Alex Lord — Recollections of a Rural School Inspector

Kelowna Beginnings

Some Lasting Impressions1

“The year was 1910. British Columbia schools reopened for the autumn term on the third Monday in August. As the just-appointed principal in Kelowna, I arranged to arrive on the previous Friday and so departed from my home in Ontario with my rail ticket and thirty-odd dollars in my pocket. When I reached Sicamous Junction on Thursday evening and found the southbound train left the next morning, my remaining money let me eat or sleep. I ate.

On Friday, a slow train to Okanagan Landing and a delightful sail down Okanagan Lake, together with an excellent meal on the SS Okanagan,2

SS Okanagan 3

brought me to Kelowna interested and curious. All day heavy smoke from forest fires had prevented me from seeing more than a few feet. I was also worried as my money was now exhausted and I badly needed a night’s sleep in a comfortable bed.

Half an hour later I was convinced that British Columbia was a wonderful province and that Kelowna was the best part of it, opinions which have only been strengthened forty-six years later. Tom Lawson4, school board chairman, was on the wharf; he greeted me with ‘Are you a Presbyterian?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Are you a Mason?’ ‘Yes’ again. ‘Are you a Grit?’ ‘Yes,’ said I. He beamed his satisfaction and led me up the street to the Palace Hotel (predecessor of the Royal Anne) and introduced me to mine host Arthur Augustus Peabody with the remark: ‘We’ll find a boarding house for him in a few days.’ Then with ‘Maybe you’ll need this, it’s your August salary,’ he handed me a cheque and departed. The cheque was for $100. Later I was to learn that in British Columbia salaries were paid for every month and that the August cheque went to the incoming teacher. Both the amount and the method payment seemed generous, for in my last Ontario school where my wages, to use the local term, were $550 per annum, I was paid $100 in June and the balance in December….

Kelowna in 1910 had a population of 1,650, as we proved later in the year when pupils of the entrance class and the high school conducted a census. There were perhaps 200 Chinese, of whom two or three were wives, and half-a-dozen were children who would soon attend school. Natives of other parts of Canada were in a majority, especially from Saskatchewan, whose recent boom had enriched many and enabled them to escape from the rigours of Prairie winters to the fabled Okanagan. They brought money, purchased established businesses or opened up new ones, and began such ambitious developments as the Central Okanagan Land Company and Kelowna Irrigation initiated by J. W. Jones5 and W. H. Gaddes.6

The Kelowna district, as distinct from the town itself, was predominantly of Old Country birth. Lord Aberdeen’s investments in Coldstream in the 1890s had been widely advertised in Great Britain, and his purchase of the Guisachan Ranch near Kelowna, which gossip still insisted was his refuge from domestic importunities, extended the interest.7 Many people who came to settle had independent means, not enough to live ‘at home’ as they might have wished, but ample for a new country. A ten- or twenty-acre fruit ranch planted with many varieties, a couple of hired hands to work it, and no economic worries about fruit prices endued something close to a carefree existence. Cricket, polo, tennis, rowing, the Kelowna Club, the Aquatic Association, along with the more Canadian baseball, lacrosse, and hockey provided, in part at least for the ranchers’ considerable leisure time. So, in winter, did the excellent and successful Music and Dramatic Society which each year produced a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, a ‘Charlie’s Aunt’, or a music hall performance with a professional touch.

There was another side of the story, though, for this ease of living produced what Archdeacon Thomas Greene of Kelowna’s Anglican Church described as ‘Okanagan inertia.’8

To be continued …

Continued from Alex Lord’s British Columbia

1 John Calam, ed. Alex Lord’s British Columbia. Recollections of a Rural School Inspector, 1915-36. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 1991, pp. 103-106.

2 The S.S. Okanagan was launched in 1907 to help handle increased passenger and supply traffic generated by growing settlement along Lake Okanagan. A Canadian Pacific Railway vessel, she carried 250 passengers and … was ‘elaborately fitted out.’ But in 1916 when the ‘the fruit boom collapsed,’ she was laid up and finally scrapped in 1937. Art Downs, Paddlewheels on the Frontier, Vol. 2. Surrey, BC: Foremast Publishing, 1971, pp. 21, 24.

3 Photograph from the Ian Pooley Collection.

4 Thomas Lawson who was chairman of the Kelowna School Board for many years and vice-president — later, president — of the British Columbia School Trustees Association, was manager of the town’s largest retail store, Thomas Lawson and Co. Ltd. Art Gray, Kelowna: Tales of Bygone Days. Kelowna, BC: Kelowna Print, 1968, pp. 63-4.

5 A prominent realtor, James William Jones served three aldermanic years and five full terms as Kelowna mayor. Successful in four provincial elections as Conservative candidate for South Okanagan, he was at length appointed minister of finance in the Tolmie administration. In this capacity, his levying a 1 per cent surtax on income over $25.00 a week for married men and $15.00 a week for others earned him the sobriquet ‘One Per Cent Jones.’ Gray, ibid., pp. 100-2; Margaret A. Ormsby, British Columbia: A History. Toronto, ON: Macmillan of Canada, 1958, p. 444.

6 Dr. W.H. Gaddes was a veterinary surgeon, fruit grower, realtor, and mortgage and insurance broker. In 1906 he, along with Jones and others bought 1,665 acres of Price Ellison land near Rutland. Together with 6,000 acres in the Dry Valley region and irrigation delivered by flume and syphon from Mill Creek, these assets gave rise to the Central Okanagan Land Company which sold 10-20 acre lots at $150 to $200 an acre. Principal investors are said to have done comfortably well, but lot purchasers experienced uneven results. See, for example, Art Gray, ‘Central Okanagan Land Company,’ Twenty-ninth Report of the Okanagan Historical Society (1957), p. 83, 101; Patrick A. Dunae, Gentlemen Emigrants: From British Public Schools to the Canadian Frontier. Vancouver, BC: Douglas and McIntyre, 1981, p. 114.

7 The investor was John Campbell Gordon, seventh Earl of Aberdeen and Canada’s governor general, 1893-98. In 1890 he bought the 500-acre Guisachan Ranch near Okanagan Mission south of Kelowna, and the year after acquired the 13,000-acre Coldstream Ranch near Vernon. In 1906 he set up a company and developed a sales and advertising campaign to attract British settlers who, as of 1892, ‘poured into the Valley’ bringing with them their upper-middle-class sentiments and unrestrained optimism regarding a fruit grower’s life. Dunae, ibid., pp. 103-4, 114, and passim.

8 The Reverend Thomas Bernard Greene ‘travelled from Penticton each month to officiate, until 1897, when he moved to Kelowna . . .’ where he ‘carried on his parochial work with devotion and zeal.’ F.M. Buckland, Ogopogo’s Vigil: A History of Kelowna and the Okanagan. Kelowna, BC: Okanagan Historical Society (1948), p. 98.


  1. Carl shearer

    Very interesting. I look forward to part two.

  2. John James Carney

    Wonderful info including the many references to other sources. Enjoyed greatly.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *