Canada’s horticultural past

When looking back over a nation’s development, do you normally think of apples and strawberries, celery and onions? Not usually. However, horticulture, as in most societies, played a major role in Canada’s development. The men and women who established and worked in our horticultural industry certainly saw themselves as helping shape our national destiny.

Canada’s horticulture progressed from a focus on trial-and-error subsistence to a focus on commerce. The development was uneven, always tempered by climate and geography, yet supported by the attitude that North America was “an endless natural garden to be cultivated and exploited.” Canadian growers, by the 1930s, were well able to stand on their own horticultural feet.

 

Alexander McDonald Allan (1844-1933) Goderich, Ontario

Allan, who served as president of the Fruit Growers’ Association of Ontario (FGAO) in 1886, was one of Ontario’s largest exporters of fruit to England.”[i] In 1887, he was called the “Fruit King of Canada” because he was “recognized by the fruit-growers both of Canada and the United States as one of their most trustworthy experts in all horticultural matters.”[ii] At age 43, Allan was profiled in the Canadian Horticulturist: “… a tall, broad-shouldered, black-bearded man …, with a gentle face and a deep, tender voice. The secret of his gentleness is soon learned, for ‘I was born a fruit-grower,’ he says; ‘and, though my father was on a farm, it was always in the orchard that they looked for me. No doubt I am prejudiced,’ he adds apologetically, ‘but I do honestly think there is nothing in the world to compare with fruit-growing, and, … I would be as kind to a tree as I would to a person. I would not hurt it for the world.’”[iii] He was Canada’s representative at the Colonial Exposition in 1886 and was appointed, in 1887, Fruit Commissioner for international exhibitions. He was also a regular contributor to various publications. Allan visited British Columbia in 1889 to investigate the horticultural possibilities there. His speech before the Vancouver Board of Trade was said to help inspire forming the British Columbia Fruit Growers’ Association. In 1902, he helped establish the London Fruit Company, which received orders for two million barrels of apples in 1903.[iv]

[i] “The Fruit King of Canada,” Canadian Horticulturist (February 1887): 44. See a description of his home: T.H. Race, “A Visit to the President’s Home at Goderich,” Canadian Horticulturist (November 1889): 308-309; and “Some Prominent Canadian Horticulturists—I. Mr. Alexander McD. Allan,” Canadian Horticulturist (January 1880): 4-6.

[ii] “The Fruit King of Canada,” 44; Race. “A Visit to the President’s Home at Goderich,” 308-309; and “Some Prominent Canadian Horticulturists—I. Mr. Alexander McD. Allan,” 4-6.

[iii] “The Fruit King of Canada,” 44; Race. “A Visit to the President’s Home at Goderich,” 308-309; and “Some Prominent Canadian Horticulturists—I. Mr. Alexander McD. Allan,” 4-6.

[iv] David Yates, “Alexander McD. Allan: ‘The Fruit King of Canada,’” The Goderich Signal (23 March 2016): 7.