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