Wednesday, April 24, 2013


by Julie H. Ferguson

All the new construction in Kelowna today might give visitors the impression that this city in BC's Okanagan is relatively new. They'd be woefully wrong.

The Pandosy Mission, Kelowna, Okanagan, May 2010
Pandosy Mission, 2010
Kelowna boasts the first European settlement in the Okanagan Valley, dating back to 1859 when Father Pandosy, OMI, an Oblate priest, built a mission. It still stands and has been superbly restored by the Okanagan Historical Society and the Catholic Church. The mission is well worth prowling around to get a feel for the times and what the settlers had to endure. The site is at 3685 Benvoulin by the junction with Casorsa and is open dawn to dusk from Easter to Canadian Thanksgiving.

In their later years

The mission's original bell led me to another Kelowna story of courage and success.  The bell acted as Rosa Casorso's traveling companion and compass in 1884 when she left Italy with three small kids to join her husband who was working for – you guessed it – Pandosy. She spoke not one word of English when her ship docked in San Francisco having sailed round Cape Horn; all she had was a scrap of paper with the address "Father Pandosy, Okanagan Mission." So did the bell ....  Rosa followed the bell on horseback, in canoes and wagons, and on foot, and eventually was reunited with her husband Giovanni, whom Pandosy renamed John.

The couple went on to establish the biggest agricultural and horticultural empire in BC's interior and the family still operates it today.

Pioneer Market in 2013
Next door to Pandosy Mission at 1405 Pioneer Road is a unremarkable building called Pioneer Market. It houses the Casorsa's history, a café, a wine tasting room, a local produce store, and a museum.

Jams, jellies, and honeys
Before I opened the door I could smell delicious aromas of homemade soup, coffee, and fresh bread. Here visitors can stock up on cakes, muffins, pies of all sorts, and comfort food. No doubt, in the harvest season, there are all the fruits from the orchards for sale too. There's also jams and jellies, honey, pickles, etc—all made in house, and perhaps to Rosa's recipes. Scattered through the downstairs are artifacts: an old stove, two ancient Singer sewing machines, and other bits and pieces from the family's past. Upstairs is the museum, though it felt more like exploring a family's attic.

Tucked behind the  market is the tasting room of Sperling Wines, formerly Calona Wines, another of the Casorso's enterprises dating from 1925 when Giovanni's son, Charles, planted the first vineyard in the Kelowna region. It still exists and produces several varieties of wine.  We tried a few, but I didn't care much for the pinot gris or chard. My husband liked the old vines Maréchal Foch and bought two bottles.

Life was tough homesteading in the late 1800s, and Rosa made it work; she not only founded a family firm but also raised nine children and cooked meals for them and twelve farmhands. I could scarcely imagine her daily life standing looking at the farm and vineyards, to say nothing of her journey from the Old World.

ALL IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2010-13. All rights reserved.
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