french family land

May 28, 2021

Near the entrance to the Vernon Recreation Centre, a humble plaque in the shade of a tall tree memorializes the 1891 residence of S.P. French.

That year, Samuel Phelps French, born in England in 1844, moved his wife Susannah and nine children from Winnipeg to Vernon and purchased between 10 to 20 acres of land to raise cattle.

A warm welcome

The family’s 1891 residence was actually not located where the plaque indicates, but on 32nd Avenue, then known as Schubert Street.

Many important events passed beneath the roof of this residence, and the French family extended a welcome to friends and strangers alike. 

In November of 1902, the Vernon News reported that “the hospitable home of Mr. and Mrs. S.P. French was 

 

DA plaque outside the Vernon Recreation Centre memorializes the first two residences of S.P. French (pictured top right, GVMA #5088). The Vernon Museum does not have a photograph of either of the houses.

 

 

taxed to it utmost capacity to receive the large number of visitors who during the afternoon and evening assembled to extend a welcome to the bride of Mr. S.P. French, Jr.

changing ownership & land use

It was not until 1905 that S.P. purchased 65 acres near where the Rec Centre now stands from the Estate of the late Luc Girouard and built a second house. By 1914, the land had been parceled up, with some of it being sold to the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway. S.P. then purchased a parcel of land east of Vernon and built a third house, on Sarsons Road. This residence still stands, while the plaque serves as a memorial of the two family homes that came before it.

S.P. helped to lay Vernon’s first sidewalk on 30th Avenue in 1893. He also served on the Vernon City Council in 1903 and was a devout member of the local Presbyterian Church.

names & recognition

S.P. passed away in 1926, predeceased by his wife Susannah in 1912. His nine children and twenty-eight grandchildren went on to have remarkable lives of their own. One son, Percy, even followed in his father’s footsteps and was named the Okanagan’s first “Master Farmer” by Winnipeg’s Nor’ West Farmer Magazine in 1932.

While his son was bestowed with the title “Master Farmer”, the residence of the family of S.P. French family is recognized with a plaque. 

Plaques such as this, as well as street names, are often in memory and recognition of the pioneers, agriculturalists and ranchers who first “settled” this area.

In recent years, there has been more of an acknowledgment of Syilx place names, and the nsyilixcen language of the Syilx people of the Okanagan Nation is being incorporated into place names and signs in places such as the UBC Okanagan campus. 

 

Gwyn Evans

Vernon then & now

April 26, 2021

As part of the GVMA Earth Day, Every Day focus on ecological change in the Okanagan, we’ve developed a short slideshow of photographs comparing archival photos around the Greater Vernon area, with photos from 2021.

ECO: a Virtual program

The slideshow can also be used in conjunction with the ECO: Ecological Change in the Okanagan.

Designed for intermediate students in School District 22, the program will be of interest with anyone curious about how North Okanagan landscapes, wildlife populations, and ecology have changed over time

Learn More About: Okanagan Nation and the Syilx People; Early Explorers and Settlers; Land Use and Agriculture; Transportation and Recreation; the perspective of local Syilx Indigenous Youth Leader.

Included:

  • 30 minute ECO film
  • Now & Then Slideshow of Local Locations and Landscapes
  • An Educator’s Guide
  • Suggestions for Inquiries and Activities
  • Additional Resources 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to access the ECO Virtual Program

For a limited time, the ECO Virtual Program is available for free to all teachers, educators, parents, and any interested community member!

Please Contact Us Here to order the ECO: Ecological Change in the Okanagan Virtual Program.

We hope you enjoy the journey!

 

Bringing water from the hills

April 16, 2021

Picture the Okanagan without its expansive fruit orchards. No juicy peaches and sweet cherries in the summer, and no crisp apples and tart grapes in the autumn?

It is almost painful to imagine!

But this was the reality of life in the Okanagan before the advent of irrigation.

an Idea Flowed…

At the turn of the 20th century, the valley was too hot and dry to support much agriculture.

The manager of the Coldstream Ranch, W.C. Ricardo, proposed  Aberdeen Lake on the highlands to the southeast of Vernon as a potential water source to irrigate thirsty crops.

