Mission parkland bequest worth millions

The death last week of the last local member of a pioneering Central Okanagan Johns family has resulted in the bequest of a 324-hectare piece of parkland in the shadow of Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park.

Alf Johns

The death last week of the last local member of a pioneering Central Okanagan family has resulted in the bequest of a 324-hectare piece of parkland in the shadow of Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park.

The property has been left to the Central Okanagan Land Trust by the Johns family, with the death March 15 of 92-year-old Alf Johns.

Hugh Westheuser, past-president of COLT, had known Alf and his sister Nancy Johns for the past 30 years and said the gift says a lot about the family and the type of people they were.

“They felt it was important that future generations should know the Okanagan as they knew it,” said Westheuser.

“They felt that wildlife should continue to have a place to live in the Okanagan. They respected the land and they didn’t put great demands on nature by the way they lived,.”

He guesstimated the value of the land at $2 million to $3 million, adding that a land management plan will now have to be undertaken for the property.

Neither Alf nor Nancy had children, and Nancy first expressed an interest in bequeathing the land to the local land trust when it was first created by the Central Okanagan Foundation in the early 1990s.

The first parcel of 65 ha was given to the trust in 2002, after her death, and a second parcel of 32 ha in 2003 and 2004. Both are on long-term lease as parkland to the Central Okanagan Regional District.

The pair requested that the gift of land not be made public until after their deaths. The property includes a natural spring, wetland, grasslands and some old trees around the house that remain from the 2003 wildfire.

Much of the property today is grassland, although an investment of $25,000, including funds from the Tree Canada Foundation, was made toward reforestation of the property following the wildfire.

Westheuser said Bertram Creek runs along the edge of the property and it is home to bears, deer, moose, coyotes, marmots, and all manner of other creatures, including lots of birds.

It’s the largest gift the local land trust has yet received, he noted.

Regional district chairman Robert Hobson said the gift of natural landscape will make a tremendous contribution to conservation in the Central Okanagan.

The first piece included a portion of the Kelowna Crags, which are of great interest to climbers, he noted, and the others are in proximity to Okanagan Mountain Park.

“It’s a long-term legacy and will be a wonderful asset for our kids and grandkids,” he acknowledged.

It will provide access to an area of natural Okanagan environment for future generations, he said.

“It’s a wonderful addition to our regional parks system.”

Brenda and Gifford Thomson raised their family next door to the Johns’ farm on Swamp Road, and Brenda says there were four youngsters—Sid, Alf, Nancy and Rosemary.

Their father, Hector Johns, moved west from Ontario, working in logging camps, and arrived in the Central Okanagan in 1909where he started out by logging on the Westside.

He met his wife Elizabeth here, and the couple bought the Swamp Road property in 1928 and operated a cattle and hay operation while raising their four children.

When Alf returned from the Second World War, he and Nancy took over the family farm, and after their parents died, they sold the property and moved up the hill, building a home there, where Alf died last week, Thomson said.

“On Boxing Day we would go up the hill for a visit. We often had to hike up because the road was so bad,” she remembered.

She says Alf seemed to live a charmed life. First, he was blown up in a tank in the Second World War, and spent a lot of time convalescing in Britain before he returned home.

Then he survived the 2003 wildfire which blew through his property. Her son, Colin Thomson, and a friend were putting up sprinklers at his home after the fire went through the property the first time, when it was turned by strong winds and came back. They narrowly escaped, she said.

Then in very strong winds a few years ago, a large tree fell on his house, and he barely escaped. Finally, his ATV tipped over in the snow and he was just lucky someone found him before hypothermia claimed his life. He had to be removed by helicopter.

Thomson says Alf was a real history buff and both he and Nancy were great canoeists and outdoors people.