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Haynes House was big part of George Fraser’s memories
As a child, growing up in Osoyoos’ most famous residence didn’t mean much to George Fraser.
As a teacher, historian and proud lifelong member of this community, it sure means a lot to him after finding out last week that the property commonly called “Haynes House” was being torn down.
“Looking back, this place was a big part of my life and it certainly played a big role in the history of Osoyoos,” said Fraser during a lengthy interview at his home late last week. “I was the third generation in my family to have lived there for an extended period of time and most families can’t say that.
“You lose a bit of your identity as a community when historic buildings like this are torn down, but I realize the building was old and run down and there’s not much the new owners could do with it.”
Fraser said he was very pleased to learn the new owners – who have not yet been publicly identified – have generously agreed to turn over numerous artifacts from the building to the Osoyoos Museum.
“I’m really grateful for that,” he said. “I’m sure the good peo
ple at the Osoyoos Museum will take good care of what’s turned over to them and will make sure the history of the place is made available for visitors.”
Fraser was age 10 when his parents Douglas and Dorothy moved into Haynes House. His grandfather George Sr. had leased the home and property in 1917 and bought it outright three years later.
Judge John Carmichael Haynes started building the two-storey, 10-room home back in 1878. It took four years to build the 1,900-square-foot home.
Haynes died in 1888 and the property was taken over by a gentleman named Tom Ellis in 1895, said Fraser, a career teacher who arguably possesses the most knowledge about the history of Osoyoos than any living person.
In 1906, Leslie Hill bought 1,100 acres, including the Haynes House, and planted 30 acres of peaches, cherries, pears, plums, apricots and apples and this became the first commercial orchard in the Osoyoos area.
In 1917, his grandfather, G.J. Fraser, leased the Leslie Hill Estate after the death of Hill in 1916, said Fraser.
In 1919, his grandfather purchased the property after his initial three-year lease expired and subdivided the land to officially form Osoyoos Orchards Limited.
In 1945, his grandfather retired and moved out and his parents moved in.
Growing up in the largest and most prestigious home and property in town wasn’t any big deal when you’re a 10-year-old boy, Fraser recalled.
“I just remember it being an ordinary farmhouse house that was bigger than most, but that really doesn’t mean a lot to a 10 year old,” he said. “I also remember there being a lot of places to run and play and have fun with your friends.
“It wasn’t until much later that I began recognizing the important historical significance of the place and its rich history in the life of our little town here in Osoyoos.”
Growing up in Osoyoos was magical as the spring, summer and fall were filled with beautiful weather and the winters brought cold weather, freezing lakes and plenty of outdoor hockey and adventure, said Fraser.
“The more I think about it, the more idyllic it was as a kid,” he said. “We could do pretty much anything we wanted and I don’t mean that in a bad way because as kids back then, it wasn’t about getting into trouble, but just being able to enjoy ourselves without fear of anything or anyone day after day.
“You have to remember, Osoyoos didn’t have any hotels or motels back then. There was the lake and sand dunes and sagebrush everywhere. What an amazing playground to grow up on.”
As a child, there was no highway between Osoyoos and Oliver and it took his father many hours to commute there to attend high school and he would have to stay with a family in Oliver before returning home on the weekend. By the time he attended high school, there was a highway and he took the bus back and forth between Grade 7 and Grade 12.
“I don’t know how my Dad did it,” he said.
His father became one of the first Osoyoos residents to attend the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He received a teaching degree and taught in several small towns before returning to Osoyoos and deciding to quit teaching to become an orchardist, he said.
Fraser left Osoyoos to also attend UBC in 1959 and also became a teacher. His first teaching job was in Midway and he taught there for a brief period before returning to teach in Osoyoos and Oliver for many years until his retirement.
He’s also owned and operated his own orchard in Osoyoos for many years.
Getting to grow up in Osoyoos in Haynes House and spending almost his entire teaching career in his hometown makes him one very lucky man, he said.
“I do believe I’ve lived an absolutely ideal life,” he said. “I taught for many years, which I loved, and then I farmed. I never got tired or bored during all those years.”
After his parents died, Fraser said he and his wife tried to purchase the Haynes House and property, but simply couldn’t afford it.
They also contacted community leaders to inquire if they might be interested in converting the property into a heritage museum, but that would have meant getting approval from the Agricultural Land Commission to remove the property from the Agricultural Land Reserve and that never happened.
“In an ideal world, the local residents would have gotten together to try and preserve the place, but I can honestly say I didn’t get a single call about the community rallying to save it, so I didn’t have any options left … and we had to sell,” he said.
Fraser and his wife sold the house and property to the Mitchell family in the 1990s and the Mitchell family just recently sold it to the new owners.
The town has installed an interpretive sign along the Lakeshore Drive walkway detailing the long history of Haynes House in Osoyoos.
Fraser said he only found out about his former home being demolished in the middle of last week.
“It certainly brought back a flood of memories,” he said. “I was very blessed to have grown up there and I’m proud of the long history our family had with the Haynes property.
“When you lose a part of your history like this, you lose a bit of your identity as a town. But thankfully we have a museum that will be able to keep a part of that history for future generations to enjoy.”