One of the key pillars of the role of the Lieutenant Governor is to celebrate British Columbians, sharing their accomplishments, history and culture. Community visits are an opportunity for the Lieutenant Governor to meet British Columbians throughout the province, to hear from them personally how they work and live.
At the end of May, Her Honour Janet Austin spent time in the South Okanagan on her first official visit to the region. The focus of the trip was supporting the inaugural BC Golf Indigenous Championship, a first-of-its-kind event for British Columbia. The Indigenous Championship BC was open to BC golfers who identify as First Nation, Métis or Inuit, celebrating and inspiring current and emerging Indigenous golfers. Her Honour acted as honorary patron of the event, and was on hand for the opening ceremony to wish the players the best of luck in the tournament. After a welcome BBQ and a warm welcome from Chief Clarence Louie and dancers and drummers from Osoyoos Indian Band, the Championship saw more than 100 golfers tee off for two days of friendly competition.
The next morning Her Honour joined local business owners and community leaders for a breakfast hosted by the South Okanagan Chamber of Commerce. The breakfast brought together folks from around the region, including Osoyoos, Oliver, and Penticton, for conversation over coffee and croissants.
From there Her Honour travelled to the sunny village of Keremeos. Keremeos is known for agriculture, and the early season harvest (along with delicious samosas!) was on full display at a stop at Sanderson Farms. Owner Rajinder showed Her Honour around, and shared stories about farming in the sun-soaked valley.
The history of Keremeos farming was on full display at the Grist Mill and Gardens, a historic site where Her Honour got to see the famous Grist Mill, a flour mill dating back to the 1870s, in action, thanks to the expertise of curator Cuyler Page. She also enjoyed some treats served at the onsite café, and learned about early settlers and farming in the area.
No visit to the Okanagan is complete without sampling some wine. The region is famous for award-winning vineyards and wineries, and Her Honour had the privilege of touring Nk’Mip Cellars with winemaker Justin Hall, whose passion for wine-making and incredible knowledge shone through. It was a fascinating look into the Indigenous-owned winery, which was, of course, followed by a tasting.
Located nearby is the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, providing a fascinating overview of Indigenous history in the South Okanagan. Jenna Bower, manager and a curator at the Desert Cultural Centre, provided a tour, showcasing the land and legends of the Syilx of the Okanagan region. The tour weaved from indoor exhibitions to the paths surrounding the centre, where the plants and animals of the desert could be seen up close.
Given the sunny and warm weather of the South Okanagan, it was only natural to visit a farm and see some of the region’s famous agriculture in action. At Covert Family Farms, Her Honour was treated to a tour by Shelly and Gene Covert, driving around in a bright red vintage truck, followed by a meal of fresh food and conversation about regenerative farming.
In nearby Okanagan Falls, Her Honour was given a warm welcome at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 227, where she met veterans and community members. Present at the event were veterans Ed and Mary Findlater, who met during their service in the Air Force, had been members of the Legion for 40 years, and married for 70. It was a special reminder of all the amazing stories British Columbians have to share, and Her Honour was delighted to meet them both.
Rounding out the day was a stop at Avery Family Farms, to learn about another aspect of agriculture in the South Okanagan—vertical farming! Her Honour was given a tour of the massive facility, where lettuce is grown in innovative stacked towers.
After helping hand out medals at the closing ceremony for the Indigenous Championship, Her Honour headed to Penticton for a visit to the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services Society. There she learned about the supports offered by SOICS for those most vulnerable in communities throughout the region, along with courses and efforts to provide help to immigrants and new Canadians.
The South Okanagan might be known for its warm weather, but the warm welcome given to the Lieutenant Governor by all she met is what will be remembered the most.