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

Coldstream Kate Kalamalka

 

March 5, 2021

March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political successes of women. Even more importantly, perhaps, it is a chance to elevate the voices of those women whose achievements have been silenced, whether intentionally or not, by the passing of time. One such woman is Catherine Kalamalka.

Gaps in the Archives

An important caveat : the GVMA’s limited resources about this remarkable woman are indicative of a larger, national tendency for Indigenous Peoples, and especially Indigenous women, to be underrepresented in archives and settler-based museums.

Katherine’s descendants and wider Indigenous community could likely offer a much warmer, personal, and accurate portrayal of her life than the one that is presented here.

Daughter of Chief Kalamalka

According to “Q’sapi: A History of Okanagan People as Told by Okanagan Families,” Catherine Kalamalka (sometimes spelled Katherine or Katrine in other sources) was born circa 1847 to Chief Cohastimene and Marie Kwentek.

She was the granddaughter of the famous Chief Kalamalka, for whom the Kalamalka Hotel was named. Later, it is believed Long Lake was renamed Kalamalka Lake in his honour.

 

Cosen’s Bay and Kalamalka Lake (GVMA)

 

Unfortunately, the museum does not have a photo of Coldstream Kate in their collection. This photo, however, does show her father, Chief Cohastimene (sometimes spelled Goastamana), in 1902. His daughter Catherine would have been in her fifties when this photo was taken.

“coldstream Kate”

Catherine was known as Coldstream Kate, and, according to a Vernon News article in 1926, was “the best known woman in the Okanagan Valley, if not in the province. She was famous for her beauty and kindly disposition.”

Following his arrival in the area, Catherine began a common-law partnership with Forbes George Vernon, for whom our City is named. Together, they had two children, Mary and Louisa. When Vernon was elected to the Provincial Legislature in 1875, he left Catherine and his daughters, and moved to Victoria. Two years later he married Katie Alma Branks of California.

a tower of strength

After Vernon’s departure, Catherine, then aged thirty-eight, married forty-two-year-old widower Louis Bercier from Washington. The couple farmed on a property at the Head of the Lake, and later settled near Whiteman’s Creek with Catherine’s daughter Louisa.

Catherine Kalamalka, then known as Mrs. Louis Bercier, passed away on February 9, 1926 at the age of about 80. Her obituary in theVernon News states that “with the passing of Mrs. Bercier, many a poor man and woman lost a good friend whose bright disposition was a tower of strength in difficult times.”

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

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

Legendary Lake creature from the depths

 

October 23. 2020

With Halloween just around the corner, it is officially the season of the unsettling, the surreal, the supernatural.

From the Scottish Highlands, to the northern forests of Nova Scotia, to the Slavic countryside, nearly every country has its own mythical monster whose tales frighten children and whose existence causes debate among even the most skeptical of adults.

The Okanagan’s resident “monster” is now most widely known as the Ogopogo, and year after year a new story of this slippery serpent emerges.

Legends of a lake creature named N’ha-a-itk had existed for generations among the Okanagan Syilx People. It was settlers who gave it a new name – and its infamy.

In August of 1926, while at a Rotary lunch held on the shores of Okanagan Lake, W. H. Brimblecombe broke out in song with a popular British Music Hall hit. He sang, “I’m looking for the Ogopogo, the bunny-hugging Ogopogo. His mother was an earwig, his father was a whale. I’m going to put a little bit of salt on his tail. I’m looking for the Ogopogo.”

By the time of this club luncheon, stories of a mysterious creature living in the depths of Okanagan Lake were already popular amongst settlers. But after this delightful lunchtime performance in 1926, the Okanagan’s resident monster would come to be known as the Ogopogo.

Along with a new name, settlers also gave the sea creature a new “image”, ranging from cute and comical, to monstrous and terrifying.

The first “modern” sighting of the Ogopogo occurred in 1873, when a woman named Susan Allison reported seeing a snake-like creature moving through the water near her home in West Kelowna. 

 

From a 1946 Christmas card (how festive!)

 

In 1926 Joseph Egbert Montague started his shipping company in Vernon, BC, under the name J.E. Montague Ltd. The company expanded in 1928 and became known as British Columbia Fruit Shippers. By that time, the moniker “Ogopogo” would have been in use.

