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

 

vernon hospital’s founding mother

 

October 9. 2020

October is Women’s History Month, a celebration of the outstanding achievements of women throughout Canada’s history. Since its incorporation in 1892, Vernon has been home to a number of fascinating women, and this is therefore the perfect opportunity to explore how their legacies have shaped our city.

For any of us who have visited the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, we owe this woman our health; she was the driving force behind the establishment of Vernon’s first hospital, fondly known as the Cottage Hospital.

Clara Chipp came to Vernon circa 1888 after marrying the town’s first government official, Walter Dewdney. Walter had recently lost his wife, and Clara stepped up to act as a surrogate mother to his three young children. The young stepmom quickly became active in Vernon’s social scene, hosting picnics for local children and playing the organ at church services.

 

 

Clara & Walter Dewdney, 1889

Unfortunately, Walter was under a significant amount of stress from his job. He had little time for anything other than work, and spent long hours confined his desk. He began to suffer from bouts of depression, on top of chronic pain due to a kidney disorder. Just four years after marrying Clara, he took his own life.

Following Walter’s tragic death, Clara found herself alone with her three stepchildren. She moved in to a new house closer to that of her father, John Chipp, a local doctor, so he could help with their care. From this vantage point, Clara was also afforded a clear view of the handsome young shopkeeper, William Cameron, who worked across the street. In 1894, Clara and William were married.

In 1894, diphtheria broke out in Vernon, and underlined the urgent need for a local health care facility. At this time, Clara was Vice-President of the National Council of Women and used her position to canvas the district for financial support towards the construction of a hospital. In 1897, Vernon’s first Jubilee “Cottage” Hospital was opened in a boarding house on 28th Avenue—a temporary facility until the new building opened on Hospital Hill in 1909.

Tragically, Clara would never live to see this day. In 1898, she was diagnosed with cancer, and instead of suffering through her deteriorating health, she took her own life by drinking carbolic acid in 1900. A tribute to her in the Vernon News stated that “the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital was due almost entirely to the untiring efforts of the late Mrs. W.F. Cameron … It is eminently fitting that her memory should be honored in this connection.”

So next time you pass by or through the Vernon Jubilee Hospital, spare a thought for the woman who fought tirelessly for the health of Vernon’s citizens.  

Gwyn Evans

a young lady’s education

 

September 18, 2020

She was barely over five feet tall, but what Miss Maud Le Gallais lacked in stature, she made up for in determination.

As a young lady, Miss Le Gallais was educated in England at a boarding school for girls and she arrived in Vernon in 1912 bent on starting a similar institution here. By the sounds of it, she didn’t face much opposition. At the time, Vernon was inhabited by many European families, and since boarding schools were an “Old Country” tradition, Miss Le Gallais’ project was welcomed.  

St. Michael’s Boarding School for Girls opened in 1914, in a large house on East Hill (2000 37th Avenue). The four upstairs bedrooms were converted into dormatories, and the downstairs rooms into classrooms.

 

 

St. Michael’s School for Girls with surrounding gardens in 1927

The first “St. Michaelites” were local girls between the ages of 8 and 18, but as the school’s reputation grew, so too did its catchment area. By 1917, it was bursting at the seams, and a second residence on the opposite side of the street was added. At the same time, the school was incorportaed as “The Bishop’s School of the Diocese of Kootenay.”

The education at St. Michael’s had an obvious English flavour; like in boarding schools across the Atlantic, instruction covered the “three R’s,” plus English and Canadian history, geography, botany, French, Latin, scripture, gymnastics, drawing, dancing, music, and needlework. The students were taught to be perfect ladies—at least by the standards of the early 20th century. In the first issue of the school’s magazine, Headmistress Le Gallais recorded her wishes for her pupils, saying “I have visions of reading in future magazines of old St. Michaelites taking high places in all the learned professions … and of their making the most of all the oppurtunities that have at last come to women, to make the world a better place for their use of those oppurtunities.”

By the time the school’s enrollment grew to 55 students, the two residences were so over capacity that a proper school building was well-needed. In 1921, a structure three and a half stories high was built on five acres of land overlooking what is now Polson Mall.

This new building was a significant upgrade. In addition to classrooms and living quarters, the school now also had a library/music room, an impressive kitchen, and a gym which doubled as an auditorium for dramatic presentations and assemblies.

The girl’s enjoyed a number of fun activities during their time at St. Michael’s, from picnics with the local girl guides, to toboganning in the Winter, to weekend hikes in the summer, to cricket games, to visits from the boys at the Vernon Preperatory School. 

Miss Le Gallais retired in 1932, and following a decline in enrollment during the Great Depression, the school closed its doors five years later. In 1978, the school building was torn down and replaced by a townhouse development aptly named St. Michael’s Court.

Gwyn Evans

nice ride!

 

September 11, 2020

What would it have been like to ride a school bus in 1924? Well, it certainly would not have involved the bright yellow paint and cracking vinyl seats we’re used to today. In fact, Vernon’s first bus was mostly made out of wood.

As more families began to settle in the Okanagan Landing and Greater Vernon areas, a form of transportation was needed to bring children to school. Fred Downer stepped up to the plate, and built the first school bus on a Ford Model T chassis in 1924, perhaps inspired by the design of the Armstrong school bus which had been built by Joe Glaicar a few years earlier (reported to be the first in Canada!).

 

 

The children who rode Vernon’s first school bus circa 1925. The bus’ builder, Fred Downer, is standing on the far right.

 

Like the one in Armstrong, Downer’s bus had wooden walls, but included screen windows, while Glaicar’s had canvas curtains that could be let down or rolled up as needed. Exhaust pipes ran down the centre of the floor to keep the bus warm during the winter. Apparently, the smell of schorched rubber was common in these early school buses, as the students would put their feet on the pipes to warm up, and melt their school shoes in the process, undoutedbly to the great chagrin of their mothers.

The wooden walls and lack of insulation earned these early buses the nick name of “chicken coops.”

Regardless, Vernon’s first bus was well-used from the get go. More than 40 students were driven to school on Downer’s bus by driver Ed Cooke during the 1924/1925 school year. The bus ride offered a chance to visit with friends and sing a song or two.

Gwyn Evans