West Kelowna  

Mission Hill's Festival of Trees fundraiser adapts to the pandemic

Festival of Trees adapts

Mission Hill's annual Festival of Trees has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however there are still ways people can enjoy the experience. 

The Festival of Trees is a holiday fundraiser that takes place across B.C. to raise funds for the BC Children's Hospital Foundation. 

Between Nov. 30 and Jan. 3, Mission Hill's Terrace restaurant will transform into a forest of holiday decorated trees. Small groups of up to six will follow one of the winery's master sommeliers while exploring the winery grounds and tasting festive treats such as roasted chestnuts and mulled wine. 

Mission Hill will feature a different library vintage wine from the Legacy Collection each week within the tour's tastings. 

Tickets are $65 per person with $5 from each tour going towards the BC Children's Hospital Foundation. 


Some WFN residents pushing back on proposed supportive housing project

Pushback against housing

Some residents living in the area around Cougar and Elk roads on Westbank First Nation lands are concerned about a supportive housing project proposed for the neighbourhood.

If eventually approved by Chief and Council, approximately 52 permanent purpose-built homes with supports would be constructed at 3235 Cougar Road.

The project, a collaboration between BC Housing and Turning Points Collaborative Society, according to the provincial agency, would meet critical community housing needs for people who don't have a home.

The project was scheduled to be discussed in the early fall, but was put on hold due to the provincial election.

With the election now official, plans are moving ahead, including a virtual information session Wednesday evening.

A number of residents opposed to the project are expected to voice their concerns.

A letter circulated among residents in September expressed "extreme concern," about "the problems and traffic that follows drugs, homelessness and this type of facility."

Those included public safety, crime, drug use and declining property values.

The homes would house people who have been homeless for a variety of reasons, some of whom have been residing in temporary supportive housing at the Super 8 Motel.

"The 2018 Westside Point-In-Time found 72 people experiencing homelessness. COVID-19 highlighted the critical need to bring people inside," BC Housing stated on its website.

"TPCS is an experienced non-profit society providing housing and support services to people experiencing homelessness in the region. They would operate the building and provide residents with supports such as meal programs, life and employment skills training, and health and wellness support services.

"Staff would be onsite 24/7, working with each resident to understand their needs and goals and providing the support they need to have housing stability."

Potential tenants would be screened prior to admission, required to pay rent, and sign a program and good neighbour agreement.

WFN has yet to issue approvals for rezoning, land use or development.

Those applications will be brought before council after the consultation phase closes Dec. 4.

If approved, it would be the first permanent supportive housing complex on the Westside.

West Kelowna will take a $500,000 hit from recreation programs as a result of COVID-19

Recreation takes a hit

The City of West Kelowna expects to face significant losses within its recreation department through this year and next as a result of impacts from COVID-19.

According to a report from director of finance Warren Everton, operations within the city's recreation department and the Johnson Bentley Memorial Aquatic Centre face estimated losses in excess of $500,000.

Everton says the estimated losses are expected to reach $266,000 this year with additional losses of nearly $285,000 in 2021.

The report states that, while the city did realize savings due to reductions in wages, program supplies, office supplies, equipment rentals, contracted services and utilities, the loss in revenue due to facility closures and reduced attendance far outpaces the savings.

Projected losses this year once expense savings are factored in include $190,000 in the recreation department and $76,000 through the aquatic centre.

The hardest hit on the recreation side include the newly opened sport dome projected to lose $145,000 in rentals, and ice rentals at both Jim Lind and Royal LePage Place pegged at $130,000.

The aquatic centre will realize losses of $105,000 through aquatic instructional programs and another $100,000 in general programs.

"COVID-19 has had a significant financial impact to City of West Kelowna Recreational Services, including the Johnson Bentley Memorial Aquatic Centre," Everton concluded in his report.

"Active Living Enterprises (which operated the aquatic centre) and the recreation department continue to work with the finance department to try to find creative ways to generate revenue and reduce expenses to lessen the overall financial impacts."


Family spends night in woods after truck battery dies

Family rescued from woods

A group of three spent a cold night in the woods near Peachland Sunday night after the battery in their truck died.

In a news release Monday evening, Central Okanagan Search and Rescue say they were called early Monday morning to try and locate the trio, a father, his daughter and her boyfriend.

They had apparently gone for a drive to Glen Lake Sunday afternoon, and failed to return home.

"A family member spent a frantic night waiting to hear back, and search and rescue crews were finally called out at 9 a.m. Monday," the release stated.

"As members were heading to the scene and search managers were working to arrange for an aerial search of the area south of the Connector, a team from Peachland Fire & Rescue Services made contact with the group and escorted them to safety."

COSAR official Duane Tresnich said the family did the right thing once they were forced to spend the night after the battery died.

“They were prepared, they stayed with their vehicle, and they had told family members what area they were going to explore," he said.

