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  • Friends of Black Mountain Board

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 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. 

Black Mountain and the French-Canadian Mission Creek Placer Miners

By Ian Pooley

Directly south of the park lies the Mission Creek canyon, the site of an early gold-mining rush. The Mission Creek placer mining area was initially established in 1861 by American miners who had previously discovered gold at Rock Creek in 1860. The American miners, however, did not stay more than a season. After the initial discovery, the Mission Creek site was principally exploited by French-Canadian Mission. The same group also exploited the placer mining site at Cherry Creek east of Vernon, established in 1862. These early settlers, as described by historian Duane Thomson, combined subsistence farming with gold mining. In the summer season, they worked their diggings in the upper Mission Creek canyon or at Cherry Creek, often leaving their wives and families at the main settlement at the mouth of Mission Creek to tend the family garden.

Early francophone settlers like William Pion, Ledoux, Calmels, Louis Christian, Peter Bissette, George Leblanc, Vincent Duteau, and Charles Christian engaged in this dual mode of production, earning a cash income from their mining activities to supplement their subsistence farming and support their families. Placer mining Black Mountain and the French-Canadian Mission Creek Placer Miners By Ian Pooley on Mission Creek and at Cherry Creek tapered off in the late 1880s and early 1890s.

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.

An early orchard development company's scenic route through Black Mountain

By Ian Pooley

The south-west corner of Black Mountain - sntsk'il'nten Regional Park contains the traces of a large irrigation system that was abandoned before it was actually completed. The remains of the big open ditch can be seen to the left of the road up to the upper ravine. Below this ditch there is a trench designed to conduct a wooden pipe down the hillside to another transverse ditch. At the very bottom, winding along the scree slopes at the foot of the mountain in a north-westerly direction for about half a mile, there are still the remains of a carefully graded right of way intended for a large irrigation flume that was never built. Typical early wood irrigation flume. This one, spanning Canyon Creek (KLO Creek) was built by the Canyon Creek Irrigation Company.

The abandoned irrigation system was built by the Belgo Canadian Fruitlands Company around 1910, and was intended to serve orchards above Rutland that the company intended to develop before World War One. engineer who designed it, was abandoned when the company ran into financial difficulties before the war, and development of the orchards on the benchland east of Rutland was delayed until after the war. Nevertheless, the company did complete a lot of its ambitious system by 1913, including reservoirs at the head of Mission Creek, a domestic water system and irrigation system for its new orchard land in the Belgo area. It never realized other even more ambitious plans, including a golf course, a townsite, and a hydroelectric plant on Mission Creek.

Today, the old right of way is a reminder of the grandiose plans of the early development companies that installed irrigation systems all over the Okanagan. They were often were poorly built, leaked, and lacked sufficient water supply to properly irrigate the quickly expanding orchards. Hopefully much of the old route will become a scenic footpath that will eventually give Black Mountain residents an easy access route into the heart of the new park.

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.

1893 - Royalty visits the Okanagan

By Maurey Williams

In the fall of 1893 Franz Ferdinand visited the Okanagan Valley. Franz Ferdinand was crown prince and in line to the throne of the Habsburg Empire. When he came to the Okanagan he was a young man of 29 eager to hunt animals – bagging a grizzly bear being his most cherished wish. Years later, Ferdinand’s execution was the tipping point that set off the First World War. While he lived, he was a keen hunter, killing over 274,511 animals. Conservation was not a high priority for him!

However, his journey did provide valuable photos and personal observations about the area. His diary notes give us a glimpse into the changing lifestyle of First Nations and how they were being pushed off the land and becoming colonized by European interlopers. He hired 150 “Indian guides” for his hunting adventure up to Brent Mountain, just east of Penticton. Many of the photos Maurey showed included recognizable landmarks and even a photo of the powerful and wealthy land owner and rancher, Tom Ellis. We look forward to the article Maurey is writing on the subject. As for Ferdinand, he never did catch the prized grizzly he was after!

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.

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

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. 

Gold Panning in Black Mountain: Dan Gallagher

By Ian Pooley

Daniel Austin Gallagher was born in Calaveras County, California, in the heart of California gold mining country, in 1861. His father was the county treasurer. After working as a customs officer in San Francisco, Gallagher sailed north to Seattle on the steamer North-West in 1889. He had apparently intended to work there, but the day the steamer arrived, the Seattle fire forced the passengers to divert to Tacoma. Gallagher moved to British Columbia and worked for several years as manager of the Palace Livery in Vernon. In 1891 he and a partner named J. Stevenson preempted what became a full section of land straddling Mission Creek at the foot of the south slopes of Black Mountain. Stevenson and Gallagher took out water rights on Hydraulic Creek in 1894.

At the time, Mission Creek was experiencing its third gold rush, and Gallagher, interviewed by Nigel Pooley, a local Kelowna historian, in about 1939, mentions the Chinese who were still working placer gold claims in the creek bottom. Gallagher worked at other jobs, including Lequimes store in the new Kelowna townsite, and played at dances in a local band, but by the 1920s he appears to have been living a solitary bachelor life and working on his own preemption in the Mission Creek Canyon, where he raised horses and cut and sold fence posts to local orchardists. In the 1930s and 1940s, his sister from California made regular summer visits in her Cadillac, sometimes with a young nephew who later became a college instructor in Quincy California.

Gallagher's biography in the 1965 Okanagan Historical Society report mentions these visits: "She would visit him for a while, and even cleaned out his cabin on one occasion, piled all the old magazines and rubbish up in the lean-to outside, and swept the place out. But as soon as she had gone, he would put it all back in again and resume his normal life."

When he died in 1947, he left his property to Joe Casorso, a Black Mountain cattle rancher, who was his his nearest neighbour and friend.

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 1950s, with a truck hauling skiers up to the site high on the mountainside.

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

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.

Between 2007 & 2008 the beginnings of a co-management model between Westbank First Nations and the Regional Park was conceived. And, in 2015, the regional park was established through a combination of fee simple acquisition, ecological gift and a 30 year license of occupation on crown land. The Friends of Black Mountain was formed. They assist where possible with local knowledge of trails and observation of resident birds, animals, vegetation and with monitoring damage to park lands.

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