Ranching family’s roots recognized through PRH donation
Three generations of the Thomas family (from left) Lloyd Thomas, his nephew Brian Thomas, and Brian’s nephew Hayden Zahrawi get together on the Thomas Ranch in Okanagan Falls. Lloyd has made a major donation to the SOS Medical Foundation to honour his family’s pioneer roots.
Talk ranching history in the South Okanagan over the past century and the Thomas family is almost certain to crop up in the conversation.
Now Lloyd Thomas has made a major donation to Penticton Regional Hospital in honour of his entire family dating back to the late 1800s. The South Okanagan Similkameen Medical Foundation is raising funds to provide medical equipment for Phase 2 of the PRH expansion, including a major upgrade to the hospital’s Emergency Department to be completed by the fall of 2021.
Lloyd’s father, John M. Thomas moved to the Okanagan in 1898 to work on the ranch of Penticton pioneer Tom Ellis.
“His first job was to look after the horses in winter-time up on the Naramata Bench,” Lloyd said. “There was hardly anything there at the time. It was all bunchgrass.”
A few years later, John Thomas bought a ranch off McLean Creek Road in Okanagan Falls. He sold it after the First World War to buy a ranch south of OK Falls so his children would be closer to the school.
“We had a big house there – it was like a hotel,” Lloyd recalled. “It was the only house that had running water and indoor plumbing.”
Lloyd’s mother was Ethel Hawthorne, daughter of George Hawthorne after whom Hawthorne Mountain near OK Falls was named.
In 1958, Lloyd and his three brothers (Morrie, George and Ray) incorporated their own company and bought back the original homestead. “My uncle’s ranch was next door and we later added that onto it,” he said.
Other nearby ranches were also acquired over the ensuing years. At its peak, the Thomas ranch covered almost 2,000 acres.
Lloyd was a welder and worked for years at major construction projects around the province – including the Kelowna floating bridge, Seymour River dam near Vancouver, pulp mills in Prince George and highway avalanche sheds through the Rogers Pass.
Lloyd moved back to OK Falls in the early 1970s, when he helped install the boiler system for Penticton Regional Hospital’s new South Pavilion.
Eventually Lloyd returned to his family roots, helping brother Morrie run the ranch. The family sold most of their ranch to The Nature Trust in 2000, however, Morrie’s son Brian now operates it under a lease agreement.
Lloyd, who was born in the former Penticton hospital on Haven Hill, said donating to PRH seemed like the right thing to do. His three brothers and three sisters have all passed away.
“Everybody in our family has used it over the years,” he said. “It’s time we contributed something back.”
Lloyd and his wife Gloria have no children of their own, although Gloria has children from a previous marriage.