Where it all began: The Dreamland Theatre shortly after its opening in 1908.

World theatre Day

Today is World Theatre Day (and, coincidentally, also the occasion of the 94th Academy Awards ceremony).

The history of theatre in Vernon can be dated back to December 12, 1908, when the Dreamland Theatre opened on Vernon’s 30th Avenue. For the first few moving picture shows, the audiences were small, and the theatre could barely cover expenses. In a 1910 newspaper article, the theatre’s manager, H. H. Dean, claimed that the people of Vernon were “afraid they would see something they would be ashamed of, and the public had to be educated as to the class of pictures which would be shown in “Dreamland.”

From Dreamland, to Empress, to Capitol

The Empress Theatre opened at 3207 30th Avenue on May 30, 1912. In 1921, the theatre hosted showings of the films “Stranger than Fiction,” “The Devil,” and “Nobody.” The first films with sound, known as “talkies,” arrived at the Empress in February of 1930.

The Capitol Theatre opened on 30th Avenue in November of 1938. The premier feature film was “The Valley of the Giants,” a “four bell” picture in technicolour selected to showcase the up-to-date colour reproduction equipment at the new theatre.

The Towne and Famous Players

In 1970, the Capitol’s name was changed to the Towne Cinema, which is currently operated by the Okanagan Screen Arts Society.

Vernon’s largest theatre, the Famous Players Cinema in Polson Place, also opened in 1970. In 2005, Cineplex Entertainment purchased Famous Players, and the local theatre’s name was changed to Galaxy Cinemas. Today, Cineplex Entertainment is a three-billion dollar company, while 115 years earlier, Vernonites had to be convinced to visit the Dreamland.

 

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

An early photo of Vernon’s Chinatown, taken in the lunar year 4608 (1910).

Chinese New Year 2022

This Tuesday, February 1, marks Chinese New Year. 2022 is a Year of the Tiger, and those born under this zodiac are said to be ambitious, daring, enthusiastic, generous, and self-confident.

This festival is celebrated each year in China (as well as Vietnam, North and South Korea, and Tibet, under different names) and is based on the ancient Chinese lunar calendar (as opposed to the western solar calendar). Each month in the lunar calendar is 28 days long, so a year lasts between 353 and 355 days. Determining the date of the Chinese New Year requires some complicated calculations, but it typically occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice, either in late January or early February. A variety of beliefs and traditions are attached to this special occasion.

A celebration 100 years ago

In 1922, a reporter from the Vernon News was granted the honour of attending a Chinese New Year celebration in Vernon’s Chinatown. That year, the festival fell on Saturday, January 28. He started off by saying that although the celebration was great fun, he hoped it would be the last for a while, since with Christmas, the Solar New Year, Robbie Burns’ Night, and the Lunar New Year all occurring in a little over a month, many of Vernon’s business men were struggling to get back on the “Water Wagon.”

Decorations of red and gold

To celebrate the occasion, Chinatown was wonderfully decorated with strings of fruits, vegetables, and gold-and-red emblems. (Tangerines, mandarins, and kumquats, in particular, are a popular decoration for Chinese New Year, as they are said to symbolize wealth and good luck. In a similar manner, the colours red and gold are symbolic of joy and prosperity, respectively). The reporter also noted that genuine “greenbacks,” dollar bills, had also been used to decorate.

Ringing in the New Year

A thrilling performance was held in the center of a square in Chinatown, including acrobatic and magical acts, and of course the celebrated Chinese Dragon Dance (distinguishable from the Lion Dance in that is requires a larger group to manipulate the creature).

The reporter remarked on the hospitality of the crowd, and a lucky number of Vernonites who were later invited to a somewhat-secretive New Year’s feast hosted by one of Chinatown’s leading business owners loudly praised the generosity of their host. The final moments of the lunar year 4619 exploded in firecrackers and fireworks, as a new Year of the Dog was ushered in.

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

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vernon Winter Carnival chairman George Melvin presenting the silver plate and trophy to the new Queen Silver Star, Rhondda Oliver (Biggs), in 1961.

