It’s not exactly the North Pole, but it does have the same magical feel. Say hello to a North Okanagan Winter. I step out of my vehicle into another era. My feet crunch in the snow as I make my way to the entrance of Historic O’Keefe Ranch just north of Vernon. Inhaling the cold, crisp air I can almost feel the breath of the horses off in the distance.
Founded in 1867, O’Keefe Ranch was once one of the largest cattle ranches in British Columbia, spanning over 20,000 acres of prime Okanagan land. From their humble beginnings, the O’Keefe family built up a small settlement consisting of a general store - with the first post office in the Okanagan Valley, a blacksmith shop, St. Anne’s Church built in 1889 (and still a popular wedding location) plus many other necessary ranch buildings. Today, it is a designated BC Heritage Site and an important tourist attraction in the Okanagan Valley. Here you’ll discover some of the oldest remaining structures in the Vernon area, all carefully preserved or restored, each with its own unique and fascinating exhibit. First on my agenda today is a sleigh ride. No reindeer here, but two mighty equines pull the sleigh over the frozen ground. I’m thankful that I have dressed warmly for the ride. When we return to the log buildings, near the mansion and the rustic church, I am drawn to the snap, crackle and warmth of an open fire. Chestnuts are literally roasting and I warm my bones with steaming hot chocolate. Then, the beautiful harmonies of a local school choir singing carols beckon me to the church. The beautiful music is uplifting and though my voice is rusty, I can’t help but join in. After a self-guided, informative tour of the O’Keefe home, I pop in to see Santa. It would not be a “Victorian Christmas” without him. He is here at the mansion, jolly, with rosy cheeks, entertaining the children who have brought letters for him to read. Historic O’Keefe Ranch offers up such a unique experience, I wonder what other winter enchantments exist in the North Okanagan. And just as the thought crosses my mind, Santa winks and whispers, “Close your eyes and make that wish.” I do, and when I open them, I am magically transported to Caravan Farm Theatre northwest of Armstrong.
Caravan Farm Theatre is a professional outdoor theatre company based on an 80 acre farm. Hailed as a national treasure, Caravan Farm Theatre is one of Canada’s premiere professional outdoor theatre companies, and has been entertaining audiences since 1978. There is no theatre building – just the great outdoors. Productions have been staged in nearly every corner of the farm – in a field, in the pines, in the barn or the riding ring. All of Caravan’s show’s are original works that explore political and social issues, and whose settings, characters and language reflect a contemporary rural British Columbian experience. This winter’s production, written by Sean Dixon and directed by Courtenay Dobbie is, “Bedstefader,” (how grandfather finally came in out of the cold). Inspired by the Danish winter-time practice of Hygge: creating a warm indoor atmosphere in the dark months of winter and enjoying the good things in life, Bedstefader is a comedy that will make you want to curl up by the fireside with loved ones and open your heart to those in need. Caravan farm theatre’s winter shows are truly magical. Lights twinkle in the forest, while audiences are whisked from scene to scene on horse-drawn sleighs. Tonight my sleigh is pulled by two Clydesdales, Sonny & Jack. I can see steam coming from the horses’ nostrils and bodies. The seamless transition of the play throughout our journey is compelling and very impressive. Once again, I am thankful to be dressed warmly. Think toque, gloves, scarf, parka, long johns, and even a blanket for this winter experience. At the end of this magical evening, I enjoy sipping mulled wine with other theatre goers. Caravan Farm Theatre is 37 years old, is a registered non-profit association funded provincially and federally, and they also welcome donations.