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Why is Kelowna named after a shaggy, smelly, boozy bachelor?

He was tall, unkept, stinky and liked the liquor.

He was early Kelowna settler August Gillard and his nickname would eventually become the city's name.

The story of how is convoluted and differs on who tells or interprets it.

But generally, it boils down to Gillard teasingly called 'Kila'wna,' the native word for grizzly bear, by local Indigenous peoples and then the word being anglicized to 'Kelowna' to name the townsite in 1905.

</who>Early Kelowna settler August Gillard was nicknamed 'Kila'wna,' which means grizzly bear, by local Indigenous people. The nickname was anglicized to 'Kelowna' when it came time to name the new town in 1905. This photo is courtesy of Kelowna Museums.

"There are definitely a couple of different pieces to this story," said Linda Digby, executive director of Kelowna Museums.

"The most well-known, and the most fun, is the one of August Gillard, a bachelor with a taste for liquor, emerging from a kekuli or pithouse (the semi-subterranean dwelling traditionally used by the Syilx people) after a long winter, cloaked in furs, all smelly after not bathing for months with a shaggy beard, looking just like a brown bear climbing out of hibernation."

Passing Indigenous peoples, who liked to bathe daily and genetically can't grow bushy beards , thought this was hilarious and chanted 'Kila'wna, Kila'wna,' their word for grizzly bear and the disheveled man who resembled one.

</who>Grizzly bears are native to northwestern North America.

"When Indigenous people tease like that they mean it in good spirit," said Coralee Miller, tour guide at the Westbank First Nation's Sncewips Heritage Museum.

"How I heard it, and how I retell it, is that it all started with August Gillard, the tall man who loved to wear furs and had a bushy beard and found his first home in a dilapidated pit home."

By the way, this shabby kekuli was said to be near Mill Creek where the current day Ellis Street Bridge is near Buckland Avenue.

</who>Linda Digby, left, of Kelowna Museums and Coralee Miller of Sncewips Heritage Museum.

This was sometime in the 1890s and after that rough, initial winter Gillard would go on to trim his beard, not wear as many furs, bathe more often and buy a half-section of land that covered most of what is now downtown Kelowna.

When another early settler, Bernard Lequime (yes, the guy downtown's main drag of Bernard Avenue is named after) was laying out a townsite in 1898, he needed the land to do so.

So, Gillard's half-section, essentially the parcel from Okanagan Lake to Richter Street and Mill Creek to Manhattan Point, was purchased.

"The frontrunner for a possible name was New Caledonia (after the historic area now known as Scotland)," said Miller.

"But, I don't think Lequime wanted that, so he suggested Kelowna, something more local, after Gillard and the whole grizzly bear thing."

As such, when the townsite became official in 1905, when the population was 600, it was named Kelowna.

</who>Kelowna's namesake grizzly bear is honoured with two statues in downtown Kelowna. Pictured above, in this photo by Bo Skapski of Bo Knows Home Real Estate, is the stylized sculpture at Stuart Park beside the outdoor skating rink. The other statue is of a mama grizzly and her two cubs in City Park beside the kids' water park.

Early settlers and Indigenous peoples tended to co-exist and get along before Kelowna was officially set up and named.

However, in the early 1900s, the Syilx people were forced from their traditional lands on the east shore of Okanagan Lake to the westside of the lake where Westbank First Nation land is now.

"It depends on how you look at it," said Miller.

"It could be a source of pride that Kelowna is named after our nickname for Gillard and our word for grizzly bear. But, it's also a reminder that we were pushed off the site of Kelowna, where we used to village, and weren't really allowed to come back until the 1960s."

The story of Gillard and Kelowna's name is immortalized at Kelowna Museum with prominent history panels featuring a photo of him with interpretive explanation.

There's no such homage at Sncewips Heritage Museum.

"If people ask about it, or it comes up in the names we have for animals, we'll tell the story," said Miller.

This is the first article in what will become a periodic series of stories exploring Kelowna's history.

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