festive roadblock – That’s Lit!


December 11, 2020

Imagine you are driving down Vernon’s 30th Avenue, when you are confronted by a lit Christmas tree in the middle of the road! It seems hard to fathom by today’s safety standards, but throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, when traffic was much lighter than it is today, this was one of Vernon’s favourite seasonal traditions.

Each December, a large spruce was cut down, installed in the middle of the intersection of 30th Avenue and 32nd Street (this, of course, was before the construction of Highway 97), and strung with twinkling, multicoloured lights.


Vernon’s Downtown Christmas Tree in the intersection of 30th Avenue and 32nd Street in the 1930s

Christmas tree decorations have changed a lot over the years. During the Great Depression, trees were typically hung with tinsel, popcorn garlands, and handmade ornaments. By the 1940s, the handmade was beginning to be replaced by the store-bought, with glass baubles made by the Shiny Brite Company being some of the most popular ornaments of the decade. As for Vernon’s downtown tree, it was probably limited to only strings of lights for decorations, as the risk of festive glass grenades falling on passing motorists was likely deemed too high.

The Vernon Museum’s records do not indicate how or when this festive roadblock came to be part of the city’s Christmas season, but it was unfortunately a relatively short-lived tradition; in 1943, the downtown Christmas tree became a casualty of the Second World War.

The reason for the tree’s removal was two-fold. Firstly, the lighting was not switch-operated, which went against Air Raid Precautions. Secondly, because 30th Avenue was used extensively by mechanized military equipment, having a tree in the middle of the street constituted a significant safety concern. Instead, a planted tree was decorated outside of City Hall (which, at that time, was also located on 30th Avenue), with lighting that was controlled from inside the building, and thus could be switched off at a moment’s notice in the case of an air raid.

Like with most things in life, the different ways in which Christmas Trees have been decorated over the years has reflected the priorities of the era. As for this year, I suspect some people will take to using toilet paper as a garland out of pure luxury.

Gwyn Evans