White Rock Lake Fire

Okanagan Lake has been the subject of much media attention over the last few weeks, since the most eastern flank of the White Rock Lake Fire has reached its shores. However, given the lake’s long history (it is, in fact, pre-historic), this is not the first time it has made the news.

A series of Anomolies

In February of 2021, some North Okanagan residents were shocked to see what appeared to be a tornado emerging over the lake near Fintry. This was later identified to be a steam devil, which forms over large bodies of water during cold air outbreaks. Steam devils are common occurrences on Canada’s Great Lakes, but it was only due to the North Okanagan’s unusual cold snap this past winter that one was able to form over Okanagan Lake.   

In 1979, the lake was recognized as an excellent location for underwater treasure hunters. Hundreds of pieces of glass and earthenware were found to be lying on the lake bottom, thrown overboard over the years by passengers on sternwheelers and other water crafts. In 1978, two divers discovered, at the bottom of the lake, an old steamer trunk full of collectible bottles, much to their delight.

On November 4, 1913, a tugboat called the Skookum collided with a CPR tug, the SS Castlegar, and sank almost immediately. The crew survived, with some minor injuries, but the vessel was never recovered. It is believed that the tug remains, to this day, in the silent depths of the lake. 

Sometime in the mid-1880s, the infamous Captain Shorts and a companion were wandering the shores of Okanagan Lake when they made a startling discovery; partly submerged in a few feet of water was the vertebrae of some enormous sea creature. The two men brought the bone to Leonard Norris, a government agent in Vernon, who, many years later, had it sent it to the University of British Columbia for identification. It was determined to be a whale bone, brought into the valley by human means, but how it came to be lying abandoned in a rugged and unfrequented section of Okanagan Lake remains unknown.  

And long before the concept of “news” was even invented, the lake and its environs represented part of the territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation, and stood as a silent witness to all the little anomalies of human life. 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

For July and August, the Vernon Museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the many heritage sites around the North Okanagan. To plan a visit to any of the sites featured, please visit https://vernonmuseum.ca/explore/heritage-field-trips/.

 

The First Balloon is Released

In the afternoon of October 31, 1971, more than 100 people turned out, including the mayor, a federal deputy minister, and the local MP, to watch Russ Colville, a meteorological technician at the Vernon Upper Air Station, launch the site’s first hydrogen balloon.

The Vernon weather station opened that year on a hill overlooking the commonage for a cost of $200,000. At the time, it was only the fourth of its kind in the province, and the thirty-fifth in Canada, and was part of a world-wide network of stations that provided data for weather-forecasting purposes. 

During the station’s first few years, it operated under a staff of four; two men worked per shift, five hours on, five hours off, with two days in between.

How Weather Balloons Work

Twice a day, at 3:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m., a hydrogen-filled balloon was launched from the Vernon station and sent more than 32 kilometres into the atmosphere. These weren’t your average birthday balloons; they were white and massive, at more than 1.5 metres in diameter. Tied to the bottom of the balloon was a lightweight instrument called a radiosonde. As it ascended into the sky beneath the balloon, the device beamed atmospheric information such as pressure, temperature, and humidity back to the ground station via a small radio transmitter. 

The balloon would rise at about 1,000 feet per minute, expanding until it reached a maximum diameter of around 20 feet. Somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 feet, the balloon would burst, and the radiosonde would hurtle back towards the earth. A little parachute helped to slow its descent, and eventually it would touch down, often great distances from its release point. The device was not recovered, but instead was left to biodegrade.

A final Launch

By 1994, technological changes meant that the manual release of balloons was no longer required. The weather station’s duties were transferred to the Mountain Weather Service office in Kelowna which employed a quicker, more automated system. But for those who had dedicated their lives to measuring weather using balloons, the final launch on January 13, 1994, marked a sad occasion. Russ Colville was called out of retirement to release the last balloon, and a handful of people arrived for the occasion.

The building that once housed the Vernon Upper Air Station still stands, and now contains the Allan Brooks Nature Centre.

 

 

 

Russ Colville releases the last weather balloon from the Vernon Upper Air Station on January 13, 1994. GVMA #14980.

The Vernon Upper Air Station during its decommission in 1994. GVMA #14916.