Water flowing out of the lake via Jones (now Duteau) creek, he argued, could be diverted south by canal to supply orchard and fields in White Valley (now Lavington) and the Coldstream Ranch. 

A Coldstream orchard circa 1910

 

 

This water even had the potential to be directed north across the ranch to irrigate the BX and beyond.

bringing water down into the Valley

The White Valley Irrigation and Power Company beginning this momentous task in 1906 with the construction of the Grey Canal.

The introduction of water via the Grey Canal changed the industry of the valley from ranching and the cultivation of cereals to the production of fruits like apples, pears, and cherries. The advent of orchards across the Okanagan helped to greatly stimulate the economy, but these plants also came with higher water demands.

The Grey Canal was completed in 1914. At one time, it supplied water to the largest irrigation district in BC, and delivered more water than the system that supplied to the City of Vancouver. If you’d like to learn more about the Grey Canal, please check out Peter Tassie’s Water from the Hillspublished by the Okanagan Historical Society.

a more water-wise approach

The climate of the Valley hasn’t changed. We still live in a dry belt that, particularly during the summer, receives little water. And we certainly can’t go back to the way things were before the advent of the fruit industry. Our orchards are as much are part of our identity in the Okanagan as our emerald lakes and delicious wine.

Each of us can ensure that water is not being wasted and instead reserved for vital tasks. Indeed, the average Okanagan citizen uses 675 litres of water each day! This is more than twice as much water as the average Canadian.

To reduce water usage, citizens of the Okanagan can try xeriscaping, a style of gardening that utilizes plants with low water needs that thrive naturally in the Valley’s dry environment. Some great tips about how to xeriscape in the Okanagan can be found here.

It is also important to ensure that one’s water consumption is as low as possible, particularly during drought periods. Watering plants in the evening or early morning can help to reduce evaporation. A list of current water restrictions can be found online through Greater Vernon Water.

Visit the website Okanagan WaterWise for more tips, as well as the Okanagan Xeriscape Association’s plan list aunt other helpful lawn and garden care tips in the WaterWise Landscape Irrigation Handbook.

Gwyn Evans

from bunchgrass to grazeland

April 9, 2021

 

With Earth Day fast approaching, the Vernon Museum has taken the opportunity to research how local human activity has effected, and continues to effect, ecosystems and wildlife in the North Okanagan.

Until the end of April, the museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the results of this investigation.

The importance of the introduction of cattle to the Valley cannot be overstated.

ranches as hubs of development

Early cattle drives passed through the Valley in the late 1850s, where the animals would feast on the Okanagan’s abundant bunchgrass, before continuing on their way to the gold fields of the Fraser Canyon. 

By the end of the next decade, upwards of 22,000 head of cattle had crossed the border at the south end of the Okanagan Valley.

Cattle round-up of Chief Clerke’s cattle at Wye Lake (Goose Lake area).
Date unknown.

 

 

Early cattle drives, and, later, the establishment of ranches, allowed the Okanagan to become a hub of economic activity. Despite this benefit, the arrival of large droves of cattle inevitably shaped the natural landscape in lasting ways.

Later, pioneers like Thomas Wood, Thomas Greenhow, and Cornelius O’Keefe arrived to pre-empt land and start permanent ranches. Their small herds grew rapidly in number.

From A Sea of Waving Grasses

The Okanagan of 1850s and ‘60s would have been almost unrecognizable to us today. The Valley bottom was covered not with areas of human development, but with fields of tall grass that, as they swayed in the breeze, resembled a vast, moving sea.

These grasses were especially adapted to our warm, dry climate. In particular, bunchgrass, of which there are several different species in the Okanagan, has a deep root system as well as a specific morphology which allows it to survive long periods of drought.

This bunchgrass was also perfect animal fodder and after a decade or so of constant feeding, the bunchgrass population began to suffer. By the 1890s, much of the bunchgrass had been stripped from the Valley. 

