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History Panels along Okanagan Rail Trail

In the near future our Lake Country Museum & Archives will be rolling out new marker panels celebrating our area’s short but rich history.

These will be welcome additions to a number of panels put in place a few years ago to showcase photos and background information on our community history.   The new panels will be located close to access points to our exciting Okanagan Rail Trail with one being added to the existing panel in Okanagan Centre near the old packing house car slip. When we met recently to screen what [graphic artist] Don McNair has assembled for this initiative the sense of nostalgia in the room was palpable. While most of the images weren’t new to me, seeing them in a large format collage gave them new life.

They also serve as a reminder of just how young our communities are. Most photos were from the past century, quite a few within my lifetime. Our population has grown steadily from the hundreds in my childhood to our current fourteen thousand or so. The seemingly incremental changes to our once rural communities are dramatically highlighted in those panels. It’s like being with childhood friends with whom we’ve grown old, looking at photos from school days and being rudely reminded of the stark contrast between then and now.

One of the panels shows “downtown” Oyama prior to the four lanes of Highway 97. While I well recall the Kalwood Inn I was surprised to see a number of other small businesses in its vicinity. They once served as the hub for Oyama, but were sacrificed to facilitate our ever-growing levels of traffic. In that old time photo the two-lane highway is devoid of traffic with not one moving vehicle to be seen.

Many of the people who helped establish what we now call Lake Country are featured on those history panels. Packing house workers are caught at work sorting or packing apples, or smiling at the camera as a group. We can see early logging with teams of horses and crosscut saws; even men working log booms. Where they once logged, we now have flourishing businesses and subdivisions.

Historical marker Kalamalka Women’s Institute1

One photograph from the early 1950s features the ladies of the Kalamalka Women’s Institute in Oyama, all smartly dressed and wearing their best hats. These ladies were the committed volunteers of the day, working hard to make their community a better place. Duane Thomson tells us that every one in that photo has been identified.  I remember my own mom going to her Women’s Institute meetings and working on Winfield’s only news publication of the day, The Calendar. They provided that service for many years until Jack McCarthy and John Charles Gable turned it into a commercial venture.

Steamboat Alley
Historical marker Steamboat Alley2

There are several great shots of the impressive home built by M.P. Williams not far from the current United Church on Woodsdale Road.   My personal favourite though is the wonderful image of the old paddle wheeler S.S. Sicamous. She’s shown pulling into the Okanagan Centre dock, now the site of the pebble beach so popular with local families. I recall my dad telling me that her arrival was always a major event, with passengers and cargo being loaded or off loaded.   When she travelled around the Winoka Packing House on the point to pick up fruit on the south side the kids sometimes got a free ride.

Time passes and so do the generations…each one of which adds another layer to our history.   Given the choice few of us would likely wish a return to those earlier days. Life offered few of the amenities we now take for granted. But when I look at those early photographs and read the stories I’m reminded not only of all we have gained but also what we’ve lost.

Let me quote my own overused adage, “Life used to be so much simpler before it became so much better”.

By Rich Gibbons, Okanagan Centre

1 This heritage panel, Kalamalka Women’s Institute, will be situated across from the Oyama Traditional School on the Oyama isthmus.

2 This panel, Steamboat Alley, will be grouped with other historical markers on the Okanagan Lake waterfront across from the Okanagan Centre store on Okanagan Centre Road West and 4th Street.

This article was previously published in The View in Lake Country, August 25, 2017, p. 9.

Photo credits: Lake Country Museum & Archives

Historical markers created by Don McNair.


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