Monday, March 26, 2012

March 23rd, 2012

Houses were springing up everywhere on the Bench as families moved into their VLA homes, 
- most of them unfinished. 

Our good neighbours, Emil and Gwen Scheiber and their family of three girls,  (Audrey, Colleen and Kathy) were the first to occupy their new home - the first residents, -  although there were a few tents around during that first summer as veterans camped out and planted their orchards.  There may not have been walls in some of those first homes, but there was lots of excitement  accompanying the many inconveniences and the long hours of hard work.

It was December, 1951, before power was available on the Bench, and 1955 before telephone services were installed.  I try to remember in these days of instant communication what it was like to not have a telephone in the house....I remember when Charles was ill and we suspected  that what he had was polio it was necessary to go into the village of Cawston to phone the doctor in Penticton, or to get in touch with our dear friend and volunteer District Nurse, Margaret Ritchie.

Those were the days before 'centralization' became fashionable, and small communities flourished;  before people took to shopping in the nearest city, at the closest WalMart and Wholesale Grocers;  working there; having their vehicles serviced at large garages who made appointments for you to come in to look after the health of your car, or truck, or tractor.

After the trees were planted and the home made liveable the veteran had to look around for work to sustain the family and the farm until such time as the fruit trees started bearing a crop.  Luckily the valley was awash with available jobs!!!!!

There were three major sawmills, - the Mraz brothers, Martin and Norman, ran a sawmill in Keremeos, -   Graham Abernathy had a smaller operation on the western outskirts of the town, and on the highway to Cawston  John Luttin set up a thriving operation with Bill Lode in charge.  There was no shortage of logs to keep these sawmills humming.  John Luttin, with Garney Willis had long term leased land in the Fairview which was part of the range operation, and included logging rights.  Some of the Indian Reserve land in the Lower Similkameen hills supplied timber, and logging in the Ashnola and in Paul Creek was partly Crown land and partly privately owned wood lots.

The veterans who went to work, either in the sawmills or for logging contractors and truckers like Jerry Sanderson, Dale DeMerchant, the Elliot Brother, Smokey Beck and K & H soon became adept in the woods at  bucking, handling chokers, cat skinning, falling, loading, log processing and scaling and driving great logging trucks down steep mountain roads.  In the sawmills they joined with workers from the local community as sawyers,  fork lift drivers, edgers, the men on the greenchain, and if they were really lucky they got to dance on the logs in the pond, directing them with their long hooks to their eventual destiny in the sawmill.  I don't know of any veterans who were experienced in the mill wright trade, but they all did their bit to keep the mills running and bring home a pay check to help on the home front.

Charles was a Licensed Log Scaler so besides driving logging truck he also traveled between all the sawmill and woods operations, wherever a Scaler was required.

J.J. Hill's Great Northern Railway crossed the U.S./ Canada border at Chapaka three times a week -Monday, Wednesday and Friday, - made its way up the valley as far as Princeton to help market and distribute the lumber from the mills.

In the early years the packing house in Keremeos served to process and pack apples for the trade, and many wives worked during the fall, packing apples the old fashioned way, - wrapping them, placing them in a wooden box in regulation order and in such a way that there was a small hump at the top, running down the middle of the box.  There was a great opportunity for the quick and adept to gain a reputation as a champion packer, but if you didn't fall into that category there was always the sorting table where apples ran past you on a belt and were sorted as to grade and size, and where the culls were plucked from the line.

After a few years a packing house was built in Cawston, owned by J.C.Clarke, Jim Dawson and I think Mac Clarke.  Jim (Boots) Clark was in charge of operations.  I don't know how many veteran-growers changed affiliation, but I do know that being closer to home it appealed to the veterans' wives who worked there.

There was also a cannery in Cawston,  and some of the veterans chose to either use the acreage between the rows of trees to grow tomatoes for the cannery, or to do this in addition to working 'out'.  (At that time the fruit trees grew to standard size and were planted on twenty five foot squares ).  The land was fertile Similkameen chip loam and the tomatoes that were grown on it were incredible, - deeply coloured, wonderfully textured, juicy and deliciously flavoured.  More than one veteran claimed to be Tomato King as a result of being awarded first prize at the Cawston Fall Fair!!!

Asparagus was another good cash crop, and the first year we farmed the land we grew flowers for seed as well as experimenting with sweet potatoes and melons for the Summerland Experimental Station.

