Carli Berry/Capital News Local historian Bob Hayes stands in front of the Okanagan’s first chapel where the first service was held in the 1800s.

Okanagan’s first Christmas was cold and bleak

Father Pandosy and his crew likely spent their first Christmas cold and hungry

The first Okanagan Christmas was likely very dreary.

The holiday likely started in Kelowna with Father Charles Pandosy, when he arrived with his group of about 10 people in the winter of 1859.

Pandosy was a Catholic priest from France, credited with establishing the first non-native permanent settlement in the Okanagan, where Kelowna’s Mission is now located.

Pandosy, Father Pierre Richard and Brother Surel were tasked with opening a mission in the Okanagan Valley on behalf of their order, according to the Father Pandosy website. The aim was to spread the Catholic religion to local First Nations.

However, after arriving in the Valley in October, or November, they spent their first winter and Christmas at the south end of Ellison Lake (also known as Duck Lake).

“At that time there was no Kelowna, no Vernon, no Penticton. They had what they were able to bring in on horseback and it was a long cold winter,” said local historian Bob Hayes.

In a crude shelter, they must have been cold and lonely, he said. Some of their horses were slaughtered to allow the group to survive.

The Christmas celebration would have been a simple one, focusing on the religious celebration, rather than the gifts and decorations Okanagan residents are accustomed to seeing today.

Because of the group’s lack of resources, the celebration would have been minimal. Pandosy was also arthritic. They likely survived with the help of a few mysterious individuals, he said.

Letters sent by Pandosy explain the group was dying. In their humble, rustic shelter, the group endured.

The Okanagan’s first chapel was built the following year, where the first service was held.

Families lived upstairs in the small, cramped quarters.

“If you squeeze people in, you might get a dozen in there. It’s a very tiny log building,” said Hayes.

A trading post was not established until 1861, so there was no place to purchase gifts. Anything given would have had to be handmade, said Hayes.

Not like today when you go rushing out to the mall to buy things, he said.

Christmas trees were also not introduced into much later in the Okanagan. The Christmas tree originated from Germany and was a pagan ritual.

An alternate story to Pandosy’s suggests evidence of Spanish settlers long before Pandosy’s mission in the Okanagan. Remains of a log building were discovered in 1861 near Sexsmith and Hwy 97 and a Spanish firearm was later discovered in the bank of Mill Creek.

Hayes said the Spaniards would have been in the area in the 1700s, and they may have observed the holiday in the Okanagan.

“But we know nothing about them, other than obviously there was someone here,” he said.

Author Edmond Rivere wrote a book on Pandosy and settlers in the Okanagan, but said in Pandosy’s letters there was never any mention of Christmas or other traditional Catholic holidays.

Rivere’s theory is that the settlers were too busy focusing on survival, and Pandosy was a bit of a rebel when it came to performing certain rituals.

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


@carliberry_
carli.berry@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Summerland approves solar project

Despite community opposition, council voted 4-3 for Cartwright Mountain location

Two positive COVID-19 cases at Oliver farm

The risk of exposure to the general public related to this farm is considered to be low

Oliver Town Hall closed to public as staffer shows COVID-19 symptoms

One staff member at Oliver Town Hall is being tested for coronavirus

Penticton woman struck by mystery bullet

Woman suffers no major injuries; RCMP without any leads, investigation continues

Village of Keremeos looks to dismantle systemic racism

Mayor says the time is right to deconstruct racist institutions

B.C. records 62 new COVID-19 cases, two deaths since Friday

Province has just over 200 active cases

Police search for suspect in assault on woman in downtown Kelowna

Kelowna police received a report a woman had been assaulted by an unknown man on July 12

Hotel rooms for B.C. homeless too hasty, NDP government told

Businesses forced out, but crime goes down, minister says

Wage subsidy will be extended until December amid post-COVID reopening: Trudeau

Trudeau said the extension will ‘give greater certainty and support to businesses’

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

Horoscopes for the week of July 13

Weekly horoscopes by Morgan Fava

Police keep eye on motorbike gang in Kelowna for poker run

The Throttle Lockers Motorcycle Club Poker Run was to have taken place on July 11

Prohibited driver ticketed after rollover on Highway 1 near Salmon Arm

Jeep Cherokee hit rock face before rolling multiple times

COVID-19 exposure on Kelowna flight

Interior Health has capacity to test individuals who need it, but is reminding everyone that testing is not required for those who do not have symptoms

Most Read