This article is part of the Vernon Archives’ “Roots of Green: Unearthing Horticultural History” series.
Thanks to a recent donation, the Vernon Archives now boasts an enhanced coverage of the history of horticulture in the Greater Vernon area. This topic will be explored in a series of articles over the next few months.
In the mid-1990s, Wray McDonnell, an Agrologist and Program Manager for horticulture with the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, decided to take on the task of documenting some history of horticulture extension in the province of B.C. McDonnell worked with a number of retired horticulturists to collect their stories, copies of which have been donated to the Vernon Archives so that they can be preserved for future generations.
The following information was provided by one such horticulturalist, Alec Watt of Summerland, who retired from the industry in 1981. Watt was the district’s pear specialist, and was credited with discovering the “spur-type” variant of the Macintosh apple in 1967. He also had a superb knowledge of the history of the industry in which he was employed.
In Watt’s words, district horticulturists had worked with B.C. fruit growers since the Provincial Government established a field service early in the 20th Century. These individuals were first called district field inspectors, and some came from as far away as Scotland to fill this role.
The period from World War Two to the 1960s was one of rapid technological and horticultural change. Concentrate sprayers gradually replaced the cumbersome gun sprayers of earlier years; sprinkler irrigation replaced furrow irrigation; new chemicals arrived on the scene; and herbicides were introduced for the first time. That same time also saw many older fruit trees in the Valley destroyed by a series of harsh winters, including whole orchards of peaches, apricots, and cherries.
iN high demand
This era kept horticulturalist particularly busy, as they moved here and there helping growers to adjust to these drastic changes. They administered government aid programs, work which continues to this day, and, according to Watt, there was hardly a major scientific development in the fruit industry in which the horticulturists were not involved.
They continued to be in high-demand in the 1970s and ‘80s, when Watt retired, both among professional growers and home gardeners. Watt recalled one grower calling a horticulturist at 6:00 AM to find out what to put in his sprayer tank; the horticulturist then phoned him back at 11:00 PM to ask how he had gotten on with his spraying.
Despite their vital importance to the Okanagan agriculture industry since their earliest days until today, the hard work of district horticulturalists over the years has gone somewhat unacknowledged. It is thanks to individuals like McDonnell and Watt, in collaboration with growers, that people across the Valley are able to enjoy world-class fruit throughout the year.
To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!
Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives