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Canada's long history of apple growing

A look back at how the "king of fruits" became a Canadian agricultural staple

  • Aug 11, 2016
  • 574 words
  • 3 minutes
Canadian apples in England Expand Image

Growing fruit, although arguably a pleasant profession, is probably the greatest gamble on earth. So posits a feature story from a 1938 issue of the Canadian Geographical Journal (the former name of the magazine you know and love today). 

The article, published in the September issue of that year and written by an M. B. Davis and R. L. Wheeler, details the early history of Canada’s apple industry and features a charming selection of photographs of early orchardists (see below). 

Deemed the “king of fruits,” apples were first cultivated in Canada by early French settlers, with the first planted trees appearing in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley around 1633. For a while, only one variety – the Fameuse, also known as the Snow apple – reached commercial importance. But when varieties from south of the border started seeping into the market, they were met with mixed feelings. The 1886 annual report of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association stated that “American tree peddlers began to infest the country and though they are a fraud and a deception in many cases, yet on the whole, they have been a benefit to the country.”

The biggest obstacle to cultivating new apples, as is often the case in Canada, was climate. But, as is also often the case, Davis and Wheeler write that “without undue pessimism, the Candian apple grower faces the facts squarely.” The federal government launched a breeding campaign, and today close to 20 different varieties of apple are grown in Ontario alone.

While Nova Scotia can claim much of Canada’s early apple-related history, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia have since become players in the industry (with the creation of the Crimson Beauty, Fameuse, McIntosh Red, and Spartan apples under their belts, respectively).

Apple innovation has continued in Canada with the introduction of the Canadian-created Arctic Apple, which has been genetically modified to resist browning and thus, help reduce food waste.

Related: Nova Scotia genetics researcher revolutionizing apple agriculture 

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Left: The original McIntosh Red apple was a chance seedling transplanted to cultivation by John McIntosh in 1796. The photo on the left shows its discoverer and all that was left of the tree, about twenty-five years before the article was published. Right: Memorial to John McIntosh and the McIntosh Red Apple erected by popular demand near the spot occupied by the original tree. (Photos courtesy McIntosh Nursery Company/Canadian Geographic Archives)
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It takes twelve years for the apple orchard to bear an appreciable crop. This photo shows a young orchard in the Vernon district of British Columbia (Photo: Stocks/Canadian Geographic Archives)
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After the trees are planted it is a continual fight against disease, insect pests, and unfavourable climatic conditions. Here, a horse-drawn cart sprays an Ontario orchard. (Photo: Canadian Geographic Archives)
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In the land of Evangeline, looking from the top of the Blomidon down on a section of Nova Scotia’s apple country. (Photo: Hardy, Kentville, N.S./Canadian Geographic Archives)
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Canada marketed apples in 6 or 11 quart bushel hampers or boxes, or the three-bushel barrel. (Photo: Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau/Canadian Geographic Archives)
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Apples being trucked from the orchard to the packing house (Photo: Stocks/Canadian Geographic Archives)
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A large percentage of Canada’s apple crop was stored under controlled temperature conditions in cold storage warehouses. (Photo courtesy Ontario Travel and Publicity Bureau/Canadian Geographic Archives)
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Graphics from the original 1938 article in the Canadian Geographical Journal.

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