A black and white photo of a man wearing a suit jacket and tie, sitting in a chair with his legs crossed. Beside him, a man in a pinstripe suit is speaking into a microphone.
Len Marchand, left, in 1978; seated next to him is Pierre Trudeau, speaking to CKOV Radio during his visit to the Okanagan.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

The solemn occasion of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation provides an opportunity to revisit the legacy of Leonard Marchand, a Vernon-born politician who was the first First Nations person to serve as a parliamentarian.

Marchand was born on November 16, 1933. As a child, he attended the Okanagan Day School and the Kamloops Residential School, before graduating from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Science. In 1964, he completed a Master’s in Range Management at the University of Idaho.

Indigenous Activism

Marchand worked as an agronomist until the mid-60s, when he began working with the North American Indian Brotherhood, a national lobby group founded in 1945. One major factor which motivated Marchand to become an activist was the denial of the Indigenous Right to Vote. Although this was granted in 1960, Marchand voted for the first time in 1958, illegally, as a form of protest. His Indigenous activism took him to Ottawa, where he was elected to the House of Commons in 1968.

Throughout his political career, Marchand frequently advanced the goals of Reconciliation. As parliamentary secretary to Jean Chrétien, who was then serving as Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, he helped convince Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to begin land settlement negotiations between the Federal Government and First Nations. Marchand later described this as the action of which he was most proud in all his career, alongside forming and chairing the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.


In 1976, Marchand was appointed to Cabinet as Minister of State for Small Business. A year later, he was promoted to the position of Minister of the Environment, which he held until 1979. In 1984, Marchand was appointed to Senate, the second First Nations individual to hold this role. Marchand retired in 1998 at the age of 64 and passed away on June 3, 2016.

Leonard Marchand paved the way for other Indigenous individuals to pursue a career in politics, ensuring that their voices would remain at the forefront of national affairs, and that Reconciliation and its goals would stay in the public spotlight.


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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives





Black and white image of a man and woman with eight children of various agees around them, with a few of them in wheelchairs. Ernie Coombs is sitting with an infant on his lap, and Judith Lawrence is kneeling and holding two puppets.
Ernie Coombs and Judith Lawrence visiting children at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital in 1970.

A beloved Canadian Icon

He was Canada’s own “Mister Rogers” (in fact, he actually served as understudy to Fred Rogers for several years); Ernie Coombs, known more often under his stage name Mr. Dressup, was an iconic Canadian children’s entertainer whose TV show ran on the CBC for nearly 30 years. He also visited Vernon on several occasions, to the delight of many of the city’s children.

Coombs was born in Lewiston, Maine, in 1927. After attending North Yarmouth Academy, he pursued a career in children’s entertainment. In the early ‘60s, he worked as an assistant puppeteer for Mr. Rogers on The Children’s Corner. Rogers was offered a show in 1962 at the CBC, and he invited Coombs to join him in Canada, where they worked on an earlier version of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.


Upon his departure from Canada three years later, Rogers recommended Coombs to the CBC, and the latter began working on a new production called Butternut Square. After this show ended, Coombs developed Mr. Dressup, which aired for the first time in 1967. The show consisted of arts, crafts, songs, stories and games for children, presented by Coombs and his friends Casey and Finnegan, a child and a dog who lived in a treehouse in Mr. Dressup’s back yard.

In 1970, Coombs, along with his principal puppeteer Judith Lawrence, traveled to Vernon. They visited the children’s ward of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, where the patients were delighted to meet Casey and Finnegan. Coombs visited the City several other times, including in the 1980s when he hosted a performance at the Vernon Recreation Centre, which drew in crowds of not just young children, but older siblings and adults as well.

The final episode of Mr. Dressup was taped on February 14, 1996. That same year, Coombs received the Order of Canada, after becoming a Canadian Citizen two years earlier. Ernie Coombs died on September 18, 2001, at the age of 73.


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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives




Report #87

The Okanagan Historical Society (OHS) recently announced the release of its 87th annual report. This year’s report, like those before it, is full of fascinating stories of the Valley’s people and places. Moreover, considering that the first was published all the way back in 1926, the reports also provide an invaluable source of anecdotal evidence.

The history of the Society itself is just as fascinating as the stories its members have so dutifully collected for nearly a century. Although the OHS is now composed of seven branches ranging as far north as Salmon Arm and as far south as Osoyoos, the society actually started in Vernon. On September 4, 1925, a group of citizens held a meeting at the Vernon City Hall to discuss the formation of a society focused on “historical, topographical and natural history research in connection with the whole of the Okanagan Valley.”

