Robert Roswell Broder

Robert Roswell Broder was born at Alturas, California, November 15, 1887(1) or November 16 1888(2), the eldest son of Alice Mary Graves and John Broder.

His father, John, was born in Ballymote, Sligo, Ireland on July 8, 1854(3) and came to the USA in September 1880, landing at Detroit, Michigan(4). On February 1, 1887(5) John married Alice Mary Graves, daughter of an Episcopalian(6)  minister at Alturas, California. Alice was born at Walnut Grove, California, January 20, 1867(7). On August 3, 1888(8) John received his US citizenship at Alturas, California.

In the Spring of 1897(??) John, with his son Robert, left California with a team and wagon, and leading additional horses, heading North, eventually settled in La Conner, Washington. This trip North was quite an experience as there was nothing but trails through the bush a good part of the way. Many a time during the trip the wagon had to be pried up over stumps in the middle of the trail.  Robert's mother, Alice, and three children, Mabel, Harold and Orville, came North by train to join them(9). Another son, Percival Claude, was born in Washington State. [note: these time frames do not make sense considering children's birth dates; possibly confusion between trips from CA to WA and from WA to Yukon. FLW]

In 1898 or 1899(10), John Broder went North to the Klondike gold rush and opened a store at Atlin, BC near the border with the Yukon Territory, to sell supplies to the miners. A large proportion of these supplies were paid for by the miners in gold dust. Alice Broder, with the help of her son Robert, looked after the shipping of eggs, butter, etc to the store in Atlin. Other supplies were shipped in by the wholesale grocers Kelly Douglas & Co of Vancouver, BC.

Eventually this store burned down, during a disastrous fire in the town in the fall of the year, after the winter supplies were in stock. As insurance was not obtainable in this new part of the country there was a very heavy loss to John Broder, so he had to go back down to Washington. Kelly Douglas & Co also lost heavily in the fire as they had put in quite a stock of supplies on a consignment basis to be paid for as sold.

After returning to Washington, John, in partnership with Mr Mead, opened a creamery and cannery at Friday Harbor, Washington. Robert worked with his father at this plant from 1904 to 1908 as butter maker, engineer and also looking after the cannery. Canning at this plant consisted of salmon, clams and later canned fruits (105 oz) for logging camps

Later, John, together with his sons Harold and Orville, operated fish and clam canneries at Sidney BC and Nanaimo, BC. In later years John was appointed Fisheries Inspector for the BC Coast for the federal government, a position he held until the time of his death in the spring of 1917.

During 1908/9 Robert was in charge of the Mission, BC canning and jam plant. In October 1910 Robert Broder took a position as Manager of a fish cannery for Savary Island Canning Company, for one year, under contract where he had charge of the complete canning operation.

During one winter (probably 1911/12) Robert worked as Engineer on a tug boat, hauling logs across the gulf. Some points that Robert mentioned as having been are: Texada Island, Comox, Nanoose Bay, Ganges, Dungeness.

In May 1912, Robert took a position as Manager of a fruit and vegetable canning and jam plant for the Vernon Canning and Jam Company Ltd at Vernon, BC. In this position he made selling trips to Vancouver during the winter months. In this position at Vernon, Robert had his brother-in-law, Sam Manery working with him in the cannery.

During the above period, Robert's father John started a small vegetable and fruit cannery on the bank of the Fraser River at New Westminster. This cannery was built on piles and was over the water when the river was high. On the river side the building was over the water at all times and boats could dock right at the cannery.

Robert worked with his father at the New Westminster plant for a while but later rented the plant from his father and operated it himself from about 1914.  In 1915 Robert purchased the plant, partly paid for by a mortgage to John Broder. On March 10, 1916, Robert received clear title to the New Westminster cannery.

Total pack  in 1914 was            9,334 cases
                 in 1915 was          11,207 cases
                 in 1916 was          20,000 cases (approximately)

In 1917 and 1918, being war years, the pack increased considerably and buildings and equipment were added to the plant.

During 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1918, the New Westminster plant handled mostly tomatoes from the Okanagan (shipped in carloads) and fruits from the Fraser Valley. Pears, plums, cherries, and apples were brought down the Fraser River from Chilliwack and vicinity on the stern-wheeler Skeena (Captain Seymour and Purser Nesbitt). The fruits were handled in this way for a good many years. The Skeena docked right at the plant to unload the fruit.

On April 18, 1916, Robert married Violet Faye Jones, who worked in the office and looked after the weighing in of the fruits and vegetables for a number of years.

Robert acted as his own engineer, as he held an engineers certificate so only employed a fireman to stoke the boilers with coal.

In 1914 the pack consisted of tomatoes, green and wax beans, blueberries, apples, pears, plums and rhubarb.

In 1915 the pack was 11,207 cases:

6176 cases tomatoes

2157 cases apples

625 cases beans

919 cases pears

100 cases pumpkin

57 cases cherries

108 cases plums

1065 cases rhubarb

Other packs were added from time to time. Peaches and pears were imported from Wenatchee and Yakima Washington. Apricots were shipped in from the Okanagan at first, later from Washington. Vegetable packs of green and wax beans and pumpkin were greatly increased. There were grown by Chinese and Japanese on Lulu Island.

