Sausage factory fire sparks Okanagan history lesson

Helmut West founded Okanagan Sausage in 1967. (Submitted Photo)
Helmut and Paula West founded Okanagan Sausage in 1967. (Submitted Photo)
The Okanagan Sausage factory off Highway 97 in Oyama. (Submitted Photo)

Only one month after Helmut West passed away, his old Oyama sausage factory building went up in flames.

The uncanny timing has sparked a history lesson on Helmut, who founded Okanagan Sausage in 1967 and his legacy.

Helmut Johann West Sr. immigrated from Germany to Vancouver in 1959, where he met his soon-to-be wife Paula.

Bringing his butcher-sausage making experience, which he learned at 15, to Canada, Helmut opened Broadway Deli, in Vancouver.

But dreaming of open spaces, Helmut and Paula left the big city and moved to the Okanagan.

“He was a country boy from a small village in Germany, Vancouver was not his calling,” daughter Doris Kools said.

The lush hillside, next to the shores of Wood Lake along Highway 97 (now Pelmewash Parkway) is where they would settle and build Okanagan Sausage.

“It was just an orchard where they developed it,” said Kools, of the area that has now been developed into housing. “That whole side, there were no houses, except for two or three.”

Back in the ’60s, the Wests farmed 20 acres of fruit trees on top of bulls raised for sausage. Paula and Helmut ran the shop with four other sausage makers from Germany.

It wasn’t until Helmut sold in 1973 that the land was subdivided and began to develop further. Okanagan Sausage was later sold to John and Christine van der Lieck, who renamed it Oyama Sausage Company, more than 30 years ago.

“They were actually the third owners,” said Kools of the van der Liecks, who have since moved the company to Granville Island.

The Wests went on to open a deli in Winfield in 1979 called H&P Sausage and with so much demand it expanded to Vernon.

Even after retiring in 1991, Helmut helped his son Helmut Jr. with the creation of Helmut’s Sausage Kitchen in Vernon and Kelowna. He was always proud of his son to carry on the West legacy.

“My dad left a nice legacy,” Kools said through tears.

Helmut West Tribute from Springfield Funeral Home on Vimeo.

Helmut Sr. died April 28 at the age of 84, leaving behind his wife of 54 years.

Due to COVID-19, a small funeral was held May 8 with family and the pastors family at the Vernon Church of God and a grave site ceremony at Pleasant Valley Cemetery.

Condolences can be sent via the Springfield Funeral Home website.

His initial legacy, the Okanagan Sausage factory, suffered approximately $200,000 in fire damage on June 1, 2020.

The factory has been out of operation since 2001, but there are rumours of it being converted to a wine-making facility with the grape orchards nearby.

READ MORE: Burning sparks $200,000 in damage to Oyama factory

READ MORE: Helmut West Sr. Obituary


@VernonNews
jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

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