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

happy easter!

 

April 1, 2021

For kids everywhere, the highlight of this holiday weekend is, of course, the Easter Egg Hunt.

Each family seems to have their own iteration of this well-loved tradition: some parents hide fully-stocked baskets outside, rain or shine, for their children to find, while others create a series of riddles that will lead to chocolates hidden cleverly around the house.

Other kids must hunt around the yard to find the foil-wrapped treats, one or two of which inevitably go missing and end up being discovered as a melted mess sometime during the summer.   

Local easter fun – & competition

Over the years, the City of Vernon has also staged a variety of Easter competitions to excite children and adults alike.

As is the case around the world, many of Vernon’s Easter traditions have featured the humble chicken egg, seen here hatching in 1958-or, at least, its chocolate replica.

 

 

In April of 1901, each customer who purchased one dozen fresh eggs (at only $0.20 each) was entered into a draw by local shopkeeper W.R. Megaw. The Saturday prior to Easter, a blindfolded child was asked to draw a name from the box, and the winner was awarded a “magnificent” hanging library lamp.

In 1925, the Vernon News published an Easter Word Hunt for its readership. A series of ads for local businesses was arranged on a full-page of newsprint. Each ad contained a purposely misplaced word, and readers were asked to create a list of the errors and send it in to “Easter Hunt Editor” at the Vernon News office. Five correct submissions were then randomly drawn, and the winners received a box of chocolates and tickets to the best moving picture show of the month, “The Golden Bed.”

all manner of egg hunts

In 1981, Easter Egg Hunts were held at the Polson Place Mall on the Friday and Saturday prior to Easter Sunday. Pre-registered children had a chance to search in a haystack for ping-pong balls bearing the names of local businesses. When brought to the corresponding merchants, the children were then awarded their chocolate prizes.

In 2012, excited toddlers from the Funfer All Daycare, bundled warmly in bright rain jackets, bounced around Mission Hill Park on the search for Easter treats. They smiled exuberantly and posed for photographs as they pulled eggs out of trees knolls and from beneath benches.

And this year, the Downtown Vernon Association has introduced a window Easter egg scavenger hunt, a family-friendly activity that complies with Covid-19 safety regulations. The people of Vernon are truly resilient and creative, and despite the challenges and changes that each new year presents, we continue to find ways to celebrate the joy of spring’s arrival. 

Gwyn Evans