MARVELOUS CRESTON – A LAND OF PROMISE AND PERFORMANCE
[Accompanying photos include a frontal picture of Faas & Crawford and P.D. Hope’s stores; the Munro Hotel, George Munro prop.; a five year old apple orchard; S.A. Speers store; a dry log jam near Creston; the Creston Hotel, George Mead, prop.; a three year old apple orchard]
Creston, B.C., and its vicinity is the land of promise and performance. Promise bears the same relation to performance that the eating of the pudding bears to the proof of the excellence of the dish. It is recognized that Creston has proved to the world that it can grow fruit to perfection and with this point universally conceded by the public, very little is thought about the other resources of this remarkably fertile area which extends from Kitchener, on the south-east, to Sirdar on the north-west; besides embracing a very large extent of the country at the west side of the Kootenay river.
A consideration of the physical features of this district will help to show persistent natural conditions which tend to its fertility. During the summer season while the waters are high, the great and extensive bottoms along the Kootenay are shallowly flooded from the foothills on the west to the foothills on the east shore. Some say it is the water backed up from the lake that does the flooding, and others say it is the river that does the mischief. Probably a combination of both causes is the true solution of the condition. At any rate, a system of shallow lagoons, studded with low islands and willow brush, extends almost from Bonners Ferry to Kootenay Landing. Over this great extent of shallow water the evaporation and consequent humidity in warm weather are very considerable. Then the land around Creston has a general westerly and southerly exposure, and is backed to the east by a low range of hills that reflects every ray of sunshine, while it breaks all injurious winds. This combination of warmth and humidity tends to, and produces a condition of almost tropical luxuriousness of growth, not alone at the altitude of the C.P.R. depot (1901 feet) but for a thousand feet up the ridges behind the town. These slopes, or lower foothills of the Purcell range, most startlingly resemble portions of the vine growing districts in Central France, and since they are practically in the same latitude, there is no doubt but the grape will, in time, be successfully and profitably grown here. The feasibility of the project has already been demonstrated by J.C. Rykert, after whom a portion of this very range has been called Mount Rykert.
Since the name of Creston conjures up the idea of crates of strawberries, Bartlett pears, cantaloupes, musk melons and the most melting treasures of the fruit world, it is right to go at some length into the facts that justify the conjuration. At the same time it must be borne in mind that the word “Fruit” is far from being the only word, or the last word when the general resources of the locality come to be considered.
Creston, like a score of other places, owes its birth to the construction of the Crows Nest railway. Associated with the building of the road was Fred J. Little, who is proudly hailed as the Father of his Country. To him the land seemed good and of a pleasant nurture. One can think of him looking west across the level meadows on some autumn evening when the glow of the sunset was lighting the sky up towards Proctor, and saying in the midst of this wide quietness:
“A rosy sanctuary will I dress
With wreathed trellis of the rambling vine,
With buds, and bells, and stars without a name. “
All that, and more, he has accomplished at Willow Grove, where the crimson rambler rose makes the furnishing for the wreathed trellis by the doors and windows. It was he who first planted a fruit tree in Creston, or, indeed, in that whole country, and had the courage to laugh at those who laughed at him when he predicted a future for the place. Still, he never dared dream of the day when seven-eighths of an acre with some fifty fruit trees would realize $400. That is another story that will come in its proper place.
Mr. Little tells how, in ’92 or ’93, when Captain FitzStubbs was gold commissioner at Nelson, that gentleman was good enough to say that where Creston now stands “was only fit for Indians.” To many people it is now God’s own country, where the little pet angels are sent to have a really good time, and it was here he started in as the pioneer in the fruit growing and general agriculture. The trees in his orchard are about four inches in diameter at the stem and are most prolific bearers. Peach, nectarine, plum, pear, cherry and apple trees are all there. The peaches and nectarines thrive as well as the apples since there are never any severe frosts to hurt. Where such delicate fruits do well there is no need to say that small fruit do splendidly. By the way, where Willow Grove now stands was a cedar swamp when Mr. Little took it up, and owing to a bank or dyke of impervious clay below the house the water from the springs up hill flooded the ground. After this dyke was cut through and the waters released, the land became a perfect riot of vegetation. One crop of meadowing has been cut off the orchard, leaving a decent crop still on the ground through which a third is looking for the scythe.
