A black and white image of a two-story white building. The top floor has two windows in the centre. The bottom floor has four windows and two doors. On the right, one man is standing in front of one set of the windows and another is leaning in an open doorway. On the right, three men in white suits and boy ties are standing in front of a door. A sign attached to this side of the building reads "barber shop."
A Vernon barber shop on the left with three barbers out front circa 1900.


As No-Shave November draws to a close, it’s an ideal moment to recount a humorous story from Charles Holliday’s “The Valley of Youth.” In this book, the author, a celebrated local photographer, reflects on life in the Okanagan during the 1890s, offering a glimpse into his nostalgic and occasionally controversial memories.

This particularly tale features G. G. McKay, a real estate agent hailing from Vancouver, assigned the role of promoting the Okanagan Valley to prospective residents. He quickly became known as “Gee-Gee” among Vernonites, and was noted as having a rather snooty attitude about their “primitive” ways.

gee-gee and the dubious barber

The folks living in Vernon were not willing to put up with this, and during one of his visits they sought a bit of retribution. Having neglected to bring his shaving kit with him, Gee-Gee asked around for a decent barber. Holliday and a few other locals directed Gee-Gee toward one associated with the Vernon Hotel, who had a little bit of a dubious reputation.

This barber was known to be not overly fastidious when it came to cleanliness. On occasion, he would also welcome clients after partaking in a strong drink or two, leading to animated storytelling sessions where he enthusiastically waved around his razor.

Unfortunately, it was during one of the barber’s unsober periods that the unsuspecting Gee-Gee visited him. He was said to have left a short while later, running at full speed away from the shop, his face pale beneath the coat of shaving cream still on it.

But Gee-Gee was not fazed for long, with Holliday begrudgingly acknowledging his resourceful and genial manner. Some sources have cited Gee-Gee as having been as influential as Lord Aberdeen in the non-Indigenous settlement of the Okanagan Valley. He also worked with Forbes Vernon to lay out the townsite of Vernon, and in the construction of the Coldstream and Kalamalka Hotels.


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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives





A black-and-white image of a house-like building with a covered verandah.
The Cottage Hospital circa 1897.

The Vernon Jubilee Hospital Committee

Did you know that Vernon’s first hospital was no more than a cottage?

Vernon was incorporated in 1892, but for the first five years of its official existence, the community did not have a hospital, with doctors instead making house calls as needed, and more severe cases being sent to the hospital in Kamloops.

However, with Vernon’s population growing, it was obvious that the City would soon need a facility of its own, and a Hospital Committee was formed, including such big-wigs as Price Ellison, Luc Girouard, and Cornelius O’Keefe. In 1897, it was decided that the future hospital would be named the “Vernon Jubilee,” to honour Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Now all that was needed was the selection of a site.

The first hospital is erected

Largely thanks to the tireless fundraising of Clara Cameron, Vice-President of the National Council of Women and wife of Vernon’s first major, William Cameron, Vernon’s first hospital finally opened later that year. It was erected in a vacant building owned by builder T. E. Crowell, and purchased for a cost of $2,000. It stood on 28th Avenue.

The building was actually bigger than the hospital needed at the time, but had a broad verandah around the outside for patients to get some fresh air and exercise. The Women’s Council took on the task of visiting the hospital twice a week to ensure that “the Rules for the Hospital [were] being strictly carried out and that all internal arrangements are being conducted in a satisfactory manner.”  

Patients began arriving at the Cottage Hospital, as it became fondly known, in November of 1897, under the care of Matron Pratt. It had approximately 16 beds. By Spring of 1899, a contingent of new staff had been on boarded, and a few years later a maternity extension was added thanks to the securing of government grants.

Expansions and constraints

By 1905, the Cottage Hospital staff consisted of five nurses, four probationers, and two cooks. A nurse’s home was added to accommodate the group, and improvements to the buildings were made from time to time.

Shortly thereafter, the Hospital Committee initiated conversations regarding the necessity of an expanded facility, recognizing the requirement for an isolation wing to address diseases like tuberculosis; with Vernon’s expanding population, the Cottage Hospital was no longer big enough.

Samuel Polson donated property north of 21st Avenue for a new building, and in September of 1909, a hospital building with 100 beds was opened on the site still used today. As for the Cottage Hospital, the site was put up for sale in 1910, and it was later reopened as a “temperance” hotel.


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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives





This article is part of the Vernon Archives’ “Roots of Green: Unearthing Horticultural History” series.

A black and white image of a roadway in an orchard. Two men are standing next to an old-fashioned sprayer and are spraying a substance onto trees.
Two men spraying a Vernon orchard with a horse-drawn sprayer circa 1930.

wRAY McDonnell

Thanks to a recent donation, the Vernon Archives now boasts an enhanced coverage of the history of horticulture in the Greater Vernon area. This topic will be explored in a series of articles over the next few months.

In the mid-1990s, Wray McDonnell, an Agrologist and Program Manager for horticulture with the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, decided to take on the task of documenting some history of horticulture extension in the province of B.C. McDonnell worked with a number of retired horticulturists to collect their stories, copies of which have been donated to the Vernon Archives so that they can be preserved for future generations.


