Ontario's Garden Spot, The Niagara District

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Peach-growing an Old and Yet a New Industry. Peaches Were Grown Along Niagara River Over 100' Years Ago—The Fruit Once Sold in St. Catharines at 25c Per Bushel—Present Prospects Along the River —Losses in Tomatoes.
Someone, desiring to pay a delicate compliment to the French capital, once said, before war had cast its dark shadow over Europe, that "Paris is the place to which good Americans go when they die." To those Canadians who live in the Niagara peach belt, and more particularly to those living along the shore of Niagara river, even Paris at its best offers nothing better than is possessed now. As one stands on the river bank a little south of Queenston, with "the Heights" touching the horizon on the right, the river road half hidden by the overhanging branches of peach and cherry orchards to the left, and with hornet embowered amid the most luxuriant foliage of summer dotting the shore of the American side of the, silver stream, there is presented on all sides a scene in which Man and Nature have joined the production of finished beauties that may be duplicated else-where, but can hardly be surpassed anywhere This year, too, despite the difficulties and perplexities created by three years of war, all appears to be well with Niagara fruit-growers. Peach and cherry trees never appeared in better health; never have I seen evidence of more perfect cultivation than is to be found to-day, in some of the orchards at least. The Niagara fruit crop, too, taken on the whole, is not doing badly.
Peaches Promise Fair Crop Here.
"In this immediate neighborhood," said Mr. Wm. Armstrong, whose thirty acres of peach orchard front on the Niagara River, "pears and plums are a little shy, but sour cherries have done very well, and peaches promise at least a fair crop. In peaches the fruit is well grown and is well distributed over the trees. We should have 20,000 baskets on our own place. One of my sons has eighty acres in peaches at St. David's, and he has a magnificent crop. The Sneed is just coming in, the Greensboro will be in next week, and the Yellow St. John will follow."
Cost of Fertilizing.
"We keep up cultivation until about the 1st of August, and then nature provides us with a cover crop in the form of chick weed," said Mr. Armstrong. "For fertility we depend upon manure hauled from Toronto. This costs $1.65 per ton laid down at siding, and the haul to my place is only about half a mile after that. We buy three hundred tons a year, and that gives a light annual dressing for our farm. "Peach trees begin to bear at about three years, and I have some that are still fruiting fairly well at twenty years of age, but this is rare. Trees can be kept in production for so long a period only by heading back and prevention of overloading.
Had to Pull Up One Whole Orchard.
"One of the unpleasant experiences in this line as in other fruit-growing lines is in getting nursery stock that is not true to name. I had one unpleasant experience in that line myself. I planted two acres with what I bought for Yellow St. John's, but when the trees reached four years of age they proved to be useless seedlings, and I had to pull out the whole lot."
Prospects Around St. Catharines.
"Peaches promise fairly well around St.Catharines largely owing to [..] the last two weeks. Raspberries will be light as a result of winter injury, and pears and plums will also give small yields, but sour cherries will be a moderate crop." Speking of the labor situation in the Niagara fruit belt, Mr. Armstrong said: "Help is not only scarce, but it is expensive. Ten years ago, when peaches were selling higher than they will sell this year, I was able to get good men to hire at 15c an hour, without board. To-day my son would give free house, vegetables, fruit, etc., and $60 a month for a married man, but cannot get one. Day men, without board, are getting $3 a day." By way of comparison with the conditions of to-day, Mr. Armstrong handed me a diary kept by his father-in-law, the late James Durham. On one page of this diary, written in the early fifties, Mr. Durham recorded the hiring of a man, Matthew Rose, for eight months, at $10 per month, commencing in March. And prices of farm produce then were not so much lower than now, as in the diary there is record of selling barley at 4s 9d, Halifax currency, per bushel, and hay around $10 and $11 per ton. Today girls are earning in the orchards about treble the wage Mr. Durham paid to Rose in the fifties. Girls this season have been employed not only in picking fruit, but in hoeing as well. Mr. Armstrong's son is partially solving his labor problem by using a tractor in cultivating his peach orchard. He has three-quarters of a mile run one way, between his trees, and can thus use a tractor to advantage. His trees are twenty feet apart each way, his tractor pulls a double-disc, and he gives two strokes of the disc between each row of trees, the cultivator going within a foot of the trunks, thus leaving very little hand work to be done. On Mr. Armstrong's own place an extension disc, operated by horsepower, is being used. With this he can run up to within six inches of the trunks, and that leaves almost no handwork to do.
