What Leslie Bradford-Scott did not tell the group of more than 100 businesswomen at the meeting of the Women’s Business Network of Peterborough last night (October 4) was that the entire thought of telling her personal story to a group that large rattled her.
“It was terrifying to get up in front of these women to tell my story,” she told kawarthaNOW following her presentation called ‘The Garden That Grew Her’ — one that left mouths hanging in awe of her resilience.
Bradford-Scott had anything but a smooth path to her current success as the co-founder of Walton Wood Farm in Bailieboro and the creative genius behind its funky gift products. Even Leonardo Di Caprio and the cast of The Revenant received Walton Wood Farm hand cream, as an item included in the Screen Actors Guild Awards gift bag in 2016.
The daughter of an international mobster, Bradford-Scott’s early childhood was like a fairy tale — complete with a dream and a multitude of obstacles to overcome.
“As a little girl, I didn’t have a care in the world,” she told the group, as she showed slides of her picturesque family home in Grimsby and the small secluded “writer’s cabin” down the road she imagined one day would be hers.
From Grade 1, Bradford-Smith dreamed of being a writer. She read insatiably and eventually turned to writing poems and stories to escape turmoil that started to seep into her life the day her father — her ‘god’ in her words — told her she wasn’t smart enough to be a writer, and wasn’t ‘male’ enough to be an airline pilot (her backup plan). She was eight then.
Not long after, she walked home from school to find police officers loading all the family belongings into a moving truck. Her mother whisked her away without explanation to a motel in Florida, where she lived with her mother, grandmother, and older brother until the family found a new home. It was years later she learned about her father’s “business” and that he’d been whisked away to prison as she was shipped south.
Her older brother helped to raise Bradford-Scott until he was killed by a drunk driver. She was 16 then.
At 17, she vowed to right the world by joining the U.S. Coast Guard. Still carrying her little-girl dream of being a writer, she took a post on Kure Atoll — an isolated island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There, she could write.
And she did, fulfilling the passion she has refused to abandon.
She married a Special Forces Greet Beret — “one of the most highly trained killers in the world.” She raised her two daughters, living in mortal fear of her husband for 15 years.
“He told me if I left him he would find us and burn all of us,” she said.
She did leave him, and then she was a single woman with two children and a dog to feed. She took a job selling cars because it “came with a car.”
“I was determined to feed those two girls and the dog,” she said. The job was far from stimulating.
“I became so mind-numbingly bored, I was forced to go back to my childhood dream,” she said.
This time, she tried her hand at screenwriting. She wrote her plays on post-it notes that she would keep in her suit-jacket pocket until she got home at night, fed the girls, and put them to bed. Then she’d transfer them to computer.
Fate has relentlessly teased Bradford-Scott. She won an award at an international film festival and had 17 requests from producers to consider her screenplay. None came to fruition but her confidence grew to the point that, when her boss downgraded her salary, she chose the door.
Her girls were older, and Bradford-Scott found herself a cabin where she wrote another screenplay. This one also won first place in a festival and was optioned out, but the company producing it went bankrupt.
When she ran out of money after about nine months writing in the cabin, she took a job selling recreational vehicles near Killarney Provincial Park. She would retreat to the park on weekends and it was on one of those truncated trips into the park — one she had to make by floatplane to get back to work on time — that she met the man who is now her husband and partner in Walton Wood Farm.
“I had to trust that Peter wouldn’t be a snapperhead idiot like the other men I’d known,” she said.
He wasn’t. He was a pilot, though. Now Bradford-Scott is also a pilot — another dream realized.
Peter also longed to return to his roots as a farmer. They found the Baileboro property and bought it, with the goal of finding a way to preserve the farming heritage that shaped this part of the country. That would require a money-making venture still had to be determined.
Bradford-Scott says she tried a lot of things before landing on the one that worked in 2014. She was 49 then.
“The one thing that had saved me my entire life was a hot bath,” she said. “It was where I could regain my sanity, then get into my fuzzy pyjamas, go to bed, and hit restart to face the next day.”
Bath salts it was.
But, of course, Bradford-Scott is a writer. So bath salts, with stories. And her stories are good. They are peppered with inside-out cynicism that is twisted into an edgy humour. The number-one product she sells now is B’Ver Balm. You can guess from the name: it’s a feminine shaving salve.
The success of Walton Wood Farm is partly due to the resilience Bradford-Scott developed over the years, but also to a foray on the CBC hit television show Dragons’ Den in 2016.
There, dragon Jim Treliving (chairman and owner of Boston Pizza International Inc.) offered to buy her business for $2 million. Fate was teasing with that offer too, though: the other dragons picked on Treliving to the point where he walked away from the set — and that unbelievable offer. In the end, she accepted a $150,000 investment for a 12 per cent stake in her company by Manjit Minhas, co-founder and co-owner of Minhas Breweries, Distillery and Wineries.
Walton Wood Farm products are no longer made in the farmhouse kitchen; the company operates from a factory. Not only are the products sold locally, they’re also sold in more than 1,000 brick-and-mortar outlets across Canada and the United States. And Bradford-Scott still indulges her first passion of writing with her natural business ability: she writes almost all the stories that accompany her products.
Against all odds, Bradford-Scott was determined to succeed.
“I didn’t care how long it would take me to be successful,” she says. “I just did it,”
But she also remembers the rocks she’s stumbled upon.
“I see my life a lot like a movie,” she says. “I’m the person getting chased by the guy with the axe. I picture I’m living in a garden and pulling weeds. All gardens have weeds. Bad things happen to people. You’re not getting off this planet without that happening.”
The idea, she says, is to work through the fear.
“Be relentless,” she says. “If you’re scared, push yourself along.”