TO A Few Sparse Patches

Since then, the science of range management has progressed greatly, and it’s not the ranches that prove the greatest threat to native bunchgrass, but human encroachment. Areas of bunchgrass can still be found (at Kalamalka Lake Park, for example) but what was once a sea of grass is now only a few sparse patches. Today, only 9% of native bunchgrass is left in the Okanagan.

There are many approaches that we can take to curb the destruction of native bunchgrass populations, including supporting ecological restoration and habitat renewal initiatives, remaining on trails and marked areas when hiking and biking, learning about the growth cycle of plants and making informed decisions when allowing animals to graze, and taking an active role in preventing the spread of invasive weeds.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, an excellent read is “Bunchgrass and Beef: Bunchgrass Ecosystems and the Early Cattle Industry in the Thompson-Okanagan,” by local historian Ken Mather, available online at https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/exhibits/living-landscapes/thomp-ok/article-LL/contents-beef.html.

Gwyn Evans

An infamous remittance man

 

February 25, 2021

Perhaps he was trying to take some of the attention away from his Marchioness sister, or maybe he just wanted to scandalize the ladies.

Whatever the case, back in Vernon’s Cowtown days, few developed as infamous a reputation as one Coutts Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks).

to the colonies

Coutts was born in 1860 into an aristocratic British family. His father, Dudley Marjoribanks, was a Scottish businessman and politician who was later elevated to the position of Baron Tweedmouth.

Dudley and his wife Isabella had seven children, two of whom died as infants, with Coutts being the second-youngest.

When he came of age, like many other energetic, perhaps considered unruly, younger sons of upper-crust British families, Coutts was sent overseas for a life in the colonies.

These men were often given an allowance, or “remittance” from their well-to-do families. And, this remittance often made it possible for them to try on the parts of farmer, cowboy, or rancher in this new, “wild” world.

 

Portrait of Coutts Marjoribanks in 1895; Portrait of Lady Aberdeen at King Edward’s Coronation in 1902.

 

 

Coutts Marjoribanks (seated) with ranch hand

“not a particularly nice man”

He spent his youth cattle ranching in Texas, which instead of taming his boisterous personality and adventurous spirit, only encouraged it. He quickly became an accomplished roper, rider, and rancher.

Although Coutts was thriving in his new lifestyle, his family did not approve of his antics, and he was pushed to move to Vernon where he could be under the watchful of his older sister, Ishbel, the Lady Aberdeen. A few years earlier, the Aberdeens had purchased the Coldstream Ranch, and Coutts became its first manager.

Yet, even this increased-level of responsibility couldn’t dampen Coutts spirits, and he quickly earned a reputation in Vernon for his brazenness. Of Coutts, local woman Alice Barrett describes “never wanting to know him, for he is not a particularly nice man.”

You Can Lead a Horse to…

Photographer Charles Holliday seems to have been more entertained by Coutt’s peculiarities, and details with barely-veiled amusement his tendency to ride his horse right into the Kalamalka Hotel whenever he wanted a drink, which was apparently often.

Once when Coutts was loading a shipment of cattle into the back of a train, he was chastised by a passing parson for using expletive language in front of his ranch hand. Coutts lashed back with “Hell man! I’m not teaching a Sunday school, I’m loading cattle, and I’ll bet that Noah swore when he was loading his animals into the ark.”

Despite his rough manners, Coutts had an undeniable charisma that left most people begrudgingly fond of him—Alice Parke being an obvious exception. Coutts stepped down from his position as Manager of the Coldstream Ranch in 1895, but remained with his wife Agnes and two children in Vernon until his death in 1924. 

Gwyn Evans

Cultural Mosaic: Early Ukrainian immigrants

 

February 19, 2021

Every four to six weeks, the Vernon Museum will feature an individual or family who immigrated to this area.

Bringing some of their traditions and cultures with them, these early immigrants to the North Okanagan have helped to created the community and culture of the North Okanagan today.

ukrainian Canadians

Vernon has a rich Ukrainian Canadian culture. As of 2016, more than one-tenth of the city’s population was composed of people whose origins can be traced back to this Eastern European country.

WWI Internment

Early immigration to Vernon by those of Ukrainian descent was not always marked by respect. 2020 marked 100 years since the closure of the Vernon Internment Camp, where hundreds of  men, women, and children determined to be of Austrian-Hungarian descent were held prisoner—the majority of these were Ukrainian Canadians.

