THE HISTORY OF COLDSTREAM
Compiled and written by Ron Candy, former Director/Curator
Greater Vernon Museum & Archives
IT BEGAN WITH A RANCH
Back in 1863, Forbes George Vernon, aged 20, and his older brother, Charles Vernon, aged 23, teamed up with Charles Houghton, aged 24, and decided to come to British Columbia from Ireland in search of gold, land, and a better way of life.
All three men were former officers in the British army. Forbes and Charles Vernon had both been Lieutenants. Houghton had served in the Crimean War and achieved the rank of captain.
Due to his rank, Houghton believed he was entitled to a military land grant of 1,450 acres in the colony of his choice. Houghton, the youngest recruit, youngest captain, and youngest commissioned officer in the entire British army at the time of his retirement was, if nothing else, ambitious, persuasive, and daring. Perhaps it was he who was the leading force in the three coming to Canada.
Their journey took them on an ocean voyage that led first to New York then around Cape Horn up the West coast to San Francisco and eventually to Victoria on Vancouver Island.
When the three men reached the Okanagan, Houghton immediately set out to find land suitable for ranching and farming. He chose acreage that was nestled within a valley that he described as follows, “That forming the N.W. side of the valley is covered to the top with fine bunch-grass and is not very heavily timbered-while that forming the S.E. boundary is densely covered from base to summit with pine timber. A good sized stream of pure water flows right down the middle of the valley and empties into the head of Long Lake (Kalamalka).” He named the stream Coldstream Creek and the surrounding countryside that would make up his land grant he would call “Coldstream.”
Houghton ran into problems with the Colonial Government over his land claim. “Due to policy changes”, the Colonial Government said, they could only allow Houghton to claim 300 acres. Houghton was outraged and contacted H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge, commander of the British Army, to come to his defense. There is some speculation that Houghton may have tried to slip by regulations by exaggerating the term of his captaincy. According to the rules governing the issuing of a military land grant 1,450 acres in size, the recipient had to have been a captain for at least fifteen years. Houghton had barely completed three. Nevertheless, the Duke intervened and the Colonial Government’s “policy” was re-worked. However, it wasn’t until 1872 that Houghton’s claim of 1,450 acres was officially recognized.
Meanwhile, the Vernon brothers tried their hand at mining on Cherry Creek, an area east of Houghton’s land claim that was already attracting gold miners and prospectors from the south. However, after two seasons of grubbing in the gravel without much to show for it, the brothers decided to turn their attention to ranching and farming.
To encourage land settlement throughout the colony of British Columbia, the Land Ordinance of 1860 provided for the acquisition of 160 acres of land by British citizens for a very low price ($1.25 acre). However, to discourage speculation, the ordinance stipulated that the pre-emptor must occupy the land continuously as well as make improvements. Not surprisingly in the North Okanagan, it didn’t take long for many individuals, least of all the Vernon brothers, to see the potential for cattle raising on land that was essentially clear of timber and rich with bunch-grass.
Thus, in 1865, Charles Vernon pre-empted 160 acres of land extending from the back of the “Priest’s House” to within one half mile of the arm of Okanagan Lake. Forbes Vernon applied for the adjoining 160 acres. In time the brothers purchased additional land adjoining their properties, and before long they had amassed 400 acres.
In 1871, Houghton and the Vernon brothers struck a deal whereby Houghton took over the pre-empted lands owned by the Vernon brothers and they took possession of Houghton’s military land grant, including the acreage that was still in dispute. That same year, Houghton became the first representative for Yale District in the federal parliament, when British Columbia joined confederation. There is some evidence to suggest that Houghton’s land deal with the Vernon brothers also included cash to facilitate his purchase of a house in Ottawa.
By 1873, Charles and Forbes Vernon had constructed a gristmill on the Coldstream property, planted a small orchard, and begun raising horses and cattle. As well, the brothers had massive pastoral leases.
Forbes George Vernon entered politics in 1875 when he was elected to the provincial legislature to represent the Yale constituency. By 1876 he was commissioner of lands and works. He was elected again in the years 1876,1878,1886, 1887, and 1890. By the end of his political career, it was said that Forbes Vernon proved to be one of the most capable and public-spirited men ever chosen for office by the people of British Columbia.
