Mount Kobau has a long and storied past in this part of the South Okanagan

By on December 4, 2013
Skiers (from left) Alf Grundig, Wilf Thebes and Art Gruhl are shown at the summit of Mt. Kobau, c. 1940. (Osoyoos Museum Archives)

Skiers (from left) Alf Grundig, Wilf Thebes and Art Gruhl are shown at the summit of Mt. Kobau, c. 1940. (Osoyoos Museum Archives)

People often ask about Kobau, the name of the large flat-topped mountain west of Osoyoos and north of Richter Pass.

We know that the name was first applied to a map made in 1877 by Dr. George Dawson, the famous Canadian geologist who passed through Osoyoos in that year and described the valley.

But Dawson left no clue about the meaning of the name.

The Syilx people have long referred to Kobau as Txasqin, or “Nice Top.”

The mountain was a favourite hunting and harvesting ground.

There is the possibility that the name Kobau has a German derivation.

Pioneer Theodore Kruger, who came to Osoyoos from Hanover, surely met Dawson and may have suggested the name “kobold” which Dawson corrupted to Kobau.

The kobold is a race of goblins in German mythology, some who supposedly live in mines or caves.

But we have not found any reference to this connection by Dawson.

In more recent years, the name Kobau has been applied to a geological formation in the region but that does not explain the unusual name.

So much for speculation about the origin of the name.

The mountain gained fame for its possible use for science.

Mount Kobau was to be the location of a large astronomical observatory. The search for a site initiated in 1962 by the Dominion Astrophysical observatories in Ottawa and Victoria.

They first looked at the Bridesville area. The proposed telescope was to cost $15 to $17 million and staffed by 125 personnel.

In October of 1964 Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson officially announced that the telescope would be located on Mt. Kobau. The cost would be $10 million.

The 150-inch (381 cm) optical telescope would be the second largest in the world and was to be named the Queen Elizabeth II Observatory, in honour of her majesty’s recent visit to Canada.

The telescope would be used for physical studies of the moon and planets, the studies of galaxies, the origin and evolution of stars, and the structure and dynamics of the Milky Way.

There would also be provisions for sight-seeing tours.

The location was considered ideal for an observatory – high enough above local dust and disturbed air and away from industry and large population centres. Low rainfall and clear skies were essential. Mt. Kobau, at 1,873 metres (6,145 feet) elevation, fit the bill.

The road to the summit of Kobau was completed in summer 1966. The lens for the telescope was made on the east coast and transported west to be polished at the University of B.C.

But rising costs and design changes contributed to delays.

By 1967 the cost had risen to $15 million and in September 1968 a government announcement was made that the plans would be abandoned.

Efforts to move the project ahead were made by a consortium of six Western universities in 1969 but raising even $10 million proved too great.

Kobau is still a focal point for people interested in nature and astronomy.

Star-gazing parties are popular on the mountain every summer.


Osoyoos Times

This article was provided by Ken Favrholdt, who is the Executive Director/Curator of the Osoyoos & District Museum and Archives


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