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Kelowna celebrates a 120th birthday for Benvoulin Heritage Church

Janice Henry of the Central Okanagan Heritage Society is busy getting ready for a 120th birthday party for 100,000-plus people. Below: This photo from the Allen Reid Family Collection shows J.A.K. Reid and Gladys Hall on their wedding day at Benvoulin United Church. The groom died mere weeks after, leaving his new bride a lifelong widow. - Jennifer Smith
Janice Henry of the Central Okanagan Heritage Society is busy getting ready for a 120th birthday party for 100,000-plus people. Below: This photo from the Allen Reid Family Collection shows J.A.K. Reid and Gladys Hall on their wedding day at Benvoulin United Church. The groom died mere weeks after, leaving his new bride a lifelong widow.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

It's a 120th birthday party. Everyone is invited and the hosts are hoping people bring gifts of stories and memorabilia.

Benvoulin Church, the building once slated to be the centre of town, marks its 120th birthday on Sept. 11 and the Central Okanagan Heritage Society is throwing a birthday bash for the entire community.

"The other day I was in there for a concert and was looking around at how ornate it is and just thought, they must have had some good tools. How did they do this?" said Janice Henry, executive director of the Central Okanagan Heritage Society.

The society currently looks after a number of heritage buildings and projects, but saving the little church once slated to be burned for fire fighters' practice provided impetus for the COHS's formation.

Every year, near the anniversary of its opening, a church service is held to honour the special landmark's opening and the hymn O God of Bethel sung, just as it was the day the doors opened.

Originally, it was named Bethel Presbyterian after a home the donor of the land owned in Scotland.

George Grant Mckay secured vast tracts of acreage in the Benvoulin area where he figured the railway would eventually come to an end by the hotel and blacksmith shop already on a site at the top of Guisachan Road and what's now Benvoulin.

Benvoulin is also a name pulled from the Mckay archives. It's a place along the Scottish coastline.

"When he donated the land for the church, meetings were held that discussed a far more elaborate scheme, according to a not in diary from the grandfather of Councillor Robert Hobson," said Henry.

The builder, Harry Raymer, who would become Kelowna's first mayor, constructed a much simpler affair using wood from pioneer Eli Lequime's sawmill to craft beautiful archways and detailing.

And the history of the building is just as ornate.

This past year, the COHS compile a history of the structure for the Virtual Museums of Canada's Community Memory Project.

Six storylines and 200 images will tell a portion of the church tale, but there is ever so much more still nestled in the basements of family homes and picture albums.

J.A.K. ReidAllen Reid's relatives, J.A.K. Reid and Gladys Hall, were married in the church in 1929, by then renamed Benvoulin United Church. The poignant photo, saved by Reid, shows the happy couple just weeks before the 24-year-old groom was killed in a logging accident. His wife never remarried.

This is the type of tidbit the society wouldn't mind having others' share; altogether, the celebration will encompass two days of events.

On Saturday, Aug. 25 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. there will be speeches, an art sale and entertainment; and Sunday a Presbyterian minister will give a service.

"Aside from weddings and concerts, this is one of the only times the church is open, so it's a great way to see inside," said Henry.

The events are as follows:

Saturday, Aug. 25 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • 10:15 a.m. Opening and heritage art exhibition and sale in Reid Hall
  • 11:00 a.m. Guided tours of the site (11:30 a.m.; 1:00 p.m.; 1:30 p.m.; 2:00 p.m.)
  • noon to 2 p.m. Lemonade & fancy cupcakes for sale for $2.00
  • 2:30 p.m. Musical concert by James Avery
  • entertainment throughout the site, a raffle and souvenirs

Sunday, Aug. 26 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • 11:00 a.m. Anniversary church service with retired Presbyterian minister Lorna Hillian
  • noon to 2 p.m. Lemonade & Fancy Cupcake for $2.00
  • 1:00 p.m. Guided tours of the siteĀ  (1:30pm; 2:00pm)
  • 2 p.m. Musical concert by Alisa Parker
  • heritage art exhibition and sale in Reid Hall and entertainment throughout the site

For more information contact the Central Okanagan Heritage at 250-861-7188.

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