New West Kelowna school to be named after Chinese-Canadian pioneer

The planned new school in the Rose Valley area will be named Mar Jok Elementary.

The Central Okanagan’s newest school will be named after a pioneer in the local Chinese Canadian community.

The Central Okanagan Board of Education has approved a plan to name the elementary school it wants to build on McDougall Road in the Rose Valley area of West Kelowna after Jok Mar, who once owned the land that the school will be built on.

The plan to build the school is currently in the final stages and is awaiting final approval and funding from the B.C. Ministry of Education.

School district secretary-treasurer Larry Paul said the name of the school will be Mar Jok Elementary, using the traditional Chinese presentation of a formal name that puts the family name first, then the given name.

Paul said the $15 million school, which will have space for 450 kindergarten to Grade 6 students, would alleviate growing pressure on three other West Kelowna elementary schools—nearby Rose Valley and Hudson Road elementaries as well as Shannon Lake elementary.

He said the board of education wants to have the school built in time for the 2014-15 school year.

Jok Mar’s name was chosen for the new school because of his long history in the community helping others, both as a businessman and as a volunteer.

According to the Okanagan Historical Society Jok Mar arrived in Canada from Canton, China to join his family at age of 11 in 1910.

His father, who had worked on the railroad, opened a laundry in Revelstoke a short time later.

Jok Mar graduated from school there and because he excelled in English, was frequently hired to translate in court cases involving Chinese immigrants.

In 1927, he moved to Kelowna with his brother Fee, and opened the Star Cafe on Water Street. Three years later he built a first class restaurant called the Golden Pheasant at the corner of Ellis Street and Bernard Avenue, at what was then the edge of Kelowna’s Chinatown.

The restaurant was popular with both the Chinese and non-Chinese community. During the depression years, he ran a soup kitchen after hours from the back door of the restaurant to help feed the hungry.  He became leader in the Chinese-Candian community, helped start the Chinese Cultural Society and was known as a man who never turned away anyone in need.

Jok Mar loved children and passed on his own athletic and gymnastic knowledge by instructing the First Kelowna Boy Scout troop, a group he was instrumental in starting. He also sponsored a local basketball team.

In the mid-1950s, Mar and his brother bought 365 acres of land on the west side of Okanagan Lake, land that would one day become part of the District of West Kelowna.

While only 60 acres was suitable for farming,  Mar loved the land and after he retired in 1968, turned his attention to farming full-time with his daughter May.

At a party marking his retirement in 1968, then Kelowna mayor Dick Parkinson praised Mar for his many years of service to the community.

He died in 1983 and at his memorial service, attended by many, he was remembered as a man who while  deeply committed to the Chinese culture and traditions, but who was a also a proud Canadian.

“He was a kind, generous and considerate person, a protective father and a man of high morals,” said well-known former Kelowna city councillor Ben Lee during the eulogy.

The new school that will bear his name will, fittingly, be built on land that  Mar once owned, said Paul.

With a growing need for space at the elementary school level, the school district has identified the Westside as a key area of growth.

The district, currently the fifth largest in B.C. has about 21,500 students but expects that to start gowning by 100 to 200 per year soon as youngster join the school system.

Paul said there are currently eight portable classrooms is use at Rose Valley Elementary, four at Hudson Road and another two at Shannon Lake, despite the fact that school recently was expanded with an eight-classroom addition.

“That’s 350 kids right there who could go to the new school,” said Paul.

The district is currently putting together a report for the ministry of education to show exactly how much the school would cost so the ministry can approve funding.



Kelowna Capital News