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Yarrow, British Columbia

Edited by
Esther Epp Harder, Edwin Lenzmann, and Elmer Wiens

Mostly Mennonite
by Ernie Harder

Ernie Harder's Mostly Mennonite

Ernie Harder was raised on Wilson Road in Yarrow, where the Harder family settled in 1939. He is a graduate of Chilliwack Senior High. Now retired, living in Vancouver with his spouse of 48 years, Mary (Barber), daughter of The Chilliwack Progress' former publisher/editor, Leslie Barber.

Ernie will elaborate on the journey that culminated in the recent publication of Mostly Mennonite. He looks forward to answering questions as well as signing copies of his book for sale.

"....filled with rich detail and riveting scenes and delivered in a style that is at once spare and lively."
      - Leonard Neufeldt, acclaimed literary critic, historian and poet

Yarrow (1959): People, Economics, and Future
by Ernie Harder

The Chilliwack Progress published the following articles by Ernie Harder during 1959. These articles are reprinted courtesy of Ernie Harder.

Wednesday, August 5, 1959

"Progress" writer Ernie Harder has completed a series of five articles on Yarrow—its people, its economics and its future. This is the first of them, a look at the town itself and a sketch of its short history. Next week he will look at the people who live there—where they came from, and what their hopes are for the future.

Yarrow is Undergoing A Dramatic Economic Change

By Ernie Harder

This is Yarrow-a 30 year-old town that has undergone a dramatic transformation with the last decade. It is a town that "grow'd up" on the berry industry but which now looks for its prosperity in other directions. Small growers flourished up until the slump of the 1948-49 season, were revived again in the early '50's, but are once again in the doldrums, and looking to an uncertain future.

Only 10 miles southwest of Chilliwack, Yarrow is situated in the shade of the Vedder Mountain and on the banks of the Vedder River. It is not a large town. Its area proper measures 700 acres and holds a population of little more than 1,400. It is a town that grew rapidly after first settlers developed the area in 1929. Birth of Yarrow also brought rebirth to upper and central sections of the valley.

Greatest influx was from the prairies during the war years. The face of the town has changed and developed in the last ten years but population has increased only slightly. A census taken in 1951 showed a population of 1,280.

However, the outward appearances of the town has taken on a new look. The practical minded people have become beauty conscious. Well kept lawns and flower gardens have replaced rows of potatoes and fruit trees in the front of houses. "People have become more streamlined" stated one longtime resident. Most homes in Yarrow are fairly modern and clean. There are few "shacks" in the area.

General development of the town brought on the need for increased water supply to the area in the past two years. An interesting aspect of the community is that the five-man elected Water Board also carries on all other business concerned with the general welfare of the community. As one member stated, "The Water Board looks after this community like a mother hen watches her chicks." The board, chaired by J.H. Martens, was formed in 1944 and brought water from the Vedder Mountains to the town at probably the lowest consumer rates in the province. Increased need for water during the summer months prompted the Yarrow Water Board to study plans for bringing water from the nearby Vedder River into central mains. The $ 30,000 project was completed earlier this month and will be used only when the 120,000 gallon mountain tank runs low. Monthly rates of one dollar were doubled to help pay for the new project which will assure apple year round supply for over 400 households and two processing plants.

Today Yarrow has all the modern conveniences of any suburban town. Paved streets first appeared in 1946. Most are now hard surfaced and have lighting and sidewalks. More sidewalks and more adequate street lighting is needed says the board, which recently received municipal council's agreement to pave and widen Yarrow Dyke road at a cost of $ 18,000. The town also has its own voluntary fire brigade.

For points west of here, Yarrow has truly become a "short scenic route to Cultus Lake." With summer tourist traffic taking advantage of hard surfaced roads from the Trans-Canada highway through Yarrow and along Vedder Mountain, the center is no longer the quiet, residential area it once was.

Yarrow has two schools. One is a private school operated by the MB church, where about 100 students attend from grades six to 12. The other is an up-to-date elementary-junior high where 300 students attend from grades one to nine.

