Mary Hogg, the daughter of Jack James speaks about the James Seed comany.
Introduction by Chris Arnett
We apologize for the poor quality of the first 4 minutes of the recording.
The story of the James Seed Company covers four different farms:
My plan is to give a summary of each farm and then show the corresponding pictures.
The company began on Parker Island in 1913. when the island was bought by my Grandfather, Percy James, a trained horticulturist from England. At that time the island was heavy virgin forest and the family had an enormous job of clearing a few acres near a bay facing Galiano Island.
When the business began in 1914, the eldest son Fred was not eligible for military service, Jack the 2nd son joined the navy and Harry and Charles ( or Jim as he was called) were still too young.
The seed company was therefore launched in the name of Fred J. James, co-founder and graduate of Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University.
In the beginning the seed stock was bought from reliable companies in England and the U. S.
These were grown in trial plots to select the highest quality possible for seed. This practise continued throughout the years to guarantee the product.
Sometimes several years were required to stabilize new varieties.
All types of seed for sale were grown by the company and guaranteed to be 100% Canadian.
James Seeds continued to expand on Parker Island until 1917 when the catalogue listed 37 varieties of seed.
At this time they had to consider acquiring a larger farm as more good land was not available on Parker. Also the mail situation was unsatisfactory for a catalogue business.
Parker Island was sold and the family moved to Barnsbury Farm on Saltspring Island. This was the former home of Rev. Wilson and now the Saltspring Golf Course. . As a matter of interest, Parker Island was sold in 1917 for $4500.
The climate and soil on the Gulf Islands and southern Vancouver Island are considered ideal for seed production in Canada. Spring rains, together with manure and fertilizer provide good plant growth while warm, dry summers encourage bloom and seed development without irrigation. The islands are also more isolated for purity of seed.
At Barnsbury 40 acres were planted in vegetables and flowers, including 22 varieties of Sweet Peas. By 1923 the catalogue listed 55 Sweet Peas, one of the most popular of all flowers. The price of a packet of seed was 5 - 10 cents.
As evident in the photographs, the seed business in those years was extremely labour intensive, requiring many workers as well as family. Many jobs were done manually including starting seed, transplanting in the fields, hoeing and weeding. The seed was either hand picked or machine cut and threshed. All seed then had to be cleaned by machine to separate seed from chaff or pulp. This required special sieves for every size from dust like Lobellia to beans etc.
Before packaging the seed had to be tested for germination. There are government regulations for minimum germination, but the James always insisted on the highest percentage possible.
During the fall and winter the seed was hand packaged by family and employees. Again, specially designed seed measures were used, some minute in size. A one ounce measure contains approximately 250,000 Lobellia seeds. Today packaging is done by computerized machines by the large seed companies.
The catalogue also had to be updated and mailed each year. On the display table are some old glass photo negatives taken by Fred for catalogue pictures. Finally in the spring all mail orders had to be filled and shipped
By 1923 the company once again required more land and moved to the 150 acre Fernwood Farm. The name of the company now became Fred J. James and Bros.
Fernwood farm extended from the waterfront to North End Road west of Fernwood Rd. It also included the marsh area on the lower side of North End Rd.
In 10 years the business had grown from 2 or 3 acres to 150 acres and 152 varieties of seed sold throughout North America and Europe by mail order.
My sister Valerie Watt and myself were born while the family was at Fernwood. Would you like to stand up, Val? I know many of you know her. Our youngest sister Audrey Bennett was born at Cowichan and now lives in Kelowna.
COWICHAN BAY FARM
By 1930 the business had outgrown Fernwood and more acreage was required to handle the large demand for seed and for the segregation of more varieties. Also the CPR boat service was limited to 3 days a week. The decision was therefore made to buy the 300 acre Corfield Farm at the head of Cowichan Bay.
Relocating a seed business is an enormous undertaking. At Cowichan a large new seed house and office was built plus family houses. Three large barns were updated for seed cleaning and storage and a 100 foot greenhouse was constructed.
In the meantime all the operations had to be completed on Salt Spring and ploughing etc. started at Cowichan. The seed and all equipment was gradually moved to Cowichan and more machinery bought for the larger acreage. All told this operation took about 2 years.
The name of the company now became James Canadian Seeds Ltd.
