Salt Spring Island Archives

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James Canadian Seed Company

Dorothy James

This recording is part of the Salt Spring Island Historical Society Collection
Mrs. James gives a description of the James Seed Company, from its origins in 1915 on James Island to Salt Spring Island in 1922, to Cowichan District in 1930, dissolved in the early 1940s.

See also:
Dorothy James - James Seed Co.
James Seed Company
James Seed Company (photos)

Accession Number 989.031.050 Interviewer Salt Spring Island Historical Society
Date 1986 Location
Media Audio CD
ID 45 Topic




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I am the Dorothy James

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wife of

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Jack James, of the James Canadian Seed Company. This was started

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in 1915

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on Parker island by Mr. And Mrs. PT James, who had come out from England, therefore sums Fred,

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who was the

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there were four sons,

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a friend Jay,

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who is a graduate of the Arnold Arboretum and Harvard Jack James

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in the Navy in

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the first war, from 1916 to 19. Is brother Harry, and the youngest brother, Charles were the young sons who helped run the farm

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also their daughter Phyllis, later married Chad Lee of Saltspring. Mr. James had an as it was a trained horticulturist in England and

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came to the to Victoria to run the

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Sir James Douglas, a state in Victoria, where their first three children were born

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Mr. James later joined the Department of Agriculture in Victoria

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where he met my father

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who align

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with the first department of agriculture in BC

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Parker Island was the starting point for the seed business where

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they had moved to Parker Island or from a James Island after he had left the Department of Agriculture

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Why did they go to

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because they he, Mr. James

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walked so a Parker island for their home now this was during the war. The first night was just before the war. And they they the Jack was in the Navy and Fred was the plant hybridizer and geneticists.

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Parker Island at that time, was a virgin forest, and they cleared the land into plots large enough to grow their first seed plots. They started on a full line of flower seeds and vegetable seeds and brought out some of their own special varieties.

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James family raised all of the seeds they So the the first catalog they put out was handwritten with just a few special varieties they had they were insistent that it must be of the highest quality because they

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ended up as the only seed firm in Canada who grew and guaranteed there, the quality and trueness of seed

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they put out this catalog and they it was chiefly a mail order business and it ended up in sending seeds to all over the world. It was the largest seed growing company in Canada, we're guaranteed their rule and guaranteed their seeds

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in 1917, they outgrew the

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room on Parker Island and moved to Ganges to Barnsbury which is now the golf course at that time owned by Norman Wilson's son of the Reverend Wilson

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they were they were there for four years. And then in

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1922, moved to the JC Lange farm, which is suffering wood farm at the north end

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and carried on growing product to augment the sale of seeds they grew and shipped to Vancouver and m&d anemones, in which they specialized and fresh vegetables, corn, broccoli, potatoes

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imported the first tractor on Saltspring, which scared the horses and animals that were on the road

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there was

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a marsh in connection with the Fernwood farm, which they imported special key tractor to cultivate is a marsh which had large cracks in the wheels where they're sunk down. It was on this march that they grew beautiful potatoes and it was excellent for certain crops of seed particularly root crops.

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They also

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when they needed

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machinery for cleaning their seeds and anything else that was necessary to carry on

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they would the ingenuity of the

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four boys have produced

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the necessary equipment to carry Yes, never was anything else. They also built a A mill to

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make their own lumber

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and cut ties for the singer Lumber Company which had numerous time Mills on the island. At that time

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the mail order

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business was carried on by the

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by the family MD.

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I myself was married in 1922 and those became one of the helpers on the on the staff

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also had our two daughters while we

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were living here

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Mary and Valerie

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at that time the surface to Salt Spring was in during the winter when we were at the peak of the mail order season there were sometimes only three boats a week.

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So with the growth of the business we moved

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over to

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couch and Bay to the cornfield farm in 1930. And then it was officially called the James Canadian seeds limited

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at this time, there were over 100 agents for retailing the seeds Jack was the sales manager and traveled all over

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the various agents there were as many as 50 employed in the

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in the fields and in the

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office. receipts were put up

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the first seed catalog in 1998 listed 77 varieties in 1936 166 varieties on 150 acres and more. And we were known nationally and internationally. The family business was similar to the way burpees started and a Barger of the badru Seed Company was a frequent visitor to couch and

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bar this was also during the Depression when people were making the most of what they had. And but our family who said that they were the happiest some of the happiest years

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of their childhood. We got they didn't or they weren't aware of

