Yes We Have No Bananas

Janus looks at Cranbrook more curious orchard history

The subdivision of Appleland never quite came to fruition.

The subdivision of Appleland never quite came to fruition.

S pringtime, the snow is gone, the grass is green and the blossoms, the wondrous blossoms: lilacs, mayflowers, apple, cherry, plum, apricot, peach, pear, orange and — hold on, peach, pear, orange?

Not likely. Oh, there’s always an occasional local wonder-fruit, “I grew that lemon in my living room!” or “You’re drinking my grapes!” but Cranbrook as the fruit-growing capital of the west? Not likely.

Still, if you were inclined to believe what you read in the newspapers a century or so ago then anything is possible. Cranbrook, once a burgeoning boom town, was a much sleepier metropolis by 1908. Land sales were slow and construction was down. For those in the business of real estate a boost was necessary and that is precisely what appeared in the Cranbrook Herald newspaper, courtesy of a large advertisement on behalf of local realtors Beale and Elwell:

“160 acres of FRUIT LAND within five miles of Cranbrook — $20 an acre. 14 acres of FRUIT LAND one mile from Cranbrook. 400 trees already heeled in for planting in spring — $1,300.”

Fruit land? Cranbrook? Well, there’s a novel idea. The rather unlikely thought of growing fruit in Cranbrook as a money-making proposition was not an entirely new one, mind you, certainly not for the Herald. Editor F.E. Simpson had pushed the idea from time to time over the years, relying heavily on the efforts of William Hamilton, a rancher situated on a hill just west of the town.

As part of his ranch, Mr. Hamilton boasted a number of fruit trees, mainly apples, that proved reasonably productive over the years and this, along with a decent yearly strawberry crop, prompted the Herald in July, 1903, to declare that Hamilton “has made a great success of fruit farming and fully demonstrated Cranbrook as a great fruit section.” And again in 1904, “Hamilton … last year produced some of the finest strawberries and currants ever produced in any country.”

This notwithstanding the fact that one of Editor Simpson’s running jokes over the years was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Cranbrook district as “the banana belt.”

In general, the locals, both then and today, would concede that anyone in this area wishing to make a living growing fruit was nuts. Not the case, however, for those from afar who began to hear tell of the supposed great orchard possibilities of the area. The Herald stepped it up in April, 1908, saying “blessed with an ideal climate and soil, the Cranbrook district is rapidly becoming a fruit country. W. Hamilton has proved, even to the most skeptical, that apples, plums and pears can be grown … around Cranbrook. The great truth of ‘East Kootenay is a good fruit country’ shall be known throughout the length and breadth of the American continent.”

Great truth or not, the message took wings and local land sales took a decided upturn. Beale & Elwell advertisements proclaimed “Irrigated orchard lands sit directly south of the city. First-class growing soil. Excellently adapted for large and small fruit growing. There is no speculation on the weather … Five-acre blocks and a supply of water which belongs to the land and not to the owner of the land, so that it cannot be taken away from the land.” A unique view of water rights to be sure, never mind the weather.

A visiting reporter toured the Hamilton ranch in October, 1908, and wrote soon after in a Lethbridge paper that “The fine fruit farm of Mr. Hamilton’s showed convincingly that the district is suitable to the growth of all kinds of hardy fruits.”

Major land holder Hyde Baker subdivided 800 acres adjoining the townsite to the west into five-acre plots “Suitable in every way for fruit growing.”

In a bold, if not downright brazen move by parties unknown and with an accompanying editorial blushing with purple prose, a 320-acre block between Jim Smith and Elizabeth Lakes was declared “Appleland,” and sub-divided into the standard five-acre tracts.

“The ideal home which William Hamilton has made for himself at Sunnyside can be duplicated fifty times over in peace, ease and comfort at Appleland,” declared the Herald of March 18, 1909. “The other day another Wise Man from the East, said: ‘We will not feel the passing of the days till every little hill around us here will be checker boarded with rows of fruit trees … The apples from the states have not the flavor, the snap and vim of the Cranbrook varieties, and what means the making of the almighty dollar and the easy living is that your fruit will live, live, mind you, when the American stuff is dead … People mourn to think of the passing of the pine and the larch … Let them go and give room for their betters. A few hundred apple and pear trees means a home, and a man with his wife and bairns, happiness for all of them and prosperity in perpetuity for East Kootenay. That is what the Herald wants.”

It is easy to conjecture that by this time William Hamilton may have been experiencing some regret as his small ranch orchard became the very model of fruit growing in the area. Sadly, his produce did not fare well in the judging in the local Fall Fair that year. Every prize in every fruit category — apples, pears, plums and Italian prunes — was won by Creston entries, although George Tisdale of Wycliffe won first prize for his watermelon. It’s a wonder that land speculators didn’t create the sub-division of “Melonville” in honour of the fact.

It appeared Cranbrook was destined to become the Great Rocky Mountain Citrus Dream.

Next Week: The Seeds of Doubt.

With thanks to Wendy Walsh

Just Posted

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

Calvin Dickson photo.
Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for East Kootenay

Conditions favourable for the development of thunderstorms, hail and heavy rain

The Independent Investigations Office of BC is looking into a Castlegar incident. File photo
Police watchdog investigating Castlegar incident

IIO: Woman sustained a reportedly self-inflicted injury

Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook.
Graduation ceremony in the works for MBSS Class of 2021

The Mount Bake Secondary School Class of 2021 will have a graduation… Continue reading

After being forced to cancel in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Wasa Triathlon is being organized for August. Bulletin file photo.
Information released for Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon scheduled for August

In 2020 the COVID pandemic forced the Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon to… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Most Read