The front page of the Vernon News from October 13th, 1921.

100 years ago

What was happening in Vernon 100 years ago, in the autumn of 1921? The Vernon News (and particularly the “Town and District” column) provides some insight.

Group photo of some of the Coldstream Ranch fruit pickers, circa 1915. GVMA #2523.

On October 3 of that year, a masquerade ball was held at the dining hall of the Coldstream Ranch fruit pickers. The venue was decorated with autumn leaves, berries, asparagus ferns, and paper lanterns, and entertainment and refreshments were provided. Attendees dressed as knights, princesses, sailors, soldiers, and clowns milled about the dance floor. Someone even arrived disguised as Palmolive soap.

The Post Office clock circa 1935. GVMA #4767.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For about a week during that October, Vernonites were reported as being very tardy, on account of the Post Office clock being out of commission. When the clock was dismantled for repairs, those who governed their daily actions by the ticking of the clock were “forced to rely on their own more or less accurate timepieces.”

A bizarre was hosted by children of the Presbyterian Church Sunday School on October 15, 1921. Large quantities of farm produce, preserves, pickles, and home cooking were available for purchase. The afternoon concluded with a musical program.

Edna Harwood and Agnes Fletcher dressed as witches for Halloween circa 1918. GVMA #1519.
The Empress Theatre in 1922. GVMA #4597.

The Empress Theatre hosted showings of the 1921 films “Stranger than Fiction,” “The Devil,” and “Nobody,” and a local minister invited those who cuss to a lecture on the Third Commandment.

On the afternoon of October 31, a Halloween party was held at the new South Vernon School; around 400 students attended. Later that evening, the doors of the school were opened so that the citizens of Vernon could inspect the new facility.

Among all of these notable events, the everyday moments of life are also noted in the Vernon News: from births, deaths, and birthdays, to special visitors, meeting notices, and local sales.   

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

The Pioneer Park Cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

Vernon’s First Cemetery

An unassuming plot of land off of Alexis Park Drive is all that remains of Vernon’s first cemetery. The Pioneer Park Cemetery, as it is now known, was established in early 1885 on 52 acres of land donated by Vernon’s first white settler, Luc Girouard. Up until then, the closest cemetery was located at the Okanagan Mission, and with a growing population, Vernon was in need of its own facility. Girouard’s fellow pioneer E.J. Tronson was the main driving force behind the establishment of the Pioneer Park Cemetery.

 

The Pioneer Park Cemetery is accessed from 35th Avenue off of Alexis Park Drive in Vernon. The cemetery is on the right approximately 100 metres along 35th Avenue. Photo and directions courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

A state of Disrepair

In July of 1885, the first body, that of one-year-old John William Hozier, was laid to rest in the site. But only ten years later, in 1895, the cemetery was in a state of disrepair, with the fence rotting away. Conditions improved somewhat in 1898, when a source of water was located near the cemetery which allowed for the planting of flowers.

 

A New Cemetery is chosen

However, the site was ultimately deemed inadequate, and, in 1901, G. Milligan offered the city five acres of land on Pleasant Valley Road for the establishment of a new cemetery. A year later, the Pleasant Valley Cemetery was ready for use. Starting in 1913, bodies were exhumed from the Pioneer Park Cemetery and moved to the Pleasant Valley Cemetery.

 

Preservation and Commemoration

Details of tombstones at the Pioneer Park Cemetery. Photo courtesy of the Vernon and District Family History Society.

In 1932, some Vernon City Councilors suggested that the old cemetery should be preserved out of respect for the early pioneers who established it. Once the deeds to the land were transferred from the Girouard Family, city crews were sent it to improve the cemetery’s appearance and to restore any remaining tombstones. In 1973, the site was turned into a park, and named the Pioneer Park Cemetery.

Although you might not recognize the park as a former cemetery with just a cursory glance, the lives of those who were buried there have not been forgotten; a memorial plaque at the park’s entrance bears many of their names, and members of the Vernon and District Family History Society are working to compile a complete burial list.

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

On September 30, the public is asked to wear orange to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The above logo was created for non-profit use by Andy Everson of the K’ómoks First Nation.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

On June 3, 2021, the Canadian Government declared September 30 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in commemoration of the lost children and survivors of residential schools. This announcement marked the most recent development in Canada’s efforts towards Reconciliation, which remains an ongoing process. The following timeline highlights some of the local and national developments in this fight for justice, but is by no means comprehensive.

