History of the South Okanagan Sportsmen's Association

by John and Eleanor Coulthard

June 30, 2004

I remember and the only survivor of the meeting called to organize a sportsmen's club in Oliver over 60 years ago, I feel motivated to record some of the club's early history.

As an outdoors man and an enthusiastic hunter and fisherman, I became interested and involved in the Southern Okanagan Sportsmen's Association both from the recreational aspect and as a valuable source of food for the family in the early days.

When I came to Oliver in 1926 several of us with similar interests at heart had casual and informal meetings to discuss fishing and hunting interests, recommended bag limits, lake stocking and related interests.

The area was teeming with pheasant and quail.

There were many fences and irrigation ditches lined with sweet clover and miscellaneous cover, creating perfect habitat for the birds. Hawks and owls took a heavy tool of the birds as did the snow and cold winters some years.

As orchard management practices changed it was fatal for the bird life. Cover crop mowing destroyed their nests, fences disappeared and sprinkler irrigation eliminated irrigation ditches. Chemical sprays such as DDT and Parathion also took a heavy toll. The first informal meeting of the Oliver Sportsmen was known as the Oliver Fish and Game Club. Douglas Smithers, owner of the Ford dealership in Oliver arranged for several of us with mutual interests to meet once or twice a year. Our meetings were held in the parlor of the Oliver Hotel, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Tom Hall - this was the centre of social life in Oliver at that time. The usual attendance at our meetings consisted of Doug Smithers, Dave Evans, Hugh Allen and I. Fishing and hunting at that time was under the authority of the Game Commission (Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Butler).

In 1942 a meeting was arranged to finally organize a sportsmen's association.

George Stuart, a local business man and ardent fisherman took an interest in organizing the first meetings. George Stuart and Dave Evans spent their spare time fishing at Bear and Madden Lakes. The lakes had been stocked under the influence of Dr. George Kearney, Oliver's first doctor, also a keen fisherman. Four and five-pound trout were often caught.

This organization meeting was held at the Elks hall, about 30 people in attendance. George Stuart chaired the meeting. Present were Jim Cunningham representing the Game Commission; Adam Monks, district game warden; Robert McDonald of the B.C. Provincial Police; Avery King and Mark Hugo from Penticton, and two men from the state of Washington. The first item on the agenda was choosing a club name - Southern Okanagan Sportsmen's Association was decided unanimously!

Our first president elected was Jim Finch, manager of the Oliver Co-op packing house. Jim served for one year and was succeeded by Abe Braun, local taxidermist. For the following two years, Jack Coates (narrator of these notes), served.

Our meetings were held in the "dugout" of the Legion hall. At one meeting, a young fellow who had recently moved to Oliver from Victoria made himself known as a sportsman. This was Bill Kreller who was elected for the following two years.

During my term as president we had our first turkey shoots which were popular and have since been financially successful. We also built the present trap range. My friend, Arly Gayton, a practical surveyor, laid out the ground and Jack Knodel, a stone mason, supervised the concrete work. Farm equipment was volunteered, as was much labor volunteered by club members.

A major accomplishment of the club was the purchase of the Sportsmen's Bowl, a suitable and relatively safe area for trap and rifle shooting.

A suitable clubhouse built in 1956 is now a credit to the energy and success of the club. Credit must be given to the members and the officers who have managed the SOSA over the years.

An ongoing project of the club has been the health and protection of the California Bighorn sheep.