Okanagan Fruit

A Piece Of British Columbia History

Interested in the history behind the Okanagan fruit industry? I'm glad you asked :-)

Cultivated fruits have been grown in BC since the early 1800's, but the commercial orchard industry in the Okanagan Valley began just over a hundred years ago.

In 1946, the BC Fruit Growers Association, who had already been in the apple business for over 50 years, created BC Fruit Processing Ltd. to produce and sell a pure 100% apple juice, made with apples straight from the orchard.

The organization was founded as a profitable alternative to use their process-grade apples in production rather than throwing them out. They named their new juice "Sun-Rype".

BC History Before The Okanagan - The Early 1800's

European explorers introduced many fruits to North America and the western world. Stocks of grafted fruit tress were transported across the America's by wagon and transplanted in regions of the Pacific Northwest where they thrived in the mild climate.

The Hudson's Bay Company planted the first apple seeds in 1826 at Fort Vancouver (now Vancouver, Washington) before the establishment of the United States and Canadian boundaries. A few fruit trees were planted at various Hudson's Bay forts in the Pacific Northwest, including the Fraser Valley, and Vancouver Island. As well, a few private orchard farms were established.

In 1846 Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island planted a 6 acre orchard laid out with apples, pears, and peaches. The first export of apples from Vancouver Island was in 1861, and though there were a number of large orchards (5 - 25 acres) successfully producing fruit, they were not growing enough to sustain demand, and much fruit was still being imported to BC from California, Oregon and Washington State.

The first apple trees were planted on B.C's mainland in 1859, and just a few short years later, were producing tremendous quality fruit to include apples, peaches, plums and pears.

As commercial orcharding followed the Cariboo gold seekers from the fruit rich coastal British Columbia to the Interior (Okanagan Valley) region, significant prices were paid for this much welcomed fruit as it arrived.

As time went on through the 1860's apples were being planted farther north in areas of Lillooet, Lytton, Cache Creek and other small settlements near Kamloops.

Father Charles Pandosy

In 1859, a French Catholic mission, Father Charles John Felex Adolphe Marie Pandosy, arrived in the Okanagan and established the first white settlement in the valley. In 1862, Father Pandosy planted the first Okanagan fruit trees, apple seedlings, which were brought from the St. Mary's Mission in the Fraser.

Other early settlers in the Okanagan concentrated their agricultural efforts on growing grain and cattle ranching, but over time began to grow small plantings of fruit trees, mostly to supply themselves.

Although paying high prices for fruit that was brought in was difficult, the region wasn't yet suited for growing commercial orchards. The absence of a needed railroad for rapid and gentle transportation of crops was a barrier to getting fruit to a larger market.

As time passed, the Pandosy mission expanded their crops with other fruits, and gave names to apple varieties such as 'Fallawater'. They bought nursery stock at Olympia and transported it up the Columbia to the Okanagan Valley by canoe.

For several years, the Pandosy Mission was the only orchard in the area.

Father Pandosy died in Penticton in 1891, and in the same year, Lord Aberdeen (Sir John Campbell Hamilton Gordon, 7th Earl and 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair), a Scottish born politician and colonial governor, purchased 13,000 acres of land in Coldstream BC (The Coldstream Ranch) and moved there to pioneer fruit farming.

John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, Earl of Aberdeen and Temair

Lord Aberdeen, former Governor General of Canada, and his wife purchased, sight unseen, 480 acres of land (The McDougall Ranch) near the Okanagan Mission, in 1890, while touring through Canada. This property was intended as a home for Lady Aberdeen's brother. This ranch was named 'Guisachan', after the estate of Lady Aberdeen's father.

In 1892, two 100 acre lots of orchards were planted on the two Aberdeen estates. Okanagan fruit trees included apricots, peaches, apples, crabapples, prunes, cherries, plums, raspberry canes and strawberries.

Lord Aberdeen was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1893 and held this position for five years. The Aberdeen's built a jam factory at Vernon to process the much anticipated crops of the small berry fruits, and subdivided a portion of their Coldstream property, selling 900 acres in just a year.

