PATRON SAINT OF THE OKANAGAN
Charles Pandosy, born in Marseilles in 1824, worked as a missionary in the Oregon territory until 1858 when he moved to Vancouver Island, and then to the Okanagan in 1859, where he established the Immaculate conception mission near the present-day site of Kelowna. It was the first non-aboriginal community in the valley. He served all over BC before returning to the Okanagan in 1887, where he did much to stimulate farming and fruit-growing and pioneered the wine industry. He died in 1891.
A missionary who served as an intermediary during the “Indian Wars” in the Oregon Territory, Father Pandosy arrived near what is now Kelowna in 1859, after US troops accused him of conspiring with the Yakima Nation, then burned and looted his mission. Back then he was known as the Bearded Giant – a huge, powerful man with a booming voice, who served as doctor, teacher, lawyer, orator, botanist, musician (he played the French horn), and sports coach. Known to settle arguments with his fists, Pandosy spoke several native languages, and complained to superiors that the indifference of First Nations to Christianity resulted from the un-Christian behavior of the whites. He is a folk hero – the Johnny Appleseed of the Okanagan, who planted the first fruit trees, anticipating one of Canada’s principal fruit growing areas.
Charles Pandosy’s full name was Father Charles John Felex Aldophe Marie Pandosy. He was born in Marseilles, France, to a landholding family headed by a father who was a navy captain. He studied at the Bourbon College of Aries, taking his final vows as an Oblate Juniorate of Lumineres in 1845.
His first assignment, at the age of 23, was as a Catholic missionary in the Oregon Territory on the Pacific West Coast of North America. Traveling across the Atlantic Ocean, a journey that took 8 months, he arrived in New York and continued his voyage overland until he and his group reached Fort Walla Walla (Washington) in October, 1847. They built the St. Rose mission within the month and quickly began their missionary work with the Yakima Indians. He soon was able to speak the Yakima language fluently enough that he created a dictionary of Yakima words to assist others in communication.
The area was plagued by violence and unrest and he soon found himself within the middle of the Cayuse War, a war between the Cayuse people, European/New American settlers, and the United States Government. In the midst of the War, Pandosy was granted a ‘rushed’ ordination into the Oblate Order, the first priest to receive the honour in the area, and assumed the name Father Charles Marie Pandosy.
The Yakima and the United States Government came into conflict in 1859. The decision was made to close the mission and Pandosy again was on the move, this time to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. Ill-prepared for their first winter, at least according to some reports, they ended up starving, scouring the land trying to find water sources and forced into eating their emaciated horses.
Not so the following years, as Pandosy, with the help of other Oblate members settled in a new area—present-day Kelowna—where he established the first permanent white settlement, building a house and a chapel.
Recognizing that the climate was perfect for agricultural endeavors, he planted the areas first apple trees, and encouraged other newcomers to do the same. The trees and gardens he planted flourished. So too did his work as a missionary, as he traveled to various areas in the region baptizing children, performing marriage, officiating over funerals, all the while working with local First Nations groups until his death in 1891.
The site of his Okanagan mission is maintained as a historic site, jointly administrated by the Okanagan Historical Society and the Catholic Church. Visitors can explore the restored buildings and walk the grounds, while learning more about Pandosy and his settlement on Benvoulin Road in Kelowna.