Okanagan history

The Brent home, following the second fire that destroyed this historic 1870s structure in April 2020.

Happy New Year, dear readers of this column. I hope that 2022 is a good year for you; may positive things come to you in the days, weeks and months ahead.

As we navigate the year 2022, I share my eight wishes for our area, some based upon my interest in our local history and heritage, others rooted in my love for Kelowna and the desire that it be a healthy and safe place for all who here:

1. Indigenous History: For too many years, local Indigenous people — their history and society — have been largely ignored. It is now long past due to rectify this unacceptable situation, as we realize that our community has been shaped by the Syilx people who call the Central Okanagan their home for more than 11,500 years. Far too often, non-Indigenous people have believed that they can best tell the story of the Syilx people. This must stop, as Indigenous people are given the opportunity to tell their story, in their words.

This column is dedicated to researching, recording and sharing of our history, and so we welcome any articles about the Syilx people, written by those people who best know and understand their own history, including the crucial role that our fragile environment has played in the shaping of this history.

2. Ethnic History: Many ethnic groups, from across the globe, have contributed much to our local history and it is important that their stories be told. We encourage anyone who has such stories to tell and share to contact the Kelowna Branch of the Okanagan Historical Society, with an eye to having their stories published, perhaps in the Branch’s weekly “Okanagan Newspaper Group” history column.

3. Brent Mill: The Brent Mill, constructed more than 150 years ago is one of the Central Okanagan’s most important heritage buildings, a tangible connection with our mid-19th century past. This important building and another vintage structure languish at the base of Dilworth Mountain, awaiting the City of Kelowna’s longstanding promise of preservation and suitable utilization. While the Brent Mill has awaited this attention, two devastating fires destroyed the equally-historic Brent home, now forever lost.

Benign neglect by the City of Kelowna, including our duly-elected officials, must cease and the voices and concerns of history and heritage advocates must be heeded, otherwise the Brent Mill building will join a long list of architectural treasures that have been lost through inaction and false economy.

4. Preservation of Neighbourhoods: Two previous articles in this column, written by Kelowna historian Sharron J. Simpson, have focused on the importance of neighbourhoods and how they are suffering because of increasing pressures by developers and acquiescent city officials. Neighbourhoods define a community, showing how it has developed and telling the stories of the people who have been shaped that community, while making it unique and interesting. As more Kelowna neighbourhoods fall prey to “condominium-ization,” I encourage our mayor and council to pay genuine heed to the value and importance of neighbourhoods and not approve yet more ubiquitous cookie-cutter condo and highrise developments, using trite and over-used terms such as “world class,” “densification” and “sustainability.”

5. Trees and urban green spaces: As Kelowna grows, we need more parks. We must also not allow the further destruction of our urban tree canopy, as individual houses and neighbourhoods are destroyed and replaced by treeless condominiums and highrise towers. Replacing ground-level trees and vegetation with roof-top gardens and a few potted plants is not an acceptable trade-off; we must demand much more of all new developments.

6. Water: We live in a semi-desert, where water is a precious commodity. As Kelowna continues to grow, seemingly without sufficient consideration of a number of crucial environmental issues, it is important to keep in mind that our supply of water is finite and must be carefully managed. To do otherwise, by allowing rampant development, is folly. As climate change continues to impact our valley, resulting in hot and dry extended summers, we must not lose sight of the importance of water and how best to use it.

7. Kelowna Pioneer Cemetery: Dating from 1893, Kelowna’s Pioneer Cemetery is arguably our largest heritage site, the resting place of many of our immigrant settlers, the physical reminder of much of our history. This cemetery needs ongoing attention, including combating invasive weeds and protecting onsite trees. I believe that city funds must regularly be set aside for preserving and restoring damaged graves and markers, including the badly-damaged gravesite of Kelowna’s first city clerk, Robert Morrison (1844-1909) and his family. I encourage the City of Kelowna to provide restoration funding for the Pioneer Cemetery, knowing that is a reflection of how we value our history and the people who shaped Kelowna.

8. City Council: Kelowna city council, acting on recommendations of city staff, is tasked with making decisions that impact our community, today and in the years ahead.

Serving as an elected official is challenging, as they consider and weigh divergent points of view. I believe the majority of our current council is not responsive to many of the aforementioned issues: preservation of neighbourhoods, importance of trees and urban green spaces, value of heritage buildings and the prudent use of our limited water supply.

I encourage Kelowna citizens to remind their duly-elected city council of the importance of these issues, as our city continues to grow.

I wish everyone much happiness, safety of person, good health, prosperity and companionship in the year ahead. Our beleaguered planet and its varied non-human inhabitants also need our best wishes and blessing, as they continue to be impacted by human activities and enterprise.

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The Kelowna Branch of the Okanagan Historical Society operates on the unceded traditional territory of the Syilx people. It gratefully acknowledges their traditional knowledge, the elders and all those who have gone before us.

This article is part of a series, submitted by the Kelowna Branch, Okanagan Historical Society. Additional information would be welcome at P.O. Box 22105, Capri P.O., Kelowna, B.C., V1Y 9N9.