In 1894, fruit trees outnumbered Salt Spring residents by 10 to 1. There were roughly 450 residents with about 4,600 fruit trees, not counting any smaller orchards under 200 trees. Some of these heritage trees still exist but the large orchards are gone. Although relatively neglected, these remaining old trees still provide a huge volume of vintage cider to local islanders.
About 1895, Salt Spring Island was not only the first apple producing area, but also the major fruit producing area in British Columbia. From 1860 onwards, settlers were clearing land and settling the island. About 1895, Samuel Beddis planted an orchard of 500 trees using rootstock created by planting apples seeds that had been saved from apples eaten on the trip from England. Later he grafted these young trees with scions from 40 or so varieties shipped from Ireland. Each scion had been sent safely traveling by mail, embedded in an Irish Potato. His and other orchards flourished in the mild lush climate. A list of the varieties planted exists, with the main varieties being Canada Reinette, Baldwin, Bleinhem Orange, Wealthy, Duchess of Oldenburg and Gravenstein. About this time, other large orchards of 1600, 1200, 600, 300, 350, 300 and 250 trees, were being established. Farmers commented that due to the summer warmth and mild winters, growth was much better that in Great Britain. Some of the Canada Reinettes were so loaded with fruit they had to have every branch propped, and frequently yields per tree were 24 boxes of 50 pounds each. Apples were selling then for 2 cents per pound or 75 cents per bushel. At that time produce was transported 5 miles by rowboat across the water to Sydney, just north of Victoria.
About 1900, one of the largest and most productive farm in the south end belonged to Mr. Ruckle, whose descendants donated the non-farm portion of the land to the province of BC for the creation of Ruckle Park. The farm still remains a working farm with an orchard of fruit trees that were planted in about 1895. This farm is the first fruit growing orchard in BC and the oldest family farm in BC.
By the 1920’s, with the advent of cheap irrigation systems and rural electricity, the Okanagan Valley in the interior of British Columbia, with much hotter summer temperatures, began to surpass Salt Spring, which declined until the present.
But recently, a strong revival of the old fruit growing tradition has emerged on Salt Spring Island, including a strong trend to grow the wide range of apple varieties that once existed. These heritage varieties provide lots of good tasting fruit, some available for winter keeping. It also ensures the preservation of old varieties (genetic diversity).
A list of the pre 1920 varieties growing on Salt Spring Island has been compiled by Bob Weedon Additonal research paper by Caroline Rowley, daughter of Stephanie.