Long shot of a field with drying tobacco leaves
Tobacco drying in a field in Vernon in the 1920s.

A promising industry

Between the 1890s and 1930s, Kelowna had a flourishing tobacco industry, evidenced in the numerous tobacco barns still present on the city’s outskirts. What is less well-known, however, is that Vernon also once had its own, much-smaller tobacco industry.

The beginning of the commercial tobacco industry in the Okanagan Valley is often attributed to Louis Holman, who arrived in 1893 and later managed the Kelowna Tobacco Co. However, Holman’s understanding of tobacco cultivation stemmed from observing the techniques of the Syilx People of the Okanagan.

Wild tobacco and syilx culture

Smańxʷ, or wild tobacco, is a culturally-important plant for the Syilx People, who cultivated it for generations prior to the arrival of settlers. The plants were grown along creeks and in other moist locations, and the leaves were harvested in the fall and left in the sun to dry for smoking and ceremonial purposes.

While the commercial tobacco industry in Kelowna had started flourishing as early as 1905, the serious cultivation of the plant by non-Indigenous individuals in Vernon didn’t begin until the 1920s. On August 16, 1927, Vernon residents were intrigued to witness trucks loaded with harvested tobacco passing through the city streets. A tobacco field in the BX area was undergoing harvesting, and the crops were being transported to a warehouse on 30th Avenue for drying. Around 30 acres of tobacco had been planted on properties surrounding Vernon.

The dream dwindles

In September of that same year, tobacco sourced from Vernon made its way to the Provincial Exhibition in New Westminster, where it was said to have garnered significant interest. Following this, the plants were exhibited in various stores in Vancouver and New Westminster. At this juncture, the future of Vernon’s tobacco industry seemed promising.

However, in 1928, growers in Vernon started to voice concerns over the lack of demand for their produce. Whereas the previous year saw the purchase of the Vernon crop by B.C. Tobacco Products Co. Ltd., situated in Vancouver, the current year witnessed a decline in demand. This issue of supply and demand was pervasive across Canada.

This, combined with the onset of the Great Depression and research findings out of Summerland that suggested that the Valley might not actually be well-suited for the cultivation of the plant, contributed to the decline of the tobacco industry in Vernon. Shortly thereafter, Kelowna’s tobacco industry also faltered.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Archives Manager

 

A baby bird in a nest.
An undated photo of a baby loon next to an egg; loons are among the migratory bird species for which ornithologist James Munro advocated. Photograph taken by James Munro’s nephew, Maurice Munro.
A person wearing glasses and a suit.
An undated photograph of James Munro (public domain image).

Nature’s champion

On April 22, Earth Day will be commemorated in 192 countries around the world. Since its inception in 1970, the event has sought to raise awareness of the need to protect Earth’s natural resources and foster a global environmental movement. Over the years, Vernon has been home to many environmental champions, one of whom was considered a leading authority on waterfowl in western North America.

James A. Munro was born in Kildonan, Manitoba, on November 8, 1884. He grew up in Toronto, where he was introduced to naturalists including Dr. William Brodie, Sam Wood, and John Edmonds. Munro moved to Okanagan Landing in 1910 with his wife Isabella, who was recovering from tuberculosis.

Here, Munro crossed paths with fellow ornithologist Major Allan Brooks. While they reportedly went on numerous field expeditions together and held each other’s abilities in high esteem, their strong-willed and opinionated natures often led to disagreements.

Chief federal migratory bird officer

Here, Munro crossed paths with fellow ornithologist Major Allan Brooks. While they reportedly went on numerous field expeditions together and held each other’s abilities in high esteem, their strong-willed and opinionated natures often led to disagreements.

In 1913, Munro became a member of the American Ornithological Union, and by 1920, assumed the role of Chief Federal Migratory Bird Officer for the four western Canadian provinces. He held this position until his retirement in 1949, during which period he authored more than 175 publications on the birds of British Columbia.

a LEGACY RECOGNIZED

Over the years, Munro’s concern about the human-induced degradation of waterfowl nesting habitats across the province grew steadily. He was deeply trouble by the observed pollution of lakes and streams and was one of the first to draw attention to this issue. His advocacy spurred further field studies investigating the effects of economic expansion and population growth on migratory birds, fish populations, and mammals.

