french family land

May 28, 2021

Near the entrance to the Vernon Recreation Centre, a humble plaque in the shade of a tall tree memorializes the 1891 residence of S.P. French.

That year, Samuel Phelps French, born in England in 1844, moved his wife Susannah and nine children from Winnipeg to Vernon and purchased between 10 to 20 acres of land to raise cattle.

A warm welcome

The family’s 1891 residence was actually not located where the plaque indicates, but on 32nd Avenue, then known as Schubert Street.

Many important events passed beneath the roof of this residence, and the French family extended a welcome to friends and strangers alike. 

In November of 1902, the Vernon News reported that “the hospitable home of Mr. and Mrs. S.P. French was 

 

DA plaque outside the Vernon Recreation Centre memorializes the first two residences of S.P. French (pictured top right, GVMA #5088). The Vernon Museum does not have a photograph of either of the houses.

 

 

taxed to it utmost capacity to receive the large number of visitors who during the afternoon and evening assembled to extend a welcome to the bride of Mr. S.P. French, Jr.

changing ownership & land use

It was not until 1905 that S.P. purchased 65 acres near where the Rec Centre now stands from the Estate of the late Luc Girouard and built a second house. By 1914, the land had been parceled up, with some of it being sold to the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway. S.P. then purchased a parcel of land east of Vernon and built a third house, on Sarsons Road. This residence still stands, while the plaque serves as a memorial of the two family homes that came before it.

S.P. helped to lay Vernon’s first sidewalk on 30th Avenue in 1893. He also served on the Vernon City Council in 1903 and was a devout member of the local Presbyterian Church.

names & recognition

S.P. passed away in 1926, predeceased by his wife Susannah in 1912. His nine children and twenty-eight grandchildren went on to have remarkable lives of their own. One son, Percy, even followed in his father’s footsteps and was named the Okanagan’s first “Master Farmer” by Winnipeg’s Nor’ West Farmer Magazine in 1932.

While his son was bestowed with the title “Master Farmer”, the residence of the family of S.P. French family is recognized with a plaque. 

Plaques such as this, as well as street names, are often in memory and recognition of the pioneers, agriculturalists and ranchers who first “settled” this area.

In recent years, there has been more of an acknowledgment of Syilx place names, and the nsyilixcen language of the Syilx people of the Okanagan Nation is being incorporated into place names and signs in places such as the UBC Okanagan campus. 

 

Gwyn Evans

ship of brides

May 21, 2021

In September of 1862, the S.S. Tynemouth arrived in Victoria to the great excitement of the city’s mostly-male population; 60 young women between the ages of 14 and 20 were on board, having been brought over from England to a new life in Canada.

The Tynemouth was the largest of the “Bride Ships,” a series of vessels that transported British women overseas to help populate the North American colonies.

Little More Than Cargo

Of the 60 individuals onboard the Tynemouth, most were orphaned or came from impoverished families, and were promised a brighter future in Canada.

The sea voyage was a rough one: the women were treated as little more than cargo, stuffed into the bottom of the ship with inadequate food and poor sanitation. Many became ill during this journey of nearly 100 days.

 

Dr. John Chipp’s house in Vernon circa 1891. Chipp arrived in B.C. via a “Bride Ship” from England in 1862.

 

 

“mostly cleanly, well-built, pretty-looking young women”

Even so, when the ship finally arrived in Victoria, the women were deemed “satisfactory”: the Colonist newspaper reported that they were “mostly cleanly, well-built, pretty-looking young women … Taken altogether, we are highly pleased with the appearance of the ‘invoice,’ and believe that they will give a good account of themselves in whatever station of life they may be called to fill.”

The stories of approximated half the women who traveled overseas in the Tynemouth have been traced. Some married and started families, while others worked as governesses, midwives, and teachers. Sadly, many also faced lives of destitution and depravity in B.C.’s mining towns.

A Local Connection

This interesting story also has a local connection. Alongside the 60 female passengers who traveled on the Tynemouth in 1862 was a man named John Chipp, who served as the vessel’s chief doctor.

When the ship arrived in B.C., Chipp set up a business in Barkerville before moving to Vernon in 1891. Here he became one of the city’s first doctors. Chipp’s daughter, Clara Cameron, was instrumental in the establishment of the Vernon Jubilee Hospital and his son-in-law, W.F. Cameron, served as Vernon’s first mayor.

John Chipp passed away in August of 1893. The contributions of Chipp, as well as W.F. and Clara Cameron are relatively well-documented and honoured.

We can also take a moment to think about those whose names and faces we don’t know, or remember, the young women who were integral to early settler life in Canada.

 

Gwyn Evans

Vernon then & now

April 26, 2021

As part of the GVMA Earth Day, Every Day focus on ecological change in the Okanagan, we’ve developed a short slideshow of photographs comparing archival photos around the Greater Vernon area, with photos from 2021.

ECO: a Virtual program

The slideshow can also be used in conjunction with the ECO: Ecological Change in the Okanagan.

