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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Fintry, BC: 6 Fascinating Facts About Its History

#1 Okanagan Indian Band & Early History 

The creek which eventually enters Okanagan Lake at the Fintry Delta starts high in the hills west of Terrace Mountain. The slim amount of archeological evidence available suggests that the Fintry Delta was once used as a fishing camp and was also home to part of a system of very old Native Indian trails that would later become the Okanagan Brigade Trail which was later used largely by the fur trade. It is also home to much wildlife including the California Bighorn Sheep. 

As Stan Saurwein states in his book Fintry: Lives, Loves and Dreams the father of the famous Indian Chief N’kwala ( Nicola or Hwistesmexteqen) walked these lands with his people. “Pelkamulox’s people spent their summers roaming the plateau down to the Fintry delta and their winters at the village of Nkama’peleks, near the head of Lake Okanagan.” 

#2 Thomas Dolman-Shorts and His Commercial Rowboat

Eventually earning the reputation of “Captain” on Okanagan Lake, Thomas Dolman-Shorts was the first white man to settle on the Fintry Delta and lent his name to Shorts Creek. He began the first commercial boating operation on the lake with his trusty boat, “The Ruth Shorts”, named after his mother. He would carry products and people from Okanagan Landing near Vernon all the way to Penticton. 

“For three years in fair weather and in foul, he ran this boat and at last became so accustomed to the oars that he could row from morning until night without weariness.” 

Thomas never really focused on developing the land and eventually sold it to a pair of English gentleman for the handsome price of $4,000. The property went through various hands including the Gellatly family who would eventually move on to settle Gellatly Point near Westbank and begin a nut farm there. Eventually though the land ended up in the hands of an eccentric but brilliant Scotsman named James Cameron Dun-Waters. 

#3 Captain James Cameron Dun-Waters and His Family

Captain James Cameron Dun-Waters was a wealthy man who moved from his Scottish homeland at the age of 44 years. In 1909, he purchased the estate and named it Fintry after his home in Scotland ( Fintry, Scotland is just north of Glasgow). He and his beloved wife, Alice, moved there and immediately began building, planning, planting, and hunting. He would become known as “The Laird of Fintry”. 

His first estate manager was his cousin James who hired many Chinese and Japanese workers though he was not known for his fair treatment of them. It seems the Captain though judged a man more on his character than the color of his skin and eventually he would let James go as a direct result of this. Later, Angus Gray, would manage the estate and did so brilliantly.

Dun-Waters joined the British Army during WW1 and he and Alice built and ran a hospital for soldiers in Cairo, Egypt. They returned to Fintry and later in 1924 Dun-Waters’ wife died and the manor house he had built her burned down soon after. He rebuilt it and lived there with Alice’s companion Katie Stuart and her brother Geordie. Seven years later he married again – this time to Margaret Menzies, a secretary from Vancouver and recent Scottish immigrant. She was 30 years his junior. 

The Friends of Fintry website records that “In his 30 years at Fintry, Dun-Waters turned the undeveloped delta into a productive farm and impressive estate… He was a director of the C.P.R. and played strong roles in the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, the Armstrong Exhibition organization and curling clubs from Vernon to Vancouver.” 

#4 The Fintry Estate At Its Height

At its peak the Fintry Estate was a wonder of the Okanagan. Dun-Waters was a both a brilliant and somewhat unorthodox man who was not shy to build things bigger and better. At one time you could roam the property and come across the Manor house, other houses, an orchard, sawmill, an octagonal barn for his prize-winning Ayrshire cattle, a fruit packing house, a wharf for the C.P.R. sternwheelers to load up his produce and , o yes… a curling rink. 

Some notable innovations were his use of the waterfall on Shorts Creek to produce  … “ an elaborate irrigation system of flumes and pipes along with two suspension bridges to support the pipes were constructed not only to to supply water for the orchards but also to power an electric generator which provided power for the entire estate.” 

European engineers were stunned at the Laird’s system of sprinklers for his crops.  “With this gravity-fed water, Dun-Waters had 150 pounds per square inch pressure which was enough for him to install sprinklers and he became one of the earliest orchardists in the valley to use this method…”. And just to top it off he had a system of seven phones installed to communicate between the major buildings. 

#5 Fairbridge Farm Schools and the Orphans of England

With the onset of prostate cancer and the lack of an heir, Captain Dun-Waters began to seek a buyer for the Fintry estate, however buyers in the 30’s they were few and far between. Having learned of the Fairbridge Farm Schools, an organization whereby English orphans were trained to be farmers in the outer reaches of the Empire, he sold nearly his entire estate to them for the token amount  of $1. One year there were as many as 32 boys and girls attending the farm school and living at Fintry under the care of house mothers. 

As for the Laird,  “He expressed his pleasure more than once, at the fact that he had been spared to see the first group of young lads come to the new school institution that he had helped to found on Okanagan Lake.” 

He introduced the students to the Armstrong I.P.E. and at the National Hotel in Vernon he surprised them each with a dollop of ice cream which just happened to have a silver dollar hidden under it. 

Unfortunately the Fairbridge Farm had to shut down its operations in 1948 due in part to a decreasing number of students coming over from Britain because of the difficulty in crossing the submarine-laden Atlantic of WW2. Britain had also imposed restrictions on the exchange of its currency to dollars.

#6 Fintry Provincial Park

The Fintry Delta went through various hands through the next decades but it would be remiss to not mention Arthur Bailey and his family who put herculean efforts into upgrading and maintaining the property in hopes that it would one day become a resort. Although that did not end up happening it is said that the Baileys were pleased when, on April 30th, 1996, it was established as a provincial park. 

The park covers 360 hectares and the protected area covers 523 hectares of the Laird’s former estate. In 2000 the Friends of Fintry organization was formed and they have and continue to put much work into restoration of the estate. 

As the B.C. Parks website states: “The park offers two dramatically different topographical areas: a delta at the mouth of Shorts Creek dominated by old orchard trees and hay fields, and a forested area made up of mature ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir.” 

Shorts Creek, which shaped so much of the history of Fintry,  comes flowing down from Terrace mountain and through a canyon where it drops over three falls – the most beautiful of which can be reached by a sturdy set of wooden stairs on a trail just past the famous octagonal dairy barn. The two kilometres of beaches and the views of Okanagan Lake are equally spectacular. At about the half-way point between Vernon and Kelowna on the West Side road, this park is well worth the visit for both the natural beauty and the stirring story of its past.  

"Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, 
and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”  John's Gospel 4:10

Sources & Further Reading: 

Fintry: Lives, Loves and Dreams / copyright 2000 Stan Sauerwein with Arthur Bailey

Friends of Fintry:

B.C. Provincial Parks: Here


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