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A Fruitful Century

Response to the Report

A fruitful century

The MacPhee Report was not available early enough to be used to any extent in preparing the resolutions discussed at the 1959 B.C.F.G.A. Convention, but Dean MacPhee spoke at length to the meeting, outlining his findings and answering questions. A Special General Meeting of the B.C.F.G.A. to consider the MacPhee Report was held at Penticton on April 21,1959, after the growers had had time to absorb it. Various resolutions were passed: one reaffirmed the confidence of growers in orderly marketing in light of the Report (Resolution 24). Another approved the appointment of a single general manager for all the industry companies, in order to coordinate and consolidate control (Resolution 6). Resolution 27 called on the Executive to investigate packinghouse amalgamation, and Resolution 3 supported MacPhee’s suggestions that the federal government revamp the Farm Loan Board. Finally, growers called on the provincial government for a grant to cover tree losses in the 1955 freeze (Resolution 4).

In the Sun-Rype storage room.Courtesy Kelowna Centennial Museum

Several issues brought forward at the Royal Commission hearings had been addressed even before the MacPhee Report was released. The evident lack in communication between governing bodies and growers was at least partially remedied by the start of publication of the B.C.F.G.A. Quarterly Report in June, 1956. Four times a year this magazine brought the growers information on the operation of the B.C.F.G.A. and the marketing organizations, as well as information on pests and other matters of horticultural concern. Changes in the pooling scheme in 1957 greatly reduced the practice of one variety or grade subsidizing another variety or grade, thus moving closer towards reflecting the market in the pools.

Vignette: The Portuguese

The ethnic makeup of the fruit growing population of the Okanagan has changed greatly in the last forty years, as the early heavy concentration of British growers has been gradually diluted by members of other ethnic groups. Often these men and women originally appeared as immigrant labourers, then purchased orchards and established themselves in the industry.

The most concentrated and visible of these new groups is the Portuguese, who settled mostly in the southern portion of the Okanagan Valley.

Portuguese immigration began in 1954, as a result of a deliberate policy on the part of the Canadian Immigration department to bring in workers for the farming and fishing industries, which were then suffering from a shortage of labour. It was fostered by the Portuguese government to relieve overpopulation in the Azores Islands, from which three-quarters of the immigrants came. A thousand Portuguese came to Canada in 1954, two thousand in each of the next two years, and about three thousand yearly after that. About a fifth of these came to British Columbia.

Although many of the Portuguese men came to the southern Okanagan with experience in orchards in the Azores, when they first arrived starting in 1957, they were employed as unskilled, seasonal, day-labour by the local orchardists. They picked and thinned and worked in the vegetable fields, and were laid off during the winter. Handicapped by a language barrier, they were hired on the basis of their appearance. “The biggest and strongest were chosen first because . . . they had to work long hours to pick the fruit.” But as they gained experience and the trust of the growers, they soon took on more skilled year-round work such as pruning and management.

Within a few years many of the migrants laid down roots in the southern Okanagan. Once they had saved enough to bring their wives and children from Portugal, their dreams turned to owning orchards rather than working as hired labour. Through hard work and careful saving, they have achieved such goals, to the point where about half of the orchards in the Oliver-Osoyoos area are owned by Portuguese-Canadians. One immigrant, Jose Martins, recalls, “We felt bad about leaving Portugal [during] the first two years of living in Canada, but over the years you like it more here and you forget more about your home country.”

The federal government did come through with a revised farm financing system. The Farm Credit Act, passed in 1959, was intended to make “it possible for younger, more energetic farmers to take up farming as a permanent occupation and to establish themselves more quickly.” The Farm Credit Corporation, with a greater degree of flexibility on loans than the commercial institutions or the old Farm Loan Board, became a major source of long-term financing for growers. 19 The provincial government was not as amenable to MacPhee’s suggestions and proved uninterested in providing any tree loss grant to help cover the damage from the 1955 freeze; at the 1962 Convention, the Executive reported that it had finally given up trying to persuade the government to act on that particular recommendation by its own Royal Commissioner.

Consolidation of packing facilities did not take place immediately, but the seed was planted, and over ensuing years there was a gradual process of amalgamation. During the 1957 season, B.C. Tree Fruits sold the product of sixty-one packing houses, owned by thirty-six cooperative societies, twenty independent shippers, and five growershippers; fifteen years later the number had shrunk to twenty-four packing houses, operated by fourteen cooperatives and four independent shippers. But this consolidation came largely from efforts of the houses concerned rather than through action by the B.C.F.G.A. Indeed, when Art Garrish arranged the amalgamation of the Oliver, Osoyoos, Kaleden, southern McFitz, and Keremeos and Similkameen United houses, he met with considerable opposition from the B.C.F.G.A. Executive who were concerned about a single house becoming strong enough to dictate to B.C. Tree Fruits.”

The favourable MacPhee Report cut most of the ground from underneath the Okanagan- Kootenay Co-operative Growers’ Association. The rebels fired a few final salvos, producing a petition calling for direct voting by growers in the election of the marketing board and the abolition of the entire system of control of the central marketing scheme by the B.C.F.G.A. But they found little support among growers, and gradually the dissidence died away, although some echoes remained for many years and several times when conditions were temporarily tight, revival of the rebel association was proposed. But by 1972 even Alf Biech, who had been spokesman for the dissidents, was back. He was elected Chairman of the Oliver Local of the B.C.F.G.A.-from which position he continued to agitate for a change in the policy of B.C. Tree Fruits concerning to whom it would sell fruit wholesale.