The Development of the Town
by George Fraser
(from The Story of Osoyoos, 1952)
Previous to 1929, it would have been possible for an individual to have lived a normal lifetime in Osoyoos without noting any sign of development. Contrasted with the notable growth of recent years, it is hard to visualize a period of sixty years without change. At the dawn of 1920, the buildings that comprised the village of Osoyoos were the pioneer residence and trading post of the late Theodore Kruger, occupied by the late William Richter and family; the Dominion Customs offices with the late Dr. George S. Jermyn in charge; and the old provincial government building that for six years previous to 1898 had provided residence and office for the district government agent. This latter building had a stout log annex comprising a hallway and two cells that served as a jail. The building has since served the community in many capacities. In 1917 it became our first school and served as such for many years. It was also used for church services, after which it became a Scout Hall, and still later was used as a residence by several families in turn. It has recently been moved and is still in commission as a residence. [Remember, this was written in 1953 – the log building now stands in the Quonset of Osoyoos Museum.]
Early in 1920, Mr. R.D. Fraser arrived from Veteran, Alberta, and erected a neat building on property facing the customs office, supposedly belonging to William Richter, to whom he paid rent, discovering a year later when surveys were made that it belonged to the Dominion Government. The land rental ceased and Mr. Fraser continued occupation as a squatter, opening a store in the new building. He gave the district a service it had been without since 1897 when the late Mr. Kruger stopped trading.
The opening of a store, settlers thought, presented an opportunity for getting a post office and residents of the district, including those on Kruger Mountain, petitioned the postal authorities for the establishment of one at Osoyoos with Mr. Fraser as postmaster. The petition was refused on the grounds that the population of the district did not warrant the service.
Mr. Fraser then volunteered his services free if the petition could be granted and with that inducement the penny-pinching postal authorities of that day saw the way fit to granting Osoyoos a post office.
Main Street, Osoyoos, 1953, BC Archives Collection
Claughton Brothers of Penticton were the next to establish business premises. They erected a pool room and a garage (separate buildings). The population of Osoyoos did not warrant a pool room, and doubtless no one knew that better than the Claughton Brothers. There was more than a limp suspicion that the pool hall was but a cover for a non-advertised side-line.
In 1921 Jack McLean, a rancher from Rock Creek who had just disposed of his interests there was in some way inspired to enter business in Osoyoos. He put up a building and started a general store but had hardly got established when he sold out to two enterprising young veterans of World War I, Messrs. Patterson and Montgomery. After his brief sojourn in the metropolis of Osoyoos, Jack returned to the rural life.
The next man to swell the business ranks in Osoyoos was Mr. Joe Brown of Penticton, who in association with J.S. Heales and D. Riordan, also of Penticton, leased the old Kruger premises from William Richter and opened a hotel, prepared to accommodate the public with all round service of beds, meals and potent liquids. A dancing pavilion was erected on the lake side of the building as a special feature, but the limited population of the district did not warrant the venture and so the tripping of the light fantastic was light.
Louis Provost, a Frenchman, started a bakery and notwithstanding a widely circulated story that Louis treaded the dough, he remained in business until he was burned out. W. Billy Wilson of Greenwood gave Osoyoos its first lumberyard that season, and a Mr. Sergensen from Star City, Saskatchewan, erected a building and engaged in a shoe repair business.
At this time expansion of the village was being seriously retarded through inability of citizens or prospective citizens to purchase property on which to build. A peculiar situation existed. The property that apparently was the logical townsite belonged to the government, less six acres that belonged to the Richter estate and not available for purchase. The S.O. Lands Project, in control of the government land, would not permit squatting, nor would they sell any land within the proposed townsite and so development of a permanent nature in the village was impossible.
There was continuous urge on the part of citizens for the Southern Okanagan Lands Project to lay out a townsite and in 1937 this was done when one was surveyed about a quarter mile north of the bridge.
Albert English has the distinction of being the first to buy lots in the new townsite, the first to move from the pioneer village and the first to open for business in the new. Mr. English established a confectionery store and café, a garage and a tourist camp.
The Rialto Hotel in the 1950s, BC Archives Collection
During 1938-1939 Mr. Samol built the Rialto Hotel and in company with his son Vic opened it for business when finished. A plebiscite granting the house a beer license was carried by the narrow margin of six votes.
About 1936 the first sawmill in Osoyoos was started on the east side of the lake by N. W. Barnett of Bridesville, who had been operating a portable mill on Anarchist Mountain. A seeming lack of sound business methods coupled with a scarcity of capital resulted in financial difficulties overtaking the enterprise that Mr. Barnett could not see his way to cope with and he walked out.
In 1937 the mill was taken over from Barnett’s creditors by Jorde Brothers of Greenwood, who, after a couple seasons of operation found the site unsuitable, the water being too shallow on the lake side and the mud to plentiful on the other. As a result they moved to a site in town by the pond that has come to be known as Peanut Lake.
The average monthly payroll exceeded $8,000 and the average monthly outlay for logs exceeded $15,000, the major part of which went for wages in the woods and to truck drivers for delivery of the logs to the mill. In 1952 the value of logs delivered to the mill was $170,000 and the lumber sawn was approximately 6,000,000 board feet. The daily capacity of the mill was 30,000 feet and the total number of employees, including loggers and truck drivers was 58 (in 1952).
Main Street, Osoyoos, 1959, BC Archives Collection
[George Fraser continues to detail the growth of Osoyoos in great detail in his book, not all of which appears here.]
Osoyoos was incorporated as a Village Municipality in 1946, and as a Town in the 1980s. Now the town is approaching a population that will merit incorporation as a city.