Designed for intermediate students in School District 22, the program will be of interest with anyone curious about how North Okanagan landscapes, wildlife populations, and ecology have changed over time

Learn More About: Okanagan Nation and the Syilx People; Early Explorers and Settlers; Land Use and Agriculture; Transportation and Recreation; the perspective of local Syilx Indigenous Youth Leader.

Included:

  • 30 minute ECO film
  • Now & Then Slideshow of Local Locations and Landscapes
  • An Educator’s Guide
  • Suggestions for Inquiries and Activities
  • Additional Resources 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to access the ECO Virtual Program

For a limited time, the ECO Virtual Program is available for free to all teachers, educators, parents, and any interested community member!

Please Contact Us Here to order the ECO: Ecological Change in the Okanagan Virtual Program.

We hope you enjoy the journey!

 

big game once abounded

April 26, 2021

In honour of Earth Day last week, the Vernon Museum has taken the opportunity to research how local human activity has effected, and continues to effect, ecosystems and wildlife in the North Okanagan.

This is the last in a series of articles that explore some of the results of this investigation.

“A Sportsman’s Paradise”

Vernon is described as “A Sportsman’s Paradise” in a promotional booklet from 1891. “Big game abounds in caribou, white and black-tailed deer, and on the higher mountains big horn sheep and goats,” the brochure continues.

“More remote are to be found great black, cinnamon and grizzly bears. There are a few grey wolves, lynx, coyote and the king cat of the Rockies, the American panther.”

A visiting hunting party in Vernon in 1914

 

 

This advertisement was incredible successfully and over the next few years hunters came from far and wide to take advantage of the Okanagan’s bounty.

An Unregulated West

At this point, there was little in the way of game law enforcement, and no game wardens, and the citizens of Vernon wrote many letters of complaint against the hunting parties, most of whom were visiting from the South.

In September 1892, a hunting party from eastern Canadian killed 180 sage grouse at the Head of the Lake, destined for the Vancouver market.

A party of 20 Americans arrived in a private rail car to hunt big game that same year. They took only the heads and left the meat to rot.

In 1904, one family shot 92 blue grouse in a single day.

This was a very different kind of hunting than the Syilx people of Okanagan Nation had practiced as a traditional way of life, livelihood and culture for thousands of years.

Before non-Indigenous contact, the Syilx had been a hunter-gatherer culture who used every part of the animals they hunted as meat for food, but also fur for clothing and warmth, hide for clothing and structures, bones for tools and implements. Sinew was used as thread in sewing. 

No part of the animal was wasted, and animals were hunted sustainably, for thousands of years, without negative impact on their populations.

Sadly Diminished Populations

In a 1912 Vernon News special holiday edition, pioneer Mr. Leckie-Ewing noted that big game in the Okanagan had decreased significantly in number or their haunts had moved further away.

Lake trout populations, once an important food source for the Syilx People, had all but disappeared from Okanagan Lake. Blue grouse and other fowl were still around, but their numbers had “sadly diminished when compared with … some ten or twelve years prior.” In fact, sage grouse became extinct in the Okanagan in 1918.

By the 1950s, excessive hunting also meant that mountain caribou had disappeared from the Okanagan.

The Syilx people still pass on sustainable hunting practices and knowledge within their communities, and some of this traditional knowledge has been used to inform best management practices for wildlife conservation. First Nations groups in BC and in Alberta are consulting on caribou recovery projects across the region. 

The biggest threat to mountain caribou populations in BC and Alberta, and south of the border, is no longer sport hunting, but rather other forms of human impacts, most notably transportation corridors, infrastructure for resource extraction, such as forestry, mining, oil and gas exploration, and recreational vehicle use areas all encroaching on their habitat.

These same things allow caribou predators, such as wolves, easier access to caribou habitat to the detriment of the caribou population.

Preserving Local Okanagan Fauna

Today, we are fortunate to have stricter regulations in place around hunting and fishing, and a better understand of how humans can significantly effect wildlife populations. However, before these measures were put in place, visiting hunters negatively impacted Okanagan wildlife populations.

To help preserve our local fauna populations, trophy hunting and other wasteful practices should be discouraged. Residents should also remove or limit attractants like garbage and fallen fruit to discourage animals like bears from becoming urban visitors. Do not feed or try to tame wild animals, but keep them and yourself safe by maintaining an appropriate distance.

Perhaps most importantly, if there are regulations in place to attempt to keep wild animal habitat preserved, respect these regulations and ride recreational vehicles, hunt, and recreate in other designated areas.

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

from bunchgrass to grazeland

April 9, 2021

 

With Earth Day fast approaching, the Vernon Museum has taken the opportunity to research how local human activity has effected, and continues to effect, ecosystems and wildlife in the North Okanagan.

Until the end of April, the museum will share a series of articles that explore some of the results of this investigation.

The importance of the introduction of cattle to the Valley cannot be overstated.

ranches as hubs of development

Early cattle drives passed through the Valley in the late 1850s, where the animals would feast on the Okanagan’s abundant bunchgrass, before continuing on their way to the gold fields of the Fraser Canyon. 