Charles Vernon chose to stay out of politics directly, and instead went on to serve his community in other ways including Justice of the Peace, deputy returning officer for the Polling Division of Okanagan, tax collector, a collector of statistics and, in his own words, “as constable in the arrest of prisoners at considerable personal risk.” He turned over any controlling interest he had in the Coldstream Ranch to his brother.
On November 1st, 1887 the small town formerly known as Priest’s Valley and Centreville was officially named Vernon in honour of Forbes George Vernon, a name suggested by Sophie Ellison, first school teacher in the region and wife to Price Ellison.
Meanwhile, Forbes Vernon became increasingly involved in the railway building frenzy sweeping across British Columbia. As a result, he along with F.S. Barnard formed a syndicate to build the Shuswap and Okanagan Railway, a fifty-one mile long rail line extending down from Sicamous to the head of Okanagan Lake. The new line was incorporated on June 2nd, 1886. This project, along with the duties of his cabinet post in Victoria, made it increasingly difficult for Forbes Vernon to supervise the management of the Coldstream Ranch. By 1891, Vernon was prepared to sell and he commissioned local engineer, George Grant MacKay to find a buyer.
As luck would have it, MacKay had met and made friends with Lord and Lady Aberdeen when they visited the region in 1890. Mackay contacted the Aberdeen’s about the pending sale of the ranch and the Aberdeen’s bought the 13,000 acres virtually sight unseen. Along with the acreage came 2000 head of cattle, about 70 horses, and any equipment. The entire price tag came to £50,000 (about $102,000.00 today).
Forbes Vernon was appointed agent general of British Columbia in London, England in 1895, a post he held until his death in London in 1898. His brother Charles Vernon died in Victoria in 1906.
As for Houghton, after two years in Ottawa he grew tired of politics, and in 1873 was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel and appointed Deputy Adjutant General Military District No. 11 (British Columbia). In 1885, he was sent to Saskatchewan to assist in the quelling of the North-West Rebellion. The medal and clasp he received for participating in that conflict is now on display at the Vernon Museum. Houghton later retired to Victoria and died there in 1898.
THE EARLY YEARS
By all accounts, it would appear Lord and Lady Aberdeen didn’t actually see the Coldstream Ranch that they had bought in 1891 until the summer of 1894, on their third trip to Western Canada.
Nevertheless, shortly after the ranch was sold to the Aberdeens, significant changes began to take place, the least of which was the setting aside of acreage in 1892 for the planting of 100 fruit trees in an effort to kick-start a fruit growing industry in the region. Fruit trees were also planted at Guisachan Ranch, a 480-acre parcel located within present day Kelowna which the Aberdeens had purchased in 1890.
Several acres of hops were also planted at the Coldstream Ranch as an immediate cash crop while they waited for the fruit trees to mature. The Aberdeens also began subdividing sections of the Coldsream Ranch into 40 and 50-acre parcels and offer them for sale to individuals who wanted to establish fruit farms.
To keep the Coldstream Ranch operating efficiently in their absence, Lady Aberdeen’s brother, Coutts Marjoribanks was installed as ranch manager; a decision that was reversed in 1895 once it was realized the fun-loving, hard drinking, and boisterous “Major” was “not the man to sit down to cultivate apples and pears and hops.”
That same year, William Crawley Ricardo, a man educated at Cambridge University who also knew how to oversee the operation of a working ranch, took over from Coutts. Ricardo’s appointment was well timed and coincided with the ranch entering a period whereby fruit growing on a commercial scale was becoming a reality. The 1895 apple harvest at the ranch tilted the scales at over twenty tons.
Lord and Lady Aberdeen visited the Coldstream Ranch during their summer holidays, and to escape the duties of political life in Ottawa. Despite what appeared to be a prosperous operation, the early years of the ranch proved instead to be a financial drain on the resources of the Aberdeens.
Apart from expenses such as fencing, structures, and irrigation incurred for improvements at the ranch itself, the fledgling fruit industry had yet to establish a local market and much had to be shipped to buyers over long distances. High freight rates, fluctuating market prices, and crop failures all contributed to a growing deficit.
