One of Kelowna's oldest buildings goes up in flames; Kelowna council's priorities around heritage questioned - InfoNews

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One of Kelowna's oldest buildings goes up in flames; Kelowna council's priorities around heritage questioned

Bob Hayes, president of the Kelowna chapter of the Okanagan Historical Society, stands in front of the badly burned Fleming heritage house.
April 22, 2020 - 4:30 PM

The City of Kelowna has dropped the ball when it comes to protecting its heritage.

That’s the charge levied by Bob Hayes, president of the Kelowna chapter of the Okanagan Historical Society, as he looked at the nearly destroyed Fleming House, today, April 22.

“I just hope this causes them to do something,” a dismayed Hayes said, standing outside the high chain-link fence erected to protect the Brent’s Grist mill, the original Brent house — better known as the Fleming House — and another related building.

The Fleming house caught on fire in July 2018. That was determined to be a human caused fire but not arson and it didn’t do much structural damage to the main building. The City paid to have a temporary roof put on it but there have been no efforts to restore the buildings for many years.

That temporary roof was destroyed by the fire that engulfed the building earlier today.

Fleming House before the first of two fires in 2018 and another one the spelled its demise today.
Fleming House before the first of two fires in 2018 and another one the spelled its demise today.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/City of Kelowna

“The cause of the fire is unknown at this time. We are on scene today and investigating a possible cause but we believe the building will be a total loss,” Kelowna fire chief Travis Whiting said in a media release. The City said the site was secured by a chain-link fence and the gate was locked when fire crews arrived. The security patrols at the site have been enhanced.

“This is finished now,” Hayes said, pointing out that the roof trusses that survived the last fire are now pretty much destroyed and the squared log walls that were just charred before now look quite badly damaged.

“This is the oldest grist mill in the province of B.C. and our City can’t come up with a plan,” Hayes said. “It’s only a matter of time now before this building (the grist mill itself) gets torched. They need an on-site caretaker.”

The mill was built by Frederick Brent in 1871 next to Mill Creek near what is now Dilworth Drive and Highway 97.

Cattle ranching was the main industry in the Kelowna area at that time and the mill was built to grind grain into flour, producing such quality that it won international awards, Hayes said.

As the area converted hay fields into orchards in the 1890s, the supply of grain dried up and the mill ceased operating, although the house continued to be occupied.

In 1892 Brent sold the mill and house to J.T. Davies and production stopped. Hayes said Davis used the house as a hunting lodge.

In 1900, John Dilworth bought the land and subdivided it, selling the 87-acre northern section, which included the mill and the house, to William Fleming who lived there until 1926. It was sold again before his son Rev. Everett Fleming bought it and seven acres in 1960.

The buildings became the property of the Central Okanagan Heritage Society and were relocated in 2002 to their present site on the other side of Dilworth Drive. It was named the Brent’s Heritage Homestead and Grist Mill Park with thoughts of developing it into a tourist attraction of some sort but nothing ever came of that.

In now sits across a field from the Okanagan Rail Trail where an average of about 500 people pass by every day.

“This is a prime tourist opportunity just screaming at them (city council),” Hayes said. “I think our City is too busy courting huge developers who want to put up mega buildings. Our present council is not keen on heritage. Just look what they’ve done to Abbott Street. They’ve gutted the heritage in that area.”

At a 2015 city council meeting, $210,000 was recommended to be spent on just shoring up the buildings. A heritage review was conducted that fall with some councillors hoping it would include a plan for restoring the site. That did not happen.

After the 2018 fire, council narrowly agreed to spend $29,000 on a temporary roof for the Fleming house and again touted the bright future the site had for future development.

“I know the City has its limitations,” Hayes said. “But how many times does a community have an asset like this? Unfortunately, as in most cases, we don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

For more on the history of Brent’s Grist Mill go to the City of Kelowna website here and the heritage society website here.


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