By 1932 almost one million seed packages were filled for mail order and store displays. This number grew steadily every year. As many as 50 workers were required in the fields and for seed packaging and mailing. This provided many jobs during the depression years.
During World War 2 the company procured large overseas contracts for vegetable seeds. Huge shipments of radish and cucumber seed were sent to Russia at the time they were allies. Seed for England included onion, carrot, peas and cabbage. In the Mediterranean area the military used flower seed especially Portulaca to camouflage rooves of buildings.
The end of the war marked the end of the James business. Companies in other countries began flooding the market with cheaper seeds. Higher B. C. labour costs and the philosophy of growing 100% Canadian seeds made it impossible to continue and the company ended operations.
Today all the large seed companies buy under world wide contracts.
Presented by Mary Hogg (James) at the Nov. 9th 2005 meeting of the Saltspring Island Historical Society.
|Accession Number||2005.024.001||Interviewer||Historical Society|
|Date||November 9, 2005||Location|
|Media||digital recording||Audio CD||mp3|
Unknown Speaker 0:00
A great segue from the cover of this new publication on bottom here we have a picture of Jane Sally working on their farm in Parker Island when this organization was founded 10 years ago well and it's my great pleasure to introduce our next speaker Mary who is the granddaughter of personal James father of four brothers founded the James ski company this company of Ghana Parker Island, moved to Salt Springs and then eventually Cowichan Island and one time was the largest mail order company in Canada a very important part of history no further ado, I'd like to introduce
Unknown Speaker 1:18
Hear me out thank you very much Good afternoon.
Unknown Speaker 1:35
Company was not the largest company in the whole country, but it was the largest Canadian company
Unknown Speaker 1:56
the story of the four different parts
Unknown Speaker 2:08
My plan is to give a summary of each and then show the corresponding pictures the company began
Unknown Speaker 2:24
was the train was heavy and the family was
Unknown Speaker 2:40
Unknown Speaker 2:50
they all of a sudden
Unknown Speaker 3:01
Unknown Speaker 3:09
therefore, Fred J Chang, co founder of the armagard part of the universe in the beginning of reliable companies
Unknown Speaker 3:30
to select the highest quality possible business practices to guarantee several years to stabilize.
Unknown Speaker 3:52
Develop took him 10 years
Unknown Speaker 4:04
for sale by a company and guaranteed to be 100%.
Unknown Speaker 4:18
Continue to expand the catalog at seven varieties of seeds. At this time they have to consider acquiring a larger firm as no more suitable land was available on Parker Island. Also the mail situation was very unsatisfactory for catalog business. We have some pictures this shows the family my Your father Jack is on the left. Then Harry, and then my grandparents, Annie and Percival James and Jim and Fred. There was also a daughter Phyllis who lived in Vancouver. Okay. This was Fred when he was studying at Harvard
Unknown Speaker 5:34
This shows the house and some of the crops beginning in the little valley that was cleared. The vote in the foreground ground was the family boat that was used for mail and supplies to and from Galiano Island. This is the picture on the front of the little booklet that says come out. Okay, showing the horses plowing on the island. Sometimes more help was also available from from the other islands.
Unknown Speaker 6:32
Unknown Speaker 6:37
this was one of the very large Douglas fir trees that was on the island. It was 16 feet in circumference and was 290 years old. And this was in about 1917. Before they moved the bay facing, Galliano was down to the left, and the little valley continued up to the right to another bay that was on the north end of the island.
