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

 

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

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

meanwhile, back at the RancH…

sharing history through community 

vernon winter carnival virtual event

 

MEANWHILE, BACK at the RANCH…   February 9, 2021 at 7 PM

Take a Virtual Trip back in time through the Wild West and ranchlands of the North Okanagan. Interpretive guides and special guests will tell tales of life back on the early ranches of the valley through streaming video, on-location film clips, and multi-media displays.

Learn more about the early relationships between the settlers and the Syilx Indigenous First Nation. Find out about the Syilx and settler women who made this place home, and the fur brigadiers, gold rushers, cowboys, and bank robbers who made this place wild.

Join us and special musical guest, Duane Marchand, for this virtual event!

Visit the Vernon Winter Carnival website for more info and tickets.

 

 

GET TICKETS TODAY!

 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 – Virtual Doors Open at 6:30 PM.
Register by 6:45 PM. Event begins at 7 PM sharp.  

WE RESPECTFULLY ACKNOWLEDGe

Greater Vernon Museum & Archives is located on the Ancestral, Traditional and Unceded Territory of the Okanagan Nation and the Syilx People.

R U coming to buy a home b 4 it’s too late?

 

May 21, 2020

Long before texting acronyms were even invented, a postcard from the mid-20th century employed a similar tactic to encourage newcomers to settle in Vernon. The advertisement for H.P. Lee Real Estate boasts the tagline “R U coming to buy a home B 4 it is too late???” A bundled immigrant with a suitcase of cash standing “East of the Rockies” is welcomed into the warmth of the Okanagan by a well-dressed orchardist.

The beginning of the 20th-century marked a boom in immigration in Vernon. Prior to that, parts of the Okanagan Valley were largely inaccessible due to a lack of infrastructure. Forbes George Vernon, our city’s eponym, was responsible for adding some much-needed roads during his tenure as Chief Commissioner of Lands and Works and these additions, alongside the movement of steamships up and down the lake, allowed more people to settle in Vernon.

 

 

 

 

Governor-general Lord Aberdeen, who had emigrated with his family from Scotland, invested in orchards in the BX and Coldstream, and this decision was called in the 1958 Royal Commission on the Tree Fruit Industry of British Columbia “the single event which served most to focus the attention of people on the Okanagan Valley.” Following Lord Aberdeen’s interest in the Valley, the region began to be promoted widely throughout the United Kingdom as a pleasant and abundant place to live.

Indeed, most of the early settlers to Vernon were European, and largely British. In the 1901 Census of Canada for the district of Yale, which encompassed the Okanagan Valley, the British were by far the largest ethnic group at 7,821, followed by First Nations people at 5,247. The other groups included 1,148 Chinese and Japanese, 501 French, 461 Germans, and 284 Scandinavians.

An important by unfortunate truth of Vernon’s immigration story is that not everyone was welcomed with opened arms. The political and social selection process was choosy, and largely favored Europeans. Other minority populations, such as the Chinese and Japanese, faced discrimination, while the arrival of newcomers of all ethnicities largely displaced the local indigenous peoples for whom the Valley had long been home.

And yet, thanks to immigration from around the world, Vernon now boasts a more varied and diverse population than one might think. In 2016, more than 5,000 Vernonites spoke languages other than English or French at home, including nsyilxcən, Hindi, Tagalog, and  Italian.

Gwyn Evans