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How Naramata Got Its Name

Naramata was a real estate project by John Moore Robinson, an Englishman from Brighton. The Robinson brothers saw a great opportunity in the UK to appeal to the Gentleman Farmer of the turn-of-the-century. They purchased great tracts of land in the deltas of small creeks and sub-divided them into fruit farms for the well-to-do British upper crust. Thus the towns of Peachland, Summerland, Appledale (Jones Flats) and Naramata were created.

In 1905 Naramata was originally called East Summerland, but the confusion was obvious to all, so Mr. Robinson, now a resident; thought it would be nice to call the place "Brighton Beach" in honor of his family's roots in England.

A photo of NaramataOne fateful night in 1907, Mrs. Gillespie, wife of the postmaster, held a séance. You see, Mrs. Gillespie was one of the most prominent mediums of the American Spiritualistic Church of which there was quite a following in the area. It was common for her to invite the leading families to attend her meetings and there is information that many attended with great regularity.

In a letter from Mr. Robinson, sent in 1931, he writes, "The question of the name Naramata has been identified with claims of spiritualism and I hesitate to explain to you as you will not know what I am talking about unless you too, have spent the past 30 or 40 years trying to investigate the subject."

"I will, however, give you some of the facts as I got them from the denizens of the spirit world and you can decide how much credence to put in them."

"Mrs. Gillespie, during a spiritualistic trance, was entered by the spirit of a great Sioux Indian Chief named Big Moose. Big Moose spoke of his dearly loved wife in the most endearing terms and called her by the name Nar-ra-mat-tah, as she was the 'Smile of Manitou'. I was so struck by this that I decided this was a good name for our Village. We talked of it and it was thought to drop the extra letters and call the town 'Naramata'."

a photo of some familyAuthor Leonard Norris, in his 1935 article "A Strange Phenomenon", writes, "Are we to assume that what happened at Naramata, when this word was brought to their attention, was but the resurrection from the limb of forgotten memories of something previously known, forgotten until it was revived by the excitement and exaltation of the medium? Or, are we to assume that in the silence of that darkened room, something actually happened which staggers the imagination. Who knows?"

Mrs. Maisonville of Naramata wrote in 1948, "I suggest that perhaps Mrs. Gillespie drew the name from an Australian source as her husband was from there. Unconsciously she could have recalled the word Naramata from the aboriginal word for 'place of water'."

Needless to say, Naramata has a favoured existence for those who live in a place so honored as to be named from the "other world". Let's hope that Mrs. Gillespie's bond with the spirits lives on, so we can all be watched over and bask in the "Smile of Manitou".

Excerpts from the Okanagan Historical Society Annual Reports and "The Smile of Manitou" by Don Salting, Skookum Publications, research by Brian Wilson.

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