In her book, Coldstream: Nulli Secundus, Dr. Margaret Ormsby wrote, “The Aberdeens were among the first farmers in British Columbia to complain about the high rates charged by the Canadian Pacific Railway and about the lack of tariff protection against Washington and Oregon apples.”
In 1895, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, then president of the CPR, visited the Coldstream Ranch. Lady Aberdeen quickly seized the opportunity to suggest to Horne “Coldstream fruits and vegetables be used to provision the dining cars.” She later sent William Ricardo (ranch manager) to Montreal to seal the deal in writing. Van Horne not only agreed to purchase fruits and vegetables for the CPR dining cars but he also agreed to purchase them for CPR owned hotels, railway stations, and lake steamers.
One of the greatest expenses incurred at the ranch was a gravity water system to irrigate both ranch lands and the lands previously subdivided. Lady Aberdeen lamented that irrigation wasn’t considered a necessity when they first bought the ranch, but experience had taught them otherwise.
In 1892, surveyor F.H. Latimer laid out an irrigation system for the Coldstream Ranch. Dubbed the “Coldstream Internal Irrigation System,” it was the beginning of an irrigation system that would eventually evolve into a sophisticated network of ditches and flumes. By 1902, consideration was being given to a plan that involved the damming of two nearby lakes, King Edward and Aberdeen, and running upwards of 30 miles of ditches and pipelines.
Despite increasing productivity at the Coldstream Ranch (apple production alone in 1900 rose to 279 tons) the costs for maintaining and upgrading irrigation were quickly growing beyond the financial means of the Aberdeens. Thus, in 1903, they sold the Guisachan Ranch to free up some capital and reduce their expenses.
The grand irrigation scheme proposed in 1902 was still being considered in 1905. Unable to bankroll the project on their own, the Aberdeens formed a partnership with James Buchanan, owner of the Lavington Ranch, and established the Coldstream Estate Company Limited in 1906. They raised £80,000 by selling shares in the company. Later that year the Aberdeens sold their remaining interests in the Coldstream Ranch to the company for £85,000.
Construction of the long awaited irrigation system commenced with the incorporation of the White Valley Irrigation and Power Company in 1906, with an estimated capital of $300,000.
Named the Grey Canal, after Sir Albert Henry George Grey, 4th Earl Grey and recently appointed Governor General of Canada, the primary purpose of the new irrigation system was to “provide water for four thousand acres of Coldstream Ranch and for orchards and hay lands in White Valley”, but the need for water and irrigation didn’t end there.
The Grey Canal was extended to B.X. Creek in 1909 and to Swan Lake in 1910. Ongoing construction of the canal eventually brought it to Okanagan Lake by 1914.
The Grey Canal was officially opened in October 1906 by Earl Grey himself. A month later, fruit-growers of the Coldstream Estate Company joined forces and published the first of four notices in the Vernon News for a petition to form a rural municipality.
On December 21st, 1906, the District Municipality of Coldstream was incorporated. Nominations for reeve (chief magistrate) were submitted on January 8th, 1907 and elections held on January 12th. William Crawley Ricardo was elected by acclamation while John Kidston, B.C. Sheldon Turner, Robert Gillespie, and J.L. Webster were voted in as council members. The first meeting of the new municipality was held at the Coldstream Ranch office on January 14th, 1907. Twenty-eight of the thirty-three registered landholders were in attendance, with Turner presiding.
A number of issues needed to be addressed by the new council, but none more urgent than the state of the area’s drinking water. One of council’s initial appointments was Dr. Osborne Morris who was installed as public health officer. Dr. Morris noted frequent outbreaks of typhoid fever and other ailments associated with unclean water. By 1909 the public was demanding a domestic water system.
“In June of 1910, twenty-four of sixty-nine eligible Coldstream voters approved a motion to install a domestic waterworks system.” An amount of $100,000 was raised through debentures (loan certificates) and the first trickle of water was passing through new wire-bound wood pipes laid beneath the earth by October of that year.
The beginning of the 20th century was a period of tremendous growth and development in the province, and the newly formed District Municipality of Coldstream was experiencing some of these effects. As early as 1910, the municipality was entering agreements with the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway Company (a subsidiary of the Canadian Northern Railway) to grant a right-of-way for the laying of track from the head of Long Lake (Kalamalka) to Lumby. The initial plans included a hotel on the lake and an electric tram connecting Vernon with Lumby. The project took some time to complete. The line was graded in 1919 and tracks were eventually laid in 1926. The hotel was never built but an electric/diesel tram was put into service for a time.
