The Renfrew House of Kelowna
Holt, Renfrew and Co. Founder
The Renfrew House by Rand Zacharias
George Richard Renfrew was raised by his aunt and uncle after his father died when George was only three years old. He ultimately became a furrier and later joined in the evolution of what was to become Canada’s famous Holt, Renfrew & Company. In 1886 G. R. Renfrew & Co., as the company was renamed after George’s uncle, John Henderson retired, was appointed “furrier to the Queen of England.” On June 14, 1877, in Quebec City the youngest son of this famed Renfrew was born...his name was Gordon Campbell Renfrew. His older brother, Walter Charles, was born in 1869.
It is likely that Walter and Gordon Renfrew built the home in Kelowna’s suburb, called Okanagan Mission, together. The Renfrew House is now owned by Paul and Tracy Mitchell, who are not related to the clans, Holt or Renfrew. It is reported that the home was a copy of the original Renfrew family farm home in Ontario, which makes it likely that each brother had a part in its construction. The Renfrews do seem to have a history of working as a family.
The home is quite large and boasts oak hardwood floors on the main floor with warm, colourful fir flooring on the 2nd and 3rd storeys. Teak paneling (Tracy Mitchell reports may not be original) and fir mouldings adorn the home which still sports original leaded glass doors in the dining room. It is believed the dining room is detailed with cherry wood. The original windows still illuminate the home’s interior. Two bedrooms were finished by the Horne family, previous owners to the Swikert family who owned the home before the Mitchells.
“The moment we walked in it just felt like home,” states Tracy. They purchased the Renfrew House in 1989 when their children were ages 8, 6 and 5. “This is where we raised our family and we started to restore our new, but older, home," she concludes.
A former owner of the Horne family records in a letter that the house, built originally in 1913, “is a very traditional design and despite its size is extremely easy to care for.” The total living space is 4000 square feet.
Paul Mitchell is a lawyer here in Kelowna while Tracy has spearheaded much of the restoration activities. “We started with the landscaping of the property because of the development that was going on around us,” says Tracy. “We’ve tried to restore mouldings, fixtures, pedestal sinks and even the original glass windows, thereby matching the original design of the home. For example, we put in a path using bricks from a foundry that could match the exterior masonry.”
Tracy continues with a slight chuckle, “When I heard the restoration of an original storm window was going to cost $80 an hour I decided it was time to go to work sanding, puttying with glaze and replacing necessary glass, then painting on my own. I must have gone through this process with 25 storm windows.”
The Mitchells recently received The Continued Preservation of a Heritage Building Award from the Central Okanagan Heritage Society (COHS). So it would appear that all of their hard work has paid off even though The Renfrew House was put on the registered list of heritage buildings several years ago. Its exterior can be viewed at 504 Keith Road.
One final historical note, Gordon Renfrew only lived in the home for 9 years as he accidentally drowned in 1922 a few weeks shy of his 45th birthday. His widow, Gertrude Constance Piddington Renfrew lived to the see 91 years passing away in 1967. Walter came up three years short of seeing the century mark in 1966. It is unknown how long the Renfrews occupied the house. However, they may all rest peacefully knowing that the home they built is being restored room by room and preserved with loving care. The trio may have been born in Quebec City, but they pioneered West, lived and died. It seems appropriate that their personal memorial markers stand at the Kelowna Memorial Park Cemetery.