Recreation facilities and organization have, as in any other small town, posed a problem. Although Yarrow did support wholeheartedly some of the finest softball teams in the province about 10 years ago, sports interest has been ebbing ever since.

The Ocean Sprays baseball club appears to be the latest community sports team on the downhill. This year half of the team is composed of "outsiders" and the club plays its home games in Chilliwack because Yarrow does not have an adequate sports field.

The community has had entries in the district juvenile soccer league for the past six or seven years. Individuals from Yarrow participate in golf, basketball, hockey and bowling.

There are three churches with a total membership in the area of close to 1000. One is the Mennonite United which recently completed building a new church on Eckert Road. Largest congregation is the Mennonite Brethren. The third church community is the Christian and Missionary Alliance congregation. ( Next week's article describes Yarrow as "B.C.'s Largest Mennonite Community". )

August 12, 1959

Yarrow Is B.C.'s Largest Mennonite Community

By Ernie Harder

The population of Yarrow has changed in the last ten years—not in number, but in make-up. Although still described as B.C.'s largest single Mennonite community, residents of Yarrow are aware that the area is no longer as solidly Mennonite as it once was.

In the last five years English newcomers, representing various faiths, have moved in. The majority of the residents welcome this increasingly "mixed" population.

The story of the Mennonites in Yarrow is one of hard work, perseverance, sacrifice and unwavering faith. Original settlers came to the area from Russia in 1929. They were poor and worked at any jobs that offered themselves-in the forests, on the farms and in the hop fields. The settlers came via drought-stricken areas of the prairie provinces. There was another big influx from the prairies during the war years and after 1947 as a result of further immigration from Russia.

Early complaints declaring the Yarrow settlers were living below the subsistence level and causing a burden for the taxpayer brought government officials from Victoria to investigate. They found the complaints groundless.

The Mennonites of today are still characteristically thrifty, industrious and with few expensive habits.

One long-time resident noted the changes brought about by the younger generation. "We worked for years to get any more than the bare necessities for our homes. But the folks today begin married life with completely furnished homes. If we didn't have the cash we went without."

The church has been the uniting and encouraging force in Yarrow since the beginning. Last year the 656 members of the Mennonite Brethren gave a total of $74,659 in offerings. Of this, $15,000 went to foreign missions, $ 47,297 for home missions and $ 12,268 for operational expenses of the church. The area also gives generously to community projects and to charity.

Changes within the MB church give evidence of the changing attitudes and outlook of the people in the community. Language has been a point of controversy for some years but that problem is now being solved. Ten years ago German was the only language spoken in church and Sunday school. Today morning services include both English and German sermons. Both languages are used at Sunday school too.

Estimates by some of the community's longtime citizens, are that only about one per cent of the people can't speak English.

Though the Mennonite religion was founded in Holland and its followers later moved to other countries and finally to Russia, Mennonites always retained German as their spoken language.

Ten years ago few people of Yarrow continued their education beyond high school graduation. Today, however, far more are remaining in school instead of leaving to work on the home farm.

Up until a few years ago the only job that most girls from Mennonite families were qualified for was housework.

The Mennonites have sometimes wrongly been linked with the radical Doukhobor sect. "I guess it was partly our own fault," stated one man. "The older folk were never much in favor of their children mixing with 'Canadians.'

Differences of language and religion were responsible for the older settlers being a segregated group. "But today the situation has changed. Except for a few late-comers practically all Yarrow people are Canadian citizens."

Seven or eight Hungarian families—the first of them sponsored by the MB church—have bought farms in Yarrow since 1957. They bought small farms and, in mos6t cases, built them up considerably.

Yarrow is too small to support many social clubs and organizations but within the MB church there are 13 sewing groups for different age groups. There is also an active ladies Tenette club which assists in community charity work and holds several teas during the year.

Though there are several branches of the Mennonite church, all hold certain teachings in common, including the refusal to take oaths, baptism of believers only, and abstinence from the "vanities of the world." Establishment of the Christian Missionary Alliance Church in Yarrow has been welcomed by many. It has given residents a broader choice in church attendance. Several families in the area travel to churches outside of the community.