Meanwhile, motor traffic was on the increase in Coldstream. With financial assistance from the province and through the efforts of the Honourable Price Ellison, M.L.A., improvements to roads resulted in Reeve Ricardo having to enforce the provincial Motor Act of 1904 because “automobiles were being driven at a reckless speed.”
Another issue facing the new Coldstream council was education. A school had been operating from 1892 to 1897 in Lavington to serve children living in White Valley, but nothing had been offered since its closure. To remedy this situation, a school board was organized in January of 1908. James Bardolph, Ernest Henderson, H.W. Husband, and Edmund Craster were elected to serve as trustees. The Coldstream School opened September 1st, 1908. Miss E.J. Laird was the school’s first teacher and was paid a salary of $85.00 per month. Along with the Coldstream School, a private girl’s school was opened in 1908 by Miss Kathleen Hodges, William Ricardo’s sister-in-law.
A few years later, in 1913, a school opened in Lavington. The following year the Reverend Augustine C. Mackie opened the Vernon Preparatory School, a private school for boys.
In October of 1912, the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, along with Princess Patricia visited the area, and William Ricardo arranged for a grand reception ceremony to take place at the Coldstream Ranch. In many ways the ceremony marked the end of the Ricardo regime.
The following year, Ricardo was replaced as reeve by A.W. Giles. In August of 1914, on the eve of World War I, William Ricardo retired as manager of the Coldstream Estate Company.
BETWEEN THE WARS
A permanent military presence established itself in Vernon with the formation of a cavalry unit informally known as the Okanagan Mounted Rifles (OMR), in 1907/08. Soon after, cavalry squadrons were formed in Lumby, Armstrong, and Coldstream, as well as in Kelowna. In 1911 these troops combined to become the 30th Regiment, B.C. Horse commanded by Major C.L. Bott.
The regiment’s training grounds were located on Mission Hill; later known as Camp Vernon.
Two days after World War I broke out, on August 4th, 1914, Major Bott wired Ottawa and offered the services of the regiment. In November of that year the regiment was split in two; one was a reserve regiment and the second became an overseas cavalry unit known as the 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMRs).
The December 4th, 1914 minutes of Coldstream Council report a comment made by Reeve Giles. “On account of there being only myself and Councillor Kent left out of the entire Council, the rest having left to join various regiments for Active Service, this will be the last meeting of the year, it being impossible now to obtain a quorum.”
Indeed, the war had a tremendous impact on the male population in the region. It is estimated that by the time war ended, the Coldstream and Lavington districts had lost 25 ranchers, and upwards of 75 ranch hands and orchard workers. This represents a huge segment of the population especially when one considers there were fewer than 400 people listed for Coldstream Municipality in the 1911 census. “After the war, the labour shortage was so severe that children were excused from attending school to help at harvest time.”
For returning veterans, everything had changed. Many would be recovering for years from wounds and stress, while others would be dealing with more permanent disabilities like blindness or the loss of a limb. As well, many personal financial resources had been drained and the region was experiencing the post-war recession that plagued much of the world.
Irrigation problems faced fruit growers in 1919 when it was learned the system managed by the White Valley Irrigation and Power Company needed serious upgrades. An amount of $300,000 was being estimated, a figure far beyond the means of the company. This problem was solved in 1920 with the formation of the Vernon Irrigation District (V.I.D.). Under the provincial Water Act of 1914, a private system could be transferred into a public company through the creation of an improvement district. The following year, a government loan of $112,000 enabled the construction of a concrete dam at Aberdeen Lake and the laying of much needed 34” flood pipe.
Following a ratepayers meeting in the spring of 1923, a by-law was introduced to construct an electrical distribution system for the area between the Coldstream Ranch and the eastern shore of Long Lake. Power would be purchased from the City of Vernon. The lines were extended in 1924.
