Tommy Gregoire is immortalized on the left side of Vernon’s Okanagan Indian Band mural, which was completed by Michelle Loughery and her team in 2001. If you are interested in learning more of the stories behind the murals, take a tour

This weekend marks the 2022 Historic O’Keefe Ranch’s Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.

Considering that the first non-Indigenous settlements to emerge in the Okanagan Valley were cowtowns—communities that appeared at the junction of railroads and livestock trails—Vernon has long boasted a healthy population of cowboys.

Men like Cornelius O’Keefe are often remembered for participating in the Okanagan Valley cattle drives of the 1860s, but even during their time, it was known that the best ropers and riders belonged to the Okanagan Nation. For instance, the Gregoire Family alone included several generations of talented equestrians.     

As told in the book Q’Sapi: A History of Okanagan People as told by Okanagan Families, Francois Gregoire (1865-1944) was a successful rancher who owned a large herd of horses, some of which were used for racing and others for farming. By 1915, he owned a threshing wheat separator which he rented out to other ranchers.

Francois’ son Tommy (1901-2000) also went on to become a well-known rodeo rider. A celebrated Traditional Knowledge Keeper, Tommy was an adamant advocate for Indigenous rights and freedoms, who, along with his wife Mary, ensured that his children learned nsyilxcən.

Tommy’s son Leonard (1929-2013) was a self-proclaimed cowboy from the start who began exercising his grandfather Francois’ horses at only eight years old. He later worked as a rodeo contractor with his father, and learned to ride broncos and bulls. He even went on to earn six track records in Canada and the U.S. racing quarter horses and thoroughbreds.

Like his father and grandfather, Tommy was proud to be fluent in nsyilxcən, and passed along his teaching to his own grandchildren and other little ones at the Okanagan Language Nest.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

Cheryl Craig and Jennifer Rhodes of the UBCO Biology Department displaying samples from Jim Grant’s botany collection in 2022.

A collection of 400 laminated botanical samples collected around B.C. by local naturalist Jim Grant has been transferred from the Vernon Museum to UBCO’s Biology Department.

Portrait of James Grant. Courtesy of the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club.

James Grant, often known as Jim, was born in Trinity Valley near Lumby in 1920. Even as a child, Jim showed a keen interest in nature and art. At the age of 15, his lifelike sketches of birds had become so impressive that he won a bird-drawing competition conducted by the English magazine “The Bird Lover’s League.”

Jim later worked as a farmer and a logger before enlisting in the Canadian Army in 1941. He served with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals until 1946, when he returned to Vernon and was employed by the Federal Forest Entomology Lab.

His work took him throughout the province, and he quickly became a skilled ornithologist, entomologist, and botanist. He also spent a few years doing similar field work in Alberta. In 1970, he was appointed Field Studies Coordinator for School District 22, a position which saw him organizing and conducting student field trips to grassland, forest and pond sites, where he remained until his retirement in 1978.   

North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club logo featuring a bog orchid.

Jim was a founding member of the North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club; in fact, during an excursion to the Mara Meadows Ecological Reserve in 1965, he spotted a small, white bog orchid which later became the club’s emblem. He also operated a hospital for injured hawks and owls from his home in Lavington.

After Jim’s passing in 1986, his botany collection was donated to the Vernon Museum. However, earlier this year, the museum’s collection committee decided that it would be of more value to the Biology Department at UBC’s Okanagan Campus, and it was transferred accordingly, to the great excitement of the university staff.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

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

 

 

Axel Ebring with some of his creations in 1953.
Axel Ebring’s article in the Vancouver Sun of April 3, 1943.

The Historical Record works in mysterious ways.

Around 1975, a newspaper dating back to April 3, 1943, was discovered beneath the floorboards of a North Vancouver home. 47 years later, in 2022, the newspaper has made its way to the Museum & Archives of Vernon

The North Van house was 80 years old in the 1970s when it was purchased by Jim Huffman, who now lives in Vernon. While renovating one of the bedrooms, Jim discovered two or three complete Vancouver Sun Newspapers dating back to the 1940s tucked beneath the old linoleum flooring. Being somewhat of a self-proclaimed history nut and hoarder, he tucked them away in safe place before passing them along to a museum staff member earlier this year.

What is interesting about one of these aged Vancouver newspapers (other than the fantastic Prince Valiant cartoons) is that it includes an article about one of Vernon’s very own—Axel Ebring. Long before the age of the internet, this celebrated local potter had managed to make a name for himself across the province.

The Potter of Vernon

Axel Ebring was born in Kalmar, Sweden, in 1874. At the age of only 12, he immigrated to Canada. He worked as a general labourer for many years, before adopting his father’s profession and building his first production kiln at Notch Hill, near Salmon Arm, in the 1920s. He discovered another clay deposit about ten years later in Vernon, and moved his operation here.

Axel Ebring’s photo in the Vancouver Sun of April 3, 1943

A Massive kiln and an even bigger legacy

As the Vancouver Sun article relates, Axel Ebring’s kiln was about 20-feet square and 8-feet high, with walls that were two-feet thick. After forming his creations, Axel would decorate them with naturally-produced dyes made from roots and berries. The article also includes an interesting discussion of the process Axel would take to break down chunks of scavenged quartz to form a glaze. Once decorated and glazed, the pieces were placed in large, heat-resistant crocks called “seggars,” which were then stacked on top of each other in the kiln. The pieces were fired twice for sixty hours, with a cooling period in between, and then were ready for sale.

Axel remained in Vernon until 1954, when he passed away. His legacy was marked in the naming of Pottery Road, near where his kiln and shop were located. Many of creations are preserved in both the Vernon Museum and the R.J. Haney Heritage Village & Museum, as well as in private collections. 

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator