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A Short History and Description of Osoyoos

In 1967, the Osoyoos Museum Association published a 24-page booklet in response to continued demands from visitors at the Osoyoos Museum for more information about Osoyoos. Mrs. Dorothy Fraser graciously provided a manuscript and transferred all copyright to the Society. The publication is divided into three sections, the first and most important of which is a history of the development of Osoyoos. This text is presented here as published in 1967.

Original Settlement by Native Peoples
by Dorothy Fraser

The name Osoyoos, or more correctly Sooyoos (pronounced Sooyuss), comes from an Okanagan Indian word meaning "the narrows", or "the place where two lakes come together". This describes the ancient crossing place, a natural ford, now bridged by Highway 3, just past the lakeshore park. Here the early peoples caught salmon as these made their way upstream to spawn, and smoked them for winter food. A very old burial ground, too, lies hidden under some of the houses on the rise facing east.

The Okanagans are a subdivision of the Interior Salish. There were once many more of them than there are today, but diseases brought by the white man reduced the population to less than half. They lived entirely in a food-gathering and hunting economy. Their food consisted of various tubers cooked and then sun-dried on tulee mats; berries; fish, especially salmon; deer; mountain sheep; and bear killed with bows and stone-tipped arrows. Animals such as beaver, muskrat and rabbits were trapped. Clothing was made from carefully-tanned and worked deerskin, cut with a stone knife and sewn with a bone needle and thread of sinew.

There are traces up and down the valley of sites of winter camps, and artefacts can still be picked up, ranging from flint arrowheads and stone knife blades to jadeite axe-heads, the so-called "British Columbia jade" having been brought in on the long trade-routes from the Fraser Valley hundreds of years ago. Dentalium shells used in necklaces have been found, and these arrived here, passed from hand to hand, from the west coast of Vancouver Island, where the Nootkas dredged them from the sea.

Today, the Indians, or as they prefer to be called, the native Canadians, live at Inkameep, (pronounced N'Kameep, which can be seen across the northern part of Osoyoos Lake. On these bare acres they raise cattle and have a small lumber industry. An attempt was made in the 1930s by Anthony Walsh, a devoted teacher at Inkameep School, to record and preserve the legends and arts of the past. He also encouraged the children to use their ancient heritage in modern painting. Some of this work is now in the Osoyoos Museum.