A black and white image of a building, showing two men in apron looking out from a doorway. On the left of the building are a series of stacked milk pails, and on the right, a sign that reads "Home of Armstrong Cheese."
The Armstrong Cheese Co-Operative plant in 1940.

The ultimate comfort food

Cold snowy weather calls for comfort food like pizza, and what would pizza be without its quintessential cheese topping?

Moving back in time to 1902, the residents of the Village of Armstrong joined forces to establish a creamery, financing the project through the sale of land shares. Despite initial resistance from the municipal council, this determined group overcame obstacles. By the year’s end, a creamery had been constructed, furnished, and a skilled butter maker hired.

As detailed in an article by Mary Blackburn in the 47th Report of the Okanagan Historical Society, the creamery was situated just north of Armstrong, near Fortune Creek. In 1916, it was reorganized as part of the North Okanagan Creamery Association (NOCA), collecting milk from dairy farms extending from Mara Lake southwards to Vernon. By 1923, the Armstrong Creamery was producing an impressive 12,000 pounds of butter per month.

The City of Vernon Muscles in

The creamery changed hands in 1925, when it was purchased by Pat Burns and Co., becoming part of the Okanagan Valley Co-Operative Creamery (although the NOCA brand name persisted). Two years later, a devastating fire wiped out the Armstrong creamery, prompting the Vernon City Council to offer incentives to Pat Burns and Co. to centralize the creamery industry in Vernon. The history of NOCA and the Okanagan Valley Co-Operative Creamery carries on from here, but back in Armstrong, the loss of the dairy industry was being keenly felt.

A silver lining emerged in 1938 with the opening of a new cheese factory under the guidance of Charles Busby. Once again, shares were gathered for construction, leading to the official incorporation of the Armstrong Cheese Co-Operative in 1939. Armstrong Cheese swiftly became a renowned business, with temperature-controlled cooling rooms facilitating longer aging and mass production resulting in sales of 820,000 pounds a year by 1943.

Goodbye Armstrong

Fast forward to 1997, and the company changed hands, sold to Dairyworld Foods, the production and marketing arm of Agrifoods International Cooperative Ltd. In 2003, Saputo Inc. acquired Dairyworld Foods, including the Armstrong Cheese brand, and in 2004, closed the Armstrong plant.

Fortunately, just a few years prior in 1998, the Village Cheese Company opened in Armstrong, keeping the tradition of quality cheese-making alive in the region. Although the Armstrong Cheese brand can still be purchased throughout the North Okanagan, it is no longer the result of North Okanagan milk, most of which is now produced in Abbotsford, B.C., before being shipped to Calgary, A.B., for packaging.

 

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 sepia image taken inside a hall showing a large display of vegetablrs.
A display of fruits and vegetables grown in Vernon circa 1910. In his role as District Horticulturalist, Maurice King took measures to guarantee the ongoing inclusion of judged produce displays as an integral part of community fairs.

Earl Maurice King

Horticulture is a branch of agriculture that is concerned with the cultivation of plants for food or for ornament, and B.C. is a haven for both. Given the diverse flora that graces our landscapes, horticulturists here often specialize in specific crops.

In 1954, Earl Maurice King, fondly called Maurie, took on the role of vegetable specialist for the interior of British Columbia. Based in Kelowna, he dedicated 12 years to collaborating with other District Horticulturalists and District Agriculturalists across the Okanagan Valley, the Kootenays, Central B.C., and the Peace River.  

AGS VERSUS HORTS

Incidentally, the difference between District Agriculturalists and District Horticulturalists lies in their primary areas of focus. While agriculturalists collaborate with livestock, dairy, poultry, and swine producers, horticulturalists concentrate on fruits, vegetables, and related crops like grapes and nursery stock. Both the “Ags” and “Horts,” as they were commonly known, were required to have a deep understanding of farmers and farms in their districts. This involved on-farm visits, field days, meetings, newsletters, office consultations, and more. Sometimes, it demanded considerable empathy to address growers’ concerns around low market returns, pest and disease issues, weather-related losses, and financial pressures. After all, farming is inherently a risky venture!

