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

A black and white image showing several sets of televisions on display in a shop.
A display of television at Vernon’s Hudson Bay Co. store circa 1960. This new technology was used by District Horticulturalist to connect with the Okanagan Valley’s growers.

A new technology debuts

Television made its debut in the Okanagan Valley in September 1957 with the launch of CHBC in Kelowna. At the onset, only 500 households owned television sets, but this figure surged to 10,000 by 1958. Among those quick to embrace this innovation were the Valley’s District Horticulturalists.

In April of 1958, Roy Chapman, general manager of CHBC, offered the horticultural branch 15 minutes of free airtime each week. Mike Oswell, who was serving as the District Horticulturalist for Vernon at the time, was assigned the responsibility of supervising the program. Initially, he hesitated to take on this task, since all television broadcasts were distributed live at the time, leaving little margin for error.

Okanagan farm and garden

Nevertheless, within a mere two weeks, Oswell has devised a program to occupy the 6:00 PM weekly slot, titled “Okanagan Farm and Garden.” The show aimed to share vital information on insect and disease control via a series of guest speakers. In its first episode, the discussion focused on fire blight, a destructive disease capable of decimating blossoms and shoots, leading to branch dieback in apple and pear trees.

Following the first three episodes, CHBC asked Oswell to expand the program to 30 minutes, which he willingly accepted. The ensuing discussions covered a wide array of topics including home vegetable gardening, lawn maintenance, sheep farming, the 4H program, and weed eradication. Some episodes even featured live animals. The studio atmosphere was described as relaxed and amiable, with surprisingly few technical difficulties. Oswell hosted the program for a year before passing the baton to Bob Wilson, District Horticulturalist for Kelowna.

chautauquas

In 1963, the channel introduced another horticultural-themed show called Chesterfield Chautauqua (named after the Chautauqua meetings utilized by the horticultural branch as a vital extension activity), allowing growers to phone in queries and receive live responses. By 1964, the program had been renamed Sunrise Chautauqua. CHBC continued airing horticultural programs until the 1970s, when airtime was no longer freely available. Consequently, the branch could not sustain this initiative financially, but fortunately, other extension projects ensured that District Horticulturalists remained available to assist both new and seasoned growers.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

 

 

 

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

A colour image of a group of people standing on a green lawn, with a small tree in front of them.
A group of OVTFA summer students and supervising horticulturalists at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, circa 1991. Pictured from left to right are Adrienne Roberts, assistant to the OVTFA’s CEO; Mike Sanders, Ministry Apple Specialist in Kelowna; Helmut Arndt, Ministry Horticulturalist in Kelowna; Ross Hudson, CEO of the OVTFA; Tim Watson, Ministry Horticulturalist in Oliver; Peter Waterman, Ministry Horticulturist in Penticton; an unknown summer student from Penticton; Lisa Jarrett, summer student from Kelowna; an unknown summer student; an unknown summer student; and Marie Pattison, Director of Finance and Admin for the OVTFA. Photo courtesy of Wray McDonnell.

The role of summer students

During the summer months, students play a vital supportive role for numerous businesses and industries throughout the Okanagan Valley, including those of horticulture and agriculture.

In July 1990, the Government of British Columbia established the Okanagan Valley Tree Fruit Authority (OVTFA), a new crown corporation aimed at rejuvenating the tree fruit industry, which had been suffering from poor market returns. The organization primarily focused on supporting replanting efforts and addressing production-related issues. Under the management of Wray MacDonnell, teams of summer students were enlisted to aid in extension activities, facilitating the industry’s transition from traditional, large apple orchards to more modern, high-density and profitable plantings.

