Two black and white photos of the same woman. The left photo shows a younger woman gazing away from the camera. She has curly dark hair pulled back into a low bun, and is wearing a white dress with a lace collar and floral ornament at the front of her shirt. The right photo is of an older woman, also gazing away from the camera. She is also wearing a white dress or shirt, which is fastened around the neck with a broach.
(Left) Sophie Johnson circa 1884 and (right) circa 1900.

A remarkable women in Vernon’s History

Since 1992, October has served as Women’s History Month in Canada, which includes International Day of the Girl on October 11 and Persons Day on October 18.

Much is known about her husband Price Ellison, one of Vernon’s founding fathers and a Member of the Legislative Assembly, but Sophia Christine Ellison (often called Sophie) is just as remarkable for her contributions to this City.

a yOUNG wOMAN ARRIVES IN vERNON

Sophie Johnson was born in 1857 to Lutheran missionaries from Sweden who settled in the eastern United States. When she was 27, Sophie travelled with her cousin Emma Lind to Vernon to visit her uncle Peter Anderson. Vernon at the time was mostly occupied by single men, so the arrival of the ladies caused quite a bit of excitement. It wasn’t long before the beautiful Sophie caught the eye of blacksmith and rancher Price Ellison, whom she later married.

Vernon’s First School Teacher

In October of 1884, a one-room school house was opened in Vernon, on what is now 25th Avenue, to serve the children of five local families. Sophie was asked to teach the children, since although she had no formal training, she had an extensive knowledge of art, literature, and music. She agreed, and became Vernon’s first teacher.

Unfortunately, the schoolhouse was burnt down in March of 1885; a blaze began while Sophie and the children were inside completing their lessons, as recounted by student Marie Houghton (later Brent). They managed to carry everything movable outside, but their beloved schoolhouse was lost. 

A new one was built, but Sophie stepped down from teaching when she became pregnant with her first child. Sophie and Price Ellison went on to have 8 children. The family first lived in a log cabin near Price’s forge, but once they outgrew that, moved to a three-story home on Pleasant Valley Road.

An activte mother and community member

In addition to caring for her large family, Sophie was an active community member. She served on the Vernon Branch of the Council of Women and the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Board, and was the first president of the Vernon & District Women’s Institute. She played the pipe organ at two local churches, and was an avid supporter of the Girl Guides of Canada.

When Sophie celebrated her 90th birthday in 1947, the Vernon News described her life as “bound up intimately with the development and growth of her beloved city.” Sophie Ellison passed away on July 4, 1954.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

An undated photo of an orchard in bloom in Coldstream. Temporary foreign workers from Latin America (and other regions) have served in Vernon’s agricultural industry for decades.

Latin American Heritage Month

In 2018, October was declared Latin American Heritage Month in Canada. Latin America stretches from Mexico to Tierra Del Fuego, and B.C., as well as Vernon in particular, has a closer relationship with the region than one might think.

Temporary Foreign Workers in B.C. and Vernon

During the Fraser River Gold Rush of 1858, Mexican labourers arrived in the colony of British Columbia to serve as pack train operators who led long processions of horses, donkeys, or other pack animals loaded with freight. About 400 horses and mules from Mexico journeyed into the province alongside the pack train operators.

Between the years of 1892 and 1973, no individual from Latin America was naturalized at the Vernon Court House, but temporary foreign workers from the region did begin arriving around the turn of the 21st century. In 2005, that there were about 400 temporary foreign workers in the Valley, a number which increased to around 3,000 in 2009.

Challenges and vulnerabilities

The Vernon and District Immigrant and Community Service Society hosted pop-up clinics with Interior Health for temporary foreign workers during the COVID-19 pandemic (photo courtesy of VDICSS, 2021).

The temporary foreign worker population continued to grow over the next few years (and this trend is set to continue) to meet the Okanagan’s economic development and labour market needs; however, these individuals often face health and safety concerns while at work. Since the 1980s, it has been difficult to locate temporary housing for foreign workers, and, in more recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic left them particular vulnerable.

In 2020, the Vernon and District Immigrant and Community Services Society committed to identifying and responding to the needs of temporary foreign workers, as well as creating a database of information highlighting their economic impact on the region. In 2021, the group teamed up with Interior Health to host a number of pop-up vaccination clinics for temporary workers.

