french family land

May 28, 2021

Near the entrance to the Vernon Recreation Centre, a humble plaque in the shade of a tall tree memorializes the 1891 residence of S.P. French.

That year, Samuel Phelps French, born in England in 1844, moved his wife Susannah and nine children from Winnipeg to Vernon and purchased between 10 to 20 acres of land to raise cattle.

A warm welcome

The family’s 1891 residence was actually not located where the plaque indicates, but on 32nd Avenue, then known as Schubert Street.

Many important events passed beneath the roof of this residence, and the French family extended a welcome to friends and strangers alike. 

In November of 1902, the Vernon News reported that “the hospitable home of Mr. and Mrs. S.P. French was 

 

DA plaque outside the Vernon Recreation Centre memorializes the first two residences of S.P. French (pictured top right, GVMA #5088). The Vernon Museum does not have a photograph of either of the houses.

 

 

taxed to it utmost capacity to receive the large number of visitors who during the afternoon and evening assembled to extend a welcome to the bride of Mr. S.P. French, Jr.

changing ownership & land use

It was not until 1905 that S.P. purchased 65 acres near where the Rec Centre now stands from the Estate of the late Luc Girouard and built a second house. By 1914, the land had been parceled up, with some of it being sold to the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway. S.P. then purchased a parcel of land east of Vernon and built a third house, on Sarsons Road. This residence still stands, while the plaque serves as a memorial of the two family homes that came before it.

S.P. helped to lay Vernon’s first sidewalk on 30th Avenue in 1893. He also served on the Vernon City Council in 1903 and was a devout member of the local Presbyterian Church.

names & recognition

S.P. passed away in 1926, predeceased by his wife Susannah in 1912. His nine children and twenty-eight grandchildren went on to have remarkable lives of their own. One son, Percy, even followed in his father’s footsteps and was named the Okanagan’s first “Master Farmer” by Winnipeg’s Nor’ West Farmer Magazine in 1932.

While his son was bestowed with the title “Master Farmer”, the residence of the family of S.P. French family is recognized with a plaque. 

Plaques such as this, as well as street names, are often in memory and recognition of the pioneers, agriculturalists and ranchers who first “settled” this area.

In recent years, there has been more of an acknowledgment of Syilx place names, and the nsyilixcen language of the Syilx people of the Okanagan Nation is being incorporated into place names and signs in places such as the UBC Okanagan campus. 

 

Gwyn Evans

ship of brides

May 21, 2021

In September of 1862, the S.S. Tynemouth arrived in Victoria to the great excitement of the city’s mostly-male population; 60 young women between the ages of 14 and 20 were on board, having been brought over from England to a new life in Canada.

The Tynemouth was the largest of the “Bride Ships,” a series of vessels that transported British women overseas to help populate the North American colonies.

Little More Than Cargo

Of the 60 individuals onboard the Tynemouth, most were orphaned or came from impoverished families, and were promised a brighter future in Canada.

The sea voyage was a rough one: the women were treated as little more than cargo, stuffed into the bottom of the ship with inadequate food and poor sanitation. Many became ill during this journey of nearly 100 days.

 

Dr. John Chipp’s house in Vernon circa 1891. Chipp arrived in B.C. via a “Bride Ship” from England in 1862.

 

 

“mostly cleanly, well-built, pretty-looking young women”

Even so, when the ship finally arrived in Victoria, the women were deemed “satisfactory”: the Colonist newspaper reported that they were “mostly cleanly, well-built, pretty-looking young women … Taken altogether, we are highly pleased with the appearance of the ‘invoice,’ and believe that they will give a good account of themselves in whatever station of life they may be called to fill.”

The stories of approximated half the women who traveled overseas in the Tynemouth have been traced. Some married and started families, while others worked as governesses, midwives, and teachers. Sadly, many also faced lives of destitution and depravity in B.C.’s mining towns.

