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Throwback Thursday: Early Farms

Throwback Thursday: Early Farms

For years, many of the pioneers who first moved to Pemberton struggled to make a living. While a number had farms, it was still difficult to make enough money to survive. Even when growing their own food, money was needed for other necessities. The climate and isolation of Pemberton, while certainly helpful in some respects for the farms, also created significant difficulties for settlers.

For decades there were constant problems plaguing the farms in the Valley, and the farmers who were trying to make a living. When settlers first began arriving to the Valley, most had to find a way to earn an income beyond their farms. It was very difficult to sell their produce, beyond “what could walk to Squamish,” which, as has been previously mentioned, and was also very hard. Before they could even start growing produce, however, they first had to clear the land. There was no dynamite, so the clearing all had to be done by saw and mattock or by fire, which was the preferred method, but took years. It was very difficult for a farm to become successful, until it had at least been worked for many years. The difficulties of starting a farm did not lay solely in clearing the land. Farmers also had to build their own barns, drain their fields so the crops didn’t drown, and build dykes. They had to face blistering heat, dreadful floods, heavy snowfall, summer frosts, and swarms of vicious mosquitoes.

The farms were time-consuming, required constant back-breaking work, and had very little pay off. After they cleared enough land, some pioneers were able to feed themselves and their families. What food they couldn’t grow on the farm they hunted or traded for. However, food was not their only requirement, and everything else required money. Money that their farms were not giving them. However, the rules of pre-emption meant that they had to live on their land and improve it as well, so farming was for some a requirement. Pioneer life was “an unending struggle” to improve the farms and also find ways to earn money. Jobs were rare and often very physical. Some men were hired to build bridges, trails, and then roads. Some delved into prospecting. In 1905 the Dominion Fish Hatchery provided casual employment as well. The local sawmill, first owned by Dermody and then Perkins was another job source.

By 1910 the farms started to improve. One pre-emptor, Robert Hutchinson, was quoted by a reporter as saying that “Pemberton was the garden spot of British Columbia.” At the time he had been living here for five years, and had seen plenty of new settlers arrive and pre-empt thousands of acres. As isolated as Pemberton was, there were some benefits to farming as well. There were few diseases affecting crops. In fact, another reporter for the British Columbian raved about the town, stating that “[in] Pemberton Meadows the condition of soil and climate, from a horticultural standpoint, are perhaps more perfect than in any other part of the province.” Even then, most of the farms were focused on livestock, and there were not many crops. Three years later, however, hay and potatoes were being farmed for railway camps. A surveyor for the provincial government had travelled to Pemberton, and declared that the benefits of a railway for the agricultural possibilities of the town would be astounding. The surveyor, along with Jack Ronayne, saw the possibilities of growing fruit and potatoes, once they had flood protection. By 1915, as the railway was under progress, farmers began to grow acres of wheat, oats, and peas. The railway allowed farmers to transport their goods for market, which meant crops were not grown only for personal or local use.  “Only the railway could have encouraged the men to expand as they had.” In fact, the arrival of the rail opened up so many opportunities for farms to expand, that within the year agricultural experts were travelling to the town to give advice.

However, things were not perfect. Farmers were growing more crops, but those with animals were still suffering. Half the calves and 80% of the foals being born were dying quickly. The piglets were being born hairless, and only about 5% survived. It was unclear how much longer these farmers were going to be able to live in Pemberton if the deaths continued at this rate. It was Jack Ronayne, who kept a meticulous diary on everything he saw on his farm and around the Valley, who finally discovered the solution. The problem was goitre, which caused the necks of the animals to swell until they died. Pemberton was not the only town with this problem, and no one knew what caused it, or how to treat it. Until Jack. He noticed a connection between animals with the disease, and those living around pumice stones. He also discovered that the solution to this seemingly insurmountable, dreadful problem, was just a simple dose of iodine.

Fifteen years after his death he was still being praised for his work. An article in the magazine Country Life, by Tom Leaks, celebrated Jack. Leaks wrote “Few will conceive it possible that a farmer situated in the isolated valley of Pemberton had anything to do with the discovery that goitre was caused by the lack of iodine in the system. But it was through the persistency of that Irish settler, John [Jack] Ronayne, that you have iodized salt on your table.”

In 1924, the Pemberton Valley Farmer’s Institute was formed. The goal of this organization was to improve the conditions of the land and the lives of the farmers so that settlement could be permanent in the area. The Institute purchased, held, and distributed goods for the famers, and set up exhibitions such as the Fall Fair. They helped spread information and teach farmers about agricultural practices. Almost a decade later the Pemberton and District Board of Trade was formed, which helped with marketing the produce. In addition to local exhibitions, farmers also went to national competitions with their best produce. It took hours to examine each fruit and vegetable, and to pick the best ones. Time was not the only cost of these exhibitions. Farmers had to pay for all of their own expenses, including the cost of the freight, and the agent’s commission. But the efforts of the farmers and the organizations they formed improved marketing, storage, and disease control.

Pemberton was a hard place to settle, but the farmers were determined and passionate. They helped to form the town into what it is today.  T

This year Pemberton is turning 160 years old as a place name on European Maps so to honor this the museum is putting out a series of Throwback Thursday blogs.





 P 209.2_Canoe Grp

Jack Ronayne Paddling

P 111.1_Haying Rig Group

Herb Steinbrunner and P.A. Fowler carry Alice, Bill, and Len Fowler on the hay rig.

P 88.5_Caspar Charlie

Caspar Charlie with his mower and team.

P 119.11_Haying

Arvid "Andy" Anderson and Gunnar Gimse, with Matt on the load. Taken in 1939.

P 119.16_Haying

Haying with Joe Ronayne's team, Pip and Squeek.

P 190.1_Digging Potatoes Grp

Farmers would often help one another when they needed it. These men are digging potatoes in the 1940s.