The Allan Brooks Nature Centre now occupies the building used by the Vernon Upper Air Station at 250 Allan Brooks Way. Image courtesy of the Allan Brooks Nature Centre. 

 

 

 

 

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

Vernon in the summer of 1908.

 

2021 Western Canada Heat Wave

This past June, dozens of records were set in Vernon and across B.C. during an unprecedented heat wave. The highest reported temperature in Vernon during this time was a staggering 44.2 C, recorded on June 28.

Although different weather stations around the City reported different temperatures, and, moreover, historical temperature data for Vernon is not conclusive, it is believed that this high shattered a previous record of 40 C set on July 21, 1908.

Staying cool before A/C

Needless to say, the luxury of air conditioning did not exist 113 years ago (the first in-home unit was installed in a Minneapolis mansion in 1914), but a variety of methods were used to help people stay cool.

An ad for the Cooper and Christien Grocer in the Vernon News of July 23, 1908, encouraged the public to stock up on lemons and limes for lemonade. (Hot! Hot! Hot! And it may be hotter,” reads the headline). Refreshing treats such as ice cream, watermelon, and iced tea were a particularly popular way to cool down, something which to this day hasn’t changed. 

On the same page of the Vernon News, the W.R. Megaw department store announced that they were hosting a hot weather sale, with discounts on kilted sailor suits for children and taffeta silk parasols for their mothers. Light-weight materials like canvas, cotton, and linen were popular choices during the hot summer months.

Another ad recommended the use of Zam-Buk, a medicinal skin balm first sold in 1902, to relieve the symptoms of heat rash. Although there was no over-the-counter cure for heat-related illnesses, strenuous work was avoided when the sun was at its most extreme; instead, afternoon naps were popularized as a way to reduce the threat of heat exhaustion or stroke.

July 21, 1908

However, despite the best efforts of advertisers, the high temperatures of July 1908 actually did not seem to cause much of a stir among the people of Vernon. The record high was relegated to a small note in the newspaper’s “Town and District” section that read “Tuesday was the hottest day experienced here for some years. The thermometer at the Government meteorological station at the Coldstream Ranch registered 104 [40 C] in the shade.”

However, a description of the lacrosse match for the Minto Cup played by the Montreal Shamrocks and the New Westminster club on the same day that Vernon reached its record high temperature earned a full paragraph.

 

Gwyn Evans

 

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

Earth Expo 2021

 

March 5, 2021

Earth Day, Every Day

Earth Day, Every Day

 

BE Part of Earth Expo!

Submit artwork, sculpture, poetry, multi-media projects, posters, displays, photography, videos – anything that celebrates the health and sustainability of our planet.

Teachers in SD22 can submit student work as a class. Independent learners and homeschoolers can also submit work.

Student projects, displays, artwork, multi-media and photography will be exhibited in digital and virtual formats, with some displayed onsite if public health guidelines allow.

 

 

OKIB Dragon Boat Team

 

For more info & to submit

Please contact:

SD 22 Student and Class Submissions:
Vipasha Brar – Educator SD22: VBrar@sd22.bc.ca / socialjustice@vernonta.com 604-499-7150 

 

Independent Learners and Homeschool Submissions:
Laisha Rosnau – Program Coordinator, GVMA: laisha.rosnau@vernonmuseum.ca

Greater Vernon Museum & Archives (GVMA) and School District 22 (SD22) are partnering to present Earth Expo 2021.

Earth Expo will feature student projects, artwork, multi-media work, demonstrations and displays highlighting a variety of Student Environment Stewards’ work.

Earth Expo will take place April 19 to 30 and will be presented online, through virtual galleries and exhibits viewable from wherever on earth you are!

 

Exploring Rose’s Pond on the Commonage (GVMA)

 

Important dates

April 1 – Early Submission Deadline*

April 9 – Extended Submission Deadline

April 19-30 – Earth Expo

*all submissions received by April 1st will be included in the online gallery and virtual exhibit. We will do our best to include all received by the extended April 9 deadline, as well.

 

 

Fishing in Polson Park (GVMA)

the first winter carnival

 

February 8, 2021

The 61st Vernon Winter Carnival has official kicked off!

Businesses around town are decorated with cowboys, horses, and the Carnival signature colours of blue-and-white.

Beautifully carved ice sculptures line the roadways in Polson Park, and several organizations are preparing to host Wild Western-themed virtual events.

Prior to the 1960s, when the Winter Carnival as we know it began, Vernon already celebrated the winter season with style. Long before Jopo, Jopette, and Queen Silver Star, there was a highland shepherdess, a minstrel, and a Russian nihilist on a frozen Kalamalka Lake.

In February of 1893, Long Lake, as Kalamalka Lake was then known, boasted a most spectacular scene; a fancy dress carnival, allegedly the first affair of its kind in the Province. 

 

Some of the participants in Vernon’s first winter carnival, held on Long Lake in February of 1893

Thanks to exceptionally cold weather that year, the event’s organizers were able to clear out a large skating rink in the middle of the lake, with plenty of room for the costumed skaters who were transported to the venue by horse-drawn sleigh.

As they skated around the rink, a jockey milled with a flower girl and Little Red Riding Hood, while a book agent attempted to sell the Canadian Stock Book to a clown and a gentleman of Henry II’s period. The costumes were judged, and Ida Birnie was recognized as the best-dressed lady for her portrayal of a highland shepherdess, while best-dressed gentleman went to S.A. Shatford in his Uncle Sam costume.

After the judging, the skating continued, complete with a two-mile race between some of the boys and young men. The crowd was loath to leave the frozen lake even as the sun began to set, although the ladies who had been standing behind the refreshment booth all day were probably ready to head home and get their feet warmed up.

The following day, this same group of church ladies hosted a follow-up event at Cameron’s Hall in order to use up some of the plentiful refreshments that had been gathered for the Long Lake festival. That evening, community members arrived once again in their costumes for yet more revelry. The evening passed quite happily, with dancing, music, and recitations, in spite of the stir caused among the church ladies by the appearance of one F.W. Byshe, who was dressed as none other than Satan himself, complete with horns and a tail.

Join us from home on Tuesday, February 9th, at 7 PM for more tales about the Vernon area during the Wild West era at the GVMA’s Winter Carnival Virtual Event Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

Intrepid early ski club

 

December 5, 2020

After what’s felt like a long, challenging year, several Okanagan locals are looking forward to finding a sense of freedom in the feeling of skiing down the slopes of Silver Star.

However, in its early days, simply getting up Silver Star Mountain was a feat and challenge in and of itself, only attempted by the most adventurous and determined ski enthusiasts.

In the 1930s, North Okanagan citizens realized Silver Star – which was named after a mining claim on the mountain – was a superb destination for skiing. 

 

Two unidentified skiers pose on the Birnie Range Ski Hill, with the city of Vernon in the background, circa 1940s

However, the mountain could only be accessed by trails, and later, a small, unmaintained road which only allowed vehicles to make it halfway up the hill. Hoping to make skiing accessible to a wider public, the Silver Star Ski Club decided to move their winter pursuits to Birnie Range on a hillside overlooking Kalamalka Lake on the west side of Highway 97.

On February 9th, 1939, the Vernon News reported: “the Silver Star Ski Club, which will be host to the second annual Okanagan Valley ski championships, on Sunday, February 19th, has completed an addition to the main jump on Birnie Range that should make leaps of 110 to 120 feet possible.  Jumping for men and junior boys will be one of the features of the meet.”

It was here that the club started their annual four-way championships, consisting of ski jumping, cross-country, downhill, and slalom events. Memberships cost between $0.75 for youth and teens, and $2.50 for adults.

In 1948, the club moved its activities away from Birnie Range after a mild winter produced a lack of snow. They tried a couple different locations around Vernon, before deciding that the lower elevation was not ideal and returned to their goal of conquering Silver Star Mountain as an accessible ski hill for local and visiting enthusiasts. 

Gwyn Evans

leaping into winter

 

November 27, 2020

As we draw on our strength and resiliency as a community to make it through this pandemic in as safe and healthy way as possible, many residents are looking forward to a season of winter sports to help get us through this time, “together, apart”.

Some may be using this opportunity to take up winter sports for the first time. In 1929, it seems Vernon residents were both curious and enthusiastic about discovering more about what for most would be a brand new sport – ski jumping.