 

A Timeline of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada

June 30, 1970: The St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School in Cranbrook closes after 80 years of operation. Most Syilx students were sent either to Cranbrook or Kamloops.

May 5, 1977: The North Okanagan Friendship Center Society (NOFCS) is established in Vernon to provide programs, services, and support to the community. 

July 31, 1978: The Kamloops Residential School closes after 88 years of operation.

1994: The Indian Residential School Survivors Society begins as a working committee of the First Nations Summit.

1996: Canada’s last federally-funded residential school, the Gordon’s Residential School in Punnichy, Saskatchewan, closes.

March 31, 1998: The Aboriginal Healing Foundation is established to fund projects that address the intergenerational impacts of Canada’s residential school system.

2001: The documentary “Survivors of the Red Brick Schoolhouse” is produced by a group of former Syilx students of the St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School, under the direction of Virginia Baptiste.

Nov. 23, 2005: The Canadian Government announces a $2-billion compensation package for Indigenous Peoples who were forced to attend residential schools.

2008: Prime Minister Stephen Harper offers an apology to residential school survivors.

2008: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) is officially launched. Over the course of 6 years, the TRC interviews more than 6,500 witnesses, and hosts 7 national events to engage and educate the Canadian public.

2015: The TRC releases its final report which includes 94 Calls to Action.

2015: The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) establishes the Syilx Indian Residential School Committee.

Nov. 28, 2017: The ONA unveils the Syilx Okanagan Indian Residential School Monument in Penticton.

June 18, 2020: OKIB Chief Byron Louis and Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming begin regular meetings to develop a stronger relationship between the Band and the City.

 

To learn more, please join us at the museum on September 30, 2021, to honour National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with a series of presentations and displays. Click here to learn more. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of alcohol and alcohol consumption.

The Vernon Hotel bar room, with patrons, circa 1895. 

September 12, 1916

On this day (Sept. 12) in 1916, a public referendum was held in Vernon and across B.C. to determine whether or not prohibition would be implemented around the province. Three days later, the official results were all in; those in favour of prohibition had won with a 56.5% majority.

Contrary to popular belief, the Prohibition Act did not actually make drinking or manufacturing alcohol illegal, but instead prohibited its sale. Moreover, doctors and pharmacists could still purchase liquor for medical purposes from government-appointed vendors.

Local historian A.J. Hiebert completed an in-depth thesis in 1972 on the social and political impacts of prohibition’s arrival in the Okanagan, and a few of his findings are outlined here. For the full document, please visit https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/exhibits/living-landscapes/thomp-ok/prohibition/prohibition.htm.  

Prohibition in Vernon

The results of the referendum in Vernon showed that 365 individuals were in favour of prohibition, while 332 were against is. Most, however, adopted a moderate response to the consumption of liquor.

For example, in an article published on November 21, 1913, the editor of the Vernon News discusses the importance of limiting activities like excessive drinking to uphold the city’s “high moral standards” but also cautions against “extreme and impracticable views.” 

When prohibition officially came into effect in B.C. on October 1, 1917, it didn’t seem to actually cause too much of a stir among Vernon’s citizens, perhaps because the notion was not an entirely unfamiliar one.

Petitions in favour of banning the sale and manufacture of liquor had circulated around the city as early as 1891, although they never came to pass. Vernon’s Mayor from 1908 to 1909, R.W. Timmins, was also an outspoken prohibitionist, but dry laws were never implemented in the city during his time in office. A by-law was even passed by referendum in 1910 that ordered places that sold liquor to be closed between 11 pm and 6 am, and to keep their blinds up during these hours to allow the premises to be inspected.

Prohibition was difficult to enforce and ultimately encouraged crime and corruption (prohibition commissioner Walter Findley was even arrested in 1918 for trying to smuggle in a train-load of rye from Ontario) and the system was rescinded across the province in 1921.

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

White Rock Lake Fire

Okanagan Lake has been the subject of much media attention over the last few weeks, since the most eastern flank of the White Rock Lake Fire has reached its shores. However, given the lake’s long history (it is, in fact, pre-historic), this is not the first time it has made the news.

A series of Anomolies

In February of 2021, some North Okanagan residents were shocked to see what appeared to be a tornado emerging over the lake near Fintry. This was later identified to be a steam devil, which forms over large bodies of water during cold air outbreaks. Steam devils are common occurrences on Canada’s Great Lakes, but it was only due to the North Okanagan’s unusual cold snap this past winter that one was able to form over Okanagan Lake.   

