The Laurel Packinghouse will reopen to the public this Saturday. This is great news for Kelowna for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s November and people are once again eyeing our museums with renewed interest as the weather turns a little cooler, and as we tend to get a little more introspective and receptive to the past this season. Then there’s the importance of the orchard industry to our city, and now we can really get the benefit of seeing this icon of the fruit industry, back in her former glory.
It may seem like ages since you were last able to set foot in the Laurel Packinghouse before the building underwent renovations. But in the lifespan of the Laurel, these few months are just a catnap, from which she re-awakes now to find herself back to her former glory. The Laurel was built in 1917/18 as a fruit packinghouse (with bricks made from Knox Mountain clay) during the heyday of Kelowna’s reign as a primary fruit exporting area in Canada. At the time, dozens people were employed at the Laurel, sorting, managing, and packing fruit. Once the snappy fruit boxes were labeled with those wholesomely designed marketing prints, the fruit was packed onto a train which was stationed right outside the Laurel on its south side, and sent to the coast for export to places like Eastern Canada, Great Britain, and the United States, among other places. It operated as a packinghouse into the 1970s. It has been a museum since 1989.
One of the aspects of the Laurel which I’m most looking forward to seeing again is, strangely enough, its floor. In the old building, I was always impressed by those 3×10 floorboards on which generations of people walked, dropped apples, crushed apples underfoot, and generally went about their packinghouse business. It struck me that the distinct and pleasant smell in the Laurel was probably created by those floorboards being permeated with apple flesh.
This Saturday, the Laurel will be open for you and me to see. It is sure to be a real treat, and a glimpse back at the stories and workings of a great packinghouse and slice of Kelowna history. You just can’t ask for a better history lesson than getting to see its sites first-hand, especially when they’re as visually intriguing as the Laurel. So let’s put a visit to the newly re-opened heritage packinghouse on our calendar for this coming month. Let its renewed architecture enrich us.