The Story of Niagara Fruit

Customs and Excise Examiner, Jul 1952
Cowan, Glenn K., Author
Media Type
Item Type
Article about the fruit industry in Niagara region, published in Customs and Excise Examiner, an official publication of the Customs and Excise Officers Association.
p.4 (5,7,12 and 15); ill.( black and white photographs); size: 20cm x 26.5cm
Customs and Excise Officers Association
Place of Publication
Montreal, Quebec
Date of Publication
Jul 1952
Local identifier
Language of Item
Huggins, Jean A. E. (1895-1989)0)
Copyright Statement
Copyright status unknown. Responsibility for determining the copyright status and any use rests exclusively with the user.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library
Agency street/mail address:
10 Anderson Lane P.O. Box 430
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON L0S 1J0
Full Text

HISTORIC Niagara Peninsula, where farmers still unearth old Indian arrow heads and the rifle balls of General Brock's victorious forces, now makes history in the peaceful pursuit of fruit farming.

Today's American visitor, once past the city limits of Niagara Falls, or the Canadian traveller entering the peninsula through the gateway of Hamilton, finds himself in a wonderland of rare agricultural beauty. Mile upon mile of ruler-straight vineyard rows, and thousands of acres of peaches, cherries, plums, pears, and other delicious fruits sweep into view against the vivid green relief of the Niagara escarpment to the south and the bright, cold blue of Lake Ontario to the north. Here in Canada's most heavily populated rural area, over 45,000 acres of rich, sandy clay soil are put to work raising the nation's largest crop of fruit by an industrious, highly skilled farming community. Its only major Canadian rivals are the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia.

Most of the fruit area lies in the narrow, low-lying strip between the Niagara escarpment and Lake Ontario. Another smaller fruit belt is found just west and south of Niagara Falls city, and a third region comprises the sandy strip of land surrounding the high ground at Fonthill.

Nature has been generous to Niagara in the three essentials for good fruit cultivation — a warm, temperate climate with hot summers and not too long or severe winters ; well drained clay or sandy loam soils, and sufficient round-the-year rainfall. Even so, some Canadian winters are cold enough to kill the more delicate trees like the peach, and only a mile or less back from the top of the escarpment the winters are too severe for most of the peninsula's fruits. In climate, the Niagara Peninsula gets by with the "skin of its teeth" but it does get by and manages to produce a whopping crop of fruit nearly every year.

According to the last published figures, the peninsula grows 1,000 acres of peaches, 15,700 acres of grapes, with plums and prunes planted on 4,100 acres, pears on 4,000, cherries on 3,300 and apples on 2,700. There are also large acreages of strawberries, raspberries, other small fruits and cantaloupes. For the statistically minded, 13,000 acres of peaches represent over 1,700,000 trees.

The size and goodness of the crops have brought wealth to the farmer and health-giving fruits to the nearby, heavily industrialized cities and towns, like Hamilton, Toronto and St. Catharines. Fruit growing also supports a number of allied industries. Niagara is noted for its canning plants, its wineries and a large basket-making industry.

When the first white settlers came to the peninsula, they found wild fruit trees prospering in the warmth of the hot summer suns. Among the earliest group were a few refugees from the French Revolution who quickly sensed the fruit possibilities and imported a variety of fruit trees from France.

Private growing continued and a historian has noted from the diary of Governor Simcoe's wife, under the date of July 2nd, 1793, that peach trees were prospering at the back of Simcoe's residence. As early as 1819 peaches were plentiful in the peninsula, but the first record of commercial fruit growing goes back to 1825, or 1830, when one James Durham set out an extensive peach orchard on the River Road near Queenston. Today that property is known as "Fisher Farm".

Let's look in on a typical fruit farmer. Our bus races along Highway number eight from Hamilton and just past Winona the driver lets us off at the old "50" church. There we walk toward the lake down a tree-covered roadway. Only a few hundred yards along, John Bridgeman waits for us on the wide veranda of his red-brick home. A cherry orchard crowds his broad, well-kept lawns, and trees hide most of the large barn at the back.

It is nearly 50 years, 1900, since young John Bridgeman moved onto this land, now a total of 50 acres. Those early years were truly pioneering. No fruit had been grown commercially on this particular soil before, and there were many failures — but also welcome discoveries, and success. Little or no technical information was available and fruit farmer Bridge-man, along with his fellow farmers, went ahead on the trial and error method. For instance, on a particularly sandy area he tried to grow grapes. But every year he lost money for they did not produce in commercial quantities.

'Frying again, he tore out the grapes and grew berries and asparagus for a number of years ; but not until he noticed that cherries seemed to thrive on that particular soil did he hit upon the correct crop. The land now supports one of the best cherry orchards on the peninsula.