“It’s important to note that you do not have to wait 24 hours before reporting a missing person. If someone is overdue, call 911."

Mt. Boucherie Winery temporarily closes due to COVID-19 scare

Winery temporarily closes

A West Kelowna winery has temporarily shut its doors after a guest at the winery's restaurant last weekend later tested positive for COVID-19.

Friday afternoon, Mt. Boucherie Estate winery announced it would be closing for 48 hours after a restaurant guest on Nov. 14 later tested positive for the virus.

“We are taking precautions to have staff tested and do a deep clean of the entire building,” the winery said on Facebook.

The winery plans to reopen Sunday afternoon.

The possible exposure comes as cases of COVID-19 rise across all of B.C., including in the Okanagan. Hospitalizations and deaths have seen a steep increase in the past week, largely in the Lower Mainland. 

Between Nov. 6 and 19, 225 Okanagan residents were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Bliss Bakery and Bistro in Westbank puts location up for sale

Bakery goes up for sale

Bliss Bakery and Bistro in Westbank is putting the location up for sale.

Barry and Darci Yeo, the owners of the Bliss chain, have had lots of success with their brand. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed some new challenges and they are now looking to downsize the company. 

"My wife and I, we're a family business and we started Bliss Bakery about 16 years ago," says Yeo. 

All locations; in Peachland, West Kelowna and Kelowna were closed starting in March for approximately two months when the pandemic initially struck. When it came time to reopen, the Yeo's had to find ways to make up for lost revenue such as stopping catering services, reducing staff and limiting production. 

The Westbank store located at 3608 Carrington Road was also a sacrifice that needed to be made.

"Its a good store but out of our three main retail stores, it was the store that really took the longest to come back and it really hasn't come back to pre-COVID numbers. None of the stores have," says Yeo. "Darci and I have been working ridiculous hours for the last eight months and we're just ready to simplify our lives."

Yeo says despite sales decreasing by between 30 and 40 per cent in the last eight months, he is confident that Bliss will come back out on top.

"We will survive. We're a good Okanagan brand and we have really loyal customers," he says. "It was not an easy decision of course. This has been a horrible year for restaurants and retail businesses. For us, it was a matter of how do we maintain our sanity, have a little down time and make sure that we can take care of our company as a whole. We feel this is the best way to go."

The location is now up for sale with all the equipment included for someone wanting to open a coffee shop or restaurant. There is also the ability to add a drive-thru since the majority of the infrastructure is already in place. The bakery will continue to operate while the location, without the brand, is up for sale.

Listed at $100,000, the price includes all of the equipment, leaseholds, furniture and patio space. 

"Let somebody go in there that has some new ideas, reopen the drive-thru. It will do well," says Yeo. "My expectation is that we are in this pandemic for the next two years so as a result, let's find somebody that can run this store properly. I'm not selling the business, they're going to run it as their own coffee shop or restaurant."

Click here to view the listing on Castanet.

** a previous version of this story suggested Bliss was closing its Westbank location shortly. In fact, it will remain open while the location is for sale. 

Cars damaged from large construction hole on Old Okanagan Highway

Hole in road damages car

Traffic cones and signs were erected around a large hole in the road in West Kelowna, but those weren't enough to prevent damage to at least one vehicle.

Lindsay Cernak says she and her husband were driving to the store about 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, when they came across the obstruction.

"There were pylons and a bump sign, but it wasn't a bump," Cernak told Castanet News of the hole just past Reese Road on Old Okanagan Highway.

"It was about a car-sized pit. No pavement and sand underneath. It was probably at least six inches deep."

She said the area was bigger than a car.

"We came to a dead stop and very slowly tried to proceed across and, of course, when we got to the edge, because it was so deep, the front of my car completely scraped against the pavement."

To make matters worse, Cernak says she bought the car, brand new, three weeks ago.

While she was pulled over, Cernak says she saw another vehicle "launch itself" like something straight out of a movie.

She says that vehicle did slow down, but was going fast enough that all four wheels were off the ground.

"That was a little scary to watch."

Cernak says she did call the city's emergency number to report the hole, but was told crews had already been out there, and it was fine.

Castanet reached out to the city and was told the hole is due to service work being done by a contractor in the area.

Public works manager Chris Anderson says fill, cones and signs were placed around the area, however, the
fill became dislodged due to a combination of weather and traffic.

A permanent fix is expected Friday if the weather holds.

West Kelowna Walmart employee tests positive for COVID-19

Positive case at Walmart

Employees who work at the West Kelowna Walmart tell Castanet that they have been informed one of their fellow employees has tested positive for COVID-19.

One employee who asked not to be identified said managers are telling smaller groups of employees that one of their associates has tested positive and is in quarantine.

Another Walmart employee, Eduardo Nain Martinez, confirmed the situation 

"On Tuesday, November, 17, I heard the store manager speaking with a group of associates about someone 'being in good spirits.' Yesterday Nov. 18 my department manager told me there was a confirmed case of an associate in our store that has tested positive (for COVID-19)."