The name of the Mennonite sect was derived from Menno Simons, A Dutch religious reformer and the group is a denomination of evangelical Christian Protestants.

Wednesday, August 19,1959

One Bad Year Killed Berry Co-op

By Ernie Harder

For the last 15 years Yarrow has been one of the largest raspberry producing areas in Canada. The history of Yarrow is closely related to the ups and downs of the small fruits industry, particularly raspberries.

It was in 1937, after years of competition among individual growers for markets in Vancouver and other coast centres, that the Yarrow Growers Co-op was formed.

"We had no capital but we had plenty of support and gradually an organization was built up," says Jacob Krause, one of the initial organizers. He became the first manager of the co-op and held the position for its ten years.

When the Yarrow Co-op was first formed, it was affiliated with the large Pacific Co-op on the coast, but in its second year it broke away. The co-operative flourished 'til the slump of 1949 and Mr. Krause, like others, feels it would be functioning today if the growers had shown sufficient confidence to continue supporting it during that one bad year.

Before the slump the co-op built a $ 52,000 processing plant and cannery with $ 30,000 worth of equipment. The warehouse was rented to Cheam Packing Company, then sold to Pacific Coast Packers for a sum just under $ 50,000. All equipment and machinery was sold with the warehouse.

The war years were the best ever for the industry. Berries became rationed, business flourished, population of Yarrow swelled and growers enjoyed 15 cents per pound returns in 1946. Fruit growing gave the co-op "enormous credit" and in 1946 the retail store, built only three years before, had a turnover of close to $ 1,000,000. The same year, a profit of over $ 50,000, made in the store and packing plant, was used for expansion.

But, while expansion and optimism was continuing, fruit inventories were piling up.

"Every available cold storage from here to Seattle was being filled with berries from the valley."

In 1947 Yarrow alone produced close to 6,000 tons of berries. Five tons per acre was the average yield in raspberries and eight tons was not unusual. The decline, which culminated in the "crash" of 1948 became evident in 1947 grower returns when price dropped to 12 cents. The years of 1948 and '49 were dark ones for the community.

Mr. Krause isn't the only one who can't explain why business collapsed. But it is generally believed that somewhere between producer and consumer, movement of fruit was being held up. Then, the American market, on which the valley was dependent, was flooded. The Co-op had also established a great market in the United Kingdom, but when that country imposed exchange controls to encourage exports and discourage imports by rationing available supply of Canadian exchange, small fruit was one of the first to feel the effects.

Small shipments had also been made to Mexico and Africa in an attempt to establish markets, but again, government exchange controls were the bugbear. Returns dropped to around five cents per pound.

Shortly after 1949, two-third of the total raspberry acreage in Yarrow had been pulled out and the majority of co-op members wanted to withdraw. They got 29 cents per dollar on their shares and those who wanted to stay in took over ownership of the warehouse. The retail store was sold and the co-op, which had paid up all its assets was dissolved.

"The good years spoiled it," states Mr. Krause. Growers didn't realize that profits being enjoyed at the time were abnormal and could not continue as such for long.

After 1949, acreage slowly increased as market conditions became more favorable and private companies established in the area. In recent years growers enjoyed probably the highest returns ever when, in 1956, the price climbed close to 20 cents, but rate of return meant little, since severe frost from the previous winter had sharply reduced yield.

Most authorities on the small fruits industry agree that the day of the small grower is gone. But this has not meant the disappearance of the small grower yet. Fruit growing at Yarrow, as in many other areas, has become a supplement to farm income. As long as a family can operate a one-acre plot of berries, without hiring additional help, the small patch will never completely disappear.

This is true more so in the case of raspberry growing than in strawberry growing. Authorities have stated this because raspberries don't need as much care to be productive. There are not as many insects, viruses and diseases to spray or protect against as there are in strawberry fields. This year the department of agriculture developed a virus-free, Newburg raspberry plant which could be another factor in prolonging the existence of the small grower. The new plant will be available next spring.

