Looking south from Middleton Mountain over what used to be Long Lake Reserve #5 circa 1950.

Ancestral Territory

It comes as a surprise to many that one of Vernon’s most popular summer destinations, Kal Beach, is located on what used to be reserve land.

Kal Beach as it now appears. Photo courtesy of Michael Russell Photography.

Needless to say, the ancestral territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation comprised much of Kalamalka Lake; the lake, which bore the name Long Lake up until 1953, is named after Chief Kalamalka after all. Moreover, members of the OKIB still reside on land around the lake where historical villages once stood.

An image from the Final Report of the Royal Commission’s decision in regards to reserves in the Okanagan region. The full report can be viewed online.

However, little evidence remains to mark the bounds of Long Lake Reserve #5, which once stretched from approximately Kal Beach to what is now the Kalavista subdivision. The reserve was allotted in 1877 by the Joint Indian Reserve Commission, established two years earlier by the Federal and Provincial Governments to set the boundaries of reserve land in B.C.

In 1909, Hlakay (also known as Pierre Nequalla), Chief of the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band, opposed a sale of the land, suggesting that grave irregularities had occurred in obtaining proper surrender permissions; this was later confirmed by the Federal Government and the sale was set aside. However, in 1913, the land was “cut-off” under the McKenna McBride Royal Commission.

Mckenna mcbride royal commission

The stated goal of this commission (named after the two men who signed it into effect, federal commissioner Joseph McKenna and BC Premier Richard McBride) was to adjust the acreage of reserves in B.C., based on gathered evidence from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples as to their adequacy. As a result of the commission, an additional 87,000 acres of reserve land were added to most bands, while 47,000 acres of far more valuable land was removed from 54 bands. This included the 128 acres of Long Lake Reserve #5.

This “cut-off” land was later sold to a Mr. John Kennedy, who then released portions of it to the City of Vernon for beachfront access, and to the Canadian National Railway Company.

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

International Cherry Pit Spitting Day

Since 1974, the first Saturday of each July has been celebrated as International Cherry Pit Spitting Day, after a pit spitting tournament was held as a joke at a picnic in Eau Claire, Michigan. Now, pit spitting events are held annually around the world, with the Canadian National Pit Spitting Championship being a feature of the Cherryfest in Blenheim, Ontario. The current world record for the greatest distance to spit a cherry stone is a whopping 93’6.5”, set by Brian “Young Gun” Krause in 2004.

Fruit in the Okanagan

Fruit has grown in the Okanagan since time immemorial, with Saskatoon berries, blueberries, strawberries, huckleberries, gooseberries, black berries, black currants, and raspberries making up part of the traditional syilx diet. Chokecherries also grow in abundance, a fact evidenced in the names Cherryville and Cherry Creek. But cherries as we now think of them—the dark, round juicy nuggets that grace the Valley during the summer months—are a cultivated species that was introduced by European settlers.

The first non-native fruit trees were planted by Catholic missionaries of the Oblate Order at their Mission of the Immaculate Conception on Okanagan Lake in 1862. The first seedlings were apples, and one of these trees actually continued to fruit until it was killed by cold weather in 1955. Cherries did not arrive until 1892, when 500 trees were planted by Lord and Lady Aberdeen at Vernon’s Coldstream Ranch.

Little Cherry Disease

The construction of the Grey Canal allowed water-loving plants like cherry trees to thrive in the sunny Okanagan Valley. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing after the canal’s completion in 1914; in the 1930s, Little Cherry Disease struck cherry trees across BC, first in Nelson and then later spreading to devastate orchards across the Kootenays.

A helicopter flying low over an Oyama orchard to gently blow the water off of ripening cherries in 2012.

Quarantine measures were put in place in the hopes that the disease, which causes small, bitter, insipid fruit, would not make it to the Okanagan. Unfortunately, in 1969, an orchard in Penticton was found to be infected, and by 1977, 1,400 cherry trees throughout the Okanagan had to be removed. Little Cherry Disease continues to be monitored and managed by the provincial government.   

Due in part to a 2014 trade agreement which allowed BC cherries to be exported to China, the fruit has become a boom crop, with new orchards popping up all the time to satisfy an insatiable local and international demand.

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

Crowds enjoying the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Vernon in June of 1897.

MAY LONG

Although many of us now think of the May Long Weekend as the beginning of camping season in B.C., the history of Victoria Day is a bit more complicated.

In 1845, the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada decided to officially recognize the birthday of Queen Victoria on May 24 with public celebrations. But it wasn’t until 1901, following the Queen’s death, that May 24 became officially known as “Victoria Day” in her memory.

celebrations fit for a queen

At the turn of the 20th century, the settler population in Vernon eagerly celebrated Queen Victoria’s birthday, as well as her reign in general.

