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