Service Stations and mechanics abounded.  There were two in Cawston, three in Keremeos, and two on the highway in between the two villages.

The local hotel in Keremeos had a divided bar, - ladies on one side, men on the other, and also, of course, a branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.  Between the two of them nobody went thirsty, and I have been told the bar was essential to 'doing business'!

Economically times were not easy, but the opportunities were there and everyone took advantage of them.

Socially times were happy, and some wonderful and abiding friendships were formed during the hours we worked together and the ones we snatched for relaxation, but that is a happy subject for another post.......

Here are the names of the veterans who on September 14th, 1950 were allocated lots in the Cawston subdivision as a result of the draw held at the Keremeos Canadian Legion Hall under the direction of the Soldier Settlement and Veterans Land Act.  These names were originally recorded by Lorraine Gemmell in her article on Fairview Heights in "Historic Highlights of Cawston"

J.V. Sworder, E.A. Scheiber, C.L. Finch, L.V. Hardman, W. Bourne, F.J. Kavanagh, W.H.T. Jillett, A.W. Ricker, E.R. Ricker, R. Critchlow, A.R. Carleton, A.C. Moen, R.S. Lang, W.A. Liddicoat, J.E. Carley, W. Beblow, M. Netscar, R.J. Basnett,  H.R. McDonald, S.D. Evans, W.G. McKenzie, C.H. Bryce, T.W. Fleet, C.E. Lawlor, W.W. Gemmell, B.W. Thompson, F. Maurer, H. Paulsen and J. Murphy

Later in the year veterans L. Krumm, J. Lambert and D. Crow obtained their lots, and in the months and years to follow more veterans applied for and received farmland on the bench.  These included Harold Davies, Tom Martin, Harold Erickson, Bill Davidson, John Johnson, Ernie Seronik, Dan McGinn, Arthur Moore, H. Hicks, Dennis Brown, Roy Lucich,  C. Jacobsen, A.C. Beck, Fred Sorenson, Ernie Hendsbee, Jack Trigg, Jim Davidson,  Alex Hold, A. Husford, Ron Hauser, Robert Evans and another Bill Davidson.

Not all of these veterans planted their land.  Some planted the fruit trees and then, for one reason or another, had a change of heart and plans and turned their property over to others.  Most of the veterans grew to love the Similkameen Valley and helped to make and maintain a vibrant community,

Friday, March 9, 2012

When the dust had settled (did the dust EVER settle in the great flurry of planting trees,building roads and houses.....) there were still about a half a dozen lots remaining that VLA had not sold.

They were anxious to have these lots cleared and planted to alfalfa to make them more appealing to any remaining veterans who might be wavering in their decision to settle on the Cawston Bench.

Charles agreed to take on this contract.  And at the same time he was changing about eighty acres of sprinklers for veterans who had planted their trees, but had not yet moved to the project.

His spare time he put into building our home.  I moved to Cawston with our three children in April of 1951, and we rented a house on Main Street that was only partly finished.  It had unfinished wooden floors which I washed every day.  Not the most comfortable for our youngest, who was still crawling!!!!  During the summer we were offered the rent of a house adjoining Fairview Heights which we accepted gratefully.

In August I took the children by rail to Edmonton, to take part in my sister's wedding.  (Train fares were much less then they are now, - we traveled comfortably in a private room with enough sleeping accommodation for all four of us for peanuts, or their equivalent in cash).

Charles stayed home and worked long hours, from dawn 'til dark.........

In the summer of 1952 these lots that Charles had cleared and planted for VLA were green with alfalfa and the oat nurse crop.  With the loan of a combine Charles started to harvest the oats.......

In September he fell ill with bulbar polio which was rampant among children and young adults that year.

He was so fortunate that his case was mild, although very painful, and he was left with only a slight dragging of one foot, which after a year or two disappeared.  However, I am convinced that the neuropathy which has had such a serious affect on his mobility now is a direct result of the damage to his nerves which was caused by the polio, so he didn't get off scot-free, alas.

In the spring of 1953 the acreage Charles had cleared and planted for VLA was sold.

And we moved into our own home on Lot 39, which consisted of ten acres of arable land planted to fruit trees and about twenty acres of sage brush, on which we eventually built our first small barn and raised sheep, kept a couple of cows, some chickens, and a prolific sow (up the hill, well away from the house).