On June 22, 1897, Vernon celebrated the Diamond Jubilee with a series of sporting events, including baseball, lacrosse, trap shootings, and tug-of-war. Other outlying communities, including Enderby, came to compete in the day’s activities, and it is noted that Vernon won all events except tug-of-war.

May Long Weekends in Vernon were also marked with sporting events and special activities in celebration of the Queen’s birthday. On May 24, 1895, a cricket match was held between Kelowna and Vernon, with the SS Fairview offering special trips between the two cities for individuals who wished to attend.

In 1900, Enderby hosted Vernon and other nearby communities for a series of foot, horse, and canoe races. A football match was also held between the community of Lumby and employees of the Coldstream Ranch, followed by a grand ball in Morand’s Hall.

A most respected sovereign

Queen Victoria’s passing in 1901 was announced in large font on the front page of the January 24th edition of the Vernon News, as the City mourned the loss of its “Most Respected Sovereign.” Later that year, Vernon officially celebrated “Victoria Day” for the first time, with—you guessed it—sporting events, including three-legged and ladies races.

“Queen Victoria is Dead: Her Most Gracious Majesty Succumbs to the Grim Reaper. The Nation Overwhelmed with Grief. The World Sorrows over the Decease of Its Most Respected Sovereign-The End Came on Monday, at 6:55 London Time-The Prince of Wales Now King Edwards VII.”

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

A photo of Pauline Johnson, taken shortly before her death in 1913, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Talented Wordsmiths

Vernon has long been home to a plethora of talented wordsmiths, which a humble binder in the Vernon Archives titled “Writers” reveals. The binder is full of information about several of Vernon’s many authors and poets, arranged alphabetically from Thomas Andrews (author of Type: Writer) to Mark Zuehlke (author of Scoundrels, Dreamers, & Second Sons). The Vernon Museum is even lucky enough to have its own award-winning author and poet on staff, Laisha Rosnau.

In addition to these gifted locals, Vernon has also played host to several traveling writers over the years. One that caused a particular stir during her turn-of-the-century visit to the city was Tekahionwake (Pauline Johnson).

Tekahionwake (Pauline Johnson)

Tekahionwake, born in 1861, was a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, and daughter of Chief Onwanonsyshon (G. H. M. Johnson) and Emily Howells. Tekahionwake began writing poetry in her mid-teens, after a childhood of poor health largely confined her to indoor pursuits like reading.

Sometime after 1884, following the death of her father, Tekahionwake began a career as a public orator and embarked on a series of speaking tours in Canada, the United States, and England. Her poems were largely patriotic in nature, but she also incorporated elements of Mohawk culture into her performances.

A visit to Vernon

Tekahionwake visited Vernon in 1907, where she offered a poetry recitation in the second-floor hall of the W. F. Cameron general store. By then, she had published two volumes of poems, “The White Wampum” (1894) and “Canadian Born” (1903), and the crowd was large and appreciative.

When she passed away in 1913, the Vernon News dedicated several pages to describing Tekahionwake’s life and many cultural contributions. Despite what her critics might have said during her lifetime and beyond it, this remarkable woman paved the way for other Indigenous female voices to be heard. 

The documentary Why We Write: Poets of Vernon, by Hannah Calder and Curtis Emde, delves into the world of poets and bookmakers living in and around Vernon, British Columbia. It will premiere at the Vernon Museum on April 29 and 30. Click here to learn more.

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

Marie and William Brent circa 1910.

Okanagan Women’s Voices

A recent publication, edited by Jeannette Armstrong, Lally Grauer, and Janet MacArthur, explores the lives of, and relationship between, seven Syilx and settler women.

Okanagan Women’s Voices: Syilx and Settler Writing and Relations 1870s-1960 was the result of hours spent digging through archives across the Okanagan (including the Vernon Archives) to highlight the voices of Susan Moir Allison (1845-1937), Josephine Shuttleworth (1865-1950), Eliza Jane Swalwell (1868-1944), Marie Houghton Brent (1870-1968), Hester Emily White (1877-1963), Mourning Dove (1886-1936) and Isabel Christie MacNaughton (1915-2003).

Marie Houghton Brent Fonds

One collection in the Vernon archives that proved to be particularly useful to Armstrong, Grauer, and MacArthur was the Marie Houghton Brent fonds (for those unfamiliar with the term, in archival science a fonds refers to a records group). This fonds, which was donated to the Vernon Archives by the Ferry County Historical Society in 2000, contains a wealth of Brent’s correspondences, personal writings, and certificates.

Her Story

Marie Brent was the daughter of Charles Frederick Houghton and Sophie N’Kwala. Houghton, who was originally from Ireland, established the Coldstream Ranch in 1863, which he later sold to Charles and Forbes Vernon. Sophie N’Kwala was a granddaughter of the Grand Chief Hwistesmexe’qen, known commonly as N’Kwala or Nicola.  