In 1979, the lake was recognized as an excellent location for underwater treasure hunters. Hundreds of pieces of glass and earthenware were found to be lying on the lake bottom, thrown overboard over the years by passengers on sternwheelers and other water crafts. In 1978, two divers discovered, at the bottom of the lake, an old steamer trunk full of collectible bottles, much to their delight.

On November 4, 1913, a tugboat called the Skookum collided with a CPR tug, the SS Castlegar, and sank almost immediately. The crew survived, with some minor injuries, but the vessel was never recovered. It is believed that the tug remains, to this day, in the silent depths of the lake. 

Sometime in the mid-1880s, the infamous Captain Shorts and a companion were wandering the shores of Okanagan Lake when they made a startling discovery; partly submerged in a few feet of water was the vertebrae of some enormous sea creature. The two men brought the bone to Leonard Norris, a government agent in Vernon, who, many years later, had it sent it to the University of British Columbia for identification. It was determined to be a whale bone, brought into the valley by human means, but how it came to be lying abandoned in a rugged and unfrequented section of Okanagan Lake remains unknown.  

And long before the concept of “news” was even invented, the lake and its environs represented part of the territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation, and stood as a silent witness to all the little anomalies of human life. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

 

The First Balloon is Released

In the afternoon of October 31, 1971, more than 100 people turned out, including the mayor, a federal deputy minister, and the local MP, to watch Russ Colville, a meteorological technician at the Vernon Upper Air Station, launch the site’s first hydrogen balloon.

The Vernon weather station opened that year on a hill overlooking the commonage for a cost of $200,000. At the time, it was only the fourth of its kind in the province, and the thirty-fifth in Canada, and was part of a world-wide network of stations that provided data for weather-forecasting purposes. 

During the station’s first few years, it operated under a staff of four; two men worked per shift, five hours on, five hours off, with two days in between.

How Weather Balloons Work

Twice a day, at 3:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m., a hydrogen-filled balloon was launched from the Vernon station and sent more than 32 kilometres into the atmosphere. These weren’t your average birthday balloons; they were white and massive, at more than 1.5 metres in diameter. Tied to the bottom of the balloon was a lightweight instrument called a radiosonde. As it ascended into the sky beneath the balloon, the device beamed atmospheric information such as pressure, temperature, and humidity back to the ground station via a small radio transmitter. 

The balloon would rise at about 1,000 feet per minute, expanding until it reached a maximum diameter of around 20 feet. Somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 feet, the balloon would burst, and the radiosonde would hurtle back towards the earth. A little parachute helped to slow its descent, and eventually it would touch down, often great distances from its release point. The device was not recovered, but instead was left to biodegrade.

A final Launch

By 1994, technological changes meant that the manual release of balloons was no longer required. The weather station’s duties were transferred to the Mountain Weather Service office in Kelowna which employed a quicker, more automated system. But for those who had dedicated their lives to measuring weather using balloons, the final launch on January 13, 1994, marked a sad occasion. Russ Colville was called out of retirement to release the last balloon, and a handful of people arrived for the occasion.

The building that once housed the Vernon Upper Air Station still stands, and now contains the Allan Brooks Nature Centre.

 

 

 

Russ Colville releases the last weather balloon from the Vernon Upper Air Station on January 13, 1994. GVMA #14980.

The Vernon Upper Air Station during its decommission in 1994. GVMA #14916.

The Allan Brooks Nature Centre now occupies the building used by the Vernon Upper Air Station at 250 Allan Brooks Way. Image courtesy of the Allan Brooks Nature Centre. 

 

 

 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

Vernon in the summer of 1908.

 

2021 Western Canada Heat Wave

This past June, dozens of records were set in Vernon and across B.C. during an unprecedented heat wave. The highest reported temperature in Vernon during this time was a staggering 44.2 C, recorded on June 28.

Although different weather stations around the City reported different temperatures, and, moreover, historical temperature data for Vernon is not conclusive, it is believed that this high shattered a previous record of 40 C set on July 21, 1908.

Staying cool before A/C

Needless to say, the luxury of air conditioning did not exist 113 years ago (the first in-home unit was installed in a Minneapolis mansion in 1914), but a variety of methods were used to help people stay cool.

An ad for the Cooper and Christien Grocer in the Vernon News of July 23, 1908, encouraged the public to stock up on lemons and limes for lemonade. (Hot! Hot! Hot! And it may be hotter,” reads the headline). Refreshing treats such as ice cream, watermelon, and iced tea were a particularly popular way to cool down, something which to this day hasn’t changed. 

