Early Industries

Berry Farming

In the early 1900’s, Mission’s berry industry was limited to individual planting without much participation in the commercial berry industry. This was mainly due to the C.P.R.’s lack of refrigerated train cars and the C.P.R.’s inefficacy to prioritize the shipments as “perishable”. Shipments often rotted, wilted or were damaged by the time they reached their destination. By 1910, Mission’s berry industry grew substantially with the help of a new, free, ferry crossing between Mission and Matsqui, and the dissolve of a possible Free Trade Agreement with American farmers.

The First World War gave Mission’s berry industry a large push when high demand resulted in three new jam factories: the Empress Company of Vancouver, the United Farmers Co-op and the Kootenay Jam Company (later called the King Beach Company). Farmers could finally profit from the berries that did not fit the qualifications to be shipped for individual consumption. From a starting price of 5c/lb. in 1915, the price of berries climbed to 22c/lb. by 1921 as Canada became more dependent on the new tasty preserve. Trainloads of pickers came in from Vancouver, the Kootenays, the Prairies, Ontario and even England every summer, increasing Mission’s seasonal population by approximately 3000 at the height of the berry industry.

Dairy Farming

Mission’s commercial diary industry grew substantially from 1900-1910. This boom was due to the construction of better dykes on the north bank of the Fraser, which significantly decreased the chances of flooding. First to take advantage of this was the Western Condensed Milk, Canning, Coffee and Creamery Company, who opened on the flats. Western was responsible for picking up milk from farmers living along both banks of the Fraser from Mission City to Nicomen Island. Farmers who did not live on the banks could ship their milk into town via the Aggasiz Local, a small railway laid in 1903, running from Ruby Creek, East of Agassiz, to Vancouver. The milk was then processed by Western and shipped to Vancouver, reaching all the communities in between. Farmers living on Mission’s west side shipped their unprocessed milk directly to Vancouver.

The industry did well until the completion of the B.C. Electric Railway, which linked all the south-side communities (Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Langley etc.) to Vancouver, erasing Mission’s monopoly on rail travel from the South. With the increased competition from these area’s farmers, Mission’s lost its diary processing altogether and dairy farming suffered. Western was forced to close and farmers felt the pressure of the competition as prices dropped drastically due to the leverage now gained by the big cities. In 1917, dairy farmers banded together to form the Fraser Valley Milk Producers Association (FVMPA). The FVMPA quickly took over enough companies in every sector of the dairy industry to hold a monopoly on both production and distribution of dairy products. This tactful move cut out the need for private distributors, thus enabling the farmers to regain control. As the dairy industry stabilized, the number of dairy farmers skyrocketed.

Forestry

As a result of the natural resources of the area, Mission had a profitable forestry industry. Mission’s first commercial sawmill was founded by John Ruskin in the early 1890s at the mouth of the Stave River. Unfortunately, the mill failed in 1898 due to low rainfall that stranded necessary logs above Hayward Falls. E.H. Heaps & Sons, the machinery manufacturer who sold Ruskin his equipment, took over the mill by default and ran it successfully for over 10 years. In addition to the Ruskin mill, a steam-powered tie mill was maintained by John B. Cade in Ferndale and George Taggert made ties and dressed lumber at his Silverdale mill from 1893-1896.

By 1915, many factors contributed to the growth of Mission’s forestry industry. The introduction of steam power and high-lead systems increased production and improvements in transportation via logging railroads and trucks made shipment easier. Among the sawmills in the area at the time were the Abernethy Lougheed A-Frame Logging operation at Stave Lake, Keystone Logging east of Stave River, Barr Bros. Mill north of Mission City, the Peter Hammer Mill at Steelhead, and H.A. Stoltz’ shingle mill on the Stave River which employed about 100 men in the mill, and 250 more in the surrounding woods cutting shingle bolts. By the end of the 1930s, it was B.C.’s largest shingle mill.