After twelve years of almost no activity, it appears 2015 could be the year Brent’s Grist Mill finally starts to emerge from a hidden piece of the Okanagan history to its rightful place as one of the most important heritage sites in Kelowna.
The Grist Mill, the first industrial enterprise in the Okanagan constructed in 1871, has been sitting near the corner of Dilworth and Leckie since it was moved there in 2002. It’s hidden from view of nearby cars and without any signage explaining its importance to the area’s history.
But this year the City of Kelowna says it expects to begin restoration work on the Grist Mill with close to $100,000 committed to stabilizing the building, which along with a nearby house and barn, were inhabited and used by Frederick Brent, one of the earliest European settlers in the Okanagan.
“The Grist Mill is one of the most important heritage buildings we have in Kelowna for a few reasons,” explained Terry Barton, building and facilities planning manager for the City of Kelowna. “It’s post-and-beam log construction which there are very few structures remaining. Architecturally it’s a very rare type of building and the only (post and beam) owned by the city. The building is very humble and very low key in its stature however it tells a very interesting story of a German who came to B.C. and started on the industrial side. It’s part of the story of how Kelowna was settled.”
The Grist Mill and its two associated buildings—Brent’s home and dairy farm—were moved in 2002 from the Ellison area to its current location but have begun to fall into disrepair as the structures have not had much work done on them since the move.
The availability of some funds to stabilize the mill is positive news to the Central Okanagan Heritage Society (COHS), a group that has been lobbying to have the area revitalized.
“This is what we wanted and have been hoping for, for the last 12 years,” said Janice Henry, executive director of COHS. “We’re encouraged. We want to be part of the future of the buildings. I think the site has huge potential.”
A couple of developments could help the current site of Brent’s Grist Mill as a Rails with Trails walking path that connects a loop around Kelowna goes past the structures. Future plans for a Highway 33 extension in the area could also bring vehicle traffic and more tourists and locals past the historic structures.
“The (Grist Mill) story isn’t very well-told and I think the restoration of the building is one thing that allows the opportunity for the interpretation side,” said Barton. “I think it could be more prominent. It could be a hub. I think if you have a new road and you have the Rails with Trails I think the possibilities are huge to what it could be.”
Last week during City of Kelowna budget discussions Kelowna city council asked for more information and an update on the city’s heritage program. Currently the city has 19 heritage assets and city staff are now preparing to present an overview of the entire heritage portfolio and a recap of the program.
Barton says that will be presented to council over the next few months before any more decisions are made on funding for heritage sites.
The $100,000 committed to the Grist Mill has already been approved by Kelowna City Council with work expected to take place sometime this year.