In 1928, an agreement was negotiated with the West Canadian Hydro Electric Power Company to supply power from a plant that would be built at Shuswap Falls. Both a dam and 4600 horsepower electrical generating plant were completed in 1929. In 1930, other parts of the district, including Lavington, now had electricity.
The Depression years brought disillusionment to many fruit growers. A few orchards were in arrears for taxes owing and some land was turned over to the municipality for non-payment. Coupled to these problems, severe climate changes in the early years of the 1930’s resulted in unusually cold winters and hot dry summers. Trees and apple crops were lost to freezing cold, drought conditions, disease, and insects.
From 1934 to 1938 record apple crops were harvested, but the growers were still concerned over the failure to sell their harvest at a profit.
Needless to say, the history of the fruit industry has been one of economic ups and downs. However, the Depression years brought new problems and the handling of highly perishable fruit crop demanded organized sale strategies.
Such strategies were recognized as early as 1908 when the "Okanagan Fruit Union" was formed to provide a controlled marketing program through voluntary cooperation of the growers.
By 1926, growers were seeking legislation under which the entire production could be controlled and marketed in an orderly fashion. Attempts at establishing a marketing act by the province took place in 1927, but failed when it proved to be unconstitutional. The federal government attempted to pass an act in 1934, but it too failed for similar reasons. Finally, in 1937, the B.C. Natural Products Marketing Act was passed.
This legislation gave growers the power to elect the British Columbia Fruit Board, comprised of three growers, to regulate the orderly marketing of the entire tree fruit crop and designate the agencies through which their products should be marketed.
The British Columbia Fruit Growers Association proceeded to establish central selling. As a result, in 1939, B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. came into being as the sole marketing agency for the fresh fruit crop of the B.C. Interior.
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, and the invasion of France in 1940, the Department of National Defence mobilized the 9th Armoured Regiment (British Columbia Dragoons), the same regiment whose routes traced back to the 2nd CMRs, the 30th B.C. Horse Regiment, and the Okanagan Mounted Rifles.
The Coldstream municipal clerk sent out the first letter of condolence on August 13th, 1941 to Alfred Bingley expressing sympathy for the death of his son, George.
Ironically, the outbreak of war stimulated the export market for apples in Britain and prices were on the rise; a welcome change from the uncertainties during the Depression. However, this market demand came at a time when, once again, there was a serious labour shortage in the Coldstream and Lavington orchards.
In June of 1942, Canada’s first battle drill training centre was established at Courtenay on Vancouver Island. The following month, the school moved to the Coldstream Ranch. Ranch manager, Tom Hill, made 11,000 acres available to the Department of National Defence for the express purpose of training officers and non-commissioned officers (N.C.O.’s) in battle drill.
The school simulated actual battle conditions using live ammunition. A log “village” was constructed for street fighting, along with a full-scale obstacle course, bayonet assault course, and concrete pillboxes.
Graduates of the battle school went on to train others who eventually saw action overseas on Italian and other European battlefields.
Early in 1946, a syndicate headed by J.T. Mutrie brought forward a plan to a new group of council members that involved the development of a 58-acre subdivision.
By October of 1946 the Municipality of Coldtream’s first subdivision, “Kalavista” had been surveyed. Lots had 90 to 100 feet of frontage with plenty of room for a house complete with flower and vegetables gardens. Lot prices ranged from $1,200 for lakefront, $900 for lots facing the lagoon; a small artificial lake containing water drained from nearby marshes, and $800 for inside lots.
THE YEARS OF CHANGE
The first hard frost to take place since 1935 hit orchardists in the fall of 1949, killing off a number of mature trees. New trees were planted but were hit again by frost a short time later in the winter of 1955. For some, the idea of re-planting and having to wait for the trees to produce was becoming tiresome. Meanwhile, real estate developers were looking for land.
A real estate boom began in the Coldstream area in 1956. Dr. Margaret Ormsby writes… “In 1956, twenty-four new houses were built in Coldstream; in 1957, thirty-two; in 1958, forty; and in 1959, one hundred.” In 1958, Coldstream council gave approval for a subdivision of the Pete Shymanski properties on Aberdeen Road and in the months to follow, other subdivisions were approved for lands owned by Henry Torrent, S. Viel, William Middleton, S.H. Northcott, David Kinloch, K. Sherba, R.E. Postill, Michael Freeman, and Colin McClounie.