King’s responsibilities as a vegetable specialist extended beyond crop expertise. Notably, when financial challenges led the provincial Department of Agriculture to withdraw its official support for judging exhibitions and fall fairs, King stepped up. He organized workshops to share the standards of perfection in fruits, vegetables, and flowers, ensuring that events like the I.P.E. could continue hosting judged exhibitions.

Workforce Diversification 

Looking back on his time in this role, King highlights that it was mostly women who took on the responsibility of horticultural judging after the Department of Agriculture’s withdrawal. The demonstrated expertise of women in this role likely played a part in the Department’s decision to hire its first female extension horticulturalists in the 1960s, a trend that continued into the ’70s and ’80s.

Even after King concluded his role as District Horticulturalist in 1966 upon relocating to Victoria, his commitment to the province’s agricultural community continued for an additional 18 years. During this period, he served in various capacities, ranging from establishing a federal-provincial crop insurance program to assuming the role of Associate Deputy Minister of Agriculture. He also ventured into entrepreneurship, managing his own agricultural consulting company in the later years of his career.

King passed away on December 21, 2023, at the age of 102.

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

 

 

 

The BX Creek area circa 1924.

Climate History a century apart

The El Niño conditions which made for a mild and green Christmas in Vernon appear to be persisting somewhat into January. However, a century ago, the opposite scenario was unfolding.

In January of 1924, Vernon faced exceptionally frigid weather conditions. The freezing of BX Creek compelled the City to exclusively rely on pumping water from a reservoir for its residents. In the early days of the new year, city authorities grew alarmed as the reservoir’s water level dipped below the threshold deemed critical for fire protection.

The legacy of pressure reducing valves

City Superintendent Excell believed that the water level in the reservoir was decreasing more rapidly than the usual demand for city use. This acceleration was attributed to residents keeping their taps running overnight to prevent the freezing of exposed pipes. He advocated for discontinuing this habit, and encouraged residents to adopt water conservation measures.

Vernon’s citizens responded to this appeal, and by mid-month the level in the reservoir had risen just above the critical level. Mr. Excell then changed his tune slightly, suggesting that the elevated water consumption in Vernon was not solely a result of individual decisions but was more indicative of exceedingly high pressure in the city’s pipes. A pressure of 140 lbs was sustained for fire protection but, according to Excell, this was excessive for typical household needs. Excell suggested that pressure reducing valves should be installed to mitigate this problem.

Thankfully, Vernon received a respite in the freezing temperatures towards the end of the month, and the water restrictions were lifted. In the subsequent years, the use of pressure reducing valves became standard practice, a development that would have greatly pleased Mr. Excell.

 

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 fireplace next to a medium-sized tree decorated with tinsel. A few pieces of pottery line the top of the brick fireplace.
A Vernon home decorated for Christmas in the 1920s.

The Season of nostalgia

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! Christmas is the season of festively-decorated trees and gifts wrapped with care. It is also, arguably, the season of nostalgia, prompting us to ponder: how did Christmas in Vernon look 100 years ago, back in 1923?

As per the December 27, 1923 edition of the Vernon News, the essence of Christmas filled every corner and crevice of residences throughout the city. Various hotels offered grand, lavish dinners, while smaller gatherings of friends enjoyed intimate meals complete with all the festive trimmings in the comfort of their homes.

Charitable acts and Telephone staff

Baskets filled with essentials and delights were reportedly delivered to the homes of those who had faced difficulties throughout the year. Community groups such as the Salvation Army Child Welfare committee and the Elks diligently carried out acts of charity.

On Christmas Eve, the staff of the Vernon Office of the Okanagan Telephone congregated beneath a towering Christmas Tree, its uppermost branches rumored to brush against the ceiling. Adorned with presents for the operators, numerous gifts were also nestled beneath the tree.

