The end of an era: When the apple was king

A week ago, Robert Turner cut down the last of his apple trees, including the Turner Red Delicious.

Ronald Turner stands with his last Turner Red Delicious before the tree is cut down.

With the buzz of a chain saw came the end of a chapter in Salmon Arm’s history.

In 1895, Robert Turner, who has been called the father of the Salmon Arm fruit-growing industry, hopped off the CPR dining car where he worked as a cook to try his hand at farming. He purchased land in Salmon Arm with a small orchard. Over the years the Turner orchards grew, stretching over 70 acres from the site of the current Service BC centre down beyond McGuire Lake and up as far as the bowling alley.

The Turner Red Delicious apple became well-known both locally and afar.

Robert’s son Ronald Turner grew up working in the orchard. Although he eventually moved away from Salmon Arm, he came back when he retired. He inherited property near the Jackson campus of Salmon Arm Secondary at the corner of 16th Street NE and 6th Avenue NE, which included the remaining Turner orchard.

Still a going concern at 98, Ronald has been a stickler about looking after his trees himself. He hasn’t wanted them to be the source of damage to commercial fruit growers nearby by allowing pests such as the codling moth to flourish.

When caring for them became increasingly difficult, he made a decision about what needed to be done. A week ago, he followed through. The remaining trees were cut down, including the Turner Red Delicious.

“It’s the last I know of on this place,” he says, adding it’s possible there are more elsewhere in the area.

Ronald says the Delicious tree was amongst nursery stock his dad purchased from Coldstream.

“It always had solid red apples on it while all the others were half coloured. At that same time, a nursery in the States was advertising a red Delicious apple and called it ‘Star King.’ My dad thought, ‘What are they talking about? I’ve got one myself,’” Ronald recounts, explaining his dad decided to grow more of them. “In time it became quite famous. And it was called the Turner Red Delicious.”

At one time the area above McGuire Lake was all Turner Red Delicious variety until the highway took a lot of the land, he says, so too was the orchard where the bowling alley now sits.

But, it seems, an apple is only as popular as its last crisp.

“The strange thing with apples is the varieties keep changing. They keep discovering a better apple, a tastier apple, a more colourful apple. Now Delicious is pretty well out. So many varieties have taken their place.”

Ronald did leave one tree untouched – the Wealthy apple.

“In the much earlier days, when Dad first started in the orchard, he ordered some nursery stock from Minnesota,” recalls Ronald. “Among them…, I have reason to believe one of those is the Wealthy tree growing at the end of the driveway. That tree I figure must be close to 100 years old now.”

The Wealthy variety, he says, crops once every second year, which diminished its commercial viability.

“I think the MacIntosh took the Wealthy off the market, yet today, some of the oldtimers claim it’s one of the best pie apples we have today.”

Ronald remembers teams of horses lined up ‘downtown’ with their wagons of apples waiting to be unloaded. He remembers the rainy day chore of assembling apple boxes, which came in bundles. He remembers when apple trees were much taller.

“In the old days as the trees grow you’d end up buying taller ladders. At one time we ended up with one 14-foot ladder,” he laughs. “It was difficult to find a person who was a good ladder man.”

The hired help could expect to be paid 25 or 30 cents an hour, he recalls.

“Forty cents an hour was big wages. Some growers were only paying 15 cents an hour.”

He remembers innovations arising from the Turner operation. Like the method for spraying for pests. The old way involved going down every second row and dragging a hose halfway around a tree to one side and then to the other. One day one of the men was too sick to drag the hose any longer.

“They decided, why not just sit on the spraying machine and go down each row. Word got up to Summerland, some damn fool down there is riding the sprayer,” he laughs. “From that day on, they kept improving the method, putting seats on there, then ones where we got a little platform out behind, you could stand on it.”

But the biggest change for Salmon Arm’s apple business was “what we called the Big Freeze of 1949 -’50. That killed off more or less half the fruit trees,” he recalls. Around the same time, it became possible to buy fruit year round. “Almost anything – grapes, oranges… Today you can buy fruit from all over the world. That as much as anything contributed to the downfall of the apple industry.”

For Ronald Turner, though, apples remain part of who he is.

“Growing apples is in my blood.”

His daughter Janice Turner points out that along with growing his own garden and cooking his own meals, he still makes lots of applesauce and apple jams and jellies.

Asked about the secret to a long and healthy life, Ronald doesn’t mention apples, however.

“Keep on breathing,” he laughs.

“And his gin and tonic a day,” Janice adds.

Although the chopping of Ronald Turner’s beloved trees is significant to the history of Salmon Arm’s apple industry, he is not so much saddened as satisfied. As a conscientious apple grower, now he won’t have to worry anymore about taking proper care of them.

“It might be a bit of a relief.”

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Tough time for tree fruits as some B.C. farm products soar

Province reports record 2019 sales, largely due to cannabis

Electric vehicle chargers being installed at Salmon Arm Canadian Tire

The chargers operated by Electrify Canada are expected to be operational by the fall.

Okanagan College bestows highest honour to five individuals

Couple from Westbank First Nation and men from Vernon, Kelowna and Shuswap named Honourary Fellows

Bikers Are Buddies set up in North Okanagan-Shuswap

Non-profit motorcycle group rides to raise awareness around bullying

Salmon Arm Rotary Club doubles donations for food bank, women’s shelter

Donation matching initiative raises $22,000 for SAFE Society, Second Harvest

21 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in B.C. as virus ‘silently circulates’ in broader community

Health officials urge British Columbians to enjoy summer safely as surge continues

Bikers Are Buddies set up in North Okanagan-Shuswap

Non-profit motorcycle group rides to raise awareness around bullying

Separate trials set for 2018 Kelowna Canada Day killing

Four people have been charged with manslaughter in relation to Esa Carriere’s death, including two youths

Kootnekoff: New workplace harassment and violence requirements

Susan Kootnekoff is the founder of Inspire Law, her diverse legal career spans over 20 years.

Dyer: Buying an electric car

Kristy Dyer is a columnist for Black Press Media who writes about the environment

Summerland Museum to hold walking tours

Community’s past will be explained during series of summer tours

Summerland mayor asks for community conversation following racist vandalism

Home of Indo-Canadian family in Summerland was targeted on evening of July 13

HERGOTT: Goodbye column

Paul Hergott is taking a break from writing for Black Press

Province agrees to multimillion-dollar payout for alleged victims of Kelowna social worker

Robert Riley Saunders is accused of misappropriating funds of children — often Indigenous — in his care

Most Read