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Thursday, June 29, 2006

A LITTLE BIT OF LOCAL HISTORY

THURSDAY, June 29/06

Patrick and I have returned from our mini vacation around the Province so, as promised, I've decided to write a mini history lesson about the places we visited and describe some of the things we saw and did.

We headed East first, by Greyhound, taking the scenic route from the Coast, through the Fraser Valley to the mountains and over the Coquihalla Pass to the Okanagan Valley. Our first stop was Peachland where my sister lives (and my Dad used to live.) Peachland is a small picturesque town located on the shore of Lake Okanagan. The lake is surrounded by orchards, vineyards and the mountains are crowned with towering Ponderosa pine trees (except for the East side of the lake which was devastated by forest fires a couple of years ago.)

Peachland town (population 5,077) was established in 1897 by a pioneer farmer from Manitoba who recognized the value of the land and possibilities for agricultural growth. Today the Okanagan valley is laden with orchards and vineyards and this has become a prime industry of the area. You can take tours of the wineries and in the late summer there are fruit stands along the highway where you can buy an abundance of fresh produce. Peachland is also the hometown of the legendary Ogopogo, a mysterious creature similar to the famous Nessie of Loch Ness. Every year there are supposed 'sightings' of her and a few years ago a group of Japanese tourists set out determined to find her. They never did!

After a couple of pleasant days in Peachland with my family, we took the bus north through the town of Kelowna, to Vernon, one of the oldest communities in the B.C. Interior. This lovely town (pop 35,548) is nestled between three lakes: Swan Lake, Kalamalka and Okanagan. Gold miners and ranchers were attracted here in the 1860's and just north of the town is the famous O'Keefe Ranch, founded in 1867, once the biggest ranch in B.C. (You can read about it in an early post here). The town has interesting historical murals decorating the various shops and businesses. There are many recreational areas in and around Vernon including the Silver Star Mountain Resort (elevation 1915 m.) which is an excellent ski/snowboard area. The chalets are brightly painted and built in the style of the 1800's pioneer houses.

We had a wonderful time in Vernon, sightseeing and swimming in the lake. My friend had a BBQ one night and even my daughter showed up from her home in Salmon Arm, about a 40 minute drive into the mountains.

After our leisurely visit to the Okanagan, basking in the hot sun and enjoying the sights, we headed back to the Coast. The day after our return we headed by ferry to Vancouver Island where we met up with my cousins for a lovely garden party in an estate garden, then in the evening continued on up the coast to Chemainus ("the Little Town that Could") to take the small ferry over to Thetis Island where my cousins have a cottage.

The whole coast of B.C. has an interesting naval and pioneer history. Most of the islands are named after either British or Spanish sea captains who plied those waters in search of the Northwest Passage. Even Capt. Cook and Capt. Bligh of the Bounty sailed up that Coast.

In 1851 a crew of sailors were cruising among the small islands exploring and naming them. One they named after their Captain Augustus Leopold Kuper and the other was named after his frigate HMS Thetis a 36 gun Royal Navy frigate stationed to survey the Pacific coast area between 1851 and 1853. ( The ship was named after Thetis a sea nymph, daughter of Zeus, and mother of the legendary Achilles. ) Thetis Island was first settled in 1874 by British pioneers. There is currently a population of 350 residents but during the summer months the population increases including the many young campers who attend the Pioneer Pacific Christian camp here. (My cousins are very involved with this camp and their Cape Cod style house is located on the site of the old camp pump house, so it is known as The Pump House. My cousin's husband has built it all himself using mostly recycled materials. It's truly a work of art!

The island has a micro climate much like the Mediterranean and is forested with some farmland, meadows and marinas. We enjoyed long walks in the forest and relaxing afternoons sun-bathing and reading. The only sounds were the cheerful twittering of the birds and the wind in the treetops. Once we saw a band of angry robins trying to harass a big old owl and chase it out of the tree where he was perched, trying to snooze.

We visited one of the two marinas and enjoyed a lunch there before embarking on the little ferry to return to Vancouver Island. Right across from Thetis is the other smaller island, Kuper Island which is mainly populated by First Nations people. Once the two islands were connected by mud flats that have since been dredged and widened to allow passage for small craft.

On April 20, 1863 the British naval gunboat Forward attacked the native village on Kuper believing they were harbouring individuals involved in assaults against European transients. A fierce battle ensued between the sailors and native warriors ending with some casualties. This resulted in a major military operation by the colonial government after which aboriginal lands were alienated and native jurisdiction eroded. The island's dark history included the oppression of natives, especially native chidren at the hands of the Church and State. Hundreds of Coast Salish children were removed from their homes and sent to the Kuper Island Indian Residential School operated by Roman Catholic missionaries and funded by the Dept. of Indian affairs. These children suffered loss of culture, identity, language, family and many were cruelly treated and abused physically and sexually. Now many of these unfortunate victims are speaking out and telling their stories as they embark on a spiritual journey of recovery. Today the island is home to the Penelakut First Nations Tribe and has a population of 302.

Our wonderful relaxing holiday ended in Victoria (our Provincial capital) at my cousin's home which happens to be a heritage house. The next morning before we left for the mainland, Patrick had a mini tour of the city and some of its historic sites. There's so much to see in and around Victoria it would take at least a weekend to cover the main attractions such as the Parliament Buildings, Craigdaroch Castle, the old Empress Hotel, and the many beautiful parks and gardens, but thanks to Garry he got to glimpse some of it.

We returned to the city feeling refreshed and rested. It was a bit of a whirlwind tour around the Province, but we both enjoyed it and had a great time with relatives and friends.
That was my 'summer holiday' for now. Next: A week in NYC!

2 comments:

Adrian Swift said...

Checked out your blog ... nice site! I enjoyed reading not only the historical/geographical details but also the little things you noticed along the way. You use a wide vocabulary in describing things and the images you evoke are vivid.

I was just curious ... those Japanese tourists ... they didn't find anything, but they did make it back safely? I'd hate to think they disappeared on their quest. That would create a whole new local mystery!

Wynn Bexton said...

The Japanese tourists did NOT get eaten by the lake monster. I think it's a friendly monster, sort of like Nessie from Loch Ness.

We also have the fabled Sasquatch who wanders certain areas of bushland here -- kind of a west coast Yeti, also called "Big Foot". People swear they have encountered him (or them)