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The Heritage of Hop Farming in the Fraser Valley: Continuing a Proud Tradition

The Heritage of Hop Farming in the Fraser Valley: Continuing a Proud Tradition

The lush Fraser Valley, known for its fertile soil and temperate climate, has long been a cornerstone of British Columbia’s agricultural prowess. Among its many contributions, hop farming stands out as a significant part of the region’s heritage. As we celebrate Canada day, we’d like to delve into the rich history of hop farming in the Fraser Valley, celebrating the enduring legacy that we, at Topp's Hops, are proud to be part of.

 

A Historical Overview

Hop farming in the Fraser Valley traces back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This period marked the beginning of a thriving hop industry that would shape the agricultural landscape of the region. The earliest attempts made to grow hops in the Fraser Valley seems to have been Mr. John Broe in 1884. Having purchased rootstock from the states, he grew and dried hops dried hops for nearly a decade and a half. As new farmers became interested in giving hops a try, Mr. John Broe became the source of rootstock for the early hop growers in Chilliwack and Aggasiz (G. White, 1937). 

According to the Chilliwack Museum Hops Exhibit, the first large commercial hop yard in British Columbia was established in 1892 in the Sardis area of Chilliwack by Mr. Henry Hulbert, who had purchased 50 acres of farmland, after learning his trade in the hop fields of Kent.The fertile land and favorable climate made the Fraser Valley an ideal location for hop cultivation, and according to White, in 1912, “his fields produced a bumper crop of one and one quarter to one and a half tons per acre” which was nearly double the standard yield. 

By the 1930s, the Fraser Valley had become one of the most important hop-growing regions in North America. As detailed in the comprehensive 1937 study, hops from this area were highly sought after for their quality and consistency. The study highlights how the combination of skilled labor, innovative farming techniques, and optimal growing conditions led to the Valley’s prominence in the hop industry (G. White, 1937).

In addition to Mr. Henry Hulbert’s growing success in the industry, the Fraser Valley also saw other successful growers such as E. Clemons Horst of the BC Hop Company who had grown his hop fields from a few acres in 1902 to over 300 acres by the time of his death in 1940, making it the largest producing farm in the area at that time. Joining the ranks in 1926 after the drainage of the Sumas Lake, H. Norton Ord, who had gained experience in the Horst fields, and his business partners Thomas Livesley and Hugo Loewi purchased 600 acres and created the Canadian Hop Company. 

Images sourced from Esther Epp Harder's Article "The Hop Industry" (Yarrow Pioneers and Settlers, n.d.).

By the late 1950s, the John I. Haas Hop Company had become the only hop-growing business left in the Chilliwack area, owning all 1,325 acres of hop yard lands. Over the years, Haas expanded by acquiring Hulbert's operations, Canadian Hop Holdings, the BC Hop Company, and Harry Ord's operations. When Fred Haas died in 1991, he left 1,325 acres of prime Fraser Valley land to Georgetown University and Georgetown Preparatory School. Hop cultivation continued on some of this land until 1997, when it was sold, bringing an end to Chilliwack's more than 100-year-old hop-growing industry, rich in social, cultural, and economic history (Chilliwack Museum Hops Exhibit, n.d.).

By the 1930s, the Fraser Valley had become one of the most important hop-growing regions in North America. As detailed in the comprehensive 1937 study, hops from this area were highly sought after for their quality and consistency. The study highlights how the combination of skilled labor, innovative farming techniques, and optimal growing conditions led to the Valley’s prominence in the hop industry (G. White, 1937).


The Community and Cultural Impact

The hop industry significantly impacted the local communities, particularly in towns like Yarrow and Chilliwack. Esther Epp Harder’s piece on the Yarrow Pioneers and Settlers on the history of Hops recounts the vibrancy of the hop industry, which not only provided employment opportunities but also fostered a sense of community among workers and farmers. The annual hop harvests were major events, drawing workers from various regions and creating a bustling, multicultural atmosphere during the picking season.

Photos from this era show fields brimming with hops and workers diligently harvesting the crops, capturing a time when hop farming was a central aspect of life in the Fraser Valley (Yarrow Pioneers and Settlers, n.d.).