A Local Connection

This interesting story also has a local connection. Alongside the 60 female passengers who traveled on the Tynemouth in 1862 was a man named John Chipp, who served as the vessel’s chief doctor.

When the ship arrived in B.C., Chipp set up a business in Barkerville before moving to Vernon in 1891. Here he became one of the city’s first doctors. Chipp’s daughter, Clara Cameron, was instrumental in the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital and his son-in-law, W.F. Cameron, served as Vernon’s first mayor.

John Chipp passed away in August of 1893. The contributions of Chipp, as well as W.F. and Clara Cameron are relatively well-documented and honoured.

We can also take a moment to think about those whose names and faces we don’t know, or remember, the young women who were integral to early settler life in Canada.

 

Gwyn Evans

Vernon then & now

April 26, 2021

As part of the GVMA Earth Day, Every Day focus on ecological change in the Okanagan, we’ve developed a short slideshow of photographs comparing archival photos around the Greater Vernon area, with photos from 2021.

ECO: a Virtual program

The slideshow can also be used in conjunction with the ECO: Ecological Change in the Okanagan.

Designed for intermediate students in School District 22, the program will be of interest with anyone curious about how North Okanagan landscapes, wildlife populations, and ecology have changed over time

Learn More About: Okanagan Nation and the Syilx People; Early Explorers and Settlers; Land Use and Agriculture; Transportation and Recreation; the perspective of local Syilx Indigenous Youth Leader.

Included:

  • 30 minute ECO film
  • Now & Then Slideshow of Local Locations and Landscapes
  • An Educator’s Guide
  • Suggestions for Inquiries and Activities
  • Additional Resources 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to access the ECO Virtual Program

For a limited time, the ECO Virtual Program is available for free to all teachers, educators, parents, and any interested community member!

Please Contact Us Here to order the ECO: Ecological Change in the Okanagan Virtual Program.

We hope you enjoy the journey!

 

big game once abounded

April 26, 2021

In honour of Earth Day last week, the Vernon Museum has taken the opportunity to research how local human activity has effected, and continues to effect, ecosystems and wildlife in the North Okanagan.

This is the last in a series of articles that explore some of the results of this investigation.

“A Sportsman’s Paradise”

Vernon is described as “A Sportsman’s Paradise” in a promotional booklet from 1891. “Big game abounds in caribou, white and black-tailed deer, and on the higher mountains big horn sheep and goats,” the brochure continues.

“More remote are to be found great black, cinnamon and grizzly bears. There are a few grey wolves, lynx, coyote and the king cat of the Rockies, the American panther.”

A visiting hunting party in Vernon in 1914

 

 

This advertisement was incredible successfully and over the next few years hunters came from far and wide to take advantage of the Okanagan’s bounty.

An Unregulated West

At this point, there was little in the way of game law enforcement, and no game wardens, and the citizens of Vernon wrote many letters of complaint against the hunting parties, most of whom were visiting from the South.

In September 1892, a hunting party from eastern Canadian killed 180 sage grouse at the Head of the Lake, destined for the Vancouver market.

A party of 20 Americans arrived in a private rail car to hunt big game that same year. They took only the heads and left the meat to rot.

In 1904, one family shot 92 blue grouse in a single day.

This was a very different kind of hunting than the Syilx people of Okanagan Nation had practiced as a traditional way of life, livelihood and culture for thousands of years.

Before non-Indigenous contact, the Syilx had been a hunter-gatherer culture who used every part of the animals they hunted as meat for food, but also fur for clothing and warmth, hide for clothing and structures, bones for tools and implements. Sinew was used as thread in sewing. 

No part of the animal was wasted, and animals were hunted sustainably, for thousands of years, without negative impact on their populations.

Sadly Diminished Populations

In a 1912 Vernon News special holiday edition, pioneer Mr. Leckie-Ewing noted that big game in the Okanagan had decreased significantly in number or their haunts had moved further away.

