Stories From the Past

Ladies & Gentlemen:

Lynn Alaric persuaded me to make a contribution to Archives Week with a few thoughts and memories of bygone days.

I will try not to say much about myself. I do not have to be too careful about what I say as there are not many here who can contradict me!

I came to Oliver as a boy in 1926. During the early 1920s the Southern Okanagan Lands Project had been completed. This ambitious and challenging plan was conceived and completed by the provincial government with Honest John Oliver as Premier. When Oliver was named, it was only necessary to drop the Honest John.

The project being completed, it was now necessary to attract settlers to occupy the land, pay irrigation rates and pay land taxes to help defray the large expenditure.

My father was a school teacher at the time. I recall his interest in some of the colourful brochures promoting the great potential for fruit growing area in the South Okanagan. The big cattle country and desert of the South Okanagan was to be converted to the Garden of Eden. So I was not surprised when he announced to the family that he was interested in fruit growing. I was quite flattered to be asked if I was interested.

Oliver at that time was teeming with pheasants. There were grouse and deer in the hills and fish in the lakes. As a boy I enjoyed hunting and fishing and the outdoors, so was not hard to convince.

We came to Oliver in 1926, 75 years ago. Choosing and deciding on the right orchard property was a very important decision. Whether an orchard was to be successful depended on location and soil, with location most important. Good location means good air drainage where spring frosts were generally escaped and fruit crops were assured. The land agents may not have been aware of this but the situation became quite obvious with experience as the years went .on.

Weather and marketing conditions result in success or failure in fruit growing. With the failure of crops due to spring frosts, orcharding is disastrous. Frosts not only kill the blossoms but cause inferior grades of fruit. In my opinion, there was one serious flaw in the government's planning. Land in low-lying areas that were frost pockets should never have been sold as orchard property.

Starting an orchard from a piece of dry land was close to pioneering. There were no modern facilities such as running water, electricity or phones in the beginning. Modern facilities were gradually acquired and much appreciated. A family farm in many cases was self-supporting with a cow, chickens, a garden and a couple of pigs. Wood had to be cut and stored for winter. Spuds and fruit were stored in the basement. In winters, ice was stored in the ice house for summer use.

It takes years for trees to bear fruit depending on variety. Ground crops such as tomatoes and cantaloupes were grown for survival until the orchards produced. Oliver was known in those years as "The Home of the Cantaloupe."

After a couple of years helping the family get organized I left for the big city and ended up in the paper mill at Power River. When the big depression hit in 1929, I was laid off, as I had no seniority, and was a single man. I returned to Oliver and got work with Major Harry Earle at 30 cents per hour. He owned a 20-acre orchard in a good location and was a progressive grower. This is where I served my apprenticeship as fruit grower. In 1931, I became the owner of 10 acres of land with a down payment of $250.00. I also bought a horse and harness and a stone boat for $50.00.

I borrowed money from the Farm Credit Corporation at 5%, got married in 1938, built a house and raised a family of three. I retired in 1974 after 43 years as an orchardist, and am still working on my 1stmillion.

My wife, Margaret McConnachie, was a school teacher at Osoyoos when we met. She first came to Oliver in 1920. With several other girls she came from Penticton to the Maypole dance on the gravelly Main Street of Oliver on May 24th, this was for many years Oliver's annual festivity.

The girls came from Penticton by motor boat down Skaha Lake. Oliver was served by the Kettle Valley Railway at that time. There was a barge service on Skaha Lake and Okanagan Lake. The rail cars were transferred from the barge to the rails at Okanagan Falls and then to Oliver.

My wife's father, Mr. McConnachie, was a retired prairie farmer and came to Penticton in the early 1900s. His oldest daughter, Jessie, attended the first school in Penticton on Westminster Avenue in 1907.

In 1917, Mr. McConnachie, Mr. Dawson, and Mr. Fraser formed the Osoyoos Land Company and purchased all the land on the east side of Osoyoos Lake from the Indian Reserve to the border --a good speculation if they had lived long enough. They finally sold the property in 1944, and probably recovered their investment. Today, this area is all prime and valuable property, good orchards and vineyards and many modem homes.

In the early 1920s, Oliver had a population of about 200, gravel roads, board sidewalks--outdoor plumbing was the norm. In 1934, Oliver's first stop sign appeared at the junction of Road # 7, and Highway 97. Mr. Laird, the Government Agent, said Paddy Kellagher was the only person who ever stopped at the sign,

Paddy had a brand new Model- T pick-up that we all admired. The first trip I made to Osoyoos in a Model-T Ford was in the late 1920s. There was no sign of habitation, just miles of sagebrush and cactus--not a building to be seen. As we approached the US border, we heard a siren and had to turn back to find and report to Canadian Customs. This was the only building in the area and was located near the bridge. The Customs Officer was the well-known Perly Simpson. I realized later that there was at least one home on the east side of the lake belonging to the Fraser family.

So, in 80 years, the ambitious plans of the government have materialized. Two beautiful towns and a successful orchard industry are the result. Honest John Oliver would be elated to see the success of the government's plans.

I must comment on the evolution of golf in Oliver. One enterprising man, Sandy McPherson, owner of the South Okanagan Supply Co., the only general store in Oliver at that time, was a keen golfer. With his brother Bob, an orchard owner, Major Harry Earle and Reg Tait, they approached the Provincial Government in 1926 for property for a golf course, stating that it was desirable and necessary for the recreation and enjoyment of the settlers. They must have voted the right way, as they acquired 148 acres of ideal land for $1.00. This became the first golf course, "The Oliver Golf & Country Club."

I played the course with a borrowed iron with Sandy McPherson and Ted Tasker in 1928. Then, the course, being the only one in the district, was played by Oroville, Osoyoos, Oliver, Okanagan Falls and Kaleden players. There were no golf courses in Oroville at that time-

It was a dry course, with sand greens, cactus, sagebrush, rattlesnakes, and range horses frequently .on the course. Green fees were $1.00, and they were voluntary .The first water was available from SOLID in 1972 and several greens were prepared--all work was done by volunteers. Arrangements were later made with the Town of Oliver for a water supply and the course has evolved over the years into a championship golf course. Much credit must be accorded to the men and women golfers who have contributed time, work and money to see their efforts rewarded. This is now Fairview Mountain Golf Course.

The last orchard I owned adjoined the golf course with a commanding view of the valley. After making a living in the valley for 75 years, I take the liberty of calling it My Valley.

Note: This is a copy of Jack Coates original transcript done for "Archives Week-Stories from the Past." Jack Coates was one of our guest speakers, November 21,2000. There is also a tape recording of this story .

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