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Page last updated July 26, 2021

© Michael Kluckner

Early morning on a late-October day in 2001 with heavy frost still on the lowland pastures but the sunshine already warming the south-facing hillsides. I climbed over a rather tall wire fence and trudged through the thick wet grass to get to this almost unimpeded view of the old Duteau House – my feet dried sometime in the afternoon, which proves you shouldn't wear sandals on an autumn painting trip. According to the Greater Vernon Heritage Resource Inventory (Hobson & Associates, 1986), "this may be the oldest remaining residence in the Greater Vernon Area. If not, it is at least a very rare example of surviving log construction with verifiable historical association."

Written in 2001: I first heard of the Duteau house, aka Lavington Ranch, more than a decade ago. People involved with Okanagan Valley heritage, including Heritage Society of BC director Peter Blundell, talked about an old log building east of Coldstream that was boarded up and in danger of demolition. The photo of the house in the above-mentioned heritage inventory shows it to have already been boarded up in 1986. So when I drove out along Highway 6 through White Valley toward Lavington I was pleasantly surprised to find it still extant. With its two large wall dormers placed symmetrically on the front facade, and its "salt box" shape, it is easily recognizable as a very old, "vernacular" rural building.

Nelson Duteau reputedly visited the White Valley in the 1860s, during the era when Cornelius O'Keefe in Spallumcheen and Tom Ellis in Penticton were assembling their huge cattle ranches, and when Father Pandosy's Okanagan Mission was one of the few spots of European settlement along Okanagan Lake. However, Duteau did not buy his 800 acres here until 1883, and at some point over the next decade built the house (the first confirmed report of its existence was a visit by H.R. Denison to the ranch foreman, Reuben Swift (source, OHS 1949 page 150). Like Barrington Price near Keremeos and Eli Lequime and Mr. Brent in Kelowna, Duteau built the first grist mill in White Valley on a creek near his house, an essential feature of an established farming community (The Brent's Mill site on Mill Creek in Kelowna was slated for some kind of heritage restoration but I'm uncertain of its fate).

Reuben Swift married one of Duteau's daughters, inherited part of the property and later bought out the other family members, but around 1905 he sold the entire ranch to a man named James Buchanan, an investor in Coldstream Ranch. Lavington Ranch – the name now attached to the community just east of here – came from Buchanan's home at Lavington Park, Petworth in Sussex.

The reference to the building being of squared logs is not immediately evident, as the house was sheathed with drop siding, to give it a more contemporary look a century ago.

Does anyone know more about the house's history and, equally important, its future? What about the name of the hill behind? Please get in touch.

Update 2021 from Kiri Adams: I stumbled upon your site while researching the history of Lavington and noticed the comments about the Duteau House being gone. It wasn't torn down by choice. It was destroyed by fire quite a while ago. I'm uncertain of the year but it was within the past twelve years because I remember driving past it while the firefighters tried to save it.

Update 2020: I went by this site a couple of times in 2018 and 2019 on trips through to the Kootenays and realize I didn't see the house. It is gone, as Clint Clay observed in 2013.

From Barry Swift, 2020: My Grandfather was Reuben Swift who owned and lived in the house you have [painted]. I grew up in Vernon (my father was John Geoffrey Swift a son of Reuben) but we moved away in 1957 to West Kelowna ( Westbank ).

From Clint Clay, 2013: I was surprised when I drove by lavington the other day on may way through the kootenays to sandon and kaslo, I noticed the Duteau House was gone! What kind of fool would tear down such a solid structure? The new house is still there. The Duteau House was recently removed and all that was left was a patch of grey dry dirt.

From Karen Morissette, 2012: I am Darlene Ennis' sister Karen Morissette/Swihart. I am currently researching our family history, I was wondering if there was anymore information available since your original publication? We are stumped at how to proceed in finding out my great grandmother's name, since on her marriage license she is listed as 'Indian Woman'. I would be truly grateful for any help you could give me.