In spite of the rapid development that was taking place, the rural atmosphere of Coldstream and Lavington was managing to stay intact. However, a former way of life was beginning to change and many early landmarks alluding to that life were quickly disappearing.
Stately homes like Bishop’s Garth, originally built by William Foggo around 1910, was destroyed by fire in 1944. The home built by Samuel French in 1908 was lost to fire in 1948. In March of 1957, Coutts Marjoribank’s Invercraig, designed by O.B. Hatchard, burned to the ground and in 1962, Orchardleigh Lodge, dubbed as “one of the most beautiful homes in Coldstream” also succumbed to flame.
The loss of some older homes along with new construction prompted a small group of citizens to come together and propose the formation of a volunteer fire department. On August 12th, 1961 the District of Coldstream Fire-Protection Bylaw 385 was passed and an amount of $35,000 was set aside for the formation of a fire brigade.
On June 18th, 1962 a newly renovated municipal office and brand-new adjoining fire hall was officially opened by Bishop A.H. Sovereign.
On September 12th, 1966 Coldstream Council Minutes recorded that the community’s population had increased 25% between 1961 and 1966. The area was now home to 2,658 people.
The increase in population was also creating a change in demographics. Dr. Margaret Ormsby writes… “The former Anglo-Scots community had been diminished by death and by settlers moving away, and the second generation had been Canadianized by attending public schools and universities and by participating in Canada’s fighting forces during the war. The closing of St. Michael’s School for girls in 1938 and the decline of Vernon Preparatory School after the retirement of the Mackie brothers had some effect in diluting the British cultural influence.”
By the late 1960’s Coldstream Municipality was becoming the fastest growing area in the North Okanagan. This was partly due to the work being done on the Vernon Irrigation District water system. In March of 1965, ratepayers within the VID approved a plan to modernize and replace open canals and ditches with a ninety-mile underground, pressurized pipeline.
The federal and provincial governments covered two-thirds of the $6,600.000 project through the Agricultural and Rehabilitation Development Act (ARDA). The remaining costs were covered by the VID through loans and repaid over a 25-year period.
On October 28th, 1965 the Vernon News reported, “Of the 27,000 acres of land within the district, 18,000 are considered irrigable but only 8,000 are actually being irrigated.” The Vernon News went on to report say the primary advantages of the project are that “… it will provide year-round water, instead of on a partial basis at present; farmers will be able to irrigate when they wish, and there will be ample supply for domestic purposes.”
The year 1965 also saw the birth of the North Okanagan Regional District (NORD). At the time, NORD represented five organized and five unorganized electoral areas in School Districts 21 and 22. It had jurisdiction over 3,064 square miles of land, of which one-third was crown land. Eventually, a total of 164,000 acres of land was in the Agricultural Land Reserve (established in 1973). In 1976 NORD took over responsibility for community parks and recreation parks and facilities.
Dr. E.M. Stevenson of Vernon had bought Orhardleigh Lodge in 1961. A few years later, in 1965, well after the lodge had burned to the ground, Stevenson made a proposal to Coldstream Council that a portion of the property be re-zoned for an apartment dwelling. Council turned down the proposal and a second one that called for multi-housing due to the fact the area was not serviced by a sewer system. Discouraged, Stevenson sold off part of the property.
Later, in 1977, the property was picked up by a Calgary consortium with a proposal to construct fifty-seven condominium units. By this time, a sewer system was installed and council gave the project a favourable nod with the condition that construction would start only after the completion of the Community Plan; a process begun in 1967 by Robert Williams and Associates of Vancouver.
In 1981, two years after the completion of the Community Plan, work commenced to build “Summertree on the Lake,” forty-eight strata-title condominiums.
Other development would follow but maintaining a rural atmosphere was paramount to Coldstream residents and council.
The setting aside of 2,274 acres for Kalamalka lake Provincial Park in 1975 and the adoption of the 1979 Community Plan both helped to insure Coldstream’s natural character wasn’t lost to over-development.
As Dr. Margaret Ormsby wrote in 1989, “No other place could equal the setting of lake, hills, parkland, apple orchards, and fertile meadows: Coldstream was for its residents what it had been to their predecessors, second to none.”