Site of centuries-old First Nations battle in Summerland heading for a new type of fight | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Site of centuries-old First Nations battle in Summerland heading for a new type of fight

This 15-acre Summerland site, coloured in red, was the site of a 1808 battle between the Syilx and Shuswap nations.
Image Credit: Submitted/District of Summerland

In 1808, a vicious battle was waged between the Shuswap and Syilx (Okanagan) nations in a bowl below what later became the Summerland townsite.

A young boy who witnessed the battle later passed on the story so there is an oral record of it, David Gregory, historian and former mayor of Summerland told

“He described that there was a trail that went from the lake up to the flats where Summerland is now,” Gregory told “The witness was on that trail overlooking the battle. The trail is pretty close to being Solly Road now.”

The battle was fought in the hollow of what is now 13610 Banks Crescent that contains an old farmhouse, orchards and vineyard. It was, apparently, won by the Shuswap who likely carried away their dead.

An application has been filed with the District of Summerland to redevelop the almost 15 acre property for seven single-family homes and 97 townhomes.

This is not the first time someone was tried to redevelop the land and it’s not the first time the Shuswap and Syilx fought.

It seems that, many years ago, an young Syilx widow was abducted by the Shuswap. When the Syilx tried to rescue her, a skirmish broke out that led to many years of warfare between the two nations.

That’s according to an article in the 77th Report of the Okanagan Historical Society published in 2013. But the conflict between the Shuswap and Syilx is well known from other sources.

READ MORE: How Europeans distorted the true names of Kamloops and the Okanagan

‘The Battle of the Okanagans and Shuswaps: as told by George McGinnes of Ashnola, BC to Howard Graham’ describes one of those battles. This one was on the McIntyre Bluffs soaring 250-300 metres above Vaseux Lake.

“Apparently a raiding party of Shuswaps came south for the purpose of to (sic) massacre as many Okanagans as they could,” the article says. The Okanagans had guards placed on top of McIntyre Bluff and the Shuswaps had seen some fires of the outposts on this bluff earlier.

“Not being familiar with this territory, the Shuswaps encircled these fires and came up from the rear. The Okanagans, seeing this maneuver, let the Shuswaps attack the series of small tents and fires which were made to appear like a large encampment. The Shuswaps’ attack came in the dead of night but in the wrong direction – any that did not fall over the bluff in the darkness were killed.”

Only one old Shuswap man survived, only because he was nearly blind so felt his way carefully to the edge of the cliff, that story goes.

There is no date attached to it but Gregory suspects it was likely about the same time as the Summerland battle.

READ MORE: There’s a Kamloops and Summerland connection to the ‘Cremation of Sam McGee’

That one happened in 1808 and the story was reinforced in 1907 when Harry Bristow (after whom Bristow Road was named) built a house on Banks Crescent.

“The bluff was blocking some of his lake view so he lowered the bluff a little,” Gregory said.

In doing so, Bristow uncovered at least 14 skeletons, artifacts made of jade, flint weapons and some copper knives.

“One of the bodies uncovered was probably a chief because it was sitting upright in a wooden chair overlooking the battle site,” Gregory said.

While the battle took place in the hollow, it was characteristic of First Nations to bury their dead overlooking the site of the event, he said.

Gregory also expects that, if the area is explored more thoroughly, more bones and artifacts will be found.

Fast forward to 2017 when a proposal went to Summerland council to build 415 seniors homes in the hollow, with a mix of condos, independent and assisted living homes.

That triggered huge community pushback with dozens of opponents speaking at the public hearing.

Concerns, at that time, were focused around things like slope stability and the impact the development would have on water quality at the downstream trout hatchery.

The Penticton Indian Band offered its opinion in a Jan. 26, 2017 letter to the Summerland mayor and council arguing, for one thing, that they had not been properly consulted.

“The proposed development falls adjacent to ackthtepus, a culturally important area for the Penticton Indian Band,” the letter from then-Chief Chad Eneas sayid. “Legends and Knowledge depicting specific activities that have occurred within the vicinity of the proposed development indicate that the area is highly significant.

“The proposed development falls within an area of extremely high archaeology potential. Our information indicates that the presence of Syilx burials in the area is possible as are the presence of artifacts, cultural depressions and other archeological and cultural features.”

Gregory argues that letter did not go far enough.

“I would think the letter should have been more forceful saying that these artifacts, these remains, had been found on that site,” he said. “To me, it’s not that there’s a potential they might find something. We found stuff! It’s not as if it’s an unknown thing.”

He pointed out that, under the provincial Heritage Conservation Act, sites older than 1846 are not to be disturbed and he argued that an extensive archeological assessment needs to be conducted.

At this point, that doesn’t seem to be in the works.

Brad Dollevoet, director of development for the District of Summerland, told that he didn't know about artifacts being an issue on that site.

“I’m not aware of that,” he said. “For all of our applications, we check the provincial archeological sites inventory, (Remote Access to Archaeological Data).

“If there are significant archaeological findings that they are not aware of, and we’re not aware of, that Penticton Indian Band might recognize, it’s difficult for us to consider that as part of our application process.”

That doesn’t mean Penticton Indian Band – which did not respond to as of publication time – is out of luck.

“Because it is an Official Community Plan amendment, we will be circulating the application to Penticton Indian Band for their comment,” Dollevoet said.

The seniors housing proposal was rejected by council in 2018.

A new application was filed by the same developer, Lark Enterprises Ltd., for 38 homes in 2019. That failed to go anywhere.

The land was sold for $3.1 million in April 2022.

As for the 14 skeletons found in 1907, half went to the Penticton Museum and half to the Vancouver Museum, Gregory said. He’s been unable to discover where they are now.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 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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