1949: A Year of Disaster

Packing at Penticton, about 1947.Courtesy Kelowna Centennial Museum

With the apple crop of 1949, all the chickens came home to roost at once. The Austerity Program limitations on imports had been lifted, currency restrictions still prevented sales in most offshore markets, freight rates to eastern Canada nearly doubled, and crops were heavy across Canada, with the Okanagan production up more than a million boxes from the previous year. Despite all efforts to dispose of apples in the domestic market, there was a surplus of about a million and a half boxes which could not be disposed of without demoralizing the market. When all other efforts failed, these were shipped free of charge to Britain, which had been able to afford regular purchases of only 434,000 boxes. The federal government was eventually prevailed upon to pay two million dollars to recompense growers for their "Gift to Britain", but this left a net return of only about seventy cents a bushel on those apples. Domestic prices were also down, considerable amounts of the lower grades were diverted to the processors, and apples returned the grower an average price, including culls, of only sixty cents a bushel, down fifty-five cents from the previous year.

Injury from the "big freeze" of January, 1950.Courtesy Summerland Research Station, Agriculture Canada

Hard on the heels of the sales disappointment, Mother Nature took a swing at the growers. In January, 1950, an invasion of cold, dry polar air with record low temperatures accompanied by chilling, drying winds lasted for several weeks. Approximately twenty per cent of the fruit trees in B.C. were killed, and many more were injured. Damage was worst in the Upper Fraser-Thompson region, where 54 per cent of trees were killed. In the Okanagan the kill varied from a low of seven per cent in the Penticton-Naramata area to a high of 28 per cent in Oliver-Osoyoos. Creston escaped the worst of the freeze, losing only four per cent of its trees. In all, 366,110 trees were lost in the Okanagan Valley. The B.C.F.G.A. lobbied for government assistance to offset the disaster, but could only arrange for a provincial grant of $250,000, which roughly paid the cost of replacement trees, but gave nothing towards the cost of replanting or revenues lost while those trees came into bearing.

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