NEAR VERNON – A historic letter is getting a lot of attention after it was rediscovered during the restoration of a North Okanagan church.
The letter from a Catholic priest to Cornelius O’Keefe, found at the O’Keef Ranch, is over a hundred years old and it offers us a small peek at what life was like in the Okanagan in 1889.
“It gives us a glimpse of a time when things were happing on the ranch and the church, which has become the symbol of O’Keefe Ranch was being built, so it is a fascinating glimpse of history,” says the ranch’s curator emeritus Ken Mather.
The missive was discovered during restoration work at Saint Anne’s church at the ranch.
“With your kind permission I intend to say holy mass at your residence on Palm Sunday…Have the kindness to notify it to all Catholics living in your vicinity,” reads the letter, written in April of 1889.
At the time, this kind of note would have been routine.
“The priests would go up and down the valley saying mass but mostly in people’s houses because there was no churches,” explains Mather.
Mather believes they were probably building the church at the time the letter was received.
“Somehow or other it go into the flooring or between maybe a joist and a floor board because it is incredibly well preserved. It wasn’t lying on the dirt or anywhere exposed,” he says.
O’Keefe, a rancher and entrepreneur, donated the land for the church and raised money to help build it.
“I like to tell people it is probably the first fundraising drive in the Okanagan Valley. O’Keefe managed to put together enough money and he led the donations with a $150 donation,” says Mather.
When they found the letter, it was clear they had something very interesting on their hands.
“It has been there for 126 years so it is amazing that it has stayed in such great condition,” says the ranch’s general manager Glen Taylor.
More than a century after it was lost, the letter has been found, providing another look at the Okanagan’s history.