Trade Customers click here
← Back to Book Main Page


Victoria Times-Colonist:
Margaret Ormsby (BA, MA, PhD, LLD, OBC to give her chief distinctions) personified the combination of rigorous scholarship with a backwoods spirit in she was a formidable historian with a passion for local BC lore.

A Rich and Fruitful Land - The History of the Valleys of the Okanagan, Similkameen and Shuswap, edited by Jean Webber is a collection of more than 60 years of articles culled from the Annual Reports of the Okanagan Historical Society, which Ormsby edited for many years.

The region was home to her both physically and intellectually - she grew up there and later retired to a house on the shores of Kalamalka Lake. She also wrote her master's thesis in 1931 at the age of 22 on the history of the Okanagan Valley. This book is dedicated to her and her conviction that "history is made through the lives of ordinary people."

The Okanagan Historical Society was established in 1925, and the Annual Report grew out of an interest among its members to record and recognize events that defined the area. When the Report approached its 60th issue in 1996 (there were several years, especially during the Second World War, when the Report was not written), a desire to mark the occastion provided an impetus for the book.

Twenty years earlier a gift of $5,000 had been given to the society by founding member Guy Bagnall for the writing of such a history. As the 60th issue mark approached, the job was put to Ormsby who declined it on the basis of ill health, recommending Jean Webber for the task.

Jean Webber is modest about her contribution as editor and tries to deflect attention from her role as she discusses the book. Seated in her spacious Victoria apartment, beautifully appointed with art and artifacts from the Okanagan region, Webber describes her involvement in the project like that of an archivist. As a past editor of the Report she was well equipped to "bridge the gaps," and her thoughtful prose ties together Annual Report articles into a cohesive narrative.

The book is divided into chapters that follow history in a linear way.

The opening chapter tells the dramatic story of a natural disaster that occurred on Okanagan Lake in 1951, but also works as a clever introduction to the rest of the section, which describes the natural geography, geology, and biology of the region. The articles run from erudtion to simple storytelling.

The mixture of Aboriginal, European, and ranching cultures still permeate these valleys and are fleshed out in the accounts. Consistently we find a people who, are educated but not effete, a sturdy stock well suited to the landscape they come to inhabit.

Of the many stories of early settlers, contained in the book, that of the gold seeking Overlanders is one of the most captivating. The name refers to several parties of gold hunters who flocked to the Cariboo in the mid 1800s - overland from the east. The Schuberts, Catherine and Augustus, were such a family. Leaving Fort Garry, now Winnipeg, with a few oxen, some Red River carts, horses, and a cow to provide milk for the three children they travelled with friend Peter McIntyre over the Rockies. Rafting down the Thompson River, the Schuberts paused to camp at the water's edge in a tent where their fourth child arrived - "the first white girl born in the Interior of British Columbia." The Schuberts later settled in Lillooet for 14 years then became farmers at Round Prairie, near present-day Armstrong.

There is interest here beyond that of the Valleys described, an importance Ormsby championed with her belief that regional history is of national importance. Webber says she "touched only the tip of the iceberg," in her choice of text from the Reports. "There is a lot of wonderful material because it was written by people who were very often on the spot when events unfolded."

The book is well illustrated with black and white photographs that Webber found in local museums and archives and in private hands.
-Tracey O' Hara, Times-Colonist