Lake trout populations, once an important food source for the Syilx People, had all but disappeared from Okanagan Lake. Blue grouse and other fowl were still around, but their numbers had “sadly diminished when compared with … some ten or twelve years prior.” In fact, sage grouse became extinct in the Okanagan in 1918.

By the 1950s, excessive hunting also meant that mountain caribou had disappeared from the Okanagan.

The Syilx people still pass on sustainable hunting practices and knowledge within their communities, and some of this traditional knowledge has been used to inform best management practices for wildlife conservation. First Nations groups in BC and in Alberta are consulting on caribou recovery projects across the region. 

The biggest threat to mountain caribou populations in BC and Alberta, and south of the border, is no longer sport hunting, but rather other forms of human impacts, most notably transportation corridors, infrastructure for resource extraction, such as forestry, mining, oil and gas exploration, and recreational vehicle use areas all encroaching on their habitat.

These same things allow caribou predators, such as wolves, easier access to caribou habitat to the detriment of the caribou population.

Preserving Local Okanagan Fauna

Today, we are fortunate to have stricter regulations in place around hunting and fishing, and a better understand of how humans can significantly effect wildlife populations. However, before these measures were put in place, visiting hunters negatively impacted Okanagan wildlife populations.

To help preserve our local fauna populations, trophy hunting and other wasteful practices should be discouraged. Residents should also remove or limit attractants like garbage and fallen fruit to discourage animals like bears from becoming urban visitors. Do not feed or try to tame wild animals, but keep them and yourself safe by maintaining an appropriate distance.

Perhaps most importantly, if there are regulations in place to attempt to keep wild animal habitat preserved, respect these regulations and ride recreational vehicles, hunt, and recreate in other designated areas.

Gwyn Evans

Bringing water from the hills

April 16, 2021

Picture the Okanagan without its expansive fruit orchards. No juicy peaches and sweet cherries in the summer, and no crisp apples and tart grapes in the autumn?

It is almost painful to imagine!

But this was the reality of life in the Okanagan before the advent of irrigation.

an Idea Flowed…

At the turn of the 20th century, the valley was too hot and dry to support much agriculture.

The manager of the Coldstream Ranch, W.C. Ricardo, proposed  Aberdeen Lake on the highlands to the southeast of Vernon as a potential water source to irrigate thirsty crops.

Water flowing out of the lake via Jones (now Duteau) creek, he argued, could be diverted south by canal to supply orchard and fields in White Valley (now Lavington) and the Coldstream Ranch. 

A Coldstream orchard circa 1910

 

 

This water even had the potential to be directed north across the ranch to irrigate the BX and beyond.

bringing water down into the Valley

The White Valley Irrigation and Power Company beginning this momentous task in 1906 with the construction of the Grey Canal.

The introduction of water via the Grey Canal changed the industry of the valley from ranching and the cultivation of cereals to the production of fruits like apples, pears, and cherries. The advent of orchards across the Okanagan helped to greatly stimulate the economy, but these plants also came with higher water demands.

The Grey Canal was completed in 1914. At one time, it supplied water to the largest irrigation district in BC, and delivered more water than the system that supplied to the City of Vancouver. If you’d like to learn more about the Grey Canal, please check out Peter Tassie’s Water from the Hillspublished by the Okanagan Historical Society.

a more water-wise approach

The climate of the Valley hasn’t changed. We still live in a dry belt that, particularly during the summer, receives little water. And we certainly can’t go back to the way things were before the advent of the fruit industry. Our orchards are as much are part of our identity in the Okanagan as our emerald lakes and delicious wine.

Each of us can ensure that water is not being wasted and instead reserved for vital tasks. Indeed, the average Okanagan citizen uses 675 litres of water each day! This is more than twice as much water as the average Canadian.

To reduce water usage, citizens of the Okanagan can try xeriscaping, a style of gardening that utilizes plants with low water needs that thrive naturally in the Valley’s dry environment. Some great tips about how to xeriscape in the Okanagan can be found here.

