About Black Mountain and the Regional Park

Black Mountain Regional Park, hugging the eastern edge of Kelowna north of Highway 33, is an historical and ecological jewel. After an initial land assembly of 510 hectares (1,260 acres) in 2014, the park was expanded three years later to 640 hectares (1,580 acres), making it the largest of the 30 parks in the Regional District of Central Okanagan (RDCO).

One of the key reasons for the creation of the park was to preserve and protect its unique grassland ecosystem, home to nine threatened or endangered plant and animal species. Centred on the iconic Black Knight Mountain (usually shortened to just Black Mountain), the park is also of great cultural significance to the Okanagan indigenous people.

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Given its precious and fragile nature, the park is being developed according to a 2016 management plan, with responsibilities shared between the RDCO and the Westbank First Nations (WFN). The plan sets out conservation, stewardship, interpretation, security and recreation as some of its priorities. The Friends of Black Mountain (FoBM) was founded in 2015 to support those priorities.

 

These key stakeholders and community volunteers have worked together on several important initiatives to develop the park in a way that will encourage its sustainable and responsible enjoyment by the public. The focus is on protecting the fragile grassland from any further damage by people, vehicles, livestock, horses or dogs. Notably:

 

  • Fencing around the park was built and repaired, and gates and cattle guards were installed to control access 

  • WFN identified an area of the park near the ephemeral ponds that was of indigenous cultural significance; the area was protected by fencing. 

  • A trail system was built in partnership with FoBM to encourage sustainable and responsible recreation and appreciation for this unique ecosystem.

  • FoBM established a bluebird revival and monitoring program.

  • Both RDCO and FOBM offered interpretive and supervised walks in the park, highlighting its value and the importance of conservation.

  • Horseback riding has been restricted to specific trails.

  • Signage has been erected to bar motorized vehicles and to promote responsible behaviour by dog owners and other users.

 

In 2021, RDCO is dipping into a $975,000 fund from federal, provincial and regional sources to prepare two formal entrances to the park, one at Swainson Road and the other at Joe Rich. (A third informal access point at Pyman Road has been closed as the surrounding land was sold to an orchard company.) When the entrances, featuring paved parking areas and visitor amenities, are completed, the park, currently only partly open is expected to be given a complete and formal opening.

A Brief History

Indigenous people lived on and around Black Mountain for centuries. Calling the mountain Sntsk’il’nten, meaning “place where flint is found,” this was a prime area to gather material for stone tools and to keep watch for encroaching threats such as distant wildfires.

 

By 1860, francophone settlers were occupying the area, using the extensive grasslands and creeks for ranching. 

 

Eli Lequime, who emigrated from Bordeaux, France, took advantage of the opening up of the government land reserve in 1879 to purchase 7,000 acres of land circling a good part of the mountain. Lequime, who ultimately also owned a store, the post office and a hotel in the former French-speaking community known as L’Anse-au-Sable, eventually turned the land into the largest cattle ranch in the Okanagan Valley.

 

By 1893, rancher Daniel Prather was the first to experiment with irrigation, leading to a variety of irrigation projects by the Belgo Canadian Fruitlands company and others between 1909 and 1920.

 

In the early 20th century, the Black Mountain slopes were turned into a horse ranch, owned by Colin Keith Pyman. Pyman did well with his ranch but died in the trenches of World War I and left no successors. His now-dilapidated log farm house still stands on the western slopes of the mountain.

 

Sam Long, who moved to the area in 1902, had more success, putting in the first apple orchard on the benchlands. Other endeavours in what is now the park included logging and gold panning

 

The slopes were also a magnet for intrepid skiers. After WWI, gasoline rationing forced a relocation of Preston Ski Hill from Joe Rich to the bowl of Black Mountain, where it would be closer to the skiers of Kelowna. The hill was used from the 1920s to the ’50s, with a truck hauling skiers up to the site high on the mountainside.

    

In 1953, a forest service road, still used today, was built to the summit at 1,286 metres. A fire lookout station was placed there in 1954. Though no longer used for that purpose, concrete foundations remain. Several communications towers bristle at the mountaintop, visible from great distances.

 

More details on the history of the mountain and surrounding area, as well as other historic images, can be found in past FoBM newsletters.

Tent city Belgo area 1910 KPA#5567 [1669

Above, tent city of orchard workers in Belgo area, 1910. KPA#5567

Below, ski race in Black Mountain ski bowl, 1945. KPA#3965

Courtesy Kelowna Public Archives

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Fun Fact: In 1893, a European aristocrat whose assassination 21 years later would play a significant role in world history visited the Okanagan, recording observations about the region and its inhabitants. Read more from our March 2018 newsletter!