Many such difficulties plague the modern fruit farmer who probably has more "natural" enemies than any other type of farmer. Yet this industry has proved a satisfying and rewarding livelihood to thousands of industrious citizens like John Bridgeman.

When a new orchard is to be planted at the Bridgeman farm — peaches, for example — the old trees are first rooted out. They have yielded well for perhaps fifteen years but have begun to drop off. The ground is then thoroughly cultivated, plowed and disced, and young trees, three or four feet in height, are planted. If this were new ground the farmer would have to face several questions concerning the soil. The provincial Department of Agriculture bulletins and soil analysis by agricultural experts would tell him if the land were suitable for peaches, which prefer deep, gravelly, or sandy loams and need excellent drainage. At the Bridgeman farm, 80,000 tile drains have been laid under the orchards to remove water in the spring and alter rains. Tree roots need an adequate supply of air, and if water lies on the surface for a few hours after a heavy rain, preventing aeration of the soil, damage may result.

Frees are set out in even rows, and a definite space for each kind of fruit must be left between the plants — 20 to 22 feet being the right spacing for peaches, where field mice and rabbits abound, two feet of wire netting is often placed around the young tree to keep the animals from eating its tender bark.

Immediately after planting, the first pruning operation is undertaken and all the side branches, except one small shoot halfway up, are removed, leaving just a single, upright stock.

During the first few years, field crops like tomatoes are often grown between the small trees. In the spring, a year after planting, the trees are trimmed again and only the few branches and spurs needed at maturity are left. This is the beginning of the familiar symmetrical tree, shaped for high production.

The care of the soil is most important for fruit trees. Normally the ground is kept plowed and disced between the trees. Some years, however, a crop of clover is planted and then plowed back into the ground to maintain its organic matter. Considerable fertilizer is also used, both manure and chemical types like C-I-L's 4-8-10, a mixture of nitrogen, phosphate and potash.

Thinning is a major operation. Each spring when the peaches are as big as hickory nuts, as much as two-thirds of the crop is plucked oft to let the remaining fruit receive a larger amount of nourishment from the tree and develop a greater size. From one tree on which a count was kept at the Bridgeman farm 4,000 baby peaches were removed. On many farms bees are hired during the spring when the blossoms are on and the hives are placed in the orchards to assist pollination. Here, 15 hives are required.

Trustees is not a board of directors of a financial organization in the ordinary sense. It is, as the name implies, a Board of Trustees entrusted with the responsibility of protecting to the best of its ability the interests of one of the parties in the negotiation and periodic renewal of a contract.

As a matter of practice the insuring companies have been supplying the Board with sufficient information regarding benefits paid, administrative costs of operation, claims and premiums collected, to permit the Board to satisfy itself that the premiums charged are reasonable in consideration of the benefits provided and that the operational costs are moderate.

It should be emphasized that this information includes much which is concerned with normal business operations in a competitive field. In accordance with common practice it would not be made public even in the companies' annual financial statements. It is supplied to the Board in confidence as a guide in determining the best interests of plan members in the amending or renewal of the contract at certain proposed rates. The Board feels it must use it as such and preserve its confidential nature.

The Board of Trustees has already made a report to the National Joint Council covering the first year's operation of the plan which shows that over 90% of premiums paid in has been returned in benefits. Certain categories have shown a much higher claims rate than was expected, with benefits paid exceeding premiums collected, Regardless of this unfavourable experience, the companies have agreed to conditional renewal for the second year at original rates with a view to permitting adequate experience to accumulate as a basis for review of the whole rate structure.

For the above reasons, your Board of Trustees cannot see its way clear to issue, periodically, and to various employee associations and individuals, detailed statements of costs of operation such as have been requested. Suggestions for improvement and elimination of injustices are very helpful and gratefully received by the Board. But insistence in the demands for financial statements does nothing to improve the plan's operation. Indeed it does much to embarrass the Board and transfer negotiations with the underwriters from an atmosphere of co-operation and goodwill to one of tension and difficulty and is therefore a disservice to all plan members.

The Board also wishes to take this opportunity of stressing the fact, which is referred to above, that it is responsible to the National Joint Council of the Public Service of Canada and that it reports to the Council from time to time and that the Council, on which the staff associations are represented, has approved the Board's attitude and policy with respect to financial statements which is outlined herein.


Spraying is the principal chore of the Niagara fruit farmer. Since thousands of different pests lie in wait to attack the crops, the agricultural scientists have evolved a massive armoury of insecticides and pesticides to protect the fruit orchards. Spraying begins early in the spring. The farmer is guided by a spray calendar sent out each year by the Ontario Department of Agriculture from its experimental station at Vineland Station in the centre of the peninsula. The station also sends out additional bulletins every week, or more often if needed, telling the farmer the exact time to use the different types of spray.