The Vernon Winter Carnival is always new

One thing you can be sure about with the Vernon Winter Carnival is that each year will bring something new. However, in 1961, everything was new, since that was the year the annual event began.

From radio coverage captured by CJIB (now 107.5 FM) and preserved in the Vernon Archives, we are able to relive the exciting moment the Carnival’s first ever Queen Silver Star was crowned.

Royalty and Dignitaries

As the coverage begins, announcer Jack Pollard states that the crowd of two-to-three thousand gathered on Barnard (30th) Avenue is awaiting the arrival of the Vice Regal Party, composed of Lieutenant Governor George Pearkes, Mrs. Pearkes, Lieutenant Colonel David Kinloch, and Mrs. Kinloch. Once the dignitaries arrive, they gather near a large ice palace, which was carved on the main drag for the occasion, with the Queen Silver Star participants and the visiting royalty. Queens from Trail, Summerland, Victoria, Kelowna, Vancouver, Port Alberni, Salmon Arm, and Lumby travelled to Vernon for the occasion.

Vernon: A Winter Playground

Peter Seaton, the president of the Vernon Board of Trade, then says that the occasion marks the “final lap in a long hard race to make Vernon and Silver Star a winter playground … The Carnival is going to be to Vernon like a drink to a man in the desert.” The crowd cheers, some standing around the palace, others watching from the roofs of nearby businesses or parked cars.

Queen Silver Star I accepts her crown

The RCMP clears a path through the crowd to the sounds of the McIntosh Girls’ Pipe Band. The Vernon Girls’ Trumpet Band then escorts a car carrying the new Queen Silver Star to the ice palace. The young lady emerges, and is revealed to be Miss Rhondda Oliver (later Biggs). She is helped up the palace’s stairs by two six-year-old pages. They neatly arrange the long train of her blue and white robe as she takes her place on the throne. Her princesses, Sharon Magee and Joyce Moilliet, stand on either side.  

Mayor Frank Becker and Miss Vernon Barbara Wolsey then place the crown on Rhondda’s head. As she gives her acceptance speech, a bonfire of Christmas trees on the hill behind the ice palace blazes to life. Mayor Becker wishes her a happy reign, before reading congratulatory telegrams from Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and M.P. Stewart Fleming. Lieutenant Governor Pearkes then declares that the first ever Vernon Winter Carnival has officially begun.

More than 60 years later, the 2022 Vernon Winter Carnival is set to begin on February 4.

To the Max 80’s Party – Virtual Edition

As part of Carnival, the Museum will be hosting “To the Max 80’s Party – Virtual Edition.”

Tease your bangs, pull on your leg warmers, and grab the kiddos for an 80’s style sing-and-dance along with Kiki the Eco Elf. This family-friendly virtual event will feature music, dancing and prizes for best dressed, all from the comfort of your own home. Tickets are $20 and on-demand video access will be available for the entirety of the Winter Carnival! For more details, please click here

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

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Photoshop

Among the photo collection of the Vernon Museum are several manipulated images like this exaggerated postcard from 1946.  

Prior to the invention of Photoshop in 1987, photo manipulation was a much more complicated task. Several techniques were used, including film and negative manipulation, darkroom manipulation, and chemical manipulation. 

A canadian company with an American Connection

This postcard was produced by the Canadian Post Card Co., which was active from 1911 to 1969, but the original artist behind the image’s manipulation was likely American photographer William H. Martin. Martin operated a studio in Kansas between 1908 and 1915, and launched the genre of “tall-tale” postcards which were popular up until the mid-20th century. 

Martin’s technique involved creating a collage of different images to achieve a skewed sense of perspective. The resulting piece was then re-photographed and sold. Martin had a particular fascination with agriculture, and often created scenes with outlandish elements like boulder-sized onions or wheat fields as tall as old-growth forests. 

Why the Vernon Museum?

This particular photo-postcard is housed at the Vernon Museum because it was allegedly taken in Vernon, but rumour has it that the Canadian Post Card Co. simply swapped out the city name on the postcards as needed depending on where they were being sold. While the Okanagan is an agricultural haven, we can’t get away with saying we have corn quite that big.

