When David and Hanna Doran arrived in Cape Rich in 1837 they planted a few McIntosh Red apple seedlings that they had brought with them. It was their hope to grow enough apples for their own use and possibly have a few to sell, never dreaming that it would be the beginning of one of the area’s major industries. Farmers in the Beaver Valley area had been experimenting with various fruit trees, but had found that peaches, pears and apricots produced blossoms too early and they were often killed by frost. The Doran’s success soon encouraged other settlers throughout the Southern Georgian Bay area to plant apple orchards and it became a year round food staple throughout the district. Northern Spy, Russets and McIntosh Red were some of the most popular varieties and soon they were being shipped to other parts of Canada as well as Great Britain and U.S.A.
In 1870, Collingwood Evaporator Works was established to produce dried fruit which was easier to ship and store. As the demand for dried apples for Great Britain and U.S.A. grew, farm wagons filled with barrels of apples lined up at the dock. By the turn of the twentieth century, three evaporators were needed to process all the apples being shipped from the area. It had only taken about fifty years for a good sized industry to grow out of just a few trees.
It was 1894 that the first company to pack, and export whole apples was created. Apple storage facilities soon
became common, always located near railway lines to make shipping easier. A special barrel capper was used to seal the barrel lids in place and create a light pack which would not bruise the fruit. By the end of the century, John Mitchell, with financial help from the government began an experimental fruit farm in Clarksburg. Here he worked with apples, cherries, peaches, pears, gooseberries and plums. The Mitchell name was a controlling factor in the neighbourhood and Mitchell Apple Juice became well known throughout the area. In 1905 Mitchell, his family and friends organized The Georgian Bay Fruit Growers Association and because of the transportation opportunities in nearby Collingwood, the industry continued to grow.
In 1906, P. Haines and Son started peeling and coring apples for the production of dried apples. The business was sold to Golden Town in 1977 and a small press was installed to produce unfiltered apple juice. In 1979 the equipment was improved and they started producing fresh and frozen apple slices. In 1981 a 9,000 sq. ft. plant was built on 100 acres in Collingwood Township. A 2,700 cold storage bin and modern peeling technology equipment were added in 1990 expanding its size to cover 44,000 sq. ft. and making it possible to produce all their products under one roof. They presently have the most modern equipment and techniques to process and transport their apple products. The most popular apples for processing are top grade Northern Spy, not enough of them are grown in the area so many are purchased from other parts of Ontario, New York, Michigan and Quebec. Golden Town Apple Products specializes in apple peeling and apple-juice production, and is a division of A. Lassonde Inc.
Of the 700 apple growers in Ontario, 60 of them are in the Georgian Bay Area. The most popular type grown in this area is McIntosh followed by Honeycrisp, Northern Spy, Ambrosia and Gala. Even though the part of this area, now known as the Municipality of Meaford lost 17,500 acres of orchard to the Government when they decided to build the Tank Range at Cape Rich in 1942, there is still 1,200 acres in operation today earning Meaford the title of Apple Capitol of Ontario. Methods have improved, as the older, larger trees in many orchards are being replaced with dwarf varieties which allow more of them to be planted on the same amount of land, increasing production and there is less need for the use of ladders when picking. Apple picking is still done by hand and there is only a short period of time (about 6 weeks) to remove them from the trees before the danger of frost. Locals are hired whenever possible but there are also a large number of pickers that come to the area from other places to finalize the job.
A large number of the apples produced are sold fresh in roadside stands and farmers markets which also sell apple products such as pies, jam and cider along with other fruits, vegetables, honey and maple syrup. There is also some opportunities to pick-your-own or buy directly at some of the farms. Some apples not sold in a reasonable period of time are placed in cold storage for sale later. Some of the orchards have their own storage facilities but there are also a number of other options for storage. Meaford has one of the larger storage plants and they are hoping to expand and improve it in the near future. Their plans include establishing a new sewer system and to begin processing some of the apples there.
Co-operatives can be a big help to all types of farmers and apple growing is no exception. They provide a chance for producers with a common interest to unite in trying to achieve new economic benefits and share the risks, thus improving their competitive position. The Georgian Bay Growers’ Co-operative was established in 1993 by 22 apple growers. It helps the growers to respond to market requirements in the apple industry and provides them with bargaining power. By pooling their products, smaller growers gain access to more markets. Many retail outlets prefer to purchase from one organization than with many individual small farms. The Co-op operative has an apple storage and packing plant that is regulated by 22 of the shareholders and they hire 40 full time and 5 part time employees.
Binkley Apples Limited, on R.R. 1, Thornbury, packs, markets and exports Ontario-fresh apples, many of them grown in this area. It was established in 1961 and packs apples that meet and exceeds Agriculture Canada Fancy and Ontario Orchard Crisp standards. The product goes through strict inspection procedures on a computer controlled packing line and is then transported in temperature-controlled trailers.
One last company worth mentioning started to compliment the apple growing industry. Bay Bins is privately owned, but during the last 10 years it has managed to capture 95% of the market for produce bins in Ontario and Quebec. They hired 16 employees and produced up to 350 bins a day, some of them being shipped as far away as Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia.