Thursday, April 12, 2007

Whistler Blackcomb: Gellatly Bay Nut Farm

Just got back from a couple of days at Whistler Blackcomb. What a ski hill. Massive. Incredible views. The mountains go up, up, up. The rope tow on the top of Blackcomb drops you off at 7400 feet. That's getting close to a mile and half. From there, my son and I saw a line of people trudging higher. We joined the line-up and, just over the lip, were rewarded with the tremenous site of a glacier cirque and a new layer of snow from the previous night. It was still early in the morning so only a few people had laid down tracks. We got our sticks on and it was like, being in Valhalla. Sunny with a few clouds drifting by the cliff faces, spires of rock, frozen blue waterfalls. Unbelievable. Some of the best skiing I've ever done.

Now, here's a hint for the thrifty. A daypass at the ticketbooth is $81 for adults. Not bad, considering what you get. But at the 7/11 on the highway in Squamish you can get discount tickets. I got mine for 50 bucks, and about thirty for my son. Good value.

This story I wrote for Harrowsmith on a local nut farm turned regional park.

Nuts About Nuts: the Okanagan’s Gellatly Nut Farm is a pioneer’s jewel

When the Gellatly Nut Farm Society in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley recently put out a call for a volunteer work party, I optimistically showed up carrying a pair of pruners. Staring up at the tops of the 30-meter nut trees, I shared a laugh with the society president and founder Fern Jean. Fern is the grand-daughter of David Erskine (Jack) Gellatly, the pioneer who planted this heritage nut orchard in 1905 and ran the business through good times and bad. Fern, 69, is as gnarled and sturdy as the trees that surround her, shares her grand-father’s commitment to the land’s future. She’s spearheading the effort to save this valuable Canadian heritage farm from the bulldozers of the developers, and she’s winning the fight.
Preserving the family nut farm is Fern’s passion and it’s an important one. The nut orchard represents close to a century of selecting, testing and breeding nut trees to develop cultivars that combine high quality with frost hardiness. Jack Gellatly gathered nuts varieties from around the world, and tested and intercrossed them with related North American species in order to produce new hybrid varieties. For this reason the Gellatly Nut Farm has been described as the “cradle of hardy nut growing and breeding in North America and beyond” and continues to be popular for nut sales in the fall. It is, in fact, the oldest surviving commercial nut farm in Canada
The farm’s roots run deep in the region’s history. One of the early farming entrepreneurs in the Okanagan valley, Jack Gellatly planted and cultivated heartnuts, walnuts, buartnuts, trazels, filhazels and chestnuts. His farm proved a solid success and Gellatly sold his saplings as far afield as Europe. (Samples of fourteen named cultivars were acquired by the USA Department of Agriculture for the U.S. National Germ Plasm Collection.) Misfortune struck in 1906 when a sudden windstorm destroyed his large, newly completed greenhouse. (The glass had been shipped around the Horn from England.) Jack had to re-mortgage, putting up the land as collateral. “He had to borrow money and Grandma insisted he cut off a ten-acre section for each of their boys,” recollects Fern. Her grandmother’s foresight literally saved the farm. In 1920 a spark from the smokestack of the S.S. Sicamous, a CPR sternwheeler that plied the waters of Okanagan Lake, set the packinghouse ablaze. With no insurance and his farm sold, Jack spent the rest of his life fighting the C.P.R. for compensation. He died physically and financially spent.
Today this acreage is all the remains of the pioneer’s efforts. In 1999 when the 10-acre parcel of land was threatened with development, Fern formed the society to fund the farm’s preservation. The local community responded enthusiastically. The society signed up 800 members and has raised $500,000 to date. The land is now designated as a regional park and owned by the district.
Despite its park status, the farm is in need of serious upkeep. Jean points out that because it’s a designated B.C. “Class A” heritage site, any changes to the site have to be done carefully. About half of the current trees need to be removed. “Take out the weak and sad trees and let the strong ones live,” she says.
The Gellatly Nut Farm is a shining example of a potentially perfect agri-tourism enterprise. Situated on the shores of Okanagan Lake, this still largely undeveloped site offers a long beach with shallow swimming waters and a stunning view across the lake. That alone will draw visitors. Additionally, the nut farm has a rich history and related activities in which visitors can participate. For example, one of the most popular events is the fall nut harvest. Volunteers shake the trees and gather the booty. The orchard echoes with peals of laughter and excited voices. Says Fern of last year’s nut harvest, “We had hundreds of volunteers. We had loads of school kids. I had one school girl come up to me and say, “This is the happiest day of my life.” Such is the joy the bounty of nature can inspire.

To Learn More About Nut Growing

“Nut bearing plants are prized for their fruit, wood, and ornamental values. These plants will grow into a valuable timber resource, while producing crops rich in food value, flavourful, nutritious, prized for baking, appetizers, salads, main dishes, and deserts - an adventure in otherwise ordinary meals. There are ornamental uses for the shells, such as in jewellery.
The wood of nut trees is the most prized wood of temperate regions for cabinetry (Black Walnut), shipbuilding (the Oaks), in tools (the Hickories), and interior finishes such as veneer, just to name a few of the more common uses. In fact, for many of the nut species the whole tree is valuable, from the roots to the tops. Root wood and burls are prized by carvers and wood turners. These species should not be just cut down in harvesting, but should also be dug up to recover the majority of the roots system.
As ornamentals, they are superior shade trees with unique foliage, form and fruit which attract birds and animals for food and shelter. Root systems are deep, compact and generally non-invasive, good for preventing soil erosion. The living trees themselves are applied to streetscapes (the pollution resistant Gingko), in landscaping (the hazel shrub or beech in hedges, or the oaks and walnuts as shade trees), and so on.”
ECSONG Nut Grower’s Electronic Manual

Gellatly Nut Farm Information

Tools, Information and Nut Growing Resources

Society of Ontario Nut Growers

Eastern Chapter of Ontario Nut Growers

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