It is also important to ensure that one’s water consumption is as low as possible, particularly during drought periods. Watering plants in the evening or early morning can help to reduce evaporation. A list of current water restrictions can be found online through Greater Vernon Water.

Visit the website Okanagan WaterWise for more tips, as well as the Okanagan Xeriscape Association’s plan list aunt other helpful lawn and garden care tips in the WaterWise Landscape Irrigation Handbook.

Gwyn Evans

from bunchgrass to grazeland

April 9, 2021

 

With Earth Day fast approaching, the Vernon Museum has taken the opportunity to research how local human activity has effected, and continues to effect, ecosystems and wildlife in the North Okanagan.

Until the end of April, the museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the results of this investigation.

The importance of the introduction of cattle to the Valley cannot be overstated.

ranches as hubs of development

Early cattle drives passed through the Valley in the late 1850s, where the animals would feast on the Okanagan’s abundant bunchgrass, before continuing on their way to the gold fields of the Fraser Canyon. 

By the end of the next decade, upwards of 22,000 head of cattle had crossed the border at the south end of the Okanagan Valley.

Cattle round-up of Chief Clerke’s cattle at Wye Lake (Goose Lake area).
Date unknown.

 

 

Early cattle drives, and, later, the establishment of ranches, allowed the Okanagan to become a hub of economic activity. Despite this benefit, the arrival of large droves of cattle inevitably shaped the natural landscape in lasting ways.

Later, pioneers like Thomas Wood, Thomas Greenhow, and Cornelius O’Keefe arrived to pre-empt land and start permanent ranches. Their small herds grew rapidly in number.

From A Sea of Waving Grasses

The Okanagan of 1850s and ‘60s would have been almost unrecognizable to us today. The Valley bottom was covered not with areas of human development, but with fields of tall grass that, as they swayed in the breeze, resembled a vast, moving sea.

These grasses were especially adapted to our warm, dry climate. In particular, bunchgrass, of which there are several different species in the Okanagan, has a deep root system as well as a specific morphology which allows it to survive long periods of drought.

This bunchgrass was also perfect animal fodder and after a decade or so of constant feeding, the bunchgrass population began to suffer. By the 1890s, much of the bunchgrass had been stripped from the Valley. 

TO A Few Sparse Patches

Since then, the science of range management has progressed greatly, and it’s not the ranches that prove the greatest threat to native bunchgrass, but human encroachment. Areas of bunchgrass can still be found (at Kalamalka Lake Park, for example) but what was once a sea of grass is now only a few sparse patches. Today, only 9% of native bunchgrass is left in the Okanagan.

There are many approaches that we can take to curb the destruction of native bunchgrass populations, including supporting ecological restoration and habitat renewal initiatives, remaining on trails and marked areas when hiking and biking, learning about the growth cycle of plants and making informed decisions when allowing animals to graze, and taking an active role in preventing the spread of invasive weeds.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, an excellent read is “Bunchgrass and Beef: Bunchgrass Ecosystems and the Early Cattle Industry in the Thompson-Okanagan,” by local historian Ken Mather, available online at https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/exhibits/living-landscapes/thomp-ok/article-LL/contents-beef.html.

Gwyn Evans

WIld nights at the Kal

 

January 15, 2021

The Vernon Winter Carnival is beginning in just over two weeks, and for those of us who have been starved for a change—albeit a safe one—to our repetitive lockdown lives, it couldn’t come too soon.

This year’s Carnival theme of “Wild West” fits in quite well with our mandate here at the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives.

While this area was home to the Indigenous Syilx people for centuries, the place that came to be known as Vernon began as a small, sleepy “cow town”. 

 

The Kal Hotel, the year it opened in 1892

Many of the stories preserved within our walls tell of life back in its frontier days.