Sadly, Sophie passed away when Marie was young, and she was raised by her great-aunt Thérèse (Teresa) N’Kwala Laurence, who raised her to be the family’s historian and taught her the stories and traditions of the Okanagan Nation. As a young women, Marie lived for a time with her father, Charles, in Montreal. She later returned to the Okanagan, where she married William Brent in 1908. Throughout her life, Marie continued in the mission ordained by her great-aunt to preserve and share her ancestral teachings, and between 1935 and 1966 wrote a series of articles which were published in the Okanagan Historical Society (OHS) reports. As Robert Hayes of the Kelowna Branch of the OHS aptly stated, “Thérèse N’Kwala Laurence chose well. We owe her and Marie Houghton Brent a debt of gratitude.”

To learn more about Marie Houghton Brent, and the other six women featured in Okanagan Women’s Voices, grab a copy of the book or join the Vernon Museum for Learn + Connect: Reading for Reconciliation, a virtual book club from April to June 2022 featuring this incredible new publication.

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

Frank M. Chapman, ornithologist. Image courtesy of Britannica.

The World’s Longest-Running Citizen Science Project

Around this time each year, hundreds of North Americans participate in Christmas Bird Counts to evaluate the health of their local bird populations in what is the world’s longest-running Citizen Science project. Counts take place in around 2000 locations across the continent, including here in Vernon.

Origins

The tradition began in 1900, when American ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed that instead of the long-standing Christmas hunt, birds should be observed and counted in an effort towards conservation. Chapman was a member of the then-nascent National Audobon Society, and it is this organization that continues to direct the project to this day.

Wood Duck (male), photographed by Jack VanDyk. Courtesy of the North Okanagan Naturalist’s Club.

The Count is on

Each local bird count is accomplished in the same way: over the course of a single day between December 14 and January 5, groups of volunteers venture out to count and identify all the birds they observe within a 24-diameter zone. The information is then compiled, and sent along to the Audobon Society to contribute towards a continent-wide snapshot of the health of avian populations. 

The Vernon bird count is organized by the North Okanagan Naturalist’s Club which was founded in 1951. Although these dedicated birders have not been able to gather as a large group to discuss and celebrate their findings since 2019, they continue to participate in the count and contribute towards the scientific observation of North America’s birds.

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts!

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

The Vernon Fire Brigade Band circa 1901. Back (L-R): Daryl Burnyeat, George French, Louis Goult, R Fraser, and Alex McLeod. Seated (L-R): Fred Godwin, Percy Cooper, S.A. Shatford, Jim Varnes, and Charles Godwin. Front (L-R): Bill Sawyer and Fred Howard.

After a difficult 20 months, we all deserve a little music.

Many musical groups have called our city home over the years, but they are all predated by the Vernon Fire Brigade Band, formed all the way back in 1893.

The story goes that on a late fall evening in 1893, attendees of the Okanagan and Spallumcheen Exhibition were disappointed by the lack of musical entertainment, and proposed that Vernon should form its own band. That same evening, local bookstore owner A. C. Cann ordered a set of instruments for the new group to use.

Vernon only had a few experienced musicians at the time, so others were quickly taught to play and by January of 1894, regular rehearsals were taking place. The band’s first official performance was on May 24, under the direction of bandmaster Robert Fraser. The bandstand was located on what is now 30th Avenue, and the musicians were decked out in caps and matching uniforms.

Misfortune struck in 1898, when a devastating fire broke out in the building that was housing the band’s equipment. Unfortunately, all of the uniforms and instruments were destroyed. After this tragedy, the Vernon Fire Brigade decided to sponsor the band, and it became known as the Fire Brigade Band.

During the years of 1907, and 1909 to 1911, the band performed at the Provincial Exhibition at New Westminster. When World War One broke out a few years later, the group broke up, as many of the members enlisted for overseas service. Although the members would reunite in subsequent years to continue making music together, the sponsorship from the fire department had ended and they were no longer known as the Vernon Fire Brigade Band.

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

Lonnie Mohr (second from right) standing between her mother and one of brothers, with a family friend on the far left, in 1892.

One of Vernon’s most well-known ghost stories is that of little Lonnie Mohr.

Lonnie was born on August 26, 1886, in Torbolton Township, Ontario, to Charles and Elizabeth Mohr. She was the second youngest of five children.

The Mohr family arrived in Vernon from Ontario in 1893. Prior to their arrival, Charles, a labourer by trade, had a beautiful one-and-one-half-story home built for the family on the corner of Pleasant Valley Road and 32nd Avenue.

Unfortunately, the family’s arrival in Vernon was quickly marred with tragedy. In early 1894, Lonnie started suffering from a toothache, which led to the tooth being extracted. Shortly after the operation, she developed septicemia and passed away on March 31. She was only seven years old.