 

Vernon residents line up to watch ski jump demonstration  in 1929  exhibition on Turtle Mountain and the site of current day Nel’s Leap hiking trail, part of the Grey Canal trail system.

On February 3, 1929, cars lined the unpaved roads of what are now 43rd Avenue and Alexis Park Drive. Ski jumpers Nels Nelson, E. Engen, Ole Olson and Karl Wallenstein were putting on an exhibition at the ski jump hill above the Kin Race Track, and the event drew hundreds of onlookers. 

On January 31, 1929, the Vernon News reported: “Vernon people are to enjoy their first thrills of ski jumping on Sunday afternoon, February 3rd when on the hill west of the race track some of the best known jumpers in the world will put on an exhibition.  Nels Nelson, of Revelstoke, who holds the world’s record of 240 feet made at Revelstoke in 1925, will be one of the jumpers.” 

Nels Nelson was born in 1894 in Salangen, Norway.  His family immigrated to Canada in 1913 and settled near Revelstoke, British Columbia. There, Nels quickly became involved with the skiing scene, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Revelstoke Ski Club. Nels became a competitive ski-jumper, and earned a number of trophies over the years. By the 1920s, Nels was considered a skiing legend, competing as far away as the United States; in fact, he was the Canadian Champion ski jumper for five years between 1917 and 1922.  In 1925, Nels broke the world amateur ski jumping record at 240 feet, which also broke the professional mark of 229 feet.  He did this all while sick with the flu.    

The Vernon exhibition was a great success; a few days later, on February 7, 1929, the Vernon News reported that “Nels Nelson [had whizzed] through the air and [traveled] 1,600 feet down mountain side in 11 seconds – glorious weather [contributed] to enjoyment of large crowd – Nelson says hill can be made on which to break records.”    

Despite Nels approval of the hill, it was only used for one season before ski jumping activities moved to the slopes above the Vernon Golf Club.

As for Nels, his career was cut short only a few short years after his appearance in Vernon. During the winter of 1932, Nels was injured in a hunting accident that led to the loss of his hand.  He never jumped again.

Nels passed away in 1943, but his many feats have not been forgotten. Nels was inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 1971, the Canadian Ski Hall of Fame in 1983, and the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 1984. The Revelstoke “Big Hill” was renamed Nels Nelson hill in 1948. In 2014, Kalamalka Rotary revealed the culmination of a more than three years of work with the opening of Nels’ Leap Trail, accessed from the top of 43rd Avenue and Alexis Park Drive, near where Nel’s made his historic leap in 1929.

Gwyn Evans

a mudslide brought them down

 

June 18, 2020

One spring day in 1972 was far more eventful than the rest.

On March 23, around 4:45 a.m., a huge mudslide caused by winter runoff tore a gaping hole in a section of Highway 97 just north of Oyama, and covered 200 feet of railway track below in debris.

Unfourtunately, the Okanagan Telephone communication link was broken during the slide, and there was no way of halting the Canadian National freight train that was hurtling south from Vernon towards the scene. 

The nine-car train was running parallel to Kalamalka Lake when it reached the slide area; what should have been track was instead mud, rock, and upended railway ties. The train conductor had also been battling heavy morning fog, and could not see the damage until it was too late. The diesel engine was forced off the rails and into the shallow, icy waters of the lake.

 

 

 

 

Thankfully, the four-man crew escaped without injury and used their emergency phones to notify the dispatcher’s office of the accident. RCMP from Kelowna and Vernon converged on the area, and a CPR engine was sent to collect the undamaged train cars and freight them back to Vernon.

Meanwhile, the highways department had another issue to deal with: the massive portion of the highway that was now lying all over the tracks. Flagmen directed single-lane traffic through the slide area, with vehicles moving at a crawl over pavement laced with long, spidery cracks. Okanagan Telephone Company crews were sent out to repair the broken telephone lines, while a track crew managed the damaged railway ties. It would take months of work to repair all the destruction caused by this force of nature. 

The 1972 mudslide was just one of several that contributed to the decision to widen and improve Highway 97 over the course of the subsequent years. 

Gwyn Evans

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