Then & Now: Museum has a story to tell about its own evolution

The Okanagan Historical and Natural History Society (OHNHS) formed in 1925. By 1944, the Boy Scouts began overseeing the exhibitions

The city helped purchase and renovate the Willow Inn Lodge

The city helped purchase and renovate the Willow Inn Lodge

While the Kelowna Museums Society takes great care to preserve Kelowna’s history, have you ever wondered about the history of the museums?

The Early Years

The Kelowna Museums Society grew out of the Okanagan Historical and Natural History Society (OHNHS), which was formed in 1925.

The OHNHS began collecting artifacts and displaying them in various downtown businesses.

Many of the first artifacts in the collection were natural history specimens.

By 1944, the Central Okanagan Boy Scouts Association began overseeing the exhibitions, as the museum even became known as the Boy Scout Museum.

Their enthusiasm for history led the group to find a temporary home in the loft of a barn until a permanent building was erected in Kelowna’s City Park in 1948.

By 1951, the Okanagan Museum and Archives Association (OMAA) took over managing the museum.

During this time, a new home was found on Bernard Avenue.

The OMAA collected so many additional artifacts, the association had to find a larger building to accommodate them.

Once the OMAA secured funding, the city helped purchase and renovate the Willow Inn Lodge, which was located along the waterfront at Mill Street and Queensway Avenue.

The official opening of the new location was held on June 15, 1958.

The 1960s and ‘70s

Thanks to continued public support and more artifact donations, the OMAA quickly outgrew the Willow Inn Lodge.

Board members and city staff found government funding to construct a new building specifically for the museum at the corner of Queensway Avenue and Ellis Street, the current site of the Okanagan Heritage Museum.

Kelowna Museum's current location under construction

What was then known as the Kelowna Centennial Museum officially opened on June 10, 1967, to excited crowds who were eager to see the new displays.

At first, the building was just one floor. The second storey was added in 1975 to accommodate new offices, storage and displays as well as the Kelowna Art Gallery.

Museum Expansion

During the 1980s and ‘90s, new museums were created to showcase the fascinating history of the Okanagan’s orchard and wine industries.

The Laurel Packinghouse was restored and designated one of the City of Kelowna’s first heritage sites. The B.C. Orchard Industry Museum opened in 1989 and the B.C. Wine Museum and VQA Wine Shop was inaugurated in 1996.

In 1999, the Kelowna Art Gallery moved into their own dedicated building on Water Street.

Recent History

The last 15 years have seen many changes at the Kelowna Museums—name changes, new logos, the amalgamation of the Okanagan Military Museum (OMM).

The Okanagan Military Museum Society’s board is still active and works with the Kelowna Museums Society in many aspects of the operation of the museum, which is in the lobby of the Memorial Arena, at the corner of Doyle Avenue and Ellis Street.

In 2011, the OMM archives were named the Vince Bezeau Military Library and Archives in memoriam for a dedicated board member.

Various renovations were undertaken at the Okanagan Heritage Museum in 2001 to make room for the Kelowna Public Archives and the Ursula Surtees Conservation Laboratory.

In 2008, the Kelowna Museums Society incorporated a fifth museum, the Central Okanagan Sports Hall of Fame, which is currently housed in a satellite location at the Capri Mall.

Today, the Okanagan Heritage Museum is undergoing an extensive renovation of its exhibitions that will bring a new level of engagement with the public. The public is invited to stop by and see the changes as the museum society continues to preserve our history and tell new stories.


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