Monday, October 5, 2009

The Coldstream and Monashee – The Undiscovered Country

By Don Elzer

It was surveyor and explorer Donald McIntyre who saw these parts in the mid 1800’s, he had been mired in fog and underbrush for days, trying to bushwhack from the Kootenay to the Okanagan. Then one morning after a heavy rain the clouds began to lift, exposing a high snow-covered peak, it was as though God suddenly presented the top of the world to these foreign bushwhackers. “Oh – monashied” said McIntyre in his Gaelic tongue – “this is the mountain of peace”.

Today, we know the Gaelic phrase as Monashee – and the moment expressed by McIntyre sums up the difference between the Okanagan and this place that serves as the source of the Shuswap River. Here these mountains will not feed water to the Columbia, but to the mighty Fraser, and this difference can be found as the parch dry landscape to the west turns lush and green as the rainforests emerge in the shadows of these mountains.

This journey begins in the Okanagan as the well travelled meandering highway 97 that links Kelowna and Vernon begins to overlook Kalamalka Lake. Here the landscape begins to inspire visitors and locals alike as the gateway begins to suggest a mystical power that viewers take home. The dry grasslands of the Commonage surround a viewpoint that appears to be like a centurion guarding the distant wall of the rugged Monashee mountain range. This unusual landform called the Camel’s Hump defines the gateway to this undiscovered country and in more ancient time was known as Coyote Sleeping

From the Kalamalka Lake Lookout we can see the lush valley bottom of orchards but with the growing encroachment of urban sprawl. The dry barren hills that surrounds life on the valley floor is indicative of the natural world here without water. It is a desert and water is crucial to maintain the life support system for the sun worshipers that dwell here.

Our journey departs this lookout into the Coldstream where life is defined by “rural living at its best” and sometimes used as a war cry to protect the small holdings and farms from an ever expanding suburbia that now defines the Okanagan Valley as one of the fastest growing regions in North America.

The District of Coldstream was incorporated in 1906 and has a total land area of 67.25 square km. The rural district is best known for the Coldstream Ranch, established in 1863 by Captain Charles Frederick Houghton. He transferred the ranch to Forbes G. and Charles Albert Vernon who in 1891 sold it to John Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, future Governor General of Canada (1893-1898).

It was Lord and Lady Aberdeen who would together mastermind the means by which water would be brought to this dry landscape. They would provide the original vision of a lush Garden of Eden which came to be after they spent a fortune investing in the dream.

The ranch was purchased by its current owners in 1994 and continues to be one of the oldest continuing operating ranches in Canada, once representing the farthest edge of settlement in the western wilderness.

Today, the mix of modern rancherettes and stately old homes remain anchored by an idea that the Coldstream Ranch will be there forever. This working ranch is the largest landholder in the North Okanagan and provides a basis for the rural landscape to remain important here.

Kalamalka Lake Road meanders between the edge of thick habitation and orchards; it is the access point to Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park and a ribbon of trails that defines a more natural edge between people and nature. The beaches here still speak of pleasure as the lakeside viewpoints have retained a great deal of the original Okanagan landscape, but they too are at risk as waterfront becomes the new goldrush in this valley.

Highway 6 east of Vernon serves as the route into the Monashee and the Upper Shuswap River region. This meandering highway bridges the Okanagan with the Kootenay and is one of the great drives in British Columbia.

On a knoll between Lavington and Lumby on Highway 6 in front of the Tolko White Valley Sawmill, you can get out of your car and place one foot in the Okanagan watershed and the other in the Shuswap, which means you have placed one in the Columbia system and the other in the Fraser.

Read more of Don Elzer's "Stories from the Coldstream and Monashee"


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I have been a resident of Coldstream since 1976. I have had 15 years of experience on Council, 3 years as Mayor. As a current Councillor I am working to achieve fair water and sewer rates and to ensure that taxpayers get fair treatment. The current direction regarding water supply is unsustainable and I am doing all I can to get the most cost effective water supply possible.