As many as five to ten sprays may be needed before the fruit is picked, and failure to use any one of them permit pests to cause serious crop injury. With several varieties of fruit, spraying is almost a continuous job from early spring until midsummer at Bridgeman's.

Fruit picking is a long and tedious operation and the farmer must hire extra help for the job. Cherries ripen toward the end of June and from then until the late fall the picking of different fruits is more or less continuous. Some fruits, like peaches, must be picked over three or four times and may take about three weeks to complete, for not all the fruit ripens at one time. Picking at the correct stage of ripeness is one of the arts of good fruit farming.

Fruit is a perishable product and must be handled expertly to maintain the quality from the farm to the table. The selling and distribution of fruit to canners and markets is a business by itself and is done largely through cooperatives and shippers. It reaches markets all the way from the Maritimes to the prairie provinces. The pre-cooling and cold storage plant at Grimsby, of which Mr. Bridgeman is president, is one of several on the peninsula which have helped greatly in placing the fruit on distant markets in good condition. By rapid cooling immediately after picking, fruit can be left on the tree to ripen to a full flavour.

In the winter season the farmer is kept busy pruning for although the spring is the best time for this operation, every suitable winter day is needed to finish the task.

Costs are a major factor in fruit farming. Such annual items as $1,000. worth of pesticides, $1,000. worth of manure and chemical fertilizer, and the salaries of two hired men, as well as those of the pickers, make a sizeable total at the Bridgeman farm. It is generally considered that ten acres of fruit farm land represent an investment equivalent to 100 acres of a field crop farm.

Nearly 4,000 fruit farms now dot the Niagara Peninsula, most of which grow an average of 10 to 12 acres of fruit. The heart and centre of this prosperous fruit land is the Ontario Government Horticultural Experiment Station at Vineland Station. Here the problems of the fruit farmer are tackled on a scientific basis by expert technicians and agricultural scientists under the direction of Dr. E. F. Palmer. The greatest part of the work is experimental - the investigation of pruning, soil fertility, pest control and general cultural practices.

As an additional service, the up-to-the-minute spray bulletins are sent out in co-operation with the Dominion Government Entomological Laboratory and the Pathological Laboratories at St. Catharines. At present, over 3,500 Niagara farmers make use of this bulletin service. Without it the crops of Niagara would be gravely endangered.

The Vineland experimental farm operates 215 acres of land on which are grown a great variety of fruits and vegetables. The development of new and improved varieties more suitable to the climate and soil conditions of Niagara is a principal undertaking at the farm. Fifty percent of the total Niagara peach crop is now grown from varieties developed there.

The control of insects and disease is one of the major studies at the Experimental Farm. New pesticides are developed and the habits of the enemies of fruit are thoroughly studied. As well, new varieties of trees, more immune to disease and pests, are sought. Pest control is a complicated operation, and in the Niagara Peninsula the problem is growing worse yearly with the increasing prevalence of new types of pests and the spreading of others.

Such is the case with the Oriental peach moth. Unknown in North America until its introduction for scientific study over 30 years ago, this instructive pest now threatens peach crops through the entire eastern half of the continent. In Canada, it first appeared in 1925 and spread rapidly. Many methods have been developed to destroy the insect such as the introduction of its natural enemy, the parasite Maerocentrus ancylevorus, which lays eggs in the peach moth's larvae, causing their destruction. A group of sprays are the chief weapon against the insect. These include formulations of DDF, Parathion and lead and zinc, all made by C-I-L. For diseases, many different sprays have proven effective, such as "Sulforon", "Fermate" and "Krenite".

One great problem still facing the Canadian fruit farmer and the scientist is that of frost control. Almost every year serious damage is done by frost. The experimental farm is presently testing an infra red heater which was developed at the Michigan State College. In it, oil is burned on frosty nights and infra red rays are given off and transmitted over a wide area. Only two are needed for each acre. The infra red rays are not affected by air movement and travel directly to the trees or any solid object, in their path, causing internal heat to be generated. But the high cost of operation owing to its large consumption of oil is still an obstacle against the widespread use of the device, and new methods are still being sought.

Despite the problems, Niagara's hard-working farmers, with the aid of nature and science, are, each year, giving Canada an increasingly rich and healthful crop of fruit.

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The Story of Niagara Fruit

Article about the fruit industry in Niagara region, published in Customs and Excise Examiner, an official publication of the Customs and Excise Officers Association.
p.4 (5,7,12 and 15); ill.( black and white photographs); size: 20cm x 26.5cm