If you have been in the area for any amount of time, the chances you will have heard the name Gellatly are quite high. There is the Gellatly Nut Farm, Gellatly Heritage Park, the Gellatly Bay Waterfront and even Gellatly Road!
The Gellatlys are a pioneer family that played a crucial role in the development and success of agriculture and shipping produce in the Okanagan. In 1883, David Erskine Gellatly and Eliza Ure married in Scotland and had a child named David. Not long after, they emigrated to Ontario.
After having two more children in Ontario and not much luck with farming in the harsh winter conditions, David and Eliza made the decision to move West across the country to British Columbia. They first settled in Vernon, where David took up work as a carpenter. After two years, the family heard that some farmland in what is now known as Fintry (at the time Shorts Point) was for rent. It wasn’t long before the family moved across the lake and began planting produce.
They first grew potatoes and tomatoes. David Gellatly was the first man to ship a carload of potatoes out of the Okanagan Valley. His potatoes were of such quality that he gained the name “Potato King of the Okanagan.”
As some time passed, the Gellatlys knew they wanted to buy land, however, they could not buy the land at Fintry. David searched around the Okanagan for farmland that would be suitable for farming, which is how he found Powers Flat in the area now known as the Gellatly Waterfront and Heritage Park. At this time, David and Eliza had nine children. In order to move to Westbank, Eliza took the children by boat while David herded the livestock along the old Fur Brigade Trail.
Powers Flat was challenging land to farm as it was practically untouched save for a small log cabin. Clearing the land of its natural growth would take some time as it had to be completed fully through manual labour. But this challenge was no match for the Gellatlys, and by 1903 enough land was cleared to start planting fruit trees.
David began building a small greenhouse on the property in order to grow all kinds of produce. He ordered the glass to be shipped to Westbank all the way from England. When the greenhouse was finally built and ready to work inside, a strong windstorm hit the valley. After the storm, there was only shattered glass where the greenhouse once stood. Luckily, this didn’t stop David Gellatly from starting reconstruction right away and putting an order out for another shipment of glass. After one more year’s work, the greenhouse was up and running.
This greenhouse allowed the Gellatlys to grow and experiment with many other varieties of produce. Some notably successful crops included onions and tomatoes. It is through this work that David Gellatly also earned the title “Tomato King of the Okanagan”. Mr. Gellatly was now both the Tomato and Potato King!
The Gellatly’s farming business became so successful that they constructed a packing house as well as a box assembly building and even a wharf so the Canadian Pacific Railway could accept shipments directly from the Gellatly’s property – a feat which conjured much back and forth between David and the CPR. The property was even home to the Gellatly Post Office, which was one of the first post offices in the area.
In 1919, tragedy hit the Gellatly family. A fire raged across the property, destroying all the production buildings on the farm and even the wharf. The most awful part was that David had to delay renewing his insurance only three days prior to when the fire struck. This caused the tension and arguments between David and the CPR to escalate. This stress may have contributed to David’s early death in 1922 only a few short years after the devastating fire.
Despite the tragedy, nothing seemed to slow down the Gellatlys. Inspired by their father and surrounded by agriculture their whole lives, David and Jack Gellatly gained a keen interest in nut farming. David planted the first trees, while Jack travelled across the U.S.A. and British Columbia, learning of the different varieties of nut trees that held promise for success in the Okanagan Valley. Upon his return, Jack combed the whole Okanagan Valley to learn what species grew here naturally.
Jack Gellatly operated the only nursery in Canada specializing in nut stock! Many referred to him as the “Apostle of Nut Growing in Canada.” Jack bought stocks from all over the world, everywhere from Japan to Europe in order to experiment. Some of his nuts even won prizes in continent-wide competitions.
Today, the Gellatly Nut Farm and Gellatly Regional Park are Heritage Sites. In the fall, you can participate in the nut harvest and watch the nuts fall off the trees and roll to the ground, in the winter you can see the snow falling delicately on the branches. In the summer and spring, you can enjoy the green park and shaded trees for a stroll or a picnic.