Sourced from Esther Epp Harder's Article "The Hop Industry" in Yarrow's Settlers and Pioneers (Yarrow Pioneers and Settlers, n.d.).

Images sourced from Esther Epp Harder's Article "The Hop Industry" (Yarrow Pioneers and Settlers, n.d.).

 

The Evolution of Hop Farming Practices

The Fraser Valley's hop farming practices have evolved significantly since the industry's inception. Early hop yards relied heavily on manual labor, with entire families participating in the harvesting process. This communal effort was a hallmark of the early hop industry, fostering a strong sense of community and shared purpose among the workers.

In the mid-20th century, advances in agricultural technology began to transform hop farming. The introduction of mechanized harvesters and improved irrigation systems increased efficiency and productivity. However, these changes also brought new challenges, such as the need for specialized knowledge and equipment.

Images sourced from Esther Epp Harder's Article "The Hop Industry" (Yarrow Pioneers and Settlers, n.d.).

Despite these challenges, the Fraser Valley's hop farmers adapted and thrived. By the 1970s, the region was producing some of the highest-quality hops in the world, known for their unique flavor profiles and aromatic qualities. This reputation for excellence has continued to this day, with Fraser Valley hops being sought after by brewers worldwide.

 

Challenges and Resilience

The hop industry faced several challenges over the decades, including economic downturns, market fluctuations, and disease outbreaks. Despite these obstacles, the resilience of Fraser Valley hop farmers ensured the survival and eventual resurgence of hop cultivation in the area. Innovative farming practices and a commitment to quality helped the industry adapt and thrive once again.

One significant challenge was the outbreak of hop diseases such as powdery mildew and downy mildew. These diseases can devastate hop crops, leading to significant financial losses for farmers. However, the Fraser Valley's hop farmers responded with resilience and ingenuity, developing new disease-resistant hop varieties and implementing integrated pest management strategies to protect their crops.

Economic fluctuations also posed challenges to the hop industry. During periods of low hop prices, many farmers struggled to make ends meet. Yet, the tight-knit community of hop farmers in the Fraser Valley supported each other through these tough times, sharing resources and knowledge to ensure the industry's survival.

Images sourced from Esther Epp Harder's Article "The Hop Industry" (Yarrow Pioneers and Settlers, n.d.)

 

Topp's Hops: Continuing the Tradition

At Topp's Hops, we are honored to follow in the footsteps of those early pioneers. Our commitment to cultivating quality hops is rooted in the traditions of the land. We take pride in our sustainable farming practices, which not only honor the legacy of hop farming in the Fraser Valley but also ensure that we contribute positively to the environment and our community.

Our hops, vibrant in aroma and flavor, are a testament to the rich soil and ideal growing conditions of the Fraser Valley. We strive to continue the legacy of excellence that has defined this region’s hop industry for over a century.

We employ modern farming techniques that blend seamlessly with time-honored practices. Our commitment to sustainability includes using organic farming methods, conserving water through efficient irrigation systems, and maintaining biodiversity in our hop yards. These practices not only produce high-quality hops but also protect the environment for future generations.


Celebrating the Heritage

As we celebrate Canada Day, we reflect on the heritage of hop farming in the Fraser Valley. We are proud to be part of this historical narrative, contributing to the continued success and recognition of Fraser Valley hops in the global market. The story of hop farming here is not just about agriculture; it’s about community, resilience, and a deep connection to the land.

By embracing the traditions of the past and integrating modern, sustainable practices, Topp's Hops aims to honor the legacy of those who came before us while paving the way for future generations of hop farmers.

The Fraser Valley's hop farming heritage is a testament to the ingenuity, resilience, and passion of its farmers. At Topp's Hops, we are committed to preserving this legacy and ensuring that the rich tradition of hop farming in the Fraser Valley continues to thrive.


References

Chilliwack Museum and Archives. (n.d.). Hops Exhibit. Retrieved from [Chilliwack Museum](http://chilliwackmuseum.ca).

University of British Columbia. (1937). *A comprehensive study of hop farming in British Columbia*. Retrieved from [UBC Open Library](https://open.library.ubc.ca/media/download/pdf/831/1.0098631/1).

Yarrow Pioneers and Settlers. (n.d.). Hop Industry. Retrieved from [Yarrow BC](http://yarrowbc.ca).

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