Unknown Speaker 7:25
Parker Island was sold and the family moved to Barnsbury island on Salt Spring Island. This was the former home of Reverend Wilson and now the salt spring on the golf club. As a matter of interest, Parker Island was sold in 1917 for $4,500. I hate to think what it is today
Unknown Speaker 7:54
the climate and soil on the Gulf Islands and southern Vancouver Island are considered ideal for seed production in Canada. spring rains together with fertilizer and manure, provide good plant growth, while warm, dry summers encourage bloom and seed development without irrigation. Islands are also more isolated for purity of seed. At Barnes re 40 acres were planted in vegetables and flowers, including 22 varieties of sweet peas. By 1923, the catalog listed 55 Sweet Peas, one of the most popular of all flowers. The price of a packet of seeds at that time was five or 10 cents. So everything in the photographs. The seed business in those years was extremely labor intensive, requiring many workers as well as family. Many jobs were done manually, including starting the seed transplanting in the fields, hoeing and weeding. The seed was either handpicked or machine cut and thrashed. All seed them had to be cleaned by machine to separate seed from chaff or pull. This required special sibs of every size from the dust like low below the seed to beans etc. Before packaging the seed had to be tested for germination. There are government regulations for minimum germination. But James always insisted that the highest they have the highest percentage possible. During the fall and winter, the seed was hand packaged by family and employees Again specially designed seed measures were used some minute in size, they one ounce measure contains approximately 250,000 Lobelia seeds. Today packaging is done by computerized machines by the large sheet companies. The catalog also had to be updated and mailed each year. On the display table over here are some old glass photo photo negatives taken by Fred for catalog pictures. Finally, in the early spring, all mail orders had to be filled and shipped. This is Jim on Fordson tractor, which was the first tractor that was brought on to the Salt Spring Island that was in use for many years on the other farms
Unknown Speaker 11:11
it would be in the early 20s
Unknown Speaker 11:19
This was thrashing pea seed barns very the threshing machines and other big equipment was motored off the this was a beam and tractor the small tractor that was used for cultivating and it was run by a belt off the tractor significant story here the commercial building was manufactured by the linker by the by a built company in Toronto, the Linton built company and in later years Fred James married one of the Vinton daughters I think it was not all business in Toronto
Unknown Speaker 12:22
this was little planter I've never seen a picture or another planter like it anywhere it was a tube planter consisting of two tubes I think you can see them there why one for the plant and one for water at the base of it was a metal mouth which opened to allow the plants to be put in the soil after the plants and water were put in and the the she was removed
Unknown Speaker 13:09
was not all work and no play the family loved picnics and this every Sunday was the day off so they often went picnicking this I think was it Walker hook y'all know the fight flannels, the dresses
Unknown Speaker 13:41
the coast guide would have a set of they saw this picture. This was a family speed launch. And this was also at Walker hook
Unknown Speaker 14:07
we're going on to Fernwood. 1923 the company once again required required more land and moved to the 150 acre free wood farm. The name of the company now became Fred J. James and brothers frame wood farm extended from the waterfront to North End Road west of Fernwood wharf road. It also included the marsh area on the lower side of North End Road. In 10 years the business had grown from two to three acres to 150 acres. 152 varieties of seed were sold throughout North America and Europe by mailorder. My sister Valerie watts, who I know many of you know and myself were born while the family was at Fernwood farm. Would you like to stand up fell
Unknown Speaker 15:23
our youngest sister Audrey Bennett was born at college and now lives in Kelowna. This picture shows the faithful forwards and character and plowing on food good farm. This was taken from the waterfront and looking up to the buildings on the top of the hill.
Unknown Speaker 15:53
This was one of the Lang houses where the lengths and the case Morris's lived in the foreground. I think that's the lettuce going to seed. In the background, there are two little buildings there, which I'm told were built by the people who owned the farm before the Lang's. This is the old house on friended farm, which is still standing, but I'm told it's in real disrepair. The James family also lived in this house it was built by the Lang's. This is a field of sweet peas and other flowers looking down towards walrus Island and Galliano. You can see the stance of the farm in that direction. These were potatoes growing in the marsh area. The deep soil of the Marsh was ideal for growing root crops. It was also very useful for growing crops that required isolation from the rest of the farm. Through huge crops of meat and mangled regrown in Marsh wasn't all done by tractor. The good old horses were still used for some cultivating and seeding. This was our Father Jack on the tractor with this and harrow behind the these were used to pulverize the soil before planting. This was the beam and tractor game, which was used to cultivate between the rows. The rows had to be kept free of weeds through hand holding was very important in the seed business to prevent weeds from growing and contaminating the other seed. This was looking on the other side of for a good farm looking down towards Galliano again and Fernwood road would be to the right. These were various vegetable crops. These were anemones which were grown to be shipped as flowers to the forests in Vancouver. They were a beautiful assortment of colors, and they were picked in bud and packed in boxes with moss were a beautiful sight these were 1000s of Sweet Pea seedlings being grown in cold friends before planting out in the fields. This I put in because I know that many of you knew my mother, Dorothy James. She came to Salt Spring as a bride in 1922. And she took a great interest in the company. She and her father I came back to Salt Spring in 1960s to retire here, and they continued active in the horticultural affairs. The two other little monkeys are down on myself. The Fox fair. I'm sure it's frowned on today, but it was quite fashionable at that time
