The following letter documents the history of the founding of a church school. Unnamed at first it was later known as Kelowna Intermediate School, then Rutland Elementary School, then Rutland Junior Academy, then Okanagan Academy. Today it is known as Okanagan Adventist Academy.
The letter was written by Mrs. Robert Clayton and discovered in the desk of former Okanagan Academy principal, A. W. Matheson. Pastor Matheson’s daughter, Margie, gave it to Beth Versteegh Odiyar who passed it along to the editor of “Our Story”. The format and spelling are Mrs. Clayton’s.
"Dear brother Bieber.
In one of the Oct. Messengers I read what you said of the Rutland church and how bro. Lawson was the founder of it, so as I happened to be one of the first to send my adopted boy to the very first year of the school, I thought I would give you a bit of its history.
If any honour is due to anyone for starting that school it should go to bro. Robert Hardy and bro. W. T. Rogers who would not consider sending their children to the public school so I will start from the biginning.
In 1915 or 16 I joined the S.D.A. Church. At that time brother Tom Barber, Sister Lock and bro and sister Reid were the only ones and all new beleavers. Brother Walker, who was conference president left bro. & sister Belchamber to instruct us further; the year after bro & sister Hardy moved to Kelowna; the next year bro. Hardy and bro. T. Barber rented a farm in East Kelowna and they hired bro. T W. T. Rogers for loging consequently as there were no school near they decided to send for bro. Robert Clayton who is now my husband, to teace their children at home and work in the bush in and between school ours. Of course they knew bro. Clayton was not quolified teacher but as he had 10 and in some topics 12 grade he could easily teach the children as the highest grade in the two families would not be very high (3rd grade). In the meantime bro. Dobs and family moved around Rutland and also another family by the name of Winnham who are now in the States. So we all wanted a church school. Somehow through bro. Hardy who knew bro. Lawson who use to board boys and girls for the Grandview church asked if bro Lawson would try and board and get more children, so we would not have as heavy expenses. To this bro. Lawson said yes and we then started to locate and see what we could do about a place. Brother Lawson went out North selling books while his mother came to Kelowna and stayed with me. We, that is bro. Hardy and brother Barber found an old hotel at Benvoulin which was for rent but in very poor repairs. So we got material and brother Hardy and I fixed or repaired the foundation. Many hours poor bro. Hardy spend under the building diging and hammering while I would pas to him tools and the material he needed. And so the school was ready but we had no teacher, the Conference was going to send sister Degering but she took sick with the Flu, my husband was asked to teach till she got better at $45.00 per month, but sister Degering had a relaps and my husband was asked to keep on teaching that year. We none of us were so wealthy so we asked him would be teach for $35.00 per month and he stayed on. The school was called the Benvoulin school and in that school was the Rutland church organized by bro. Gilbert and bro. T. S. Bowett. I was one of the nucleus of the church. We then bought the 10 acres where the Rutland church now stands and built the preasant school with lumber of an old catholic church that was in Benvoulin, and lumber that bro. T. Barber bought at a town which was a mining town but was abadoned for lack of minerals. [fall of 1920 is written in the margin] So he furnished windows and doors as well as other material. Bro. Barber was our banker. He was always liberal and gave unstintingly towards God’s work. He never saw us stuck for anything he could do.
I am sending you a few snapshots to give you an idea. The group is the first teacher, and scholars. Some time if you are around I will show you others. Please send these back as I doubt if there are others the same.
So you see what a history that school has many are the stories I could tell you of the struggles we had but thank God He carried us through.
Well, brother, I must close now with best wishes to you and sister Bieber and family.
Yours in Christ Jesus
Mrs. Robert Clayton"
From E. A. Edstrom’s article in 1968 Messenger outlining the History or the Rutland Seventh-day Adventist Church but referring to the origin and construction of Okanagan Academy:
“...Preceding 1919 and 1920, Sabbath School and church services were conducted in the building called The Benvoulin Hotel. This building was located at the corner of Benvoulin and Byrns roads. In the early days of this part of the Okanagan, the traffic route passed through the Benvoulin district and on to Okanagan Mission. But when the townsite of Kelowna was established near the Okanagan Lake, together with road changes, et cetera, the Hotel was no longer used and remained vacant. Our believers who lived in these parts used the building as a church school and church. We have no date available as to the beginning of this use. Brother Lawson taught the church school. The old hotel was torn down more than twenty years ago. The property owner on which the building stood is now Mrs. E. Casorso.
Beginning with 1919 it was decided that the believers should be organized as a church. The organization took place of March 27, 1919...The name—Kelowna Seventh-day Adventist Church was adopted. The local elder chosen was J. E. Bellis...It was decided to put up a building for the church school that could also be used for church services, so an old Catholic church building at Okanagan Mission was purchased, torn down and the material used in the construction of the school building. Brother Godthard [Gothard] Johnson, who is with us today, was the man who hauled the first load of lumber on a Model T Ford truck...Brother and Sister Johnson...were members of the first organization. The balance of the material was hauled by wagon and horses...The building erected is the south half of the Academy building across the way.” (at the corner of Hwy. 33 and Gerstmar Road. It was burned down, as was the church, by persons unknown.)