Munro passed away in 1958, and a decade later, the Canadian Government erected a monument commemorating his achievements at Summit Creek, near Creston. This marked the federal government’s first acknowledgment of the accomplishments of one of its dedicated conservationists. On the occasion, Ian McTaggart, Dean of Graduate Studies at UBC, remarked that Munro “had been the chief spokesman in western Canada for the cause of migratory birds for 38 years.”

If you are interested in reading more about James A. Munro, click here for a comprehensive obituary by James L. Baillie. 

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Archives Manager

 

The Titanic on April 10, 1912, five days before its sinking. Public domain image.

A maritime tragedy

During the early hours of April 15, 1912, the Titanic descended into the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean following a collision with an iceberg. This catastrophe occurred just four days into the ship’s inaugural journey from Southampton to New York City, and regrettably, more than 1,500 passengers and crew perished in this maritime tragedy. Among those absent from the ill-fated voyage, despite prior intentions to be onboard, was Vernonite Baroness Herry.

The Herry residence in the BX in 1913. GVMA #18242.

celestine herry

Celestine Herry was born on July 23, 1879 in Brussels, Belgium. At the age of 21, she married Baron Harold Herry and the couple went on to have five children. In 1910, Baron and Baroness Herry attended the World’s Fair in Brussels, where they encountered details about the Okanagan Valley.

Since 1907, a consortium of Belgian land developers had been parceling out land in the BX and surrounding areas with the intent of attracting new settlers. Upon encountering advertisements for this “land of milk and honey,” Baron and Baroness Herry were captivated and purchased land sight unseen. They made the decision to move their family to Canada and intended to arrive onboard the Titanic.

Baroness Herry and four of her five children in 1915. GVMA #18237.

New Horizons

However, the story goes that the Baroness had a foreboding feeling about the voyage and postponed their departure until later in April 1912. They ended up traveling onboard the SS Megantic which departed from Liverpool. When they did arrive, it must have been with a sense of relief to have their feet on firm ground.

The family settled into a large home in the BX which they called Sunshine Lodge. Baron Herry owned one of the first modern motor cards in the Valley, and the Baroness swiftly gained recognition for her artistic prowess. Baron Herry served overseas for four years during World War One, after which the family’s fortunes turned and they were required to move into a smaller house.

However, the couple remained active into their older years and passed away one year apart – the Baron in 1951 and the Baroness in 1952.

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. Thank you to Wray McDonnell for his help.

A black and white image showing several sets of televisions on display in a shop.
A display of television at Vernon’s Hudson Bay Co. store circa 1960. This new technology was used by District Horticulturalist to connect with the Okanagan Valley’s growers.

A new technology debuts

Television made its debut in the Okanagan Valley in September 1957 with the launch of CHBC in Kelowna. At the onset, only 500 households owned television sets, but this figure surged to 10,000 by 1958. Among those quick to embrace this innovation were the Valley’s District Horticulturalists.

In April of 1958, Roy Chapman, general manager of CHBC, offered the horticultural branch 15 minutes of free airtime each week. Mike Oswell, who was serving as the District Horticulturalist for Vernon at the time, was assigned the responsibility of supervising the program. Initially, he hesitated to take on this task, since all television broadcasts were distributed live at the time, leaving little margin for error.

Okanagan farm and garden

Nevertheless, within a mere two weeks, Oswell has devised a program to occupy the 6:00 PM weekly slot, titled “Okanagan Farm and Garden.” The show aimed to share vital information on insect and disease control via a series of guest speakers. In its first episode, the discussion focused on fire blight, a destructive disease capable of decimating blossoms and shoots, leading to branch dieback in apple and pear trees.

Following the first three episodes, CHBC asked Oswell to expand the program to 30 minutes, which he willingly accepted. The ensuing discussions covered a wide array of topics including home vegetable gardening, lawn maintenance, sheep farming, the 4H program, and weed eradication. Some episodes even featured live animals. The studio atmosphere was described as relaxed and amiable, with surprisingly few technical difficulties. Oswell hosted the program for a year before passing the baton to Bob Wilson, District Horticulturalist for Kelowna.

chautauquas

In 1963, the channel introduced another horticultural-themed show called Chesterfield Chautauqua (named after the Chautauqua meetings utilized by the horticultural branch as a vital extension activity), allowing growers to phone in queries and receive live responses. By 1964, the program had been renamed Sunrise Chautauqua. CHBC continued airing horticultural programs until the 1970s, when airtime was no longer freely available. Consequently, the branch could not sustain this initiative financially, but fortunately, other extension projects ensured that District Horticulturalists remained available to assist both new and seasoned growers.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives