Carli Berry/Capital News                                Local historian Bob Hayes stands in front of the Okanagan’s first chapel where the first service was held in the 1800s.

Carli Berry/Capital News Local historian Bob Hayes stands in front of the Okanagan’s first chapel where the first service was held in the 1800s.

Okanagan’s first Christmas was cold and bleak

Father Pandosy and his crew likely spent their first Christmas cold and hungry

The first Okanagan Christmas was likely very dreary.

The holiday likely started in Kelowna with Father Charles Pandosy, when he arrived with his group of about 10 people in the winter of 1859.

Pandosy was a Catholic priest from France, credited with establishing the first non-native permanent settlement in the Okanagan, where Kelowna’s Mission is now located.

Pandosy, Father Pierre Richard and Brother Surel were tasked with opening a mission in the Okanagan Valley on behalf of their order, according to the Father Pandosy website. The aim was to spread the Catholic religion to local First Nations.

However, after arriving in the Valley in October, or November, they spent their first winter and Christmas at the south end of Ellison Lake (also known as Duck Lake).

“At that time there was no Kelowna, no Vernon, no Penticton. They had what they were able to bring in on horseback and it was a long cold winter,” said local historian Bob Hayes.

In a crude shelter, they must have been cold and lonely, he said. Some of their horses were slaughtered to allow the group to survive.

The Christmas celebration would have been a simple one, focusing on the religious celebration, rather than the gifts and decorations Okanagan residents are accustomed to seeing today.

Because of the group’s lack of resources, the celebration would have been minimal. Pandosy was also arthritic. They likely survived with the help of a few mysterious individuals, he said.

Letters sent by Pandosy explain the group was dying. In their humble, rustic shelter, the group endured.

The Okanagan’s first chapel was built the following year, where the first service was held.

Families lived upstairs in the small, cramped quarters.

“If you squeeze people in, you might get a dozen in there. It’s a very tiny log building,” said Hayes.

A trading post was not established until 1861, so there was no place to purchase gifts. Anything given would have had to be handmade, said Hayes.

Not like today when you go rushing out to the mall to buy things, he said.

Christmas trees were also not introduced into much later in the Okanagan. The Christmas tree originated from Germany and was a pagan ritual.

An alternate story to Pandosy’s suggests evidence of Spanish settlers long before Pandosy’s mission in the Okanagan. Remains of a log building were discovered in 1861 near Sexsmith and Hwy 97 and a Spanish firearm was later discovered in the bank of Mill Creek.

Hayes said the Spaniards would have been in the area in the 1700s, and they may have observed the holiday in the Okanagan.

“But we know nothing about them, other than obviously there was someone here,” he said.

Author Edmond Rivere wrote a book on Pandosy and settlers in the Okanagan, but said in Pandosy’s letters there was never any mention of Christmas or other traditional Catholic holidays.

Rivere’s theory is that the settlers were too busy focusing on survival, and Pandosy was a bit of a rebel when it came to performing certain rituals.

To report a typo, email: edit@kelownacapnews.com.


@carliberry_
carli.berry@kelownacapnews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Three Lake Country firefighters scaled Spion Kop in support of their Movember fundraiser. (District of Lake Country photo)
Lake Country firefighters scale Spion Kop for Movember fundraiser

The three firefighters did the arduous 2.63-kilometre climb while breathing bottled air

Former Vancouver Canucks goaltender Richard Brodeur discussing his paintings with the executive director of the Arts Council of the Central Okanagan Kirsteen McCulloch. (Contributed)
Former Canucks goalie King Richard’s art displayed at Kelowna gallery

Richard Brodeur starred in the Vancouver Canucks’ 1982 Stanley Cup run

A confirmed case of COVID-19 at Vernon’s Silver Star Elementary School has been reported. (Google Maps)
COVID case confirmed at Vernon elementary school

Member of Silver Star Elementary community self-isolating at home; letter sent to parents Nov. 28

Vernon cowboy Jaret Cooper, shown competing at B.C. High School Rodeo event earlier in 2020 in Quesnel, hopes to defend his Junior World Finals rodeo saddle bronc title next month. (Cassidy Dankochik - Black Press Media)
Vernon cowboy hoping to defend world title

Jaret Cooper has qualified in saddle bronc for the Junior World Finals rodeo in Texas

Members of the Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP paid tribute Saturday to Const. Marc Hovingh of the Ontario Provincial Police, who was killed in a shooting Nov. 19, 2020. (RCMP photo)
Vernon RCMP honours fallen Ontario police officer

Const. Marc Hovingh was killed in a shooting on Manitoulin Island, Ont. on Nov. 19

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

(Randy Mills/@poohbah431111 - Twitter)
Motorcyclist rushed to Kelowna General Hospital after collision

The collision occurred around 7:15 p.m. at the intersection of Highway 33 and Gerstmar Road

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

Real Canadian Superstore in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
Kelowna Superstore employee tests positive for COVID-19

The last day the employee worked was Nov. 23

Steve French caught the halo moon on his camera on Saturday night. (Steve French Facebook)
Did you see the halo moon last night?

The halo is actually millions of tiny ice crystals

Most Read