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Take a walk through Kelowna's history with a historical tour

A look at Kelowna's history

While the end of summer is near, there is still time left to join in on one of Kelowna Museums historical outdoor tours.

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on, it can be difficult to find new and interesting things to do. However, Kelowna Museums wants to remind residents they are still hosting cemetery tours and downtown walking tours.

For several years, the president of the Kelowna branch Okanagan Historical Society Bob Hayes has led the cemetery tour at the Pioneer Cemetery, the oldest part of Memorial Park Cemetery dating back to 1892 — the same year the Town of Kelowna was established. 

There are four different variations of the cemetery tour but all of them explore different parts of Kelowna's pioneer history.

"We cover it all," says Hayes, who explores stories of former mayors, doctors, business people, early french settlers, women of note and more. "I like to try to single out the people who's stories don't get told."

The one hour cemetery tours run every Tuesday evening from 6:30 until 8 p.m. and every Thursday morning from 9:30 until 11 a.m. 

"People enjoy the fact that this is about people and that it's not a morbid, scary thing," says Hayes, adding that some guests question whether or not ghosts are part of the tours, which they aren't. 

"I love teaching history and I think if it's done properly, history and cemeteries can both be fascinating because they are about people. Every person who's buried in this cemetery, all 20,000 of them, each person has a story and one of my goals is to find out as many of these stories as possible."

Hayes hopes visitors will walk away from the tour with a better sense of community, Kelowna history and a desire to learn more. And the tours are kid friendly.

"Bring your children. Kids have a real fascination for cemeteries and they're very perceptive," says Hayes. "They will pick up something on a grave marker that nobody else notices."

Another outdoor tour offered by Kelowna Museums is the Downtown Scoop, which takes place Friday and Saturday mornings at 10 a.m.

These tours take guests down Bernard Avenue, providing insight into early Kelowna through the use of historic newspapers.

"You will learn some of the early entrepreneurs that set up businesses on Bernard Avenue and if you were living in Kelowna at the turn of the century, where would you have shopped? What kind of household items would you have got? And we even play a few fun games around what things cost and what you might need," says head of programming at Kelowna Museums Jen Garner.

The tour takes a lot at what made headlines in early Kelowna, advertisements, stories of people and businesses and even the gossip.

"The newspapers that we have used to put this tour together, they were written and edited by white European settlers, mostly men, so theres a very obvious bias there," says Garner. "There is obvious racism, obvious discrimination, obvious omissions. We include that in the tour so we very much talk about that perspective and that bias and what that says about early Kelowna."

Garner says despite the misconceptions that Kelowna's history is not very old, guests who attend the walking tour leave surprised.

"Of course the Indigenous history here is thousands of years old," she says. "We do talk about that on the tour and when we look at more recent history, it's super interesting and people are excited about that."

The one-hour tour starts outside of the Okanagan Heritage Museum and is approximately one kilometre.

The cemetery tour and walking tour have a maximum capacity of 10 people due to COVID-19. Online registration is required and social distancing practices are in place. Masks are not required for the cemetery tours since social distancing is possible throughout the entire tour however, masks are required at the downtown walking tour.

"We do ask that everybody is bringing their masks for this downtown tour because there are some places downtown where its a little more difficult to properly social distance," says Garner, adding that the museum is also offering private tours at the museum for those seeking a safer option or those who are immunocompromised.

The tours will continue until the end of August. To sign up click here.



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