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At nearly 100 years old, this Kelowna, B.C., barn has been transformed into a social hub by 2 friends

Two longtime friends in Kelowna, B.C., have found success transforming a heritage building in the Southern Interior city into a social hub that brings local residents together and celebrates its past, while a historian says the project is a good example of adaptive reuse of a heritage site.

On Friday, teacher Gary Brucker and physician Tim Kramer unveiled a new coffeehouse, called Milk Shed, housed in historic Surtees dairy barn, a city-designated heritage building, where they opened Barn Owl Brewing in 2019.

Brucker said the coffeehouse is named after its past status as the cow milking corner of the barn and the new addition to Surtees aligns with the brew pub.

“They’re not twins, but they’re cousins — and there will be a deep connection to the past,” he said.

Kramer, a Mission resident for more than three decades, says when the city announced its plan to redevelop Surtees Barn as commercial premises in 2016, he thought it would be a good idea to combine his passion for beers with heritage preservation.

Former property of an English aristocrat

The barn and the single family home nearby, Surtees House, are located in Kelowna’s Mission neighbourhood, about eight kilometres south of downtown, and are named after English aristocrat Allen Surtees.

According to the City of Kelowna, before Surtees bought the house in 1919 and built the barn in 1927, the house served as a brothel for Kettle Valley Railway workers.

A single family home, occupied by a beauty salon, stands near a barn house.
Surtees House, once a brothel during the 1910s, is now a beauty salon. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

Okanagan historian Wayne Wilson says Surtees Barn was one of the most remarkable farm buildings in the Mission area in the early 20th century.

The two-storey gambrel rafted architecture had a large loft for storing hay and hosting social events, while the ground floor stored state-of-the-art cow milking machines.

The property changed hands to another family during the Second World War, but Surtees’s son, John Surtees, bought it back in the ’60s and repurposed the barn as an artists’ studio. His wife, Ursula Surtees, hosted learning activities for school children at the barn during the ’80s.

The property fell into disrepair after its sale to the city in 1993.

‘Historical thing’

Kramer says he tried to recreate how the barn would have looked in the 1920s by making amenities with old lumber left over in the loft, and reusing vintage furniture brought in from elsewhere.

“Everything we’ve done here is a historical thing,” he said.

Brucker says by using chandeliers, old lamps and antique sofas, he aimed to make the loft look like a living room where people of all ages feel welcome.

“We have live music twice a week here…families will gather and play games here — it’s really a community-oriented gathering place that happens to brew beer,” he said.

Brucker adds that the taproom on the barn’s ground floor has been designed in a way where visitors feel like they’re in an antique kitchen. 

Wilson, a former Kelowna Museum curator who helped organize school programs at the barn with Ursula Surtees for years, says the pub owners set a good example of adaptive reuse of a heritage site.

“As far as the exterior goes, it still has that look and feel,” he said. “There’s a really good sense of what a barn would feel like to be inside something that big.”

Family-oriented local business

Mission neighbourhood resident Sheila Sangare says she loves the brewery’s rustic ambience and wants to support local businesses like Barn Owl.

“It’s really important to me that I shop locally and I put my money locally,” Sangare said.

Her sister, Shellie Kirschman, says she appreciates that the pub is family-oriented and caters all kinds of customers.

“I’m not a drinker, so I come and I drink water or diet coke, but that’s not been an issue.”

Three women hold glasses of beer in a taproom.
Loyal customer Sheila Sangare, left, toasts with her sister Shellie Kirschman, right, and their mom inside the taproom of Barn Owl Brewing. (Winston Szeto/CBC)

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