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.

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