harvesting hops in coldstream


April 24, 2020

It was a migration of more than 250 kilometres that lasted three long days. From 1904 to 1912, members of the Nez Perce people from Washington State would travel up the Hudson’s Bay Brigade Trail to the Coldstream Ranch, where they would spend a few weeks each September harvesting hops.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Okanagan’s hop industry was thriving and E.V. de Lautour, an employee of the Coldstream Ranch, made arrangements with custom officials at the Canada – U.S. border crossing in Osoyoos to allow the Nez Perce to come up to Canada, skilled as they were in harvesting hops in their native Southern Washington.

Numbers varied each year, but usually around 100 men, women, children, and even babies strapped to cradleboards, made the long trek on horseback, with wagons to transport their belongings. At the ranch, they would carefully choose a site to set up their teepees, and every few weeks would move to fresh ground. Arrangements for sanitation and garbage disposal were made with Vernon officials.



Charlie Whilpocken, right, a Nez Perce who acted as the labour contractor in charge of choosing who would make the trip to the Ranch each year. With him is his wife and young daughter, who were among the pickers.


The pickers received $1 each per 8’ x 2’ x 2’ box of hops. It’s hard to determine if this was fair pay by the standards of the early 20th-century, since locals, not being as skilled in the task as the Nez Perce, were discourage d from applying for this work. However, some families were able to earn $20 to $30 for a month of work, which today would translate to $545 to $815, which was allegedly enough for them to subsist on throughout the winter.

Their annual migration and presence in the valley was a thrill for Vernonites, although the tendency to exoticism them was hard to escape. One early white settler stated that “one always went to see the hop picking at least once. And if you had guests you’d never dream of neglecting to take them to see the hop picking.”

Before returning to Washington, the Nez Perce usually made a stop at the Vernon Hudson’s Bay store, where they would spend some of their earnings purchasing high-quality blankets and other materials. Charlie Simms, the store’s manager, would take their orders before they returned home for delivery the next season.  

In 1912, during their last migration from Washington, a ranch employee named Patrick Bennett was sent to convoy the Nez Perce from the U.S. border to the ranch. Later, he wrote that “the Nez Perce were the most picturesque people one could meet. They withstood all efforts made by the white people to undermine their moral standards. These standards were of the highest, for they knew the difference between right and wrong, and had the intestinal fortitude to uphold what they thought was right.

“To see these people on parade at state social functions, such as the time the Duke of Connaught (a Governor-General of Canada) visited the ranch, was to behold a sight never-to-be-forgotten. The meeting of the Duke with the Chief was full of dignity and mutual respect. The regalia of the Nez Perce tribe, on this occasion, was something to compare with, or even surpass, the opening of Britain’s Parliament and Lord Mayor’s Day in London.”


Gwyn Evans