Ukrainian Canadian Culture

In the last 100 years, Ukrainian culture and traditions have flourished and deepened in this local setting.

This can be seen in the beautiful 74-year-old, gothic-style Ukrainian Orthodox Church that adorns the side of 27th Street, or in the colourful and energetic performances of Vernon’s Sadok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble. 

early immigration

It all began with one family—the Melnichuks.

Starting in 1896, under the aggressive immigration policies of Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, Canada began to experience a significant westward expansion of Ukrainian emigrants, many of whom had left their country of birth to escape poverty and oppression, and seek out land of their own.

 

Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Assumption of St. Mary, located at 4105 27th Street. This photographs shows the church shortly after its construction in 1947

 

Sadok Ukrainian Dance Ensemble performing at O’Keefe Ranch in 2018

 

Cultural Mosaic dance reformed by Ukrainian, Celtic, and Bhangra dancers at 2017 Okanagan Military Tattoo

Roman and Rose Melnichuk, both of whom were born in Ukraine, were the first to arrive in Vernon in 1914. They initially lived in a house on Mission Hill, but later Roman purchased property on both sides of Swan Lake to start a farm and raise a family. The couple would go on to have 12 children.

The second eldest of the children was Nicholas Melnichuk. From a young age, Nick had an adventurous spirit, and at only 12-years-old left Vernon to work as a ranch hand across the border in Washington State. He returned to Canada as a young man, and married Lucy Bordula. 

Nick served for two years in the motorcycle regiment of the Canadian Army during the Second World War, and for the next 35 years after that as a construction worker. In an article for the Vernon Daily News of 1981, he was quoted as saying “sure wish I had a dollar for every mile of road I drove the cats for various construction companies during that time.” Following his well-earned retirement, Nick spent his time trout fishing in the mountain lakes around Vernon. Nick Melnichuk remained in the city until his death in 1992. 

From this first pioneering family, the local Ukrainian community has proliferated and diversified, and their vibrant and symbolic traditions help to enrichen our city’s cultural mosaic.

Gwyn Evans

 

celebrating japanese culture

 

September 25, 2020

In 1934, a Japanese Cultural Centre opened at 1895 Bella Vista Road. Although its opening did not draw much interest from the general population of Vernon, this was a major milestone for the local Japanese community. The centre would serve as as stronghold of Japanese culture over the next few years, a period when many Japenese immigrants faced significant social and political opposition.  

Japanese citizens began immigrating to the Okanagan Valley at the turn of the 20th century. The first to arrive was Eijiro Kojama, who settled in Coldstream in 1903 and was naturalized at the Vernon Courthouse in 1908. Kojama served as foreman at the Coldstream Ranch, hiring other Japanese immigrants to work as labourers. By 1911, 314 Japanese were living in the Greater Vernon Area.  

 

 

Members of the Vernon Japanese community gathered for a celebration at the Japanese Community Hall located on Bella Vista Road, circa 1935.

In 1908, the Canadian Government negotiated an agreement with Japan that restricted the number of new male Japanese immigrants to Canada to only 400 a year. A 1916 Vernon News article descripes “orientals” as “undesirable immigrants,” and states that the “proportion of orientals to the white population of British Columbia is far too great to admit any [further immigrants] without grave danger.” Despite these social and institutional barricades, the Okanagan Valley Land Company opened a Japanese work camp, where both men and women were employed in the fields and packing houses. Japanese churches, community centres, and associations began cropping up across the Okanagan Valley.

World War Two was a tumultuous time in Canada for Japanese immigrants. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the Okanagan Security Committee began pushing for the use of interned Japanese as involuntary orchard labourers. At the end of August 1942, around 250 Japanese men were accompanied by police from the Greenwood internment camp to orchards in Vernon. Labourers made less than 4$ a day, and were stripped of their civil rights. They were not permitted to shop on Saturdays, nor visit Vernon Cafes at night. In September of 1942, around 70 Japanese workers at the Coldstream Ranch were re-interned after petitioning for higher wages.

