While the craft cider craze in British Columbia is a recent event, this province has a long and rich history with our favorite sparkling fruit drink.
The cider itself dates back to the apple growing regions of Western Europe in Spain, France and England. French and English farmers brought their favorite libation with them when they came to North America.
Johnny Appleseed (real name John Chapman) was well known for bringing apple cultivation to the central United States and Ontario in the early 1800s, but less well known was the fact that he mainly planted cider apples, allowing early settlers to easily make their own hooch. Soon the easy-to-grow and prepare drink crossed the continent to British Columbia.
The Hudson’s Bay Company was the first to bring apples to the West Coast when they established apple cider orchards in Fort Vancouver, near the mouth of the Columbia River (now Vancouver, Washington ) in 1827. The HBC valued cider for its ability to control scurvy in the winter months – some workers were even paid in cider. The HBC was also responsible for planting the first orchards in British Columbia in the 1830s with the founding of Fort Langley on the Fraser River in what is now Derby Reach Regional Park, where some of the cider apple trees d ‘ origin are still booming.
The establishment of Fort Victoria by the HBC in 1843 brought cider apples to Vancouver Island. Thanks to an influx of American prospectors crossing the region en route to the Fraser Valley and Cariboo gold fields in the 1850s, as well as the decision to found the British Royal Navy’s North Pacific Squadron in Victoria in 1865 , demand for cider (any alcohol, really) has exploded. Since Victoria was little more than a distant outpost that could just as easily have been on the moon, the city needed a cheap source of readily available alcohol to satisfy its thirsty new citizens. As a result, apple cider orchards were planted throughout southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands to supply the new inhabitants.
Cider production was still a farming enterprise in the late 1800s, with the first commercial cider house not appearing until 1922 with the Growers Wine Company of Saanich, which initially focused on loganberry wine. Almost 100 years later, the company still exists, as Growers Cider Co.
Meanwhile, in the Okanagan, Catholic missionary Father Pandosy planted the first apple trees in what is now Kelowna in 1859, and the first commercial apple farms were established some 30 years later. The bold plan of ‘honest’ British Columbia Premier John Oliver to build the massive Okanagan concrete irrigation canal – completed in 1923 – quickly helped turn the region into a bowl. fruit from Canada. Cider making in the Okanagan didn’t really take off until George Washington Ward decided to plant cider apples on his Kelowna farm in 1918 to make the beloved semi-dry cider of his native England. . Five generations later, Ward’s Apple Cider is still producing cider from these same trees.
However, with the industrialization of British Columbia, on-farm cider production declined in favor of beer, which could more easily be produced in urban areas from ingredients that didn’t spoil. With the drop in demand for cider, many apple cider orchards were torn apart in favor of sweet or dessert apple varieties, or more profitable vines.
Today, most cider made in British Columbia is made with these dessert varieties, which produce a dry cider. However, some of the original cider apple trees still remain, scattered around the province, many of which are abandoned and become wild. Cider makers like Salt Spring Wild have sought out these heirloom varieties because they produce a more complex flavor due to their high tannin content. Some orchards are even re-planting cider varieties, marking the return of the humble cider apple to British Columbia.