The Gartrells — Okanagan originals Profile

James Gartrell, whose family settled in the Trout Creek area 130 years ago, was the first to irrigate a fruit orchard in the valley.

By Susan McIver J

ames and Mary Gartrell played a significant role in laying the foundation of the fruit industry in

the Okanagan.

In 1887, they planted the first commercial orchard in the valley on land pre-empted in what is now called Trout Creek, a part of Summerland. Ten years later, their fruit was winning awards — first at the agricultural fair in Spokane and subsequently at many competitions in Canada, the United States and England.

The winning apple varieties in Spokane were Tompkins County, Baldwin, Pippins and Wealthy.

Today, 130 years later, their descendents continue to live in the family’s original home and raise award- winning fruit.

James first heard of the Okanagan from his brother-in-law and being keen on improving his family’s circumstances

he decided to move to the valley.

Accompanied by their five children, the Gartrells arrived in Penticton in 1885 following an arduous trip from Stratford, Ontario. The family travelled to Sprague, near Spokane by rail and from there to Penticton by covered wagon.

They crossed the Columbia River by paddling canoes placed under the wheels of the wagon.

The horses and cattle they had brought with them had to swim.

Once in Penticton, James worked on the Ellis Ranch and Mary cooked for ranch hands before the family moved to their pre-empted 320 acres on the wooded point at Trout Creek.

Self-reliance was the key to their survival.

Mary made candles out of tallow and used grease from their own geese for chest colds and croup,


As other settlers began to arrive, Mary would ride her horse for many miles to help in cases of sickness and to deliver babies. In the early years, James and the three Gartrell sons made their first wagons and rakes out of wood. Wheels were made from logs. “He (James)

proceeded to clear some of the land, and besides a vegetable garden and a patch of grain, he planted some apple trees brought from Ontario and

Washington,” A. F. Andrew, a pioneer doctor well


David Gartrell checks the family bible for some historical information. He and wife Pat live in the home built by his great-grandparents, James and Mary Gartrell, in 1896.

acquainted with the Gartrells, wrote in the 1954 report of the Okanagan

Historical Society.

James and Mary Gartrell on their wedding day, March 7, 1867.

“On a subsequent trip to Ontario, he brought more fruit trees. A trapper sent him some peach stones from Washington and he got others from Okanagan Falls.” “I believe our first apple trees came from Stone and Wellington Nursery in Ontario. We used to plant in the fall,” James and Mary’s youngest son, Frederick, wrote in his notebook. James sold some of the seedling trees which grew from the peach stones he’d acquired.

Andrew wrote that the Gartrells, the first white settlers in the area, got along well with the Indians and the entire family spoke Chinook.

He also made mention of James’ reputation of being meticulous about money matters.

Frederick wrote of the plentiful white tail deer that destroyed the newly planted trees and that an eight- foot fence could not keep the deer out.

“George (James and Mary’s fourth child) told me he kept count until he had killed 300,” Andrew wrote.

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2017 15

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