The hub of social activity in Vernon during this time was the Kalamalka, or Kal, Hotel. This impressive piece of architecture was built in 1892 by the Land and Development Company for a cost of $19,000. The new hotel was named in honour of local indigenous chief Kalamalka (this being the anglicized spelling and pronunciation). The hotel’s interior was complete with a billiard room, bar and ladies parlour, while the exterior boasted tennis courts and a vegetable garden.

In his book “Valley of Youth,” colourful local historian and photographer C.W. Holliday describes the Kal Hotel as the local social centre of Vernon, saying that “here one might meet celebrities and interesting people from all over the world.” One of the favourite places for locals and visitors alike to relax was the hotel’s cozy lounge, where they could gather around a large open fireplace and enjoy a favorite drink carried over from the bar on cold winter nights.

Despite the tendency for the hotel to be considered the go-to spot for “festive and convivial gatherings,” the wife of the hotel’s first manager, Mrs. Meaken, ran a tight ship. If she felt the evening’s proceedings were becoming too disorderly, she had the disturbing habit of appearing in the doorway of the billiard room dressed in her nightgown. “Gentlemen,” she would say sternly, “it is time to go to bed.” A gloomy silence would then descend over the room, as the men packed up and shuffled home. No one, it seems, ever refused her orders.

Another story recalls Mr. Meaken, who, unlike his wife, was said to be meek and mild, took full advantage of the Missus being out of town and had a little too much to drink. While under the influence, he had the brilliant idea of bringing a horse in from outside and riding it around the billiard table. One can only imagine what Mrs. Meaken would have thought if she had seen this spectacle.

Holliday is careful to add that although these stand-out moment’s in the hotel’s career naturally stick in his memory, most of the time the gatherings were quiet and composed, and this Wild Western hotel was exactly what it claimed to be—a comfortable family venue.

For more tales of Vernon’s “Wild West”, join us for the GVMA Winter Carnival event, Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

Gwyn Evans

meanwhile, back at the RancH…

sharing history through community 

vernon winter carnival virtual event

 

MEANWHILE, BACK at the RANCH…   February 9, 2021 at 7 PM

Take a Virtual Trip back in time through the Wild West and ranchlands of the North Okanagan. Interpretive guides and special guests will tell tales of life back on the early ranches of the valley through streaming video, on-location film clips, and multi-media displays.

Learn more about the early relationships between the settlers and the Syilx Indigenous First Nation. Find out about the Syilx and settler women who made this place home, and the fur brigadiers, gold rushers, cowboys, and bank robbers who made this place wild.

Join us and special musical guest, Duane Marchand, for this virtual event!

Visit the Vernon Winter Carnival website for more info and tickets.

 

 

GET TICKETS TODAY!

 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 – Virtual Doors Open at 6:30 PM.
Register by 6:45 PM. Event begins at 7 PM sharp.  

WE RESPECTFULLY ACKNOWLEDGe

Greater Vernon Museum & Archives is located on the Ancestral, Traditional and Unceded Territory of the Okanagan Nation and the Syilx People.

tidings of Comfort & joy

 

December 16, 2020

The Vernon Museum’s artifact collection has a lot of is Christmas cards. But this is certainly not a complaint! They don’t take up much space, are pleasantly festive, and provide firsthand insight into Christmases past.

These paper sentiments of peace and joy actually have quite a complex history that is, paradoxically, heavily intertwined with that of global military conflicts. 

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871, a French stationer, Leon Besnardeaux (1829-1914) provided camped soldiers with stiff pieces of cardboard printed with lithographic designs so they could send messages home without the need for envelopes.

 

An example of a Christmas Greeting preserved in the GVMA’s collection

Some of these cards arrived just in time for Christmas. While Christmas cards themselves had been around since the 1840s, Besnardeaux’s good deed represented the origins of the picture postcard.

Christmas cards were hugely popular with soldiers during the First World War. Many were decorated with romantic images and local landmarks to bring joy to distant loved ones. Some of the most remarkable among these are the silk postcards. The silk embroidery was thought to have been produced by out-of-work civilians in France and Belgium, who then sent their creations to factories to be mounted on cardboard backings. The Vernon Museum has several silk postcards in their collection, and they are spectacular.

