WHO has not heard of the Kootenay? Very few, I dare say. It has been extensively advertised in two ways. First, by the wealth of its bona fide mines, and secondly, by the industry of the wildcat promoters who victimized an easy public with Kootenay flotations of exceedingly doubtful value. Since it went on the map back about ’93 and ’94 it has been staying on rather industriously. It gave the world one of the greatest mining booms it has ever seen and was a high-stepper on fake bonanzas, only taking second place when Cobalt went it one better. But is has always been known as the abiding place of the delvers of the hills— a mining country through and through.
Now I am about to tell you that the Kootenay of to-day is a fruit country, as well.
The Kootenay a fruit-growing country !
It sounds strange, doesn’t it? If it were a tale of a new strike or a stampede to some new, hitherto unexplored camp, it would not appear unnatural. But the Kootenay a fruitgrowing country? Now, don’t you mean the Okanagan, or the Fraser valley, or Vancouver Island?
It is true. There can no longer be any doubt about it. As late as two years ago there were still doubters— perhaps knockers is a better word. It couldn’t be done, they said. The Kootenay was a mining country, first, last,
and all the time. But to grow fruit?— never !
But the doubts have vanished, the knockers are asleep, while the results are appearing—have appeared. Trees are bearing prize-winning fruit, and only three years from the loamy rows of the nursery. Shrewd Englishmen over in London say that a Kootenay red apple is a good thing to moisten a dry palate and they call for more. Earl Grey admits that a fruit ranch in Kootenay looks good to him and his son thinks the same, while they both back it up by buying two choice blocks of fruit land with a frontage on that magnificent sheet of water— Kootenay Lake.
It is unnecessary to remark that there were pioneers in the business. For a long time these pioneers, brave, courageous fellows, simply sawed wood and never said a word. It would take time, and they knew it. It takes three years for a tree to come into bearing, even in the Kootenay, and the best part of ten for an orchard
to reach its best. Mining is swifter, but not so sure. A few ambitious prospectors scratched the rock-topped hills of Kootenay and discovered the shining metals which have dazzled the eyes of the world. Results came in a day. But not so the fruit business. There are long years of waiting. It is slower, but surer. A rich lead may pinch. The dividend-paying vein may disappear amid a whole mountain side of country rock. But the glare of the big red apple comes once a year to gladden the heart of the man who works with a pruning hook and shears, instead of hammer and drill.
If we eliminate the stories of the early placer finds, the beginnings of the fruit industry date farther back than the beginnings of the mining industry. It was in 1886 that Hall and White left Colville on a wild goose chase, prospecting tour, and, a few weeks later, stumbled on the lead of the famous Silver King, which lifted a few nervy Englishmen to the plane
of millionaires, giving birth to the smart little mining city of Nelson, which nestles like a bird on the edge of Kootenay Lake. In 1885, one year before, W. H. Covert located a preemption close to the present town of Grand Forks, and, after bringing in some fruit trees from Spokane on the back of a cayuse, followed Adam’s example and started in the fruit business. To-day he has a beauty spot that a Yankee journalist down in Missouri said was worth while coming all the way to see. And a Missouri man has to be shown, too.
Covert didn’t have any noticeable competition for a long time. Everybody thought that he was a fool, and he was just wise enough to be content that they should think that his head wasn’t screwed on quite straight The know-it-alls said that trees would not grow, but he laughed and whistled and worked and waited.
Nine years ago a lot of people awoke to the fact that he ha ! about the neatest and most productive place in the country.
He was making a good deal more money off it than a great many wealthier men were out of their operations ■in the business world. He did not have such a very large beari n g orchard, either. He was delivering the goods. And when in one year he received
over ten thousand dollars for the product of one year’s labor on his ranch, his name and achievements w?ent the rounds of the eastern agricultural journals.
Things were beginning to warm up by this time. The real estate men, always with both ears to the ground, began to get busy. They sent displays to the biggest fairs in the old land and to the large prairie centres as well. In the latter country the upin-years-farmers who had become rich growing wheat began to realize that they had discovered a mighty good country to retire in. English lords felt the lure of the mountain country with its rippling rivers and dancing lakes, and they came, saw, and were
conquered. That was the beginning. The end is not yet.
Ten years ago there were only a few settlers between Arrowhead and Robson. They made a living by selling spuds and sawlogs. But when P. A. O’Farrel, the noted journalist, came through that way two years ago he found the smoke of settlers’ homes all along the way and it set his mind working, to the delight of those who have had the pleasure of perusing his articles. The change was there sure enough. The sight of strawberry patches and apple orchards are a delight to the passing tourist. The crossCanada returning globe-trotter who gets the C.P.R. to make his ticket read “via Crow’s Nest,” can look at smiling orchards and new clearings for the best part of a day as he sails down the Arrow Lakes, which, by the way, so delighted William Randolph Hearst that he said the lakes of Switzerland were not more beautiful. And this land was a part of the wilderness yesterday. It is in the forefront of the civilization of to-day.
There are more than retiring wheat farmers and English lords who are engaging in the fruit business. After meeting and talking with hundreds of fruit growers, I am of the opinion that more former occupations are represented among the fruit growers of the Pacific slope than you can find in any other occupation in Canada’s nine provinces.
