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Agriculture

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Before June 30, 1896, agricultural commodities imported to the Kootenays came from the United States. However, within three years this trade was completely won by prairie people and by 1904, the Kootenay was the chief market for a city as far distant as Edmonton.

In 1896 the development of agriculture in and around the mines themselves was negligible for two reasons: first, the mines were situated in low-precipitation areas; second, the demand for labour at the mines and smelter precluded the establishment of farms, but power development and a widening market did much to establish the Okanagan and Boundary districts as agricultural centres. The Okanagan Valley began to supply the Kootenay with hay, potatoes and other essentials at an early date.

During the early days of Rossland, the Chinese were allowed to live on the sunny slopes of lower Rossland. Scores of them purchased little lots in this area that came to be known as the Chinese Gardens. They lived in small sod huts and raised vegetables that fed the whole of Rossland. Day-after-day the Chinese vendor would climb the hill from lower Rossland burdened with two heavy baskets swung from a pole across his shoulders, going door-to-door to sell his vegetables. Each vendor delivering door-to-door had his own neighbourhood and did not infringe on anyone else’s territory.

Billy Esling, the journalist who bought the Rossland Miner in 1905 encouraged Rosslanders toward food sufficiency:

That apples, plums, pears, cherries, prunes and peaches, as well as the smaller fruits, can be grown in and about this city in large quantities and of superior quality has been demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt. This assertion is proven by the results already attained by those who have small orchards in and around the city … There is just enough cold weather here in winter to give fruit a suitable flavour, while the summers are so warm and bright that it ripens to perfection … Those who desire to found comfortable self-supporting homes should immediately avail themselves of the opportunities that now exist for acquiring tracts of mountain land before it increases in value … Ten or twenty acres properly planted with fruit trees will give a man a competence within a few years.

Rosslanders did raise much of their own food, but the growing season was short and preservation methods primitive; thus they also depended heavily on jobs at the mines. With the approaching depletion of ore, Rossland’s population had dropped from 6000 to less than 3000 by 1909. Yet those who could afford to stay often did – Rossland’s fruit trees, gardens and dairies were productive.

Rosslanders were encouraged toward food self-sufficiency. Many families kept chickens, pigs and milking cows on their 30’ x 100’ lot. People had the advantage of fresh, homegrown food, but there were problems with some local products. Milk in particular was produced under unhygienic conditions, with no form of testing to ensure the health of cows or handlers. It was delivered to the consumer in lard pails and glass fruit jars, or measured out at the door from five-gallon containers with minimal attention given to sanitation. By 1919 a new law prohibited families from keeping more than one hog within city limits.

During the 1930’s, with the lack of cash, citizens’ bartered labour, vegetables or whatever they had. More than a dozen families, among them the Drakes, Veteres, Watsons, Urquharts, Evans, Bowens, Springs, Smiths, Dougans, Frenches, Mellets and Roaches, sold milk door-to-door. Several others raised raspberries commercially.

Rosslanders continued to have fruit trees in almost every yard, often vegetable gardens as well and an abundance of flowers. Lots were open and not fenced, alleys between the houses were filled with alpine wildflowers.

Chinese Gardens in Rossland

The following are short excerpts, presented in their original form, from the Rossland Miner (a newspaper that published from 1895 – 1973).

Date: Sept. 23, 1897 – Rossland Miner
Title: A Lone Chinese Woman

Although there are over 200 male Mongolians in Rossland, there is only one Chinese woman, Chin Fung by name. When asked why there are no more females of his own race here, one Chinaman replied, “One woman too muchee. Have hundled woman, make too much fussee, allee time. Woman alee same no good.” The 200 Chinese in Rossland are employed as cooks ar house boys. Several run wash houses, cultivate truck gardens or raise pigs. There are a few merchants viz. Li Mong, Mah Hong, Fo King, Mah Wing and Mah Sho, a pigtailed fantan expert.

Date: April 10, 1897 – Rossland Miner
Title: Opium Joint

Lee Wah Lung was brought up on the charge of keeping an opium joint on Sour Dough Alley and selling opium without a license. The cost of license being $250.00, the justice of the peace fined Lee Wah Lung $250.00 and IO costs or, in default, 6 months in prison.

Date: September 21, 1891 – Rossland Miner
Title: Funeral of a Chinese

The funeral of Lee Foy, a Chinese aged 21, took place yesterday afternoon at 3 o’clock from Li Yuen, in the alley near the Rossland Opera House. It was attended by a dozen of his countrymen, who, on the way to the cemetery, scattered oblong slips of paper along the route for the purpose of scaring away the evil spirits. All of his personal effects were buried with him. A 25¢ piece was placed in his mouth in order that he may pay his way into the other world. In order that his departed spirit not want for something good to eat during the first few days of his residence in the other world, four roasted chickens, a bottle of Chinese whiskey, a bowl of cooked rice and a pot of tea were provided for him. Lighted tapers and incense sticks were stuck into the newly made mound. There were 50 Caucasians at the cemetery curiously watching the proceedings. The body of Lee Foy will be allowed to remain in its present resting place for a period of three years and then it will be disinterred and the bones sent back to China.

Date: May 2, 1903 – Rossland Miner
Title: Chinese Gardens Now a Scene of Pastoral Fairness

A visit to the southeastern section of the city, where the Chinese gardens are located, is a revelation to the citizen who has paid no attention to the possibilities of this country from the agricultural standpoint. It is genuinely surprising to note the remarkable results attained by the sons of the Flowery Kingdom in what was regarded as a district of little promise.

…The Chinamen have cleared and cultivated an area of 50 or 75 acres and, with all their faults from other standpoints, the Celestials must be given credit for unswerving perseverance and energy. These lands are clear of brush of every description, and innumerable cairns indicate the patience with which the cultivators have gone over every inch of the soil and removed the impediments to vegetation. The fields are comparatively tiny plots, but the richness of the soil makes large holdings unnecessary. Irrigation is arranged for, and the Chinamen appear to have regulated the use and drainage of water without the clashes and appeals to the courts that have cropped up where irrigation has been instituted elsewhere.

Date: April 7, 1904 – Rossland Miner
Title: Chinese Plant Fruit Trees

Last summer and fall, several Chinamen leased a parcel of land south of the slaughter house and cleared the ground. This spring they will set out a quantity of fruit trees, principally apples of the earlier varieties. The industrious purpose to raise roots among the fruit trees for 3 or 4 seasons, until the trees come to bearing. At the end of 5 years, they estimate the trees will come into full fruition.

Date: January 6, 1946 – Rossland Miner
Title: Old Timers Among Chinese Residents

The old Chinese Mason Hall which has been a sort of club for the Chinese residents since the early days, where throughout the week Chinese residents gathered to hear one of their number read the Chinese papers in order that they may keep well informed on the war, came to life Sunday, December 23 when the annual Chinese Christmas dinner was given. An occasion which for the past ten years has been provided by Mr. W.K. Esling.

The hall has a kitchen with all equipment and the dinner consisting of chicken with rice, roast turkey, roast pork, and desserts, was prepared by Leung Youe who for many years has been a restaurant cook. Some of the sixteen present have been residents of the City for nearly half a century. Heading the list is Mow Fong, who is over eighty years of age. The order of the rest is not taken in respect of age; Leung Youe, Loui Pow, Loui How, Lin Koo, Wai Gun, Loui Joe, Loui Tong, Leung Hook, Wai Dow, Chung Kee, L. Jim, Hop Chonge, Chow Moon, Chong Bing Shoue and Gar Poo.