International Women's Day: Hotel Eldorado founder put Kelowna on the map | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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International Women's Day: Hotel Eldorado founder put Kelowna on the map

The original Eldorado Hotel, late 1920s.
Image Credit: Contributed/CITY OF KELOWNA
March 07, 2020 - 8:30 AM

Kelowna’s Countess Bubna owned a cattle ranch, a hotel and helped put Kelowna on an international map, all in the 1900s.

Claire Smith-Burns, with the Kelowna & District Genealogical Society, created a detailed report on Countess Bubna’s interesting life a few years ago for Heritage Week.

Irene May Blair, also known as Countess Bubna, will be featured as part of the Okanagan Heritage Museum’s events for International Women’s Day, with many other inspiring Okanagan women.

“She was particularly fascinating,” Smith-Burns said.

Countess Bubna moved to Canada and owned a cattle ranch in 1912 before she sold it and opened the Eldorado Ranch at the foot of Ellison Lake. She sold the ranch in 1926 and began to build the Eldorado Arms Hotel, now known as the Hotel Eldorado.

READ MORE: A new chapter begins in the storied life of the Hotel El

“It was for her special friends and it became somewhat of a drinking hole for the locals,” Smith-Burns said.

Over the years, the Countess improved the property, adding many outbuildings featuring screened verandas that overlooked a meandering brook.  The large and elegant grounds became home to lavish garden parties that helped build Kelowna's reputation internationally, according to Smith-Burns. 

“It was finer than anything else in Kelowna at that time,” she said.

The aristocratic English woman had inherited her title from her previous marriage with Count Johann Franz-Bubna-Litic. The couple’s divorce in 1908 was considered an oddity at the time.

“She did everything on her own,” Smith-Burns said.

Irene Blair, 20, in this photo.
Irene Blair, 20, in this photo.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Claire Smith-Burns

She had two daughters, Ina and Olga. Olga evnetually settled in Kelowna and lived in the Mission area.

Countess Bubna’s divorce in the early 1900s was just one interesting tidbit about her life. Her mother, Mary Caroline Mitchell, spent time in jail after having a long affair the Duke of Sutherland, who at the time was one of the richest men in the world, Smith-Burns said.

While Countess Bubna had an interesting life, Smith-Burns said we should examine these stories without our 21st century lens.

“I think we have to understand that people of the past are still as human as we are, with all their foibles and the rest of it. They weren’t really as constrained as we might think, and I’m especially talking about women.

“It was amazing how many women could break through those constraints and have very meaningful and adventuresome lives and yes, it helps if you’re wealthy, but not all of them were wealthy. Some of them just had strong personalities and were able to create their own lives and be their own persons,” she said.

Many of these women didn’t marry and were passionate about their careers, Smith-Burns said.

To learn more about Countess Bubna and other inspiring Okanagan women, visit the Okanagan Heritage Museum.

Although tickets have sold out for the museum’s main events, locals can still get involved for the International Women’s Day Family Tour, March 7 from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

International Women’s Day is Sunday, March 8.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Carli Berry or call 250-864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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