Living through the Second World War, my grandma knew how important it was to pitch in, help out, and work together as a nation. So, when she read about a shortage of fruit workers in British Columbia and a call for Saskatchewan women to apply at their nearest employment office, she and her sister didn’t hesitate. Help was needed in an agricultural region somewhere, the work, transportation, and accommodation was paid, and the two sisters, who had never been farther than Prince Albert, were eager for adventure. Picking fruit in the Okanagan region of British Columbia sounded like an exotic summer vacation. The girls applied and were whisked across Western Canada to a place called Summerland, in British Columbia’s interior. Even the name of the town sounded like a holiday.
“Kelsey,” my grandma told me, “our mother packed us a delicious meal, enough food to last us to our destination, and, I’m embarrassed to say that in our excitement, we had eaten every morsel of food within twenty minutes of leaving the train station.” She chuckled at the memory. “We were so hungry by the time we reached Summerland.” The girls were taken to an orchard in the area and given a cabin to share. It was small and primitive, but no more so than their own bedroom at home, where five of them slept together. An outhouse and no electricity was also natural to the pair. They unpacked their meagre belongings and slept fitfully in nervous anticipation of their first day of work.
I can only imagine what my grandma’s initial reaction to orchard labour might have been like. What must she have thought as she was transported past wooded areas, valleys, and lakes on her way to work that morning? How must she have felt, walking into a copse of cherry or peach trees, when nothing of that variety grew in Saskatchewan? Who did she meet that first morning? Was she given any training before being given a ladder and a sack and sent in the direction of a row of trees? These are stories that I do not know, and wish I could now ask. What I do know is that Edna, my grandma’s sister, suddenly became conscious of her serious fear of heights and spent the rest of the summer holding the ladder for my grandma as she climbed high up in the trees and picked fruit.
The work was difficult and the hours were long, but this did not bother my grandmother. In her mind, they were at least being paid for their hard work! At home, they worked hard for free. The food was simple, and, since the girls were asked to pay for any food other than the excess fruit and vegetables they received from the orchard, my grandma made a pot of tomato soup every night for the two to share. “Milk and tomatoes,” she said, proudly. “And there was never a more delicious soup than that.” The sisters remained in B.C. for the summer, and returned home with stories to share. In fact, they returned the next summer to work as fruit pickers for another season, joined by two more sisters.