Overlooked History

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(Greenhouses in the Creston Valley)

Now that it’s spring, I’m hearing a lot of people talking about their gardens and greenhouses, so I thought this might be a good time to write about the early history of greenhouses in the Creston Valley.

Unfortunately, you’re going to get as much guess as history, because, as it turns out, this is one of those topics where finding information is much easier said than done. For example, in a 1975 article titled “Agriculture Made Creston,” the Creston Review has this to say about the greenhouse history of the Valley: “J. Cook had a greenhouse in 1920, and now there is but one, Mr. Groot’s.”  Now, how helpful is that?

I have found several random references in the early newspapers, though; enough to say for certain that greenhouses have been a significant part of the Valley’s agricultural production for almost as long as the Valley has had agricultural production.

A little note in the Creston Review in March 1915 refers to “all the greenhouses” in Erickson “steaming up” in the warming spring weather. This suggests that there were quite a number of greenhouses in the Creston Valley. I suspect most of them were quite small, probably for use by one family. Like today, they would have allowed local residents, who depended on the produce of their vegetable gardens, to get a head start on the growing season. 

Private greenhouses also had the advantage of allowing their owners to try out unusual crops, as the Review reported in 1916: “Henry Hamilton has a fine lot of tobacco plants in his greenhouse, and expects to grow enough to do him a year, with a little to treat his friends occasionally.  He has experimented successfully with tobacco for several years.”

In addition to these private greenhouses, there were at least two commercial greenhouses in the Valley as early as 1912. On March 22, 1912, the Creston Review announced,

“Mrs. W.S. Ryckman is the first in the Creston district to begin shipping vegetables to the market. With the aid of Creston’s sunshine and through her own good care of the plants she is far ahead of the others in the district in bringing radishes to maturity and some of the product of her greenhouse are already on their way to the market at Wetaskiwin. She has also sold some of the product in Creston. Mrs. Ryckman has developed her hot house plant and it is one worth while. She has already transplanted over 1,000 lettuce plants and these with other vegetables will soon be ready for table use. Mrs. Ryckman has not only proved Creston’s worth as an early producer of vegetables but her own ability as a rancher.”

Sarah Ryckman operated her greenhouse in the area of 22nd Avenue South and Elm Street. This article is interesting because, among all those that the Review published in those days to recognise the community’s biggest boosters, it’s one of the very few to give the credit to a woman. To judge from this article, hers was the first successful, commercial greenhouse in the Creston Valley.

Sarah Ryckman in her greenhouse, about 1912

Mr. Groot’s greenhouse, to which the Review referred in 1975, was another example of this type of agricultural industry. From 1962 to 1992, Groot Farms shipped greenhouse- and hydroponically-grown vegetables to grocery stores throughout the Kootenays.

The other major greenhouse in 1912 belonged to T. M. Edmundson, and I believe it was located in the area of Hillside Road and 11th Avenue North. In April 1912, Edmundson ran an ad in the Creston Review, announcing,

“I have 75,000 plants consisting of the choicest varieties of Tomatoes, Onions, Flowers, etc. Greenhouse chuck full. Seeds purchased from the leading seed houses of Europe and America, they are fine. Call and see them.  T.M. Edmondson.”

Unlike Sarah Ryckman and Neil Groot, who raised vegetables to maturity, Tom Edmondson was clearly serving those people who wanted to get a head start on planting without having to maintain greenhouses of their own.  His customers bought the young plants and set them out in their own gardens, much the same as is done through Morris or Palmers Greenhouses today.

The 1975 Review article refers to J. Cook’s greenhouse of 1920.  That was James Cook’s greenhouse, built, actually, in 1923, which he operated on 9th Avenue North. Although Mr. Cook’s obituary states that it was a small one, the photos we have of it show it to be a fairly good size. His obituary goes on to say that he disposed of it in 1937, but does not say to whom.

Cook’s greenhouse might have become Moore’s greenhouse, but I’m not sure. We have two photos in the Archives collection, both showing the same greenhouse, with one identified as Moore’s and the other as Cook’s. Lloyd Morris tells me, though, that Moore’s was located on Pine Street, below the grain  elevators when his father took it over in 1953. Maybe it moved at some point.

Moores’, or possibly Cook’s, greenhouse

Wherever it was in 1937, Moore’s greenhouse was a commercial venture along the lines of T. M. Edmondson’s earlier one, selling bedding plants to local residents. In addition to young vegetable plants, Moore’s also sold annuals and offered special flowers at Christmas.

A couple of references suggest that this greenhouse was owned by Charlie Moore, better known as a land surveyor. However, his obituary doesn’t say anything about him having operated greenhouses, and another note mentions that his greenhouses  were “not too commercial.” This doesn’t quite jive with the scope of operations suggested by the 1937 ads. A long-time Valley resident thinks the greenhouse may have been operated by one or more of Charlie’s sons.

My friend, though, says she was never in that greenhouse, because her mother could never afford to buy flowers and vegetable plants – she grew her own. And that quite neatly takes us back to the small private greenhouses scattered in back yards throughout the community. Lots of people had them, but they were such a common part of life that nobody mentioned them. We just have to take it for granted that they were there.

Kind of like icehouses and outhouses.

Originally published April 2011