Edmonton-area family greenhouse business celebrates 100 years

Click to play video: 'Wallish Greenhouses celebrates 100th anniversary with a party' Wallish Greenhouses celebrates 100th anniversary with a party
Wallish Greenhouse near Sherwood Park is marking 100 years with a number of special events. Charlie and Sharon share details on the anniversary celebration – Apr 30, 2019

The year is 1919. Bread is 10 cents, movies are silent and an Edmonton business is just starting to bloom.

One century ago, family-owned Wallish Greenhouses first opened for business.

Co-owner Sharon Wallish Murphy has been a team member for most of her life.

“I was born a member of Wallish Greenhouses,” she said. “It was my grandfather, John Wallish, who started the whole tradition of growing plants.

“He started that in 1919 in Edmonton with the typical vegetable market gardener. He had his produce from the farm on 73 Street and 121 Avenue and he took it to the City Market.”

Watch below (Sept. 22, 2018): On Saturdays, the City Market Downtown is synonymous with 104 Street. Kent Morrison takes a look back at its history.

Click to play video: 'A look at the history of Edmonton’s City Market Downtown' A look at the history of Edmonton’s City Market Downtown
A look at the history of Edmonton’s City Market Downtown – Sep 22, 2018

That land was expropriated to make way for the current Wayne Gretzky Drive and about seven acres were purchased on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River northeast of Edmonton, just north of Sherwood Park.

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Wallish Murphy’s father, Charlie, joined the family business and added the greenhouse component.

Her brother, Glenn, became part of the business in the 1980s. He took over the greenhouse from her father. Then, she and her husband, Dan, joined the business officially in 2000.

“I think I always wanted to be a greenhouse person but my father always wanted us to have a skill.

“He also wanted us to work for somebody else so we would have a wider view of the world,” Wallish Murphy said.

“I went to university and got my nursing degree. My other brother is an engineer,” she said. “I spent some time working in the Virgin Islands for 15 years, met my husband Dan, and then it was the call from Glenn to come back to the greenhouse.”

Field work by John Wallish. Tomato production in the 1950s
Tomato production in the 1950s. Sharon Wallish Murphy/Wallish Greenhouses
Vegetable production in the 1950s. Sharon Wallish Murphy/Wallish Greenhouses

In 2019, the third-generation business is co-owned by Sharon, Dan, Glenn and Louise.

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Though the heart of the business remains the same, technology has certainly made life easier.

“[Back then] they were going to the market with a horse and buggy. They were so close to downtown Edmonton. It was cultivating fields with teams of horses. Now, our greenhouses have computerized control systems. Instead of watering everything by hand, we have flood top benches which flood floors and takes out a majority of the watering.”

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According to Wallish Murphy, the centennial took the family a bit by surprise.

“It kind of snuck up on us. When we got to year 90, we said, ‘Wow! I guess we’ve been doing this for some time.’

“It’s humbling, it’s exciting and it just kind of happened. We kept on growing and doing something we loved.”

LISTEN BELOW: Edmonton-area family business celebrates 100 years

All those years ago, Walllish Murphy said her dad simply set out to create a good business.

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“We do what we love and it provides a decent living and we’re content and it’s just something that happened.”

After 100 years, there is also a new level of customer appreciation.

“It’s like a family reunion. We have faithful customers that come every year. We are so appreciative,” Wallish Murphy said.

“Each of the staff here have a collection of people that we love. A lot of our staff have been here for over 10 years and they’ve known customers for that long.”

Wallish Greenhouses will celebrate its 100 years with a birthday party on Saturday, May 4th.

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