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Irrigation and Agriculture


In 1906, Leslie Hill, an engineer from Nelson, bought 1100 acres fronting on Osoyoos Lake, including the former Haynes house, and in 1907 he planted 30 acres of peaches, cherries, pears, plums, apricots and apples. The fruit was shipped to the Boundary country to the east, where there was still considerable mining activity. This was the start of commercial fruit-growing.

Hill died in 1916, and in 1919 the estate was bought and subdivided by a group headed by G. J. Fraser from Penticton. Most of the members of the group settled here and took up orcharding. Mr. Fraser planted a new orchard and lived in the old Haynes house until he retired in 1945.

In these years he was associated with every development which took place. A man of restless energy, he set up the east side's irrigation schemes, looked after his ground crops and orchard, caused the first school to be started, was active in church work and later in most organizations, had a hand in commercial enterprises such as canneries, a sawmill and a cement works, was a moving spirit in fruit-marketing and packinghouse circles, and did indeed live to see a slow-growing area come to blossom.

In 1930 the provincial government opened up the land on the west side of the lake, but it was some time before the rolling acres of sagebrush became the ten miles of orchards to be seen today. Water was the key. The big development came after 1927 when irrigation was made available under a Settlement Scheme for veterans of the 1914-18 war. After the water, slowly the settlers came, and eventually a town site was established. Osoyoos was large enough to become incorporated as a village in 1946.

A railway extension from Penticton had been planned when the irrigation system was set up. This came only to a packing house south of Oliver and for many years, Osoyoos tried to have the last nine and a half miles put in. By some strange decision, when most activities were directed to the war effort, this little piece of railway, the first in Canada for a long time, was laid in 1944, and the last spike was driven on December 29. Fruit could now go out without re-loading, and freight could come in.

People of many nationalities have been attracted to Osoyoos and many, many languages are spoken here by this cosmopolitan population, thus adding color to the Canadian mosaic.

Mining affected the district indirectly through the Rock Creek and Cariboo gold rushes and later through the provision of food for the frenzied activities in camps like Fairview and McKinney (both near Oliver) and the mines in the Boundary country to the east. The Dividend, an early mine above the present orchards on the west side, produced considerable gold from a mere pocket, and a modern operation started on the same hillside in 1935. It was closed in 1940, but its employment of up to 65 men helped to keep the little place of Osoyoos alive through the worst time of the depression.

The most interesting development of the near future is the Dominion Observatory to be built on Mt. Kobau, the highest peak to the west. The clear air and infrequency of cloud cover determined this site, and the Observatory, with its 150 inch telescope, will be a centre of great scientific value. Perhaps we may say here that the derivation of the unusual name Kobau is unknown.

Fruit-growing - "the earliest fruit in Canada" - is still the mainstay of Osoyoos with 240 orchards amounting to 2600 acres. These produce apricots, peaches, cherries, prunes, apples and pears. A new venture of the 1960's is a very large acreage being started with grapes. The Okanagan is said to look like Switzerland, and if the grapes succeed, it will look like the upper Rhone Valley, with tree-fruits at the bottom and vines climbing all the hillsides. In the early days, crops of cantaloupes, tomatoes, cucumbers and melons were grown between the rows until the young trees came into bearing. This brought a need for fruit packing-houses, box-shook mills, machine shops and other ancillary services. It is calculated that seven or eight families are thus employed for every family on an orchard.

Cattle are now raised on the hillsides and there is still some small-scale lumbering.

Osoyoos is popular as a holiday centre, for visitors enjoy the almost guaranteed rainlessness of July and August. Camping in a warm dry climate brings hundreds of people and water skiing and swimming in the warm lake are much enjoyed. There is one public campsite, numbers of private ones, and many motels.