Peachland Museum bearing the hot torch of local history

The tall octagon-shaped building that ended up becoming the Peachland Museum was originally built as a religious monument.

Peachland was first carved out of the wilderness in 1898 when rancher J.M. Robinson identified the area as a prime location for enterprising orchardists. Ten years later, it became incorporated into a District Municipality.

To satisfy the spiritual needs of the newly founded community, and as a reflection of his own Baptist beliefs, Robinson had a grandiose building constructed in 1910 to serve as a Baptist Church.

“A church is something you build to look significant,” said local historian Richard Smith.

“Early settlers of Peachland, many of the early settlers to Peachland were Baptists, and it’s likely J.M. Robinson brought a small congregation with him.”

Services were held upstairs on the second floor, where the pews and pulpit were located. It wasn’t normally problematic to hold church services on the second floor, except during funerals when pallbearers would feel corpses shift from one end of the casket to the other as they hauled it up the stairs.

The building served as a Baptist church for decades before it was repurposed into the District’s fire hall in 1964. Smith would have been a young man when that change was made.

A few years after its time as the fire department headquarters, the two-storey octagon transformed again – this time into the Peachland Library.

But it was only a matter of time before the library would outgrow the space. And when it became vacant again 1980, “They decided, the most obvious thing it could be is a museum,” said Smith.

There was no such thing as a museum in Peachland before 1980. And it wouldn’t have been wise for the community to have held off for much longer, because 1984 was Peachland’s Jubilee year – a major celebration to mark 75 years since incorporation.

It was a unique era – the community’s earliest settlers were alive at the same time as the emergence of the Digital Age and globalization. Some of these people were older than AM radio and lived to see the invention of the compact disc.

“The people who were born and lived in Peachland before the First World War were still alive in 1984,” Smith said.

“Of course they were getting old by that point – in their 80s and 90s – so to honour those pioneers and the families, it made sense to create a museum.”

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Considering how the District is only 109 years old, there may well come a day when today’s Peachlanders are regarded as some of the earliest settlers.

If students from the future become curious about the way Peachland was in 2018, they’ll have to rely upon the documents and accounts that are being recorded today.

But as long as the Peachland Museum is still around to actively preserve the best anecdotes – local history will continue to engage and fascinate its audiences.

Smith finds it amusing to watch the tides of public opinion turn over time.

In light of recent school shootings around the U.S., many Canadians consider the idea of arming teachers to be absurd. But here in Peachland, there was a time when they were arming the students.

“Every kid was in cadets in the ‘50s and learned how to fire a rifle,” Smith said. “It was part of the extra curricular activities in the school. Mr. Gerrie, the principal, implemented it. He had served in the First World War and the beginning of the Second World War. He was a no-nonsense type of guy.”

Mr. Gerrie was lucky to have returned home to Peachland from war. Before the First World War, there were enough young men in town to fill an entire league of war canoe racers.

“It was the ultimate racing event, racing them on the lake,” Smith said. “But because we lost so many men, there was never a war canoe team in Peachland again.”

Never say never.

In the year 2000, Smith made it his mission to see war canoes race again in the community. It wasn’t easy to round up the few remaining war canoes from around the valley, but he managed to do it, and watched the four existing war canoes from the turn of the century return to Peachland for one more race.

When asked what kind of hardware from today may become coveted artifacts in the future, Smith said it will require more time for “modern stuff” to become rare. Since the turn of the 20th Century, the population of the Okanagan has proliferated while the cost of manufacturing has dramatically dropped.

“There were so few people around in B.C. in the early days so stuff from the turn of the century is scarce.”

However, artifacts have been found in Peachland that go back much further than the incorporation of the District. Back in the 1950s – when Smith was just a youngster – he remembers walking along the shoreline and finding “massive amounts of stone tools.”

Those tools were crafted by the indigenous Americans, namely the Syilx people, who of course have been inhabitants of Peachland and the Okanagan long before the District was incorporated.

The Syilx traditional territory spans much of B.C.’s southern interior as well as north-central Washington State.

The area now known as Peachland wasn’t densely populated by indigenous people, but since the lush land is situated between Deep Creek and Trepanier Creek, it was frequently visited for its rich hunting grounds.

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