“The walls of the bottom story were of concrete, while the upper story was of lumber. The size of the building was 25 x 30 [feet] – two story. The roof was of pagoda style! School was conducted in the lower classrooms while church services were held in the upper room. During 1945 and ‘46 the size of the building was increased to twice its size and the roof and walls and exteriors were altered to the present appearance.”
Quoting from Malcolm. Graham’s book, The Lord is Our Strength” in turn quoting from J. Ernest Monteith’s 1983 book entitled “The Lord is My Shepherd”:
“Okanagan Adventist Academy was the first full grade 12 Adventist Academy to begin to serve our church in BC. When Mondeith completed his research about 1965, Okanagan Academy was the only Adventist Senior Academy operating in BC. “ Monteith’s report follows (Monteith, pages 215, 216)
‘The Okanagan Academy at Rutland is the second oldest SDA day academy in Canada. It was not the first school to be opened by Adventists in the Okanagan—there had been earlier ones at Reiswig and at Grandview. It began as a family school conducted at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Clayton with Robert Clayton as the teacher. After a year, James Lawson purchased the Benvoulin Hotel, four miles from Kelowna. With the assistance of the brethren, this old stopping place for stage coaches traveling up-and-down the valley was converted into a boarding school. The hotel rooms became living quarters for students and the old hotel parlour became the classroom. Robert Clayton continued as the teacher in 1918, assisted in the firstpart of the year by Mrs. James Lawson and during the remainder of the year by Charles Bartlett. In 1919, Miss Eva White, a native of the Cumberland church, took over the school. There were 13 students and six grades.
Miss White spent only one year at Benvoulin and returned to school at Lacombe, Alberta. Herplace was taken by Cecil Mayor, a graduate of Battleford Academy. During his year of teaching, the church purchased ten acres at Rutland for the sum of $300. Sufficient used lumber was purchased from the priest of a local Roman Catholic church to construct a duel-purpose building —the lower floor serving as school and the upper as church. In 1920, Miss White returned to the Okanagan to teach in this new building, but not as Miss White. She came as the bride of Claude Casey who took over the principalship of the school. Together they remained at Rutland for four years.
During the second year of Mr. Casey’s administration, the school added grade nine. During the last two years, grades 9 and 10 were both taught by four full-time teachers: the Casey’s, Miss Emma Johnson, and Arthur Stickle. Mrs. Andrews” [M.E. Annie Andrews] “conducted the music program. The enrollment for the year 1921-22, as furnished in the Conference President’s report, was 60. After the departure of the Casey’s, the school soon reverted to an elementary school with only one teacher. Enrollment for 1928-29 was 18; for 1933-34, 20. Grade nine was attempted again in 1934-35 by Audrey Taylor, then by E. Edstrom four years later (1938-39). Under Melvin Erickson, the school was upgraded to a full grade 12 program (1944-45).
For many years, the building erected in 1920-21 served both as church and school. In 1935 it became apparent that a separate church building must be erected. It took seven years to realize this objective, but finally in 1942 a new church was dedicated. The original structure was then devoted solely to educational pursuits. Although a new classroom was then made available (1944), a year later it became obvious that a further addition was required. Soon afterwards, this need was realized. A quonset-type auditorium was later erected (1952).
This institution, like so many of our schools, has had its name changed several times. In 1926, its principal, J. A. Johnson, spoke of it as the Kelowna Intermediate School. Twelve years later it was known as Rutland Jr. Academy and in 1945 it had become Rutland Academy. It was later known as Okanagan Academy before adopting the present name of Okanagan Adventist Academy.
Of the many teachers who have taught at the Okanagan Academy, two are especially remembered. First there is Mrs. Walter Warner whose family became Adventists in Scotland through the labours of a convert of Abram La Rue and who was herself a former missionary to Kenya. Mrs. Warner gave nineteen years of her life to the school, first as assistant to Audrey Taylor in 1935-36, and from 1943 until she moved to Lacombe to join the faculty of Canadian Union College in 1961. (Mrs. Warner taught her students to pucker their lips just right ‘afin qu’ils peuvent prononcer correctement la langue francaise’.”
The second is Emil A. Edstrom, whose association with the education work in Western Canada goes back to 1919 when he was appointed accountant and commercial teacher of the old Battleford Academy. He remained at Battleford until the academy closed (1932). From there he moved to Lacombe where he became business and farm manager—a position he held for 5 ½ years. From 1946 to 1956 he was associated with Okanagan Academy as commercial teacher, treasurer and business manager.
The believers at Rutland have watched with interest the careers of their former principals. Claude Casey became an assistant librarian at PUC; Theo Weis, the librarian at Columbia Union College; Carl Lindgren, administrator of the Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol, California; Ed Edstrom, after two years of teaching at Oshawa Missionary College and several years in Africa, joined the staff of the academy at Walla Walla College; Melvin Erickson became treasurer of the Ontario-Quebec Conference; Roy Bowett and George Graham joined the faculty at Canadian Union College; A. W. Matheson accepted a mission appointment in India.”