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Saturday, July 6, 2019

Who Was Chief Kalamalka?

Note: Dr. Duane Thomson’s article on this topic has been extremely helpful and I encourage you to read it on the Lake Country Museum’s website. I was also graciously given a copy of “Q’Sapi: A History of Okanagan People as Told by Okanagan Families” to help further expand the indigenous perspective on Kalamalka.

We hear the name “Kalamalka” so often in the Okanagan Valley but to whom did this name belong? Did a person named “Kalamalka” even exist?

A beautiful hand-tinted postcard shows the head of Kalamalka Lake
where the Chief was said to reside.

We know that he was an indigenous chief that resided at the head of what is now Kalamalka Lake or “N’Inkamuplux” (Head of the Small Lake) roughly where Kal Beach is now located. Q’sapi also tells us that: “The name Kalamalka was a prominent surname of the Okanagan Band before the turn of the century. Although now extinct, the name is well recognized and remains at Head of the Lake (Okanagan Lake) through … present surnames …” (Q’sapi p.135).

Although there are no known birth or death records for the indigenous chief known as Kalamalka, the records we do have definitely indicate not only his existence but also his profound influence on the history of the North Okanagan Valley. Historical writings also tell us that he was a man of noble reputation among both the Indigenous Peoples of the Okanagan Valley and of the early European settlers. 

A pair of moccasins originally cut out for the son of Chief Kalamalka
on display at the Greater Vernon Museum 

Historian Frank M. Buckland gives us this brief description of the chief:  “The first Kalamalka was known as a good hunter and brave man who shot a great grizzly bear at close quarters…”  (OHSR 1950, p.40). We also know that he was so popular that one of the first (and most famous) hotels built in the Valley was named after him and, eventually, one of the most beautiful lakes in the country. There is a colourful story of how Kalamalka sought to become a Christian in his later years (*see bottom of article).

Perhaps the most important document regarding Kalamalka’s existence is the obituary of his granddaughter, Katrine Bercier (aka “Coldsteam Kate”), in the February 25th, 1926 issue of the Vernon News (pg. 3). In this reference we are told that Katrine was the daughter of Chief “Goestamana” (or “Cohastimene”) who was, in turn, the son of the famous Chief Kalamalka. It also records that Chief Kalamalka was highly regarded and owned much land in the area. As an interesting side note, Katrine and Forbes George Vernon (the namesake of the city of Vernon) had a child together named Louise. Louise then married George Tronson whose father, E.J., helped lay out a town site for Vernon in 1885 (calling it “Centreville” at the time).

  Goestamana, son of Chief Kalamalka, with Ellen Ellison. Photo Credit 

As far as dating the life of Chief Kalamalka, Duane Thomson writes this: “From census data we know that Katrine was born about 1847, and Quo-hast-a-mayna about 1822. If twenty-five years also separated Quo-hast-a-mayna and his father, Chief Kalamalka, the latter was born just before 1800. He would have been about 68 years of age when the first settlers arrived in Priest’s Valley (Vernon).” Duane Thomson: Lake Country Museum blog, August 21/2015). There are also some indications that the name "Kalamalka" and perhaps even the Chief himself may have had some connections to the Hawaiian Islands - but that is a subject for another blog post. 

So it seems quite clear that a man named Kalamalka did exist and influenced the peoples and history of the Valley. In a 1979 interview with Jimmy Antoine (a descendant of Kalamalka) in the Vernon Morningstar (January 25th, 1990) Judy Gosselin records: 
"… (Jimmy) stated that the lake was named after an area chief, by the white people. Speaking through an interpreter in his native language the 90 year old Antoine said that his great grandfather, whose name sounded like “Kalamalka”, served as guardian to the head of the lake area and was leader of the people there.”

Truly Chief Kalamalka was an honourable and well-loved man. It is very fitting that such a beautiful lake bears his name and that this name lives on throughout the Okanagan Valley and abroad. I believe we owe much gratitude to this man and his descendants.

Vintage hand-tinted postcard of Rattlesnake point on Kalamalka Lake

A Story of Chief Kalamalka

*A story of Chief Kalamalka and his desire to become a Christian is recorded in Kay Cronin’s “A Cross in the Wilderness” (p132-134). The same story is retold in both “B.C. Place Names” by Akrigg (p. 130-131) and in “Q’sapi” (p136). Although baptism is not a prerequisite to becoming a Christian in most denominations, it seems Kalamalka was very keen on getting baptized. Here is the story according to Akrigg: 

“In his old age, Kalamalka was very anxious to become a Christian and repeatedly asked Father Le Jacq to baptize him. Each time the good father protested that he could not do so until Kalamalka gave up his … practice of having four wives. Loyal to his wives, Kalamalka produced reasons against putting aside any of them: one was the mother of his oldest son, another was lame from the terrible frost-bite she had suffered once when saving him amid the winter snows, and so the story continued. 

At length, Father Le Jacq was so moved by the old Indian’s constancy to his wives, along with his tremendous desire to be a Christian, that he appealed on his behalf to the bishop, only to hear his own ruling repeated – Kalamalka must settle for a single wife. 

Coming back sadly from New Westminster, Father Le Jacq received from Kalamalka the tidings that at last he had only one wife. She turned out to be none of the four, but a good looking young woman! The four wives had a held a conference, decided that a new young wife could take over a lot of the work, and had sent the chief to find a new wife while they went into retirement. And so from that day on, Old Kalamalka had one wife but supported all five women, was baptized, and, presumably, was happy.”

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