The following information was provided by one such horticulturalist, Alec Watt of Summerland, who retired from the industry in 1981. Watt was the district’s pear specialist, and was credited with discovering the “spur-type” variant of the Macintosh apple in 1967. He also had a superb knowledge of the history of the industry in which he was employed.

In Watt’s words, district horticulturists had worked with B.C. fruit growers since the Provincial Government established a field service early in the 20th Century. These individuals were first called district field inspectors, and some came from as far away as Scotland to fill this role.

The period from World War Two to the 1960s was one of rapid technological and horticultural change. Concentrate sprayers gradually replaced the cumbersome gun sprayers of earlier years; sprinkler irrigation replaced furrow irrigation; new chemicals arrived on the scene; and herbicides were introduced for the first time. That same time also saw many older fruit trees in the Valley destroyed by a series of harsh winters, including whole orchards of peaches, apricots, and cherries.

iN high demand

This era kept horticulturalist particularly busy, as they moved here and there helping growers to adjust to these drastic changes. They administered government aid programs, work which continues to this day, and, according to Watt, there was hardly a major scientific development in the fruit industry in which the horticulturists were not involved.

They continued to be in high-demand in the 1970s and ‘80s, when Watt retired, both among professional growers and home gardeners. Watt recalled one grower calling a horticulturist at 6:00 AM to find out what to put in his sprayer tank; the horticulturist then phoned him back at 11:00 PM to ask how he had gotten on with his spraying.

Despite their vital importance to the Okanagan agriculture industry since their earliest days until today, the hard work of district horticulturalists over the years has gone somewhat unacknowledged. It is thanks to individuals like McDonnell and Watt, in collaboration with growers, that people across the Valley are able to enjoy world-class fruit throughout the year.


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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives





A black-and-white photo of four men in airforce uniforms. Three are sitting around the table with a window behind it and one is standing.
Lorne Chambers, far right, in 1941, with other RAF members. This photo is believed to have been taken while Chambers was being held in the Baltic Prisoner of War camp; the same photo, cropped to show only his face, was printed in the Vancouver Sun with a note saying that most of the prisoners were beginning to grow beards like Chambers.

“Nazi radio reports vernon airman alive,”

read a dramatic newspaper headline in a September 1941 edition of the Vancouver Sun. Flying officer Lorne Chambers had been missing since May of that year when his plane was shot down, and the worst had been assumed. Although the news that Chambers was instead being held in a Prisoner of War camp in Germany brought its own concerns, the confirmation that he was still alive came as a great relief to his parents in Vernon.

Lorne Chambers was the son of Edward and Ella Chambers. Prior to the beginning of World War Two, in 1937, he traveled to England to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). In 1939, he was picked for a Canadian unit of the RAF, Squadron 242. Members of this squadron were trained to fly spitfires and later hurricanes. Their shifts would consist of three 18-hour sessions, followed by a day of rest. During this training, Chambers met Beverley Smiley of Wolseley, Saskatchewan, and the two became roommates.

May 18, 1941

On May 18, 1941, Chambers’ plane was shot down while flying above France. Smiley, witnessing the explosion, presumed his friend dead, information which he relayed in a letter to his mother, who in turn passed it along to Ella Chambers. A few days later, Smiley’s own plane was shot down; he escaped using a parachute but was taken to a Prisoner of War hospital. He awoke a few days later to find himself in a bed next to Chambers.

A few weeks after reuniting with Smiley, Chambers wrote the following in a letter to his parents: “This is just to let you know I am well and happy. I was shot down in France on May 18. My plane exploded and I jumped in my parachute. I was in a French hospital under German control for eight weeks recovering from burns on my face, hands, right leg and both feet. I am perfectly all right now.”

One of Fifteen

After leaving the hospital in France, Chambers was moved to a Prisoner of War camp on the shores of the Baltic, under watch of the German Air Force, where they were said to be well-treated. In September of 1941, Chambers and several other American and Canadian pilots in the camp were permitted to broadcast messages home to their families. Chambers reportedly relayed that the message that he was well, and told his parents not to worry. In late 1942, he was moved to a camp near Dresden, around the same time as he received his promotion from Flying Officer to Flight Lieutenant.

Chambers was one of fifteen Vernon men who were held in German or Italian Prisoner of War Camps during World War Two. In May of 1945, following German surrender, the Vernon News reported that the fifteen prisoners were eagerly anticipating their release but had remained in relatively good spirits throughout the ordeal.

At this point, records about Chambers’ life dwindle in the Vernon Archives. It is presumed that he was released shortly after, as there are a few references to him having eventually settled in Seattle. It is also known that he went on to have a family of his own.


**Update November 7, 2023: The following additional information was kindly submitted by a descendant of Lorne Chambers.** 

After the war Lorne married a nurse, Emily, who had cared for him on his return. They settled in Penticton with the rest of the Chambers family, his parents, brother Lyall, sisters Eileen and Ruth and their families. Lorne and Emily and their two children moved to Honolulu in the late 50s. After Honolulu they settled in the Seattle area. Lorne retired to the Palm Springs area later in life and passed away in 1997.


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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives