A native of Bordeaux, France, Éli Lequime married Marie-Louise Atabagoeth from Bau, France, after they migrated separately to California. They too followed prospectors to BC in 1858, where Éli pre-empted 2,400 acres near the Pandosy Mission at L’Anse-au-Sable (today’s Kelowna). They had five children, and two of their sons bought land adjoining their parents’ land.
Life was not without its tragedies. Their first son, Bernard, was kidnapped as a child as a curiosity by a local Indigenous man, but he was reclaimed. Their son Gaston drowned at the age of three in a miner’s sluice box. The next son, also named Gaston, was killed trying to protect fellow rancher Isidore Boucherie from a charging bull.
The family prospered raising cattle and horses, and operated a blacksmith shop, a trading post and a sawmill. Éli became the first postmaster in 1872, and his son Bernard succeeded him in 1888. The family did business in French, English, Spanish and Chinook Jargon, and Marie-Louise was respected as the doctor of the settler community.
Bernard set the direction of the townsite of Kelowna: he opened its first general store and its first school. In 1892, with his brother Léon, he also established the city’s street grid and named several of the streets after family members. Eli, Gaston, Leon and Bernard Avenues still bear the names of the early Lequimes. Bernard retired to a mansion in Vancouver’s tony Shaughnessy Heights.