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what we were going through

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the made their own fun

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when we moved over to the city later they just couldn't understand why children were dissatisfied in the city because they didn't know how to make well you

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know you don't get you don't become are very well off on

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agriculture pursuits, because they expenses are heavy as I say it was hard time and

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our youngest daughter Audrey was born

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during the

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last war they

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were there were large contracts of seed the sample overseas and a Jack was

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was asked to Superintendent the growing of seeds for the British Ministry of Food in the whole of BC, which meant traveling from one end to the other with the word contracting the different varieties of seeds wanted and one of the interesting things was that they used portulaca seed flour before camouflaging

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the tops of buildings over in the around the

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Mediterranean and Africa during the war, because of where the air and air bases were large shipments of radish seed went to Russia and that

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they with all the

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war time loss shipping none of the seats were ever lost

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after the war they the market were were flooded by cheaper seed from other countries and labor prices had gone so high that it was impossible to carry on the seed business and the dissolved in the end of the second

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growing your seeds meant our large acreage so that each variety could be well separated to prevent crossing a varieties

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farm at Fernwood.

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Think about 50 acres there that were used as the farm spray they had about that was about

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they used about

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50 acres there

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during a war with the the acreage increased it had collagen to accommodate these tremendous orders we have for overseas.

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Work was very exacting because great care had to be taken not to mix seeds And

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we were in

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at Fernwood, we just use the primitive buildings that were there to start with the scene.

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Although they they had frames

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and a small greenhouse were starting the clouds and all those all the plants for the seeds were transplant started in the greenhouse and transplanted they had special transplant transplanting Pam machines which were a big help then all that had to be cultivated because we had no water and it was all dry cultivation

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and the

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with the used horses with the with the cultivators to keep a dust mulch on all the fields also kept down the wheat dust mulch the and this was one thing that we had very dry years in the 20s which made it you had to have a lot of acreage you

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for the crops No

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it didn't. Except that every it was hard work. And the dirt in the sun the summary for very often fact I remember one summer where it was in the 90s for over three weeks. And people ran over water in their wells they used to all the water from the lake or the various lakes on there. In those days they didn't have a deep wells. They're not drilled wells. They were all hand dug at Fernwood farm there yeah where the soft springs are you had to be very careful where you dug wells because they would be contaminated by the salt there were also in the early 20s, my husband was in touch with people who were interested in developing the Saltspring for a spa but apparently they their financial backing they didn't materialize but the the analysis out the salt spray is the same as the as the Harrogate springs in England famous

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about the

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so this also affected the crops

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that were near the

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salt spring.

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The one crop that

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flourished was then was the mango crop

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which they used a great deal for feeding cattle.

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Mango, ma and g and

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the there was only one doctor on the island and it was Dr. Sutherland A lady doctor who had been a specialist in Harley Street in London. And she was she and her husband

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came out here.

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And he drove her around. But she was a wonderful doctor, but she was deaf. And this this, I think, was why she left her practice. But she was marvelous, marvelous doctor. My two job my eldest daughter, Mary had whooping cough and it developed into pneumonia and we nearly lost her. At that time, they everyone, the neighbors were so good. And the telephone director the telephone office closed at night. So they connected our line with the doctor's line so that we could get her nice we needed her the one thing I think that they helped to save her life was the Reverend Clinton, who was the minister at that time, had goats and he used the goat milk every day, because of the small Kurds she could keep that down. It was after we started that.

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Well, the war the war

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gave us these big contracts. And as I said before,

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the interest the after the war, there was a flood of the cheap seeds coming in from

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these other countries who had been closed down during the war, particularly in Europe.

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And then the labor

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the wages went so high that we just couldn't do YouTubers need economic impossibility to carry on. So they, they close down, my husband was

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asked to join the

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country interior vegetable marketing agency in Kelowna as the agriculturist and that is where we stayed until he retired in 1960. And then we then we came back here and we knew this place because this had been this place in the series here had been one of the where we had several seed contracts where we had to separate the crops. So we knew that this place had particularly good soil. So when he came he wanted to grow a special tomato that would be suitable for the coast climate.

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Free from the verticillium

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wilt, which was one of the worst diseases we had in the Okanagan and he found a plant there. That was a mute. See, the only plant in this huge field have gone down with this. He started that as our cluster stock or the Saltspring some vice tomato

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that we're carrying, I'm still growing the foundation seed other people carry

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on shot shot

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I did a great deal of the

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stamp most of the packets and deal with those that we didn't have printed. were stamped