A four-year-old apple orchard at Walhachin. The trees began producing in 1913

A four-year-old apple orchard at Walhachin. The trees began producing in 1913

Golden Country: Past, Present, and Beyond: Ghosts of Walhachin part five

In the summer of 1914, orchardists at Walhachin were preparing for a bumper apple harvest; but events in Europe overtook them.

Part five of a series looking at the history of Walhachin

The vast majority of the orchardists who settled in Walhachin were British, and many of them had military connections of some kind with regiments back in the Old Country. This fact helped prompt the formation, in 1911, of the Walhachin Company of the 31st British Columbia Horse (now the British Columbia Dragoons). The members took part in regular drills and parades around Walhachin, as well the annual summer cavalry camp held in Vernon. At the June 1912 Vernon camp, two Walhachin residents—Gordon Flowerdew and Ralph Chetwynd—were singled out for their outstanding performances.

Many of the orchardists were of high-born stock, and would return to Britain during the winter months. They tended to look down on the British people in the community who were not of their “class”, and most of the British emigrants—no matter what their background—looked down on the non-British residents of the area, and kept themselves somewhat aloof from the neighbouring communities.

And with Walhachin offering almost every amenity a resident could want, in terms of shops and services, there was little need for members of the community to mix with the residents of Ashcroft or Savona. Indeed, by November 1911 it was decided that the large and luxurious Walhachin Hotel was simply too small to accommodate the large numbers of people who attended the concerts, balls, and meetings held in the town. A committee was struck to begin work on the construction of a community hall, with a series of dances and card evenings held to raise funds for the initial construction work. Community members then purchased shares in the hall, to raise the majority of the money needed.

The plans were ambitious, and included a main ballroom with a “floating” floor that would accommodate several hundred dancers; a stage at one end of the hall so that concerts and theatrical events could be held; a kitchen; cloakrooms and lavatories; a steam furnace in the basement; and carbide lights to illuminate the interior. The hall was completed in 1912, and there was talk of constructing a church, and attracting a bank to the settlement.

Filler crops such as potatoes helped tide Walhachin over until the apple trees began producing. Photo cortesy Ashcroft Museum and Archives.

The filler crops of onions, tomatoes, and potatoes—while not bringing in as much money as the still-maturing apple crops were expected to—were proving to be a success, with record yields each year, and a reputation for high quality that extended far beyond Walhachin. Businesses were expanding, new ones were being added, and for a short time the town even boasted two newspapers: The Walhachin Chronicle, which published three editions in late 1911 (and was published as part of The Ashcroft Journal for five months), and The Walhachin Times, which was even shorter-lived, publishing a single edition in March 1912.

The editorial in that one issue demonstrates the pride that residents felt in their community. “Much hot air has been expended upon Walhachin as a fruit proposition, rightly or wrongly, but little time or attention has been paid it from a residential point of view… . Walhachin today as a residential proposition would be hard to beat, and requires no real estate agents to promote it… . Where in the whole of British Columbia could you find such a superb climate, view or comfort? The residential part lies in a hollow, sheltered by mountains all around, with the magnificent Thompson River running below the townsite. There are good driving roads all around, and now that the Government bridge has been completed, easy access is afforded to the surrounding country.”

A yearling apple tree in Walhachin in 1910. Photo courtesy Ashcroft Museum and Archives.

Certainly the residents of Walhachin had every reason to be confident. The first apple trees had been planted in 1909, and by 1912 apples were beginning to appear on them. By 1913 some 1,240 acres of land on both sides of the river had been cleared, cultivated, and irrigated, with more than 44,000 seedlings planted. Most of these were apple trees, with Jonathons and Wagoners the preferred varieties due to the fact that their fruit matured in four years, as opposed to the five or six years of other varieties, although settlers also planted peach, apricot, plum, cherry, and pear trees.

A peach tree at Walhachin. Photo courtesy Ashcroft Museum and Archives.

The apples that had been ripening in the fall of 1912 formed the first shipment of Walhachin apples, in 1913, with the fruit being sent to towns all across Canada. In the spring of 1914, the blossoms on 600 acres of Jonathon and Wagoner apple trees indicated there would be a bumper crop of apples in the fall, as indeed there was. The Journal reported that, in October 1914, a full trainload of Walhachin apples, “of exceptionally high quality”, was shipped out.

However, events beyond the control of anyone in Walhachin meant that very few of the orchardists who had planted the apples were there to see the end result of their hard work. In June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated, plunging Europe into chaos and leading to the start of what is now called World War I in July 1914.

When Britain declared itself to be at war on August 4, 1914, many of the Walhachin settlers who were affiliated with the military back home left to rejoin their regiments. The 20 members of the Walhachin Company of the 31st British Columbia Horse had been preparing for mobilization since June 1914, and in early August they were ordered to Quebec as part of the First Canadian Expeditionary Force. By the beginning of September, 43 men—including all but one of the single orchardists—had left Walhachin for active service, leaving only older and married men to continue working the land. Some of the married men also enlisted, often taking their families back to England with them, and by 1916 there were no English orchardists of military age—18 to 45 years old—left in Walhachin.

To be continued