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

Group photo of the members of a local hockey team posing on the ice on Kalamalka Lake in 1922. Back row, left to right: Jack Sadler, Graham Ferguson, Charles Sadler, and Lionel Locke. Front row, left to right: George Belsey and Albert Belsey.

Hello, 2022

Another year has begun under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the Omicron variant causing an increase in case numbers and a return to heightened health-and-safety measures, it can feel like we are right back where we were almost two years ago, in March of 2020.

As difficult as it can be to consider the passing of time on a longer scale, especially when our everyday is plagued with uncertainty, it can provide a sense of perspective; no matter how bad things might seem now, they too shall pass.

100 years ago: A civic Election

100 years ago, in January of 1922, the City of Vernon was ringing in the New Year with a civic election. On January 5, the Vernon News sullenly reported that although the election of the City Council, School Trustees, and Police Commissioner was set for the following Thursday, the general populace seemed to be taking little interest in the whole event. What generated the most stir was that a woman, Elsie Richards, was nominated for a School Trustee position, a first for the city. Although Mrs. Richards was not successful in her bid, it was a positive step forward.

A daring robbery

That same month, a small group of robbers broke into Vernon’s Government Liquor Store through the building’s main entrance, made their way upstairs, smashed the locks on the storage room doors, and took two cases of Scotch and one of Rye Whiskey. The store manager George Brazier was not overly upset by the robbery, because the thieves’ poor taste meant that they had made off with the cheaper brands of Whiskey.

Princes, pirates, and princesses, oh my!

A children’s costume party was held by the Vernon chapter of the I.O.D.E. (the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire) at the local armoury. The children dressed as knights, pirates, and princesses were said to have acted the part admirably, as if they had “been lifted from the story book page, or brought to Vernon from some far away romantic land in a swift airplane just for the occasion.” The evening raised nearly two hundred dollars towards supporting the widows and families of those who served in World War One. 

Mild weather and winter sports

The first few days of January 1922 were relatively mild in temperature, with highs just below freezing and lows of -10°C. But a fine ice and snow season meant that local curlers, skaters, and skiers were able to enjoy their chosen winter sport. Meanwhile, the first hockey game of the season, held at a local rink between Vernon and Armstrong, saw the former achieve a quick and clean victory.

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

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

The Vernon Fire Brigade Band circa 1901. Back (L-R): Daryl Burnyeat, George French, Louis Goult, R Fraser, and Alex McLeod. Seated (L-R): Fred Godwin, Percy Cooper, S.A. Shatford, Jim Varnes, and Charles Godwin. Front (L-R): Bill Sawyer and Fred Howard.

After a difficult 20 months, we all deserve a little music.

Many musical groups have called our city home over the years, but they are all predated by the Vernon Fire Brigade Band, formed all the way back in 1893.

The story goes that on a late fall evening in 1893, attendees of the Okanagan and Spallumcheen Exhibition were disappointed by the lack of musical entertainment, and proposed that Vernon should form its own band. That same evening, local bookstore owner A. C. Cann ordered a set of instruments for the new group to use.

Vernon only had a few experienced musicians at the time, so others were quickly taught to play and by January of 1894, regular rehearsals were taking place. The band’s first official performance was on May 24, under the direction of bandmaster Robert Fraser. The bandstand was located on what is now 30th Avenue, and the musicians were decked out in caps and matching uniforms.

Misfortune struck in 1898, when a devastating fire broke out in the building that was housing the band’s equipment. Unfortunately, all of the uniforms and instruments were destroyed. After this tragedy, the Vernon Fire Brigade decided to sponsor the band, and it became known as the Fire Brigade Band.

During the years of 1907, and 1909 to 1911, the band performed at the Provincial Exhibition at New Westminster. When World War One broke out a few years later, the group broke up, as many of the members enlisted for overseas service. Although the members would reunite in subsequent years to continue making music together, the sponsorship from the fire department had ended and they were no longer known as the Vernon Fire Brigade Band.

 

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

The front page of the Vernon News from October 13th, 1921.

100 years ago

What was happening in Vernon 100 years ago, in the autumn of 1921? The Vernon News (and particularly the “Town and District” column) provides some insight.

