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A Fruitful Century

The Changing Okanagan

A fruitful century

It has been said that the history of Canada is the history of transportation. Certainly transportation has played a great part in the history of the fruit growing industry. The beginning of a new era of road access to the Okanagan, with the opening of the Hope-Princeton Flighway in 1949, the Rogers Pass section of the Trans-Canada Flighway in 1962, and the Okanagan Lake floating bridge in 1958, changed the conditions of fruit growing in the Okanagan in several ways.

The most immediate and obvious of these was the new means of transport available to the industry for getting its product to market. Longdistance truck haulage became a significant alternative to rail transport in the early 1950s. The proportion of B.C. Tree Fruits shipments going by truck rose from two per cent in 1951 to about twenty per cent by 1957. Today rail shipments have almost disappeared. But as well as making transportation easier for the organized selling system, the new roads also made it easier for those who wished to circumvent the system to avoid detection and sanctions. Inspectors were now faced with the possibility that any of the trucks or cars on the highway might contain fruit shipped in contravention to regulations, whereas in the past, it had been easy to keep tabs on freight which had to go out on a very limited number of trains per day.

Dried Apples

Sun-Rype Dehydrated Apples at Plant #1, Kelowna, 1950s.Courtesy IOA

As well as the more familiar products such as fruit juices and pie fillings, in its earlier years Sun- Rype produced some items which recall an older era of food preparation and merchandising. One of these products was dried apples, which brings to mind turn-of-the-century homesteads and harvesters’ dinners on the Prairies. But until rural electrification made freezers and refrigerators accessible, and modern roads made it possible for people living in the country to shop easily in town, dried foods were the staples of cooking for a great many people. Some had no alternatives, as may be seen in the following item from the B.C.F.G.A. Quarterly Report for June, 1959:

Sun-Rype Dried Apples for Baffin Island
An interesting request reached the offices of Sun-Rype Products Limited in Kelowna in May. A consumer in Cape Dorset in the Northwest Territories wrote requesting a small shipment of Sun-Rype dried apples, as this brand is not available at his outpost.

A parcel containing 17 pounds of dried apples or the equivalent of Vi boxes of fresh apples was subsequently shipped via parcel post to the Eastern Arctic Patrol in Ottawa. The ship leaves once a year, around the middle of June, and the parcel should reach its destination later in the summer.

As late as the 1957 season, when over five thousand tons of dehydrated apples were produced at Sun-Rype’s No. 1 plant at Kelowna, production was still increasing, but demand died out during the 1960s and production of dried apples ceased with the 1973 crop year.

Furthermore, the new accessibility of the southern interior meant that large numbers of tourists either stayed in the area or passed through on their way to and from the populous were a new market for fruit; local sales had previously been a matter of little or no concern to fruit growers. But now an orchardist who was located on a major route might expect to sell all or at least a large portion of his crop to travellers. He could sell retail and bypass the expenses involved in packing and shipping to distant markets. He would have immediate cash in hand and needn’t wait for a pool closing months away. Thus began the era of the fruit stand, which has grown to be a major factor in marketing some crops, especially in the southern Okanagan where there is a greater emphasis on soft fruit which can be sold during the summer vacation period. By 1976, over sixty per cent of the Okanagan production of peaches was sold either directly at the farm or from roadside stands; such sales of other fruits ranged from just under twenty per cent of cherries down to five per cent of pears.

The new and wider exposure of the Okanagan, through improved access and the tourist trade, put further pressure on the fruit industry. During the 1960s:

The economic structure of the Okanagan Valley changed rapidly from being one dominated primarily by resource-based activities (agriculture, forestry, and mining) to one dependent upon secondary and tertiary economic activities associated with non-resource-based manufacturing, tourist, and service industries.

The population of the Okanagan exploded, with those people drawn by new industries and with large numbers of retired people attracted by the pleasant climate and surroundings.

This new population had to be housed somewhere-and in the competition for the limited land base between orchards and housing, housing won. Orchard acreage in the Okanagan was at its greatest in 1958 at over 38,000 acres. From that year onwards, orchard acreage declined at an increasing rate as land was converted to residential and industrial purposes. Land in orchard has declined approximately ten per cent during each decade since 1960.

The changing Okanagan.Courtesy BCMAF

The prime agricultural land in the valley just happens to be the most convenient and economic for urban development. . . . The orchard irrigation systems built to a standard that facilitates domestic water supply are attractive to those who wish to build homes in the country. Septic sewage systems are much easier to construct on good farmland. The orchard lands on the terraces provide highly desirable view sites for luxury homes. . . . Thus, with few land-use controls, it is not surprising most of the scattered development has occurred on good farmland.

Demands for non-agricultural uses pushed land prices up, as the other uses could support much higher land costs than the economics of orcharding would allow. Even in 1958, Dean MacPhee found the price of land rising well above its productive value in some locations, and warned that “no grower can borrow $2,000 or more per acre at standard rates of interest and hope to work himself out of debt.” Average prices for planted orchard land in the Okanagan rose from $800-$1600 per acre in 1960 to $2800-$3500 in 1973.

One subtle result of the changing nature of the Okanagan, with its retirement communities and new tourist and other industries, was that the urban population was alienated from the fruit growers. In 1966, the B.C.F.G.A. started a campaign in which growers were urged to rubber-stamp every cheque they wrote with the words “These are Farm Dollars” to emphasize the economic importance of farmers to their communities. Twenty years earlier such a campaign would have been totally unnecessary-then, to a large degree, fruit growing was the Okanagan economy, and a poor harvest for the orchardist meant a thin winter for the town merchant. Today, the growth of other industries, large cities, and a population without links to agriculture has gone so far that some primary schools in the Okanagan find it necessary to run “field trips” for their students so that the children may have the thrill of actually picking fruit off a tree.

The changing Okanagan.Courtesy BCMAF

This new population dominated the scene to the point where, by 1981, the farm sector made up only fifteen per cent of even the rural population of the Okanagan. The political leverage of the fruit growers, once great enough to bend politicians anxious to placate the dominant economic interest in several constituencies, thus declined dramatically. Growers needed new means to ensure that they retained the ear of the government.

Vignette: The Bomb

A sign of the uncertain world in the early 1960s may be seen in a resolution from the Osoyoos Local at the 1962 B.C.F.G.A. Convention:

Whereas the possibility of nuclear war is becoming more apparent daily and,
Whereas Federal authorities are urging Canadians to provide themselves with fallout shelters as the best means of insuring the survival of themselves and their families,
Therefore be it resolved by this 1962 B.C.F.G.A. Convention that the Federal Government be approached to provide public fall-out shelters and
Be it further resolved that in order to provide further inducement for the erection of private or family shelters the proper authorities be approached to exempt these shelters from property or other taxes.

The resolution was referred back to the local, who withdrew it, presumably because its matter lay ^beyond the bailiwick of the B.C.F.G.A.