The Stories They Tell: BC’s Intriguing Historic Sites

Posted Thursday, June 30, 2016

Northern British Columbia, Thompson Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Victoria, Indigenous People, Culture & Entertainment

Each of the province’s historic sites has an intriguing story to tell. Here are a few to visit this summer:


Emily Carr House


She worked late into the night, painting, writing, plotting her next adventure — often surrounded by her beloved dogs and her monkey, Woo. Emily Carr was larger than life, a fact that is celebrated at her former Government Street home where her story lives on more than 70 years after the celebrated artist’s death. Both a National and Provincial Historic Site, Emily Carr House is not simply a showcase of Carr’s art and writings — it’s a hub for musical performances, spoken word readings and contemporary art shows, as well as a shrine where the faithful can see how she lived, full of reproductions of iconic sketches and paintings depicting Carr’s deep connection to BC forests and First Nations villages.


Fort St. James National Historic Site


A Hudson’s Bay flag flies high over Fort St. James in BC’s north, where visitors can experience life as it was more than a century ago — a hardscrabble existence shaped by rural landscapes and fur trade with local First Nations. Here, costumed interpreters offer insight, livestock roam the scene and tiny tykes can partake in the Explorer and Little Trappers programs. Visitors can overnight in the Men’s House B&B or in the Murray House, June through September, where original artifacts from the fur trade are on display. But not before dinner: the Commemoration Café dishes up generous portions of salmon, and beef stew with bannock; equally hearty breakfasts boast eggs, pancakes, sausages and bottomless cups of joe.


The Historic O’Keefe Ranch


It was the site of the first post office in BC’s Okanagan Valley, a stage coach depot complete with general store, grist mill, church and cemetery. Home sweet home for the cattle ranching O’Keefe family since 1867, the spread, near Vernon, flourished during the Gold Rush; it was here that people gathered for events and to consume the news of the day. In the mid-1960s the family unveiled the ranch as a historic site; now owned and managed by the City of Vernon, guests are welcome to saddle up for guided historic horseback tours or take a wander through the property’s original buildings, including the O’Keefe mansion, blacksmith shop, Balmoral School, St. Anne’s Church and, of course, the post office.


The Grist Mill and Gardens


When it opened in 1877, the Grist Mill was, according to local newspaper archives, “running day and night, but could not keep up with the demand.” The waterwheel-powered flour mill in Keremeos nourished local settlers, First Nations and miners who made their home along the historic Dewdney Trail in the Similkameen Valley. As the Gold Rush boom waned, the building morphed from flour mill to hay barn, from artists’ studio to chicken coop. Today, visitors to the Okanagan site will find the mill restored to its former glory: docents in period costumes showcase the operation’s trials and triumphs while music concerts and more draw enthusiasts to the garden. It’s an experience best capped in the Tea Room with buttery scones, cookies and cakes made of flour ground from the mill’s original equipment. 

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