Group photo of some of the Coldstream Ranch fruit pickers, circa 1915. GVMA #2523.

On October 3 of that year, a masquerade ball was held at the dining hall of the Coldstream Ranch fruit pickers. The venue was decorated with autumn leaves, berries, asparagus ferns, and paper lanterns, and entertainment and refreshments were provided. Attendees dressed as knights, princesses, sailors, soldiers, and clowns milled about the dance floor. Someone even arrived disguised as Palmolive soap.

The Post Office clock circa 1935. GVMA #4767.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For about a week during that October, Vernonites were reported as being very tardy, on account of the Post Office clock being out of commission. When the clock was dismantled for repairs, those who governed their daily actions by the ticking of the clock were “forced to rely on their own more or less accurate timepieces.”

A bizarre was hosted by children of the Presbyterian Church Sunday School on October 15, 1921. Large quantities of farm produce, preserves, pickles, and home cooking were available for purchase. The afternoon concluded with a musical program.

Edna Harwood and Agnes Fletcher dressed as witches for Halloween circa 1918. GVMA #1519.
The Empress Theatre in 1922. GVMA #4597.

The Empress Theatre hosted showings of the 1921 films “Stranger than Fiction,” “The Devil,” and “Nobody,” and a local minister invited those who cuss to a lecture on the Third Commandment.

On the afternoon of October 31, a Halloween party was held at the new South Vernon School; around 400 students attended. Later that evening, the doors of the school were opened so that the citizens of Vernon could inspect the new facility.

Among all of these notable events, the everyday moments of life are also noted in the Vernon News: from births, deaths, and birthdays, to special visitors, meeting notices, and local sales.   

Gwyn Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

happy easter!

 

April 1, 2021

For kids everywhere, the highlight of this holiday weekend is, of course, the Easter Egg Hunt.

Each family seems to have their own iteration of this well-loved tradition: some parents hide fully-stocked baskets outside, rain or shine, for their children to find, while others create a series of riddles that will lead to chocolates hidden cleverly around the house.

Other kids must hunt around the yard to find the foil-wrapped treats, one or two of which inevitably go missing and end up being discovered as a melted mess sometime during the summer.   

Local easter fun – & competition

Over the years, the City of Vernon has also staged a variety of Easter competitions to excite children and adults alike.

As is the case around the world, many of Vernon’s Easter traditions have featured the humble chicken egg, seen here hatching in 1958-or, at least, its chocolate replica.

 

 

In April of 1901, each customer who purchased one dozen fresh eggs (at only $0.20 each) was entered into a draw by local shopkeeper W.R. Megaw. The Saturday prior to Easter, a blindfolded child was asked to draw a name from the box, and the winner was awarded a “magnificent” hanging library lamp.

In 1925, the Vernon News published an Easter Word Hunt for its readership. A series of ads for local businesses was arranged on a full-page of newsprint. Each ad contained a purposely misplaced word, and readers were asked to create a list of the errors and send it in to “Easter Hunt Editor” at the Vernon News office. Five correct submissions were then randomly drawn, and the winners received a box of chocolates and tickets to the best moving picture show of the month, “The Golden Bed.”

all manner of egg hunts

In 1981, Easter Egg Hunts were held at the Polson Place Mall on the Friday and Saturday prior to Easter Sunday. Pre-registered children had a chance to search in a haystack for ping-pong balls bearing the names of local businesses. When brought to the corresponding merchants, the children were then awarded their chocolate prizes.

In 2012, excited toddlers from the Funfer All Daycare, bundled warmly in bright rain jackets, bounced around Mission Hill Park on the search for Easter treats. They smiled exuberantly and posed for photographs as they pulled eggs out of trees knolls and from beneath benches.

And this year, the Downtown Vernon Association has introduced a window Easter egg scavenger hunt, a family-friendly activity that complies with Covid-19 safety regulations. The people of Vernon are truly resilient and creative, and despite the challenges and changes that each new year presents, we continue to find ways to celebrate the joy of spring’s arrival. 

Gwyn Evans

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

 

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…