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The History of Agriculture in Osoyoos

Osoyoos Orchards Ltd.

by Douglas Fraser
(as published in the Okanagan Historical Society's 50th Report, 1986, pp. 21-23)

agriculture2A Young Orchard, 1946, BC Archives

Osoyoos Orchards Ltd. was formed in 1919, but to put things in perspective we have to go back to 1905.  In that year, Leslie Hill, a civil engineer from Nelson, visited the Okanagan.  Like many others, he fell in love with the valley, and saw its future as a fruit-growing area rather than the cattle range it then was.

Accordingly he went to Penticton and obtained an option to purchase the Ellis cattle ranch.  Tom Ellis had bought the Haynes ranch in the 1890s and had added it to his own extensive holdings until he was ‘monarch of all he surveyed’ from Naramata to the border.  Hill then went to England to raise the rest of the required capital, but by the time he returned the option had expired and Ellis had sold most of his land to the brothers L.W. Shatford of Fairview and W. T. Shatford of Vernon, who carried on cattle ranching under the name of South Okanagan Land Cattle Company.  Val Haynes, son of the original settler, J.C. Haynes, was for many years their ranch manager.

But what of Leslie Hill?  Ellis, to make up to Hill for what had been lost on the option, let him have land which Ellis had retained on the east side of Osoyoos Lake.  This consisted of about 1200 acres between present Highway 3 and the border, and went back from Osoyoos Lake to the base of the mountains.

In 1907, Hill planted 40 acres of what was to be a model orchard on the delta of Haynes Creek.  The land was irrigated with spring water from the creek and later in the season with water pumped from the lake.  The house built by Haynes in 1878-1882 was on the 1200 acres, and Hill with his three daughters came from Nelson to spend the summers in Osoyoos.  When not supervising the developing orchard, Hill lived the life of a country gentleman – riding, fishing, and boating.  A boathouse contained a motor launch and a beautiful 4-oared clinker-built rowboat, with a steering rudder and corduroy cushions.  He left behind such luxury items as Hardy fishing rods.

In 1919, George Fraser got together a group of men to form Osoyoos Orchards Ltd. in order to purchase the Hill estate, with the plan of putting in an irrigation system to cover the possible orchard land fringing the lake.  The cost of the estate was $50,000.

The members were G.J. Fraser, Osoyoos; R.H. Helmer, Summerland Experimental Station; D.E. Burpee, Penticton; R.H. Plaskett, Alberta; R.D. Fraser, Alberta; Rev. J. F. Millar, Penticton; C.L. Carless, Penticton; Leo Hayes, Kelowna; E.R. Dawson, Penticton; W.T. Hunter, Summerland Experimental Station; W. McConnachie, Penticton.  Later arrivals were Harry Martin, Rev. Arthur Elliot from England, R.L. Goodman who took over from Elliott, and Advena Hearle who bought from Plaskett.

The system of distribution of lots, which had been surveyed by Dufresne, was unusual.  Each applicant put in a bid for each of the lots, and the highest bid for each was accepted.  By mutual agreement, members made low bids for the Haynes house lot so that George Fraser might retain it.

My father [George Fraser] acquired 28 acres, but deciding that 28 acres were too much, he sold 14 acres to R.H. Plaskett who had decided to give up cattle ranching in Alberta for fruit ranching in B.C.  R.H. Plaskett duly planted his 14 acres, but after a year became impatient with the slow progress of fruit trees and sold his lot to Mrs. Hearle.  Plaskett then bought a part of the already planted Hill orchard, which had been acquired by Leo Hayes, and became an ‘instant’ fruit grower.

In 1920, the irrigation system was installed.  Its heart was a single cylinder gasoline engine of 10-inch bore, located on the lakeshore near the present East Osoyoos Irrigation pump-house.  This engine, with 6-foot flywheels on either side, powered a belt-driven centrifugal pump.  The water was pumped through a 12-inch wooden stave pipe up to an elevation of 50 feet.  Here it went into a big square wooden box.  From this tank wooden flumes carried the precious water north to the present Highway 3, and south to the lot now fronted by Brookvale campsite.  The spring run-off from Haynes Creek was used for early irrigation, a wooden flume bringing this water to the distribution box.

Contrasting personalities among early east-side orchardists were E.W. Dawson and Bill McConnachie.  During the winter, Dawson was out pruning with the first light, and did without lunch to make the most of the short winter day.  McConnachie by contrast was very much the casual fruit grower.  If spring overtook him before he’d finished pruning, it is said that he would hang up his pruning shears in a tree to indicate where to start again the next year.

Another pair of contrasting growers was my father and D.E. Burpee, our next-door neighbour.  My father believed in feeding the land to make it produce, and was always scouring the country for sources of manure.  Burpee could not see the point of growing extra wood all summer just in order to cut it out in the winter’s pruning.