Site and Building Information

The site was first formally known by its original francophone name, Mission de L’Immaculée Conception. Since 1859 the size and ownership of land has changed, as has the name. Throughout this document the original name of Mission de L’Immaculée Conception is used for 1859-1906 and The Father Pandosy Mission for 1906 and beyond and the Mission name refers to the site through all time periods.

The original buildings erected on the Mission site and still present are the Chapel, The Root house, the Brothers’ house and the Barn. Buildings moved to the site and of pioneer nature are the Christien house, the McDougall house, the Blacksmith shop, and the Caretaker’s quarters.

Establishing the Immaculate Conception Mission, 1859—1896

In 1859, three Oblates Mary Immaculate (referred to as OMI), Father Charles Pandosy (OMI), Father Pierre Richard (OMI) and Brother Surel, were given the task of opening a Mission in the Okanagan Valley on behalf of their order. Together with a few settlers they spent an initial cold and hungry winter in the Okanagan on the banks of Duck Lake. In the spring of 1860 the Oblates travelled south and began work on their new Mission. The selected site was part of the traditional lands of the Okanagan First Nations (Syilx) and was adjacent to Riviere L’Anse au Sable (now Mission Creek). This marked the start of the Mission de L’Immaculée Conception which was to become a large agricultural and ranching operation and a community hub to settlers and First Nations peoples. As Father Pandosy stated of the Okanagan Valley in a letter, “It is a great valley situated on the bank of the great Lake Okanagan. All who know it praise it. The cultivable land is immense.”

During 1860 some of the many “firsts” that were to happen at the Mission came about. Essential to the purpose of the Mission, a two-storey Chapel was built in this first year. The main floor was used for religious purposes while the upper floor was used as both living quarters and as the first school in the Okanagan. Both First Nations and pioneer children were educated by the Oblates. All instruction was in French and the Oblates taught some students within the school itself, but also went out into the community to teach to those students not attending the school. The majority of the students taught in the community were Syilx children. Another first happened on November 30th of 1860, when Father Richard further established the Immaculate Conception Mission by filing the first land claim in the BC interior for 64 ha (160 acres) with Magistrate William George Cox in Rock Creek.

Over the next 36 years the Immaculate Conception Mission became a focal point for religious, school and social life in the area as it served as the regional headquarters for the OMI until 1896. The Mission eventually comprised over 810 ha (2000 acres) with upwards of 1700 people, predominately First Nations, living on the lands within its boundaries. Work on the Mission ranch was primarily carried out by the lay brothers. Their work included tending an apple orchard, vineyard, vegetable garden and up to approximately 550 head of cattle and 35 horses. The introduction of bees was even attempted but not successful.

By 1900 the Chapel, the Root house, the Brothers’ house, a grist mill, a larger two-storey dormitory/school (with an addition), a newer sawn lumber church of Immaculate Conception, as well as barns and other agricultural buildings were all on the Mission property.

It should be noted the during the 37 years, Father Pandosy himself was not always at the Immaculate Conception Mission as he was also responsible for establishing Missions on Vancouver Island and in Fort St. James. He returned to head Immaculate Conception Mission as the superior in 1887 and remained until his death in 1891.

History of the Immaculate Conception Mission, 1896—1954

In 1896 the Immaculate Conception Mission ceased to be a regional headquarters, with the headquarters moving to the St. Louis Mission in Kamloops. The decision to move to Kamloops was based on the new access provided by the CPR and its proximity to the St. Louis Mission.

After the closing, all the original items (i.e., the agricultural implements, books, and so on) used at the Immaculate Conception Mission were moved from the site, mostly to Eastern Canada. To date, records of these transfers have not been found.

In 1906 the Immaculate Conception Mission was formally decommissioned. After the decommissioning, the Mission passed through many owners and land changes. Some of the individuals and companies which held the current Benvoulin Road site (1.6 ha/4 acres) after the closing the Immaculate Conception Mission were Father Emelin, Gruille & Fascioux, South Kelowna Land and Orchard Co., Dr. Paul dePyffer, Mr. Karl Sorenson and Mr. P. Lyman. During this time the site was used for a variety of purposes, including a ranch, a family farm, general storage, and cattle pasture.

In the early 1950s, the remaining original Mission buildings, the Chapel, the Root house, and Brothers’ house were in a state of neglect and were slated for demolition.

Preservation and Restoration History, 1954—2000

Norman Carter is credited with initiating the process which would culminate in the repurchase of the site by the OMI and its subsequent preservation and restoration. The site, then 0.8 ha (2 acres), was purchased in 1954 by Father Fergus O-Grady for the OMI. Over the next four years a number of people were involved with the tasks of restoring and preserving the site. This included cleaning up debris, removing building additions, completing site fencing, and restoring and providing foundations for the remaining original three buildings. At this time only the Chapel, the Root house and the Brothers’ house remained on the site that was repurchased by the OMI. By 1954 many of the original buildings were gone, the newer Immaculate Conception church has been moved, the grist mill had been disassembled and the dormitory/school had burned down in 1932.

In addition to Carter, many people and groups were involved with the saving and restoration of the site, including Father Fergus O’Grady, Father Mulvihill, H.C.S. “Shorty” Collett, Laurence Guichon, T.A. Dhom, Jack Bedford, as well as the Knights of Columbus and the Okanagan Historical Society (referred to as OHS). In 1958 a re-dedication of the restored buildings was held. This event also coincided with the 100 year anniversary of the OMI in British Columbia.

After the restoration and re-dedication, the guardianship of the site was unstable until the OHS accepted the responsibility in 1966. After the establishment of responsibility by the OHS in 1966, many of the non-Mission items currently found on the site became part of the Father Pandosy Mission site. In 1968 the Caretaker’s quarters were moved from the Guisachan ranch to allow for ongoing maintenance and security of the site. The McDougall house was also moved to the site from the Guisachan ranch during this year. In 1970 this Christien house was given to the site by the City of Kelowna. During this time period, the Barn, an original building of the Immaculate Conception Mission, was moved 150 m (500 ft) north from its original site to where it currently resides to the east of the Chapel. In 1974 the Blacksmith shop was moved from the Joe Rich area of Greater Kelowna to the site. During this time and to the present many pioneer artifacts (primarily agricultural implements) have also found the Mission site as their permanent home.

In 1983 the Father Pandosy Mission site was designated a Provincial Heritage Site. Also in 1983 the gravesite of Father Pandosy was found on the west side of Benvoulin Road in the original Immaculate Conception cemetery. A chapel (attempting to be a scaled replica of the Immaculate Conception church that was once part of the Mission) and memorial plaques were erected as monuments and the land donated to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nelson by the private landowner – Valentino (Val) Rampone.

Preservation and Restoration History, 2000—Present

Much work has been done since 2000 to preserve, maintain, and provide adequate security and safety for the site. Through this period, some of the work undertaken has included:

  • increased site maintenance,
  • installation of a fire alarm system,
  • site grading,
  • concrete foundations for the Blacksmith shop and the Barn,
  • fencing improvements,
  • a digital inventory,
  • installation of security lights,
  • upgrades to both the Caretaker’s quarters’ interior and septic system,
  • removal of site hazards such as dangerous trees and open wells,
  • the printing of an updated brochure,
  • artifact display upgrades,
  • removal of many non-period items such as chain-link fencing and plywood additions,
  • a new entrance information kiosk, and
  • the restoration and preservation of some of the many implements on site.

This work combined with the vision and work of Norman Carter and others in 1954—1958 and the preservation and improvements in the interim, have culminated in a much more aesthetically pleasing site that is fortunate to have had adequate conservation efforts performed.