Hundreds gathered on Friday afternoon to pay tribute to Harry McWatters, the man known as the grandfather of the British Columbia wine industry.
McWatters died peacefully in his sleep in his Summerland home on July 23, at the age of 74.
His accomplishments in the province’s wine industry included founding Sumac Ridge Estate Winery in Summerland, See Ya Later Ranch in Okanagan Falls and Time Winery in Penticton.
He was also a key figure in forming the B.C. Wine Institute, the Vintners Quality Alliance Canada, the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society and the B.C. Hospitality Foundation.
The celebration of life showcased McWatters’ love of wine, with wines for those in attendance and toasts to McWatters’ legacy.
“The family wants smiles, not tears. This is a celebration,” said Albert “Coke” Roth, MC at the event.
Members of the British Columbia wine industry noted McWatters’ tireless dedication to wine.
“Harry manifested an almost childlike enthusiasm for the industry,” said Brian Schmidt, the son of McWatters’ Sumac Ridge partner Lloyd Schmidt. “He would go out of his way to stay connected to the industry he cared about.”
John Schreiner, a prolific wine writer, spoke of McWatters’ vision and belief in the wine industry.
“Harry had a vision and he made it happen. Dramatically,” Schreiner said. “Harry was sometimes dramatically ahead of his time.”
Leeann Froese, owner of Town Hall Brands and publicist for McWatters, said he was a gracious, accepting man.
“Everyone was welcome at his table,” she said. “He would make time for anyone, no matter what their station in life.”
Suki Sekhon, a Vancouver-based business leader and philanthropist, spoke of McWatters’ love of life.
“He’d want us to celebrate today,” Sekhon said. “He had a great life and he lived every day to the fullest.”
“He was a man of great passions,” added Mark Lalonde, brother of McWatters’ wife Lisa Lalonde.
His children, Christa-Lee and Darrien McWatters, recalled how their father loved and cared about his family.
“His love for his kids and grandkids was unwavering,” Darrien McWatters said.
“This is a celebration,” said Christa-Lee McWatters. “Dad always talked of having a giant party, so thank you all for coming. We miss him and we love him. We are all better for having known him.”
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