Lonnie was buried in the old Pioneer Park Cemetery, but her remains where exhumed after the opening of the Pleasant Valley Cemetery so that they could be buried at the new site. At this time, Lonnie’s little body was examined and it was found that her jaw had been badly fractured by the dentist who had extracted her tooth. The fracture led to the blood poisoning that ended up taking the young girl’s life.

Local legend suggests that Lonnie’s ghost continues to inhabit the Mohr home. The residence was eventually occupied by a business—a dental office, in fact. Staff at the Pleasant Valley Dental (now in a new location on 27th Street) reported dental chairs swiveling on their own and other unexplained occurrences.

Regardless of whether or not you believe that she continues to occupy her family home, I think we can all agree that the story of little Lonnie Mohr is both tragic and compelling.

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

The Pioneer Park Cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

Vernon’s First Cemetery

An unassuming plot of land off of Alexis Park Drive is all that remains of Vernon’s first cemetery. The Pioneer Park Cemetery, as it is now known, was established in early 1885 on 52 acres of land donated by Vernon’s first white settler, Luc Girouard. Up until then, the closest cemetery was located at the Okanagan Mission, and with a growing population, Vernon was in need of its own facility. Girouard’s fellow pioneer E.J. Tronson was the main driving force behind the establishment of the Pioneer Park Cemetery.

 

The Pioneer Park Cemetery is accessed from 35th Avenue off of Alexis Park Drive in Vernon. The cemetery is on the right approximately 100 metres along 35th Avenue. Photo and directions courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

A state of Disrepair

In July of 1885, the first body, that of one-year-old John William Hozier, was laid to rest in the site. But only ten years later, in 1895, the cemetery was in a state of disrepair, with the fence rotting away. Conditions improved somewhat in 1898, when a source of water was located near the cemetery which allowed for the planting of flowers.

 

A New Cemetery is chosen

However, the site was ultimately deemed inadequate, and, in 1901, G. Milligan offered the city five acres of land on Pleasant Valley Road for the establishment of a new cemetery. A year later, the Pleasant Valley Cemetery was ready for use. Starting in 1913, bodies were exhumed from the Pioneer Park Cemetery and moved to the Pleasant Valley Cemetery.

 

Preservation and Commemoration

Details of tombstones at the Pioneer Park Cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

In 1932, some Vernon City Councilors suggested that the old cemetery should be preserved out of respect for the early pioneers who established it. Once the deeds to the land were transferred from the Girouard Family, city crews were sent it to improve the cemetery’s appearance and to restore any remaining tombstones. In 1973, the site was turned into a park, and named the Pioneer Park Cemetery.

Although you might not recognize the park as a former cemetery with just a cursory glance, the lives of those who were buried there have not been forgotten; a memorial plaque at the park’s entrance bears many of their names, and members of the Vernon and District Family History Society are working to compile a complete burial list.

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

White Rock Lake Fire

Okanagan Lake has been the subject of much media attention over the last few weeks, since the most eastern flank of the White Rock Lake Fire has reached its shores. However, given the lake’s long history (it is, in fact, pre-historic), this is not the first time it has made the news.

A series of Anomolies

In February of 2021, some North Okanagan residents were shocked to see what appeared to be a tornado emerging over the lake near Fintry. This was later identified to be a steam devil, which forms over large bodies of water during cold air outbreaks. Steam devils are common occurrences on Canada’s Great Lakes, but it was only due to the North Okanagan’s unusual cold snap this past winter that one was able to form over Okanagan Lake.   

In 1979, the lake was recognized as an excellent location for underwater treasure hunters. Hundreds of pieces of glass and earthenware were found to be lying on the lake bottom, thrown overboard over the years by passengers on sternwheelers and other water crafts. In 1978, two divers discovered, at the bottom of the lake, an old steamer trunk full of collectible bottles, much to their delight.

On November 4, 1913, a tugboat called the Skookum collided with a CPR tug, the SS Castlegar, and sank almost immediately. The crew survived, with some minor injuries, but the vessel was never recovered. It is believed that the tug remains, to this day, in the silent depths of the lake. 

Sometime in the mid-1880s, the infamous Captain Shorts and a companion were wandering the shores of Okanagan Lake when they made a startling discovery; partly submerged in a few feet of water was the vertebrae of some enormous sea creature. The two men brought the bone to Leonard Norris, a government agent in Vernon, who, many years later, had it sent it to the University of British Columbia for identification. It was determined to be a whale bone, brought into the valley by human means, but how it came to be lying abandoned in a rugged and unfrequented section of Okanagan Lake remains unknown.  

And long before the concept of “news” was even invented, the lake and its environs represented part of the territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation, and stood as a silent witness to all the little anomalies of human life. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator