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Hopes for hops, but pastures proved greener for Brownsville farmers

August 12, 2014

a hop field - by  Marti - Wikipedia CommonsYes, indeed, there was hop farming going on in 19th century Brownsville and district. 
Robert Riesterer, brewer, was farming at Hall’s Prairie in 1877.    However, it was  H T Thrift, who arrived there a few years later who exclaimed:

"I think I have never seen better hops in England than I have raised here."

To the east of Hall’s Prairie, at his homestead bordering present day Campbell Valley Regional Park, JL Walworth reported-

"There is also some choice hop land.  I will try and get twenty acres ready for hops next season."

At Brownsville, James E Murphy got into hops around 1890, but with poor luck. He wrote:

"I could not make use of the few hops I had on account of lice."

It was a case of bad timing.  In the Fraser Valley, it was reported,

"The hop industry is being pushed, but in consequence of the ravages of the aphis, the returns were poor."
Around 1890-91 this blight would decimate hop farms  in the northwest. That was not a problem for those locally, who were just experimenting with hop-growing on part of their farms. 

JE Murphy, having logged off the hillside above his homestead,  was building a dairy business.  Brownsville was the home of many successful dairy farms, for which the land was well-suited and the proximity to the city a bonus.

Out at Aldergrove pioneer hop farmer John Broe was more heavily invested, and reacted with caution in 1891.

"Hop lice have put in their appearance this season, but they have not damaged my crop as yet."

Broe was branching out,  intending to utilize his fruit crops in the production of wine as a business venture.

It is not likely Broe knew it, but he was following in the footsteps of BC’s first commercial wine-maker, Sam Herring.  Herring’s farm was located a half-mile above Brown’s wharf.

Writing to the department of agriculture, Broe was hopeful:

 

"I make wine of my small fruits, and if a good market could be opened up for it, I think it will be one of the best paying industries. 
I should be very thankful if you could help me to get the best market for my wine, as I am trying hard to introduce the wine industry. 
I have four acres planted in black currants and black raspberries, and I am now preparing to plant one acre more of black raspberries.’”

 

Hop farms would prove most successful at Chilliwack before also going into decline.

The Fraser Valley wine industry has in recent years experienced marked success.

At Brownsville, on the green pastures of the flat lands,  the most profitable agricultural pursuit proved to be dairy farming.

An 1896 report on agriculture concluded:

“Brownsville is a suburb of New Westminster City, where there are several extensive dairies.”

 


Further:

The annual reports of the Provincial department of agriculture are a good  resource for researching Fraser Valley settlement.  They were printed in the British Columbia Sessional Papers and include correspondence from district  agricultural associations and individual farmers, as well as special reports on agricultural topics and school programs.

For the attraction of hops farming in the northwest see Puyallup article at historylink.org, especially section entitled “End of the Hop Era.”

For hops history in the upper Fraser Valley see exhibit “Brewer’s Gold” at the Chilliwack Museum.

For a list of Fraser Valley wineries see Wines of Canada – Fraser Valley.

Many of those employed in picking hops in Washington State were First Nations people from British Columbia.

Regarding the photo of the John Lars Broe hop kiln mentioned in the recent post, there is a superior copy, a high-resolution version  at the University of Washington Digital Collections. The photograph, excerpted below, is attributed to Archibald Murchie.

1893 Broe hop farm  - Aldergrove BC

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