Begun as a market garden vegetable operation, Dale Estates would eventually grow into one of the largest commercial greenhouses in the world. Edward Dale began selling vegetables door to door in 1860. Ten years later when his son joined the company, he also began to sell flowers in addition to vegetables. By the end of the 19th Century, Dale’s had completely switched to selling flowers and had grown into a thriving flower business.
The major flowers grown at Dale’s were roses and orchids. In 1935 roses were sold wholesale for between 8 and 35 cents, depending on the length of the stem. Long stem roses sold in flower shops were sold at three times the price that was offered by wholesale growers such as Dale’s. Orchids were more expensive, usually selling for between 50 cents and 1 dollar, however, Dale’s grew them en masse which meant that the majority of people were able to afford them.
Dale’s was really put on the map by a visit from the Duke and Duchess of York, the future King and Queen of Britain in 1901. The Royal Party was received at the Grand Trunk railway station and given a formal welcome by the Mayor of Brampton, Thomas Thauburn. Also among Brampton’s more prominent citizens present to greet the Duke and Duchess were the managers of Dale’s, T.W. Duggan and William Algie. A presentation was made to their Royal Highnesses of flowers grown in Dale’s green houses.
In 1934, Harry Algie succeeded in developing a method of perforating the leaves of the roses. This method was used to spell out “Dale’s” and marked the creation of the autographed rose. This was unique to Dale’s and considered to be among the ultimate in floral gifts. In addition to roses and orchids, Dale’s also grew tulips, chrysanthemums, daffodils and lilies.
The growth of Dale’s also resulted in the development of other commercial greenhouses in Brampton and elsewhere in the Region of Peel. The first of these was Walter E. Calvert Ltd. Opened in 1910, Calvert Ltd. was nationally recognized by the 1960s for its chrysanthemums, carnations, orchids and roses that were grown in 450,000 square feet of greenhouses and 25 acres of open air cultivation. In the 1950s Calvert Ltd. built a new shipping facility that was considered to be state of the art at the time.
The success of Dale’s attracted other floral companies to Brampton. Fendley Florists was founded in the 1890s by William Fendley when he began to sell violets and carnations along the back roads of Chinguacousy Township. In 1918, his son Charles built a greenhouse in Brampton and opened a retail outlet. Fendly Florists has flourished under the care of the Fendley family and today remains the last of the early Flower Town operations that is still in business.
The presence of more than a dozen floral businesses in Brampton during this time helped to stabilize the city’s economy, while the longevity of many of these operations meant that a large pool of skilled workers was available. Some of these workers started their own greenhouses in the 1940s and 50s. It was also at this time, that Brampton became a popular tourist destination. Dale’s, along with the other growers in Brampton began offering greenhouse tours. The vast expanses of flowers and the stately homes of the owners of Dale’s, Calvert Ltd and other large commercial greenhouses added to Brampton’s visual appeal.
By the 1960s, however, time was running out for Brampton’s commercial flower industry. Heavy industry began to move in following World War II and companies such as American Motors offered higher wages and better benefits, something that Dale’s was unable to provide. In addition the cost of heating oil was going up which made it very expensive to heat the greenhouses in winter. Brampton’s commercial greenhouses were further threatened by the development of jet aircraft which made it possible to ship flowers direct from Spain and Holland to North America in less than 24 hours. Around the same time silk flowers were perfected in Japan, which were prized because they added beauty to a room and appeared to be real, yet did not die and did not need to be watered. Not even the merger of Dale’s and Calvert in 1965 could stem the tide. Faced with such opposition, Dale’s found itself unable to compete and the company was sold to a group of wealthy businessmen in the 1970s. They ran the company in a reduced capacity until 1979, when the company proved to be no longer profitable and its doors were closed.
Like so many other things in Brampton’s past; its agricultural history and its connection to the railway, Brampton’s Flower Town era has often been forgotten by local residents. Today, however there are plans at City Hall to help reclaim Brampton’s Flower Town heritage. These plans have been greatly helped by Brampton winning the Canadian Communities in Bloom Award for 2006. This award represents a turn in the city’s future. There was a time when budget cuts meant that there was little if any money for planting flowers in Brampton’s public parks. Polls in recent years, however, have shown that Brampton’s residents want their city to be known as Flower Town again. One can only hope that as the city’s efforts to reconnect with its Flower Town past will bear fruit, that Brampton will recapture its mantle as the Flower City of Canada, today and in the future.