Happiness at the Hospital

The atmosphere at the Vernon Jubilee Hospital was equally festive. Nurses and patients alike sang Christmas carols and admired decorations of greenery and red streamers. On Christmas morning, the role of Santa Claus was charmingly assumed by C. B. Lefroy, who swooped in for a visit, handing out presents and laughter. 

The weather that year was favorable, with a pristine layer of snow blanketing the valley. This delighted the little ones who eagerly ventured outside with their toboggans and skates.

According to the newspaper, Vernon had a very Merry Christmas all told and one hopes this trend continues in 2023. Despite the passage of a century, certain aspects remain unchanged. Friends and family still come together to celebrate, local hotels are still serving delicious festive meals, community organizations persist in aiding those in need, and the Vernon Jubilee Hospital is adorned with an illuminated tree in hues of green and red at its summit.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

A painting of a bear standing in a creek in front of some trees. A fish swims near his feet.

From Sailor to Mine Manager

The enigmatic Captain Albert Vidler arrived in Vernon in the 1890s, following a tenure as a sailor on the Thompson and Fraser Rivers. Born in the U.K. and having family ties in the Vernon region, Vidler led a life that was both mysterious and marked by intriguing contradictions.

Captain Vidler initially arrived in Vernon at the turn-of-the-century on a whim, wanting to venture into trapping. Although the outcome of this endeavor remains uncertain, he later began managing a humble private mine, named “Vidler’s Mine,” on a mountain peak near Lumby. Gradually, this summit came to be known as Vidler’s Ridge.

Reclusive outdoorsman

The Captain was also an avid outdoorsman, and built a cabin on a pre-empted property near Cosens Bay. Using this retreat as a base, he would hike up to Harris Creek to hunt and explore. But despite this elusive lifestyle, Captain Vidler had a wife in Vernon, who lived in a house at the end of 30th Avenue. Interestingly, contrary to his modest lifestyle, Vidler hailed from a relatively affluent family, which likely helped him to maintain these multiple properties.

Vidler was a rough character, said to be gloweringly antisocial and wielding a bullwhip to deter conversation. But he also harbored a deep affection for butterflies, and even had one, the Vidler’s Alpine, named after him. Despite his gruff exterior, Vidler was well-educated, and enjoyed reciting poetry to his friends during their long hunting excursions. He was also an accomplished artist.

Family Connections and artistic adventures

Several pieces of Vidler’s artwork are included among the Vernon Museum’s collection. One such piece, depicting a bear at Harris Creek, was given to his niece upon her marriage. Violet Vidler of Victoria had moved to Vernon a few years earlier to live with the Captain and his wife (perhaps to keep the latter company during the former’s many trips into the bush). Unlike her reclusive uncle, Violet was said to be a charming young lady, attracting numerous suitors. In 1897, she married G. A. Henderson, the inaugural manager of Vernon’s Bank of Montreal.

Over the years, Vidler produced a variety of paintings, concentrating on landscapes, seascapes, and depictions of animals. Following his eventful and adventurous life, Captain Vidler passed away in Victoria on December 31, 1905.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

Boys’ Benevolent Society

They went by the moniker of Vernon’s “Rink Rats,” yet they would have preferred to be known as the “Boys’ Benevolent Society.” This group comprised agile youngsters aged 12 to 15 who would swiftly hit the ice between hockey periods and games to give it a thorough sweep. Although they received no payment for their efforts, they enjoyed complimentary admission to all the skating and hockey games they desired at the Vernon Civic Arena.

The term “Rink Rats” seems to have gained prominence in the 1940s. Before the onset of World War Two, the task of maintaining the ice was primarily carried out by young men in their early twenties. However, when these individuals departed to serve overseas, the Rink Rats stepped in to fill the void.