A black and white image of a man in a white shirt with a pale suit jacket and tie. He has a handle bar mustache and short, white hair.
Leonard Norris circa 1925.

Leonard Norris becomes first president

Leonard Norris, the City’s Government Agent since 1893, was selected as the Society’s first president. Norris and his fellow elected officers set to the task of preparing a constitution for the society, based roughly on that in use by the B.C. Historical Society. Overtime, community members from the surrounding districts were also elected to the Society’s Executive Council.

In a public statement following the formation of the OHS, Norris suggested that the history of the B.C. Interior had yet to be properly investigated, and that the Society hoped to rectify this. Its members set to writing a series of articles covering the post-contact history of the Okanagan Valley and by 1935, the first five reports had been published.

The notion of the region’s untapped historical potential must have resonated with many of the Valley’s citizens, as within ten years, the Society’s membership had grown to 205. In later years, this number would reach into the thousands.   


The OHS took a hiatus from publishing between 1931 and 1935, while it faced the impact of the Great Depression. The sixth report, when it was finally released in 1935, brought with a new tone and pace for future ones; it was printed on glossy paper, and contained a wealth of information spanning 309 pages. The society weathered the storm of World War Two, and in 1948 begin publishing a report each year.

As the years went on, the Society pursued a number of notable projects aside from the publication of the report, including the mapping of the Fur Brigade Trails in the Okanagan and Similkameen-Hope areas, and the preservation of the original Fairview town-site. Additionally, the Vernon branch has published a number of other historical best-sellers, including Water from the Hills: The Story of Irrigation in the Vernon District, by local author Peter Tassie. The report itself has also seen a natural diversification of its content to include Indigenous history and other multicultural stories.

The 87th Report of the Okanagan Historical Society can be purchased from the Museum & Archives of Vernon for $30.00. The museum and archives encourages those interested in local history to support te Society by becoming a member of the Vernon Branch. To learn more, click here


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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives






Black and white image of a roofless car in front of a building covered in foliage. A man is standing next to it, with one leg resting on the bumber.
Dr. Williams circa 1920; the Vernon Archives does not have a photograph of Miss Gallaher in their collection.

“Resignation of the Hospital Staff”

“Matron and Nurses Relinquish Their Positions on April 2,” read a shocking headline in the Vernon News of March 28, 1912. This dramatic act of protest was initiated by the Vernon Jubilee Hospital’s Lady Superintendent, Minnie Katherine Gallaher, in response to what she deemed a “long series of indignities suffered by her and her staff at the hands of Dr. Williams.”

Miss Gallaher was born in Kingston, Ontario, in 1880, and came to VJH in 1909, after seven years as Assistant Superintendent at the Carlton County Hospital in Ottawa. On March 22, 1912, she sent a long letter to the hospital’s directors (which was also published in the Vernon News) describing Dr. Williams behavior.

“Charges against a doctor”

One particular situation saw a confusion over who should be administering a sedative to a patient, resulting in Dr. Williams screaming that “too long had nurses been dictating and he wouldn’t allow it.” He proceeded to “dance with rage and more profanity was used,” after which he subjected Miss Gallaher to a five or ten minute diatribe, “continually interspersing his remarks with profanity.”

Dr. Williams was given a chance to defend himself against the accusations, and although the hospital board concluded by sustaining the nurses’ charges and warning the doctor to not behave in such a manner again, he was allowed to continue working at the hospital. This decision is what caused all of the nurses to resign in a considerable show of solidarity.

“Respectfully Yours, M. Katherine Gallaher”

Dr. Gerald Williams arrived in Vernon in 1894, after training at the St. Thomas’s Hospital in London, England. He was known as the bitter enemy of not only Miss Gallaher, but another local doctor as well, Osborne Morris. It is perhaps telling, therefore, that Dr. Morris was described as a “genial and cordial gentleman” and had a particular kindliness when working with children.

By April of 1912, the nurses had been replaced by 8 others, which was just as well, as there were 40 patients in the hospital that month. Miss Gallaher continued to have a successful healthcare career, serving as Assistant Superintendent at the Vancouver General Hospital and later Superintendent at the Moose Jaw General Hospital. Dr. Williams carried on practicing in Vernon for many years and is believed to have died around 1935.


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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives