A black-and-white image of a table covered with a white table cloth and laden with a variety of vegetables including carrots, potatoes, and turnips. Large cabbages are placed on the ground beside the table.
A vegetable display at Vernon’s first agricultural fair in 1891.

132 Years ago

Today marks 132 years since Vernon hosted its first fall fair, an event which was organized by the Okanagan and Spallumcheen Agricultural Society and described as “a thorough success.”

On October 15, 1891, locals and visitors alike poured into the City to take in the bounty of the season. Surprisingly, the exact building in which the fair was hosted is unknown, but it was described as “prettily decorated with corn, hops and evergreens, the whole forming a pleasing effect, while great taste was displayed in arranging the exhibits in the most attractive manner.”

A variety of exhibits

On entering the building, the first display that caught the eye was that of the Columbia Flouring Mill from Enderby. This display consisted of sacks of their three well-known flour brands and small bottles containing samples of fall and spring wheat grown in the district. Beyond this was an exhibit of stoves and hardware by William Joseph Armstrong.

Two more mercantile exhibits followed, a harness and saddlery collection by W. R. Megaw, and a furniture display by J. C. Campbell. A “wonderful display” of produce featured cabbages and beets, grain, fruit and other vegetables, and, according to the Vernon News, “a more magnificent display has not been shown in the Province.” The samples of grain were described as particularly “astonishing and delightful” for even the most critical of onlookers.

There were also a variety of judged livestock displays; J. T. Steele dominated the Durham division, while Forbes Vernon took the top spots in the Hereford division. Meanwhile, Price Ellison received first prize for “best stallion.” Judges also viewed sheep, chickens, and cows, as well as awarded prizes for “best bush potatoes,” “best 5lbs of butter” and “best sample of two bread loaves.”

Celebrate guests 

Guests came as far away as the coast to visit the fair, thanks to the arrival of the first passenger train in Vernon, which coincided with the event and marked the near-completion of the S & O Railway. Many of the region’s most-well known settlers were also in attendance, including the Lord and Lady Aberdeen, Moses Lumby, E. J. Tronson, and Luc Girouard.  

For some time, the Okanagan and Spallumcheen Agricultural Society fair was considered the largest exhibition of its kind in the B.C. Interior, a title which was later surrendered to Armstrong’s Interior Provincial Exhibition. Vernon continued to host agricultural fairs into the 1960s, with a particularly popular one at the Civic Arena in 1964, and featuring horse demonstrations, flower shows, and other agricultural exhibits.

Eventually, as the popularity of the IPE continued to grow, Vernon exhibitors and fairgoers decided to journey a little ways north to take in this bigger event, and the city stop hosting its own fall fair.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

 

 

For the months of June and July, we are thrilled to present a series of blog posts by Collections Intern Rebeka Beganova. Rebeka (she/her) is a post-secondary student with a passion for research, literature, and history. Having completed an Associate of Arts Degree at Okanagan College, she is glad to be joining the MAV team during her last summer in Vernon before heading off to UBC Vancouver. There is no better way to say goodbye to her hometown than to explore its local history!

A display of Vernon fruit at the Spokane Fruit Fair, 1909.

International Renown

With the summer in full swing, Vernon residents are once again reminded of the delicacy that is Okanagan-grown fruit. Fresh produce is a staple in seasonal menus, and it has been for over a century. Even in 1891, fruit production and export was projected as a leading industry in the Okanagan. Lists predicting the most profitable harvests were published in the Vernon News each year, along with detailed diagrams for fruit packing that included satisfying photographs of the desired results (such as the one included here). All the effort for quality and aesthetics was not wasted, as the fame of Okanagan fruit soon reached around the world. In 1905, the Royal Horticultural Society Exhibition in London awarded eight silver medals to produce submissions from the BC area – and five of those went to Okanagan growers.

A black-and-white image of a man wearing a cap and suspenders and standing next to a stack of apple boxes.
An unknown man pictured with stacks of fruit boxes, 1920. Behind the fame of Okanagan fruit was (and is) the labour of countless workers.

Swallow the apples, not the pride

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the glory of the fruit industry became a point of fierce pride for many. Innumerable newspaper articles either explicitly or implicitly compared Vernon produce to that of other places. In the late 1800s, a scheme by American companies was uncovered where they were apparently re-branding Canadian apples as the “best American apples” before shipping out to England. Their own products, along with lower-quality Canadian, were passed off as belonging solely to the latter. The indignation and disgust was clear in local reports of these events.

 A humourous example of how quickly pride could take hold is the time a prosperous peach tree sprung up at Trout Creek. An excited letter from the president of a mining company cropped up in the papers, in which he stated, “I am more convinced than ever that we are quite likely to become a good deal more than small potatoes in peach production.” Keep in mind, this comment came about after witnessing one promising tree. A reply was printed shortly after, where a Mr. Robinson (who, to his credit, at least tasted the peaches) “found them, if anything, larger and of better flavor than [those of] the Lambly ranch.” Simply put, Vernon and surrounding areas felt unbeatable in their industry.

Defending one’s Honour

Nothing raised the fruit growers’ hackles quite like public attacks from the competition. In 1892, the president of the Ontario Fruit-Growers’ Association, Mr. Boulter, reported to the Winnipeg Free Press that there was no Okanagan equal to Ontario produce. In response, a two-column long, front-page article appeared in the Vernon News, praising BC fruit and rebuffing the outspoken commentator. The colourful language included one memorable metaphor, where the passionate statements of a local grower were compared to “some of the Okanagan fruit, hurling at the devoted head of the indiscreet Mr. Boulter.” Similar gripes were displayed against Calgary spokesmen and innocent people remarking about fruit pests.

In the end, perhaps these moments of heated argumentation are to be excused; a reputation, if well-earned, deserves a strong defence. However, as we enjoy the beaches and fruit stands, recall that tempers can boil just as easily as delicious produce under the summer sun.

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

Rebeka Beganova, Collections Intern

 

 

Five red cherries hanging between green leaves on brown stems.

International Cherry Pit Spitting Day

Since 1974, the first Saturday of each July has been celebrated as International Cherry Pit Spitting Day, after a pit spitting tournament was held as a joke at a picnic in Eau Claire, Michigan. Now, pit spitting events are held annually around the world, with the Canadian National Pit Spitting Championship being a feature of the Cherryfest in Blenheim, Ontario. The current world record for the greatest distance to spit a cherry stone is a whopping 93’6.5”, set by Brian “Young Gun” Krause in 2004.

Fruit in the OkanaganA bowl of cherries on a towel and picnic table. The bowl is white enamel on the inside and yellow on the outside. It is full of red cherries. The towel is wide with a red band on the right. In front of the bowl of cherries, also on the table, is five loose cherries. To the left of the bowl is a mason jar holding water and small white herb-like flowers on green stems.

Fruit has grown in the Okanagan since time immemorial, with Saskatoon berries, blueberries, strawberries, huckleberries, gooseberries, black berries, black currants, and raspberries making up part of the traditional syilx diet. Chokecherries also grow in abundance, a fact evidenced in the names Cherryville and Cherry Creek. But cherries as we now think of them—the dark, round juicy nuggets that grace the Valley during the summer months—are a cultivated species that was introduced by European settlers.

The first non-native fruit trees were planted by Catholic missionaries of the Oblate Order at their Mission of the Immaculate Conception on Okanagan Lake in 1862. The first seedlings were apples, and one of these trees actually continued to fruit until it was killed by cold weather in 1955. Cherries did not arrive until 1892, when 500 trees were planted by Lord and Lady Aberdeen at Vernon’s Coldstream Ranch.

Little Cherry Disease

The construction of the Grey Canal allowed water-loving plants like cherry trees to thrive in the sunny Okanagan Valley. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing after the canal’s completion in 1914; in the 1930s, Little Cherry Disease struck cherry trees across BC, first in Nelson and then later spreading to devastate orchards across the Kootenays.

A blue helicopter flying over green cherry trees, In the background is a lake, and behind that a mountain with trees and several clear cuttings.
A helicopter flying low over an Oyama orchard to gently blow the water off of ripening cherries in 2012.

Quarantine measures were put in place in the hopes that the disease, which causes small, bitter, insipid fruit, would not make it to the Okanagan. Unfortunately, in 1969, an orchard in Penticton was found to be infected, and by 1977, 1,400 cherry trees throughout the Okanagan had to be removed. Little Cherry Disease continues to be monitored and managed by the provincial government.   

Due in part to a 2014 trade agreement which allowed BC cherries to be exported to China, the fruit has become a boom crop, with new orchards popping up all the time to satisfy an insatiable local and international demand.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator