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Why Summerlanders could have had a half-day off today

Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, founder of Summerland, in 1916.
Image Credit: Submitted/Summerland Museum and Archives

It may have been short lived but there was a time when today, Oct. 18, was a civic half-day holiday in Summerland.

It was called Shaughnessy Day in honor of Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, the president of the CPR railway for 19 years and the founder of the town.

“The CPR was looking for 10,000 acres of fruit growing land in Summerland for the CPR hotels that were just starting to be built up across Canada,” Summerland historian David Gregory told iNFOnews.ca. “In Summerland they could only get about 4,000 acres so the CPR dropped the idea. Shaughnessy said he would take it on personally. A bunch of his millionaire friends said they would invest in it too and buy some orchards and that’s how it started.”

That’s also why there’s a Millionaire’s Row in the Pleasant Valley area of Summerland, acknowledged by the present day Millionaire’s Row Cider Company.

Shaughnessy created the Summerland Development Company in 1903 that was joined by CPR directors, some of the most important men in Canadian history.

That included RB Angus who was the president of the Bank of Montreal and was twice knighted for contributions to Canada, an honour he twice declined.

Another was Sir Herbert Holt who was president of the Royal Bank for 26 years and director of about 300 companies, Gregory said.

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The Kettle Valley Railway, which ran through Summerland, was actually owned by the CPR but, Gregory said, not much mention was made of that ownership because the rail line was not always popular because of its high freight rates.

“The route of the KVR went by almost all of the executives' orchards,” Gregory said, noting about 10 of the CPR executives had orchards in Summerland.

Summerland was incorporated on Dec. 21, 1906 and in 1907 that council declared Oct. 18 as Shaughnessy Day.

From a 2007 Summerland town council meeting declaring the Shaughnessy Day half holiday.
From a 2007 Summerland town council meeting declaring the Shaughnessy Day half holiday.
Image Credit: Facebook/Summerland BC - Hometown Memories, David Gregory

“Each year he would do an annual tour right across Canada checking all the CPR properties and he included Summerland because he was the one who started the town so he would come to Summerland to see how his investment was doing,” Gregory said. “They knew he was coming to Summerland so they created a half day civic holiday.”

The tours were conducted in mid-October each year.

“It was called a white glove tour because he was really finicky about things working efficiently, cleanliness and all this sort of stuff,” Gregory said.

Unfortunately for those who enjoyed civic holidays, it only lasted the one year.

When he returned in 1908, Shaughnessy was treated to a fruit display as the orchards his company had started were finally producing fruit.

The following year, the Summerland Fall Fair was created to coincide with his visit. That fair continues today but is now held in September.

Shaughnessy owned almost all the shares of the Summerland Development Company and ran it from his office in Montreal. JM Robinson, the founder of Naramata, managed the company on site so some Summerland locals think it was Robinson who founded Summerland.

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Shaughnessy did set up the first municipal electrical system in the Okanagan in Summerland, although some ranches had small plants, Gregory said. He also built the road and water systems.

By 1910 Shaughnessy was happy with Summerland’s progress so he sold those utilities to the town.

While Shaughnessy Day was only a once in a lifetime event, Gregory would like to see it restored.

“I think it was good idea,” he said. “We don’t have to have a holiday without work but I think they should have a day when they recognize the founder of our town.”

And, just for the record, the Shaughnessy areas of Vancouver and Montreal were named after him and he had a summer home in St. Andrews by the Sea in New Brunswick.

With deteriorating eyesight, Shaughnessy stepped down as CPR president in 1918 and died on Dec. 10, 1923.

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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