Robertson planted Albion apples

The Robertson and Ritchie family working in the Albion orchards in the 1920s.

The Robertson and Ritchie family working in the Albion orchards in the 1920s.

Samuel Robertson, born in the Orkney Islands of Scotland in 1823, arrived to work at Fort Langley in 1843 – a carpenter, boat-builder and cabinet-maker.

He soon noted the unclaimed land north of the river and began visiting the property he meant to make his own – what we call “the Albion Flats.”

Robertson began developing his orchards on the flats long before his preemption date.  He purchased cuttings of apple, plum and pear trees from Scotland and rowed across the river, grafting the cuttings to native crab apple trees.

By the time he took his preemption in 1858, he already had bearing orchards – the first in B.C.

It is impossible to say how many fruit trees Robertson had  on the Albion flats and later on, the section he purchased east of 240th Street.  He had 700 acres in all.

The community archives have a copy of his journal book, in which he recorded his income and expenses, his agricultural activities, and the hiring of extra labour for harvests.  It is truly a wealth of information.

From that journal we learned that, in 1886, he was growing the following varieties of apples – most of which were developed between 1740 and 1825 in Great Britain and the United States:

• Reinette du Canada – Late season. Medium apple, pale green skin, good keeper.

• Hubbardston Nonesuch – Late season. Large rugged red fruit.  Tree known for production.

• Yellow Bellflower –  October harvest.  Excellent cooking and cider apple.  Lemon yellow skin.

• Ortley – aka White Bellflower –  Late fall harvest.

• Northern Spy – October harvest. All-purpose apple good for long storage.  Heavy producer.

• Rambo – Dates back to late 1500s.  September harvest. Pale yellow skin.

• Newton Pippin –  Late October harvest.  Favourite of George Washington.  Bright green.

• Sweet Pearmain –  Mid-season harvest.  Wonderful flavour.

Fall Pippin – September harvest.  Large yellow apple.  Good for cooking and a good keeper.

• Gravenstein – Origin, Italy, early 1600s.  August-September harvest.  Large fruit, excellent for cooking.

• Wickson – Small high sugar variety excellent for cider.

• Baldwin –  October harvest.  Large fruit good for cider and pies.

• Blue Pearmain – October harvest.  Good for storing – retains flavour despite shrivelling.

• Russet – Late season.  High sugar – good for cider.

• Seedlings (all sorts) –  Several varieties of large yellowish apples of high quality and good keepers.

• Snow –  Parent variety to McIntosh.  September-October harvest. Good eating and excellent for cider.

Robertson’s list is clearly that of a professional orchardist and fruit merchant.

With his apple crops, he covers the full spectrum of the available season and produces varieties suited to ready eating, cooking, canning, cider production, and winter storage. He also grew and sold large quantities of pears and plums and sometimes peaches, which were probably more dependent on an unusually good season.

On his farm he built root cellars for long-term storage so he could continue sales through the winter.  He also had a separate fruit drying facility.

Robertson’s farming days ended with his death in 1897. His family continued to farm and partnered with the Ritchie family through marriage.

The orchards were maintained until time and taxes took their toll and the land was gradually broken up and sold.

It would be interesting to find out if there are still bits and pieces of Robertson’s orchards producing fruit in Albion.

Val Patenaude is director of the Maple Ridge Museum.

(The information on the different varieties comes from www.allaboutapples.com)