Though there are several large growers in the Yarrow area, acreage is chiefly in the vicinity of one acre. A department survey found that the cost to start an acrea, including the plants themselves, hoeing and other expenses, was $ 331. Second year expenses, which included posts, wiring and general maintenance were found to be $ 334 for an acre. Average yearly maintenance came to $ 278.

Figuring on an average yield of three and a half tons per acre, cost of raising berries is three and a half cents per pound. Add to this five cents for picking, making a total of eight and a half cents. Last year's return to growers was nine cents per pound for Newburgs. Price being paid this year is at least once cent better.

Depending on the raspberries, the soil they're planted in and other conditions, the most economical acreage is between 10 and 15. There are few fields of this size in Yarrow. The predicament of the typical small grower is simply this. He is unable to make a living from his berries alone and is forced to take another job in addition to cultivating his berry patch. Consequently most small berry fields have not been receiving the attention they once did.

District Agriculturist at Abbotsford, Ian Carne, stated: "This situation has depressed the morale of the industry as a whole."

The farmer today must be a businessman in the sense he must employ proper techniques in growing his fruit and caring for it. No longer can he plant, hoe, trim and pick them and hope for the best. Experts state that proper techniques and careful planning will become an increasingly more important and determining factor in the small grower's fight for survival.

In terms of quality, Canadian fruit ranks second to none. Nearly all raspberries, with the exception of a few for local use in Ontario, are grown in the Fraser Valley and the center of the industry for years has been Yarrow. In 1957 strawberries ranked third, behind apples and peaches in value of fruit harvested in Canada. Raspberries were fourth. Total value of strawberries was $ 3,698,000 and raspberries were valued at $ 3,008,000.

Though a great portion of the yearly crop is exported to the U.S. the Canadian market is absorbing more. Opinions of experts vary on the future of the small fruits industry. This year's price is up by at least a cent, and it could be that the light strawberry yield, particularly south of the border, will mean a still greater increase next year.

However, one processing plant spokesman stated growers who believe that some day the 16-17 cents per pound would return are superoptimists. Department of agriculture experts disagrred by saying it was not improbable. It appears that generally, the market will continue to have its ups and downs and, as in the past 25 years, Yarrow will continue to be one of the first to feel the bumps.

Wednesday, August 26, 1959

Small Business Declines In Yarrow

By Ernie Harder

Business isn't booming in Yarrow. Circumstances which have taken industry and retail trade from the community explain the recent decline. The changing face of the berry industry, to be dealt with in next week's article, is one reason for the economic transformation which the area has experienced in the last decade.

No longer is smalll fruit the lifeblood of the community. Today payroll supplies the majority of Yarrow residents with income.

The area, which experienced rapid development after first settlers cultivated sugar beets and harvested hopfields for a living, first became a self-contained community almost 20 years later when the Canadian Bank of Commerce opened there. A consumer co-op, formed in 1937, did much to promote Yarrow's growth. But the area's business concerns, which rely mainly on local residents for support, reluctantly admit that business reached its peak in the early fifties. The decline has been particularly noticeable in the last two years, state leading businessmen.

C.C. Funk, food market owner in his twentieth year of operation in Yarrow, was one of the first to feel the effects of the loss of close to $ 100,000 yearly payroll which Cascade Foods Ltd channeled into the hands of local employees before fire destroyed the plant last year. Company officials have still not decided whether or not the plant will be rebuilt and work continued on the same scale.

Another fire, which put Yarrow IGA out of business last year, has also done harm. The two food markets operating in Yarrow offer the modern shopping conveniences of any supermarket, but Mr. Funk-who owns both of them-is at a loss to explain why his business instead of taking up the trade formerly handled by the IGA, has even shown a decline during some months. He estimates about five per cent of Yarrow residents do all their shopping outside the community. Since June, all sales in the Funk's stores have been strictly on a cash basis.