Speaking of the prices of land Mr. Little states that within the 3 mile limits from Creston it will run to $100 an acre, but from that limit outwards it will cost, under average conditions of brush and forest growth, $80 an acre. He agrees with the general statement that ten acres planted in fruit and garden truck is as much as a hard working, industrious man and his family can handle successfully. Such a patch will provide such a man and those depending on him with all the necessaries and many of the luxuries of life. The first year will mean all the hard work of clearing and planting with no produce worth the name. Thereafter things will better themselves steadily. Average conditions are fairly illustrated by Ed. Haskin’s place near the Cartwright saw mill. This spring his 10 acres were thick with brush and stumps of the trees that had been logged off it. Now it is entirely cleared with a nice, comfortable house on the north end of the lot, which is all planted with fruit trees, between the rows of which potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sweet corn, beets, tomatoes and so on are doing splendidly. The entire little holding has a neat Page wire fence round it and is a pleasant spot to study. One begins to think how many holdings of a like acreage the country can be cut up into and the number of happy families the lots will support in comfort. If people must go back to the land, this is the kind of land to go back to. Haskins had plenty of practical experience of farming work in England though he never farmed any land of his own. He said that his 10 acres will afford him not alone ample work, but an ample living. His neighbor, Daniel Babbitt, agreed with this statement, and Daniel is one of the pioneers of the district in addition to being quite a land owner, having no less than 160 acres of fine land in his own hands. An extraordinary crop of mixed timothy and clover had been cut around Babbitt’s house and in a field close by was a crop of oats (said to have been planted in the middle of May) which was fully three feet high and carrying a remarkably heavy head. Two other crops of oats near by compare but poorly with Babbitt’s, so that the statement about the time it was planted was somewhat startling. It did not take long to have it made plain the 10 acres was enough for the requirements of any man and his family. There was a crop of mammoth red clover near Haskins’ that had simply crowded every other plant in its vicinity out of existence in its exuberant profusion. The crop must have run over three tons to the acre, and the ground was ready to produce another later on in the year nearly as heavy. With such crops the stock cannot starve.
The foregoing will give some idea of general, average results; but when one begins to specialize along some particular line down in the Creston country remarkable results may be expected. O.J. Wigen, whose fruit farm is near Duck Creek, some four or five miles nearer the Kootenay Landing, along the C.P.R. tracks, devotes most of his attention to the growing of strawberries whereof he has a little more than three acres under what may be called intensive cultivation. Off this patch he has sold during the present season $4,000 worth of fruit. Allowing $350 for cultivation of the ground, $500 for boxes and $500 for picking, these three acres and a fraction produced, nett to the owner, $2,650, or over $880 an acre. This, of course, is the exceptional case of an exceptional man endowed with special ability and gifted with a very special power of organization. The transport facilities are also of the best since all the passenger trains on the C.P.R. going west and east stop at the siding so that the fruit can be shipped by express.
Besides the quantity shipped by Mr. Wigen, there were, according to Robert Reid, the very courteous agent of the C.P.R. at Creston, over 1,400 boxes shipped by other growers. It can be safely said that this branch of the fruit industry has brought into the Creston district during the present season over $8,500.
Last year Samuel Brooks is stated to have cleared $1,000 from a single acre of tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and cantaloupes. The young tomato plants do not need to be grown under glass in the Creston country.
The strawberry most favored by the growers is known as the “Wilson,” a medium sized fruit of excellent flavor, carrying a hard seed and capable of being shipped and delivered as far east as Winnipeg in prime market condition. The over large insipid, soft varieties are steadily going out of favor with the experts since they will not keep, however well they may look when fresh picked.
The difficulty of procuring boxes when the berry crop is maturing has been a severe handicap to the growers and the best activity of Faas & Crawford were not equal to procuring a supply from the makers to fill all the requirements. It is very satisfactory to be able to say, however, that C.O. Rogers, who recently purchased the sawmill in the railway yard south of the depot, has a box-making plant under order, which will be soon installed and will furnish the entire local demand. This is a capital illustration of how one industry can, in the hands of an active, enterprising man, be made to lend material aid to another.