Unknown Speaker 20:35
now we go to rest. By 1930, the business had once again outgrown the farm at Fernwood, and more acreage was required to handle the large demand for seed and for the segregation of more varieties. Also, the CPR boat service was limited to three days a week. The decision was therefore made to buy the 300 acre cornfield farm at the head of carts and Bay. Greenville relocating a seed business is an enormous undertaking at college and the large new seed house and office was built. Plus family houses. Three large round round, barns were updated for seed cleaning and storage, and a 100 foot greenhouse was constructed. In the meantime, all the operations had to be completed on Salt Spring and plowing etc, started at Cowichan. The seeds and all the equipment was gradually moved to Kochin and more machinery. But for the larger acreage, this whole operation took close to two years. The name of the company now became James Canadian seeds limited. By 1932. almost 1 million seed packages were filled for mail order and store displays. This number grew steadily every year. As many as 50 workers were required in the fields and proceed packaging and mailing lists provided many jobs during the depression years. During World War Two, the company procured large overseas contracts for vegetable seeds, huge shipments of radish and cucumber. seeds were sent to Russia at the time they were allies. Saved for England included onion, carrot, peas and carriage. In the Mediterranean area, the military used flower seeds especially portulaca to camouflage the roofs of buildings. The end of the war mark the end of the seed business of the James business companies in another country began flooding the market with cheaper seeds, higher BC labor costs and the philosophy of growing 100% Canadian seeds made it impossible to continue. And the company ended operations today holding large seed companies by under worldwide contracts. This shows the extent of the couch and farm looking down to couch Hubei with Salt Spring Island in the background. On the left, you see part of a group of maple trees. This is quite a large Grove and they were three and 400 years old. Unfortunately, I don't think any of them are left today. This was a field of carrot going in the field closer to the bay. I think that's my father in the field. In the immediate background, the logging railway which goes down to the ship port in Khartoum Bay. This was a wartime field of vegetable with the grove of maples In the background again these are tomatoes ready for picking and thrashing. This was a special tomato flash threshing machine, which was invented by both Jim and Harry, who were mechanical geniuses. The the tomatoes were picked and fed into the hopper on top. And then the the juice and pulp were they were taken by a chute into large hoppers on the field. In the, in these large hoppers, they were allowed to ferment for several days, this fermentation helped to prevent seed borne disease and also separates the seed from the pulp the after fermentation, the hope and the juice was all washed away and then the seeds put in large sibs and put out to dry these these were heaps of vegetable marrow, ready for processing for seed and these are SITRANS I don't know how many of you have seen SITRANS growing they are used for cake fruit and and rind. This was a field of squash. Again, I think for overseas seed. This shows a large field of tomatoes and a crew out pruning them. They were pruned they were always grown on the ground and prune so that the sunlight could get out fruit. This was the 100 foot greenhouse where all the the seed was was grown for young plants, before putting out in the sea in the fields. There were always quite a number of women working in the greenhouse in the spring to plant the seed them to pick out the seedlings.
Unknown Speaker 28:19
This this is the group of Canadian women working in the fields during the war, since the men were not around. Valerie and I both worked with this group in the summer. And I think we received the princely sum of 25 cents an hour. This was these were onions for seed. As most of you probably know, many roots are by annuals. And so it requires two years before you get seed. This is rolling portulaca. Two after it had been picked. The plants the ripened plants were cut and put on two long pieces of heavy paper or canvas. And then they were excuse me, then they were rolled to break open this seedpods before thrashing. Each year, the company having exhibits in both Vancouver and Victoria exhibition. This was the Victoria Victoria exhibition In I think it was about 1932 or 33. The small seeds were displayed in glass jars. And the larger ones in small sets along the front. The vases and flowers were all grown the flowers were all grown on the farm. That's it. Okay. Okay. Yes, the the. They've been sprayed in both the Vancouver and the Victoria exhibitions. Vancouver at that time also had a Winter Fair in which they displayed. I think that's my talk for for today. Thank you very much
Unknown Speaker 31:02
there any questions for Mary?
