BERRY AND DAIRY
Mission was once known as a major producer of fruit in the Fraser Valley, with crops of rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, black currants, gooseberries, cherries, apples, and pears. Mission’s fruit was in high demand, and would travel far to reach its customers via rail. At the time, the process of rail shipping was unreliable as the CPR did not provide refrigerated cars, nor prioritize cars full of fruit so they could reach their destination unspoiled. The result was that produce often arrived damaged or rotten. In response, Mission farmers created the United Farmer’s Co-op, whose first initiatives were to build a storage facility, and to petition the Department of Agriculture to police the rail shipments arriving from BC to ensure that shipment damages were reported accurately. Another way to avoid the risk of food spoilage was to locally process the fruit into preserves at the King-Beach canning factory.
Highly Skilled Farmers
Highly skilled farmers were responsible for cultivating Mission’s highly desired crops. One of the biggest fruit growers in the Hatzic area was Thomas Catherwood, who sold his thirty different types of fruit through a catalogue to the prairies. Another successful Mission farmer was Bunjiro Sakon. Sakon developed cold weather resistant crops, including the hothouse rhubarb and autumn strawberry, which prolonged Mission’s overall growing season.
A major part of Mission’s successful fruit growing efforts is thanks to the hard work of Japanese-Canadian farmers who settled in the area. Prior to WWII, Mission drew a large number of Japanese immigrants due to the availability of inexpensive land. The affordable lots purchased by the farmers were typically difficult to work as they were hillside areas, but nevertheless they became some of the most skilled farmers in the area.
The efforts of the Japanese-Canadian famers were abruptly brought to an end when Pearl Harbour was bombed by Japan on December 7, 1941. Subsequently, their belongings and properties were seized by the Canadian government, and the farmers were sent to internment camps or sugar beet farms in Alberta. For more information on Japanese-Canadian internment and community see the following page: https://www.missionmuseum.com/local-history/the-lost-pioneers/
The effect on Mission’s berry industry was immediate and devastating. The confiscated farms represented 75% of Mission’s strawberry capacity, and the farming skills and dedication were unmatched. After the Japanese-Canadian farmers were forcibly removed in 1942, the crop yield fell by almost 85%.
Home of the Big Red Strawberry
When WWII ended in 1946, Mission’s residents were in need of a morale boost. The Mission Memorial Hospital needed renovations, and the diminished berry industry needed a kick-start, so the Board of Trade initiated the first Strawberry Festival. 75% of profits would be allocated for the hospital, and a healthy competition was presented to the berry growers for the title of Strawberry King.
While the Strawberry Festival brought civic pride and tourism to Mission, the town never reached the pre-war crop yield. The flatlands of Abbotsford were considered more suitable for expanding the Fraser Valley’s farming output, and Mission was no longer known for its strawberries. For more information on this event, please visit the following page: https://www.missionmuseum.com/local-history/home-of-the-big-red-strawberry/
Mission’s commercial dairy industry boomed in 1900-1910, in part due to the construction of better dykes along the Fraser which reduced the risk of flooding on the flatlands. The boom brought in the Western Condensed Milk, Canning, Coffee and Creamery Company who opened on the flats. They became responsible for picking up milk from farmers who lived along the Fraser River from Mission City to Nicomen Island.
A small railway called the Aggasiz Local was established in 1903, which ran from Ruby Creek (East of Aggasiz) to Vancouver. Farmers who lived farther from the banks of the Fraser used this local rail to ship their milk into town to be later processed and shipped by Western. Other farmers shipped their unprocessed milk straight to Vancouver.
This expanding area was ripe for business competition and Western was forced to close, and as a result Mission lost its dairy processing altogether. In response, dairy farmers formed the Fraser Valley Milk Producers Association in 1917, taking over companies in various sectors of the dairy industry. This eliminated private distributors, and the farmers could regain control, and the industry stabilized.
A president’s report in 1958 claimed that the FVMPA contributed $310 million to the Lower Mainland economy over its 40 years of operations. The FVMPA-run Associated Dairies (eleven Vancouver dairies amalgamated under one name) closed in 1943, but its operations continued under the name “Dairyland Fluid Milk Division” until the early 2000s, when it was taken over by Saputo. Today, the name Dairyland is still a familiar brand in grocery store refrigerators.
Photographs courtesy of the Mission Community Archives.