Summerland’s Dominion Research Station was founded in 1914, but before that, there was an earlier federally funded research station in Summerland.
The facility was located on Logie Road and operated by famed horticulturist Joseph Hilborn.
The Hilborn brothers, William and Joseph, played prominent roles in the early days of Canadian agriculture. The idea about creating Agricultural Research Stations began with Prime Minister John A. MacDonald’s Bill 124 ‘An Act respecting Experimental Farm Stations’ (May 11, 1886.)
Canada’s first agricultural research station was the Central Research Station in Ottawa and William Hilborn was the station’s first horticulturist.
The Hilborn brothers grew up in Arkona, Ont. and since childhood, the brothers actively pursued agriculture. As teenagers, they experimented with new varieties of plants and shrubs.
One variety, created by the Hilborns, was the blackcap Hilborn raspberry.
William wrote articles for the Canadian Horticulturalist journal and was director of the Fruit Growers Association of Ontario. It was because of these early Hilborn brothers’ contributions to agriculture that attracted the attention of the federal government.
By 1891, William Hilborn became the director of the Southwestern Station, located near Leamington, in the County of Essex, Ontario. Joe Hilborn joined brother William and moved to Leamington. Joseph replaced William as the station’s director in 1907.
In 1909, the Joseph Hilborn family moved to Summerland to manage a federally funded experimental station. Hilborn named this new experimental farm, Kill Kare Fruit Farm.
In the fall of 1912, long time family friend, Alf McLachlan and his family moved to Summerland.
Since 1891, McLachlan had worked and lived at the Hilborn farms and greenhouses. The McLachlans purchased land directly adjacent to the Hilborns.
By 1914, Hilborn was receiving provincial funding from the British Columbia government. R.M. Winslow, British Columbia’s horticulturist, became director of the Hilborn’s operations. One of Joseph Hilborn’s assignments was to determine the potential for vegetable crops in the Okanagan’s dry climate. Hilborn produced scientific papers on growing cucumber, cantaloupe, eggplant, pepper, and tomato in B.C.’s Dry Belt.
The Hilborns were active in the community. In 1916, Hilborn was elected the president of the local Farmer’s Institute. As president, Hilborn made presentations to the provincial body expressing concerns about the Okanagan’s poor markets for fruits and vegetables.
Also in 1916, Joseph Hilborn was elected to the school board. His wife, Emma, was active in Summerland’s Women’s Institute and served as president for one term.
In 1920, the Hilborns decided to move to Victoria. Alf McLachlan acquired the Hilborn properties. This acquisition included two hectares of orchard land, four additional greenhouses and a larger home.
Today, Summerland’s first research station facility, Joseph Hilborn’s home, still exists on Logie Road, surrounded by greenhouses.
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