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Similkameen river flows lazily in the summertime.  There are a number of delightful swimming holes and on bright sunny summer days the river abounds with inner tubes and travelers of all ages.

borrowed from the Internet until I can find the picture of Vince and buddies, tubing 

In the spring it is a terror, - it runs fast and dangerously, flinging itself downstream over large rocks and treed islands that have built up over the years from the silt the water carries with it on its journey from the source, in Manning Park, its confluence with the Paysatan and in particular with the Tulameen River that joins it at Princeton.   Eventually the Similkameen crosses the border at Nighthawk, and  joins the Columbia Basin in Washington State.  Through the years the river has claimed the lives of adventurous children and young men, some of them about the business of rescuing stranded horses and cattle in flood time.

Upon the banks of the Similkameen the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA)  undertook to provide water to the Fairview Heights Irrigation District on the Cawston Benches.

The PFRA was established by an Act of Parliament in 1935 in response to the widespread drought, farm abandonment and land degradation of the 1930s.  Its mandate was to rehabilitate land affected by soil drifting and to develop and promote systems of farm practice, tree culture, water supply and land utilization that would rehabilitate eroded fields and ultimately the economic security of farmers in the Prairie region.

In 1937 the PFRA Act was amended to include land utilization and land settlement, and it was under this mandate that in 1944  it began to carry out irrigation development, land reclamation and provide engineering services.  Most of this work was undertaken for the Soldier Settlement and Veterans' Land Act Branch of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and the seven projects that were established for DVA benefited approximately 500 veterans, - in particular the Cawston Benches, Westbank, Penticton West Bench, and the Bankhead projects.

Charles began to work with the PFRA engineers towards the end of 1950 as Water Bailiff in charge of the operation of the pumps..  A pumphouse had been built  on the river bank just west of the village of Cawston, to house two 400 HP pumps for irrigation purposes and one 100 HP pump for domestic water.

The river bank, upstream from the pump house, had been rip-rapped by PFRA to protect the pumphouse.  At that time the only other bank reinforcement was at the point where the railroad bed ran close to the river.  Over time the river meanders from one side of the valley to the other, taking with it great chunks of land from the various oxbows found along its length and this tendency is intensified by the rip-rapping of the oxbows which has since taken place, encouraging the diversion of the water where it hits the reinforced bank.  The river no longer runs alongside the location where the pumphouse was built, finding its bed some 100s of feet away towards the western edge of the valley.  Since the mid seventies the benchland has been serviced by deep well pumps, so this is not the catastrophe one might expect.

The system in 1951 consisted of a 24" wood stave wire wrapped pipe line, stretching from the river, through the pumphouse and by gravity across the flat valley bottom up to the lip of the benchlands, 20 or 30 feet above the river level,  and from there the pipe was reduced in size and water was delivered to each alloted acreage.

A problem arose when it was found that silt, (caused mainly by the action of the water on rocks and earth in floodtime) was being picked up directly from the riverbed and passed through the pumps, causing the orchardists' sprinkler systems to wear and erode. And so a sump was dug, close to the pumphouse, where the water could be filtered before entering into the system.

Things finally began to work well, although for a Water Bailiff nothing is ever perfect, - there are always complaints about the quality and quantity of the water being delivered to each individual farm. There are always situations to deal with where someone is either not getting enough water, or is taking too much water.  And there is general panic when there is trouble with the system and orchardists are in the midst of planting trees, with no water available!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fairview Heights

A little background about Veterans' Land Act Projects, and how the Fairview Heights Irrigation District came into being; ready and waiting to be filled with young, hard-working families, all struggling, but struggling together with the fortitude that comes with  hard times and the prospects of things improving .

When the Veterans' Land Act was passed in 1942 it followed a Canadian tradition of settling ex-soldiers on the land.  Our Loyalist ancestors who fought with the British were granted land in Upper and Lower Canada, and in the Maritime provinces.  This practice continued with the War of 1812, and subsequent Wars. In 1919 a Soldier Settlement Act provided returned WW1 veterans who wished to farm with loans to purchase land, stock and equipment.

When many of these WW1 veterans has to abandon their farms because of heavy debts and adverse farming conditions the Veterans' Land ACT was designed to overcome some of the problems in the 1919 Soldier Settlement Act, and it gave veterans some choices.  With only a small down payment the veteran could purchase land with the help of a government loan.  Repayment terms would supposedly allow settlers time to re-establish themselves without incurring heavy financial obligations.