Around Creston, peaches, apricots, nectarines, grapes, musk melons, cantaloupes, water melons, pears, plums, cherries, prunes, apples, tomatoes and all manner of small fruits can be grown without the aid of artificial irrigation. This appears to arise from the very heavy night dews, the great natural humidity prevalent day and night and also from the percolation of the springs and small streams from the high ground to the east of the town. This statement covers normal conditions; but at the same time it is right in this connection to quote the very careful and conservative expression of Arthur Okell, real estate agent of Creston, who says that the providing of a constant supply of water over all ones own land under fruit and vegetable cultivation makes the very important difference of having to endure the vicissitudes of the weather and being absolutely sure of a crop.
Considering what has been done by O.J. Wigen, Paul Hagen, Victor Carr, Frank Rose, R.S. Bevan, Frank Bast, Mike Glazier, James Compton, Robert J. Long, Ed. Haskins, Daniel Babbitt, Robert Duncan, Sam Brooks and many others in the way of fruit growing in the open, great attention will be turned on the results to be achieved by John Littlejohn who proposes to cover in an acre of ground with glass, with a view to raising choice and early vegetables from Christmas onwards. He also intends to raise all the varieties of early flowers and so cut out the importations from California. To those who have looked into this matter it is astonishing what an amount of money goes out of the country in those luxuries. One of the Creston people said, speaking of this enterprise: “There are hundreds of men in Cranbrook, Fernie and Lethbridge earning big wages who, if they want such things, will pay any price for them. Where Littlejohn leads many will follow, and we may as well keep the money at home.”
W.O. Taylor and J.B. Henderson, tie inspectors of the C.P.R. here with us in Cranbrook, bought about 7/8 of an acre planted with peaches and apple trees some three months ago for $400. It would be an elegant site for a residence and the fruit alone will soon pay the price of the lot. The trees are quite young, and not more than 1 ½ inches in diameter. On one of those trees, selected at hazard, were counted 57 large apples and on another of the same size and age over 115. The little trees would not bear the weight of such a crop so that three-fourths of the fruit had to be plucked off. It shows what the soil and climate will do. The peach trees were in heavy bearing also.
Fruit to Creston and that country round there, stands in the same relation as timber does to Cranbrook or copper ore to Rossland. But where the fruit trees grow there also will flourish the pine and the fir. So it proves down by Goat river, where the forest growth is exceptionally dense thought the individual trees do not run to a very excessive diameter. The underbrush is very much heavier than we have it around Cranbrook, and owing to the plentiful moisture the trees seem compelled to shoot their tops up to the air and sunshine in a way that makes them, like the famous Lady Jane, “both tall and fair to see.” The wooded country such as that around Leask’s sawmill looks like a veritable tiemaker’s paradise, with many, very many, trees easily able to furnish a dozen ties to the string, and these mostly firs and larches. The saw log timber furnishes a proportion of clear lumber that Is almost unknown around here in a few localities. The following companies are operating in the limits around Creston: The Leask Lumber company, Laurie & Foster, C.O. Rogers, Cartwrights, George Hunt, Yale Columbia Lumber company, the Kenny Miller Cedar company and the Paulsen company is busy putting in a plant. It would require the space of a long special article to deal even partially, with these various firms and the merits of their rapidly extending interests; but it may tend to show the vitality of the business to state that C.O. Rogers has his representatives on the road this moment buying the equipment, engines and steel for his logging railroad which will pass through the Leask limits and do the logging, etc., for that firm while tapping the Rogers limits at the back and running the material into the Creston yard where the present mill is being steadily remodeled and brought up-to-date by the instalment of a band saw mill that will turn out from 45 to 50 thousand feet per ten hour’s shift. The cut of the different mills at Creston cannot be much less, at present, than 150,000 a day and is steadily on the increase. In addition to the lumber there is a very considerable amount of ties and piling shipped. The piling is of great excellence as lengths up to 75 feet, with 14 inch butts and 10 inch tops are quite common in both fir and larch.
Near Kitchener are great deposits of hematite iron ore, that some years ago attracted a deal of attention. According to J.D. Eltidge, who is well acquainted with the property, there is one vein of ore standing almost vertically, which averages 30 feet in width and is proven to run for over three miles. About $70,000 has been spent in proving the extent of this remarkable deposit by sinking and stripping. On the Maple Leaf claim the vein is said to be 280 feet in width. The nearest claim on the group to railway transportation is about 4 miles up the Goat river from Kitchener.
On the west side of the Kootenay, some 22 miles up Summit creek, the Bayonne group, a gold proposition, is being actively developed. The gold is found in a limonite ore with some manganese occurring in the same. No geological relation has been established between this property and the Creston group within sight of Creston where the ore is identical, but the assays show values to over $87 per ton in gold. It is very likely that the Creston will be developed by a syndicate of great experience in gold mining and having extensive interests in the locality. The Alice mine, near Duck creek, for a long time a shipper of galena concentrates, is now closed down. It is in the hands of the lessees, the Yorks and Lancashire syndicate, for whom George Lowenberg acts as agent and general manager. Close by the Alice George Young has a force developing a group of three claims wherein the lead is from 4 to 15 feet wide. The values run from 80 oz. silver with 75 per cent lead and about $2 in gold per ton to lower averages from some ore on the foot wall. There is quite a little stir in the mining industry and the different parties interested are confident of a genuine revival of activity with improved conditions all round.
Joseph Wilson, deputy mining recorder and provincial constable, gives some very instructive official figures illustrative of the progress of Creston. The revenue taxes for the past six months amounted to $1,177, as compared with $689 for the entire year of 1904. In 1905 the revenue did not quite equal that of 1904, but with the beginning of 1906 the betterment set in. The government is spending money freely in making new roads to open up the fruit growing sections and according to Mr. Wilson, a substantial subsidy has been granted for making a cable ferry from near the G.N. railway station across the Kootenay. This will afford access to, and transportation from a very extensive area of splendid fruit growing country which is quite as productive as that on the Creston side. There is already a rush into that section as the land is comparatively cheap, $14 to $20 an acre.
In another month or so thousands of acres of the finest kind of meadow land will be uncovered as the high water recedes. Advantages will be taken of the feeding afforded by these tracts by F.K. Hurry, of the Nelson Dairy company, who last March started the erection of a regular creamery concern. His cow barn, just about finished, is 155 feet by 44 and will accommodate 100 beasts. At present he is milking 25 head and shipping milk and cream to Nelson, Moyie and Fernie. He intends, in time, to handle all the surplus milk of the locality. His outlay on his buildings, etc., up to date, exceeds $6,000.
What with mines, ranches, logging camps, saw mills and so on, Creston is growing to be a distributing point of considerable importance. Of this industry Faas & Crawford’s store is the center and is kept steadily busy until late hours in the evening with its rapidly growing trade. As the post office and drug store in charge of P.D. Hope, is in the same building, these concerns form the great converging point for the entire population. In addition to their very extensive general trade these gentlemen own 40 acres of planted fruit land close to town. About $4,000 would buy the tract, perhaps.
The C.P.R. provides an excellent high pressure water supply for the town and a public telephone service is about to be established between Creston and Duck creek. The spiritual wants of the people is amply provided for by various churches, while the children have a really capital school house for their accommodation. Arthur Okell, already quoted in connection with the irrigation matter, states that he has no less than 61 children on the roll. Mr. Okell is to be congratulated. Manifestly the population flourishes in an equal ratio with the fertility of the soil.
There is no more valuable public asset than the abiding belief of the people in the destiny of the town of their adoption. This faith, which can remove mountains of difficulty, is justifiably strong in Creston, but is strongest in S.A. Speers, whose store, next to the Munro hotel building, would be a credit to a city. Here you can find not alone the standard lines in the best of furnishings, hardware, groceries and provisions, but the high grade lines of those commodities. With Speers’ store at hand the people of Strawberryopolis can purchase the best since it is there in plenty. Besides, he stocks the solid elements of the food question; flour, cheese, butter, and when you pack your ponies he is the man to furnish the hay and oats that will give them the stamina to carry them over the high hills. That is just the place you will need the fragrant coffee, the appetite-provoking ham and the cream that rounds out the boiled rice into a pudding that puts the final cinch in the waistbelt when the evening is closing down. In a word, S.A. is there with the refinements of life, and all that is needed for the solid comfort of man or beast.