A wARTIME VOID

In the wartime era, the Rink Rats operated under the supervision of Hugo Schultz, the foreman of the Civic Arena. Hugo was reputed to be strict, often described as someone who would “stand around with a club, yelling and snorting for more action from the brooms and scrapers.” However, his demeanor underwent a noticeable shift when two young women, Della Badley and Sheila Hill, joined the team; Hugo displayed a much more patient attitude towards the ladies, much to the disgruntlement of the Rink Rats.

But, the diligent efforts of the boys did not escape recognition entirely. Annually, during Christmas time, they were honored with a banquet held in the arena’s canteen. In the memorable year of 1942, they indulged in a Christmas cake skillfully iced and adorned to resemble a miniature version of a hockey rink, complete with tiny goal nets.

tHE cIVIC aREnA

The Civic Arena, the famed dwelling of the Rink Rats, opened in Vernon in 1938. At the time of its inauguration, it proudly hosted the sole artificial ice surface between Vancouver and the Kootenays. The arena, a custodian of 80 years of sports history, was eventually demolished in 2018.

On the subject of the Civic Arena, check out this wonderful footage from the YouTube channel, Reel Life. It shows a Vernon Canadians vs. Nelson Maple Leafs Hockey at the Civic Arena some time during the 1958/59 season. 

The footage was discovered, digitized and edited by local historian Francois Arseneault.

 

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.

Colour photo of a group of horticulturalists posing at the side of a road in front of a lack. 18 men are pictured. Peter Humphry-Baker is pictured wearing a blue shirt.
Humphry-Baker, pictured front row third from right, in 1971 with a group of horticulturalists from across BC. This group of horticulture experts worked with many producers of crops other than tree fruits including vegetables, small fruits, grapes, etc. Photo courtesy of Wray McDonnell.

Peter Humphry-Baker

Peter Humphry-Baker, a World-War-Two Veteran born in India to British parents, began as District Horticulturalist in Vernon in March 1967. Approaching the position with “considerable interest and high expectations,” this marked his first ever visit to the Okanagan Valley. His initial impressions were shaped by the impressive size of its lakes and apples, and he was particularly struck by his first sighting of a planting of apricots.

After this initial wide-eyed delight, Humphry-Baker found the fruit growers to be a friendly and hospitable group who were ready to discuss their problems and toss around solutions in a frank and open manner. He quickly became a trusted member of the fruit growing scene.

The challenges begin

For the first few years of Humphry-Baker’s service, the agriculture office was located in the Vernon Court House, a building which he described as “the most prestigious in the City, with its wide steps leading up to the imposing granite columns that gave it an air of permanence and solid respectability.” He worked in this space with an entomologist, a veterinarian, an engineering officer, a vegetable specialist, a district agriculturalist, and two stenographers. They were said to be quite the merry crew.  

Humphry-Baker’s first winter in the Okanagan was one of the coldest the Valley had ever experienced, with temperatures in January of 1968 falling below 40°C. In this severe weather, he recounted hearing the bark splitting on trees, exposing their cambium layer and resulting in significant damage and casualties among them. The following spring and summer brought an extensive workload for Humphry-Baker as he worked diligently to support the fruit growers affected by this devastating event.

Successful Career

In 1969, Humphry-Baker played a role in introducing a computerized accounting system for fruit growers to streamline their monthly operations. Recognizing the growers’ limited experience in this domain, he organized a widely-attended financial forum. The event featured a panel comprising accountants, bankers, and real estate representatives.

During his time as District Horticulturalist, Humphry-Baker was also involved with a series of experiments involving fertilizer use, pollination, and the cottage winery industry. He remained in Vernon until 1973, when he became director of the Crop Insurance Branch in Victoria. Peter Humphry-Baker passed away on September 12, 2007.

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

Gwyneth Evans, Head of Archives

 

 

 

 

Content WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MENTIONS OF ALCOHOL AND ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION.
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.

NO-SHAVE NOVEMBER

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.

wwii-1960s

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