A golden flower, and the blossomed legacy

Englishman and horticulturalist Fenwick Fatkin had the idea to move to the valley in the 1920s and plant daffodil bulbs. The idea grew into a farm and the birth of the Bradner bulb industry, and one of the longest-running events in the Fraser Valley.

By Joti Grewal | April 5, 2022 |5:00 am

The idea to plant daffodils was simple, but the commitment to cultivate a farm was demanding.

While living in Vancouver, Englishman and horticulturalist Fenwick Fatkin travelled to the valley in the 1920s on the interurban train, specifically stopping in Bradner in search of property. He was inspired when he noticed some daffodils growing in the wild. He returned to his wife Charlotte in Vancouver to share the news: they would purchase property in the west Abbotsford community and plant daffodil bulbs imported from England.

“It was just a little idea that grew,” Pauline Isherwood said about the beginnings of her grandfather Fatkin’s flower business in Bradner.

That idea grew into a farm, and gave birth both to the Bradner bulb industry and one of the longest-running events in the Fraser Valley. It also served as an early precursor to today’s mega-flower celebrations like the Chilliwack Tulip Festival.

Fenwick Fatkin (third from the left), founder of the Bradner Flower Show, is seen pictured at the exhibit in 1949 when it was held at the Philip Sheffield High School auditorium. Photo 1888 from The Reach Museum
Fenwick Fatkin (third from the left), founder of the Bradner Flower Show, is seen pictured at the exhibit in 1949 when it was held at the Philip Sheffield High School auditorium. 📷; The Reach P1888

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Drawing closer to 100

This weekend the Bradner Flower Show will welcome back flower-lovers after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic for its 92nd year.  Isherwood hopes to make it to the century mark.

“I’d really like to get to the hundreds,” Isherwood said. “Because I don’t think there’s many things that last, especially in communities where it’s all volunteer.”

Isherwood is the show’s chair, a position she has filled for nearly a decade after succeeding her mom. Her history with the event extends much further back. As a child, Isherwood recalled being responsible for clearing the tea room and helping in the kitchen, and later with plant sales. That family history informs the passion she feels for the event.

“It’s very widely encompassing for me to be part of this and put it on every year,” she said. “And it’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of extra hours. But the satisfaction I get from it is priceless.”

Isherwood fought back tears as she spoke.

“I get emotional thinking about it because it’s so rare. And I’m so lucky to be able to be part of it.”

This year’s show will feature about 400 varieties of daffodil.

King Alfred is likely the species of daffodil that comes to mind when thinking about the flower. The tall bloom has bright yellow petals and a yellow trumpet. Some might associate the blossom with one of the country’s largest charities, the Canadian Cancer Society, but not Fatkin’s family. For them, only one person comes to mind.

“I live on the farm that my parents started, gosh, it’ll be 67 years this November. And just down the road was my grandfather’s farm,” Isherwood said.

Fatkin’s original Myrtle Avenue farm is no longer in the family. Isherwood is the only remaining family member to own Fatkin property. Daffodils haven’t been farmed on her father’s land for decades, but a few of them, including King Alfred, still push up through the earth each year.

“It just always feels like spring right when they come up.”

Isherwood never met her grandfather. The details of her family settling in Bradner happened decades before she was born. Much of what she knows comes from a book chronicling the family history.

Each spring fresh daffodils were picked and shipped to Vancouver market by way of the BC Electric Railway. Fatkin encouraged other district farmers to enter the bulb trade and became known as the father of the Bradner bulb industry.

Caleb Manuel and his son B.G. Manuel on seen in a field of daffodils on their Starr Road farm in Bradner, as captured by ASM News in 1950. Caleb started farming flowers in 1935. 📷 The Reach P3593
Caleb Manuel and his son B.G. Manuel on their Starr Road farm in Bradner, as captured by ASM News in 1950. Caleb started farming flowers in 1935. 📷 The Reach P3593

After cultivating his plot of land on Myrtle Avenue, Fatkin had the idea to showcase the different varieties of the flower. The first Bradner Flower Show was held in Fatkin’s parlour in 1928.

That show started as a modest display of about 25 varieties of the flower and it grew into hundreds of varieties.

For the first 12 years, the show was held at the small community hall in Bradner. The event was curtailed during wartime. It moved from the Orange Hall in Jubilee Park to Philip Sheffield school. And then in 1950, it returned to Bradner, where the last competitive show was held in 1952.

In 1960, a $2,000 donation from the Bulb Growers Association helped pay for the construction of the current Bradner hall. The show has been held there ever since.

A woman seen at the Bradner Flower Show in 1979 leans over a display of daffodils and pulls one of the blooms to her nose to get a smell of the flower.
At it’s height in the late 70s, nearly 10,000 flower-lovers would visit the Bradner Flower Show during the three-day event. 📷 The Reach P33884

Images from the peak of the exhibit in the late 70s show daffodils displayed on walls lining all sides of Bradner hall, as well as on tables. Bus-loads of daffodil admirers would pack into the hall. Isherwood said 10,000 visitors went through the doors during the three-day event. Crowds have been more modest in the 21st Century, but the passion from the blossom continues to flourish.

The 92nd show will be held Friday, April 8 to Sunday, April 10 from 10am to 5pm each day. The official opening will happen on Friday at 2pm. Entry to the event is $2, and children 12 and under are free. The weekend will also include crafts and plant sales. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Abbotsford Regional Hospital.

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Joti Grewal

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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