With all the raw materials for wealth and each of them under active development by men of brain, courage, conviction and experience, it is not surprising that the bankers began to look with favor on the chance of doing good business in Creston. Its business men failed to see why other towns should have the handling of their money, and when the Bank of Commerce saw the case level-eyed with them the matter of establishing a branch in the town was a foregone conclusion. An office is equipped in part of the Munro hotel building and when the big safe arrives the new manager, Mr. Fowler, though quite a young man, has had some fifteen years experience of banking, first with the Bank of British Columbia and, after its merger in the Bank of Commerce, with the latter institution. He is a son-in-law to Sir Richard Wolfenden, I.S.O., of Victoria, and has been in close touch with the government of the province since as far back as 1858.
There are two really good hotels, the Munro and the Creston, where any man, no matter how fastidious his fancy, can take his ease and lack nothing in the way of good rooms, good providing or good company. George Munroe is the genial and impressive owner of the former. It is an elegant structure both inside and out and lends a distinctive note of taste and well-being to the town. Yes, George is impressive. Observe him well in the cut accompanying this article, standing near the door, cigar in hand, the rotund king of inn keepers with a laugh inside him that fits his girth. The cut does not reproduce the laugh, but it is there. He can provide you with the best kind of horse for riding and driving through McCraith Bros. first rate livery and transfer establishment close by. George uses a sure ‘nuff Morgan horse for his own private driving. He will tell you it is a Morgan horse, four years old, wise as a serpent and a little bigger than a small elephant. And he is fat. But when you see it in plain black and white he can yank George up the Creston hill at a 2.14 clip you will agree he is a husky sort of animal – Morgan or no Morgan.
The Creston hotel is owned by George Meade, with whom is associated J.B. Moran, both of whom are well and favorably known in Cranbrook. Their establishment is well kept, well catered for and excellently furnished. Already it is being largely extended to meet the constant increase made upon it by its patrons. George Meade has a parrot that you are likely to hear going through his devotions as you pass on your way looking for a man or on some other errand of mercy. This play-actor started a prayer meeting on his own account the other morning that so filled the air with sulphur that it fatally poisoned the only mosquito ever seen within twenty-five miles and three perches of Creston. It was kept in a little gold wired cage and answered to the name Gwendoline. This little pet attracted as many visitors as the Goat river canyon. Naturally its decease was deeply deplored and they turned the hose on Polly who yelled Hello (with the o out of it) till he was black in the face. That parrot is a bird.
Of social life there is fully and plenty. Everybody knows everyone and the stranger is welcomed within the gates. Thirst is steadily discouraged and soda water, with ice and things in it, is esteemed as a popular alleviator of present or future dryness of the gullet. This lubrication, or irrigation of the tract in the neighborhood of the throttle, induces a gladsome view of things as they are in that land of promise and plenty, and you would pity the man who would try to improve them.
Creston, and the fair domains that there adjacent lie, would even now, be of small account were it not for Edward Mallandaine, owner of a lovely home about two miles away called Loretta Villa, where he proves by fruit and flower his old belief in the virtues of the land. He has friends by the thousand, and he deserves them. Amongst a lot of other officialisms he is chief timber ranger for the C.P.R., with which mighty organization he became associated some three years ago.
It is given to few men to see the completed engine in the raw material as it comes from the mine; to see the muscular, driving, dominant race horse in the ungainly colt, to see a new land, lying asleep in its natural cradle of the wide woods and the whispering streams, the glories that are to come. Such a man has the prophetic eye that prefigures the hill side, silent in its forest garments, a blushing mass of the bloom of the fruit, and sees the silent waters broken by the screws of undreamed of steamers. Mallandaine was the first man who really, practically visualized the possibilities of the land. He is the man who grasped the situation, and, acting on his conviction worked out what was once his dream and has lived to see it grow into a reality.
In 1897 he was assistant engineer in the service of the Great Northern railway and engaged in the construction of the Kootenay Valley railroad from Bonners Ferry to Kuskanook. During the intervals of his professional work he had ample time to study the situation and acquired a fixed belief in the destiny of that greatly favored land down by the mouth of Goat river. His activities in the interests of the company with which he was then associated resulted in his selling for them no less than 12,000 acres of the land they acquired under the terms of the Kaslo and Slocan land grant. From the time that he and Fred J. Little became the joint owners of the townsite of Creston things have progressed in a manner that shows what it is to have a man of conviction and influence at the head of affairs. He has done more than one man’s share of the work of helping forward the Creston locality and those about him are not slow in admitting the fact.