Earlier times

Even in earlier times, the industry relied on student labour; in 1935, a young Maurice Welsh spent two weeks boring apple trees and administering boron compounds, which play a crucial role in flower development and fruit production. Dr. Welsh eventually rose to become the Head of the Plant Pathology Laboratory at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland, and later served as the town’s District Horticulturalist.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, summer students were involved in developing a leaf analysis technique to identify hidden deficiencies or nutrient imbalances in trees, often tasked with sample collection. Around the same time, students were hired to aid in maintaining the Valley’s tomato crop. The industry would arrange for the rental of vehicles for students who lacked their own transportation, enabling them to travel between different sites.

A stepping stone to a successful career

Welsh was not the sole student to achieve a successful career in the industry following a summer placement. In 1961, John Price began as a Summer Student at the Summerland Research Station, lodging in a house managed by Dr. Lyall Denby. At first, the students remained near the boarding house, cautious of the distinct wildlife in the Okanagan, as Denby had warned them about rattlesnakes, scorpions, and tomato hornworms inhabiting the area. However, their fear did not confine them for long, and Price later served as a District Horticulturalist for Oliver and Vernon.

Like the efforts of horticulturalists themselves, over the years students have offered invaluable yet occasionally unnoticed contributions to the agricultural sector; their recruitment has provided essential labor, fresh viewpoints, and contributed to the long-term sustainability of the industry.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

Colour photo of a group of horticulturalists posing at the side of a road in front of a lack. 18 men are pictured. Peter Humphry-Baker is pictured wearing a blue shirt.
Humphry-Baker, pictured front row third from right, in 1971 with a group of horticulturalists from across BC. This group of horticulture experts worked with many producers of crops other than tree fruits including vegetables, small fruits, grapes, etc. Photo courtesy of Wray McDonnell.

Peter Humphry-Baker

Peter Humphry-Baker, a World-War-Two Veteran born in India to British parents, began as District Horticulturalist in Vernon in March 1967. Approaching the position with “considerable interest and high expectations,” this marked his first ever visit to the Okanagan Valley. His initial impressions were shaped by the impressive size of its lakes and apples, and he was particularly struck by his first sighting of a planting of apricots.

After this initial wide-eyed delight, Humphry-Baker found the fruit growers to be a friendly and hospitable group who were ready to discuss their problems and toss around solutions in a frank and open manner. He quickly became a trusted member of the fruit growing scene.

The challenges begin

For the first few years of Humphry-Baker’s service, the agriculture office was located in the Vernon Court House, a building which he described as “the most prestigious in the City, with its wide steps leading up to the imposing granite columns that gave it an air of permanence and solid respectability.” He worked in this space with an entomologist, a veterinarian, an engineering officer, a vegetable specialist, a district agriculturalist, and two stenographers. They were said to be quite the merry crew.  

Humphry-Baker’s first winter in the Okanagan was one of the coldest the Valley had ever experienced, with temperatures in January of 1968 falling below 40°C. In this severe weather, he recounted hearing the bark splitting on trees, exposing their cambium layer and resulting in significant damage and casualties among them. The following spring and summer brought an extensive workload for Humphry-Baker as he worked diligently to support the fruit growers affected by this devastating event.

Successful Career

In 1969, Humphry-Baker played a role in introducing a computerized accounting system for fruit growers to streamline their monthly operations. Recognizing the growers’ limited experience in this domain, he organized a widely-attended financial forum. The event featured a panel comprising accountants, bankers, and real estate representatives.

During his time as District Horticulturalist, Humphry-Baker was also involved with a series of experiments involving fertilizer use, pollination, and the cottage winery industry. He remained in Vernon until 1973, when he became director of the Crop Insurance Branch in Victoria. Peter Humphry-Baker passed away on September 12, 2007.

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

 

 

 

This article is part of the Vernon Archives’ “Roots of Green: Unearthing Horticultural History” series.

A black and white image of a roadway in an orchard. Two men are standing next to an old-fashioned sprayer and are spraying a substance onto trees.
Two men spraying a Vernon orchard with a horse-drawn sprayer circa 1930.

wRAY McDonnell

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.

wwii-1960s

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