Drygoods store owner, Corney Giesbrecht estimates that only about ten per cent of the people in the area shop for wearing apparel in his store. He says business was better when he enjoyed some local competition a few years ago.

"People want to shop around for their clothes—they want more choice."

One businessman stated that within the last two years it has been noticeably more difficult to collect credit accounts.

Central Road businesses include a barbershop, three hardware and appliance stores, one restaurant, one jeweler, two service stations with body and machine shops, two feed outlets, one drygoods store, a blacksmith, an insurance agency, a shoemaker, a lumberyard, an upholstery shop and a small printery and box factory.

"Small businesses in the community will find it continually more difficult to operate profitably," commented well-known businessman J.H. Martens. "Convenience of shopping centres within 20 minutes driving distance is one of the main reasons."

Many people are employed in seasonal labor in Yarrow. There are quite a few loggers in the area, and civil servants employed at Camp Chilliwack. Several carloads of young people, especially girls, leave each morning for jobs in Chilliwack.

Though most of the families are in the low income bracket, leading citizen and insurance agent, Dave Klassen, commented, "It's mazing where all the money comes from."

Operation of Diamond Construction Company Ltd, out of Yarrow, with a fleet of 45 trucks nearly all year 'round has meant a yearly payroll of over $ 100,000-much of which stays in Yarrow. Paving of the Vedder Mountain road five years ago was a great boon to the Yarrow district. Houses which previously rented for $ 10 a month jumped to $ 35. Many soldiers from the RCSME have rented houses and a few of these families have bought homes.

But there is little demand for land in Yarrow. An acre of berries which at one time sold for $ 2,000 can now be bought for a little more than $ 700. One and a half acre plots, with fairly modern two-bedroom houses on them, have sold for around $ 7,000 - $ 8,000.

With quite a concentration of older folk, pension cheques have been a benefit to the community as a whole. Majority of the pensioners own their own homes. A privately owned old fok's home is also operated in Yarrow. There have been two new subdivisions developed in Yarrow within the last two years but it took two years to fill the 13 lots on one of them and not a single lot was bought by "outsiders".

Wednesday, September 2, 1959

Yarrow Is At The Crossroads

By Ernie Harder

This is the last in the series of article on Yarrow by Progress writer, Ernie Harder. It summarizes the conclusions reached in the four previous articles.

Yarrow has come to the crossroads-but it is difficult to forecast along which road lies prosperity. It may be that a light industry can be attracted to the district or maybe Cascade Foods' burned-out plant will be rebuilt. Or, maybe Yarrow will just coast along as it is now-a darned nice place to live that enjoys moderate prosperity. Whatever happens, fate will have a lot to do with it because no-one appears to be in an all fired hurry to attempt sweeping changes.

A big improvement in berry prices, small farmers going into the poultry business, a bright future as a housing sub-division area—who is to say what is around the corner for Yarrow? Only one thing seems certain-Yarrow is NOT going to develop into a town of old people That viewpoint has no basis in fact.

Certainly some younger people are going further to find work—to Vancouver and even more distant centres—but many more are content to live in Yarrow and travel to and from their work in the area.

States John Martens: "We could do with some industry that would supply the community with a half million dollar yearly payroll — but have to keep on plugging to get it."

Depending on the combination of source s of supply and market locations, practically any type of light industry, such as a food processing plant or factory, could establish in the area. Facilities are available for almost any type of industry and as long as there is a trickle in the Vedder, there will never again be a shortage of water. The B.C. Electric railroad passes through the community and the Trans Canada Highway is close by. There is an adequate supply of labor, particularly female labor.

Though it is not geographically located for much expansion and lower mainland regional planning board experts have termed Yarrow a "sprawl" development, one of its greatest potentialities could be as housing subdivision area. Tucked off in the southern corner of the valley it is just out of the way of highway traffic, yet nearly midway between the centres of Abbotsford and Chilliwack. The area enjoys nearly every modern convenience and improvement it could ask for, plus the added luxury of "breathing" space between houses.

Regardless of what may be in store for Yarrow, the residents aren't too concerned about the future.


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