On the same page of the Vernon News, the W.R. Megaw department store announced that they were hosting a hot weather sale, with discounts on kilted sailor suits for children and taffeta silk parasols for their mothers. Light-weight materials like canvas, cotton, and linen were popular choices during the hot summer months.

Another ad recommended the use of Zam-Buk, a medicinal skin balm first sold in 1902, to relieve the symptoms of heat rash. Although there was no over-the-counter cure for heat-related illnesses, strenuous work was avoided when the sun was at its most extreme; instead, afternoon naps were popularized as a way to reduce the threat of heat exhaustion or stroke.

July 21, 1908

However, despite the best efforts of advertisers, the high temperatures of July 1908 actually did not seem to cause much of a stir among the people of Vernon. The record high was relegated to a small note in the newspaper’s “Town and District” section that read “Tuesday was the hottest day experienced here for some years. The thermometer at the Government meteorological station at the Coldstream Ranch registered 104 [40 C] in the shade.”

However, a description of the lacrosse match for the Minto Cup played by the Montreal Shamrocks and the New Westminster club on the same day that Vernon reached its record high temperature earned a full paragraph.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

 

The Okanagan Landing Stationhouse Museum

One of Vernon’s hidden gems is the Okanagan Landing Stationhouse Museum, located in Paddlewheel Park.

In addition to a variety of other artifacts, the museum boasts an incredible scale model that depicts life in the Okanagan Landing in 1914.

The Era of Sternwheelers

Life was different in Vernon when sternwheelers still plied the waters of Okanagan Lake.

The Landing was a hub of activity, since it was the terminus of the Shuswap and Okanagan spur line of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the most northerly steamboat port on the lake. It wasn’t unusual for the arrival or departure of ships to draw large crowds to the Landing, and perhaps none more so than for the launch of the S.S. Okanagan in 1907. 

A New Ship

On April 16 of that year, the town was all but deserted, for the majority of its population had descended on the Okanagan Landing. Mayor W.R. Megaw had declared a half-holiday, and school, stores, and offices were closed.

The Landing, meanwhile, was festively decorated, with bunting, flags, and streamers waving cheerfully from every building.

But it was the S.S. Okanagan that was drawing the most attention from onlookers, with her gleaming white and gold trim.

Construction had begun on the CPR vessel a year earlier, in 1906. She was built to replace the aging S.S. Aberdeen in transporting passengers and freight between Vernon and Penticton. After a year of construction, she was finally ready to be put to work. 

The Christening

As the crowd waited impatiently, the ship’s gang plank was removed and she started to slowly slide along the greased stringers towards the water.

Meanwhile, a ceremony was taking place on the ship’s main deck; the wife of Captain Gore had been given the honour of naming the ship, and was presented with a flower bouquet and a silver water service. 

As the Okanagan slipped into the lake for the first time, Mrs. Gore showered a bottle of champagne across the ship’s bow. The guests on board toasted to the new vessel’s success, before they were transferred to the S.S. Aberdeen and brought back to shore.

Celebrations continued into the evening, with performances by the Vernon Fire Brigade Band and a dance hosted by Captain and Mrs. Gore at the Landing’s Strand Hotel.

 

YEARS OF SERVICE

The S.S. Okanagan was in service for 27 years before being retired in 1934. While most of her pieces were dismantled and sold as scraps, the Ladies Saloon from the boat’s stern was rescued by the S.S. Sicamous Restoration Society and moved to the heritage park in Penticton.

 

The Okanagan Landing Stationhouse museum is housed in in the original 1892 railroad station house. 

 

The S.S. Okanagan on her day of launch in 1907.

 

Okanagan Landing, showing the Strand Hotel, railroad, and SS Okanagan, sternwheeler circa 1910. GVMA #11232.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

 

Grappling with disaster

“No more appalling disaster has ever been recorded in the annals of this province than the catastrophe of Tuesday morning [August 10, 1909], when the Okanagan Hotel was destroyed by fire and eleven helpless victims perished in the flames. A sickening pall of gloom rests over the city.”

Thus read the front page of the Vernon News on August 12, 1909, a few days after the Okanagan Hotel fire that resulted in the death of 11 individuals and left the City of Vernon shocked. 

