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