Martinez says the person has mild symptoms and is self-isolating.

Castanet has reached out to Walmart for comment but Martinez says he was told by his department manager that management, "didn't want the associates posting or talking about it on social media."

The identity of the infected individual has not been released but Martinez expressed concern that Walmart employees who are quarantined or in self-isolation do not get paid.

"There has been no official response from management but other associates have told me they have not been paid during self-isolation when waiting for test results." Martinez says, explaining he is continuing to work with management on worker's rights issues which he has spoken to Castanet about in the past.

"We have not received any solutions to any of the problems in our stores and there is no security to enforce the mask policy."

At least one Central Okanagan school has stiffened its mask guidelines

New COVID-19 protocols?

UPDATE 12:54 p.m.

School District 23 Superintendent Kevin Kaardal tells Castanet there has been no change to the district's safety plan.

"We are merely emphasizing the requirement to wear masks in common areas and when physical distancing can’t be maintained outside of the learning groups. We are also encouraging those who are comfortable to wear masks as much as possible during the first two weeks of quarter change over. It is not a requirement in learning groups."

ORIGINAL 11:10 a.m.

As the number of COVID-19 cases in British Columbia continues to climb, businesses and schools are rethinking some of their COVID-19 protocols.

Costco announced that masks are now mandatory for all shoppers as of Monday, and Mount Boucheries High School in West Kelowna also posted new COVID-19 protocols on their website. The posting in the Bear Necessities newsletter says, "we are asking all of our students to have a 'mask on' at any time that they are not in the educational cohort, including outside if they are unable to socially distance."

Students were previously only asked to wear masks in indoor common spaces like hallways.

Throughout the school year, Castanet has received numerous complaints and photos of students gathering outside of Central Okanagan high schools that show students gathering in significant numbers, so enforcing the request may prove challenging.

One student who wished to remain anonymous reached out to Castanet.

"I am a student at Mount Boucherie Secondary School and I would just like it to be known that the so-called 'strict protocols' are not in place at all."

"What it is really like is kids all in crowds of 50 or more standing in groups with no masks, right outside the front and side doors, as well as nobody, wears their masks in class and the teachers do not enforce it at all," the student said.

"Kids also do not use the doors they are supposed to and they do not stay in their cohorts at all, not to mention the smoke pit that Mount Boucherie has, where kids go and share vaping devices from one mouth to the next."

Premier John Horgan hinted strongly during his press conference on Wednesday that new COVID-19 restrictions could be coming, the province's top health officials, including Dr. Bonnie Henry, are scheduled to give an update Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday's update, showed another 762 people tested positive for COVID-19 in B.C. and 10 people died from the disease. B.C.'s active case count has hit a new high of 6,861, while coronavirus hospitalizations topped 200 for the first time in the pandemic.

Thursday's briefing will include the usual daily update on positive tests reported over the past 24 hours, however, speculation continues that new orders or measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 will also be announced.

West Kelowna doing what it can to keep rec facilities open

Council stands by its staff

Officials within West Kelowna's recreation department say they are following provincial guidelines in an effort to keep city recreation facilities operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the world suffers through a second wave of the virus, facilities and recreation manager Erin Goodwin told council this week the city is following guidelines set out by both the provincial health office and sports bodies around the province to ensure a each facility is operating in a safe manner.

"Our goal," said Goodwin, "is to continue to offer recreation services to the community.

"As confirmed cases rise, we understand how fast this virus can spread. The city is following recommendations in allowing only operational essential personnel in facilities.

"Spectators for all activities are being discouraged."

However, despite protocols and guidelines posted at each facility, and with a surge of new cases, Goodwin says some people still aren't getting the message.

"For the most part, people are following the guidelines," he said.

"But, we do continue to get calls and emails questioning some of our rules. Some of our guidelines are being challenged and questioned. We frequently hear about lack of spectators.

"The city is taking its direction from the provincial health officer, viaSport and the BCRPA (BC Recreation and Parks Association) when making decisions on policies and procedures including spectators inside our buildings. The city is not saying no to all spectators, we are just saying operational personnel only."

Goodwin says the city has made concessions for children nine years and under and those who need special assistance.

In those cases, Goodwin says "one responsible adult" is allowed to accompany the child, and is allowed to stay through the activity.

"We acknowledge there is a lot of pressure to offer more service, including spectators, however we also realize we are in the middle of a pandemic and, as a result, the city is trying to create policies and procedures to discourage gatherings of people at this time instead of promoting or encouraging them."

While council voiced its support for policies put in place by staff, Coun. Rick de Jong said council needs to do more.

"We are leading in this community," he said referring to city council.

"I would like to somehow in the public messaging make it clear to this community that West Kelowna council stands beside their staff in supporting the direction we are taking."

City chief administrative officer Paul Gipps promised to bring something back along those lines when council meets again next week.

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