The Okanagan Hotel

The Okanagan Hotel opened in June of 1891 on the corner of 30th Avenue and 33rd Street. It was built of brick veneer and, when it was destroyed, represented one of Vernon’s oldest buildings. 

A Fire Breaks Out and a hero emerges

Early on the morning of August 10, a fire started in the hotel. 60 people were inside at the time. 

Fire fighters rushed to the scene but little could be done. Efforts instead turned to rescuing those inside and stopping the blaze from spreading. 

It was then that a Vernon man named Archie Hickling sprang into action. He ran into the building to rescue two children who were safely evacuated. Hickling then heard a trapped waitress calling for help.

“I’ll get her or I’ll die,” said Hickling, according to the Vernon News. “Darting into the hellish cauldron of flame, smoke and noxious gases, he reached the girl and got her out through the window, whence she was speedily rescued; but heroic Hickling sank back into the pit of death and was seen no more alive.”

We Will Remember them

Hickling was one of 11 men who perished in the Okanagan Hotel Fire. 

An investigation lasted nearly a month after the fire before it was determined that “the fire was of incendiary origin by a party or parties unknown, and we consider from the evidence produced that the night watchman on the night preceding the Okanagan fire, did not perform his required duties.” The perpetrator of this crime has never been discovered. 

A monument in Hickling’s memory was erected in December of 1909. In 1999, the other 10 victims (save one) were identified, and their names listed on a bronze plaque that was added to the Hickling Monument. The memorial currently stands in Vernon’s Polson Park.

  • Wilbur Smith, carpenter
  • J.J. Funston, labourer
  • Jas. Anderson, baker’s assistant
  • Julius Fuerst, bartender
  • M. Chabtree, labourer
  • George Gannett, cement worker
  • George McKay, cement worker
  • George Seltgast, painter
  • Archibald Hickling, labourer
  • Wm. Cook, prospector
  • An unknown man

Additional Resources

Hero of Okanagan hotel fire remembered 110 years later,” article by Roger Knox. 

When Duty Calls – The Story of The Okanagan Hotel Fire of 1909,” documentary by Bruce Mol.

A headline from the Vernon News of August 12, 1909.

 

 

The Okanagan Hotel, undated. GVMA #17562.

 

 

The ruins of the Okanagan Hotel Fire on August 11, 1909. GVMA #004.

 

 

(Left) Archie Hickling circa 1908. (Right) The Archie Hickling Memorial in Polson Park, “In Memory of a Hero.” GVMA #19341 and GVMA #24630.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

 

THE Silver Star Mountain Museum

A series of year-round exhibits by the Silver Star Mountain Museum located throughout the resort’s village share the ski-hill’s long history.

After more than 90 years of development, the hill now welcomes thousands of local, national and international visitors each year. Although hundreds of individuals worked to shape Silver Star into what it is today, it took just a few to discover its potential.

A First Ascent

In 1921, Bert Thorburn and Tini Ryan road their bicycles up Silver Star Road, stopping one half mile below the first switchback. Strapped to the frames of their bikes were pairs of skis.

After leaving the bikes behind, Bert and Tini continued to trek by foot and by ski for 17 kilometres up to the mountain’s summit. After many hours, they reached the open slopes of the Star and completed the first ever ascent of the mountain.

Exploring the Possibilities

Then, in the spring of 1930, Bill Osborn, David Ricardo, and Michael Freeman obtained permission to stay overnight in the mountain’s forest fire lookout.

The next day, they retraced their steps, and were among the first to ski down the mountain. 

In 1934, Phil Hoskins, Robin Richmond, and Carl Wylie spent four days at the summit, exploring the open slopes. They returned full of enthusiasm for the possibilities of future skiing at Silver Star.

A Club IS FORMED

Finally, in 1938, the Silver Star Ski Club was formed with Carl as president. Bert, Tini, Phil, and Robin were all instrumental in the club’s formation.

The City of Vernon even donated a log cabin to new club as a weekend home for the more adventuresome skiers.

The Village, courtesy of the SilverStar Mountain Resort.

 

Bert Thorburn, Mike Freeman, Jim Duddle, and George Duddle on Silver Star’s southern slope in 1939.

 

Group of people sitting in the Silver Star Mountain lookout tower circa 1930. GVMA #290.

a reputation is established

In December of 1938, the hill’s first downhill race was held, with competitors coming from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, and Summerland. In less than 20 years, Silver Star had gained a reputation as a skiing mecca across the Okanagan Valley, and it hass only been up from there!

 

 

Gwyn Evans