 

A few years later, during the 1880s, the infamous Captain Shorts discovered a large vertebrae bone in the shallows of Okanagan Lake, which would be determined to be from a whale. How a whale bone came to lie in Okanagan Lake remains a mystery. Could it perhaps be a bone belonging to Ogopogo’s whale father?

While fishing one morning in August of 1925, a man named J. Mitchell Boyd allegedly saw a strange creature with the head of a sheep moving languidly through the water (this is apparently quite the trustworthy account; as reported in the Vernon News a few days after the sighting, “Mr. Boyd stated, for the benefit of those who may have doubted his statement, that he had not partaken of cheese the night before, nor anything else which might have caused an optical delusion”). Nearly thirty years later, in 1959, the Miller and Marten Families also described a close encounter with a large, snake-like creature while out for a day of boating.

In 1978, while driving across the Okanagan Lake Floating Bridge, Bill Steciuk and twenty other onlookers witnessed a dark head and three black humps protruding out of the water. The year 2000 would bring about another sighting, when marathon swimmer Daryl Ellis was accompanied by two large creatures during his swim passed Rattlesnake Point (perhaps Nessie was down for a visit?)

In 2004, John Casorso recorded the first alleged video of Ogopogo; from a vantage point on his family’s house point, Casorso was able to capture grainy footage of a dark creature, about 15 metres long, emerging from the still waters of Okanagan Lake. And less than two weeks ago, a Calgary resident celebrating Thanksgiving in the Okanagan recorded a video of a strange formation of waves that some viewers thought could have been another sighting of the Okanagan’s most elusive resident.

Whether you believe in the sea serpent or not, one thing is for certain; the Ogopogo is a lot of fun to talk about.

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

harvesting hops in coldstream

 

April 24, 2020

It was a migration of more than 250 kilometres that lasted three long days. From 1904 to 1912, members of the Nez Perce people from Washington State would travel up the Hudson’s Bay Brigade Trail to the Coldstream Ranch, where they would spend a few weeks each September harvesting hops.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Okanagan’s hop industry was thriving and E.V. de Lautour, an employee of the Coldstream Ranch, made arrangements with custom officials at the Canada – U.S. border crossing in Osoyoos to allow the Nez Perce to come up to Canada, skilled as they were in harvesting hops in their native Southern Washington.

Numbers varied each year, but usually around 100 men, women, children, and even babies strapped to cradleboards, made the long trek on horseback, with wagons to transport their belongings. At the ranch, they would carefully choose a site to set up their teepees, and every few weeks would move to fresh ground. Arrangements for sanitation and garbage disposal were made with Vernon officials.

 

 

Charlie Whilpocken, right, a Nez Perce who acted as the labour contractor in charge of choosing who would make the trip to the Ranch each year. With him is his wife and young daughter, who were among the pickers.

 

The pickers received $1 each per 8’ x 2’ x 2’ box of hops. It’s hard to determine if this was fair pay by the standards of the early 20th-century, since locals, not being as skilled in the task as the Nez Perce, were discourage d from applying for this work. However, some families were able to earn $20 to $30 for a month of work, which today would translate to $545 to $815, which was allegedly enough for them to subsist on throughout the winter.

Their annual migration and presence in the valley was a thrill for Vernonites, although the tendency to exoticism them was hard to escape. One early white settler stated that “one always went to see the hop picking at least once. And if you had guests you’d never dream of neglecting to take them to see the hop picking.”

Before returning to Washington, the Nez Perce usually made a stop at the Vernon Hudson’s Bay store, where they would spend some of their earnings purchasing high-quality blankets and other materials. Charlie Simms, the store’s manager, would take their orders before they returned home for delivery the next season.  

In 1912, during their last migration from Washington, a ranch employee named Patrick Bennett was sent to convoy the Nez Perce from the U.S. border to the ranch. Later, he wrote that “the Nez Perce were the most picturesque people one could meet. They withstood all efforts made by the white people to undermine their moral standards. These standards were of the highest, for they knew the difference between right and wrong, and had the intestinal fortitude to uphold what they thought was right.

“To see these people on parade at state social functions, such as the time the Duke of Connaught (a Governor-General of Canada) visited the ranch, was to behold a sight never-to-be-forgotten. The meeting of the Duke with the Chief was full of dignity and mutual respect. The regalia of the Nez Perce tribe, on this occasion, was something to compare with, or even surpass, the opening of Britain’s Parliament and Lord Mayor’s Day in London.”

 

Gwyn Evans