Note from Darlene Ennis: For a very long time now, my family has been wanting to research our history on our mother's side. My Mom's name was Wilma Frances Perrault. Her mother Amelia Duteau, was "married" to Nelson Perrault.

My sisters and I found the old house in Lavington last year, while on an exploration trip. It was so strange how we all felt a connection to the old homestead. Now we all know why we are pulled to this area. In fact, my family and I are looking in this area for land to buy and to begin our own homestead.

My Mother is gone now but, her legacy carries on. Her sister who lives in Kamloops, is the only living survivor of this lineage. She holds the key to many mysteries but, she is unwilling to share what she knows. It's a shame that after she is gone, so are all the answers to so many questions.

I just wanted to let you know that there are still many Duteau descendants who are aware of the historical importance of Nelson Duteau and the Duteau/Lavington Ranch. Do you know if the old mill is still at the back of the property? We were unable to gain access to the back of the property because of fences.  That, we would all be interested in viewing. Will the house be relocated or remain on the original plot of land that it was originally built on?

My grandmother was Native Canadian. As stated in the historical documents, she is referred to as an Indian woman. From what I have gathered from my Mom she was "married" 3 or 4 times. The last marriage being to a Nelson Perrault thus my mother's maiden name. Amelia Duteau had roughly 15 children, most of which are accounted for historically. It is a shame that we don't write these things down for future reference. I have a bunch of paperwork here somewhere in regards to the homestead and the first mill in the Lavington valley. That is supposed to be on the back part of the property of which we could not gain access. One day we will make another trip to Lavington and maybe have a chat with the owners of the property. It has been interesting delving into the historical part of out heritage. Pioneers were quite the people.

Update from Ed Perrault, 2010: Amelia Duteau's last marriage to Nelson Perrault resulted in four children according to my information. Nelson was my grandfather. His tenth child by his first marriage to Annie Green (also referred to as an Indian woman) is my father. Nelson and some of his siblings are mentioned in historical data as early settlers in the Kamloops area, specifically around Savona.

Note from Marnie Taylor, 2008: I came across your page while researching the history of the first school house in Lavington, and came across the Duteau House. There are many old ladies I have talked to about this school house (on Dawe Drive) in the area that have told me the property had a teachers cottage on it in 1927 while the second school house was in use. One lady (now 94 years old) was a teacher at the second school house and lived in that cottage in 1938.

Note from Tammy G. 2006: Just thought you might be interested to know there was a lot of activity there this spring. The beautiful old trees at the front were all cut down , leaving it looking rather naked. The boards on the windows were replaced with new ones and a no trespassing sign put up.

Note from Gary Janot, 2006: Thought I'd drop a line to let you know the old place is looking wonderful. When we bought the land 4 or so years ago the land had become pretty rundown and overgrown with weeds. The house had been ransacked by teenagers breaking windows etc....

We have since taken all the plywood off of the windows and rebuilt window frames and glass etc.. with some of the raw wood we preserved from the semi attached garage. The old spruce trees that were out front had to be taken down as they were diseased and for the most part dead. We did not want them falling on the house. We have planted a row of lilacs in front as well as  2 Crimson King Maple trees.

At this point we are living in the new house behind and keeping the oldest structure between Vernon and Lumby standing and intact. It will take upwards of $100,000.00 to bring the old house to a remodelled state. It was last inhabited in 1992. It is unlivable at this point. We use it for storage. We are middle income folks and have been batting around ideas of what we might want to do with the house. Some of which are an antique shop, a teahouse, etc.... Wife is a nature, historian buff and it gives us pride to know we have the oldest strucure in the area and are trying to enhance its road appeal and knowing its history and appreciation from locals has been overwhelming.

You have to realize all the manual labor we have put into this acre. It was uninhabited from 1992 until we aquired it in 2005. The weeds were half the height of the house, dilapidated old outhouses, sheds etc... 

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Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner, 2001, 2002