For a little guy, said Kirk Hughes of his father, Swan Lake Nurseryland owner Mike Kowaluk, he’s going to leave a big hole.
Kowaluk, who helped turn the business into one of the North Okanagan’s most popular attractions for produce, groceries, home decor and gardening products, died Saturday, Feb. 6, in Vernon Jubilee Hospital at age 88.
“He may have been small in stature but he will leave a big hole in our lives. He was a pillar in the community,” said Hughes, who took over running the business from his dad. “He was super community-minded.”
As an example, Kowaluk spearheaded a movement in 2009 to upgrade the centre median along Highway 97 between Squires Four Pub and his business.
Swan Lake Nurseryland has been a staple for North Okanagan families, supporting North Okanagan farmers, since 1959.
Kowaluk’s parents started the operation as a fruit stand, and his brother-in-law and sister were with them. Kowaluk, born in Royal Park, Alta., in 1932 and moved to the North Okanagan with his family prior to the Second World War, joined a few years later.
When the fruit market and garden centre first started it was a seasonal operation. After 30 years of being open 12 months a year, the family made the decision to return to seasonal hours in 2019 as Swan Lake Nurseryland celebrated its 60th anniversary.
The fruit market and garden centre grew substantially since Kowaluk’s parents first started the small fruit stand.
“It was a shack,” said Kowaluk, in an interview with The Morning Star in 2019. He remembered selling cherries for 29 cents a pound — compared to 2019’s price of $3.99, which Kowaluk said is actually cheap.
While prices have grown with the times, so too have the customers.
“Over the years traffic increased. We enjoy a huge customer base from Alberta and other parts of the country. We draw a lot of traffic from Oliver and Osoyoos to Revelstoke to Kamloops,” said Kowaluk.
One of the things Kowaluk passed on to his son was the importance of relationships in business, customer service and all aspects of life.
“Because of the relationships he fostered, he had a reputation of trust, respect, and integrity in the community, with our customers, and in the industry,” said Hughes. “I try very hard to emulate those values.”
It’s the local community that keeps Swan Lake busy, as more and more people seek out locally-grown produce, which benefits both the grower and the retailer.
“We’re really very conscious of buying and selling local product,” said Kowaluk in the same interview. “Over the years, there’s more local product available.”
Plus there are the generations of people who continue to make Swan Lake their go-to stop.
The business overcame a devastating fire on July 6, 1993, that reduced the building to rubble, but Kowaluk rebuilt.
He was also involved with the Vernon Winter Carnival, serving as event chairperson in 1966 and co-chair in 1974.
Kowaluk is survived by his wife, Joyce, son Kirk, daughter-in-law Vicki, and two granddaughters, Madison Hughes and Sydnee Hughes, along with many friends and supporters in the community.