By the end of the next decade, upwards of 22,000 head of cattle had crossed the border at the south end of the Okanagan Valley.

Cattle round-up of Chief Clerke’s cattle at Wye Lake (Goose Lake area).
Date unknown.

 

 

Early cattle drives, and, later, the establishment of ranches, allowed the Okanagan to become a hub of economic activity. Despite this benefit, the arrival of large droves of cattle inevitably shaped the natural landscape in lasting ways.

Later, pioneers like Thomas Wood, Thomas Greenhow, and Cornelius O’Keefe arrived to pre-empt land and start permanent ranches. Their small herds grew rapidly in number.

From A Sea of Waving Grasses

The Okanagan of 1850s and ‘60s would have been almost unrecognizable to us today. The Valley bottom was covered not with areas of human development, but with fields of tall grass that, as they swayed in the breeze, resembled a vast, moving sea.

These grasses were especially adapted to our warm, dry climate. In particular, bunchgrass, of which there are several different species in the Okanagan, has a deep root system as well as a specific morphology which allows it to survive long periods of drought.

This bunchgrass was also perfect animal fodder and after a decade or so of constant feeding, the bunchgrass population began to suffer. By the 1890s, much of the bunchgrass had been stripped from the Valley. 

TO A Few Sparse Patches

Since then, the science of range management has progressed greatly, and it’s not the ranches that prove the greatest threat to native bunchgrass, but human encroachment. Areas of bunchgrass can still be found (at Kalamalka Lake Park, for example) but what was once a sea of grass is now only a few sparse patches. Today, only 9% of native bunchgrass is left in the Okanagan.

There are many approaches that we can take to curb the destruction of native bunchgrass populations, including supporting ecological restoration and habitat renewal initiatives, remaining on trails and marked areas when hiking and biking, learning about the growth cycle of plants and making informed decisions when allowing animals to graze, and taking an active role in preventing the spread of invasive weeds.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, an excellent read is “Bunchgrass and Beef: Bunchgrass Ecosystems and the Early Cattle Industry in the Thompson-Okanagan,” by local historian Ken Mather, available online at https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/exhibits/living-landscapes/thomp-ok/article-LL/contents-beef.html.

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…

magical Ice Park & Palaces of the past

 

February 1, 2021

The 61st Vernon Winter Carnival – Western Canada’s largest winter carnival – is about to begin…

…in ways different from every Carnival hosted since the first in 1961!

This year’s theme is “Wild West” and it will be a new frontier to explore the Carnival through virtual events and in small, safe groups due to public health and safety guidelines.

This year will be the first for a Drive-Through Ice Park at Vernon’s Polson Park.

The Ice Park will follow a long history of ice structures, palaces, sculptures, and  carving competitions.

 

Vernon Winter Carnival Ice Palace 

The first Ice Palace  debuted on Barnard Avenue (now 30th Avenue) during the Carnival’s inaugural year, 1961. The following year, the Ice Palace moved to Polson Park, where it provided a sparkling venue for the coronation of that year’s royalty and was a major attraction for visitors.

Huge blocks of ice were tinted in shades of blue and green, and framed by two massive ice columns. The columns, with their lights and pennants, reached a height of forty feet! Visitors were invited to fill the seats of Polson Park’s grandstand for an excellent view of the coronation, while a concession provided hot coffee to warm up cold hands.

In 1966, the Palace was built for the first time in the (then-new) Civic Plaza.

The first ice sculpture contest was held in 1971. Students of all ages, under the direction of art teachers from local junior and secondary schools, were provided with a block of ice, chisels, and mallets, and allowed to let their imaginations run wild.

In 1974, the Inland Natural Gas Company upped the ante by offering prize money for the best sculptures, while all participants received a celebratory scoop of NOCA’s blue and white Carnival Ice Cream. 

This well-loved tradition was not always easy to realize. On January 26th of 1977, the Vernon News reported that a pipe had leaked and filled the local Inland Ice Man plant with ammonia. Engineer Gus Joachim was overcome by fumes that could be smelled as far away as half a mile into the city’s downtown core, and sent to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital to recover.

This incident not only caused employees to be sick and out of work for several days, but also put a halt on the Winter Carnival’s ice sculpturing event that year. The plant’s manager John Jones had managed to produce enough ice for the Palace, but not enough for the sculptures.

Warm winters during the ‘70s and ‘80s meant that in some years, ice blocks could not be cut from natural sources like Swan Lake, since the ice was not hard enough to carve. Eager students waited on the weather to see if they could take part in the Ice Sculpture Contest in the Civic Plaza, now known as Spirit Square. 

In 2020, the Ice Palace and sculptures returned for the Vernon Winter Carnival’s momentous sixtieth year. The Winter Carnival committee will carry the spirit forward into this unprecedented year with the first ever Drive-Through Ice Park.

 

 

 

Click here to find out more about the GVMA’s Winter Carnival Virtual Event Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch… on Tuesday, February 9th.