Many of this column’s weekly local history articles are birthed in the pages of our local newspaper.
Local miner Harry Mills’ detailed 1939 obituary provided impetus to research and write about the life of this interesting character.
There is an unusual twist to his life, to be revealed in next week’s article.
Mills’ obituary appeared on page two of the March 30, 1939, edition of The Kelowna Courier.
Under the heading “Well-Known Character Who has Lived up Mission Creek Forty Years Passes Away in Kelowna,” is an account of his long and interesting life:
Death on Wednesday morning took one of Kelowna’s most colorful old-timers in the person of Harry Mills, well-known miner and prospector, as he proudly called himself.
Apart from periodical visits to town, he had lived his lonely life in his cabin up Mission Creek for almost 40 years.
This winter he had taken a room in town, as advancing years – he was nearly eighty – had made it difficult for him to carry on during the severe weather in the wild place where he had made his home.
About three weeks ago, while splitting kindling for his fire, he suffered a stroke which took away his speech and almost all power of movement.
He was removed to the Kelowna General Hospital, but never really regained his faculties and continued in a semi-conscious state, until his death yesterday morning.
Varied and Romantic
“Harry Mills’ career was a varied and romantic one, and would make an interesting book if all his adventures could be told; he ran away from home in Lancashire, England, as a boy and enlisted in a regiment bound for India.
He served for several years in India with the Prince of Wales Yorkshire regiment.
On getting his discharge he went with an uncle, who was captain of a sailing ship, to South America and eventually drifted into Mexico, where his career as a miner and prospector commenced.
He is supposed to have made a considerable stake in a gold mine, but with his light-hearted abandon, he “blew” it all in a short time.
From [Mexico] he went to Montana and Salt Lake City, where the Mormon temple was being built.
Then he travelled to Lethbridge, where he worked in the coal mines and later in the Nicola Valley.
From the Nicola he came over the hills into the Okanagan and established himself as a prospector about the turn of the century.
Harry was well-known to most of the old-timers throughout the Valley and many are the stories they have to tell of his escapades in days gone by.
It would require the sympathetic pen of a Bret Harte [the American short-story writer and poet who wrote about the gamblers, miners, and other figures of the American west], however, to do full justice to his character.
Generous To Fault
Gay and irrepressible and generous to a fault, his child-like nature got him into scrapes – and got him out again.
With all his faults, no one could ever accuse Harry Mills of doing a mean thing. Down to his last crust [of bread], many a time, he was always ready to share what he had with someone less fortunate.
Indeed, even recently when the old age pension gave him barely enough to exist on, it was often difficult to prevent him from emptying his pockets in response to some hard-luck story, especially if the [story] teller claimed to be from Lancashire.
He would buy gifts for children and strange gifts they were, sometimes.
It was characteristic of Harry Mills in days gone by when he had been in town [Kelowna] for a day, and had become “warmed up,” so to speak, that he would pay a visit to the late Archdeacon [Thomas] Greene, for whom he had a great affection, and to render a solemn promise that when he “sold his mine”, he would place a steeple on the Anglican church [St. Michael & All Angels].
He had many other schemes in view when that happy day arrived and in which he fervently believed, with the true faith of all prospectors.
Nearly all his plans were to help someone else.”
Harry Mills’ body was laid to rest, in row No. 21A, plot No. 41 on March 31, 1939, in what is now the Kelowna Pioneer Cemetery.
Although his grave is clearly marked, you will not find Harry Mills’ granite gravestone — which will be explained in next week’s article.
As recorded in his obituary, Mills had a busy and interesting life prior to arriving in the Okanagan Valley at the turn of the 20th century.
The 1901 Canada Census (Yale-Cariboo) records Harry Mills as being single, 40 years old, born in England on Dec. 25, 1860 .
The census also reveals Mills, working as a miner, came to Canada in 1887.
Other documents provide the name of his mineral claim – “Fifty-cent.”
In the July 29, 1909, edition of the Orchard City Record newspaper, an article about the Joe Rich district makes mention of Mills: “A side trip was made up into Joe Rich canyon, and here is some of the best black soil we have yet seen.
A particular fine catch of alfalfa was seen, also an excellent piece of clover.
We shook hands with old Harry Mills, the miner, and we have promised ourselves a trip up to his copper mines in the near future.
Harry is one of the old-timers, and is full of faith in the country...”
On Feb. 10, 1916, Mills and John Leathley filed their pre-emption certificate for 320 acres on the “North Fork [of] Mission Creek...Commencing at a post about 100 feet West of the N.E. corner of Lot 1306.”
While mining locally, Mills made a most interesting discovery, as reported by Max H. Ruhmann’s article on page 94 of The Sixth Report (1935) of the Okanagan Historical Society: In June, 1919, Mr. Harry Mills, while prospecting on Mission Creek, twelve miles from Kelowna, discovered some large bones in deposits of the late Pleistocene Period on bedrock twelve feet below the surface of the soil.
The bones, seven in number, consisted of two cannon bones (united metapodials), two tibia (hind leg), one humerus and two ulna.
Besides these seven bones a considerable quantity of broken fragments were found. According to an affidavit signed by Mr. Harry Mills, the bones were covered by five strata consisting of: (1) Blue clay; (2) coarse gravel; (3) yellow clay; (4) fine gravel; (5) sandy loam....Dr. M.Y. Williams, paleontologist of the University of British Columbia, determined their period as the Pleistocene.
The bones were identified as the limb bones of a species of bison by Dr. D.W. Mathews, curator in chief of the American Museum of Natural History, New York City.
These findings were brought to the attention of Dr. Rudolph Anderson, mammologist of the Canadian Biological Survey, who states that this interesting find will probably extend the known range of the bison.
Mills might best be described as a “character.”
In his early forties when he came to the Central Okanagan, he spent more than four decades here, living in isolation as he sought the elusive golden ore.
Harry’s trips to town were very eventful, as he looked for human companionship and the opportunity to show his generosity.
When Mills died in 1939, Kelowna lost one of its most colourful residents.
But there is more to Mills’ story, as will be revealed next week.
This article is part of a series, submitted by the Kelowna Branch, Okanagan Historical Society. Additional information is always welcome at P.O Box 22105 Capri P.O., Kelowna, BC, V1Y 9N9.