Intercropping in Orchards.
Of course this was not a case of a dead loss of the use of land for that period, as the spaces between trees are used for other crops while the trees are young. Just now, for example, Mr. Armstrong has two acres of peach land in which the trees have been out for two years, with tomatoes growing in the intervals. Tomatoes [...] mouth of the river [...] beauty spots of the Niagara district. Here, too, the soil is peculiarly well adapted to peach growing. On the farm of Mr. J. M. Mussen peach trees six years out, and twenty feet apart, are already beginning to touch branches between rows. Altogether, Mr. Mussen has eight acres of peaches four years out, six acres ten years out and twelve acres of peaches and plums seven years old, and is counting on a 10,000-basket crop. An interesting feature on the Mussen farm is the Butler burial plot, in which the commander of Butler's Rangers was buried.
An Old, and Yet New, Industry.
The story of peach-growing in the Niagara Peninsula is old, and yet new. According to Miss Carnochan, historian of the Niagara Historical Society, some peaches were grown here in the time of Governor Simcoe, and before that even. The commercial end of peach-growing, in a small way at least, appears to date back for over half a century, since we are told by the authority just quoted that the late King Edward, on visiting Toronto as Prince of Wales in 1860, was served with Niagara peaches. "There was not, however, very much done in the way of commercial growing over 35 years ago," said Mr. Armstrong, "and at first prices were low. I have been here for 40 years only, and I have repeatedly sold peaches in St. Catharines, and very slowly at that, for 25c per bushel. But there has been a great change since then. In one day last season one Toronto retailer sold 500 baskets of peaches from my own farm. People in urban centres have come to realize that fruit is not an occasional luxury, but an everyday necessity to good living, and I expect to nearly, double the price per basket this year that I received per bushel in the beginning.
Apples Give Way to Peaches.
"There have been other changes than those that have occurred in the matter of prices. When I first located on this farm it was all in apple trees. These were gradually dug out, and peaches substituted. There are hardly any apples at all grown in this section to-day. "The first considerable peach orchard in the Niagara district was on the farm of my wife's grandfather,James Durham. He died on March 7, [1835 ?] and his son replanted the orchard in 1850." On Mr. Armstrong's farm, worked as part of the frame work of a [...] summer cottage, there are the wheels of the waggon on which the first peaches were hauled to market from the Durham farm. Despite all the manifold advantages and delights of Niagara district, people have their troubles even there. Mr. Armstrong has an excellent crop of tomatoes, for which he is realizing satisfactory prices, but his situation is peculiarly favorable. He is on an elevation of the river bank, where there is good natural drainage. On some of the lower lands growers have not been so fortunate. In a number of cases, indeed, tomato plantations were ruined by the long continued period of rain early in the season. On the Mussen farm seven acres had to be plowed up altogether, the land in this case being seeded to corn for feed.
Potatoes Suffer, Too.
Injury in this line has not been confined to the territory lying along the Niagara River. "I have the poorest crop of tomatoes I have ever had," said Mr. Bunting. "I have not plowed up any of my plants, but it would have been better had I done so. One of my neighbors plowed over five acres and others have turned under plantations of varying sizes. Potatoes as well as tomatoes have suffered from the excessive rains in early spring and I had to plow down a four-acre crop of them".

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Newspaper clippings with article about fruit growing along Niagara River.
There is handwritten date: "1913". Unknown publication starting with "The Farm[...}"; some parts missing.
From Armstrong family collection.
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Personal Name(s):
William Armstrong
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Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library
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10 Anderson Lane P.O. Box 430
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
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Ontario's Garden Spot, The Niagara District

Newspaper clippings with article about fruit growing along Niagara River.
There is handwritten date: "1913". Unknown publication starting with "The Farm[...}"; some parts missing.