During World War Two, sending Christmas cards remained a popular tradition. Although the separation from family must have been keenly felt by the soldiers, most of the cards were cheerful and sometimes even goofy, likely to keep morale high on both ends, while those sent during the First World War tended to be a bit more somber and traditional in their motifs.

In 1917, a young Kitty Fitzmaurice received a Christmas card to her home in Vernon that showed a soldier peering out through a crumbled hole in a brick wall. Inside the card is a Christmas and New Year’s greeting, signed with the simple but emotive words “Love, Daddy.” Kitty’s father was Col. R Fitzmaurice, who went on to return safely home from the war and become Vernon’s mayor in 1920.

While the current global pandemic cannot and should not be compared to the World Wars, there is a certain parallel between the past and present absence of loved ones, and the ability of a simple folded paper to bring sentiments of joy to those from whom we are separated.

Gwyn Evans

luxury lake travel- vintage okanagan style

 

November 13. 2020

What would it have been like to take a trip from Penticton to the Okanagan Landing aboard a sternwheeler? Unfortunately, most of will never know, since the Okanagan’s last paddle wheeler, the S.S. Sicamous, was retired nearly 85 years ago. Luckily, records in the Vernon Archives allow us to recreate these epic journeys—on paper, at least.

The S.S. Sicamous, launched in May of 1914, was the third in a line of stately sternwheelers to ply the waters of Okanagan Lake. She had a reinforced steel hull, and four decks. With 37 staterooms, one smoking room, four saloons, and a dining room, the ship could accommodate more than 300 passengers at one time. 

 

 

S.S. Sicamous, 1921

The Sicamous was a craft of grace and beauty, and she rightly earned the name of “The Queen of Okanagan Lake.” She transported passengers and freight up and down the lake, making stops along the way at Ewing’s Landing, Fintry, Carr’s Landing, Okanagan Centre, Gellatly, and Naramata, until 1936.

It’s a crisp spring morning in 1921. You rub sleep from your eyes, before pulling your wool clothing tight against the cold air drifting off the calm waters of Okanagan Lake. You are standing at the Penticton Wharf, the imposing shadow of the luxurious Incola Hotel, where you passed a pleasant night, to your back. It is 5:15 am, and the sky is still dark. You listen to the gentle chatter of early morning birds, and the slow murmur of waves against the shore. The town of Penticton is still asleep.

Just when you are beginning to lose feeling in the tips of your toes, the S.S. Sicamous pulls up to the wharf, breaking the sleepy silence with a cheerful blast of its whistle. As you wait in line for your chance to board, you watch the ship’s Union Jack drifting lazily in the breeze.

You’re making the trip to Vernon. It’s only 65 miles down the lake, but with the crisscrossing path needed to call in at the 15 landings along the way, you will have traveled more than 90 miles by journey’s end. You expect to be in Vernon by about 9:30 am, just in time for a bite of breakfast.

Finally, you are on board. The richness of the ship’s wood fittings—made from British Columbian cedar, Australian mahogany, and Burmese teak—contrast with the pale morning light. You watch as women in wool travel suits pull half-asleep children towards one end of the ship, while the men, chatting and smoking, move to the other.

You, however, decide to take a seat at a comfortable writing desk, and reach over to switch on a nearby reading lamp. The ship is delightfully warm, thanks to the miracle of steam heating. As you flip slowly through that morning’s copy of the Vernon News, you periodically glance up to admire the Sicamous’s beautiful stained-glass skylights.

After a little over 3-and-a-half hours later—most of which you spent in the observation lounge, watching the small, white-capped waves churned up by the ship’s wheel—you arrive at the Okanagan Landing. As you disembark, waving at a group of excited children on the shore, you think to yourself that you have never experienced a more marvelous journey. 

Gwyn Evans