For the months of June and July, we are thrilled to present a series of blog posts by Collections Intern Rebeka Beganova. Rebeka (she/her) is a post-secondary student with a passion for research, literature, and history. Having completed an Associate of Arts Degree at Okanagan College, she is glad to be joining the MAV team during her last summer in Vernon before heading off to UBC Vancouver. There is no better way to say goodbye to her hometown than to explore its local history!

Vernon Jubilee Hospital staff photographed in 1915. Dr. Duncan sits on the far right of the middle row. Beside him is Dr. Arbuckle, who often filled his shoes when Dr. Duncan was out of town.

George Edward Duncan

Dr. George Edward Duncan (1870-1947) was one of Vernon’s earliest City Medical Health officers. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, he practiced medicine all throughout BC. He also served overseas in WWI, as part of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. Looking down the archive’s long list of ‘Early Doctors, Vernon & Area,’ Dr. Duncan’s profile does not jump out as particularly monumental. However, if you chanced upon the collection of newspaper articles mentioning his name, you might be struck by the curious assortment of local events that Dr. Duncan had his sterilized hands in. In fact, his portfolio reads bizarrely like a series of superhero comics, where the titular character – complete with a pleasingly alliterate moniker – emerges inexplicably onto scenes of local trouble. We give you, Dr. Duncan of Vernon.

The Tragic Death of sir Edmund Lacon

This legitimate title from a 1911 newspaper could grace the front cover of Dr. Duncan’s first mystery novel. Sir Lacon met his end in the first fatal automobile accident ever reported in the Okanagan. On September 28, 1911, on Mission Road, an overturned car was discovered with seemingly no body nearby. The article detailing the resulting series of events is written like a proper detective story, littered with phrases such as “last seen here about 6:30” and “thought he heard something like a groan.”

Dr. Duncan appeared in both the action-packed inciting incident and the ensuing inquest. At the initial discovery of the toppled automobile, he was fetched from the drug store and materialized with (of all the quintessential ghost story props) a lantern to light the way. It was he who found the injured Sir Lacon by the roadside and witnessed the man’s death as he carried him to the car. During the inquest, Dr. Duncan’s hard-hitting evidence was reportedly the touchstone of truth that overrode other accounts. Fittingly enough, the conclusion to the article photocopy is obscured by a mystifying dark stain.


The CASE of the miserable milk

Dr. Duncan next crops up in a gripping local storyline centering on milk: specifically, its insufficient quality and abundance. In November of 1911, the Marvelous MD published a report analyzing the ingredients in milk from various suppliers. By revealing less-than-ideal percentages of butter fat and water, he proved instrumental in the creation of a by-law ensuring quality milk for every Vernon household. Some subpar suppliers were consequently cut off, but even after complaints were voiced about declining delivery rates, one Board of Health representative said he would rather never taste another drop “than drink the stuff they had before the by-law was passed.” Dr. Duncan’s analytical mind seemed just as valiant to citizens as his court room wits.

Vernon held a certain appreciation for its understated hero. The sentiment is evident through other subplots, such as public debates for his pay rise and motions to send him to the prodigious Canadian Public Health Congress. Even when Dr. Duncan relocated to Vancouver, the papers sent him off with enough good cheer to constitute a happy ending.


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

Rebeka Beganova, Collections Intern