The log boom, tugboat and sawmill on Manhattan Drive had, until recently, been familiar landmarks in the north end of Kelowna.
Now, thanks to a collaboration between the Simpson family and UBC Okanagan, those landmarks can come to life in any room, at any time, around the globe.
Timber from BC’s interior forests has been logged since the late 1800s and in 1930, Stanley M. Simpson built a sawmill on Kelowna’s Manhattan Drive to process the logs. In the two years following, he added a veneer plant, a box factory and a log-booming ground on the adjacent shore of Okanagan Lake. In 1956 a plywood plant was added and shortly later a chipping facility.
The mill was operational until January 2020, when Tolko Industries Ltd., the current owners of the historic industrial site, announced the permanent closure of the once-thriving sawmill.
Sensing history might get lost, local author Sharron Simpson, Stanley Simpson’s granddaughter, began working closely with Paige Hohmann, UBC Okanagan’s Archivist and Special Collections Librarian, to review hundreds of digitized items in the Simpson Family collection. As the photos were digitized and added to the collection, Sharron added dates, along with personal and historic insights.
“We honour those who previously lived and worked in this area by ensuring their stories are preserved and made accessible to others,” Sharron adds. “It’s been my privilege to participate in the university’s initiative to preserve our valley’s heritage.”
Thanks to this collaboration, Hohmann says UBCO students and faculty, along with community members, can now explore this unique collection from their own homes through the British Columbia Regional Digitized History (BCRDH) portal. Sharron is excited these images and the stories that accompany them will continue to live on—and most importantly, be protected from eventual loss.
Hohmann describes the archives as a generous gift of time and knowledge from the Simpson family.
“Sharron has given us all a gift, not just of her time, which has been tremendous, but of our history,” she says. “She’s taken the time to make sure we have an accurate portrayal of an important part of our community’s history, including the stories of those who lived and worked here.”
The pair have met regularly to review each image, and with more than 800 photos in the collection, Hohmann agrees this is an incredible undertaking.
“The Simpson Family archives are the cornerstone of the Okanagan Special Collections and the first archival collection acquired by UBC Okanagan Library,” Hohmann adds. “The richness of the photography placed in context with documents, ledgers, business records and memorabilia provide a valuable window into an important era of Okanagan history.”
This digitization project is just one of the several community collaborations spearheaded by the Special Collections team at the UBC Okanagan Library.
This portal has expanded beyond its initial Okanagan-related materials, says Hohmann, to include BC’s Columbia and Kootenay regions.
“The UBC Okanagan Library works closely with donors and potential donors, as well as community partners, to ensure that the Okanagan’s history is preserved and available locally, both in the Okanagan Special Collections Reading Room and through digitization in the online portal.”
The images can be viewed at: BCRDH.ca