In terms of permanent Latin American immigrants in Vernon, the 2016 Census identified 35 originating from Mexico, 10 from Brazil, 20 from Colombia, 20 from El Salvador, and 20 from Guyana.  

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

A black and white photo of a man wearing a white shirt and sitting among boxes of Okanagan Spring Lager and Pale Ale. He is smiling at the camera.
Jakob Tobler, president of the Okanagan Spring Brewery, in 1989. Tobler emigrated with his family from Germany in the 1980s, and is one of several Germany-Canadians who have contributed to Vernon’s cultural diversity.

German Heritage Month

October is German Heritage Month in Canada! With more than 3 million people, German Canadians represent one of the biggest cultural groups in the country, which has in turn adopted a wide range of German traditions, including the celebrated Oktoberfest.

German Immigration

Silky flag of Germany waving in the wind with highly detailed fabric texture

The first Germans in Western Canada arrived in 1817 as part of a military contingent hired by Lord Selkirk of the Red River Colony. Immigration to the Okanagan Valley, meanwhile, began around the turn of the 20th century.

In July of 1911, the Vernon News reported that a number of German residents living in the Canadian prairies were visiting the Valley in the hope of finding land on which to settle. The first German settler who was naturalized at the Vernon Courthouse was William Harroff, a carpenter, in 1923. By 1947, approximately another 450 German immigrants became Canadian Citizens at the Courthouse.

Discrimination and celebration

An angry crowd confronting German settlers on board the S. S. Sicamous circa 1919.

Although German culture is now rightly celebrated in Vernon and the Okanagan Valley, it goes without saying that this was not always the case, considering the complicated legacy of the two World Wars.

Within days of the outbreak of World War One, the Canadian government developed a comprehensive set of national security guidelines around German immigrants to Canada. Then, between 1914 and 1918, hundreds of German men, women, and children were incarcerated at the Vernon Internment Camp.

In 1919, after the war had ended, the S.S. Sicamous docked in Kelowna with a number of German settlers on board, and was met by an angry crowd. This sentiment towards German immigrants continued up to and beyond World War Two.

Thankfully, this time of distrust and discrimination is largely behind us, and as of 2016, Vernon was home to more than 10,000 people of German descent, including the celebrated Tobler Family of the Okanagan Spring Brewery.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

The Vernon Mosque shortly after its opening in 2012. Courtesy of Waymarking.com.

Canadian islamic History Month

October is a busy month! In addition to LGBTQ+ History Month, it is also Canadian Islamic History Month, German Heritage Month, Latin American Heritage Month, and Women’s History Month. All of these occasions will be featured in posts throughout October, beginning with Canadian Islamic History Month.

Muslim Immigration

Four years after Canadian Confederation, as noted in the 1871 Canadian Census, thirteen Muslim Europeans were living in Canada. By 1938, the population had increased to approximately 700, and the country’s first mosque was constructed in Edmonton. In 2007, Islamic History Month was established by the Federal Government.

Vernon has a relatively small Muslim population, with the first members arriving in the 1960s and ‘70s. In 1999, the Vernon Muslim Association was granted charity status.

Community Initiatives

Despite its small size, the community of around 40 local Muslim families brought about the construction of the Okanagan’s first mosque in 2012. That same year, the Vernon & District Immigrant & Community Services Society launched their Inter-Faith Bridging Project to bring together people of all faiths in overcoming stereotypes and uniting towards a common goal.

The project’s committee hosted several initiatives over the years, including a group payer session in 2015, in which Syilx Elders offered opening prayers before inviting spiritual leaders from a variety of faiths to offer prayers in their own fashion, and a “Breaking Bread” event in 2016, in which breads from all over the world were displayed and sampled,.

In April of 2017, following the Quebec City mosque shooting which resulted in 6 deaths and 5 non-fatal injuries, the Vernon Muslim Association hosted an information session to condemn the actions of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, as well as to bring awareness to the persecution of Muslims under a guilty-by-association mentality.

Now, in 2022, the local Muslim population continues to attend prayers at the Vernon Mosque & Islamic Center, with this year marking the building’s 10th anniversary.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator