-Story by Hans Tammemagi
Hamish Crawford — lean, fit and exuding energy — is waiting at the entrance to the bustling Roost Vineyard Bistro and Farm Bakery. He’s dressed in jeans and working farm clothes, and his face is framed by a white moustache and large sideburns. But what really stands out is an irrepressible smile and a twinkle in his eye. He is clearly a man who enjoys life and, as I am to learn, he’s also a remarkable person.
As we start a tour of his 10-acre farm, he explains how in 1965 he emigrated to Canada from Scotland at age 21. He worked for the National Grain Company, first in Winnipeg and then in Calgary.
One year, when he and his family holidayed in Sidney and the Saanich Peninsula, he became smitten by its rural softness, which reminded him of the fishing village in which he’d grown up. In 1989, he purchased — sight unseen from a newspaper ad — a 10-acre farm south of the airport.
With a love and knowledge of farming — he has a diploma in agriculture — Hamish decided to grow wheat, an unusual crop on Vancouver Island. His goal was to start a bakery. The venture proved successful: the wheat grew, a bakery followed and it flourished.
The bakery grew into today’s Roost Vineyard Bistro and Farm Bakery, which is immensely popular, serving a wide variety of fresh-baked goods such as breads, muffins, pies and croissants as well as meals. Hamish believes it’s the only bakery in British Columbia that grows and mills its own wheat.
Asked about his hobbies, Hamish says, “Cars! Come, I’ll show you.”
We enter a large, barn-like building and — surprise! — it’s like an automobile museum with 16 shining vintage cars, including a striking black and white 1949 MG touring car with a supercharger, and a 1928 Model A Ford Huckster complete with rumble seat.
“I love mechanics and have been working on cars since I was 12. I always have one on the go,” he says. “It takes me about a year to refurbish a car. At the moment I’m working on a 1926 Austin 7 Chummy.”
We climb to an extended balcony and look down on the rows of gleaming cars. The balcony has a bar bearing several bottles and a sign, “Hamish’s Happy Spot.” Even here, however, Hamish doesn’t rest, for strewn about the floor are parts of an airplane he is assembling to hang from the ceiling above his cars.
Wine and Dungeon
“After visiting California I decided we should grow grapes and make wine,” says Hamish.
He planted two acres of Siegerrebe grapes and now makes white wine, ginger wine and blackberry wine. The winemaker, of course, is Hamish himself.
He leads me into a long, narrow tasting room in the basement of the barn. A full suit of medieval armour stands near the entrance.
“That was a birthday gift after I broke my hip. My friends felt I should be fully immobilized,” jokes Hamish.
He leads me past an elegant table with two candelabras into a dusky back room with foreboding concrete walls.
“This is the dungeon,” he says, pointing to a skeleton and ominous, full-size rack “comfort” chair and iron maiden, which look in perfect working condition.
“I’m still developing the dungeon and tasting room,” he explains.
During a trip to Napa Valley, he visited a winery with an Italian castle where the owner said the dungeon was the most popular part of the property.
|Hamish Crawford shows off a lock for his new medieval themed wine tasting room. Don Denton photography
Hamish’s daughter, Sarah Bohl, joins us as we stroll to another building — Hamish’s workshop.
The interior is crammed with two cars partly disassembled, airplane wings and parts, wine containers, tools scattered everywhere and hundreds of jars, bottles and cans.
“This is where Dad spends most of his time,” says Sarah.
When I ask Sarah how it is to work so closely with her father, she gives him a hug and responds. “I love my Dad, he’s my idol. Everybody looks up to him. He’s terrific to work with and he’s very patient.”
She describes how when she was young, living in Calgary, her dad built her a recumbent bike. He also built several other bicycles, so their home became a popular spot for youngsters. Several of the bikes now hang in the rafters.
The three of us walk past a field of grazing sheep to Hamish’s home, an attractive two-storey Early American Farmhouse built in 1990. Sam, a black lab, greets us and accompanies us through the comfortable home, which is full of nautical and antique car memorabilia.
A Rubber-Chicken Cannon?
Back at the Roost, Hamish points to a large, horizontal propane tank with a pipe protruding upward from one end.
“That’s a rubber-chicken cannon I made,” he says. “When school groups come, the kids love it. The chicken flies more than 100 yards.”
Asked about his next project, a twinkle comes into his eye. “A distillery. I think I’ll start a distillery.”
We meet Dallas Bohl, Hamish’s son-in-law.
“Since 2008, Sarah and I have run the bakery and winery business,” says Dallas, “and Hamish supplies the ideas and the energy.”
Hamish counters, “I’m just the hired farmhand.”
Not true. Hamish is one of those gifted people, who not only brims with ideas, but also has the drive and talent to put them into action. And he wears a smile the whole time.