In either 1917 or 1918, the cannery started canning peas. At first it was impossible to get growers to contract peas as they had never been grown in BC except for fresh market. The farmers had never heard of a pea viner and thought Robert Broder was crazy to even suggest such a thing. It was therefore necessary for the cannery to rent a piece of land on the River Road near Ladner and grow their own peas. A viner was installed and farmers for miles around were on hand the day the viner was to start operating. The following year it was possible to get growers to contract small acreages of peas. Before a viner was tried out the cannery installed a pea podder in the cannery to try out the canning of peas.  This podder threshed the peas out of the pods only, the pods being brought to the cannery by various Chinese growers.

The cannery also installed a line of machinery for packing jam. Strawberries were purchased under contract from white and Japanese growers in Surrey, across the river to the South. Raspberries and strawberries were contracted with growers in Haney, Hammond and Mission, up river from New Westminster.

At one time the cannery purchased land at Huntingdon (near Abbotsford) and grew about 10 acres of raspberries for the cannery. They also purchased and cleared land (in 1919) in Surrey and planted raspberries, strawberries and loganberries. From about 1925 to 1930 they leased about forty acres of land on Lulu Island (near Richmond) and grew strawberries for the plant.  Jam was mostly packed in 2# and 4# friction top pails.

A line was also installed for the canning of soups, where tomato and vegetable soup was canned under "Mother's Brand".

The Broder Canning Company Limited (R Broder and V F Broder) built a corn plant at Chilliwack, BC where a considerable amount of cream corn was packed. This plant is still in operation, now owned by Royal City Canners Ltd.

At various times the company installed tomato canneries at different points: one at West Summerland, BC, one at Ashcroft, BC, one at Kamloops, BC. Because of incompetent help, and the canneries being so far away from New Westminster, these were not a success, so were closed down. A plant was also installed at Grand Forks, BC which operated for two or three years.

Early in 1925 a brick building was purchased in Mount Vernon, Washington and a fruit and pea canning plant installed. This was quite a large plant and was operated by Broders until 1928 when it was sold to Bozeman Canning Company of Bozeman, Montana (Mr Larry Brotherton, Manager).  In 1926 the sales for Mount Vernon were $461,000 and in 1927 $311,000.

In 1928, after selling the Mount Vernon plant, a pea and tomato plant was built at Edmonton, Alberta. However, early and late frosts around Edmonton were too hazardous, so the machinery was transferred to Medicine Hat, Alberta where tomatoes were canned. During the early thirties conditions were such that this plant had to be closed down.

Also about 1928, a pea canning plant was installed at Ladner, BC in a building formerly occupied by Pacific Milk Company. This plant operated for several seasons, and was finally sold to Mrs V F Broder. This plant was operated by Mrs Broder under Royal City Canners Ltd which company is now Queen City Canners Ltd, operating for several seasons under this company.

In 1931, Robert Broder started a small pea and corn cannery at Taber, Alberta. At first the building was leased from the Town of Taber, but later purchased by Mr Broder. This plant operated successfully until 1948 when it was sold to the Macdonald and Safeway organization, and operated by them as Cornwall Canning Co.

In the meantime, because of large quantities of vegetables required by the government during the war years, and because of a shortage of labour at Taber, another plant was built at Lethbridge, during the winter and spring of 1941, and which was ready for operation for the 1941 season.

A dehydrating plant was also installed in the Lethbridge plant for the dehydration of cabbage, turnips and potatoes for the government, for the army. At the end of the war this was dismantled.

In 1946 a freezing plant was installed as by this time a large quantity of frozen vegetables were being consumed. At first the frozen vegetables were only packed in bulk, and for private label business, but later the Broders put out retail pack under their own Broder's Best and Salad Queen labels.


Due partly to the large quantities of pea and corn ensilage from the cannery operations and partly due to the difficulty in procuring the right quality of peas for freezing, Robert Broder decided to purchase farming land of his own. On this land he grew large acreages of peas. Pea viners were installed on the farms and this meant that a large stack of pea ensilage was on the farms for cattle feed. In order to use this up, and also to have manure for the farms, feeding corrals were built and in the early fall, feeder steers and cows were purchased and put in the feeding corrals. The pea ensilage was used for feed as well as corn ensilage from the cannery, from the husks and rejected cobs from the plant. Some grain was also grown on the farms and the balance of the grain requirements were purchased.

When all the feed lots were in operation about 3000 head of cattle were on feed. A small herd of Black Angus stock (about 80 cows and 3 bulls) was maintained for breeding as an experiment.

Violet Faye Broder, January 1964
Some dates (footnoted) corrected by Faye West, March 2001

(1)  Affidavit of Birth, Signed by his aunt Bertha May (Graves) Sealock on April 22, 1944 in Sonoma, CA

(2)  Affidavit of Birth, Signed by his mother Alice Mary (Graves) Broder on July 11, 1940, in Vancouver, BC

(3)  Death Certificate for John Broder, February 28, 1917, Washington State Board of Health

(4)  Affidavit, 16 October 1880

(5)  Marriage license & certificate for John Broder & Alice Graves, filed Feb 25, 1887, Modoc County, California, Book One of Marriages, p 393.

(6)  Roswell Graves was a Methodist minister; later became Congregational minister.

(7)  Death Certificate for Alice Broder, February 21, 1948, Washington State Board of Health

(8)  Naturalization of John Broder, August 3, 1888, Superior & Probate Court, Alturas, CA, Minutes Vol 2, pp 299-300.

(9)  Census records indicate that Harold, Percy and Orville were all born in Washington.  Family must have left California about 1891

(10) John appears on Washington census (June 1900); Atlin fire occurred in August 1900; he must have been in Atlin very briefly (or was not really in Washington during census).