There is the office man wlio has lost his health. Pie must have outdoor employment, but feels that his wife cannot stand the drudgery of a wheat farm. .So he comes to the land of the setting sun, where he finds health ani sometimes—not always, for it depends upon his energy—wealth.
He is only one. Doctors, lawyers, merchants, bankers, clergymen, speculators and dozens more are represented in the amateur fruit growers of the Kootenay of to-day. I talked receu:ly with a miner who had been pretty much all ever the world. He had followed in the path of many stampedes ; had driven the stakes in many new
towr.sites; had staked his all on supposed bonanzas ; but now at torty years of age he has decided to give up the mining game and settle down to growing smiling red apples and blushing peaches for the rest of his earthly existence.
No story of the mining history of the Kootenay would be authentic and complete unless the operations of the Rossland companies formed a large part. The mining history of RosslanJ is to a great extent the mining history of the Kootenay. But Rossland is ;n this fruit game, too. It is located at about 3,700 feet above tide water, but they grow fruit there just the same. Last season, even peaches ripened in a Rossland garden. All other fruits do well. Some of the heaviest crops of strawberries grown in Kootenay this season were the product of the bench lands along Trail creek, still redolent with memories of the days when Joe Morris wandered in the vicinity of its rippling waters and discovered the bold iron outcroppings which have made the Red Mountain City famous all over the world.
Down near Crestón, a few miles to the east end of Kootenay Lake, they have a strawberry king, who startled even the most enthusiastic Kootenians by selling forty-three hundred dollars’ worth of strawberries off four acres of ground. There are others who are following in his footsteps. A Thrums grower does some stunts by making over two hundred dollars off a patch of fifty-six square rods, and the fifth year of the patch at that. It sounds like boasting to mention these phenomenal results, but they are only statements of fact.
There has been some heartburning over the success of the fruit-growing industry ; heart-burning among the knockers and doubters of the other days. I met one of them a few days ago. He is a successful medical practitioner and he pinned his faith by way of surplus cash to mining. He had visions of wealth from golden ore; he scouted the idea of wealth from golden fruit.
And while he was spending his hardearned cash drilling holes in the ground, which have their first dividend yet to pay, he could have bought the finest Kootenay fruit land for a song—two and three dollars an acre —lots of it. It is worth the most of a hundred to-day, and he has his holes in the ground yet. And hence his c
wry feelings. The school of experience—what a school it is?
But the Kootenay has changed in other ways. The moral standard has risen. In the old days most of the towns had the lid off and a hot fire in the furnace all the time. It had the habit of breaking the hearts of more sky pilots than any stretch of ground
in North America. An M.A., B.D., came out from the east to take charge of a church in a wide-open smelter town, but the devil won out in the first round, for the eloquent divine boarded the eastern train before the sunset of the second day. Another high-strung, sensitive chap tried to stay, but could not stand the pressure at all—he lost his bearings completely, insane is the common word—and it is only of late years that he is back —his old dashing self.
And it was not to be wondered at either. There was a time when there were enough tin horns in Kootenay to make Monte Carlo blush. But that day is gone. The fruit-grower is a different man. No blackjack and poker for him. He passes the few remaining tin-horns with a freezing nod and gives the welcome sky pilot a glad smile. Does he deserve all the credit? I am not sure that he does. He spends his time out in God's glorious sunlight—how can he help but smile and be happy? The much-abused miner groveled all day in the dirt and grime and dust, so that it was natural that in the evening hours the excitement of the green table and the clink of the champagne glasses should hold an attraction for him. But as the evening shadows fall the fruit-grower can watch the moon through the maze of the apple trees and nothing disturbs his serenity of mind.
Yes, the moral standard has risen. One of the first things in a new fruit settlement is the service in the schoolhouse, and. a little later, the neat frame church. Sometimes the saloon
man comes along with a petition to get a saloon license. But he gets few signatures. And he is no sooner gone than a counter petition is filed. There is nothing of the free-and-easy about the new, the dawning, era in Kootenay.
Just recently an enterprising individual, who acts as station agent in a little fruit-growing community for a living, and speculates in almost everything else on the side, got a bright idea. He thought of building a hotel, supposedly to house the traveling public, but really fo make a fortune in selling thirst-quenchers to the good folk of the valley. He got out a petition in support of his bright idea, but the fruit-growers, thinking differently, got out another twice as big. No public house in their fair valley, they said. They would never have their boys drink anything stronger than apple cider. That settled it. There are no whisky bottles on the shelf behind the lonely bar and no stupid topers in the doorway. This is the Kootenay of to-day.
The new movement has but begun. Only a small portion of the available fruit land has been brought under cultivation and planted in orchard. There are still rich bench and valley lands ready to do their part in producing big crops of the big red apple. And they are coming—'the fruit-growers of the future. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, they are coming in a steady even stream—all coming to do their part in making the Kootenay what is will be one day—a great fruit-growing district—second to none.
You should be ve-ry careful, you Know, you might get interested in your work, and let your pipe go out.—James McNeill Whistler
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