Lake Country Museum & Archives in Okanagan Centre is a place for sharing stories and making connections with people past and present.
The museum’s collections committee is comprised of a fun group of individuals and it’s hard not to notice how comfortable they are in each other’s company. How easy it is for them laugh and enjoy one another. Some volunteers, like Rosemary Carter (nee Gibson), Eleanor Geen and Robert “Bob” Hayes, belong to families who have lived here for generations. Others, such as Ann Nott and student Deana Asham moved to Lake Country and fell in love with the place.
The museum structure and location are where the former Okanagan Centre School originated in 1932. The property was sold to the school board by local resident Mr. Caesar for one dollar. When the school board and municipality later decided to sell it, residents were firm in their conviction to purchase it back for the same amount. As told by Hayes, the museum was in search of a place and the rest is history.
“When I first contemplated writing this story, I didn’t anticipate feeling this profound sense of nostalgia, awe and privilege after interviewing those volunteers who represent the heart and soul of Lake Country Museum & Archives. Some whose families survived World War II and who attended Okanagan Centre School as children, at a time when it was little more than two small rooms heated by a wood fire with no running water nor indoor washroom facilities,” said Hayes.
Nanette L. Avery once wrote, “A museum is a place where nothing was lost, just rediscovered.”
Members of the museum’s collections committee couldn’t agree more. Hayes is one of three retired teachers who volunteer on the committee of five and his roots are in Lake Country. His grandparents owned Lake Country’s first general store in the 1930s and Wood Lake was named after his great aunt and uncle whose last name was “Wood”.
“Museums are undergoing major navel gazing these days. Re-evaluating their roles and what they have in their collections. We first have to know what’s in our collection because that will allow us to shape what we present in our displays and exhibits. We’re constantly discovering things that are overwhelming and underwhelming. This allows us to know our collection better because the museum should never be static. It should always be changing,” explained Hayes.
Hayes reminisces how tugs, barges and rail cars once made their way to the packing house in Okanagan Centre to pick-up cases of fruit and canned tomatoes destined for places like Kelowna, Alberta and the Lower Mainland.
Carter, whose grandparents last name was “Gibson” also volunteers on the committee. She attended Okanagan Centre School as a child during the 1940s and fondly recalls visiting with her grandparents at lakefront Gibson House now a heritage tourist destination in Kopje Park. Carter enjoys learning more about the various aspects of history associated with many of the museum’s donated and acquired items, as well as sharing her own expertise and experiences. While sorting through one large bin of items, another volunteer discovered a large, silver-plated teapot that Carter immediately recognized as having belonged to someone she knew as a child. When its origin was investigated, Carter’s childhood memory of it was absolutely correct.
President of the museum’s board of director’s, Tracey Arseneault has researched and written about a few people and places in Oyama’s more recent history. “Wanda and Leo Gatzke married in 1931 and bought their first orchard in 1939. Their Oyama orchard expanded to 60 acres of planted fruit trees in the twenty years which followed. Today, their grandson Alan and his wife Ingrid operate an agri-tourism business in the same location.”
A third collections committee member, Ann Nott arrived in Canada from Wolverhampton in England’s Midlands with her husband in 1967. They retired to the Okanagan in 1998 and she started volunteering at the museum in 2006. Also a retired teacher, her academic background and degree are in history.
Another committee member with a family name globally recognized for its delicious cherries and magnificent orchards, Geen recalls the museum’s formation in 1984.
“For many years, the museum was like the community attic accepting everything and anything. As we go through things like we did today, we consider what might make a good display or exhibit? For example, today we discovered Japanese clothes. The museum has quite a good Japanese collection and the Asian community contributed to a community day organized by the museum about 10 years ago. When I was growing up, I’d estimate about one third of the population in Lake Country originated from Japan.”
Geen also attended Centre School during the late 1940s when one of the teachers boarded with her family at their home in Okanagan Centre.
Twenty-two year old work-student, Deana Asham, is the collections committee’s fifth and youngest member. Originally from Salmon Arm, Asham moved to Kelowna in 2018 to study anthropology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus. About to enter into her fourth and final year in the university’s Co-op program, Asham is gaining paid work experience while researching and working with artifacts, as well as learning from oral histories. She enjoys working alongside members of the collections committee whose memories and experiences enlighten her on how rich Lake Country’s history really is.
Spending time at the museum also provides Asham with networking opportunities which could eventually help her land a career in cultural resource management. In British Columbia, archaeological sites on private and public lands are protected under the Heritage Conservation Act (HCA).
Members of Lake Country Museum’s collections committee work to ensure this special place remains interesting, informative and relevant to our lives. They tell me they do so because it helps them feel connected to each other, to their community and most importantly, to the past from which there is so much for each of us to continue to learn and carry forward.
More information on Lake Country Museum & Archives as well as volunteer opportunities may be obtained by visiting the museum or by contacting Lynn Fanelli at 250-766-0111 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
~Lake Country Museum & Archives