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Family marks century milestone
Over the last 100 years, Stewart Brothers Nurseries has changed considerably. However, one thing has remained the same—it’s still a family affair.
Founded in 1911 by brothers Richard John and William Stewart from County Kildare, Ireland, the nurseries have been passed down to three generations.
Richard John’s five granddaughters—Colleen Mulvihill, Sandra Bjarnason, Kate Stewart, Jennifer Stewart and Julie Crawford—now own and operate the nurseries.
“It started out very localized in the valley with fruit trees and now we specialize in prairie hardy (deciduous and coniferous) trees. We’re certainly much larger than we were 100 years ago,” said Mulvihill.
In the 1980s, the nursery expanded by adding growing fields in Midway and Grand Forks.
According to Bjarnason, the nursery is only six years older than the City of Kelowna itself.
“The City of Kelowna was incorporated in 1905. The population was approximately 600 people,” said Bjarnason.
“Kelowna was merely a small town that serviced the rural population of surrounding orchards and farms.”
Richard John immigrated to Canada in 1908 when he was 25 years old. He and brother William saved enough money to start the nursery in 1911. “In the first few years, they grew lots of vegetables as well as trees. The vegetable crop was a good income generating product because it took a few years growth for the trees to be saleable,” said Bjarnason.
Mulvihill said that the success of the nursery came thanks to her hardworking grandfather.
“He had a very strong work ethic. Back in those days, they didn’t ship in containers and pots like they do now, so they were very busy from when they started digging the trees until they were all shipped,” said Mulvihill.
The sisters agree that the work ethic has been passed down through the generations.
“My dad (Bill Stewart) was out at the nursery every Sunday morning. He worked beside his workers and he worked very hard,” said Mulvihill.
Bill joined the nursery full-time in the 1940s. He assumed sole ownership of the nursery in the early 1960s.
Bill’s five daughters do their best today to carry on the family tradition.
“I think working with your siblings does have some challenges, but we’re able to overcome them. It’s important for the business that we overcome those challenges,” said Mulvihill.
She noted that the nurseries have many long-term employees who have been with the business for more than 30 years.
This weekend, the descendants of Richard John, and his wife, Lucy Mary Whitworth, will gather in Kelowna for a family celebration.
This will include 20 grandchildren, 44 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great grandchildren.
“There’s a tour of the nursery; that’s the highlight. Then we’re having a family dinner at our cousin’s lavender farm,” Mulvihill said.
“We’re having a dinner celebration on Saturday and then Sunday is our employee luncheon.”
As for the next 100 years, Mulvihill hopes Stewart Brothers Nurseries will remain a family operation.