This article is part of the Vernon Archives’ “Roots of Green: Unearthing Horticultural History” series. Thank you to Wray McDonnell for his help.

A sepia image taken inside a hall showing a large display of vegetablrs.
A display of fruits and vegetables grown in Vernon circa 1910. In his role as District Horticulturalist, Maurice King took measures to guarantee the ongoing inclusion of judged produce displays as an integral part of community fairs.

Earl Maurice King

Horticulture is a branch of agriculture that is concerned with the cultivation of plants for food or for ornament, and B.C. is a haven for both. Given the diverse flora that graces our landscapes, horticulturists here often specialize in specific crops.

In 1954, Earl Maurice King, fondly called Maurie, took on the role of vegetable specialist for the interior of British Columbia. Based in Kelowna, he dedicated 12 years to collaborating with other District Horticulturalists and District Agriculturalists across the Okanagan Valley, the Kootenays, Central B.C., and the Peace River.  

AGS VERSUS HORTS

Incidentally, the difference between District Agriculturalists and District Horticulturalists lies in their primary areas of focus. While agriculturalists collaborate with livestock, dairy, poultry, and swine producers, horticulturalists concentrate on fruits, vegetables, and related crops like grapes and nursery stock. Both the “Ags” and “Horts,” as they were commonly known, were required to have a deep understanding of farmers and farms in their districts. This involved on-farm visits, field days, meetings, newsletters, office consultations, and more. Sometimes, it demanded considerable empathy to address growers’ concerns around low market returns, pest and disease issues, weather-related losses, and financial pressures. After all, farming is inherently a risky venture!

King’s responsibilities as a vegetable specialist extended beyond crop expertise. Notably, when financial challenges led the provincial Department of Agriculture to withdraw its official support for judging exhibitions and fall fairs, King stepped up. He organized workshops to share the standards of perfection in fruits, vegetables, and flowers, ensuring that events like the I.P.E. could continue hosting judged exhibitions.

Workforce Diversification 

Looking back on his time in this role, King highlights that it was mostly women who took on the responsibility of horticultural judging after the Department of Agriculture’s withdrawal. The demonstrated expertise of women in this role likely played a part in the Department’s decision to hire its first female extension horticulturalists in the 1960s, a trend that continued into the ’70s and ’80s.

Even after King concluded his role as District Horticulturalist in 1966 upon relocating to Victoria, his commitment to the province’s agricultural community continued for an additional 18 years. During this period, he served in various capacities, ranging from establishing a federal-provincial crop insurance program to assuming the role of Associate Deputy Minister of Agriculture. He also ventured into entrepreneurship, managing his own agricultural consulting company in the later years of his career.

King passed away on December 21, 2023, at the age of 102.

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives