and the garage built in 1945 was converted into a retail area.

The business grew by leaps and bounds because of quality products and the massive amounts of traffic that was now passing by on the main Edmonton - Fort McMurray highway. The fruit and vegetable acreage increase from about 3 acres to just under 10 acres. Business was good, but short. The fruit and vegetables produced abundantly in July and August but winter work was necessary to put food on the table for the rest of the year.

Bruno started a small sawmilling operation using the trees on his property and added lumber and firewood as salable commodities to augment the revenue from the market garden. His second book "Woodlot Management", the handbook for small scale forest operations in Canada was published in 1995.

In time, many people who picked in the garden wanted to start growing the various plants, shrubs and trees in their own yard, and Mr. Vegetable began selling the hardy plants and trees that were grown right in the orchard. These sales resulted in the next big evolution of Mr. V's.

Modern Mr.V's

Mr. Vegetable is dead, long live Mr. V's

Mr.Vegetable was going great guns, but erecting a new building was going to be expensive. The banks thought the venture was too risky and all the relatives were tapped out so a group of investors was gathered and a new company was created in September 1999. The name was changed to Mr. V's Field and Forest Inc. (Mr. V's for short) because Mr. Vegetable no longer provided an accurate representation of the goods and services provided.

Then disaster. One by one, the investors pulled their support until only two partners and one highly motivated but unpaid girlfriend were left. Then in the winter 2001, the temperature went above 15 degrees for two weeks bringing the strawberry plants out of dormancy and then plunged to minus 25 killing 5 acres of strawberries. 2002 brought the worst drought since records have been taken.

Through it all Mr. V's has not only survived but thrived with year to year revenue increasing at a healthy rate of 25% per year. Not only has our sales grown, but also our has our product line. Mr. V's now carries more than 250 different kinds of trees, shrubs and plants that are hardy to cold northern winters.

As well as a retailer of hardy trees, Mr. V's does does landscape design and construction, mines its own decorative rock from its sandstone quarries, is an authorized dealer for Expocrete stone and landscape products and helps other farmers by doing environmental consulting when the oil companies when oil companies make a mistake

To top it off, Mr. V's has created spectacular show gardens and will be serving afternoon tea in its centennial rose gardens every Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm. We give tours to garden clubs and can even provide you with a keynote speaker to enhance your gardening get-together.

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Last updated on: Feb 01, 2009

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