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Land reserve was brainchild of disgruntled farmer-councillor

Ron Alponse picks apples in a Kelowna orchard managed by farmer Richard Bullock, chair of B.C.’s Agricultural Land Commission.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

When a long-overdue Order of British Columbia was awarded last week to former NDP premier Dave Barrett, he was pointedly singled out for his leadership in creating the Agricultural Land Reserve, described in the citation as "one of the great institutions that makes B.C. unique."

But Mr. Barrett was not the original catalyst for the ALR. That spot in the annals belongs to veteran Richmond councillor and long-time farmer Harold Steves.

And all because, way back in the 1950s, the Steves historic family farm needed a new barn.

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When Mr. Steves's father applied for a building permit, he was turned down.

Much to his astonishment, he found out their land had quietly been zoned residential by a city council bent on subdivisions, not farming. No new barns.

The shock got the young Mr. Steves thinking that something had to be done to preserve farms like theirs. He and a few others came up with the idea of including all the province's arable land in a huge agricultural zone.

Mr. Steves tried to get his party, the NDP, to adopt the proposal. In the early 1960s, however, that was too radical, even for New Democrats. But he persisted and, finally, just before the pivotal 1972 election, it became party policy.

After Mr. Barrett's stunning victory, cabinet ministers were instructed to bring forward their most important issues. At the top of agriculture minister Dave Stupich's agenda, thanks to Harold Steves, was the NDP commitment to preserve farmland.

Looking back, Mr. Steves, now 75 and still raising beef cattle on his remaining 12 acres of land, marvels at the ALR legacy he helped create.

"I keep pinching myself every now and then. Did I do that? I must have been crazy." He laughs a very satisfied laugh.

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