Canada Day events are going ahead at O’Keefe Ranch amid a global pandemic, a heat wave and a national reawakening of the country’s stained past — sparked by the discovery of the remains of 215-plus Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves at a formal residential school in Kamloops.
At the helm, ranch manager Sherrilee Franks said when news broke of the grisly discovery on June 1 and shortly after Victoria announced it was cancelling its Canada Day celebrations, staff stopped.
“Everyone paused and took a step back,” said Franks, who also sits on the board of the North Okanagan Canada Day Society (NOCDS).
The ranch’s board of directors has a representative from Okanagan Indian Band council, from who they sought advice on how to proceed, or if to proceed at all.
“We were pretty open to do whatever to support the situation,” she said. “It certainly wasn’t an overnight conversation.”
Word came back with specific requests to ensure representation was present at the July 1 event. They included wearing and having the colour orange present and representing the 215 children found in Kamloops.
“One request was to have the residential school exhibit brought in early,” Franks said, noting it wasn’t supposed to be in until July 5.
Quick coordination between the Vernon School District and the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives will see the exhibit arrive June 30 and Franks said it will be “all hands on deck” to get it moving ahead of the July 1 event’s start at 10 a.m.
The ranch, however, has been in the hot seat with members of the public showing support or criticizing the move to proceed amid national calls to cancel Canada Day.
“We definitely got more attention than we wanted,” Franks said. “Good, bad or indifferent because we have stayed so silent. But we didn’t want to speak out of turn.”
Franks points to the ranch’s experience amid the COVID 19 pandemic and staff support that has equipped them with the ability to change at a moment’s notice.
“If COVID had not existed and we were running with the same old with no idea we could have even functioned in a different way, this would have been significantly more devastating,” she said.
“Right now, we’re in a permanently changing bubble that you could essentially throw anything at us and the option to not move forward doesn’t exist and therefore you must find a way to keep going.”
Guests Thursday can expect classic Canada Day cupcakes — at least 300 visitors — a seven lady choir, a wagon wheel demonstration from wheelwright Dwayne Danley, piano-playing at the mansion by Angela Sommer and tours by Sharon Gardner. Youth group Strawberry Pie is set to perform and Powerhouse Theatre will provide a show at the gazebo.
Wagon rides are still a maybe as Environment Canada’s heat warning remains in effect. To that point, the event is slated to be cut short to beat the heat. Organizers are prepared to shut it down around 1 p.m. If weather permits, the ranch is prepared to extend the hours.
A mandate of the NOCDS is to ensure Canada Day festivities are accessible for everyone therefore there is no admission fee.
A representative from OKIB did not respond to Black Press’ request for comment before publication.