By Karen Idzik
for the enterprise news
Barry Hopkins, a local newspaper columnist, spoke to a large group at the Arthur United Church on Nov. 29 as guest speaker at congregate luncheon sponsord by the Seniors Centre for Excellence.
Hopkins first told the audience about his “roadkill hat,” which is what he calls his leather visor.
He said he owned a pet store, and there were several young people who came in to hand feed the birds. One young girl brought him a visor made out of paper. He wore the paper visor while she was around, and found that it stopped the fluorescent lights from giving him a headache. He then had a leather version made, in fact he had several made, and he’s been wearing them ever since.
“It became my signature bonnet,” he said.
He said it’s great because it works as a headband, hat, everything, but after working outside in the sun, he wore it into the house, and his wife grabbed it from his head, called it his “roadkill hat” and tossed it out the door.
Hopkins said his father grew up in an orphanage and foster homes, and came to Canada at nine years of age to be a laborer. He worked at a farm in Belwood until 16, and then worked in construction, working on bowstring bridges.
Because of the way he grew up, Hokkins, father never obtained much schooling, never making it past Grade 4.
When he was seven, he and his father attended an auction, and his dad waved at a friend, inadvertently bidding on a pair of canaries in a cage, paying $2 for them. At that time, that was a lot of money, Barry said. But his dad was a proud man, and when the auctioneer figured he’d bid, he wouldn’t back down.
It turned out, Hopkins said, when they cleaned up the cage, it was gilded, and his father was able to sell it for $32. Barry took care of the canaries, and was able to raise 15 young from the pair.
The family had an egg route, and Hopkins placed a slip of paper in each carton advertising his canaries. As a young child, he figured he should be able to get $15 for the 15 birds, and wrote the ad asking for $15 for the canaries.
The war had just ending, and people were tired of not having anything, so the canaries sold quickly, with his parents receiving $15 each for the canaries. The money raised by selling the canaries was used to pay the taxes on the farm.
Hopkins said his father was a man of few words, and through his actions, helped him to become interested in conservation.
Hopkins and his wife created Green Spaces Wellington, and through the organization, planted thousands of trees, and distributed hundreds of bluebird houses.
But they didn’t just distribute the bluebird houses, first he worked with a Mennonite school to have wood turned into the kits for the bluebird houses, and then the kits taken to rural schools in Wellington, where students there would turn the kits into birdhouses, and take them home. He said if they didn’t have somewhere to put it, they were encouraged to send it to a grandparents or other relative’s home.
Hopkins said he has no idea why he started writing. He said his dad believed in conservation, but couldn’t make a difference beyond his fence-line. So when his dad encouraged him to reach out to others, he picked up his pen and started writing.
His first stint in writing was when he was in his 20s, writing about his pet store, and when he quit that, didn’t write again until he was almost 50.
At that point, he approached a newspaper and has been writing a column ever since.
At one of their moves, his father was handed a basket with about an inch of tulip bulbs in it by a neighbour they were leaving behind, and his dad planted them in the front yard of his farm the first year. As the bulbs matured and split, they were moved to the back of the farm, and at one point, his father had two acres of tulips, with the rows very close together. He joked his dad couldn’t throw anything out, but these tulip bulbs became very profitable, when his dad got a request to purchase them from the city. When Holland was in bad shape because of the war, his dad was selling the tulip bulbs for five cents each, and that was a lot of money then.
So, when other area farmers were asking for mortgage extensions, or losing their farms, Hopkins’ dad went in to the bank and paid his mortgage off in cash, much to the surprise of his banker.
At one point, the RCMP heard that the Hopkins’ farm had fields of red flowers in the back 40, and thinking they could be poppies, came to explore. So, when his father was asked what was growing in the back field, he told the officer he had some pretty flowers, and invited the officer to wander back and take a look. So, the officer trudged through the muck and mud to the backfield, saw the tulips, and came back with, as Barry explains it, a black cloud over his head.
Over the course of the hour, Hopkins told lots of funny stories, just too many to relate them all. He also told a few sad stories, like how he misses his wife, who passed away years ago, and how he was never the same after losing two sons, one to a car accident, and one to a snowmobile accident.