Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Sad Tale


Cherries are legend here in these valleys. Back at the turn of the century, and when I say that, I still mean the one before last, the cherries grown here were reported to be as large as plums and equally sweet and juicy. They were famous for being the best in all of North America, even better than the Okanagan which now grows many of our cherries. They were famous right across the country. J.T. Bealby, a Nelson fruit rancher, was quoted as saying:
"One of the most wonderful sights in a British Columbia orchard, and more especially a Kootenay orchard, is the cherry-trees when laden with their snow-white blossoms. Every branch, from its divergence from a large limb or the main trunk, right away to the outermost twig, is thickly feathered with clusters of blossom, and tufts of bloom cling even to the main trunk and large limbs. This is true of every variety of cherry alike, sour as well as sweet. The crops are, as a rule, enormously heavy -- so much so that the trees, and this applies to apples, pears, and plums, as well as to cherries -- have to be well supported with props to prevent them from breaking down under the loads they carry, and even then it is not an unusual thing for one or more branches to split off before the fruit can be gathered."


Indeed that bit about props is true. My parents have two very old apple trees in their yard (well over 100 yrs by now...they were put in shortly after the house was originally built) and last year that is essentially what happened. One of the branches on one of the trees was so heavy with fruit that the branch broke and my father had to prop it up and mend it hoping to save the apples on that particular branch long enough for them to ripen. But it is an old tree, so some years it takes a rest, but then there are years like last where there is a real bumper crop. Not bad for an old tree whose trunk is almost completely hollow that it totally baffles us that there is any fruit at all. But back to the story of the
cherries.

Unfortunately, about 1933 a mysterious cherry disease hit destroying the thriving industry. The first symptoms were noticed at Willow Point, just around the bend from where I live. At the time, it was called, "Little Cherry Disease." Most disheartening was that infected trees only became obvious about two weeks before harvest. By this point, the damage was done, the
cherries were small, lacked taste and sweetness, and were for the most part wormy. Once a tree was infected, there was nothing to be done but to cut it down, as the cherries from then on would be as such. By about the 50's the disease had decimated the industry and all cherry trees were ordered to be cut down to try to stop the spread which by now was determined to be transmitted by infected insects.


At the time, the source of the outbreak was not known, but it has since been determined that Japanese Ornamental
cherries were carrying the disease in symptomless form. There were three specimens of these trees growing not far from the original outbreak on the property of Selwyn Gwillym Blaylock, the rich vice-president and general manager of a mining smelting company which later became known as Cominco (this property is just a ways down the road in the other direction from me). He had a passion for gardening and had beautiful grounds surrounding his estate. The grounds purportedly featured one of every species of tree native to Canada as well as many other ornamental trees and flowering shrubs. Blaylock encouraged frequent guests, including foreign dignitaries to bring gifts of trees and shrubs from their native land to add to his collection. But this was not how he had acquired the particular trees in question. They had been imported by Blaylock himself. He had officially inquired about the importation of Japanese Ornamental Cherries and had been told that the trees were diseased and not to be imported. He decided to smuggle them in anyways.

So thus is the story of
cherries in the Kootenays. Infected trees were to be removed, but it was tough as there were and still are so many wild cherries growing out in the woods which of course, by this point has probably also been diseased. Cherry orchards have since been re-established around Creston, the far end of Kootenay lake, and indeed the cherries are good. But the industry has never gone back to what it once was.

23 comments:

poetoftheisles said...

How sad of the native cherry and the incompetence of one individual causes such a tragedy.

Delightful of the story of your parents apple trees. Such abundance of apples is a testmony of their strength.

Carla said...

Peter, How nice to see you around again. As you can tell, I've been quite neglectful of my blog. Such is life at times. I need more hours in the day. And yes, it is quite sad about the cherry. They are one of my favourite fruits.

we're doomed said...

