This month, the fundraising campaign for the Okanagan Rail Trail received a major boost that moved the progress to 98% completion. There have been questions and rumours about the family behind the largest single donation to the campaign to build a rail trail from Coldstream to Kelowna.
The answer comes from pioneer roots in Kelowna and Vernon, a legacy of hard work and community building, and a commitment to leave a legacy of recreation for seniors and the general public. The estate of an Okanagan pioneer, who almost one hundred years ago watched the Canadian National Railway being constructed, is now working to complete construction of a pathway that will connect communities from Vernon to Kelowna, and provide multi-generational recreational, health and wellness benefits. THANK YOU, Uncle Harry!
An inspirational donation of 1.45 million is being made by the Edna, Stella and Harry Weatherill Foundation to complete the campaign. Bob, Gary and Gordon Weatherill, executors of Harry Weatherill’s estate, were directed to provide funds for a recreational facility for members of the public and for senior citizens in the Okanagan Valley region of British Columbia. Charged with this responsibly, Harry’s nephews, who had watched the progress of the community based Okanagan Rail Trail campaign, felt that contributing to this amazing legacy would be the perfect answer to their uncle’s request.
“The task of executing Uncle Harry’s last request seemed daunting”, says Bob Weatherill, “and although the concept of a rail trail was interesting, it also seemed very unlikely that the corridor would be purchased, and that funds could be raised to build the trail. We were pleasantly surprised by the project progress, and we were especially impressed by the community support, from the major champions, like George Galbraith, to the Trail Ambassadors, like Laurie Postill.”
Harry was a true Okanagan pioneer, born in Kelowna in 1911 as the eldest of four children. His Kelowna was a very different place from what it is now. The city had a population of 1700 people and Bernard Avenue was a gravel road.
As a child, Harry watched the CN Railway being built. He recalled that the decision of the Canadian National Railway to bring a rail line into Kelowna was one of the major events of the early 1920’s and, now his name is connected to the rail line once again.
Harry’s father was the manager of Dominion Canners in Kelowna and moved his family to Vernon in 1929 to take over the management of Bulman’s Cannery. After graduation, Harry was hired as a junior clerk with the Royal Bank in Kelowna and spent the rest of his career with RBC in various postings across Canada and finishing second in command at the head office in Vancouver.
As the senior lending officer for the Royal Bank for the province of BC, he oversaw loans to many business clients in the interior of BC, particularly in the forest industry and agricultural sectors. Harry spent his retirement in Osooyos where his first wife Edna died in 1982. Harry passed away in 1998 and Harry’s second wife Stella died in 2017.
The contribution by the estate of Harry Weatherill will help conclude fundraising for the first phase of the Okanagan Rail Trail, enabling trail construction, and will also provide additional funding for other projects to enhance the trail experience.
Given Harry’s history of having lived in both Kelowna and Vernon as well as his RBC business dealings in support of the growth of commerce in the Okanagan Valley, this wonderful gift brings the story of the rail to trail full circle.