The Aberdeen's grew the Coldstream Ranch into one of the largest producers of fruit in the British Empire. But not without it's difficulties. Improper care, and other factors, caused problems with the hundreds of acres of Okanagan fruit planted on the Guisachan and Coldstream estates, and by 1896 the entire Guisachan planting was pulled, as well as most of the Coldstream orchard, delaying fruit producing crops for another number of years.

Following the Aberdeen's early footsteps other commercial growers began planting large orchards, while other ranchers and farmers planted smaller orchards.

By 1900 the Okanagan had over 1 million fruit trees growing.

Development Of Okanagan Fruit Industry

As the economic depression began to ease after the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, the Okanagan fruit industry began to flourish.

John Moore (JM) Robinson, a prairie farmer from Manitoba traveled to the Okanagan on a gold mine venture near Lake Okanagan in 1897. This venture failed, however Mr. Robinson saw the potential of the fruit industry and began selling land to interested prospects in an area he called 'Peachland'.

He then expanded his developments to include the Summerland (1906), and Naramata (1907) settlements, setting up irrigation and enticing settlers into fruit farming in the communities of Peachland, Summerland and Naramata.

In 1910 Penticton heard news that it would be the headquarters for the new Kettle Valley Railway, and the rail would finally link transportation between the coast and the Kootenays. The railway would provide a much needed form of efficient transportation for local products, opening the entire Okanagan fruit orchard industry to more distant markets.

With Penticton's economic future secure, the railway's arrival brought multitudes of jobs and the town's population more than doubled by the time the line was finished in 1914.

The Historical Laurel Packing House

The Laurel Packinghouse was built over the winter of 1917-18, by Ward & Baldock, a well known local contractor for BC Grower's Ltd.

The building is built of bricks made from the clay from Knox Mountain and was a working packinghouse until the 1970s. It is the oldest and largest standing packinghouse of its kind in British Columbia, which served fruit shippers, both independent and cooperative.

Byron McDonald, a salesman for the Fruit and Produce Exchange in Ottawa, came to Kelowna in 1907 to take the position of manager of the Kelowna Farmers' Exchange. In 1913 McDonald established an independent fruit shipping house, BC Growers Ltd., and the Laurel Packinghouse building was later constructed. The company was sold in 1923 during the move to consolidate fruit handling.

The fruit industry eventually changed to the point that the building was no longer suitable for the modern technology of fruit packing. Today the Laurel Packinghouse stands as a designated heritage site and is home to the British Columbia Orchard Industry Museum.

Summerland Research Station
Developing New Varieties Of Fruit

With some successful, and some not so successful, Okanagan fruit growing came innovation, technology, and horticultural research.

The Dominion Experimental Farm, also known as the Summerland Research Station, was established in the Summerland 'dry belt' area in 1914 for trialing different fruit varieties, and studying fruit growing methods such as fertilization, pruning, disease resistance and hardiness.

The first apple breeding program began in 1924 by R.C. Plamer.

Over the years, apple varieties produced included Sinta, Spartan and Summerred apples, as well as cherry varieties including Star, Van cherries, Lapins, Stella and the Sam cherry. The Skaha apricot was also the product of the Summerland Research Station.

Today, the Agriculture Canada's Pacific Agri-Food Research Station, scientists are continuing to develop new varieties of apples, cherries, grapes and other fruits.

SunRype Canada & Okanagan Fruit History

The BC Fruit Processing Ltd company was incorporated in 1946, and in 1959, changed it's name to Sun-Rype Products Ltd. In the initial years a variety of other products were also manufactured, including apple sauce, dehydrated apples and pie filling.

In 1963, Sun-Rype joined the Fraser Valley Milk Producers Association to distribute juice cartons on Vancouver milk routes. In 1979, it became the first juice manufacturing company in Canada to provide tetra packaging for its 250 ml and 1 L juice packs.

Sun-Rype has since expanded their line of 100 percent juices to include a wide range of Okanagan fruit treats and fruit snacks.

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