Nurturing Nature, Creating an Icon

The McIntosh Red Apple

By Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

The McIntosh Red is a world-famous apple, discovered in Ontario (1920) by Faith FylesCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

The McIntosh Red

The McIntosh Red is a world-famous apple, known for its tart flavor and tender white flesh. 

Eat Canadian Grown Apples, Dominion of Canada Dept. of Agriculture, 1921, From the collection of: Canada Agriculture and Food Museum
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Though it was discovered by chance, the McIntosh’s continued popularity is anything but accidental.

Promotional photo for buying Canadian-grown McIntosh apples. (ca. 1940) by Federal Department of AgricultureCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

Carefully tended, bred, marketed and exported for over 200 years, the McIntosh Red is a Canadian icon recognizable all over the world.

Man hacking brush and stumps in a field, unknown date. by Federal Department of AgricultureCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

A
Pleasant Discovery

All McIntosh apples are directly derived from a seedling found in 1811. John McIntosh, a settler from New York, found apple-tree seedlings as he cleared brush on his Dundela farm, near Morrisburg on the St. Lawrence River.

McIntosh Red apple watercolour, Authur Kellett, 1930s, From the collection of: Canada Agriculture and Food Museum
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McIntosh transplanted the trees to his garden. One survived, and bore delicious fruit: a deep-red apple, juicy and with a lovely, tart taste.

Cultivating young trees, unknown date. (1930) by Department of Trade and CommerceCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

Apple seeds do not produce the same fruit across generations, and it’s rare to find a wild tree that produces such excellent results.

A man examining a blossom on a tree, noting whether pistils are receptive or ready for hand pollination. (1930s) by UnknownCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

Growers depend on a technique called “grafting”, where a cutting from one tree is attached to the trunk of another.

Controlled pollination then allows horticulturalists to make new breeds of apples with desirable characteristics.

Two men planting trees, Central Experimental Farm, (Ottawa, Canada), date unknown. (1920/1940) by Federal Department of AgricultureCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

After learning the grafting technique from a hired-hand, John and his son Allan propagated their unique apple by grafting cuttings to other fruit trees in their orchard.

Apple trees in bloom, unknown date. by UnknownCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

Growing
Interest

After John McIntosh’s death in 1846, Allan continued this work. He established a McIntosh Red nursery in 1870 and sold trees to other orchardists.

Men picking fruit from a tree, Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa (Canada), (ca. 1900) by Federal Department of AgricultureCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

By the early 1900s, the McIntosh Red was becoming popular across North America.

Apple Scab on fruit, from The more important fruit tree diseases of Ontario., J.E. Howitt & Lawson Caesar, Ontario Agricultural College, 1917, From the collection of: Canada Agriculture and Food Museum
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The McIntosh apple, however, was prone to apple scab, a fungal infection.

Spraying apple trees for pests, Central Experimental Farm. (1895) by Federal Department of AgricultureCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

It would not become truly popular with growers until advances in pesticide sprays allowed them to produce the fruit in larger numbers.

Unloading barrels of apples, Falmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada (ca. 1929)Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

Growers from coast to coast were selling McIntosh Red apples by the 1930s, and exporting them to United States and Britain.

A piece of the trunk of the original McIntosh Apple tree. (1910) by Dominion of Canada Dept. of AgricultureCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

Unfortunately, the original McIntosh tree was damaged by a fire in 1894, and finally fell over in 1910. The Canadian Agriculture and Food Museum has a section of trunk in its collection.

Potted trees in a greenhouse for breeding work. (1939) by Federal Department of AgricultureCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

A Scientific Approach 

Apple breeding requires meticulous planning and a controlled environment. Hand pollination along with cross-breeding for desirable characteristics have created dozens of new apple varieties.

Documentation of the new Lobo apple variety (McIntosh cross-breed), using watercolour paint. (1938) by Faith FylesCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

Apple breeders, such as W. T. Macoun at Canada’s Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, used the hardy McIntosh Red to create new varieties including Lobo, Cortland, Empire, and Spartan.

Newtosh apple, cross between a McIntosh Red and a Newton apple. (ca. 1920) by Faith FylesCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

CEF botanist and artist Faith Fyles recorded some of this breeding work in beautiful watercolours.

This collection now belongs to the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum.

Reinhart’s Brand Apple Butter canning lableCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

To
Market

Canada’s apple industry was built on the McIntosh and its descendants.

Packing apples for transport, Mont St. Hillaire, Quebec. (1940) by UnknownCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

The McIntosh Red has been exported around the world, promoted for eating fresh, as well as in pies and other baked goods.

Apple processing, Mont St. Hillaire, Quebec. (1942) by UnknownCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

St-Lawrence Valley promotional apple display. (ca. 1940) by Federal Department of AgricultureCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

McIntosh apples remain a familiar food for most Canadian (and American) families, from coast to coast.

MacIntosh 128K desktop computer. (ca. 1984) by Apple Computer Inc.Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

In fact, the McIntosh Red inspired the name of the Macintosh computer.

Recipe Book for Enjoying Canadian Apples, “The World’s Finest Fruit”. (1945) by Federal Department of AgricultureCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

And while new apple varieties like Gala and Honeycrisp have challenged the McIntosh Red’s supremacy, the McIntosh apple remains a favourite for cooking and for eating fresh.

Recipe Book for Enjoying Canadian Apples, “The World’s Finest Fruit”. (1945) by Federal Department of AgricultureCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

From a seedling growing in the brush, to a recognizable, exportable, nutritious commodity, the McIntosh Red showcases the ingenuity of Canadian farmers, manufacturers and scientists in for the past 200 years.

Canada’s Apple Industry (1938-09) by Royal Canadian Geographical SocietyCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

Credits: Story

Created by the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, 2018

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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