In 1967, the Canadian Government introduced a new points-based immigration policy that no longer considered race a factor for exclusion, introducing a new generation of Japanese immigrants to Canada and the Okanagan Valley. Today, the Vernon Japanese Culture Centre still stands, and its society, as well as associated organizations like the Vernon Judo Club and the Vernon Japanese Women’s Auxilary, proudly promote a culture that has withstood generations of suppression.

Gwyn Evans

preserve the goods  

March 19, 2020

They are usually something we relegate to the back of our pantries, but at the moment they are a hot commodity, valued almost as highly as toilet paper and Lysol wipes; we are, of course, talking about canned goods. The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us stocking up on (but hopefully not panic buying) cans of beans, fruits, vegetables, and fish. But long before this current non-perishable craze, Vernon was an epicenter of canning and dehydrating, thanks to Bulmans Limited. 

Bulmans Limited was a cannery that dominated the Vernon landscape for more than fifty years. The cannery’s origins can be traced back to 1916, when Thomas Bulman and his son Ralph formed a partnership to run the Cloverdale Ranch near Kelowna. After a bumper apple crop, the Bulmans decide to install a dehydrator on the proper ty to reduce food waste. These dried apples became an overnight success, and by 1926, the company had outgrown their single dehydrator. They decided to move away from the ranch, and instead focus solely on meeting the growing demand for dehydrated foods. A site was purchase in Vernon, and the Bulman plant opened at 2809 37th Avenue (next to where the Civic Arena once stood).

 

 

The bean processing line at Bulman’s Limited in 1943

 

As the Vernon News of February 17, 1927, noted, the dehydrating of apples was a fantastic venture, as it diverted up to 2 tons of imperfect fruit that would usually have been wasted; in fact, the operation was careful to use every part of the apple—the flesh was dehydrated, the skins used for juicing, the cores used in vinegar-making, the pectin used for jam, and the residue used to make strawberry root weevil bait. The article made special note that the dehydrated apples were cut into quarters to differentiate them from the “cheap indifferent evaporated” apples that were cut in rings. It was these careful considerations that allowed Bulmans to be considered the era’s most modern dehydrating plant in North American.

Only two years into the plant’s operation, tragedy struck in the form of a fire that destroyed the entire dehydrator and saw 100 people suddenly unemployed. The fire blazed for two hours, and when firemen were finally able to put it out, all that remained of the building, machinery, and 60% of Canada’s stock of dried apples, was ash. Unfortunately, insurance only covered about half of the financial loss. Vernon was quick to rally behind the Bulman family and their employees, and worked with the City to provide a loan of $25,000 so that the operation could begin again without delay. Reconstruction of the plant started in 1929, during which apples continued to be dehydrated in a temporary workshop across the street. A cannery was also added to the operation at this time.

Bulmans Limited recovered greatly in the next few years, and by 1932, employed 200 individuals. During the Great Depression, the company turned to canning and dehydrating fruits and vegetables, everything from asparagus, to beans, beets, cabbage, onions, pumpkin, spinach, tomatoes, black currants, greengage and imperial plums, and, of course, apples. During World War Two, Bulmans dehydrated vegetables 24 hours a day for the British Food Mission, since dried food was significantly lighter to transport but retained the same nutrients. In 1943, Bulmans was recognized as Canada’s greatest producer of dehydrated vegetables. 

In 1944, a bumper growing season saw the plant hire extra employees to help process 100 tons of cabbage each day to send overseas. One of the employee’s husband, who was deployed in Italy, stated that “Bulmans cabbage is sure swell; but we wouldn’t mind if the machinery broke down for we see nothing else.”

Bulmans Limited would continue to operate in Vernon until the 1960s, when the demand for dried vegetables began to decrease. The plant continued to process tomatoes, but were quickly outcompeted by operations in California. The plant and land was sold in 1978, only to burn down completely a few years later in 1980.

The Vernon Museum’s collection contains a large number of small cans of Bulman’s dried vegetables, with their distinctive blue and white labels—from onions, to turnips, to cabbage—a testament to Vernon’s appreciation for this former operation.

Gwyn Evans