Unknown Speaker 31:06
Unknown Speaker 31:09
Just one there. Yes, please.
Unknown Speaker 31:14
There are a few copies in the back of our newspaper. And this issue is fortunate to be able to a column and I'm very concerned because what the column it shows the president administration by technology conference, Philadelphia, is held. And he's offered 133 What's the equivalent of $173 million subsidy in biotech? That's about three times.
Unknown Speaker 32:02
And I think it's important for us to recognize the difficulties that we get to do this kind of thing. It's important for us to communicate, don't support it shouldn't be complimentary coffee back.
Unknown Speaker 32:26
Thank you for the comment. Okay. Is there any other questions for Mary?
Unknown Speaker 32:34
No, no, these were not used after I guess. 1945 And so they've long gone unfortunately. Any other questions back please? Carry on
Unknown Speaker 33:01
done a little bit, the only one that I used to say was the Saltspring tomato seed Saltspring. And that eventually, the strain eventually went and so I don't save it anymore.
Unknown Speaker 33:25
I wonder married people both flowering told me about
Unknown Speaker 33:37
this flower Oh, they Yes. Yes. My grandfather developed the Mrs. PT James parameters, which I think some of you probably know. It is available from the nurseries
Unknown Speaker 34:04
and I have a question. When did the company cease operation again
Unknown Speaker 34:08
Unknown Speaker 34:12
Christian at the back?
Unknown Speaker 34:16
No, they went out of business due to the situation with the with the importation of seeds, etc. They're grown all over the world. And so it didn't really fit.
Unknown Speaker 34:38
The question please.
Unknown Speaker 34:40
Size of the barn
Unknown Speaker 34:46
at times, yes.
Unknown Speaker 34:49
The size of that
Unknown Speaker 34:50
300 acres? Yes. Yes.
Unknown Speaker 34:56
Yes, one in the middle and then
Unknown Speaker 35:03
No, no it's on the on the table here I've made a little sketch Parker Island showing where the farm was and where the house was and from there is a little space there showing where the house was it's marked as ruins now on the charts
Unknown Speaker 35:33
you show what's next
Unknown Speaker 35:47
know he was trained in England and then decided to come out to Canada he was in Victoria for many years
Unknown Speaker 36:04
no no he didn't at that time he and Fred the oldest decided to go into the sea business
Unknown Speaker 36:22
in the middle of industry back
Unknown Speaker 36:29
that's a very good question. As a matter of fact, we were talking about this this morning. I have no idea why he picked Parker Island Well, I guess maybe in 1913 they were I guess he was he was looking for a place to to start seeing growing but why in the world Parker that's one that's one consideration and fine
Unknown Speaker 37:11
that's right and I think that that was one of the reasons that they didn't choose islands was that it was isolated for purity of seeds.
Unknown Speaker 37:21
I believe that's true of the records when they received potatoes as well. Yes, those just for isolation the variety and the the minimizing the chance for transmitted disease Yes, right. Question is very back
Unknown Speaker 37:45
well, it was just food for for the family. Really the rest of it was all for seed
Unknown Speaker 37:54
I noticed that myself it's kind of different for a farmer to grow his crops way past the point of maturity until you when you're the seeker after
Unknown Speaker 38:06
they find that culture was a very beautiful place when when all the flowers were in bloom and many visitors came from Victoria and various places to wander through fields.
Unknown Speaker 38:19
Okay, perhaps one last question
Unknown Speaker 38:30
well, it was all all grown for seed production except for vegetables
Unknown Speaker 38:42
Unknown Speaker 38:47
no, because in most cases the whole plants were thrashed or whatever because they were beyond the they were mature at that time and couldn't be used for anything else. Exactly. Yes. Yes.
Unknown Speaker 39:03
One more than last one appropriate
Unknown Speaker 39:14
the James company inspire me to get noise isolation
Unknown Speaker 39:27
Unknown Speaker 39:34
I got tomato is still going on. Now
Unknown Speaker 39:47
we have to buy
Unknown Speaker 39:54
Unknown Speaker 40:00
Thank you for coming out I'd like to thank very for a very informative talk and history continues to repeat itself by the sound of it. Thank you