I love cherrys. A farm we used to visit often when I was little had a cherry tree. I loved the cherrys as did the birds.

pandave said...

my love of cherries knows no bounds. well okay one bound - my love still refuses to pay $7 a lb for cherries. i mean, really, seven dollars a pound??

sniff.

Carla said...

We're Doomed, Yes, the birds. I remember the same when I was young. My father had a cherry tree and it was near impossible to keep the birds out.

Pandave, $7??? You've got to be kidding. I cringe when they hit $2 a lb.

Aaoiue said...

I'm not getting married, Carla. It was only one image from internet. I'm not interested but in friendship after some disappointments. I would be very pleased if you send me an invitation through aaoiue@gmail.com or mdmngz@gmail.com to be in your Facebook.
:-)
(I'm tired now, but tomorrow I'll come back to read your post)

we're doomed said...

Cherries, yea thats what I meant to say.

JBelle said...

wooooooow!what a terrific story! fabulous post.

Steffi said...

I love cherries.Great but sad story.So I agree with the other comments too!
Sorry please...I am so busy and tired at the moment!

Steffi

CanuckinOZ said...

It was a weak moment of missing Mom’s Antipasto combined with the purchase of a new pressure cooker that initially brought me here. I came back to say “Thanks” and stumbled on…almost over…your “A Sad Tale”. It’s quite lovely and brought back memories of Southern BC. I then read “Forgiveness”…. may I add a second “Thank you” and offer:

Insight – Nothing in life is more exciting and rewarding than the sudden flash of insight that leaves you a changed person – not only changed, but for the better. (Arthur Gordon).

Thanks on two counts.

Carla said...

Aaoiue, I do understand of those disappointments. Life can be complicated. I'll send you an invitation.

We're Doomed, Yes, I know.

Carla said...

JBelle, So glad you like it. The trees look so lovely with their blossoms, but even sweeter when they have cherries.

Steffi, No worries about being busy and tired. My life has been the same recently.

Carla said...

Canuck in Oz, Thank you so much for visiting and that gem of a quote. I might have to borrow it to put right in the blog if I can find a photo to do it justice.

Envoy-ette said...

This IS a sad story! On a smaller scale, I've held back my heirloom seeds because until my neighbors stop buying the hybrid, my heirloom will become hybrid and I won't be able to harvest the seeds for next year. They have no clue the danger of their store bought plants affecting my garden's next years crop.
BUT the cherries, TRAGIC!

Jannie Funster said...

Sometimes a little smugglng is necessary. Obviously!

And amazing about your parents' tree! Must be packed with wonderful life energy.

Carla said...

Envoyette, That's so sad about your tomatoes. Too bad they couldn't be put somewhere where they wouldn't cross-pollinate.

Jannie, That tree is full of so much love and its fruit has filled our tummies many a time.

poetoftheisles said...

Carla, Hopefully nature will find a way to recover the 'cherry' and the joy it brings.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Pamela said...

so true of every fruit and vegetable -- something introduced to the area brings an uninvited pest.

I love cherry season. I bought some when I was traveling thru Oregon. I was asked about fruit at the California border -- and I told them i bought a sack of cherries for lunch.

They weren't grown in California so he told me to eat them!!!

Carla said...

Peter, There are some areas on the east side of the lake that have since re-established cherry orchards. Unfortunately, that hasn't yet happened on the west side.

Pamela, I hear that California has some of the strictest regulations in North America. Canada is strict about fruit and vegetables coming in from other countries, but there are no problems transporting them from one side of the country to the other.

dawn said...

That is indeed sad and it is evidence that the choices and deeds of one person, whether good or bad, can effect the world we live in.

Carla said...

Dawn, So very, very true but something that is often not thought about in the heat of the moment.

pandave said...

I WISH I could find cherries for $2 a pound. Today I capitulated and got some for $4 and I felt gypped. They're lucky they taste so good.

Carla said...

Pandave, I totally understand. I'd feel the same. I noticed that they now have California apricots in the grocery store for $5 / lb. Highway robbery if you ask me. I'll wait until our local cots are ripe, thank you very much.