Flowers in the Thompson Okanagan, Photo Allen Jones
Situated in British Columbia’s Thompson Okanagan region in the Similkameen Valley, Keremeos is rightfully called the Fruit Capital of Canada, with an abundance of orchards and fruit stands that are a testament to the area’s sunny, dry and fertile soil that produces outstanding crops. Just down the road is Cawston, and with over 40% of the crops grown organically it is known as the Organic Capital of Canada. This is also where the now world-famous Ambrosia apple was discovered in 1987. But fruit isn’t the community’s only claim to fame, situated on the Similkameen River it is popular for swimming, tubing, kayaking and excellent fishing. Wineries, history, hiking and biking are among the area favourites.
The name Keremeos is thought to have originated from the indigenous word “Keremeyeus” meaning “creek which cuts its way through the flats”.
Modern history suggests that 1813 was the earliest date when the first white man came to the Keremeos area. His name was Alexander Ross who managed the Pacific Fur Company’s Fort Okanagan trading post just over the Canada/US border. In 1821 the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) took over the Fort which was a trade route to London via Hudson Bay, however by 1860 transportation had moved on and the company headed north into Canada.
Throughout the mid-1800s gold prospectors were in the area panning for gold in the river. Francois Duchouquette who had worked for HBC at Fort Okanagan, built an HBC trading post near Cawston and planted oats, potatoes and other vegetables. By 1864 the first settlers arrived from Oregon with 42-head of cattle and began farming.
In 1872, Englishman Barrington Price, who came from a well-to-do family, moved to the Similkameen Valley to take-over HBO’s ranch land and trading post. By 1877 he had opened a store and water-powered mill which turned locally grown wheat (grist) into flour. Together, the mill and store served the needs of the local settlers, First Nations, and miners travelling through. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after that the business started to decline due to the advent of the railroad. In 1885, the completion of the railroad through valleys in the north caused the horse trails through the Similkameen to become unimportant trade routes. The mill ceased to work and the property was purchased by J. H. Coulthard as a home for his family.
The first European settlers arrived to farm oats and wheat and in 1887 the first Post Office was opened. By 1893 there were 16 homesteads and commerce grew. By 1904 there was a sawmill and the railroad was getting ever closer. In 1907 the first train arrived. Fruit was already being planted in abundance and local apples were winning awards. A tomato cannery was built during the First World War, plus a packing house and irrigation of the land grew. In 1956 Keremeos became a village.
In 1972 spring floods took out one of the bridges across the river causing the railroad to abandon the spur tracks into Keremeos. Fruit was then packed and moved by truck out of the valley. Fruit that didn’t get packed was sold on roadside stands which continue to this day.