Construction of the Fairview Heights Irrigation District was managed by PFRA (Praire Farm Rehabilitation Act).  It contained 600 acres of land located on the Cawston Bench, cradling the No. 6 Indian Reserve which was granted to the Terbasket family by Queen Victoria and lay at the foot of the Fairview Pass.

The majority of this land was virgin soil, still covered in sagebrush, but parts of it had been previously planted to tomatoes by the owners of the local cannery.  The land was designed to be divided into ten or twelve acre lots of arable land upon which orchards were to be established.

The method of distribution of lots was based partly on a veteran's war service.  Those veterans who were at the "sharp end" of the war were given first choice of the available lots.  Arthur Liddicoat,  a Dispatch Rider, anxious to plant his orchard and resident in the Similkameen, made first choice, and was followed by Emil Scheiber, a Rifleman, Jack Sworder, who flew in Wellingtons in North Africa, Larry Hardman, who served in the Royal Canadian Navy, and Charles Finch, a Lancaster Pilot.  The remaining applicants drew numbers which placed them in line to pick properties of their choice.

There had been great interest in the opening of this development, and of course the men who were eligible, along with their wives, had visited the benchland and probably determined where they would like their land of choice to lie.  The area around Keremeos had a reputation for being very windy in the springtime, and it was said that the fruit trees all leaned one way, towards the East, and I do remember being somewhat impressed (or dis-impressed) with this phenomenon when we drove the old road from Penticton to Keremeos.  It all looked very barren, compared to the orchard land in Penticton, and challenging.  Luckily we were all up for a challenge!!!!

I don't know if the trees were all told to straighten their shoulders, at some time, but I never notice it now!

The total monies available to the veterans settling on the Cawston benchland was $6,000.00.

$1200.00 of this amount was a loan, with repayment amounts required yearly.

With this $6,000 the veterans was required to purchase the land from the government, buy irrigation equipment to distribute water from the pumping system provided by PFRA,  a tractor and any other equipment required to clear and manage the land,  and build a home to house his family.

Needless to say the veteran was hard pressed for ready cash and it was necessary to either have a wife who worked, a job off the farm, or a cash crop of vegetables grown between the newly planted fruit trees.  The veggie of choice was usually tomatoes, and this virgin soil produced marvelous crops of never-to-have- been-tasted-since flavour!!!  A sure winner at the local Fall Fair.!

The first year we planted ground crops we experimented a little.  We had a contract with a seed company, and grew about half an acre of flowers,  - it produced beautiful blooms, but not too many dollar bills.  We also planted sweet potatoes and some melons as a trial for the Summerland Experimental Farm, but the second year we contracted with the cannery and grew some of the fantastic tomatoes that made us all 'tomato kings'.....

The House!!!  The veteran and his wife had the choice of a number of VLA designed homes, - none of them terribly imaginative but with strict building code requirements, which was good.  If you should wish to build to a different plan it was necessary to get permission, and we're here to tell you that this permission was very hard to come by, especially when you were espousing a FLAT roof and even when you were building just part of a more realistic plan for a slightly larger family.  We persevered and were eventually given permission to build part of the  house designed by our friend, George Angliss, and ten years later we added a large living room and four more bedrooms.

Today, as we write, all these dinky little VLA houses have been added to, remodeled or more modern houses built in place of them, but the building code requirements have served them well.

When the money ran out it was the houses that suffered, - many veterans and their families moved into homes with only the studs standing to partition off rooms, - probably without plumbing, and certainly with unfinished flooring.  Nevertheless to the young and enthused this was not considered as much of a hardship but just as a temporary part of the new life they were embarked upon.

There was a tremendous feeling of comradeship and helpfulness.  When Charles was so busy working with PFRA and then with his job as Water Bailiff  we had little time to plant fruit trees. Lorraine and Walter Gemmell came, unasked, and popped the trees into the holes that had been dug by someone else who had a digger.

It might be hard to reproduce the aura, the ambience of those years.  Some of these veterans had gone to school together, and some of them had been through some hair-raising times, but all of them were united in creating this wonderful mid-century community, and contributing as well to the village community that had been in the Lower Similkameen for some seventy five years.

This was before the sixties threw tradition to the winds.

We had a lot of parties those first few years, and one in particular where we happily played bridge with the pungent smell of a ton or so of tomatoes, boxed and stored in the house awaiting transportation to market.