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Getting To Know Our Heritage Apples & Orchard Through The Decades

Written by Stephanie Steves Warren, DRBIPA Treasurer & Park Ambassador

October 9, 2023

Northern Spy, Wolf River, Baldwin, Derby Pear, Pacific Crab...just a few tasty varieties of Heritage Fruits that still grow in and around the park grounds throughout Derby Reach. Inspiring an orchard and a festival among park users and park association volunteers over the decades!

In the early 2000’s, DRBIPA board members were taking a stroll along the Fort to Fort Trail, and noticed some very old mature fruit trees amongst the ravaging blackberry bushes. After many attempts, the blackberries were peeled back, and clean up of the dead branches ensued. Interviews with family descendants of some of the original farmers in the area (Houston family members), clarified many of these original trees were planted back in the 1890’s. Few stand the test of wind and time, in the world of arboriculture, “If you are not vertical the game is over”. 

Park members and users alike wished to see these trees and their history ‘live on for future generations’, creating the idea for our DRBIPA Heritage Orchard. With many of the original trees along the Fraser river, being whisked away by eroding shorelines and pervasive winds, the decision was made to plant cuttings up near the Houston Barn and house to provide more protection. In 2005 new cuttings were taken, and raised over 6 years, with 2011 bringing planting into the new site. New history was almost lost, with a large nearby Walnut tree nearest Allard Crescent poisoning several of the newly planted trees. Approximately 7 trees were lost due to the neighboring Walnut.

Other challenges, such as the land being declared an archeological site (which prevents digging directly into the land without costly oversight), ensued creative ideas from our arborist board member at the time, Bill Wilde, for a ‘floating orchard’. From 2011-2014 the newly planted trees were grown in low pro pots, on a rubber mat covered in dirt. 2014 the rubber mat’s were pulled out from under them, and the pots dismantled by other board members. 7 trees were successfully planted raised this way and it was quite the underatking.

In 2021 an archeological assessment was done by Regional Parks around the Heritage Area parking lot. And in 2022, the results of this allowed us to to plant 4 new trees just outside the Houston house fence line along the parking lot, directly into the ground. However just outside the fenced area, also enabled the local deer easy access to these tasty new leaves. Beginning summer of 2023, board members noticed no new leaves on these trees due to the deer predation. Quick planning and action ensued little temporary cages built around these new trees, to offer a chance of life and protection from the local deer. By the end of summer, these new trees are now lush with new growth to survive another winter.

From 2006-2019, Heritage Apple Day was hosted by DRBIPA and Metro Van Regional Parks. This popular event became DRBIPA’s signature event, the highlight of which was a chance for the public to taste numerous heritage apple varieties unavailable in grocery stores. These varieties were supplied largely by two local growers, Annie’s and Dave’s Orchard. Most recently (2019) with the closure of Annie’s Orchard, DRBIPA was unable to secure the required number of apples for tasting. Unable to secure the amounts of Heritage apples have revamped our Heritage Apple Day to Derby Reach Park Day for 2023 onward. Our beloved event carries on as a free, family-friendly event for our community!

Our recent board members have been taking care of the orchard, pruning it, assessing its needs and in 2021 our Orchard started to produce more fruit than usual. This years 2023 much smaller tasting couldn’t be any sweeter by coming from our own orchard! On September 24th at Derby Reach Park Day, park users got to sample the first 3 varieties to produce, Northern Spy, Wolf River, and Pacific Crab. Wolf River took the win, for most favored variety. Large, with good meat throughout the whole apple.

This year's Derby Reach Park Day we were joined by previous Board Member, Jeremy Smith, who led a wonderful Orchard tour. With many tips and tidbits on the history of the trees, diseases to watch out for, challenges the area presented. We were so excited to have Sylvia Grace Borda join our venture with a few trail walks/talks about the history of the fruit trees along the Fort to Fort Trail and around the park. It is a really fascinating history! We would like to thank Anne Gosse & Joakim Nilsson (long standing board member) for their walks to the viewing platform, sharing the history of its build, facts about our local birds, information about the Langley Bog.

Thank you to the Langley Music School and its wonderful student fiddlers that always delight us with their musical shares. Thank you to the many volunteers and Board members that made Derby Reach Park Day possible. We couldn’t do it without the many hands and hearts that go into it. Special thanks to Joan Martin for many excerpts and information in this article, and her years of service as a vounteer with DRBIPA.

If you haven’t had a chance yet to enjoy our tasty apples from th Heritage Orchard, come check us out at next years event!

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